IRVING, Texas – It's probably not a game that too many readers want to re-visit, but there's plenty to be gleaned from watching the tape of Thursday's loss to Carolina.
First and foremost, it's worth looking back at what Carolina did to put Tony Romo in such a bad position in the first half. But there are plenty of other tidbits that merit watching. Specifically, I wanted to take a look at the line play – both on the offensive and defensive side of the ball – as there was some good and bad moments for both.
All in all, there are 12 full points from the breakdown, as we move on toward the final five games of the season.
Let's get into it:
- Give Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott a ton of credit for the game he called on Thursday. His mixing of coverages early in the game forced Tony Romo into some throws that he wasn't prepared to make.
On Romo's first interception, he showed a two-deep look, then rolled it to a single safety with Kurt Coleman playing as a hole player or robber underneath. Once Coleman noticed the crossing route from Jason Witten, all he had to do was adjust to his left and cut in front of the ball and make the interception.
On the next one, McDermott played a two-deep look, but this time in the traditional sense. He used Luke Kuechly as that deep-dropping Mike linebacker that sits between the two safeties and takes any routes in the middle of the field. In this case, Terrance Williams was the crosser and Kuechly was in perfect position to play the ball.
On the final Romo interception, McDermott started with a single safety, but at the snap rolled it to a two-deep look. On the play he had Kuechly carry Jason Witten up the middle of the field. Romo, likely thinking that they only had the single safety, tried to fit the ball over the top to Witten. The throw was short and with Kuechly in perfect position on the route, he was easily able to finish the play.
- This is one of the few times where I have watched a cornerback play Dez Bryant straight up and get away with it. Last night I said that I thought Josh Norman was the best cornerback that Bryant faced, and after studying the tape – I will stand by my statement. What makes Norman unique is that he rarely requires help to do his job. We all know one of Bryant's traits is his ability to play the ball in the air. He owns cornerbacks in these situations, but Norman was right there with him. On the play, Matt Cassel tried to fit the ball to Bryant along the left sideline. Bryant saw that the ball was going to be short and tried to adjust to the flight of the ball. Somehow Norman sensed what Bryant was trying to do and at the last second reached back with his hand to knock it away, preventing the touchdown.
- I said in my postgame report that I felt like Cole Beasley did not get the ball nearly enough in this game. Of all the matchups in this Carolina secondary, I thought Beasley had the one that they could have taken the most advantage of. Panthers corner Colin Jones could not cover him out of the slot, and the film showed that. What was surprising was that Romo attempted more difficult throws instead of working with Beasley and hitting the sure thing. Matt Cassel even missed him on what would have been a sure touchdown on a wheel route where there was not a defender within 10 yards of him. When they did get him the ball, the results were those move-the-sticks-type receptions, but there were nearly not enough of them.
- Byron Jones did a much better job of playing cornerback than he did last week. His two plays on the goal line right before the half were textbook. To deny Greg Olsen inside positioning in the end zone and play the ball with his off hand was both physical and athletic. Two plays later, the massive Devin Funchess tried to two-hand shove him out of the way, but he managed to hold his ground and go around the outside of Funchess to knock the ball away. He was also a factor in the running game where he took on a pulling Trai Turner, stayed low and forced the ball carrier wider -- which allowed Sean Lee and Rolando McClain to chase down from the inside.
- This was the poorest game for La'el Collins since he took over as the starting guard for Ronald Leary. He played with poor body balance and control. There were too many snaps, both run and pass, where he was lunging and losing sustain of his man. He also missed a twist stunt on the play where Romo was trying to find Bryant down the middle of the field where he threw the ball to the outside instead of inside. If Romo would have had time he might have been able to adjust himself to get the ball to Bryant where he was running.
- In my Scout's Notebook on Wednesday, I mentioned that we might see some three-man line with some zone coverage behind it. The only sack of the day for the Cowboys came on just that. Tyrone Crawford has been close several times this season, and this time he was finally able to get home. Crawford lined up over center Ryan Kalil and was able to beat him with a quick move, then get around guard Andrew Norwell forcing Cam Newton to have to retreat in the pocket. Crawford was able to bring him down with a nice solid tackle that forced a punt.
- In this game, Carolina converted three times where they faced a situation of third down with 10 or more yards. One of those conversions came on a 3rd-and-17 where Rod Marinelli sent J.J. Wilcox, Rolando McClain, Tyler Patmon and Barry Church – with none of them getting home. Cam Newton was able to find Jerrico Cotchery for a gain of 24 yards for an easy pitch and catch. Cotchery was able to work his route off Sean Lee and Jeff Heath, who hopped to the inside. That was all Cotchery needed to make his break to the outside and find the space. It was one of those situations for Marinelli where we had seen him play his "Money 44" and force the ball underneath, but this time he went the aggressive route and it didn't work.
- On the play that Tony Romo was injured, it appeared that he had Jason Witten in the flat for a quick throw if he wanted it, which would have saved him the hit by Thomas Davis. The reason Davis was able to get home was a breakdown between Travis Frederick and Darren McFadden. Both engaged Davis initially, but then you get the sense that each player thought the other was going to take him. There is no way that a linebacker is a going to split a double-team block unless there was a breakdown, and that was exactly what happened. Romo tried to escape and could not do it. What was surprising about the play was it appeared that the majority of Davis' weight was toward Romo's lower body and not up high like the injury suffered in Philadelphia.
- I thought it was a nice bounce back game, protection-wise, for Tyron Smith after what happened to him in Miami. Jared Allen and Mario Addison were not factors rushing the passer, and that was due in large part to how Smith was able to hold them in check. Smith played with far better balance and body control on his sets. He wasn't reaching or lunging to engage these Carolina rushers. His footwork and punch were back to those levels that were have seen from him in the past. Neither Allen nor Addison were able to grab the corner and the reason for that was Smith's technique. He was once again back to playing with an ease of movement and was not pressured into mistakes like we saw last week. Smith was right where he needed to be against two solid rushers.
- Last night I wrote that I thought Rolando McClain should have had an interception off Cam Newton in this game. After studying the tape, it's clear that it would have been a tough chance. McClain was outstanding in his drop and reading Newton's eyes, but the ball was a little wide. It just grazed his fingertips, and he was unable to get both hands on the ball. We have seen him make some incredible plays in pass defense, and if he would have pulled this one off it would have been a real gem.
- Film showed that the Cowboys defense did a nice job of defending the Carolina read-option. As much as I thought Cam Newton was going to run the ball – and potentially run it well -- it was not a factor. Greg Hardy, DeMarcus Lawrence and Jeremy Mincey did a nice job of sliding inside to take the running backs, while Sean Lee and Rolando McClain played over the top. There was a snap or two where I thought Jeff Heath could have hustled to the alley to make a tackle for a loss or small gain, but overall it was well played. In this task it was going to be about assignments and discipline, and the defense played with both.
- I was confused by the call on Byron Jones on the field goal rush that resulted in a Carolina first down. The call by Umpire Carl Paganelli was for leaping, and he was correct in the way the rule is applied. After the game, Jason Garrett told the media it was called for landing on one of the Carolina blockers -- but that wasn't the case. The rule states that you are only allowed to leap from one yard beyond the line of scrimmage. On this particular play Jones took a running start from three yards away, then went in the air. You can see in the film that Paganelli was trying to adjust him before the ball was snapped, but it was too late and he had to make this rarest of calls.