Thursday, November 13, 2014

Xs and Os - Week 10 - Jacksonville

Dallas Cowboys running back Joseph Randle (21) gets by Jacksonville Jaguars strong safety Johnathan Cyprien on his way to a touchdown during the second half of Dallas' 31-17 win Sunday, November 9, 2014 at Wembley Stadium in London. (G.J. McCarthy/The Dallas Morning News)
Late in the week, we finally get a chance to "look at the tape" as Jason Garrett likes to say and examine some plays that we cannot fully digest on TV. I can't promise that every week we will be able to do this, but honestly, this is my favorite exercise of the week because only here can you fully appreciate how advanced and complex the NFL game can be sometimes.
Here, we are not looking to call anyone out, and we surely want to leave open the possibility of our eyes deceiving us and more than anything, I want to admit that I don't have the benefit of the coaches telling me what coverage they were in. So, sometimes, this diagnosis will be "pretty sure" rather than "100% sure" even though I am trying to get it right. I will make calls and try to hunt down the right answer, but I will just admit right here that we will try our best to be accurate but invariably, I will see something wrong.
But, let's pick plays that are interesting but not played out by this point of the week and have some fun talking Xs and Os. Feel free to tweet me @SportsSturm when a game shows you a play that you would like broken down and I will attempt to include it in this post.
This week, I shall confess at the outset that there is nothing I love more than a team that can run the ball with ease at the NFL level.  It is a lost art, but when it works, it is the most demoralizing and dominating way to win, in my opinion.  I love it, and I really love how the Cowboys have grown into a team that runs as well as anyone in the league in 2014.
Big runs are so hard to come by in the NFL, because there are so many fast defensive linemen and strong linebackers and defensive backs.  It takes everyone to win on offense for a big run, but on defense, only one player has to win to stop a play.  So, the odds over breaking a big one are not very good at this level.  And yet, the Cowboys have consistently put big runs up week after week this year.  And on Sunday, they had the big OL back together after Doug Free and Ron Leary's injuries have healed.  And the results were pretty solid.
Play #1 - 1Q/14:56 - 1/10/D20 - Murray right, +23, FD
Yesterday on the radio show, Jason Witten talked to us about this particular play that set the tone for the entire day.  He talked about the idea that Jacksonville and Seattle run the same basic defense and with Gus Bradley, they are trying to build the concepts that have made the Seahawks so successful.  That explains their desire to go get Red Bryant and Chris Clemons and play all of that single-high safety defense they play.  Of course, it helps to have Earl Thomas and his friends, but you get the idea.
Anyway, he talked about all of the runs that worked so well against Seattle - mostly pulling guards and using the OL running in space - to beat Seattle at the line of scrimmage.  They wanted to run plays like this right at Jacksonville right off the bat:
So, you can now understand the idea behind the very first play on Sunday.  They want to feed them some of what Seattle saw - and Jacksonville certainly knew that and studied those runs as well to see how the Jaguars would hold up.  First snap, here it comes, just like Seattle.
On any pulling play, you have to close the gap that is opened.  Therefore, when you want Frederick and Martin to both pull right, you better understand that there is a giant hole from Doug Free all the way to Ron Leary to close up so that the run doesn't get stopped in the backfield or from behind.  So, the arrows above show how that is accomplished.  The run is to the left of your screen, But, Free, Witten and Hanna are all blocking down to close the backside off.  Then, 72 and 70 come around the corner and create chaos.
This frame above shows the plan happening very well.  Leary is trying to get 97-Roy Miller to the ground with the cut block.  Then, look at Witten and Hanna deal with their guys and now see 72 and 70 squared to the edge to begin the power moves.  I put yellow on their targets.  Martin wants target #1 (since he can get there first) and Frederick will circle back for target #2 who is unaccounted for by anyone else.  52- is JT Thomas the middle LB and he is mirroring Murray to the edge and will get him unless Frederick can get there first.
This frame says a ton.  First, the TEs and Free have caved Jacksonville all the way in to where it is 72/70 against a DB and a LB.  This is bad news for the defense.  Look how perfectly squared up that Frederick is on 52.  Suddenly, your single-high safety, 37-Cyprien who starts the play 17 yards off the line is the only guy with a chance to touch Murray.
