By Matthew Postins
First and 10 is RattleandHumSports.com’s Dallas Cowboys wrap-up. Consider this an outline of the 10 most important things to come out of the previous game and how it related to the outcome. It’s analysis and opinion of each week’s game that goes beyond the box score. Today it’s First and 10 after the Cowboys’ 30-21 loss to the San Diego Chargers.
Williams’ big rookie mistake. Terrance Williams was having a nice game on Sunday until that fumble late in the game. Statistically, it was his best game as a pro – seven catches for 71 yards. But that fumble looms large. Williams said after the game that he felt like he let a whole lot of people down. This mistake will be further magnified if he doesn’t learn from it. The takeaway? Know the game situation. The game was inside of three minutes to play. The Dallas Cowboys were down nine. They had all three time outs remaining. They would have taken any points they could have gotten at that point because they needed two scores. Williams already had the first down. If he had not fumbled he would have left the Cowboys at the Chargers’ 1-yard line with about 2:30 left in the game. That would have been perfectly acceptable at that point. I know competitive instincts take over in that moment, but the great ones temper that with knowing the situation. Williams never should have tried to stretch for that extra yard in that situation. Perhaps that’s what wide receivers coach Derrick Dooley was attempting to impart on Williams on the sideline after the play.
Blame Romo? It’s amazing to me that there were some Dallas Cowboys fans on Twitter who actually blamed Tony Romo for throwing Williams the pass in that situation. Really? Romo threw it to the open guy. That’s his job. As many coaches have told me in the time I’ve covered pro football, once you’re drafted or sign a contract you’re a pro football player and you’re expected to get the job done, whether you’re a rookie or a 12-year veteran. To blame Romo because he didn’t target someone else on that play is ludicrous. The Chargers went to great pains to cover Dez Bryant and Jason Witten all afternoon. That left Williams open. Romo did the right thing.
Romo is a guy who can’t win with some people. I mean let’s be brutally honest – Romo has just finished one of the best four-game stretches of his career. He’s basically made two mistakes in four games – the interception against the Giants and the fumble against the Chiefs. And the interception wasn’t his fault. He’s played virtually mistake-free. This is what you’ve been asking for Cowboys fans, a more efficient Romo. And the Dallas Cowboys are still 2-2. What does that tell you?
Time to back up the pass rush. The Dallas Cowboys had better hope the head injury to defensive end George Selvie isn’t serious. I made the point last week that this unit is short on experience on the edge beyond DeMarcus Ware. Selvie hasn’t done it over a full season. Dallas should explore options on the free agent market like Kyle Vanden Bosch now instead of waiting until injuries bang up their depth, as they did last year. Selvie had his third sack of the season Sunday, but who knows if he holds up as a full-time starter for 16 games.
The deep middle. We mentioned this a couple of weeks ago after the Chiefs game. The Dallas Cowboys are having difficulty covering the deep middle. San Diego quarterback Phillip Rivers torched the back end of that Cowboys defense repeatedly. It’s a full-blown problem now. Giving up yards is OK in the Cover 2. So is giving up completions in the flats and the outside. But giving up deep chunks of yardage over the middle is not acceptable and defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has to get that fixed. If the deep middle is vulnerable in the Cover 2, the defense doesn’t work properly.
Don’t fault the running game. It’s easy to look at the total numbers – 16 carries and 92 yards – and suggest the running game didn’t get it done. That’s not the case. The Cowboys averaged a robust 5.8 yards per carry, well above what NFL coaches like to see in a per-carry average. After some early troubles, DeMarco Murray ran the ball well. Blame the Cowboys defense for the team not running the ball more in the second half. The Chargers possessed the ball too long and the defense couldn’t get them off the field.
By the way, Murray has had a nice start to the season, hasn’t he? He’s showing he can be a complete back in this offense.
Callahan the adjustor. I really liked what offensive coordinator and play-caller Bill Callahan did in the second quarter of this game. He ran into a brick wall after the first three possessions and needed to shake things up. So he used a West Coast offense principle – using the passing game to set up the running game – to open things up. That’s what led to Dez Bryant’s first touchdown reception. Then, the possession after that Callahan went right back to the running game. That’s something you could accuse head coach Jason Garrett of not doing in that situation in years past. Bryant’s second touchdown reception was classic deception. Callahan put the Cowboys in a heavy run look with Bryant split wide and used play action to suck the Chargers in enough to open up Bryant’s deep in. Those are the kinds of things you can do when you’re running the football effectively.
A miscalculated risk. I’m beginning to wonder if Garrett manages games from a different book. Asking Dan Bailey to kick a 56-yard field goal late in the second quarter was a mistake, and I thought so before the kick. You make the Chargers drive the length of the field in that situation and you don’t risk giving them a short field to get at least a field goal, which is exactly what happened. That miscalculation turned a two-score game into a one-score game at halftime. Removing play-calling duties was supposed to help free Garrett up to make these calls. So far, I’m not sure how much it has helped.
O-Line change. Veteran guard Brian Waters made his first start on Sunday. Based on what I saw it seemed to work well. Again, it’s hard to judge during the game. It should be noted that the Dallas Cowboys continue to rotate people in and out. There was a play in which Jermey Parnell was in the game for Tyron Smith for one play and his penalty set the Cowboys back. This unit isn’t quite cohesive yet. But, when compared to last year’s unit, they’re in much better shape.
Carter and Lee in coverage. This was the first time I can remember in which I felt linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter were a liability in coverage. Carter covered Danny Woodhead on both touchdown receptions. The first Carter had good coverage. The second Carter lost him during the route. Antonio Gates got behind Lee on that touchdown reception. The pair has been so reliable so far that you don’t want to overreact. Let’s call it a bad day and leave it at that.
Scandrick the indispensible? Am I the only one that believes Orlando Scandrick has adapted well to his role in this new defense? It seems he’s making better plays than he did a year ago and is getting beat less. During the broadcast Daryl Johnston remarked that he felt Scandrick was developing into a Ronde Barber-type of corner. In Tampa Bay Barber was the team’s most versatile and physical corner. He could play inside, outside and rush the passer. Scandrick is doing all three things for the Cowboys right now, but rather quietly. Scandrick isn’t in Barber’s league and probably never will be, but the comparison provides insight into how much the Cowboys may be counting on Scandrick this season.