My thoughts from the film room at Valley Ranch after the Cowboys victory over the Eagles:
- It has now become more common place to speak about what Dez Bryant has meant to this offense these last several weeks. In my scout's eye, Bryant is putting together the type of consistent season similar to what we are seeing with Anthony Spencer on defense. The struggles of frustration that we have seen in games gone by when things have not gone his way has been replaced with a player that works just as hard whether the ball is coming in his direction or not. It's better routes and an understanding of what his quarterback expects from him. When the team is in a goal-to-goal situation against a soft corner and Romo can give him a look or a sign and he adjust his route to snatch the ball out of the air and fight his way in the end zone says a lot about his growth as a trusted receiver. For Bryant is not just one or two plays a game but he is now managing to put series together with multiple plays in them. On the drive I spoke of where he caught the sight adjust from Romo, he has a 35 yard reception on a 3rd and 2 where he and Romo saw no safety help in the middle of the field and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in press coverage. Instead of taking an inside break, Bryant goes hard to the outside beating Rodgers-Cromartie off the snap. Romo in the pocket is able to pump the ball but he sees Bryant has separation up the field and put the ball in the perfect spot over the top of the corner but in a position where Bryant can make the catch and take the blow from safety Kurt Coleman who was late arriving on the play. Bryant was able to make the catch, secure the ball putting the offense on the Eagles side of the field, two plays later, Romo finds Jason Witten that takes the ball inside the Eagles five yard line which led to the go ahead score.
- Jason Garrett in his post-game news conference, spoke of how Doug Free just had to find a way to battle through the troubles that he was going through in the first half of the game Sunday night. When Free is bad, he is usually bad with his technique and in this case, he was really bad. There were too many times that instead of punching the rusher with his hands, he was catching his man which is something that he can't do because he doesn't have enough power in his lower body to sit down on his man unless he can stop his charge. Free can put himself into position with his feet and his set but when he doesn't extend on his man, he has no shot at all. When the rusher gets into his body, he gets much too high and off balance. The first sack he gave up, his hands went wide, Brandon Graham got into his chest and pulled him forward, then getting around him. Set after set, Free couldn't get his hands in the right spot. When he was in position he was able to fight his way through the play until the ball was thrown. In the second half, the one thing that changed for him was he was getting on the rusher quicker not allowing them to have a running start at him thus making him catch the block. There were still times where he missed with his hands but by taking a more aggressive approach, he was able to have some better plays. I do not believe that Doug Free will ever be a really strong tackle in this league so if he technique is bad, he is going to have problems and last night was one of those nights.
- I don't view this current Eagles offensive line as a dominate one. With the injuries that they have suffered, it really is a patch work group. What concerned me last night and studying this game today was how the Eagles were able to push the front seven around for the Cowboys in the running game. I understand there was no Jay Ratliff, Sean Lee or Bruce Carter or even Barry Church to help keep things stable but where we have seen great effort from guys like Josh Brent, Anthony Spencer and Ernie Sims, it might be asking too much to physically match up with these types of downhill backs. For the second game in a row, a back was able to chew up yards on the ground. My fear going forward is that opponents will use their running games to try and control not only guys like Ware and Spencer off the edge but use it to control the game with a Cowboys offense that once again might be on its way to making better strides with Murray in the lineup and a growing Dez Bryant. There is really no stoutness to this defense without Lee and Carter inside. Ernie Sims flew around to the ball on Sunday but his strength is not taking on blocks at the point of attack and being a thumper. Dan Connor is more of a lateral player that can be a liability at times when it comes to the physical side of the game. Josh Brent made a nice hustle play that was huge in the game causing the fumble of Bryce Brown but there were times where he was moved off his spot. Sean Lissemore played with effort and desire but he had his struggles as well. Marcus Spears as a role player gives you everything he has but the more plays he has the play, the more problems he encounters. Rookie Tyrone Crawford looks like he has a future here but every play is a learning experience for him. To the credit of theses defensive coaches, they have got every ounce of ability from these players but with four of the most important games left in the season they are going to have to draw a little more which could be tough.
- Mike Jenkins got the start at nickel corner on Sunday night which is a spot he has played some earlier in the season in the dime packages, playing inside but it was matching up against tight ends. Jenkins has always been a guy that has been comfortable playing on the outside and using the sideline as his friend. Out of the slot it's a whole different set of techniques and responsibilities. Against the Eagles his job was a little easier because DeSean Jackson was lost for the season just last week with a rib injury. I have always believed that Jenkins could have handle the job inside because of his ability to play man for man and carry a receiver all over the field. Jenkins does have a burst and closing quickness which is something that position requires. Where I was worried about Jenkins was when he had to play zone and would he be in the right spot when he had that responsibility. It appeared early in the game where I had a question on the 3rd and 12 slant pass to Riley Cooper when Jenkins carried Mcclin down inside too far, then the slant came from the his side where is if he would have maintained his position, I thought he would have been able to play the slant and get the defense off the field, instead the ball went behind him and the Eagles converted the third down. On the Eagles last drive before the half, Foles hands the ball to Bryce Brown who gains 20 yards on the play, where Ware gets up the field, Hatcher gets hooked, Lissemore gets washed out and Jenkins gets blocked out of the play, instead of fighting the receiver and getting over to make the tackle. The position that Jenkins is now playing is one of the hardest in football and I am surprised that he wasn't attacked more with his lack of experience. I have never questioned his skill set but he needs to learn the position as fast as he can to give this team a chance down the stretch.