The ease of that run is no fluke.  They get a lot of credit for being a zone-running team, but in October/November, I bet they have had more big runs off man-blocking plays with pulling OL/TEs than they have with simple zone stretches.  But, either way, the production on the ground has been pretty great.  Would love to see another shot at Arizona's defense with Romo in there to keep them honest.
Play #2 - 1Q/7:44 - 1/10/D32 - Robinson right for 32 yards, Touchdown
Here is Jacksonville in 21 personnel out of the pistol. They will get a zone right to the right side here (which looks like the weak side, but they actually have 2 WRs out right) and this will test the LB play to shoot the gaps and shut this down.  Notice 59-Anthony Hitchens on the right and 54-Bruce Carter on the hashmark.
We see cause for concern already, as the OL object of each zone play is to get the leverage on their man.  Look above at 70 and 66 who both have their men inside.  93-Spencer has actually jumped inside 66, but unless he can get all the way to the RB, he is taking himself out of the play that is designed to go right at him.  In fairness, we don't know the exact call, so Spencer might have been working a stunt with Hitchens, but then Hitchens has to get to that gap quickly and he surely is unable to do so.  Now, the Sam LB, 51-Wilber has the contain to the outside.  But, there is nothing to his inside.  Also, notice above how 54-Carter is still in his stance.  He hasn't really budged.
Now, on this frame, we see Spencer is off balance, Wilber is handled by the FB, and the RT-67 and C-70 are going to get to Hitchens and Carter.  This is very bad news for the Cowboys.  You wonder what Rolando McClain would have made of this, but in any event, Jacksonville has built a tunnel for Denard Robinson to run right through.
Look how deep 42-Church is - no run support from either safety so it is vital that the LBs hold off the threat and the numerical advantage here suggests a big play is available for Jacksonville.  The Cowboys made this run too easy on the opponent.
The video shows above that Carter had a chance, but the center, 70-Bowanko is able to get to him and Robinson cuts right off his back to the end zone.  84-Cecil Shorts also locks up 42-Church pretty well.  Nice job by Jacksonville, but I imagine the Cowboys will warn Spencer about taking himself out of the play (or they won't try that stunt - if it was one - with McClain out) by trying to jump inside the A-gap as the defensive end.  Nice play if it works, but if it doesn't, the hole is too big to miss.
Play #3 - 3Q/7:44 - 1/10/J40 - Randle zone right, +40, Touchdown
Here is our zone stretch right.  Here, everyone blocks right and Randle looks for a gap, plants his right foot and hits the hole.  It is a skill to have the patience to run this because, of course, every zone run can be different.  It is simple and improvised at the same time.
Here, please notice the way LG 65-Leary and C 72-Frederick have to work together.  It is a zone right, so Leary doesn't have leverage, so generally, Frederick will bump the nose, 97-Miller back to Leary before he gets to the middle LB.  On this play, 72 doesn't really do that at all, because Leary is going to cut Bryant down.  He doesn't totally get him, but Miller has to jump to avoid Leary and that is all the impediment they need to get this going.  Frederick is all over the MLB and Martin and Free are on top of their men to the right.
Tyron has perfect technique holding his man off with that left arm and just running hip to hip with him to watch the backside.  It looks like Roy Miller might destroy this play, but here is a good shot at why Travis Frederick is getting All-Pro consideration.  Check below.
Frederick has his guy engulfed and also blocks off Leary's guy.  By the time Randle hits the hole, the damage is done.  Now, downfield, 15-Devin Street and 83-Williams have their guys handled, so again it is 1-on-1 versus 37-Cyprien.  And Cyprien had very little tackling success on this day as Randle pulls a Dez Bryant and will not go down before the end zone.
