It wasn’t pretty, but the Cowboys managed to hold off the Browns to improve to .500 and stay in the chase for the NFC East title. Tony Romo was able to overcome some of the worst pass protection he’s seen in his career to squeak out an overtime win. The ‘Boys aren’t competing for a BCS Championship, though, so the style points are irrelevant.
Speaking of pass protection, I attributed the Cowboys’ seven sacks to Doug Free (three), Jermey Parnell (two), Mackenzy Bernadeau, and Felix Jones. The only time I label a running back as yielding a sack is when the defense blitzes and one of the free rushers is the back’s responsibility, as was the case on a third quarter Cleveland blitz that Jones missed. Free may have played his worst game as a professional, getting beat repeatedly by Jabaal Sheard.
Early in the contest, the Cowboys pounded the rock out of tight formations. Coming into the game, Dallas had averaged only 2.98 YPC from tight formations, compared to 4.38 YPC from spread formations (and only a small part of that difference could be explained by game situations). We saw more of the same on Sunday. Jason Garrett dialed up tight runs on the Cowboys’ first four carries, and the offense gained seven total yards. Overall, 10 of the Cowboys’ 19 designed runs were from tight formations, and they averaged 1.33 YPC. The other nine runs from spread formations weren’t incredibly efficient, but the 3.8 YPC sure beats barely over one yard per rush.
Dez Bryant is obviously a phenomenal talent, but we need to see him string together a few consecutive above-average performances. Some days he looks like a truly elite wide out, and others he seems like he forgot there was a game that day. Even yesterday he made a couple of perplexing decisions, such as stepping out one yard short of the marker on second down when it appeared he could have easily lowered his pads for the first down. It was really strange because Bryant never avoids contact, often fighting for extra yards when he probably should just go down. He has all of the physical tools in the world, but he needs to better understand when to show them off and when to play more conservatively. As long as he’s catching 12 passes, though, you can live with a mental mistake or two.
Garrett’s decision to attempt an onside kick won’t get much attention since the Cowboys won, but I actually really loved the call. Dan Bailey’s kick was awful, so the ‘Boys really had no shot at recovering it. Overall, though, teams should try way, way more surprise onside kicks. I broke down some of the numbers on surprise onside kicks when the Cowboys attempted one earlier this year against the Bucs. Historically, the kicking team has recovered 55 percent of surprise onside attempts. The benefits of “stealing” a possession far outweigh the risk of giving up good field position.
Although the Cowboys scored 23 points, they were helped out by Cleveland in a major way. The Browns committed 12 penalties for 129 yards on the day, including a few at critical times to allow the ‘Boys to tie the game in regulation and win it in overtime. Actually, one-third of the Cowboys’ first downs came via a Browns penalty. This offense has a long way to go, but not a lot of time to get there. The Redskins come to town in just three days.