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Scout's Eye: Analyzing The Cowboys' Pass Protection Breakdowns

IRVING, Texas -- Here are my main takeaways from the tape of the Cowboys' 24-20 win against the Lions on Sunday.

  • As bad as it was for this Cowboys offense to surrender six sacks on the day, how the Lions managed to get them at times was more difficult to understand.  

Let me walk you through each of them and try to explain what happened:

On the first one, Jermey Parnell never got out of his stance, and Darryl Tapp just ran right by him untouched. On the next one, early in the second quarter, it appeared that there was some confusion between Tyler Clutts and Parnell in how they were supposed to sort out the blitz on the outside. Romo even moved Clutts to the right to help with the rush. At the snap, both DeMarco Murray and Clutts started working wide -- but Parnell went with them instead of working back inside, leaving defensive end Devin Taylor a free run at Romo.

Murray did his best to adjust back inside to block Taylor, but that allowed James Ihedigbo to come off the outside unblocked. Romo was able to avoid Taylor but not Ihedigbo for the sack. On the play, Witten was running a "Hot" route, but because of the pressure Romo was unable to get the ball out.

On the next sack, the Cowboys went with max protection on the right side, with Witten and Hanna staying in to block. There was a play action fake to the right with Murray, which took him in that direction. On the left side, Ronald Leary blocked down inside, and Smith stayed outside, allowing linebacker Tahir Whitehead a free run at Romo – who couldn't avoid him.

Next, Romo tried to throw the ball to Bryant on the crossing route, but the big wide out got knocked to the ground. Romo pulled ball back and started to search the field. Terrance Williams came open late, but Parnell got beat late by Ezekial Ansah, which didn't allow Romo the opportunity to see him.

Later in the game there were back-to-back sacks by Suh, both of which were total coverage sacks by the secondary. To their credit on both plays, they managed to double Bryant and Witten which meant that Williams and Beasley had to win on the outside and they didn't. Romo could have tried to get rid of the ball both times, but it has always been his nature to try to extend the play and he was unable to do so.


  • Of the linebackers that took defensive snaps for the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon, it would be difficult to grade any of them poorly. I did have some concern when Rolando McClain left early in the game, just for the fact that I had seen him read faster and beat the blocker to the spot. There were a couple of plays where he got caught on blocks instead of being his normal physical self.

Anthony Hitchens started out a little rusty as well, and that might have had to do with missing practice all week, but I also thought that the more he played, his rhythm came back. Bruce Carter was all over the field and honestly should have had his sixth interception right before half, but he was unable to make the adjustment quick enough to get his hands in position.

Where Carter shined the most against the Lions was his ability to work around blockers -- all while maintaining his position to carry out his responsibility. It was rare to see him out of position. It was also a solid day for Kyle Wilber, who continues to be one of those guys that, no matter how many snaps he gets during the game, he is going to make a play or two. His interception at the start of the second half was big and earlier in the game he made a nice sideline tackle, driving the ball carrier out of bounds before he got to the sticks.

  • I see why Tony Romo was excited in his post-game interview when he was describing the fourth down throw that he made to Jason Witten. In typical Witten fashion, he knew exactly where Lions safety James Ihedigbo was playing him. Like we have seen hundreds of times before, he was able to make a slight nod to the outside, then cut hard back to the inside, leaving Ihedigbo out of position to the outside and making it a simple pitch and catch for Romo to grab that all important first down.  The route was so good that that I went into the Film Room and broke it down for you on in my Three Key Plays of the Game segment.
  • It was a difficult day for the Cowboys run game against an outstanding Lions run defense. Like I said in my Game Thoughts later Monday night, they did manage to chip away at this defense with as Jason Garrett likes to call some "dirty runs."

What went unnoticed is that when they had success moving the ball on the ground, if there was a key block at the point of attack, it usually came from Dwayne Harris and his ability to find his man, engage on the block and work to finish. If the Cowboys were a college team and their coaches were handing out helmet stickers – Harris would have had at least three for the toughness and determination that he showed on tape against a defense that made it very difficult to run the ball against.

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