Beyond the boxscore of the Cowboys vs Redskins
By Matthew Postins
First and 10 is RattleandHumSports.com’s 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’ 24-23 win over the Washington Redskins.
Tony Romo put together a masterful final drive. The haters have to take a back seat after this win, even though Romo did throw a pick in the third quarter that was his fault. Romo worked the pocket well on Sunday and, especially late in the game, had good protection. His 51-yard completion to Terrance Williams was an example of great communication, as Williams read Romo’s subtle gesture to go upfield, which paid dividends. Redskins corner Josh Wilson had Williams covered until the rookie ran upfield, which caused Wilson to slip on the FedEx Field turf and opened up the play. On the touchdown pass, Romo had a pocket and room to move to his right, plus his safety value receiver in running back DeMarco Murray. Romo’s subtle pump fake froze the linebacker that could have made a play and dumped it to Murray, who scored. The play call in that situation should get some credit, too. With four down linemen, the Redskins had seven in coverage. The rest of the play drew five defenders in coverage to Romo’s left, leaving Murray with a linebacker and a deep corner to deal with once he had the ball. Romo’s pump fake took care of the linebacker and the corner played too deep to make a play.
The biggest under-the-radar play of the game? That came with 13:40 left in the fourth quarter as Williams moved the chains with a 13-yard reception. On that play Washington’s top pass rusher, Brian Orakpo, was injured. He did not return. Without Orakpo, there was a noticeable change in the Redskins’ pass rush. They were less successful getting to Romo from that point forward and that helped the Cowboys score the 10 points they needed to win the game.
The way the Cowboys failed to adjust for Redskins receiver Pierre Garcon was downright criminal. Sure, Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr handled Garcon in the first meeting. But on Sunday Garcon destroyed him in every way – downfield, up the middle and in the flat. That was without question Carr’s worst individual performance of the season. At one point Carr set up on the outside and Garcon was in the slot and the Cowboys still had Carr cover him. That led to Garcon’s touchdown catch. Everyone watching the game saw the mismatch except, apparently, the Cowboys defensive brain trust. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter until the Cowboys adjusted.
The adjustment was to put Orlando Scandrick on Garcon. Scandrick had one of the game’s biggest plays, batting down a pass intended for Garcon with 3:53 left that led to a Redskins punt and the game-winning touchdown drive. Scandrick had the best game of any Cowboys defender. It wasn’t just pass coverage. He did a great job tackling all afternoon. He’s been the Cowboys’ best defensive back all season.
The Cowboys finally got the run-pass mix right. The Cowboys actually ran the football more times in the second half (15) than the first half (8). They didn’t gain as much yardage in the second half, but the run game was key to the field goal drive in the fourth quarter. Murray rushed eight times on the 15-play scoring drive and every run went for positive yardage. Plus, it helped extend the drive for nearly nine minutes. That gave the overextended Cowboys defense valuable time to rest.
Murray had a great game, even when you take into account the lackluster last run. He gained 96 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown. The 22 carries is a key number for Dallas, as they’re 11-0 when Murray gets 20 or more carries. Some Cowboys fans on Twitter think the stat is bunk and that it’s more about when you run. I think there’s some legitimacy to that assertion. The Cowboys are next-to-last in rushing attempts and No. 6 in yards per attempt this season. So they can run the football. They just seem to flat-out refuse to in the second half of most games. This was the rare game when the Cowboys bought in and it paid off.
Kirk Cousins was hoping for a hand up from Jeff Heath after Heath gave him a big hit while passing in the first half. Heath just turned his back on him. I found some humor in that. Plus, Heath had his best game as a pro, recording his first interception and generally looking like he knew what he was doing for the first time since he took over as a starter.
That said, J.J. Wilcox did himself and the Cowboys no favors. His unsportsmanlike conduct penalty late in the third quarter could have meant the season. Think about it. His 15-yard penalty on the late hit into Santana Moss’ back came on third down and without it the Redskins would have had to punt. If the Redskins had scored a touchdown there instead of a field goal, the Cowboys would have needed two touchdowns to win, not a touchdown and field goal. His play seems to have declined since he received the chance to take over as starter for Will Allen in October. That particular play did not show any sense of the game or discipline on Wilcox’s part.
The Cowboys pass rush appears dead in the water. Heath, coming on a safety blitz, got the biggest hit on Kirk Cousins on Sunday. Otherwise Cousins was pretty comfortable in the pocket. The trend is distressing after watching the Cowboys’ pass rush get off the ball so well the first half of the season. The Cowboys have three sacks in their last four games. That doesn’t cut it this time of year. It’s not just DeMarcus Ware’s flagging play. Jason Hatcher has fallen way off his pace from earlier this season. George Selvie, frankly, has been the best pass rusher the past three games.
The one statistic you don’t want to hear this week? According to ESPN Stats, the Cowboys are 2-11 in Week 17 since 2000. The two wins came in 2009 and 2010. The Cowboys won in Week 17 in 2009 to go 11-5, but had already clinched a playoff berth. The Cowboys won in Week 17 in 2010 to finish 6-10. So neither win really mattered that much.