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Scout's Eye: Grading Tape On The 3rd Down Call, Murray's Fumble & Cobb's Catch

IRVING, Texas – Painful as it might be to rehash, I wanted to take a look at three huge plays which made the biggest impact in Sunday's 26-21 loss to Green Bay. Much will be made of the controversial call on Dez Bryant near the goal line, but these plays were every bit as big in ending the Cowboys' season.

  • In my postgame thoughts from Sunday, I said I normally don't question the calls that coaches make during the game, but there was a time in this game where I did just that.

With the Cowboys facing a 3rd-and-1 from the Packers 27-yard line, I didn't understand why Scott Linehan was interested in throwing the ball in that situation. The Cowboys had not only kept Aaron Rodgers on the sideline by killing almost five minutes off the clock, but they were moving the ball in a way where there was a good chance of adding to their lead right before half.

What was interesting about the play selection was that it was the second third down situation that the offense faced on the drive. In the first one, Linehan put Dwayne Harris on the field and slammed the ball inside for the first down. The next time around, Linehan opted to put Romo in the shotgun and attack the Packers with his "11" personnel. By going with "11" personnel, Linehan actually got what he wanted matchup-wise.

The problem came when Romo dropped the chest-high snap from Travis Frederick and fumbled the ball along the ground. When that happened the options of Jason Witten up the field, Cole Beasley on the drag route and DeMarco Murray on the check down all went out the window.

What made matters worse is that by the ball going to Romo's right, he had no choice but to pick it up and try to get the ball down the field to the streaking Terrance Williams, who was clearly his last option. There was no way that Romo could have picked up the ball and set up to get the ball to where it was designed to go.

 At the time I didn't understand the call by Linehan, but after studying what he was trying to do on the film, if Romo would have just caught the snap, the play had a chance.

  • When you have 120 plays in a game, there are going to be times when the opposition was just better than you on that snap. One of those plays was the case when Julius Peppers stripped DeMarco Murray of the ball on the Cowboys' first possession of the second half.

Where the Cowboys have been best in the league all season is when they have run the ball.  They are especially good when they have pulled their offensive linemen to lead plays. On the play where Murray fumbled, the Cowboys were running a counter going to the right -- with Zack Martin kicking out on Peppers and Ronald Leary trailing behind to pull up in the hole.

On the front side they got solid blocks from James Hanna, Jermey Parnell and Travis Frederick, which opened a huge hole off that right side. Peppers was playing as a standup linebacker on the outside, and instead of meeting Martin's block square with both hands, he allowed him into his body. By absorbing the block it allowed Peppers to make a quick move and hop around Martin putting him in line with Murray, whose eyes are down the field.

Peppers jumped back to the inside as Murray dipped his right shoulder to make the cut, all while protecting the ball. But Peppers managed to get his right hand on Murray's arm and managed to pull it away from him as he was going up the field. If Peppers doesn't make that strip, it's only Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix standing between Murray and the goal line. The Packers took the turnover and drove 32 yards and kicked a field goal to make it a one point game.


  • With the Packers facing a 3rd-and-11 from the Cowboys 35-yard line with two minutes left in the game, it would have been easy for Mike McCarthy to hand the ball to Eddie Lacy one more time, start the clock and punt the football to the Cowboys. Dallas would most likely have been deep in their own end, and it would have put the game in his defense's hands to win the game.

Instead he put the game in the hands of Aaron Rodgers to see if he could pick up the game-clinching first down. Rodgers had been masterful on third down all day, and to take one more shot at it was probably not as big of a risk as we would all believe.

When I saw the formation, there was no question where I thought the ball was going and that was to Randall Cobb. The other option might have been Jordy Nelson, but Brandon Carr had shut him down all day. As good as Davante Adams had been, I doubted that Rodgers would look at the rookie in that situation. Jarrett Boykin was also on the field and was being covered by Tyler Patmon.

On the play, Rod Marinelli sent his dime unit onto the field, and to their credit, they matched the Packers receivers well. Both Nelson and Adams were short of the sticks and Jeff Heath had carried Andrew Quarless up the field and was in position to make a play if needed.

Cobb worked against Orlando Scandrick, who was guarding him like a basketball player -- face-to-face. There was no separation between the two. Tyrone Crawford got pressure on a twist stunt and was within two yards of Rodgers, and he went vertical to attempt to knock the ball down.

On the tape, it looks like Rodgers in fact was going to Boykin working against Patmon up the right side line, but he couldn't get the ball over the top of Crawford, who tips it with his left hand. As the ball flutters through the air, Cobb manages to adjust his body in a way to catch the ball right off the top of the turf while Scandrick can do nothing but watch.

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