Both of the runs we showed you from the Cowboys standpoint were out of "12 personnel".  They are really cooking out of this grouping now and it is making them very difficult to defend on the ground.  12 personnel means you have 7 players on your OL and it makes everything difficult for the defense if they want to bring in nickel to deal with a pass.  12 is the most diverse personnel grouping there is, and finally the Cowboys are figuring it out.  You really have to love that and how it should translate to cold weather football.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Marinelli Report - Week 10 - Jacksonville

Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli (left) talks with fellow coach Monte Kiffin during practice Friday, November 7, 2014 at Allianz Park in London. (G.J. McCarthy/The Dallas Morning News)
The defense finished Week 10 feeling great about itself.  To go win a game away from home (a long way) and to win 3rd Downs (Jacksonville 4 of 14, 29%), take the ball away multiple times, hold them to 3 yards per carry, and to do it all without Tyrone Crawford and Rolando McClain is just flat-out impressive.  Yes, it was against a Jacksonville offense that hasn't accomplished much of anything against anyone on their schedule, but this was a Dallas defense that we were pretty sure couldn't stop anybody back in August.
It reminds me of a piece that was written back in August by a Dallas blogger called, "the case for average", that I have thought about plenty this season as we have gone through this unlikely defensive revival.  Admittedly, I wasn't optimistic in the slightest about this defense after the loss of Sean Lee on top of the free agency exits of DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, followed by the bad news for DeMarcus Lawrence.  All personnel developments left little room for hope of this defense being able to keep its end of the bargain.
But, the author, Adam, made the case that even though the top end talent gets the headlines and the attention, this team can actually get near the league average if it merely fixes the players lower in the depth chart.  The idea is that when attrition and injuries hit, you will be more prepared to put "NFL-worthy" defenders on the field as replacements rather than fringe players who get quickly exposed by top offenses.
For instance, if Ware and Lee and Hatcher were "8s" on the scale of 1-10, but the replacements were "2s", what if you dropped your top ends down a few numbers but brought your reserves up to a 5?  I will admit, I didn't much share his optimism, but I didn't forget the premise.
Well, with each passing week, we are seeing this plan in motion.  We are seeing that while the Cowboys have fewer "top end" talents who will get Pro Bowl consideration on the defense, they are seeing that when Justin Durant or Morris Claiborne are lost for the year they have a plan.  They also seem to be able to withstand plugging a guy named Jack Crawford (who I think it would be reasonable to say this week was the first time many Cowboys fans had ever heard of him) in for Tyrone Crawford.  And Anthony Hitchens can handle filling in a few times for Rolando McClain.
Now, there is no guarantee that it will always go perfectly, but think about those times we have had to see Hitchens fill in for McClain - At St Louis and At Jacksonville.  In fact, don't think about it, just look below:
Above, Zac Stacy takes the ball on 4th and 1 and is wrapped up and sent back when 59-Anthony Hitchens diagnoses and reacts to the pulling guard and destroys the play and the Rams drive.  Hitchens is not playing passively nor gently.  He is attacking - almost like McClain or Lee in front of him.
Now, here we go this week.  4th and 1.  Toby Gerhart and pulling guards.  Let me use this opportunity to again campaign against any team pulling guards on 4th and 1.  It never works against a 9-man front.  There is too much traffic to navigate and they generally just get in the way.  Anyway, here is 59-Hitchens picking his way through the bodies, mirroring Gerhart perfectly, squaring him up, and ending the drive right then and there.  Beautiful.
Hitchens wasn't supposed to be a key member of the LB crew this year.  He was drafted to play special teams in his rookie season and grow into a bigger role.  Then Sean Lee was hurt.  Then, Devonte Holloman retired.  Then, Justin Durant was lost for the year.  Then, Rolando McClain was hurt against Arizona.  Next man up.  Always be ready.
Another component of success that reared its head on Sunday is the scheme and tactics run by Rod Marinelli this season.  He uses common sense and hustle as the two major ingredients to what he wants done.  Set up ideas that can be easily followed and demand that each player bury the needle on their RPMs until the whistle.  Pedal to the metal.
I write every week about the blitz and its effects.  I have learned by doing this study that the only way to use a blitz properly is as a weapon, not a necessity.  You may remember after the Chicago game last season the madness of hearing Jerry Jones call for more blitzing because, “We just need to take more risks,” Jones said. “In a more conservative approach like Monday, the results are going to be the same, so we might as well try to somehow get more turnovers.”
