The Dallas Cowboys showed up at Reliant Stadium last Saturday and performed a very convincing impersonation of a team you might be familiar with: they gave a vintage 2009 Texans performance. Down two starting offensive linemen, the Cowboys' run game became ineffective, long drives were ruined by silly turnovers, and the points didn't come as often as they should have because of the aforementioned problems.
Much like the Saints game, this game should neither be proof of the upcoming undefeated season nor of the team that will crash and burn to 6-10. I'm still worried about the overpursuit, which was the only problem that actually manifested itself for the defense. But there are little nits and linemen to pick. I don't think Wade Smith should be the starting left guard, for one thing.
As Taco Joe reminds me, 56K Warning is the name of the game.
I think the majority opinion was that Glover Quin had a pretty decent game last night, minus the penalties. I actually went back and didn't think Quin committed a clear (TV angle) foul on either of these plays. No, my concern is that Quin was beat deep twice. Visual evidence A:
and visual evidence B:
One of the reasons I was extremely happy to see Dunta Robinson go was that as bad as his numbers were last year, you could make a whole highlight reel of throws that beat him deep but were for whatever reason (penalty, a bad ball, a tripping receiver) incomplete despite the poor play. The fact that the Texans willingly put Quin in the slot in their nickel package last year, and continue to do so, tells me that despite Quin's small sample size of success on deep balls, they still aren't completely comfortable with him outside. Put two and two together, and tape like this is a little scary. Dallas actually eschewed three receiver sets (avoiding Quin in the nickel) and tried aggressively to gameplan Quin alone outside. The Texans won't bring their other corner to the same side of the field when they run out of their base 4-3 set, even if the opponent throws the other wide receiver out there. I don't cover the Cowboys so I'm not sure if this is something they did purely in this game or if this is a key part of their offense, but they'd often line up two receivers on one side (Quin's side, mostly) and two tight ends on the other like so:
Meanwhile, Kareem Jackson continued to be solid in deep coverage. He missed a tackle that led to Roy Williams gaining about 20 yards he shouldn't have, but rookies will make mistakes like that. I'm not saying we have the next Nmandi on our hands here, but if you play five preseason quarters and are targeted just three times, that's damn impressive considering the quarterbacks and offenses in play, preseason or not. Not only am I starting to think he's better than Quin already, I'm starting to actually get excited about this pick. Which is something, as a diehard #nosetacklelust enthusiast, that would've been pretty hard to believe four months ago.
Wade Smith: Not my man for the job
I think it's ludicrous that Antoine Caldwell and Mike Brisiel are going to spend tonight battling for the right guard job. The money is probably a huge factor in the whole scenario, but Wade Smith has had enough bad tape for me to not be completely sold on him in this offense. Yes, he had a few solid blocks. Yes, he was better than he was last week (like that's a compliment). But he continued to show poor play-to-play effort and was probably the worst pass blocker on the field. Yes, worse than Chris Myers versus an actual nose tackle. Here is a Wade Smith lowlight for you:
I think your starting line, left to right, in terms of best talent available, is Duane Brown, Caldwell, Myers, Brisiel, and Eric Winston. Brisiel has been a mauler in the run game and the Texans definitely missed his ferocity there last season. I know he played mainly against the backups during the preseason, but in his brief run with the ones at the start of the third quarter, he played very well. It's against the Cowboys second teamers in this one, but let's take a look at the massive pancake he laid on a hapless Cowboys defender to seal the win:
It seemed to me like people were really excited about the offensive line after this performance. Yes, they did a lot better, I understand that. But your real hero for the night is Arian Foster, who was an absolute beast in the open field. The dropoff when Steve Slaton spelled him for a few plays was tangible. You could see how decisive Foster was on his cuts, and he wasn't done when he got there.
One of the biggest problems the Cowboys had in this game that went unnoticed (in my mind) from the Texans' media point of view is that the Cowboys defenders in the open field were just flat-out awful at tackling on Saturday. Remember how bad the Texans tackling was in New Orleans? Everyone complained, we had a good session of radio therapy and talked about how we'd finish 7-9? Well, the Cowboys only had one less broken tackle in this game than the Texans had in New Orleans. (But the Texans were making offensive adjustments against a vanilla defense!!! It couldn't just be that the Cowboys can't tackle!!!)
Cowboys fans, if you are reading this, and you happen to for whatever reason wind up having to start Danny McCray for an extended length of time: You have my condolences.
Overpursuit of the week
Felix Jones, you have won a grand prize ticket to a first down. Please come on down and accept this freebie. Don't worry, nobody will be in your path until you take it:
If this continues to happen during the season, I will progressively become more and more angry. Do you remember the last time DeMeco Ryans went after the quarterback on a delay once he saw that the runner was not immediately coming out on a route and got a sack? I'll tell you why you don't: because it doesn't happen. Ergo, it's silly to rush him as often as the Texans do. Change it up, Frank.
I'm not sure if this was just the Cowboys being without their starting guards or because of a sharp decline in play, though I'd guess the former, but Andre Gurode was giving up all sorts of penetration. To Amobi Okoye, of all people! The man who fattens up on bad guards! His sack in the first quarter is a direct result of beating Gurode inside:
The Cowboys' offensive line looked abysmal inside the tackles. They were noticeably slow on a few screens, and had real problems picking up blocks on the weakside of the play. Watch Gurode in action again as he let Brian Cushing push this play to the outside:
It is factual that the Cowboys played this game without most of their starting line, but they had better hope that this was a familiarity issue rather than a decline in play. Because if the Gurode of this game shows up to start the season, it's going to put a big crimp in their plans.