Breakdown: How the Cowboys won in week one.
THEY WERE AGGRESSIVE AND EFFECTIVE IN THE DEEP PASSING GAME. In week one Tony Romo’s quarterback rating on throws of ten yards or more was 124.8. In the other five weeks combined it was 73.2 (78.3 wk 2, 58.4 wk 3, 52.1 wk 4, 81.6 wk 6, 95.8 wk 7). As of this very moment Tony Romo has 21 passes of over 20 yards on the season. On those attempts, he’s 11 of 21 for 279 yards, 4 touchdowns and 1 interception.
Jason Garrett is afraid to call any route longer than ten yards. He tried it in week one and it worked out. He tried it again in week 3 (week 2 they were down by double figures 4:30 into the game) and almost got Romo killed. Garrett’s fear (albeit well deserved) of his own offensive line has rendered him gun-shy. Romo’s completion percentage this year is fantastic 67.9% but when you realize the majority of those passes have been ten yards or shorter and this is not an average Tony Romo season it’s not very impressive.
The fear of the all powerful “negative play” has made the Cowboys' offense a series of 3 step drops that result in 5-10 yard gains at best. These kind of drives are incredibly hard to maintain. If a drive starts on your own 20, You’re expecting Tony Romo to realistically go 8 of 12 for a touchdown or 5 of 8 for a shot at a 40 yard field goal (Romo is averaging 10.9 yards per completion. He completes 67.9% of his passes) and that is without a sack, a negative run play, a miscommunication with Dez Bryant, a false start, a holding penalty, and the expectation that three of those incompletions don’t come on the same drive and thus would stall.
Because Jason Garrett is refusing to stretch the field and prefers to play conservative he’s in turn making arguably his best offensive player (Romo) a non-factor. From all of the Cowboys' drives this year Romo’s estimated points added on the season is 13.8. As a reference, Brandon Weeden’s is 14.7, Christian Ponder’s is 27.3, and the top 3 quarterbacks (1. Brees, 2. Rodgers, 3. Ryan) are all above 70 estimated points added.
Another note that is a little troubling; the top passers in the league have averaged about 800 yards added to their stats from YAC (yards after catch) from their wide receivers' progression down the field after the catch (Eli 735, Brees 820, Brady 905, Rodgers 868). Tony Romo has gotten 637 yards of YAC from his wideouts. Either they're not making plays after the catch or he’s not putting them in a position to advance the ball. There’s always the third option, the play call is too conservative to give them a chance to advance the ball after the catch is made (ie the ten yard stop).
THEY WERE PATIENT ON DEFENSE. The Cowboys blitzed only 9 times on 35 drop backs. The blitz was effective when used, creating 3 sacks in those 9 instances. They blitzed so infrequently they kept Eli guessing. Eli has only been sacked 4 times when blitzed on the year. The Cowboys have 3 of them. I have to believe he was not expecting the kind of restraint that Rob Ryan exhibited. The Cowboys ran cover-2 for 39 of the 51 defenses snaps in that game daring the Giants to run (cover 2 stats via thecdtimes.com). When the Cowboys lined up in cover-2 Eli averaged a measly 5 yards per attempt and somehow couldn’t move the ball on the ground either averaging 2.78 yards per carry.
COSTLY GIANT MISTAKES. Victor Cruz dropped 3 game-changing passes in week 1, which is half of his season total. David Wilson took a carry off the left side of the Giants line going into Dallas territory on the 29 yard line for his first carry of his career and.....Sean Lee strips the ball and the Cowboys recover. The next drive did not bear fruit for the Cowboys as Lawrence Vickers (yeah....I have no idea either) was stuffed on 4th and 1 in Giant territory but that play did save 3 points for the Cowboys and flip the field.
With 4 minutes remaining Eli Manning had a rare gaffe on a deep ball as he overthrew a streaking Dominic Hixon after he had beaten Brandon Carr. It took another minute off the clock for the Giants to eventually score. The Giants weren’t quite finished with the train wreck that was David Diehl in week one. Diehl started at right tackle after coming off one of the worst years by a lineman in the league. In week one he allowed 2 sacks and 5 qb hurries.
Diehl no longer starts for the Giants. They’ve turned to the much more reliable Sean Locklear who hasn’t allowed a sack in 7 games. Corey Webster got absolutely toasted by everyone in a Cowboys uniform. The Cowboys average 21.2 yards per attempt and yielded a 158.3 passer rating when attacking Corey Webster in that game. They’ve shifted him to left cornerback but he’s still starting and getting a ton of snaps while his season hasn’t gotten much better. The quarterback rating against him sits at 115.7.
HOW THE COWBOYS WIN.
ATTACK THROUGH THE AIR. Preferably at Cory Webster but also Antrel Rolle. If you can isolate Chase Blackburn in coverage that’d be great. The Cowboys need to throw early and often. Running for 200 yards like they did against Baltimore is neat and all but it doesn’t translate to winning. The Cowboys need big explosive plays through the air -- and I know this is scary, but they have to trust their offensive line. The Giants' pass rush isn’t living up to its reputation this season. Jason Pierre-Paul is some kind of monster but the elder statesman Tuck and Umenyiora have vastly underperformed to this point in the season. I expect Witten to be a big factor in this game. I assume the Giants won’t let Corey Webster’s shortcomings cost them the game and thus help to his side of the field with the safety. In that instance Witten is on a linebacker. I’m expecting 7+ catches and 4+ first downs for him.
PATIENCE AND NO SALSA. The same formula from week one should be applied here. Don’t let the Giants beat you deep and dare them to run. Press the outside corners and get pressure with 4-5 rushers. The things that worry me is in spite of the Cowboys applying the perfect counter to the Giants defense in week 1 they still had opportunities to win the game. Take away maybe one of those huge mistakes and they end up on top.
Getting pressure on Manning with 4 is going to be harder than it was 7 weeks ago. Their line has actually been pretty stable since Diehl has been out. I expect Rob Ryan to twist and stunt and sugar his way into the Giants backfield by any means necessary while staying disciplined and not bringing more than 5. Cover-2 seems like the only logical approach to keeping Victor Cruz in front of your safeties instead of behind. You just can’t let him behind you no matter what. You have to live with Marty B across the middle or Hakeem Nicks boxing out Claiborne on another stop route for a first down. Bring pressure when the situation is in your favor, but you can not let a quarterback that actually rates better when blitzed recognize your attack and toast you deep.
PREDICTION: COWBOYS 31 GIANTS 23
Mike Marshall is a producer and reporter for Sports Radio 1310, The Ticket. He likes blogging about football but prefers to tweet about how hard he goes. Follow him on Twitter at @machine1310.