On a weekly basis, an NFL game usually comes down to five plays that are the difference between winning and losing. Coaches always say that it wasn’t that one turnover, missed field goal or missed tackle that got their team beat that day but a combination of plays that cost them the game.
To Jason Garrett and his squad, it’s a bottom line league. You are measured by wins and losses. The Cowboys had just as much of a chance to win that game against the Saints as they did to lose it. Some plays went in their direction as others didn’t.
The pass to Roy Williams on third-and-6 with 3:46 left in the fourth quarter was a prime example of that. Williams had given his teammates everything he had that day as a pass catcher and blocker, but this is the play that everybody remembers.
On this play, Williams lines up wide left with Jason Witten inline as the tight end to the left. Miles Austin is in the slot to the right with Dez Bryant outside of him. Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins is in the middle of the field. The Saints had done a nice job of mixing coverage in this game, playing with two safeties on the hash to take away the receivers on the outside but also playing some single safety.
At the snap, Cornerback Patrick Robinson lunges at Williams, who he jammed earlier in the game with a similar technique. Robinson takes a jab at Williams then begins to retreat. Williams takes an outside release and with perfect technique, swims inside Robinson (something that Bryant needs to learn how to do). Williams has Robinson beat as the cornerback falls to the ground.
Jenkins, seeing what has happened, comes flying from the middle of the field to try to play Williams. As Williams works inside, Jenkins overshoots him by a wide margin. Williams, in clean air, takes the ball from Kitna on the Saints 49 with Jenkins outside the numbers on the Saints 42.
As Williams works his way up the field, he is between the hashes on the 38 with Austin blocking Tracy Porter to his right. Williams transfers the ball from his right hand on the Saints 35 to his left hand. Jenkins is now in full sprint and reaches Williams at the Saints 19, catching him and using his momentum to pull the ball away from Williams as they both fall to the ground on the Saints 10.
It was a heck of a play by the Saints safety. What is usual about the play was that earlier in the quarter, Williams catches a similar pass with Robinson ripping at the ball and covers it up with both hands to secure the play.
* When the Saints took the ball with 3:03 left in the game on their own 11, there had to be a thought among the Cowboys defenders that they could make a stop and close out this game.
On the previous drive, the Cowboys forced a three-and-out with tremendous pressure on Drew Brees and some of the tightest coverage that the secondary and linebackers had played all day. But just the opposite happened with the game on the line.
On first-and-10, Marques Colston runs vertically from the slot then breaks to the outside. Nickel back Orlando Scandrick is in man coverage on the play and in good position. Defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni rushes four against the Saints, who kept tight end David Thomas to help block. Brees has to move forward in the pocket, then to the right as he lobs the ball to Colston, who is able to make a high adjusting catch.
First-and-10 from the Saints 33, Devery Henderson nods inside then heads vertical. Strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh is level with cornerback Terence Newman on the route when he should have had more depth. Newman is able to rally to make knock the ball out of Henderson’s hands on the play.
Second-and-10, Brees feels pressure from outside linebacker Anthony Spencer, who over runs right tackle Jon Stinchcomb. Brees tries to move forward but throws the ball too high to Thomas, who is working against Keith Brooking on the coverage.
Third-and-10, Robert Meachem on the outside against Newman in coverage. Meachem heads vertical then again, nods to the inside, causing Newman to pause slightly. Newman then has to turn and run with the 4.39 Meachem. The pause buys Meachem the separation that he needs to get by Newman. Alan Ball is the safety to that side, but he is held in position watching Thomas work against Brooking.
At first, I thought Newman was sitting on the sticks playing the route for the first down. Meachem’s route was outstanding and the throw from Brees was even better.
The Saints now have the ball on the Cowboys 12. Out of the huddle, receiver Lance Moore lines to the right. Cornerback Mike Jenkins goes with him. Moore then motions right to left with Jenkins as well. At the snap, Moore starts left, then breaks inside. Jenkins, not sure, gets caught trying to adjust. Sensabaugh tries to drop and help but can’t get there.
Jenkins tries to grab Moore and pull himself into position, then tries to play the ball with his off hand. But the throw from Brees was perfect with no chance to make the play at the end of the game-winning drive.
* Throughout the season, if you have followed The Scout’s Eye, you have seen me comment on the problems with the Cowboys running game and second-level blocking. On the fourth-and-1 play that Barber was stopped on, second-level blocking played a major role in the Cowboys having to turn the ball over to the Saints.
On the play, Jon Kitna tosses the ball going right to Barber with right tackle Marc Colombo in front trying to get to first support. As Colombo is working outside, safety Roman Harper comes forward and cut him down at the legs, creating a pile and causing Barber to have to jump. That causes him to lose his momentum going forward, but to Barber’s credit, he struggles forward and to the edge trying to gain the line.
From the inside, center Andre Gurode is trying to work front side or to his right and cut off linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar. Dunbar works away from the attempted block by Gurode, who ends up on the ground, and is able to work down the line of scrimmage. Barber gets to the edge but is met by Dunbar who is able to make the tackle for no gain, giving the ball to the Saints and stopping the Cowboys drive without any points to show for it.
Once again, when problems arise in the running game for the Cowboys, it’s usually when players are not secured at the point of attack or a defender was left unblocked. That has happened quite a bit in 2010.