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’ 31-7 win over the St. Louis Rams.
The stifling Cover 2. Sunday’s game was a tutorial on how the Cover 2 works. The Dallas Cowboys exerted all kinds of pressure on St. Louis quarterback Sam Bradford with their front four, allowing the linebackers and defensive backs to play back in coverage. In doing so they not only put Bradford under duress all afternoon, but also left him with precious few options in the passing game. Bradford put up 240 passing yards but most of it came late in the contest. We have enough of a sample size to see that the Dallas Cowboys have truly taken to the scheme, especially up front.
Ware in for Martin. Harvey Martin’s 30-year old team record for most sacks in a career is gone. DeMarcus Ware moved into first place with two sacks against the Rams. His first sack of the game saw him completely abuse Rams tackle Jake Long, practically decleating the former All-Pro before sacking Bradford. Ware now has four sacks in three games and 115 sacks for his career. He reached that number in 27 fewer games than Martin reached 114 sacks. This scheme has succeeded in making Ware more fearsome than he was in the 3-4. He pins his ears back and goes after the quarterback. It’s what he does best. New defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin is taking full advantage of Ware’s abilities, something I’m not sure Rob Ryan did.
Wilcox in for Allen. J.J. Wilcox had an interception in his first start called back due to a penalty, but it showed off Wilcox’s anticipatory ability at safety. Wilcox had just three tackles on the day (two of which were assists), but he wasn’t beaten deep and supported the run well. On the face of one game, the Dallas Cowboys appear to have made the right choice starting him over Will Allen. But we’ll see as things go along.
Could the Cowboys just play the Rams every week? The Cowboys ran the ball with impunity on the Rams, as DeMarco Murray rushed for 175 yards and a touchdown in the second-best rushing day of his career. The best? Against the Rams two years ago. He just seems to love running on these guys.
By the way, the Cowboys are 5-0 when Murray gains 100 or more yards rushing. Just an FYI.
Why so many carries? It seems the Rams spent the early portion of the game trying to take away Dez Bryant. So they put six defenders in the box. Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan said on Thursday and he wanted to run the ball more, and the Rams’ defensive alignment gave him the perfect excuse. But it was more than just the defensive scheme. The Dallas Cowboys opened up bigger holes up front and Murray ran with more authority than he had in either of the Cowboys’ first two games. By midway through the first quarter the Cowboys had run the football so well that quarterback Tony Romo could run play action as much as he wanted and get the type of matchup he needed. What resulted was a 26-to-24 run to pass ratio and a Rams team that was thoroughly confused defensively until the game was well in hand.
Without Austin, now what? The Dallas Cowboys are well-equipped if Miles Austin cannot come back right away from the hamstring injury he suffered during the game. That was part of the logic behind drafting Terrence Williams. But don’t expect him to move into the slot for Austin. That role will go to either Dwayne Harris or Cole Beasley, and it looks like Romo has more chemistry with Harris at this stage. The fact that Romo got Harris, Gavin Escobar and Cole Beasley involved in the passing game shows he has trust in them, though it’s logical to assume that either Harris or Williams would benefit most from Austin’s absence.
A little immaturity. It goes a long way with Dez Bryant, who did score the game’s first touchdown but otherwise had a pedestrian game (four catches, 38 yards). His throat-slashing gesture landed him a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and a short conversation with head coach Jason Garrett. If that’s the worst offense he commits all season, Cowboys fans and team officials will take it. But it’s unacceptable to indulge in such shenanigans when you know the rules. You don’t give the officials any reason to call a penalty.
Mistake-free Romo. Through three games Romo has completed 72.5 percent of his passes and has thrown six touchdowns to just one interception. He threw three scores on Sunday, but only threw for 201 yards. You have to believe that Romo, Jerry Jones, Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys would love to have those kinds of stats from Romo each week, if the running game sustains the effectiveness it showed against the Rams. Giving Romo fewer chances to make mistakes is a good thing.
Wilber’s growth. Defensive end Kyle Wilber is showing some growth as a player after recording his first sack of the season against the Rams. He was on the turf for a short time after taking a huge shot from T.J. McDonald on punt coverage. But he’s starting to show some progress.
O-Line chemistry. This was the first game where you could say the Cowboys offensive line looked consistently cohesive. The line had the same starters for the third straight week and the rotation at guard between Mackenzy Bernadeau and Brian Waters isn’t hurting things. The Rams managed one sack, but Romo had a great pocket to work with all day and the Rams had all kinds of trouble slowing down the ground game. Now, we’ve seen this before. But there was some growth between last week in Kansas City and Sunday against St. Louis that was easy to spot.