IRVING, Texas - Here are some observations from the film room at Valley Ranch:
- After the game on Sunday, I awarded one of my game balls to Jason Hatcher for his effort in shutting down this Rams offense. There was no question that Hatcher deserved that honor but after studying the game, it really was a collective team effort across the defensive line that got that job done. DeMarcus Ware was outstanding against the Rams best offensive linemen, Jake Long. He beat and bashed Long the entire day to the point that Long was ineffective against other rushers like George Selvie and Kyle Wilber. Nick Hayden was making plays seven yards down the field tackling Tavon Austin. Edgar Jones and Jerome Long were able to chip in with some quality plays. Caesar Rayford looked comfortable playing inside at defensive tackle with Long when Hatcher and Hayden needed a break.
Their effort and passion was relentless the entire game. Monte Kiffin, Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett used various combinations in the game and all their moves came up aces. Kiffin was able to just use four man pressure in the game which allowed him to drop seven and handle the Rams skill players underneath and down the field. Where this Cowboys defensive line was most effective was when they were running games upfront with their twist packages. There was constant pressure on Sam Bradford to the point where he really didn't have the time to look down the field for a receiver. It was a dominating day, for a group that once again had to play without Anthony Spencer but were able to get the job done.
- The more that I studied the Rams during the week, the more I was convinced that if the Cowboys offensively were going to have any success, it would be on the shoulders of Tyron Smith and Doug Free. Of all the matchups possible in this game, how Smith and Free blocked Robert Quinn and Chris Long was truly going to tell the story. From my seat in the press box, it appeared that Smith was having a 50-50 day against Quinn, while Free held Long to just one tackle the entire day with no quarterback pressure. The game tape, showed that Smith was better than 50-50 and Free had not one issue against Long, matter of fact, his only issue for a brief time was with backup, Matt Conrath on a couple of cutoff blocks.
Quinn had come into the game as a nightmare for tackles to have to deal with because of his edge pressure. Smith did a really nice job of not allowing him to get to the edge or work underneath to get inside of him. The one play that Smith allowed Quinn to make which did cause a forced fumble, was the second of the two draw plays that the Cowboys attempted on the day. The first time they ran it, Smith shoved Quinn so far up the field, that Murray did not get touched until he was already in the second level. On the second one, Quinn was able to keep his balance after the shove and he just made a nice athletic play. [embedded_ad]
Playing against Chris Long, is the perfect type of rusher for Doug Free to face. Free tends to do a better job against defensive ends that don't play with a great deal of power and are more interested in just getting up the field. It has been well documented that Free's athletic ability is clearly his best trait. When he can get out of his stance, work wide and adjust, he is a much better player. When he has to face a rusher that extends his hands and just pushes on him, he has trouble sitting down. Long doesn't play with power and that played right into Free's hands. I thought that Free was able to play a complete game from a technique stand point as well. He never looked off balance or struggling with Long's rush. Other than those cutoffs against Conrath, Free was in control, poised and continues to work his way back to that form that we all had observed three years ago.
- This goes back to my days of studying with Ed Cahill for The Draft Show, but watching J.J. Wilcox play, is a lot of fun. With Wilcox, you never know what you are going to see next. I had a gut feeling that very early in the week that he was going to make this start against the Rams and as excited I was for him, I also had my concerns. Not of the physical type but the mental and when I mean mental, its not to imply he has issues learning but would he be able to handle all the routes that the Rams were going to throw at him.
It was clear from the first play of the game when he filled in the box, that the physical side was going to be well and good, but there is something that we are going to keep an eye on as he plays more. As aggressive as he is attacking the ball, he is going to have to learn to come under better control to be a secure, wrap up tackler. I saw the same thing from Barry Church when he started, he would come flying forward and throw his body at the legs of the ball carrier without wrapping up. Bill Parcells use to tell us that poor tackling safeties will cost you hundreds of yards during the season. There is no question that Wilcox gets to the ball but where he can make the biggest difference to this defense, is finishing plays. Jerome Henderson and Joe Baker will work with him to get that cleaned up in his game.
Throughout the game, Wilcox had more chances to play down but he also played some single high and then later in the game some straight two deep. He played some man coverage against Jared Cook which is no small task and when the ball went wide underneath, he was able to rally with the linebackers and drive the ball out of bounds. He played with nice awareness and there were times where when checks were made, you could see him communicating with Church or the corners. He was in outstanding position for the interception of Sam Bradford that was called back, when Hatcher struck Bradford in the head area which was the correct call.
For his first start in the NFL, he was once again, fun to watch. He did not let his coaches or teammates down with his play. He was physical and he didn't play like he was lost or scared. It was not perfect but it was clearly something they can work with. Paired with Barry Church in the back end, there are some nice possibilities.
- I no longer work in the Cowboys scouting department, but if Jerry or Stephen Jones asked my opinion, I would tell them to continue to start Orlando Scandrick at corner and allow Morris Claiborne to come off the bench. Right now, this combination appears to be working very well. Scandrick is playing at a high level both outside and in the slot but I believe that Claiborne looks much more relaxed as well.
It was nice to see, with what happened to Claiborne last week against the Chiefs on the pass interference call, he was able to bounce back with one of his most complete games. I thought he played with nice positioning and movement. He didn't appear to be struggling with the routes and his reads along with his awareness was much better. There have been times where he has appeared to laboring in coverage and that might have been do to his knee soreness but there was a smoothness to his game.
He was aggressive driving on the ball and when he had to come forward, there was no hesitation or apprehension. He did get the one call against him for pass interference late in the game and on tape, it did show that he used an arm bar to keep Chris Givens from getting up the field but again, if he doesn't use his arm, he worked himself in position to defend the ball and that was a positive sign.
I understand that Morris Claiborne was drafted to be a starter, but if playing Orlando Scandrick has allowed Claiborne to regain his health and confidence, these coaches need to keep that going because it has benefited both parties. There have been no reasons to take Scandrick off the field at this point and until there are issues, he needs to continue to start. There is nothing wrong with letting Morris Claiborne be that nickel back as along as this defense contiunes to play like they have this season.