IRVING, Texas – Despite the lopsided nature of the score, there's no shortage of notes worth taking from Sunday's loss to the Patriots.
We all know about the obvious talking points. The offense struggled, the pass rush came to life – and ultimately the Cowboys weren't good enough. But as always, here are some of my top impressions from the tape.
- Tip of the cap to Byron Jones in the way that he played against Rob Gronkowski. What was impressive about Jones' play was his ability to maintain position in route. The film showed that there were several snaps where Gronkowski had to literally shove Jones to gain any type of separation. Where the Patriots were able to take advantage of Jones was when they got in those 3-by-1 looks, which put Gronkowski away from the receivers and allowed him to work one-on-one. It was a nice adjust on their part to put Jones in those situations, making him have to deal with that big body on those inside breaking routes. Where you also have to give Jones credit was in his willingness to not shy away from trying to bring Gronkowski down in the open field. Where he causes difficulty is on the run-after-catch and Jones was able to limit that for the most part.
- The Patriots had a nice game plan in dealing with the two main weapons on this Dallas offense – Jason Witten and Cole Beasley. Even in the second half when the game was in hand, Witten and Beasley were still drawing double coverage. Witten was dealing with two safeties in dime packages and a drop defensive end and safety in base defenses. The Patriots made Beasley an upfield player by cutting off his underneath routes. There was one particular snap on third down where they buzzed Rob Ninkovich to the flat in order to cut him off from running the slant, which Weeden wanted to throw.
- I had a scout from another team that studies the Cowboys weekly tell me that Brandon Weeden will never be more than a really good 7-on-7 quarterback. When there is no rush and the pocket is comfortable, he is going to make throws all day. As much as I wanted to disagree with that thought, I couldn't. Weeden had his opportunities to make throws in this game, but he chose not to. When he needed to throw with anticipation – he didn't. When he needed to show some patience and allow the routes to develop – he didn't. Weeden didn't take advantage of the times where he had a clean pocket to take a shot on a quick out or comeback route. The film didn't show these receivers winning on many of their routes, but the ones where they did, he either didn't take a chance or was late with the throw or his accuracy was off. Even though the game had been decided – his throw to Terrance Williams on fourth down was inexcusable. Williams probably ran his best route of the year and for him not to be rewarded for it tells you all you need to know about the current quarterback situation.
- Greg Hardy was outstanding in the first half as a pass rusher but wasn't as successful in the second due to the Patriots keeping a tight end in to help with protection to his side. You know that Hardy was a problem when the Patriots are sacrificing Gronkowski routes in order to alleviate a problem. On tape, Hardy looked fresh and explosive – there was little or no rust as a rusher, and there were even some snaps where he helped in the running game chasing down plays from the backside.
- Tough game for Ronald Leary. I never thought I would see the number of plays where he struggled with power the way he did. It is usually the defenders that can play with quickness that give him the most problems, but that wasn't the case on Sunday. He played as if he was in survival mode – technique was poor and off balance. Hands to the face, tackling rushers and being over powered in the middle of the pocket were all part of his problem. I know he has been dealing with a groin injury, which sidelined him for a bit, but I don't believe that he would use that as an excuse. But there is no question that he's not the same player that has been rock solid the previous two seasons.
- If Lucky Whitehead is going to get more opportunities for offensive snaps – he is going to need to find ways to finish those chances he gets. His drop in the first quarter was on him, plain and simple. When the play is designed to create space, as it was with he and Beasley crossing in the middle -- as a receiver you've got to catch that ball. If he makes that catch he is going to most likely grab a first down and keep that drive going – instead the next play Beasley makes a catch and was short. I will say that later there were some snaps where Whitehead was open, but Weeden decided to go another direction and this might have been due to his inability to make that catch for him.
- From my seat in the press box, I thought that Rolando McClain was good. What the film showed was that he was much better than that. This defense just has a different attitude when he is playing. It was brilliance from Rod Marinelli playing him in that three-man line, tight to the line of scrimmage. McClain was able to attack the middle of the pocket as a rusher but also handle the point-of-attack runs. I can't remember the last time this defense was actually able to be competitive on third and fourth down in short yardage situations and that was due to the play of Rolando McClain. He is just so physical in the way he sheds blockers and finishes plays -- which exactly what this defense needed.
- In my gut feeling before the game, I wrote about Patriots running back Dion Lewis and the problems I thought he could cause to this Dallas defense. The Patriots did a nice job of moving Lewis around in the formation and making the Cowboys have to cover him with Barry Church, who has always been better in tight quarters than he is in space. Lewis' touchdown catch to start the second half was a thing of beauty -- it was a nice design to get him in the flat as quick as they were able to do. The ball from Brady wasn't perfect and Lewis was forced to adjust by making a one-handed catch, but what was really impressive was how he was able to make the reception, keep his balance up the field and make tacklers miss. Watching Lewis play just reminds me how much this team is going to miss Lance Dunbar the remainder of the season, with his ability to make those loose plays.
- With all the different personnel groups that the Patriots like to use on offense – I thought there was a strong possibility that we would see Corey White playing a significant role. What I didn't catch until game time was that White was going to be the slot corner in place of Tyler Patmon. When White signed with the Cowboys, my scouting report on him was that I thought he was a better slot player than he was playing on the outside. The tape showed he did a nice job of handling the different responsibilities he had in the game. There were several snaps where he had to carry Danny Amendola, and he was able to stay with him on those difficult routes where the Patriots like to run receivers across the field underneath. White was also in position to break up a quick screen as well as tip a pass coming off a slot blitz. He was able to give this defense a little something overall that they had not gotten from Patmon.
- Gavin Escobar is not James Hanna when it comes to being a factor in the running game. Escobar gives effort, but he doesn't have that ability to play with leverage or the snap to get the defender off the ball. There were far too many plays where Escobar was unable to sustain his block during the play on either the front or back side, which resulted in a defender being in on the play. What bothers me the most about Escobar is how difficult it is for him to finish blocks. When you watch him you just don't see that ability to just hang in there and fight -- where with Hanna you see that trait down after down. There is no question in my mind that this offense missed James Hanna and that toughness that he brings -- especially as that point of attack blocker.
- If I were an offensive coordinator in this league, my entire offense would be based on pick or rub routes. The amount of times teams run those plays successfully far outweighs the number of times the play is going to come back. The best example of this was the Brady to Edelman touchdown pass where Danny Amendola drove inside, threw his hands up and took Morris Claiborne out of the play. I will say that with what was happening the entire game – Claiborne should have known by the alignment that there was a possibility of a pick and played it better. What made matters worse was that if the defense could have made Brady hold the ball a tick longer – it would have been a sack by Greg Hardy, who beat tackle Sebastian Vollmer around the end but was just a step late.
- In regard to lineup changes for the upcoming game against the Giants – don't expect that talk until next week. These next two days are going to be about sitting starters out of practice and trying to get guys healthy. Backups and practice squad players are going to take all the snaps this week. If and when those changes happen next week – we will be all over it on DallasCowboys.com