That, of course, is exactly the wrong reason to do anything - although it is a common approach from fans.  We get frustrated with what we do best not getting us results, so then the common idea is to try to do something else that is completely out of character and hope to do even better.  It never works, but it is often suggested.
Regardless, that was going to be one of Marinelli's tasks.  Figure out how use the blitz in a way that it doesn't make things even worse.  He realizes he does not have Harvey Martin and Randy White sacking the QB, but he also knows that bringing numbers too often can result in exposing the secondary and giving up big plays.  And giving up big plays cannot happen if this team is to go anywhere, so now we are back where we started this conversation - use the blitz as an occasional ambush weapon, but generally only rush 4 and drop 7 into coverage.
Let's take a look at the history of the Cowboys defense while blitzing from Wade to Rod.  In 2009, the Cowboys were 11th in the NFL in opponents passer rating versus the blitz in Wade Phillips' last full year.  Then in 2010, they were 32nd.  Followed by Rob Ryan's 2011 and 2012 in which the Cowboys were 31st in the NFL, and then 29th.  Last year, with Monte Kiffin pulling the strings, the Cowboys were right back at 32nd in the league - surrendering an opponent's passer rating of 117 for the entire season against the blitz.  That means, they were making every QB into the best QB in the league when they brought pressure.  Very bad.
But, so far in 2014, there is reason for optimism - or as Adam suggested, the case for average.  Could the blitz and other portions of this team merely squeeze up to league average?  Check the chart below:
So, you can see the green line, which is the NFL average passer rating versus the blitz.  You can see it is creeping higher and higher each year as rules and QB play conspires to make this a league where defenses never have success.  You can see the blue line, which represents the Cowboys and the atrocious manner in which they are way worse than the league from 2010-2013.
But, through 10 games in 2014, the Cowboys defense has picked its spots and are now ranked 15th and are surrendering a rating of 88, while the league is averaging a 91.  Better than average.  So far, so good.
Here is a look at one of the 3 sacks the Cowboys had that was a result of bringing more than 4.  This was from the 2nd Quarter and it shows a zone blitz, but one with a rare 6th man coming from the nickel corner slot.  Notice the DE on the top, 93-Spencer, dropping back into coverage next to 32-Scandrick, as 42-Church and 20-Patmon both rush.
Jacksonville is being careful as they have a 7-man protection, but the Cowboys get there on both edges.  Look below at the fine work of 92-Mincey against Luke Joeckel.
If DeMarcus Lawrence had done that, we would all be over the moon.  Mincey dominates on his way to the QB and Church meets him at the QB.  That is the 2nd time in 3 weeks that Mincey has shown his ability to bring a pass rush off the edge and has beaten Trent Williams and Joeckel.  Well done.
Their rate is still barely over 20% still, but they are picking their spots and most importantly, they are getting home.  That has been the overall issue over the last 4 seasons.  They blitz and yet they don't get there.  That exposes your undermanned secondary and you give up a 50-yard slant.
It is a delicate balance, but they are doing well in this category for sure.
DEFENSIVE PARTICIPATION:  The story of the week when it comes to playing time is Jack Crawford who played 41 snaps and most of them at defensive tackle.  I point that out because he was a defensive end when we saw him earlier in the season, but here he was at the 3-technique and he accounted for 4 different splash plays.  That may remind you of Tyrone Crawford, who seemed quite ordinary at defensive end, but upon moving inside, he looked like Jason Hatcher.  Quite remarkable.  His 41 snaps were the most on the team - more than Melton, Hayden, or Terrell McClain.  Shocking, to say the least.
Garbage time also led to more playing opportunities for those down the roster, including Cam Lawrence (10 snaps and a sack), Keith Smith (10 snaps and a splash), Jeff Heath (18), and CJ Spillman (8).  All snap counts from

A reminder of what a splash play is by clicking on the link:
It is plenty confusing to have multiple Crawfords, McClains, and Lawrences on this defense.  But, as you know, all of the Crawfords above were the English-born story-of-the-week, Jack Crawford.
