Here are more thoughts from Sunday's game with the Saints and how it might affect the Cowboys' game plan moving forward this week in Washington with the division on the line.
Zone Or Man
I am not a defensive coordinator nor would I even attempt to try and act like I am one. Much like all of you I watch the games but have the same questions of why this team plays certain schemes over others. When this club opened training camp last July, I was excited by the prospects of Rob Ryan having the potential to play more man coverage with Brandon Carr, Morris Claiborne and Mike Jenkins. There were plenty of days in Oxnard where we did see Carr and Claiborne when he was on the field running with Bryant and Austin.
These corners just seemed better suited to play this style of defense than playing seven yards off and driving on the ball. As the season has progressed, Ryan still has Carr and Claiborne in the lineup but you have observed him using them more in zone coverage. In studying my notes from the Saints game, I wrote the word "Zone" several times and plenty of those notes were after Brees had a completion down the field. There is a side of me that believes that all the injuries across this defense has taken away a lot of the packages that Ryan would like to run. Generally when you play zone, you are trying to protect or hide a flaw. Safety play, corners that can't really cover, or lack of a pass rush.
Let's be real honest here when we look at this defense, DeMarcus Ware is one of your best players but these injuries that he is playing with have reduced him to a player that is similar to say Victor Butler. I really don't mean that as a slam on Butler but when he is in the game, you get an occasional pressure, maybe a sack or a tackle that results in a three yard gain. It's okay work but it's not Ware when healthy. Ryan and this staff are trying to do things to keep this defense from totally falling apart and I understand as you read this, you are saying could it get any worse, they gave up over 560 yards?
I understand in theory what Ryan is trying to do here but there were points in the Saints game in the second half where he did play some man coverage with his secondary and the results were favorable helping him get off the field which gave me hope that he could play more of it. There are very few offenses in this league that can present the problems the Saints are going to cause you matchup wise. It's a league of big plays and they make a ton of them.
Sure I would like to see Ryan play more man coverage and make these receivers fight for contested balls because I really believe he has players that can do that but again I understand what he is trying to protect here. This is not an easy job he has here with the current state of this defense and Ware not healthy makes it even more difficult. Ryan is not the idiot that the majority of you believe, but he is one if he runs into me in the hallway at Valley Ranch and asks me what I think he should do scheme wise. Then you should question him.
For the second week in a row, the protection for Tony Romo has been outstanding. It was well discussed last week what this line was able to do against the Steelers but against the Saints, you observed much more of the same. The Saints don't present the same problems that the Steelers could but you still had some rushers that you had to deal with in Will Smith and Cameron Jordan.
The rotation at right tackle seems to be still working fine with Free and Parnell, matter of fact on the game tying drive Parnell was in the game for Free so that just shows you how much confidence the staff now has in his work. The Saints were able to sack Romo twice and on the first one, Mackenzy Bernadeau just set too far to his right which allowed Johnson to come inside on him with a good quick move. Bernadeau was not able to get back to the inside to cut him off. Ryan Cook at center continues to do good things working in the middle of the pocket. Where he has been especially good is when he has to slide across the pocket to help one of the guards. The way the guards and tackles passed stunts really worked well also.
This will be important this week because it was something the Redskins tried plenty of when these two teams met a little more than a month ago. I thought where this line got hurt a little bit was after the Murray fumble because I saw that drive was going to be one of those much like the Saints had where they took the ball the length of the field with a nice mix. There was no question that this line could have handled this Saints front if they could have had to run the ball to convert third downs and there were some third and threes where Garrett choose to throw the ball instead of trying to hammer it for the first. Nate Livings had a bounce back game after a couple of weeks not playing well at all. Technique wise he was much better both run and pass. It's really clear when you watch this team play, how much DeMarco Murray means to this offense and especially to this line.
Like Romo, Murray hides a great deal of the problems they might have blocking plays clean just by using his vision and power. When this line is able to hold their blocks on the backside, you can see how effective he can be. There were several times where Free was able to do just that. At one time, this group was a big liability, there are still plays where they are not perfect but if you look at how things have progressed since the last Philadelphia game, it has improved.