Re-Focused: Week 8, Jaguars at Cowboys

| November 3, 2010

Crawling all over and examining the Dallas corpse is a depressing thought on any number of counts, not least of which being the fact that the Cowboys were my NFC pick to reach the Super Bowl. But I’m sure I’m not anywhere near as embarrassed by this debacle as they are.

Over the course of the year, the sum of the individual performances adds up to a lot more than the whole, but that’s only good news for next year. This is simply an example of how having talent, with much of it actually performing quite well individually, isn’t always enough.

Jacksonville must be pretty sick of all this — they play pretty well in a number of areas and all anyone talks about is the Cowboys’ demise. Let’s put some of that right by highlighting some top-notch performances:

Jaguars: Three performances of note

At PFF we make no bones about it: We like David Garrard (+6.6) and think he’s given far too hard a time by many of the Jaguars faithful. It’s not that we think he should be mentioned in the same sentences as Peyton Manning or Drew Brees, but more that we believe he’s a decent player, making the best of a sub-optimal supporting cast. In our opinion he’s about the 10th-15th best in the league and yet he’s treated more like he’s the 20th to 25th. Here was a good example of what he can do, even when under pressure. This was no Chad Henne-type ride he got — he was sacked, hit or hurried on half his dropbacks (against Henne’s 16 percent at Cincy) and still played a virtually flawless game. Of the four incomplete passes, one was thrown away and on another he was hit as he threw.

While Garrard may not have got much support from his O-line (Brad Meester apart), WR Mike Sims-Walker (+6.1) did everything he could to help his QB. He caught eight of the nine balls he was targeted with regardless of who was covering him and gave Mike Jenkins in particular a real working over, catching four passes into his coverage for 100 yards. To top it off, his blocking was also top-drawer. He’s had a so-so year to date but maybe this is the spark to push him into more consistent play.

On defense, backup DE Larry Hart (+3.8) has seen anything from 4 percent of snaps to 49 percent in 2010. It’s probably because the Jaguars aren’t yet sure exactly what he can do yet. He’s a pure pass-rush specialist in that so far he’s spent more than 85 percent of his snaps going after the QB. Given his performance in this game, particularly compared to that of potential competitors Aaron Morgan and Derrick Harvey, he’ll get more playing time. He got a sack (although to be fair, this wasn’t his best work and was more of a clean-up effort) and five hurries in 23 rushes. Morgan and Harvey picked up squat, combined, in 31 rushes.

Cowboys: Three performances of note

Though much of the criticism of Dallas’ O-Line is over the top, one player who is consistently struggling is RT Marc Colombo (-3.3). Last year he was playing well until he was injured, but since his return (in the playoffs last year) he’s been awful. He’s allowed two sacks, five hits and 20 hurries in six games and is by far the biggest source of pressure on the line. Even his run blocking is below par and, to add insult to Tony Romo‘s injury, he’s given up five penalties too (eighth-worst among tackles). If there is some light here it’s that his performances, though still poor, are improving and perhaps next year he’ll be fully recovered.

Last year Jenkins (-1.6) rightly  started to build a reputation as a high-quality coverage corner who also was a little better than average in run support. In the regular season he gave up 585 yards and two TDs on 623 pass plays. This year things aren’t going anywhere near as well and in the 224 times he’s been in coverage he’s allowed 439 yards and two TDs. He’s also been called for five penalties as well (tied for fourth-worst among cornerbacks). In this game he was clearly targeted and couldn’t respond. He was thrown at six times and gave up five receptions for 107 yards.

Outside linebacker Anthony Spencer (+3.6) filled one of our PFF Pro Bowl berths last year and many, ourselves included, predicted great things for him. Although he may not be playing to that level, he’s hardly been poor and is a good example of many players on defense who are actually doing well in spite of the results. As in this game, he usually gets to the QB (here for a sack, hit and two hurries). But it was his run defense that had us extolling his virtues in 2009, and it’s in that area he’s regressed. It’s not a disaster but a broadly average performance (+0.6) is not what we expect from a guy who graded as excellent (+20.7) last year.

Rookie report

Half the starting Jacksonville DL was rookies, as Tyson Alualu was joined by DLE Austen Lane. … We’ve already mentioned the relative production of Hart and Morgan, while on offense Kevin Haslam came in at RT for one garbage-time drive and Deji Karim spelled Maurice Jones-Drew.

One real bonus for the Cowboys is they are getting lots of action for their rookies. On offense, Dez Bryant is getting more snaps each week and saw a season high 81 percent. Phil Costa started at LG but was generally below par. … Josh Brent, Barry Church, Sean Lee and Sean Lissemore saw action as backups on defense.

Random note

Aaron Kampman played every snap of the game but one — he didn’t come out for the Dallas kneel-down at the end.

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