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Five keys redux: Cowboys at Patriots, and other notes

Posted by Greg A. Bedard  October 19, 2011 12:09 AM

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Put to bed the Cowboys game review for today's paper, and wanted to share a few things notes before we review the five keys.

My top five players from the game:

  1. Brandon Spikes
  2. Tom Brady
  3. Andre Carter
  4. Vince Wilfork
  5. (tie) Brian Waters & Kyle Arrington
Off their games:
  1. Gary Guyton
  2. Devin McCourty
  3. Nate Solder
  4. Matt Light
  5. Logan Mankins
  • Actually don't think Light and Mankins played that poorly in a tough assignment. That's more of a reflection of how well the team played, especially defensively, overall.
  • In my rudimentary personal "ratings system," this was the second-highest rated game for the defense after Miami.
  • No one's talking about it, but the play Spikes made on the Dallas screen pass with 6:35 to play was phenomenal and saved a touchdown. It was one of the few creative play calls the Cowboys whipped out, and it should have scored a touchdown. But Spikes blew it up. Behind the Brady TD to Hernandez, it was the biggest play of the game in my mind.
  • I thought Albert Haynesworth played better, but nothing out of the ordinary, especially considering the competition. The entire Cowboys line isn't very good, especially C Phil Costa, LG Bill Nagy and RG Kyle Kosier. The defensive line should have had a good game, and it did. All of them.
  • While on the subject of Haynesworth, a couple of people have been asking how much he was double or triple teamed. It wasn't out of the ordinary. And, yes, he was "triple teamed" once, but it wasn't by design. In fact, the same thing happened with Gerard Warren later in the game. Both happened because the Cowboys set their protection, rightly or wrongly, to account for a fourth rusher (Rob Ninkovich usually, since he normally does rush in sub packages). Well, both times he dropped into coverage. On the Warren play, he rushed well after the play started and was picked up eventually.

Here's what I mean. Here's the pre-snap look before the Haynesworth "triple team."
Screen shot 2011-10-19 at 12.00.51 AM.png

The Cowboys think that one or two players (Ninkovich or Gary Guyton) will be rushing because they have five coverage players lined up on the same side as three potential receivers.

But after the snap, all of those players do drop into coverage leaving three players to block one (they have to do something). Probably would have been best for Costa to peel off and help with Wilfork, but he didn't

Screen shot 2011-10-19 at 12.12.12 AM.png

Here's the Warren play pre-snap:

Screen shot 2011-10-19 at 12.03.13 AM.png

And post-snap after Ninkovich and Spikes drop into coverage. Warren gets the "triple team":

Screen shot 2011-10-19 at 12.03.36 AM.png

Onto the five keys redux:

1. Make Dallas QB Tony Romo work

What we said: “The Patriots need to make Romo go on 10-, 12-play drives in order to give him plenty of opportunities to make a mistake(s). That means no big plays, and good tackling."

Verdict: CHECK

They definitely made him work, and they didn't give up many big plays because the Cowboys only attempted one throw over 20 yards before the final possession -- and the one throw was negated by a penalty. The tackling wasn't that great again. The Patriots missed 12.

2. Jam them up

What we said: “Patriots cornerbacks have had trouble jamming outside receivers. They can’t let Dez Bryant and Miles Austin run free off the line of scrimmage, they’re too big and fast down the field."

Verdict: EVEN.

Patriots didn't play much man coverage so they didn't have to jam the receivers, but Romo was spooked off by the Cover 2 and Cover 3 looks. He never took any shots down the field, and the receivers didn't hitch their routes to take advantage of the cushion.

3. Account for Ware

What we said: “Dallas OLB DeMarcus Ware is one of the best players in the game. Shut him down and make the Cowboys find pass rush from somebody else. This is another tough matchup for the Patriots’ Mike protection scheme – probably tougher than the Jets because of Dallas’ defensive talent."

Verdict: NO CHECK.

The big fella got his, like he always does: two sacks, three other quarterback pressures and a stuffed run.

4. Screen it up

What we said: “The Cowboys are a very fast and aggressive defense. The Patriots should be able to use screens, to WRs, RBs and TEs, to offset some of that."

Verdict: CHECK MINUS.

The Patriots used a few screens, but they weren't huge successes outside a decent one to Rob Gronkowski.

5. Make Romo uncomfortable – but don’t let him roam

What we said: “The Patriots will want to push the middle of the pocket (hello Albert Haynesworth) to make Romo get happy feet and bad decisions, but they have to be careful of letting him run. Romo can make a lot of plays with his feet. It will be important for Andre Carter, Shaun Ellis and Mark Anderson to keep contain."

Verdict: CHECK PLUS.

This is where the zone coverages really helped. Romo only got loose for one fairly big 17-yard run in the fourth quarter on one of the rare occasions the Patriots' blitzed. The Patriots did a very nice job of keeping Romo in the pocket and making him take his checkdowns.

THE PICK

What we said: "..For this game we have two things in the “I’ll start believing otherwise when you show me” category: Brady losing at home, and Romo not killing his team in a big spot."

Pre-game pick: Patriots 30, Cowboys 27

Actual score: Patriots 20, Cowboys 16.

Verdict: CHECK.

Romo didn't kill his team -- Jason Garrett had him in leg irons with that game plan -- but Brady came through in the end at home like he always does. Now 6-0 vs. the spread on Patriots' games, but who's counting? ;)

News, analysis and commentary from Boston.com's staff writers and contributors, including Zuri Berry and Erik Frenz.

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