Re-Focused – Cowboys @ 49ers, Week 2

| September 20, 2011

Life’s never dull for the Dallas Cowboys.
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Jerry Jones’ boys found their first win of this season when it looked like they were down for the count. Some extremely conservative decision making, big plays, and the stop-start nature of the 49ers’ offense meant they were able to get themselves back in before Donte Whitner bit hard on a play fake to allow Jesse Holley in behind him.
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For San Francisco, they’ll be walking away from this one wondering how they managed to lose it. A lot will (and should be made) of the decision to take the points when a first down was on offer, but more should be made of the continual bad play at the safety spot.
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Remarkable as it seems, given how bad he’s played over the past couple of years, Dashon Goldson’s return may mark an upturn for a unit that played its part in letting Dallas put points on the board. We’ll get to them in more detail, but for now, here are some findings.
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Dallas Cowboys: Three Performances of Note
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1) Miles Better Than The Rest

Okay, it’s stating the obvious, but just how good was Miles Austin when he was thrown to? He had a dropped pass, but those 143 yards and three touchdowns prevented Dallas from going 0-2 for the second straight year. He worked on pretty much anyone, picking up catches on five different defensive backs with only really the underrated Carlos Rogers matching up well with him. It’s just a shame Dallas may have nullified another weapon with the carry that ended his game on the last offensive snap in the fourth quarter.
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2) Man In The Middle

While Dallas continues to deploy its inside linebacker rotation, one thing is clear; Sean Lee (+2.9) is the star of the group. Don’t just take our word for it, but the playing time is starting to show through, with Lee managing 17 more snaps than Keith Brooking (-1.9) and 22 more than Bradie James (+0.4). He’s not the most effective blitzer (no pressure from nine pass rushes) but he does a good job of shedding blocks and making plays. If anything showed the difference between Lee and Brooking, it was with 12:56 left in the fourth quarter. Lee is able to shed a pulling lineman, whereas a play earlier the same player (Mike Iupati) was able to lock on and drive Brooking back nearly 10 yards before the play was whistled dead.
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3) Time to Earn Your Money

You’re better than that, Doug Free. Better than getting abused all day long. Better than giving up two hits and a further six pressures. Better than fully earning a -5.6 grade. Free had a horrid outing, getting beat badly to give up two hits to rookie Aldon Smith, while being terrorized by Justin Smith throughout the contest. How much did the Cowboys pay him in the offseason?
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San Francisco 49ers: Three Performances of Note
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1) Same Old Story

Here’s the weekly “tell you how good Justin Smith is” portion of the article. You want to talk about something else, but how can you when he’s just that good? He ended the day with a hit and six pressures, but did some of his best work in run defense to earn a cumulative +6.5 grade. Derrick Dockery, Doug Free and Kevin Kowalski all found out first hand just how dominant a player Smith is as he continued his fine start to the season. He wasn’t alone on defense either: the inside linebacker pairing of Patrick Willis (+3.3) and Navorro Bowman (+3.4) seem to be trying to outdo each other right now.
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2) Time to Make Use of Vernon Davis

He never comes off the field, and commentators are always quick to talk about him – but how often did we notice Vernon Davis (-2.1) in this one? A truly rare athlete, Davis ran 26 pass routes and yet was only targeted on two attempts for 18 yards. Is there an injury I’m missing? Even the talk of him being kept into block is a bit misleading. It only happened eight times (23.5% of all passing plays). Compare that to say the Bears’ Kellen Davis (61.3% of the time against the Saints) and it’s not really that bad. To make matters worse, Davis had a poor day with his run blocking. He was left one-on-one with DeMarcus Ware far too often, getting beat for a tackle for a loss and another tackle for a short gain, while forcing a run to be redirected with 5:43 in the first.
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3) Secondary a Primary Concern

Firstly, it wasn’t all bad. Other than getting hit on the head by a ball (hey he had to find a new way not to haul in an interception), Carlos Rogers (+4.0) played really well. He forced a dropped pass from Jason Witten with a big hit, broke up two passes (one of which was intercepted) and even managed to lay a vicious hit on the most telegraphed of DB blitzes the 49ers went to. Now the bad – and there was plenty of it. Madieu Williams (-1.9) keeps playing like Madieu Williams, even when he’s taken off the field in nickel. Two throws came into his zone and two touchdowns he gave up. His nickel replacement, Reggie Smith (-1.5) wasn’t much better, while what Donte Whitner (-2.8) was doing on  “that play” in overtime prompted this observer to shout out “oh dear” as he bit big time on the play action. Right now the ‘Niners are playing it anything but safe with their safeties.
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Game Notes

●  Five of the six sacks Alex Smith absorbed were the result of blitzes. It wasn’t all bad though, when he wasn’t being sacked, he did complete nine of the 10 throws he got off in the face of blitzers.

●  Seem like the 49ers’ offensive line played badly? While they weren’t great, looks can be deceiving. Of the 20 Quarterback Disruptions they gave up (combined sacks, hits and hurries), nine came through unblocked. Chalk that one up to Rob Ryan and his blitzing ways.

●  66.7% of all aimed Cowboys passes were either at Jason Witten or Miles Austin.
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PFF Game Ball

Miles Austin, WR, Dallas Cowboys         

This was very nearly Tony Romo, for coming back and making crucial plays with a suspected punctured lung, but Miles was the difference-maker in this one. Without him, the Cowboys’ season could have started spiraling.
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  • Jonny Hansen

    How do Justin Smith and Haloti Ngata compare? Asking this because of the kind of contract Ngata got.