In my preparation this week for the game, I had the opportunity to study the Jaguars against the Chiefs and Titans. In those games, the Jaguars defense was hard pressed to stop anyone, run or pass. On the offensive side of the ball, the best option was running back Maurice Jones-Drew and he was struggling with his health in his knee and ankle.
If the Cowboys were going to find a way to get a win after a difficult Monday night loss against the Giants, the Jaguars were the perfect opponent for them to face to try to get things pointed somewhat in the right direction. But at the end of the day, it was the same results of missed opportunities, blown assignments and poor execution that doomed them.
For example, let’s look at the Cowboys’ failure to score from the 1 on the final two plays of the first half, when they trailed 14-3.
The Cowboys go to their heavy package with three tight ends and one fullback on third-and-goal. Offensive tackle Alex Barron lines up as the extra tight end to the left, Scott Chandler as the “F” or fullback to the right Marion Barber in the offset I. At the snap of the ball, tackle Marc Colombo tries to cut off his man to the inside but struggles to get his head completely across, which causes penetration into the line. Left guard Phil Costa is pulling to his right but has to make a slight adjustment around Colombo’s man to work up in the hole. From the fullback spot, Chandler loads inside, but he and Costa go after linebacker Daryl Smith. On the play side, Leonard Davis has blocked down and done an effective job of working with Andre Gurode to clear a hole behind him.
Barber, with ball in hand, begins to press the point of attack behind Chandler and Costa but there is no room there, Barber uses his vision, sees the hole behind Davis but is too late to adjust and the Jaguars stop him at the line of scrimmage.
Wade Phillips burns his last timeout and with nine seconds left and decides that he wants to go for it, trying to make it a four-point game instead of a eight-point game at half.
With the situation now fourth-and-1, Jason Garrett keeps the same personnel group in the game but flips the formation to become strong to the left. Chandler is once again lined up in an offset I to the left of Barber. At the snap, Kitna doesn’t appear to get around quickly enough, or he was surprised by the path that Barber took to receive the football. Barber takes a path directly at Kitna -- hard inside -- and there is no mesh point between Kitna and Barber. Barber loses momentum as he receives the ball and tries to find the hole.
On the front side of the play, tight end Martellus Bennett blocks out but tackle Doug Free gets destroyed at the point of attack. Free is not alone. Chandler tries to lead inside but doesn’t get the job done on Kirk Morrison. It’s now Davis’ turn to pull to his left, but he is thrown off his path as Andre Gurode gets pushed back into his legs. Davis tries to adjust but just is not able to do it, Daryl Smith once again scrapes over the top of Morrison to make the tackle at the point.
Barber tries to do his best to get to the line, but the loss of momentum after the collision with Kitna makes it very difficult to get into the end zone. No points for the Cowboys, which reminded me of their inability to score in a game against the Chargers on the goal line in 2009.
*The most difficult situation for a team that is 1-6 is that the scouts and front office want to take the rest of the season and try to evaluate the young players on their squad.
This is difficult because coaches are fighting for their jobs and the minute you start to play young players and try to get a read on them, the coaches feel like they are developing players for another staff. The good ones will fight through and coach like they are 6-1 and others will start making phone calls to their buddies around the league to check what jobs are coming open in February.
The call to play young players for the Cowboys will come from Jerry Jones. He will need to tell Wade Phillips and the staff that Phil Costa needs to continue to get work. Sean Lee needs to be in a regular rotation with Bradie James and Keith Brooking. Safeties Barry Church and Danny McCray need to be taking reps with the first defense. Offensive tackle Sam Young needs a series in the first half and one in the second.
I am not saying you need to start all of these young players, but give them a series or two each game. If they show you something, then by all means, they need to be in the lineup. The mistake that the front office can’t make is allowing this season to go by and not take an opportunity to look at its young players.
I spoke of guard Costa and what a nice read that the front office and coaches got from him in the Jacksonville game. Costa is a tough, hard-nosed kid that might not be your prototype offensive linemen but what he gives you is everything he has. In the games against the Giants and Jaguars, he didn’t have the prettiest technique and wasn’t always stout in his strength, but he did not to make you feel like he couldn’t develop into a dependable player.
His natural position is center and that is most likely where he will be one day when the Cowboys find some depth at guard. If he did struggle some, it was when he had to pull into the hole and adjust to the movement of the linebacker. It was probably an easy block for him against the scout team during the week, but when things happen fast in a game, it’s a little different. He will learn to adjust and make that play.
On one of the sacks that the Cowboys gave up, he didn’t push defensive tackle Tyson Alualu far enough down to Free to handle the twist stunt. Costa got overextended and couldn’t adjust back to pick up Kampman coming inside. These are all things that he will learn as the season wears on and will not make the same mistakes next time.
Overall, I was impressed with the way he handled himself against some decent inside players for the Jaguars for his first NFL start. There needs to be more opportunities for guys like Costa, Church, Lee, McCray, Young, Stephen McGee and others.
Again, that call will need to come from the general manager. It will be interesting to see if he takes the rest of the season to try to evaluate his young players or if he continues with the group that has let him down in 2010.