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Scout's Eye: Cowboys-Cardinals review

Congratulations to those of you that wanted to see the Cowboys lose this game to the Cardinals for the better drafting position this spring. You got your wish.

In a season of missed opportunities, this game played out true to form. Strong efforts by certain players, inconsistencies from others and selfish acts that we have all grown to expect once again cost this team a chance to win a game.

Jason Garrett’s on-the-job training as a head coach was once again put to the test when quarterback Jon Kitna was unable to answer the bell after suffering an oblique injury, putting Stephen McGee into the game. McGee played as well as you could have expected for a guy getting his first taste of regular season action.

When McGee met with the media on Monday, he spoke of the challenges of calling the play and even taking the snap correctly. One of the most impressive areas of McGee’s game against the Cardinals was his ability to stand in the pocket and deliver the ball in the face of the rush. One of the hardest things for a quarterback to do is stand there and deliver the ball when you know that you are going to get smacked in the face. McGee was able to do that, which gave confidence to his coaches and his teammates as well.

Where McGee needs to improve is stepping forward in the pocket and avoiding the rush instead of trying to take everything outside. One of his better third-down conversions was when he stepped forward and shoveled the ball to Tashard Choice for a first down.

When McGee had to deliver the ball down the field, the route that he appeared to shine in the execution of was the slant. To Garrett’s credit, he understood that the more that McGee had to read, the more trouble that he might face. Garrett went to the slant because it is such a quick read and requires more skill than thought to pull it off. McGee was able to handle this well.

This Cardinals defense doesn’t have impressive ranking numbers wise, but still presents a challenge for even the most skilled veterans such as Tony Romo or Jon Kitna. Defensive coordinator Bill Davis had a nice plan for the Cowboys -- slanting his front, running linebackers through gaps and using zone blitzes. He knew that this Cowboys line struggled against teams that moved their front, with the Bears and Titans coming to mind.

When I asked guard Kyle Kosier about this defense, he said that the Cardinals front never lines up in the same spot and you always have to guess where they are going to end up. The previous week against the Redskins, the offensive line was able to get a gauge how and where the pressure was going to come from because of alignment. Against the Cardinals, that was going to be a difficult task and there were plenty enough times during the game where men were unblocked in the running game but even more importantly in the pass game.

Where the Cowboys offensive line struggled the most was on the outside at tackle with Doug Free and Marc Colombo.

Free was coming off a game against the Redskins where he was technique sound and assignment perfect. In this game, he had a poor set which led to a pressure and he missed on an inside cutoff that led to a tackle.

On the other side, Colombo was late off the snap, got beat inside for a sack when he set too wide, didn’t move his feet, allowed another sack, and had trouble adjusting on a twist stunt that gave up more pressure.

This also wasn’t one of Kosier’s better games. Kosier was beaten inside two different times and missed on a blitz pickup. Kosier is usually one of the better Cowboys offensive linemen when it comes to playing against defensive linemen they play with movement but in this game, it was a struggle for him adjusting.

*Defensively the Cowboys continued their trend of the inability to finish a game. For 58 minutes they allowed this Arizona offense nothing except for one big play.

Rookie John Skelton played like a rookie and one of the best players in the league, Larry Fitzgerald, struggled to even come close to a reception.

In my film study of the Cardinals offensive line, I thought this was one of the worst lines that the Cowboys were going to face all season. The Cowboys were able to take advantage of this group, particularly DeMarcus Ware as a pass rusher and Anthony Spencer in the running game.

Cornerback Terence Newman had a bounce-back game from how he played the previous week against the Redskins. Newman drove well on the ball and was a factor as well as a tackler.

But in the end, it was a fourth-down play that killed the Cowboys’ chances to finish the game. On fourth-and-15 with 1:17 left, Cowboys defensive coordinator Paul Pasqualoni calls for his dime package, which he had run the previous three snaps using a three-man rush.

Safeties Alan Ball and Gerald Sensabaugh are lined up 20 yards deep on the hash in a two-deep look, and linebacker Keith Brooking is lined up 14 yards deep between the two safeties but in the middle of the field. Corners Mike Jenkins, Newman, Orlando Scandrick and Bryan McCann are four across lined up 5 to 7 yards deep. The Cardinals are in an empty backfield with a five-receiver package, three of their receivers to the right and two to the left.

At the snap, the Cardinals run their first inside slot receiver at Brooking, which holds him in the middle of the field. Fitzgerald, the second slot receiver, also heads vertical but manages to run his route in between Sensabaugh and Scandrick, who doesn’t appear to drop deep enough. Stephen Bowen beats right tackle Jeremy Bridges for inside pressure but can’t get to Skelton. Fitzgerald curls inside of the leaping Scandrick and the driving Sensabaugh.

Fitzgerald cradles the ball at the impact of Brooking and Sensabaugh, making the catch for the first down and keeping the drive alive.

*One other play that I would like to focus on is what happened to Mike Jenkins in the second quarter on the Cardinals’ only offensive touchdown.

Jenkins is in man coverage on receiver Andre Roberts, who starts on the right side of the formation and works his way across. Jenkins carries him to the outside.

At the snap, Gerald Sensabaugh blitzes from the right but is picked up by Beanie Wells, allowing Skelton a clean pocket to make a throw. Jenkins is six yards off as Roberts starts to the outside. Jenkins squares his feet, then tries to open to the advancing Roberts.

With this technique, Jenkins really puts himself in no man’s land and is caught between driving on the ball and catching Roberts. Jenkins’ feet stop and he is forced to try and grab Roberts. Jenkins draws the flag for the contact as he goes to the ground.

Ball is playing safety on the other hash, turns to react to the throw and heads to try to make a play. Roberts catches the ball on the 35-yard line as Ball tries to pull even with him. As Ball adjusts to try to force Roberts out of bounds, Robert makes a cut back into the middle of the field, leaving Ball to have to turn and try to make the play. But Ball overruns it, leading to a Cardinals touchdown.

*On one final note from the Arizona game, on David Buehler’s missed extra point, he kicked the laces on the attempt, which might have affected the flight of the ball.

From a coaching point, holders are taught to try and spin the laces away from the kicker on longer field goals but on extra points or shorter field goals, they don’t mess with the football. In this case, holder Mat McBriar held the ball steady, but it’s the responsibility of the kicker to make the correct adjustments and get the kick home.