As happy as the Cowboys were last Monday night with their victory over the Redskins is as sick as they feel right now with this loss to the Lions.
Life in the NFL is really week to week. You line up, you play and you get the result. Many will feel that the result the Cowboys received Sunday might not be fair, but to it is one that they must live with going forward into this upcoming bye. I have experienced firsthand what a results business this really is.
For 60 minutes, coaches and players execute to the best of their ability. The team that executes the best usually finds the result in their favor, but teams that make critical mistakes throughout the contest will be left to answer the tough questions. On this day, the Cowboys are that team.
Here are some of my thoughts from this loss:
The challenge for Rob Ryan’s defense was going to be how well they would deal with a Lions offense that was led by one of the true rising stars in the league, wide receiver Calvin Johnson.
In my film evaluation of Johnson, you saw a player that possessed rare height, weight and speed for the position with an unbelievable ability to make plays despite drawing the majority of attention from opposing defensive backs. Johnson is the most dangerous with his ability to play the ball at its highest point.
With 14:15 left in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys holding a 13-point lead with the ball on the Cowboys 24, Johnson lined up slot left with Nate Burleson outside left. Rookie Titus Young was lined up wide right. Quarterback Matthew Stafford was in the shotgun formation.
The Cowboys are in a Cover 3 look with a single safety, but at the snap of the ball, roll to a Cover 2 look with a deep middle drop from Mike linebacker Sean Lee. Safety Barry Church is now pedaling to the outside, nickel corner Alan Ball is in the slot and puts his hands up to try to slow Johnson down, Johnson avoids Ball with an outside move then heads vertical, Ball doesn’t touch him.
Church now picks up Johnson at the goal line, and Johnson proceeds to give Church a shove to buy separation in the route. The shove was so hard that Church gets knocked back two yards, but he gets no call. Now Church tries to fight back to gain position, but Johnson has already turned his body to adjust for the ball.
On same side of the field, cornerback Mike Jenkins sees what is happening to Church and drops his coverage on Burleson to adjust on Johnson. The Cowboys only rush three, which is easily picked up by the Lions. Stafford with plenty of time is able to throw a pass the perfect distance and height to allow Johnson to catch it at the highest point.
On the coverage, Church tries to scramble back to put a body on Johnson but is behind him. Jenkins on the dead sprint has too much momentum and as he leaps in the air goes right past Johnson and ends up behind him as well. All Johnson has to do is catch is the ball without any difficulty for the touchdown making the score 30-24.
With 1:48 on the clock and the Cowboys clinging to a 30-27 lead in the fourth, the Lions are facing a third-and-goal from the 4. The Lions go empty backfield and the Cowboys counter with their dime package.
At the snap of the ball, tight end Brandon Pettigrew comes off the line to be doubled by Frank Walker and Danny McCray. Walker physically grabs Pettigrew to try to hold him from getting into his route and is successful in the five-yard zone. McCray is not helping at all as Walker continues to fight him, as he now is carried into the end zone.
The official is allowing this play to go on until Walker and Pettigrew get two yards into the end zone and past the five-yard zone and is forced to make the call on Walker for defensive holding.
With the ball now on the 2 and a first down for the Lions, Johnson lines up wide right against Terence Newman, who is truly on an island one-on-one against Johnson. At the snap, Johnson makes a slight move inside to get Newman to feel like he is running the slant, which gets Newman to step with him, then works to the outside. Johnson manages to once again use his body to position on Newman, who is behind him.
Again, another perfect pass from Stafford, who gets the ball to the highest point, and Johnson brings it in without any problem for the go-ahead points for the Lions.
The more I studied the tape last week, the more I believed that it was going to be difficult for the Cowboys to score points, especially with the shape of the receiving from a medical and mental standpoint.
To the credit of the offensive line, they were able to find a way to protect Tony Romo, and the receivers were able to make enough plays to build a sizeable lead. This game fell apart for the Cowboys with Romo’s three interceptions in the second half.
With the score Cowboys 27-3 and 10:30 left in the third quarter, the Cowboys had a first down from their own 27. Coach Jason Garrett goes with two tight ends with Dez Bryant out wide right. Corner Chris Houston is in off coverage, and the Lions have nine men in the box.
At the snap of the ball, Romo makes a play-action fake and tight end Martellus Bennett is on the line to the right. Bennet arc releases up the field and clears the linebacker and is on the safety. On the outside, Bryant starts up the field and runs a 13-yard curl against Houston, who is playing inside technique, and is not open on the play. Linebacker Bobby Carpenter is on the same side as Bryant and bites on the play-action then begins to drop to the curl area.
After the play-action fake, Romo’s eyes are now looking at Bennett, who is about to clear safety Louis Delmas, who is now moving to help Houston with Bryant. At first it looks like Romo is watching to see what Bennett was going to do in route. Romo, seeing the safety in the middle, now decides to throw the ball to Bryant on the outside despite good coverage by Houston.
Carpenter is now in position to intercept the ball that is thrown without any pace and convert it into a pick six.
Dallas is leading 27-10 with 6:10 remaining in the third quarter with the ball near midfield. Receiver Laurent Robinson is lined up wide right against Houston. Robinson wasn’t 100 percent after banging his knee after a catch a couple of minutes earlier.
On the previous slant routes that Robinson ran, he was able to run them against off coverage or free access. This time Houston was lined up in press coverage. At the snap, Robinson tries to sell the hard outside move but takes too many steps and really isn’t quick enough. Houston is not buying the moves at all and still maintains inside leverage.
Romo takes a peek at Jason Witten in the middle of the field, holding the ball a little longer than normal for a slant. Robinson now is struggling to get inside on Houston, who is not giving any ground. Romo throws the ball to the spot that he thinks that Robinson will be at in route.
Again, too much movement and not enough quickness. Houston is in position to make the interception, which leaves Robinson in the position where he has to fight to try to knock the ball down. Houston makes an outstanding play on the ball and now works his way down the sideline for the Lions’ second pick six for the Lions, cutting the deficit to 10 points with plenty of time to play.
With 4:20 left in the game and the Cowboys with the ball on their own 20 and holding onto a 30-27 lead, Romo sends Bryant wide left and Robinson to the right. Witten is on the line to the right with John Phillips and Felix Jones in the backfield in an offset I-formation. Lions safety John Wendling is lined up as the free safety in the middle of the field.
At the snap, Wendling sprints to his left to help on coverage with Robinson. Mike linebacker Stephen Tulloch is in man coverage with Witten as he works off the ball.
The Cowboys have six blockers to handle the Lions’ four rushers. At the left tackle, Doug Free is on Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who has had a very quiet game to that point. Vanden Bosch now bull-rushes Free, carrying him into the backfield. Romo feels Vanden Bosch rushing inside to the right of Free and tries to adjust back to the left side to avoid the defensive end. Free can’t adjust fast enough.
Romo has his eyes down the field, seeing no safety help in the middle and his tight end matched up against the middle linebacker. Witten is able to clear Tulloch and get some separation. Romo now is moving to try to get the ball to Witten, but he can’t get anything on the throw because of the pressure from Vanden Bosch. Romo, having to move, can’t set his feet.
Romo tries to get the ball to Witten, but it’s underthrown and Tulloch is able to adjust to the pass to grab the interception. That leads to the Lions’ game-winning drive.