 For what it is worth (maybe not much) the Cowboys had 166 snaps through 10 games last year (in 754 snaps). This year, 629 snaps has brought on 158 splashes.  So, in 2013, it was one every 4.54 snaps.  In 2014, it is a splash every 3.98 snaps.
During the Marinelli Report, we attempt to chart how the opposing quarterback fared against the DAL pass rush (unlike Decoding Linehan, when we chart drive progression). The key in the bottom end zone defines how many rushers came during a given throw. Each line entails where the ball was thrown from, trailing to the (general) point where it was caught. Dotted lines are incomplete passes. Red squares are sacks.
Week 10 Summary

This segment of the defensive study is simply to find out how well the Cowboys are doing at getting pressure on the opposing QB.

Each week we calculate how opposing quarterbacks fare against the Dallas blitz. Consider this the raw data behind the passing chart.
Wk 1 - Colin Kaepernick: 4/8, 74 Yds, 1 TD, 1 SACK
Wk 2 - Jake Locker: 3/6, 22 Yds
Wk 3 - Austin Davis: 4/7, 42 Yds, 1 INT
Wk 4 - Drew Brees: 6/8, 68 Yds, 1 TD
Wk 5 - Ryan Fitzpatrick: 6/11, 41 Yds, 2 FD
Wk 6 - Russell Wilson: 2/6, 25 Yds, 1 FD
Wk 7 - Eli Manning: 7/8, 75 Yds, 4 FD
Wk 8 - Colt McCoy: 5/7, 66 Yds, 2 FD
Wk 9 - Carson Palmer: 5/7, 42 Yds, 2 FD
Wk 10 - Blake Bortles: 4/6, 47 Yds, 2 FD, 3 Sack
2014 Total: 46/74, 62 Cmp%, 502 Yds, 2 TD, 1 INT, 13 FD, 3 Sack - 85.5 QB Rating
Each week we monitor how often the Cowboys send pressure on passing plays.
Wk 1 - SF: 9/21 - Blitzed 33%
Wk 2 - at TEN: 6/38 - Blitzed 15%
Wk 3 - STL: 7/42 - Blitzed 16%
Wk 4 - NO: 8/46 - Blitzed 17%
Wk 5 - HOU: 11/26 - Blitzed 42%
Wk 6 - at SEA: 7/31 - Blitzed 22%
Wk 7 - NYG: 8/35 - Blitzed 22%
Wk 8 - WAS: 8/35 - Blitzed 22%
Wk 9 - AZ: 7/36 - Blitzed 19%
Wk 10 - JAX: 9/45 - Blitzed 20%
2014 Total: 72/320 - Blitzed 22% 
2013 Totals:  140/673 - 20.8%
2012 Totals:  134/551 - 24.3%

And, here are the full season numbers to date:
SUMMARY AND LOOK AHEAD:  The recipe to a better defense might be to play Jacksonville more often.  In fact, you do wonder about the AFC South schedule that allows a defense to play Tennessee, Jacksonville, and Houston twice each if you are the Colts.
But, let's give credit where credit is due.  The Cowboys overhauled their defensive personnel depth, and added guys like McClain, McClain, Mincey, and Melton to the return of Spencer and development of Crawford and Wilcox and the additions of rookies like Patmon, Hitchens, and, now, Lawrence.  And now, Josh Brent will have a chance to add to the mix and you can see that this defense isn't about the top 3-5 players.  It is about 20 guys who seem to have a role and are each ready to contribute when the chance arises.
They have some very steep hills to climb in the final 6 games - beware, Chip Kelly! - but, again, the Cowboys have done what many of us thought impossible just 90 days ago - they appear to have the makings of an average defense.
And that may be good enough to play in January.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Decoding Linehan - Week 10 - Jacksonville

Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dez Bryant (88) looks for the end one pylon as he is tackled from behind by New York Giants cornerback Prince Amukamara (20) in the fourth quarter at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Sunday, October 19, 2014. Bryant reached across the goal line but came up short on the touchdown. The Cowboys won, 31-21. (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)
Continuing the theme of the weekend, let's start this post as we should many weeks:  Football is much easier if you have special players who can do special things.  At any given time during the season, there are over 2,000 players employed by the NFL.  If you are lucky enough to have any that stand above at their position (say top 10%), then there are some instances where they do something that makes everyone on your side look better and, in fact, smarter.
