IRVING, Texas – Some leftover observations from the tape of the Cowboys' win against Houston.
Some of this is simple grading from having studied the film, but there's something about the Cowboys' defensive tackle rotation that I'd keep an eye on as we go forward with the season.
Here are the my main impressions from the game:
- In my post game notes from Sunday's game, I wrote about how well I thought this Cowboys offensive line did in handling J.J. Watt for the balance of the day and how he was not a major factor in its outcome.
What we knew coming into this matchup was that Watt was going to have an opportunity to take a shot at rushing all up and down this line until they felt like they could find a favorable matchup. On the Cowboys' opening offensive snap, Watt was lined up across from Ronald Leary and beat him with a quick arm-over move tackling, DeMarco Murray for no gain. As bad as that play was for Leary, it was the last time that Watt would sniff the ball while matched up with him one-on-one in the game.
Watt had no answer for Leary when it came to trying to rush him. Leary's technique was outstanding and his ability to sit down on Watt and neutralize him with power was impressive –particularly because of how much upper body strength that he plays with. It is rare that you see a pass blocker show the ability to stay in front of Watt and keep him along the line of scrimmage, but that's exactly what Leary was able to do to Watt.
The matchup was so tough for Watt that the Texans defensive coaches moved him away from Leary and took their chances with Tyron Smith to try and get him home on the rush.
- As amazing as Dez Bryant's 37-yard reception in overtime to set up the game winning field goal was, the play that Tony Romo was able to make to Terrance Williams might have even been better.
For Romo to escape from Watt and steady himself while keeping his eyes down the field was remarkable in itself. At first glance, I thought that Tyron Smith was beaten badly by Watt on the play, but that wasn't the case at all. Watt just timed his rush perfectly and was on the mark when Travis Frederick snapped the ball. Smith had no shot of even laying a hand on Watt, who was past him in a shot.
In watching Romo in the pocket, you can see that he has a sense that something is not right on his backside, because you see him begin to squat down to spin out of the oncoming rush, instead of standing tall like he normally would. Romo's decision to spin backdoor, instead of trying to duck, I believe caught Watt by surprise due to the angle he took on the quarterback.
As Watt was going past Romo, he tried to trip him, but Romo was able to keep his balance and deliver a strike to Williams downfield. Williams, to his credit, never quit on the post route by running through Kareem Jackson and past safety Kendrick Lewis for the touchdown.
- There were so many questions about these linebackers coming into the season -- from "How will they replace Sean Lee?" to "What's wrong with Bruce Carter?" There were also unknowns about Rolando McClain and whether he really wanted to play football.
If you asked me what area of this Cowboys defense has improved the most through these first five weeks of the season, I would have to say it would be the linebackers. It has not mattered who these defensive coaches have plugged into the lineup, those players have responded in a positive way. It doesn't take a scout to tell you how well McClain has played -- or Bruce Carter, for that matter. Anthony Hitchens might be a rookie, but in the opportunities he has been given, he is not playing like one.
But in this game against the Texans, the one that stood out to me was Justin Durant. From the opening whistle to final snap on tape, Durant was all over the field. His durability and stamina down-after-down was impressive. He was physical in the running game and he was exactly where needed to be in coverage. But his best trait was his ability to bring the Texans ball carriers down in the open field, which is not an easy thing to do. As a group these linebackers played well, but the one that played the best was Justin Durant.
- The plan for Rod Marinelli and this Cowboys staff was to create a defensive line rotation much like what we had seen from the Seattle Seahawks, where no player is on the field for more than 40 snaps a game. The way that the Cowboys opened the game on Sunday was with George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey at the ends with Tyrone Crawford and Nick Hayden as the tackles.
I believe this is the way that they will continue to line up, with Henry Melton coming off the bench in order to try and keep him fresh as the game goes on. After studying this game on tape, I would not be one bit surprised if we see either Davon Coleman or Ken Bishop back in the lineup for Terrell McClain in the coming weeks. McClain played as both the under-tackle and nose against the Texans, and he was not nearly as effective as what we have seen from Coleman and Bishop -- who were both on the inactive list.
McClain has not shown that quickness and explosiveness that we saw during the OTAs and minicamp practices when he first arrived. He was unable to really get anything going against these Texans guards – who had struggled against those types of players. McClain might need more time due to his layoff during training camp dealing with his ankle injury, but with Coleman and Bishop playing the way they have I would keep an eye on that spot on the 46 each week.