Cowboy fans, you deserve to be excited after what you witnessed Sunday. That was the most complete game the team has played since they beat the Buffalo Bills 44-7 in week 10 of the 2011 season. But as a coach or scout, you are taught to look for the areas that still need improvement instead of always focusing on what went right. A good doctor doesn’t tell his patient what’s right with them when they visit, but explains to the patient the problem that needs to be corrected and how to do so. That’s what the point of this article will be today. Here is a few things I noticed when watching the game that still need to be improved.
First and foremost, the offensive line was terrific in the run game. The team rushed for 193 yards and opened holes all day long. The same can’t be said about the unit in the passing game. Tony Romo dropped back to throw only 27 times Sunday, yet he was sacked once and hit and hurried numerous times throughout the day. Pro Football Focus.com agreed with my observation as Tyron Smith, Ronald Leary and Travis Frederick all graded out with negative grades according to the site. The Cowboys best offensive lineman so far this season has been Doug Free and yet, he still had a considerably worse game then he had last week. Too many times there were missed assignments and Romo had to deliver the ball quicker than usual. Luckily for Dallas, their receivers were getting open quick so Romo could release the ball without taking sacks.
Special teams continue to hurt the Cowboys. Dwayne Harris muffed a punt. Dan Bailey missed a short field goal. Tavon Austin returned a punt for a touchdown (It was called back due to a penalty that may or may not have affected the play). Jason Garrett continually talks about winning in all three phases of the game, and yet, special teams were the biggest weakness yesterday.
Here is a good/bad thing for the Dallas Cowboys right now. Sean Lee and Bruce Carter haven’t played as well as many fans anticipated them playing through the first three games. That’s the bad. The good is that the team is 2-1 with 13 games left and the defense has played pretty well for the most part.
The reason for Sean Lee’s slow start may be attributed to him being asked to do doing something he has never done before. On most plays, Lee starts the play over top of the center and flies back into coverage at the snap. During Sean Lee’s college and pro career, he has always come forward after the ball is being snapped. The transition isn’t an easy one to make for any linebacker, but I believe once Lee gets this system and change down, he can be dominant.
Bruce Carter’s struggles are a little different. After watching the game again, I think Carter is thinking too much and that happens when you are learning a new defensive scheme. Once Carter gets this system down (and it could be a few week yet) he should be able to pin his ears back and fly to the football. But right now Carter and Lee are a little hesitant. Come October and November, I am expecting to see drastically improved play from both of these players.
James Hanna was again frustrating to me on Sunday just as he has been in the first two games of the season. Hanna only has four catches for 20 yards in 3 games. After his performance late last season, I was led to believe that he was poised for a breakout season. I even compared him to former NFL tight end Aaron Hernandez. Part of the reason for Hanna’s slow start is that he hasn’t been able to find the field when the Cowboys are passing the ball. Hanna has only run 20 pass routes through three games, compared to Gavin Escobar’s 34. Hanna doesn’t look as explosive as he did last year either which could be due to his hamstring injury that he suffered in training camp.
Having said all that, this again was a really nice win for the team. Luckily for the Cowboys, there wasn’t a ton to nitpick at on Sunday. The team travels to San Diego Sunday to take on the 1-2 Chargers. A win there and they will improve to 3-1 and should take a commanding lead in the NFC East. The arrow is without a doubt pointing up on this team.