IRVING, Texas – A look at the good, bad and the ugly from the Cowboys' 19-16 loss to the Jets.
It's something you're probably tired of hearing, but there are positives to be gleaned from this game tape – even if it was the loss that officially knocked Dallas out of the playoffs. These next few weeks will be crucial in evaluating what the Cowboys are working with heading into 2016, and there were several developments that give cause for optimism.
That's not going to make anyone excited about a 4-10 record, but game tape is always worth revisiting as we focus on what this team needs to work on moving forward.
Here's my report from the film:
- Let me start off by saying that Kellen Moore performed exactly how I thought he would. He was poised and threw catchable passes. Two of his three interceptions were on him and likely due to his inexperience. He just didn't see the safety -- plain and simple. The shot down the middle of the field to Terrance Williams initially looked like he had a chance because of how the coverage was set. Marcus Gilchrist was shaded toward Dez Bryant, which left the middle of the field open. On the snap, Gilchrist pedaled back, but instead of going straight back to help Darrelle Revis in coverage, he drifted toward the middle of the field. What made matters worse for Moore was that in the pocket, two separate occasions he had to take his off eyes off the field in order to avoid the rush. If he had a clean pocket, I believe he would have ripped ball earlier -- before Gilchrist had a chance to react. Williams was working clear of Antonio Cromartie and had a chance for a big-time chunk play.
- Nice call by Scott Linehan to go to the early reverse with Lucky Whitehead. Usually offensive coordinators hold those types of plays or never call them at all. The play was well-designed and -- more importantly -- well-executed. Whitehead received nice blocks from Matt Cassel, La'el Collins and Dez Bryant in order to spring him clear. If not for a tremendous hustle play from defensive tackle Leonard Williams, that call has a chance to go to the house. Later in the game, Whitehead had another chance with the "Jet Sweep," but understandably the timing between him and Kellen Moore was not there and the play became a bust. We are learning that getting the ball into Whitehead's hands has been very productive.
- I initially thought the block in the back call on Zack Martin during the Darren McFadden screen was a bad flag. On tape, it was the right call. Martin put both hands in Buster Skrine's back as the defensive back was trying adjust back to McFadden on the play. You can actually see Martin after he does it try and pull his hands away like he knew what he had just done. If the block wasn't at the point of attack he might have been able to get away with it. Just an unfortunate mistake.
- Outstanding job by DeMarcus Lawrence, Greg Hardy and Jeremy Mincey on the fourth down stop on the goal line. The play was perfectly timed by Lawrence off the snap to beat his man inside and not allow Chris Ivory to get any momentum up the field. Once Lawrence was able to knock him sideways, it allowed Hardy to slide down inside and help as well. You also got a nice effort at the point of attack by Mincey, who was lined up at the nose tackle during that series. The plan going forward here might be to keep Mincey at the one-tech and see if that's an option for him next season.
- It was a nice zone drop by Terrance Mitchell on his interception in the third quarter. He put himself in perfect position to be between Ryan Fitzpatrick and Kenbrell Thompkins to get the turnover. If there was a disappointment on the play, it appeared that if Mitchell could have planted his foot, then burst straight ahead he would have likely been able to score. There was no threat to his outside left and by carrying the ball across the field it brought all the tacklers to him. The offense only managed to get a field goal in that situation where there might have been more there.
- Cole Beasley did manage some clutch receptions in the fourth quarter of this game, but his third down drop on a slant earlier in the half was costly. What made the play even tougher was the fact that he was able to beat Revis on the route. Moore put the ball at eye level for Beasley and all he had to do was catch it, then burst forward for the first down. It was a play I had seen Beasley make 100 times, but this time it wasn't the case. The offense was forced to kick another field goal instead of working with a fresh set of down inside the Jets 10-yard line.
- My teammates on "Cowboys Break," Derek Eagleton and Nick Eatman, have been calling for Scott Linehan to get "cute" on these third-and-short situations. Both Eagleton and Eatman got their wishes when Linehan gave the Jets a heavy look, and, with Tyler Clutts in the backfield off set left, flipped the ball to Darren McFadden running right. McFadden did a nice job of getting the ball to the edge and around the corner for 12 yards due in large part to an outstanding block by Terrance Williams at the point of attack. Nice design, execution and finish for the first.
- Facing a 3rd-and-14, the Jets caught the Cowboys in zone coverage and Ryan Fitzpatrick ripped the ball to Quincy Enunwa down the middle of the field for a first down. On the throw, Enunwa was able to work in between Anthony Hitchens and Barry Church to make the adjusting catch. I thought that maybe Church was a tick late adjusting and could have potentially made it a contested catch, but he just couldn't get there. Rod Marinelli decided to rush four and the rush was forced wide, creating a seam right in the middle of the pocket where Fitzpatrick was able to step up and make the throw. Two plays later, Fitzpatrick found Eric Decker in the flat for a touchdown to put the Jets up by three.
- I've been critical of Doug Free at times this season, but Saturday night wasn't one of those times. Free matched up against Muhammad Wilkerson. I had a feeling this would be a big mismatch for the Cowboys, but surprisingly Free was able to hold his own. As much as Wilkerson likes to move around, my feeling in the postgame was that everyone had a shot at him, but it was Free that faced him the majority of the snaps. Free managed to hold him off in the running game by tying him up with some well-executed reach and cutoff blocks. Free also didn't allow Wilkerson to overpower him rushing the passer, especially with Kellen Moore in the game. For Wilkerson to have no sacks and one pressure tells you exactly what type of game Free played.
- The next time you want to be critical of Tyrone Crawford and his so-called "lack of production," take a moment and go back to re-watch this game. Crawford is banged up in the shoulder area and it's clear that he doing everything in his power to fight through it. Every tackle or point-of-attack play that he is involved with, you can see it on tape that he is just playing with one arm. It is amazing that he is still able to function as well as he has given the situation. His sack on Ryan Fitzpatrick on a third down was outstanding effort on his part -- not only to get up the field, but retrace his steps to track him down. It says a lot about the type of player he is.
- On Eric Decker's touchdown reception, when he motions across the formation it is clear that Byron Jones is trying to get Brandon Carr to switch with him on the coverage. Jones knew from the motion that he was going to get beat to the flat and maybe Carr would have a better chance of getting in position to carry Decker in the route. My feeling is that, with the play happening so fast and Carr locked in on Brandon Marshall, any type of switch would have been difficult to pass. Give Chan Gailey credit on the call – he knew that in that situation the Cowboys were likely going to be in man coverage and running Jones through the defensive traffic – he was going to have trouble getting in position to handle the route.
- On the pass up the sideline to Kenbrell Thompkins that set up the game-winning field goal for the Jets, he was very close to misplaying that pass. The ball hit his hands and it bounced up between his arms and he was quickly able to regain control of it and get up the field. It would have been a nice break but this defense hasn't received a break all season.