The Cowboys went to Tampa and really took care of the Buccaneers without much difficulty.
It was an easy game to break down without many problems on offense or the busts that we have seen the last two weeks defensively against the Cardinals and Giants. Jason Garrett always reminds us of how important all three phases of the game are in order to assure a victory. In terms of the phases, it was an outstanding game for the Cowboys.
To be honest, I was surprised at how easily the Cowboys were able to win this game. The Buccaneers had shown the ability to run the ball with LeGarrette Blount, so that was a potential problem for the defense that allowed physical Brandon Jacobs to run through them the previous week in a loss to the Giants. Offensively, the biggest question was whether Felix Jones would be able to carry over to this game what he was able to do against the Giants, and he was able to do so with no problems.
The only real offensive breakdown should be put on the play-call sheet of Jason Garrett. That was his decision to throw the ball on third-and-19 from the shadow of his own goal posts. Garrett got greedy and should have just run the ball with Sammy Morris, punted and played defense, but he didn't and it cost his team a touchdown.
That series started with a holding call on Tyron Smith, which backed the ball up to the Cowboys' 10-yard line. On first-and-20, Garrett tried to throw a screen coming to the right, but Albert Haynesworth managed to read the play and get in the way, forcing Tony Romo to have to unload it.
On second-and-20, Garrett tried to slam Jones into the line on the right side, but there was nothing doing there for a gain of 1.
On third-and-19 from his own 11-yard line, Garrett should have called another simple run but instead went shotgun with Miles Austin wide right, Laurent Robinson in the slot left and Dez Bryant outside of him. Jason Witten was a wing to the right, with Morris next to Romo on his right.
At the snap, Austin drove across the field on a shallow cross, Witten stayed in to block for Romo and took Da'Quan Bowers with Morris helping to that side. Robinson ran the deep out, and Bryant headed vertical. Left tackle Doug Free was quickly beaten off the snap by Adrian Clayborn, who turned the corner as Romo slid to his right then forward. Romo had no idea that Clayborn was behind him until he felt him on his back, thus causing him to drop the ball. Buccaneers linebacker Dekoda Watson picked up the ball and headed for the end zone.
It's a defensive touchdown for the Buccaneers and, to be honest, a huge mistake on Garrett for allowing it to happen. I know it sounds critical on my part, but it goes back to Garrett and his ability as a game manager. The only way the Buccaneers were going to score was if the Cowboys' offense turned the ball over and gave Tampa Bay a chance. Garrett did that with that play call.
Romo, Austin break through for first touchdown
In his second game back after his hamstring injury, Miles Austin was once again productive with another touchdown catch. It was Austin's second touchdown in the last two weeks.
His grab against the Buccaneers was typical of what we normally see from him with his ability to play with power. With the Cowboys facing a third-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 8, Garrett went shotgun with three wide receivers in the game, Witten at wing and Jones to the right of Romo. Austin was in the slot left, Robinson wide left and Bryant wide right. Before the snap, Austin was trying to get Romo's attention and finally did. Romo pointed to Austin, making a motion right to left with his hand, then Austin got set. Witten went in motion right to left, then back outside left.
Witten ran vertical through the Tampa zone defense that dropped eight defenders. Austin crossed behind Witten then stopped reading the zone coverage. Romo turned his attention to Jones standing at the 5-yard line. Bryant had no chance on the left side with a corner and safety to his side. Witten curled in the middle of the end zone and got Romo's attention. The three-man rush caused Romo to move forward in the pocket then circle back, and he ran into Montrae Holland.
Austin saw Romo start to move then adjusted with him over the middle of the ball and in between the three Buccaneers defenders. Romo saw a window to throw the ball with safety Sean Jones driving on the ball from his left. Austin was able to fight off Jones by using his body to shield the ball then roll over to grab the ball from Jones and linebacker Mason Foster. Somehow, Austin managed to get the ball into the end zone for the cowboys' first touchdown of the game.
Cowboys contain Blount, get to Freeman
The key defensively for the Cowboys against the Buccaneers was going to be stopping Blount. The front seven for the Cowboys was outstanding in this game, getting off blocks and playing square. Sean Lissemore, Marcus Spears, Victor Butler and Anthony Spencer were exceptionally good.
Once the front was able to control Blount, it put a great deal of pressure on quarterback Josh Freeman. In my pregame study of the Buccaneers, there was nothing that led me to believe that if they had to pass the ball they would have success. There were too many games where Freeman was not accurate throwing the ball.
Despite how poorly the Cowboys had been playing in the secondary, none of the Buccaneers receivers worried me all that much. Mike Williams is a nice player, but Freeman was going to struggle getting him the ball.
After not registering a sack against the Giants, the Cowboys got a couple quickly on back-to-back plays against the Buccaneers.
On first-and-10 on the Tampa Bay 24, Ryan put eight men in the box with safety Abram Elam at inside linebacker depth. The Buccaneers were in a regular formation, and Freeman went play-action, faking the handoff to Blount. Outside linebackers Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware were off on the snap. Ware was a yard beyond left tackle Donald Penn by the time that Freeman was able to make the fake. As Freeman set, Ware had his arms in position to make the sack.
Sean Lee stepped forward to take on fullback Erik Long with double coverage on the outside of both Tampa wide receivers. Ware brought Freeman to the ground.
It's now second-and-16. The Buccaneers went with three wide receivers and one back. Rob Ryan countered with his nickel package to match. Orlando Scandrick was in the slot to the left which is to Freeman's right. Scandrick bluffed presnap like he was going to blitz, then walked back into coverage on Preston Parker. At the snap, safety Elam sprinted forward to cover Parker. Terence Newman, Elam and Gerald Sensabaugh were locked up against two Buccaneers receivers.
In the pocket, Victor Butler dropped into the flat, Keith Brooking came hard on the blitz, scraping off the left shoulder of Marcus Spears. Right tackle Jeremy Trueblood tried to adjust to Scandrick off the edge but was unable to. Freeman pulled the ball down and tried to sprint to his left but was unable to get away from Scandrick on his back.
Scandrick and Brooking ran down Freeman, giving Scandrick his second sack of the season.
The third and final sack of the game for the Cowboys came with the Cowboys up 24. The Buccaneers had the ball on their own 25 with 6:32 left in the third quarter. The Buccaneers once again put three receivers in the game and flexed tight end Kellen Winslow out right. Ryan kept his base personnel on the field to match.
At the snap, Elam blitzed from safety with Brooking in coverage on Winslow. The coverage was man with a free safety in the middle of the field -- all receivers accounted for.
In the pocket, Spears and Spencer ran a twist stunt on the same side as the blitzing Elam. Lee blitzed as well and knocked down. Victor Butler adjusted from rushing from the outside to replace Lee in the middle of the defense. Lissemore outworked Penn to the inside as Freeman tried to look down the field. Lissemore ran straight into Freeman and brought him to the ground for his second sack in the last three weeks.