You called their number, then they do what they do.  Dez Bryant was that man on a few occasions on Sunday.   We can get into quite a debate about how good he is relative to his colleagues at the WR position in the NFL, but I think most would agree that at worst, he is in the Top 10.  At best, you may put him at or near the very top.
It is difficult for someone to live up the hype that was bestowed upon him when the Cowboys drafted him in 2010, handed him the highly regarded #88 jersey, and basically preordained him to accomplish what Drew and Michael had before him.  But at this point of his career, it seems reasonable to assume that he will threaten the chance to stand alone by the end of his run.
The year Dez Bryant is having is certainly complicated by his contract situation.  That, rather normal juncture of a player's career is also complicated because it is Dez.  And with someone's contract, we don't always hear about every step on the staircase of a negotiation, but there is no question that this one is not as simple as a Tony Romo or Tyron Smith deal.  Dez has a price he believes in, and the Cowboys - for some reasons that pertain to Bryant and for other reasons that pertain to their overall salary structure system - have a different number.  So, Bryant has been particularly animated from the start in Oxnard this year.  I believe that he badly wants to do everything he is asked to do both on the field and off to demonstrate his worth.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have to juggle many situations simultaneously, while attempting to get their financial house in order - which, if we were to be honest, would be something they have been working to do for about a decade now.  But, at the present, their goal is to get Bryant under contract for as little as possible, while his goal is quite the opposite.  He wants to respect from his organization that comes with a deal with 9 figures - and with a significant amount guaranteed.
So, how do you find a reasonable number that everyone can be happy with?  Well, you start by defining what it is as a player that makes him special, the likelihood of it continuing for the length of the deal, and the effects of his absence.
Each of those conversations - especially the last two - are, in themselves, lengthy and nuanced.  But, it doesn't take a genius to look at the moments that he puts on the highlight shows repeatedly over his 5 seasons in Dallas to argue that his combination of skill and will is rare and unique.  There are lots of players who have special talents in the NFL, but they often don't run at maximum effort at all times.  Conversely, there are many who compete as hard as they can all the time, but they don't have the gifts that others have, thus they compensate with high motor.  But, how often do you find a guy who goes 100% all the time, yet can do what he can do physically?  When you do, you have a cornerstone player of a franchise.
And on a far lesser game on the schedule - a game that had only 19% of the country watching against a 1-8 opponent - Dez put on a show on Sunday that was timed between news of his agent change, the Cowboys leaking their stance, and the bye week (a normal and expected negotiation window in the NFL).  It was pretty special and demonstrative of what he means to this offense and this organization.
The first was a formation "12 Tight" that we don't see in Dallas much, so I think I would suggest this falls under the "new for 2014 Linehan" file.  From yesterday's Morning After piece:
The first – with 7:14 left in the 2nd Quarter on a 2nd and 8 from the Jacksonville 35-yard line – was an interesting tight formation with “12″ personnel balanced up with a tight end and a wide receiver both tightly bunched together off the outside shoulder of each tackle.  The idea here is to beat any man-coverage with the tight end (James Hanna) breaking outside and then running Dez Bryant back inside in a rub route that then drags Bryant across the defense at the line of scrimmage.  Jacksonville was in a rare-for-them 5-man pass rush and that left the strong safety 37-Jonathan Cyprien to have to account for Bryant from a difficult angle.  Surely, the hope was to move the chains, but once Bryant caught the ball in stride and blew by his defender, Cyprien, at the corner, he had other ideas.  First, he stayed outside and turbo-boosted past 26-Josh Evans and 57-Dekoda Watson, before cutting back inside around the 10-yard line, where he made 27-Dwayne Gratz miss, and then 35-DeMetrius McCray at the 5-yard line and 91-Chris Clemons at the goal-line where even Evans and Watson also had another shot at him.  So, depending on how you score a play like that, he beat somewhere between six and eight defenders to the end zone because that is how he plays.  He never goes down without a fight and this time his fight put him in the end zone.
