IRVING, Texas – This is going to sound familiar, but you'd think that holding an opponent to 10 points in the NFL would give you a strong chance to grab a win.
You'd also think that a defense capable of limiting the opposition to 10 points would also be capable of getting off the field in the fourth quarter. If you watched the loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday, you know that neither of these things worked out for the Cowboys.
As has been the case these last eight weeks, there was a lot to feel good about for the Dallas defense – just not enough. Let's jump into this week's defensive breakdown from the weekend.
- I thought the Dallas linebackers as a whole played one of their best games of the season – at least since Week 2 against the Eagles. It was a banged up group with Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens fighting through issues. There were several snaps where McClain was physical at the point of attack in the running game, and when he was called on to play pass defense – he was able to make some space tackles and provide some pop as a blitzer. Despite his bad ankle, Hitchens was all over the field from the Will linebacker spot. He was able to play off blocks with his hands and filled when the ball came at him. I really do like Hitchens when he can play outside -- especially on that weak side, because he has a better opportunity to find the ball and run to it. The linebackers also did a nice job of handling the wheel routes that Tampa tried to get up the field.
- I was surprised that the Buccaneers decided to attack Morris Claiborne instead of Brandon Carr with Mike Evans. In my pregame spot on 105.3 The Fan, I guaranteed that Carr would be the guy due in large part to Evans' ability to run vertical routes and breaking routes. Carr tends to struggle when he has to deal with those types of receivers. When Claiborne went out of the game with a hamstring injury, the adjustment was made to travel Carr with Evans and to his credit, he played him well. Carr was physical when he had to be, and that threw Evans off his game. His blitz out of the slot was well-timed and executed. I am still waiting to see where that defensive holding call was on the Buccaneers' final drive. Carr jammed Evans well off the line and then carried him across the field. On tape it appeared that he was in ideal position on the play but was really unlucky with the call.
- Coaches need to find ways to get David Irving on the field more as that under-tackle. They appeared to find a little something there with him playing there and Tyrone Crawford lining up at the nose. For such a young player, he really has a nice feel for how to play off blocks and find the ball. He plays well down the line and closes quickly on the ball when he has a chance. They can also pair him with Nick Hayden and that gives Crawford a chance to catch a break. I initially thought that his height might give him problems dealing with blocks and that he might be a better end -- but that's not the case at all. He is active and plays with his pad level down, holding his position well. I really like him as a pass rusher too. He plays with some surprising power and also does a nice job making himself small to work around blockers.
- In studying the defensive holding call on Jeff Heath on the Buccaneers' final drive, I have looked at the play over and over to try and determine what Jim Quirk Jr., the back judge, saw exactly. There were so many things happening inside with all the Buccaneers crossing routes that is was a scramble to try and pick it all up. Heath took a gamble by grabbing Mike Evans, denying him from the ball, which was a reactionary decision. I honestly believe that Quirk Jr. saw Heath grab Evans, but did not see that Jameis Winston had started running toward the line of scrimmage with the ball. Quirk Jr. did not reach for his flag until Winston was at the line. There was no intent for Winston to throw that ball – he was clearly a runner and all holding was off. What I would like to know is: did Quick Jr discuss with Line Judge Phil McKinnely and Referee Bill Vinovich about whether Winston was clearly a runner? It appears that he was focused on Heath and Evans, but he did not see Winston. It's a difficult call to make in that situation but game changing nevertheless.
- I haven't seen all the rookie defensive backs play in the league this season, but I believe you would be hard pressed to find one that is more important to his team than Byron Jones. Where he doesn't get enough credit from us in the media is his willingness to play wherever he is asked to – and he plays well. For him to start the game inside at safety, play in the slot, then finish on the outside at corner says a great deal about the type of player they drafted. There was a reason why Rod Marinelli was as complimentary as he was about Jones through the first half of this season.