For at least one more week, the Dallas Cowboys are alive in the race to the postseason. In an improbable turn of events, the Cowboys’ defense and special teams exploded for 21 points in the second half of Sunday’s 38-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles. While there’s certainly room for a little optimism, let’s not forget the Cowboys’ offense scored only 17 points to beat a poor team, albeit on the road. With only two more away games on the schedule, though, it will certainly be interesting to see if the ‘Boys can go on a bit of a run here.
One of the reasons the Cowboys’ backs were able to find some success on the ground is that we saw some surprising creativity in the running game, especially early. On the first drive alone, Jason Garrett called a fake toss-fullback dive, toss, counter, and draw. The ‘Boys rushed eight times on that initial series for 47 yards (5.88 YPC).
The Cowboys showed playaction four times on the day—just a bit more than their average. Tony Romo completed only two of those four passes for two total yards. One of the looks was a screen to Jason Witten that didn’t look right from the start, and on another Romo simply missed Miles Austin downfield. Remember, of the league’s 32 starting quarterbacks, 29 have a higher YPA on playaction than straight dropbacks, so it would behoove Garrett to continue to dial the up despite the lack of success against Philadelphia.
Romo really played well against the Eagles, although his numbers weren’t outstanding because he was asked to air it out only 26 times. Nonetheless, Romo totaled 8.04 YPA, two touchdowns, and no turnovers. Plus, I counted only three of Romo’s passes as being off-target—about half of his normal rate.
The Cowboys motioned on 22 of their 54 offensive plays (40.1 percent). It was obvious that Garrett planned to utilize motion early and often to obtain favorable matchups; the Cowboys had motioned on only around 15 percent of plays coming into Week 10. On one particular play, Garrett motioned Felix Jones out of the backfield, forcing the Eagles to use a cornerback to cover him. From an empty set, Romo was able to find Dez Bryant underneath because the Eagles couldn’t properly match up.
Interestingly, we saw a whole lot of Lawrence Vickers on Sunday. He lined up in a traditional fullback position on 22 plays, but he was also the lone back on the field on four passing plays. Garrett used Vickers in Shotgun formations on third down to protect for Romo, and I really liked the move. In obvious passing situations, Vickers could be a superior option to any other running back to help pick up the blitz. Vickers’ 26 total snaps were his most since Week 1.
Rob Ryan appeared to put some heat on quarterbacks Michael Vick and Nick Foles, but after closer examination, that wasn’t really the case. The majority of the Cowboys’ blitzes were zone looks, meaning they rushed players like Orlando Scandrick but dropped the outside linebackers into coverage. In reality, the ‘Boys rarely rushed more than four defenders, even when they technically “blitzed.”
After a string of quality starts, Morris Claiborne played really, really poorly. In addition to two inexplicable offsides penalties and a bunch of holding calls, Claiborne simply looked overwhelmed by the likes of Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper. It was a strange game for the rookie, but hopefully it won’t take a toll on his confidence.