Thoughts from the film room at Valley Ranch following Sunday's loss to the Ravens.
• I have always believed that coaches coach and scouts scout. At various times during my career, I have watched games from the sideline or sat in the coaches booth. I did so to try and get a better understanding of what was going on during the game and how certain plays shaped the outcome. I am not going to pretend to know what head coach Jason Garrett was trying to accomplish during those last 26 seconds. I can only ask questions to try and get answers from those in the middle of the situation. I can see what Garrett was trying to do by getting the ball to wide receiver Dez Bryant on the slant, and I have no problem with him trying to get the ball in Bryant' s hands. Along with Miles Austin, Bryant is the one guy that could take a short pass and turn it into a huge gain. The Ravens were in man coverage and they were rushing seven. The middle of the field was open and even pre-snap, Bryant was pointing out that was the case to Romo.
At the snap, Romo is looking in Bryant's direction the entire time because he was in single coverage with cornerback Cary Williams. As Romo takes his drop, Felix Jones steps up to handle the blitz off Romo's backside, with the offensive line trying to handle the pressure inside. Romo gets rid of the ball quickly because he knows he doesn't have much time and the last thing he can afford to do is take a sack. The routes on the outside were deep ones, both Austin and Kevin Ogletree going on "9s" or vertical patterns. On the right side, tight end Jason Witten runs up 10 yards then breaks to the sideline on the out. Both Witten and Austin were open, but Romo knows that Bryant, with a one-on-one, has a great shot of breaking a tackle and making a play. Williams is playing off Bryant enough that once the ball is thrown, he has a chance to drive on it and he does. Bryant doesn't catch the ball with a head of steam so he doesn't have the ability to hit Williams with any power.
To Williams credit, he makes a sure tackle in open space on a dangerous ball carrier. While Bryant tries to twist away from the defender, Austin and Ogletree are now well down the field, along with Witten. But, it sure looked like that Austin and Ogletree were taking their time getting back to the line. Right there, Garrett can call a time out to maybe run another play and then spike the ball, or he can let the clock run down like he did, then use his final time out. I really feel like he wanted to run another play, but getting the personnel back in position hurt that opportunity.
• I have been very critical of Phil Costa's playing ability, and whether he was really an upgrade over Ryan Cook? For one game, Costa made me eat my words. Not only was he outstanding in the way he was able to handle the inside three of the Ravens, but his help on line stunts and linebacker blitzes as far as the pickups were also spot on. There was one play where he passed his man to left guard Nate Livings, and then was able bounce inside to help right guard Mackenzy Bernadeau with his. Honestly, I feared the worst with Costa and his questionable back having to deal with the power of nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, but my worries were proven false. Costa played on his feet and with leverage. Whether he had to reach or scoop block, he was more than up to the task. His ability to position block on the move gave the Cowboys running backs an opportunity to make cuts or press the hole because he had his man sealed from the play. Costa gave the group stability and confidence that there were going to be some positive results upfront this week. Him stepping back into the lineup did help this group.
• Opening night against the Giants was the DeMarco Murray show, but since then it had been one frustrating carry after carry, game after game. But when you studied the Ravens, it did give you hope that there was a chance to run the ball against their defense. I think what helped the Cowboys have better success running the ball in this game was, as a group, the offensive line, tight ends and fullback did a much better job of physically getting a hat on a hat and sustaining those blocks.
More important, though, was the job done by running backs coach Skip Peete's men. Garrett dressed four running backs and he needed every one of them. At various points and times in the game, a different running back was called into action and they were able to deliver. With Murray in the lineup, you always expect the chance to have a productive ground game, but what surprised me was how well Felix Jones was able to play. Jones actually showed burst and surprising power when he was called upon. There were times in previous games when he looked like he was playing in quicksand. That wasn't the case against the Ravens. Not only did he have quality carries, but he also caught the ball well and gave Romo a chance on the final play with a blitz pickup, which is what they needed offensively to get the throw off. With the foot sprain to Murray and his status now week to week, this offense is going to need Jones to be that complete back until Murray is healthy enough to return to the lineup.
• I believe that you are going to see even more "12" personnel in these games going forward. Witten and fellow tight ends John Phillips and James Hanna were outstanding, not only at the point of attack but on the backside as well. There were several times where Witten and Phillips were able to get into position, keep their feet moving and sustain their blocks.
Witten and Phillips also made plays with their hands: Witten with several tough catches on fourth down and Phillips with a big grab on a seam route where he was able to keep the drive going after taking a big hit in the middle of his back from safety Ed Reed. There were plenty of questions about Hanna pre-draft and his ability to be a consistent blocker because of his lack of size. In his first extensive work outside of special teams, he was able to do some nice things with his reach and cut-off blocks. He was able to stay in position by working his hands and feet together. In the preseason, Hanna proved that his hands are good enough, and last week in practice, as the scout team tight end playing Baltimore's Dennis Pitta, he was able to make several nice catches from quarterback Kyle Orton. Look for Hanna to get more opportunities in this offense in the coming weeks.