Scout's Eye: Dez's Drop, Evaluating Cassel & Other Offensive Notes

IRVING, Texas – You can find a detailed breakdown of the Cowboys' defensive tape elsewhere. But on a day where Dallas managed six points – the third game in the last five where the Cowboys haven't scored a touchdown – we've got to start with the offense.

Here are my biggest takeaways from the offensive game tape for this seventh-straight loss – one last reminder of how badly this team has missed Tony Romo during his absence.

  • After studying the game on the way home – I am totally on board with the call Scott Linehan made on that 3rd-and-1. There was no guarantee that they were going to pick up that distance on the ground, given the way the Buccaneers had been playing run defense. Their linebackers were a problem in this game and getting the play blocked correctly was likely going to be an issue. Throwing the ball to Bryant one-on-one was going to accomplish two things: it was going to buy you space with field position in case you had to punt after running clock, and Bryant is the best offensive weapon on the field. If you are going to take a shot – go to your best, and that is what Linehan and Cassel did. What was disappointing about the execution was that Bryant usually catches that ball in his sleep. The tape showed that the ball hit him right in the chest, then went straight down. He had a chance to extend his hands which we have seen him do hundreds of times, but the ball got to his body which is rare for him.
  • Dallas gave up a sack where I thought that maybe Darren McFadden might have picked up the wrong guy, but that wasn't the case at all. On the play, Henry Melton drove hard inside with Lavonte David off his left hip. As Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and McFadden worked to handle the pressure, Kwon Alexander looped late to the left, catching all three of the blockers engaged and unable to adjust back to the outside. By the time they saw what was happening – it was too late. The only chance that Matt Cassel had was to try and get the ball to Jason Witten, who came open late. It was a perfectly-timed blitz that was executed well by the Buccaneers. It put the Cowboys in a tough spot on which man to pick up.
  • Coming out of the game, I thought there were some plays that Matt Cassel left on the field and the film confirmed it. They even had a special scheme design with Cole Beasley in the backfield that Linehan rolled out on 3rd-and-8,  flaring him to the right. Instead of throwing Beasley the ball in open space, Cassel never looked at him. Instead he decided to hit Witten on a screen with Lucky Whitehead out front blocking for a gain of two. Later, Cassel again missed Beasley right before the half on a vertical route where he was wide open. Again, Cassel checked the ball down to Witten, who ended up falling a yard short of the first down. It was these types of decisions that really summed up Cassel's four games as a starter.
  • Look no further than Buccaneers linebackers Kwon Alexander and Lavonte David for the Cowboys' difficulty in running the ball. There were several snaps where this offensive line was unable to get blockers up onto the second level to handle these two. On the first snap of the game, La'el Collins came off the ball, went to the ground and allowed David a free run at Darren McFadden unblocked for no gain. Later in the game, McFadden took the ball off the right side with Tyler Clutts leading the way, but Clutts couldn't get his hat on David -- who physically stepped up to make the tackle for no gain. It was the first game since McFadden was named the starter where he was completely shut down by an opponent. Alexander and David were outstanding, not only at the point of attack, but also playing the run on the move. This Dallas offensive line really had no answer for them the entire afternoon.
  • If Christine Michael is going to play more, he needs to go back to being that mean, nasty running back I scouted in Seattle. I have yet seen him run with that violence that he did with the Seahawks. There have been too many carries where he has taken the ball, danced in the backfield and finished with a two or three-yard gain. One of the traits the scouts liked about him was his ability to run with explosive power – we haven't seen that at all. If there was a positive to take from his game against the Buccaneers, it was his pass protection. His awareness and technique were right where they needed to be. There has been some whispering that this wasn't always the case, but he was able to take care of that.
  • It was good to see Gavin Escobar have a reception in the game. This is not the first time that he has been open, but for some reason Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden struggled to find him. With Romo back in the lineup, I believe that you will see more balls going in his direction due to the quarterback's trust in him.
  • Tip of the cap to Zack Martin and La'el Collins for the job they were able to do on the super talented under-tackle Gerald McCoy. The stat sheet only showed one tackle, but more importantly: no sacks. There were several snaps in this game where Martin or Collins was matched up with McCoy one-on-one, and he wasn't a factor in either the run or pass. I have studied games where McCoy just bullied guards, and to be honest, I was worried more about his matchup with Collins more than Martin -- but Collins was up to the task. It's never easy to have to battle a guy like McCoy for 20-to-30 plays and not have three or four really poor ones – but the Cowboys managed him.
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