Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Packers review

When studying the Packers, the one question that kept popping into my mind was how were the Packers managing to hold things together with all the injuries that they had suffered throughout the first half of this season and still be so competitive in the games they had played in 2010?

Despite all those injuries, the Packers still were going to present problems for the Cowboys because there were no phases of the game that the Cowboys were playing particularly well coming into Sunday night.

This was the third game that I watched of Packers linebacker Clay Matthews and I have to say that I was impressed with his skill level for such a young player. To Marc Colombo’s credit, he fought Matthews well, having limited time to practice with some back problems during the week leading up to the game. Matthews is a relentless, high effort and motor type of player. He plays with outstanding technique and desire. He slaps, grabs, spins all in the effort to free himself and get to the quarterback or the ball carrier.

The one big play that he had was on a twist when Colombo worked outside to pick up a blitzing Charles Woodson and Matthews worked inside over Leonard Davis, who got picked off by Andre Gurode blocking his man into Davis. It was an outstanding call by Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers and his staff to understand that the way to attack the Cowboys is through the middle because the center and guard have difficulty adjusting to stunts.

Another area that Capers hurt the Cowboys was in the use of Woodson as a blitzer out of the slot. When you play the Packers, there are two areas that you really have to prepare for, Matthews and Woodson coming off the edge. There are players in the NFL that are good blitzers from the secondary and then there is Woodson.

I can’t understand scheme-wise why Jon Kitna did not see that Woodson was going to come off the edge by his alignment. If Stephen McGee is in the game, I understand it, but not a quarterback with 14 years of NFL experience. On the play, Woodson is lined up to Kitna’s right along with Matthews. On the snap, Kitna never looks his way and Woodson takes a free run at him. To the side of the play Jason Witten reads “hot” and looks for the ball. Kitna’s head and eyes never see Woodson to his right and Woodson jars the ball loose. Felix Jones who was running a route in the middle of the field dives on the lose ball.

Speaking of Jones, why is he being used as a pass blocker? The best pass blocker for the Cowboys as far as the running backs go is Marion Barber. If I was doing advance scouting against the Cowboys, I would pass along to my coaches to make Jones have to play in the pass game as a blocker. His technique is very inconsistent. One time he will try and hit you square, the next he will fake like he is going to cut block then lunge at his man and miss.

Jones’ missed assignment in the passing game caused a sack and fumble on a max protection situation. Witten is lined up right and stays in to help block on Matthews. On this play, Jones is responsible for the end man on the left, which is linebacker Desmond Bishop. As Kitna takes the snap, Jones steps forward, never looking to the outside but keeping his focus inside Bishop with a free run at Kitna, and by the time he sees what is happening, it’s too late.

Just for future thought, the opportunities that Tashard Choice got later in the game to pass block were not much better technique-wise. Again, if I was scouting the Cowboys, I would make these running backs block in the passing game.

*Let’s be honest, Jerry Jones didn’t fire his head coach, but he fired his defensive coordinator. Jones grew tired of watching his defense struggle under Phillips, who for some reason could not get his 3-4 defense to play with the same skill, technique and passion that he had for the years that he ran the defense.

Jones brought Phillips in to build him a shutdown defense, but as the losses piled up and the mistakes occurred from play to play, series to series and game to game, Jones could not stand by and continue to watch it happen.

These are the same players that Phillips made excuses that let him down and cost him his job.

Missed tackles in the secondary; linebackers that don’t maintain contain and allow the quarterbacks to run for large gains, safeties that don’t react to plays in the red zone when they know that they have that receiver one-on-one. It’s defensive linemen that point the finger at the offense about running the football but do nothing to get off blocks to keep the opponent from running the ball on him.

Where does new defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni start in trying to once again bring this defense back to some NFL respectability? First off, the players need to do what is asked of them scheme-wise. It’s one thing to get beat physically but another to not know what your assignment is.

“Street ball” is never a good way to play defense. If you have man coverage, then take your man and do your job. If you have contain, don’t jump around the block and get pinned inside, keep your outside leverage and force the play back inside to your help.

I would not be a bit surprised to see Pasqualoni try to find some areas that this defense might be good in and hammer those at practice. Instead of doing too much, try to find things that they can be successful at and build from there until you get some kind of confidence.

There is plenty of bad to study and eliminate that from the plan. The Cowboys need to get back to those things that got this defense off the field on third downs in seasons past.