The 2nd TD was even more fun from a breakdown standpoint.  Sometimes, the TV copy gives us a clue that we don't see on the All-22.  This one, which I have watched several times, is pretty amusing.  Romo is watching the safety 26-Evans from the second he breaks the huddle.  Romo is trying not to stare, but he keeps glancing over.  Evans is the key, here, and Romo will simply follow his lead.  If he is really in Cover 2, then Romo hits Witten across the middle on a DIG.  But, if the safety is dropping down in the zone and they are really in a Cover 1, then this will open things up for Dez.
Romo is trying not to be obvious here, but he is looking at Evans who is looking at Witten.
Evans is circled to show you what Romo is spying, and that safety is more worried about the 3 threats up top more than he is about Bryant by himself on the opposite side.
In his drop, Romo even sells Witten a little bit with his eyes, but he knows his play all along.  Meanwhile, the single-high safety is on the opposite hashmark.  That will not help his efforts in getting Bryant to the ground.
I am sure if you are a Jacksonville fan today, you are bemoaning the lack of tackling technique on these plays, but if you are a Dallas fan, you are impressed with Dez refusing to go down until he breaks into the end zone.  Either way, if you are concerned with Bryant being too caught up in his negotiations and is letting it distract his play, I think you are looking at it wrong.  In reality, he might be using his play to negotiate.  And that is the best stance a player can take.
Offensive Participation:  This, of course, is the one complaint point for Dallas enthusiasts from Week 10.  Why did everyone play so much!  Romo 52, Bryant 45, and Murray 37 all likely played more than needed, and this time of year, every football fan has been frightened into submission by the injuries that destroy seasons every week.  With that in mind, most of us have a default setting to get everyone off the field if you are ever up 31-7 in a game in the 4th Quarter, but we repeatedly see that the NFL doesn't think as we do.  Elsewhere, the 5 starting offensive linemen were all available and played every snap.  The only other detail worth noting is that James Hanna/Gavin Escobar workload is slanting in Hanna's favor.  As they continue to use 12 personnel, it seems Hanna gets a consistent 20 snaps, and Escobar averages about 14, but his week to week workload is very inconsistent.  He will play 24 snaps and then 6 the next week.  Hanna is about the same each week and seems to be more trusted to block for Murray even though it wasn't long ago that he was not regarded as a blocker much at all.  All snap numbers courtesy of PFF and they include all snaps including plays that were not official because of penalties.
 Balance is the theme of the day and shorter distances on 3rd Down.  However, just 4-13 on 3rd Down means the down trend there continues.  Hopefully, they will find the keys there again in the final 6 weeks.  That is imperative to success.
PASSING CHART - My buddy John Daigle has designed this passing chart each week.  Each color represents the possession number listed in the key. The numbers are separated by the half. If you were to start from the bottom and work your way up, you would be tracking that possession from beginning to end. The dotted-lines are incompletions. Large gaps between throws are mostly YAC or carries.
Week 10 Summary
Pretty clear that the idea was to keep Romo's throws quick and high percentage.  Get the ball out and don't take sacks.  It worked most of the day as a compliment to the ground attack.
DRIVE STARTERS - The 1st play of each drive can often reveal the intent of a coach to establish his game plan. How committed is he to the run or pass when the team comes off the sideline? We track it each week here.
2013 Total: 176 Drives - 84 Run/92 Pass - 47% Run
2012 Total: 173 Drives - 76 Run/97 Pass - 44% Run
2011 Total: 181 Drives - 79 Run/102 Pass - 44% Run
* This statistic doesn't count the 1-play kneel down drives.
Shotgun snaps are fine on 3rd Down and in the 2 minute drill. But, we track this stat from week to week to make sure the Cowboys aren't getting too lazy in using it. They are not efficient enough to run it as their base, and with a 15%/85% run/pass split across the league, there is no way the defense respects your running game. When shotgun totals are high, the Cowboys are generally behind, scared of their offensive line, or frustrated.
 It is all relative, but less shotgun in 2014 compared to 2013 and 2012.  They believe in power football much more under Linehan.
