A few initial observations after reviewing the film from the Cowboys’ 19-14 win over the Carolina Panthers. . .
- Tony Romo was 13-for-16 for 212 yards and a touchdown on playaction passes through the Cowboys’ first five games. On Sunday, Jason Garrett called only four playaction passes. Romo was 3-for-4 for 38 yards on those plays. With the success the Cowboys have had on playaction passes this year and in past seasons, you’d think we’d see more of them than what’s actually the case.
- I think it’s time to take Dez Bryant off of punt returns. Yes, he has some explosiveness, but the risks are too great. For one, the Cowboys simply can’t afford to lose Bryant on offense. Secondly, despite his ability to break tackles, Bryant isn’t a natural returner. He’s not incredibly fluid and I’d be willing to bet he’ll fumble on a punt return before he breaks another big one.
- In my game plan for Dallas, I suggested Rob Ryan blitz often. He did, but I didn’t see too many zone blitzes early in the game. That’s probably one of the reasons Cam Newton was able to gash the Cowboys on the ground in the first half, ultimately rushing for 64 yards; he took off on a few scrambles when the Cowboys were in man coverage and had their backs turned to him. The ‘Boys played more zone coverage in the second half and they were able to stifle Newton’s rushing efforts.
- It was good to see the Cowboys get snaps off with some time left on the play clock. I counted Tony Romo as “killing” four plays at the line-of-scrimmage—a bit lower than his normal rate. That suggests that Garrett called only one play the majority of the time; traditionally, Garrett has called two plays (which Romo also needs to call in the huddle). By calling only one play into Romo, the offense was able to get to the line with double-digit seconds remaining on the clock.
- In addition to the four “Kill” calls, Romo called three other audibles. Of the seven total checks, six were passes. On those plays, Romo was 5-for-6 for 68 yards. Despite the notion that Romo doesn’t read defenses well, his audibles have steadily improved over the past few seasons. He’s been sensational with his checks in 2012 in particular.
- Kevin Ogletree had a really poor game. In addition to a few drops, his route-running was sub-par. On a few third downs, he ran his route short of the first down marker. He needs to press his defender past the marker so that he can still come back to the football and get a first down.
- If you couldn’t tell, the Cowboys were lucky to win this game. In addition to the poor offensive play, the team benefited from two calls late in the game. With the Panthers driving for the go-ahead field goal late in the contest, Morris Claiborne committed an obvious pass interference penalty on a crucial fourth down pass to Brandon LaFell, but it wasn’t called. When the ‘Boys got the ball back, Carolina was flagged for a phantom horse collar tackle, allowing Dallas to move down the field for a field goal and drain the clock in the process. I’m not complaining, but had those calls gone the other way, we could very well be talking about a 2-4 team right now.
Jonathan Bales is the founder of The DC Times. He writes for DallasCowboys.com and the New York Times. He's also the author of Fantasy Football for Smart People: How to Dominate Your Draft.