2013 Total: 566/945 - 59.8% Shotgun
2012 Total: 565/1038 - 54% Shotgun
2011 Total: 445/1012 - 43.9% Shotgun
TOTALS BY PERSONNEL GROUPS (Before you study the data below, I would recommend that if the numbers for the groupings are unfamiliar, that you spend some time reading a more expanded definition of the Personnel Groupings here.)
 Under center running success.  Line up, declare run, and then do it.  The Cowboys are back to their winning ways with Leary and Free back up front with Romo keeping people honest.  When all are present, the differences are remarkable.
* - Knee Plays are not counted in play calls.
Wk 1: 1/5, 9 Yds, 3 INT, 1 FD
Wk 2: 4/5, 39 Yds, 1 Sack, 2 FD
Wk 3: 3/3, 88 Yds, 1 TD, 2 FD
Wk 4: 6/8, 76 Yds, 1 TD, 4 FD
Wk 5: 2/4, 38 Yds, 1 Sack, 2 FD
Wk 6: 1/4, 47 Yds, 1 Sack, 1 FD
Wk 7: 3/5, 55 Yds, 1 Sack, 2 TD, 1 FD
Wk 8: 5/6, 92 Yds, 1 TD, 2 FD
Wk 9: 1/1, 1 Yd
Wk 10: 2/3, 21 Yds, 1 FD
2014 Total: 28/44, 63 Cmp%, 466 Yds, 5 TD, 3 INT, 16 FD, 4 Sack
We are seeing less play-action, but I am sure it will be back soon.  They are setting someone up for an ambush.
BLITZING Romo - Pass Rushers Against Dallas - 29 Passes vs Jacksonville
Wk 1: SF Blitzed Dallas 1/40 - Blitzed 2.5%
Wk 2: TEN Blitzed Dallas 12/33 - Blitzed 36%
Wk 3: STL Blitzed Dallas 11/23 - Blitzed 47%
Wk 4: NO Blitzed Dallas 11/32 - Blitzed 34%
Wk 5: HOU Blitzed Dallas 11/42 - Blitzed 26%
Wk 6: SEA Blitzed Dallas 5/33 - Blitzed 15%
Wk 7: NYG Blitzed Dallas 5/25 - Blitzed 20%
Wk 8: WAS Blitzed Dallas 21/40 – Blitzed 52%
Wk 9: AZ Blitzed Dallas 13/36 - Blitzed 36%
Wk 10: JAX Blitzed Dallas 6/29 - Blitzed 20%
2014 Total: Opponents Blitzed Dallas 96/333 - Blitzed 28%
2013 Total: Opponents Blitzed Dallas 210/616 - Blitzed 34%
Jacksonville, like Seattle, does not believe in blitzing.  Therefore, the pass protection was hardly challenged.  You don't beat the Cowboys OL on individual rushes very often.

SUMMARY AND LOOK AHEAD:  The Cowboys really needed an offensive performance like this.  Their systematic dismantling of a defense will do wonders for their confidence as Romo's efficiency was remarkable, the ground game returned, the screens and counters looked explosive, and Dez Bryant was Dez Bryant.
Now, in the final 6 games, we look forward to their return to the basic recipe that was on display early in the season.  We must credit Jim Haslett for derailing the Cowboys offense for a few weeks, it seems, but I go back to the rather naive coaching on the Cowboys sideline to allow over-confidence to teach them a lesson.  I assume they will learn from that and keep their guard up.  There is no question that Philadelphia will attempt to capitalize on the chaos that Washington and Arizona used to send pressure and cause stress.
But, with everyone in decent health and 6 games to play, I really don't think the Cowboys should be afraid of cold weather or schemes that give them fits.  They should have a different approach to the winter stretch drive because for once, the Cowboys seem to have a team that is built for this type of challenge.  Go on the road, face the weather and the crowds, and deal with it all because they have a confident front.  They can set the tone with a balanced offense and the men up front to protect and execute what needs to be done.
We have seen 10 games now, and we can see what the Cowboys do well and don't do well under Linehan.  For the first time in quite a while (2009?), I see no reason why Dallas cannot have an awful lot of self-belief heading into the stretch drive.
They finally are equipped to not only fight back, but to throw the first punch.