Re-Focused: Cowboys @ Buccaneers, Week 15

| December 18, 2011

He may be unpopular outside of the dressing room, but we’ve been told all week how Tampa Bay Buccaneer head coach Raheem Morris has the support of the players. Words from Kellen Winslow before the game reinforced this idea, with the tight end adamant that he and his team would fight for their HC.

Either those were empty words or the Buccaneers are just not very good.

The Dallas Cowboys dominated from the get-go and it was only a lax third quarter that allowed the Bucs any sniff of getting back into the game–before the Dallas defense tightened-up and turned Josh Freeman into a check-down machine. The scoreline, if anything, flattered a limp and idealess Tampa Bay team who must be scratching their heads and wondering how this group of players earned victories over both the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons.

For the Cowboys this was a much-needed victory after a tough defeat to the New York Giants; a victory that saw their offense move the ball at will and their defense dominate. Tampa Bay may not be the greatest measuring stick, but the near mistake-free football Dallas played here, is what they need if they’re to make it into, and compete in, the playoffs.

 

Dallas – Three Performances of Note

Stepping up: Part 1

When DeMarco Murray went down against the Giants last week, there was a a collective gasp, and then moment of silence from Cowboys fans that showcased their fear of losing Murray. Well, fear no more if Felix Jones (+2.9) continues to play the way he did in this game. The former first-round pick was good last Sunday but hurt his team by coughing up the ball, so this was a much needed game with little to be disappointed by (though he was somewhat fortunate to fumble a ball out of bounds). He forced six missed tackles, picked up 83 of his 108 yards after contact, and had a number of impressive runs–none more so than his jaunt down the field with 7:04 to go in the second quarter. Jones was given plenty of room to work with but hit the (large) hole with authority, before making Sean Jones miss in the open field and causing a huge panic in the Bucs’ defense on his way to a 37-yard gain. Has the performance of Murray lit a fire under Jones? Can he carry on? The answer to the latter could be what defines the Dallas season.

 

Stepping up: Part 2

Going into the game it was touch-and-go whether or not DeMarcus Ware (+2.3) would be able to suit up. Given that he only played seven snaps, it’s safe to say the Cowboys were taking a cautious approach with their stud defender, which meant Victor Butler (+3.2) got plenty of action opposite Anthony Spencer (+2.4). Neither man picked up a sack, but they were both able to get some pressure, with Butler tallying four hurries and Spencer, two hurries and a hit. Neither man is going to be confused with Ware when it comes to rushing the passer, but it’s encouraging that the Dallas defense didn’t give Freeman an easy time of things with Ware watching from the side.

 

Brilliant Bennett: Part 1

Mike Mayock made the point that Martellus Bennett (+5.8) hasn’t become the player Dallas expected him to be after he picked up a rare first down. It’s a valid point but one that maybe plays down what Bennett has become; one of the best blocking tight ends in all of football. The only player to get the better of him was his older brother Michael (who we’ll get to later) as Bennett had his way with Da’quan Bowers, Mason Foster and any other Buccaneer he could get his hand on. You don’t often see tight ends do as much quality blocking in one game but Bennett, who dominated Bowers at the line of scrimmage (putting him on the floor at 2:14 in Q1) and Foster at the second level (Q3, 10:28), had one of the best blocking performances of any tight end all year. Kudos to doing a job that goes unnoticed.

 

Tampa Bay – Three Performances of Note

Freemans’ Failings

What has become of Josh Freeman (-2.5)? The Bucs’ QB has talent; we saw it in 2010. But right now, whether it’s the injured thumb or something else, the 2009 first-round pick just isn’t playing well at all. Whereas Eli Manning torched the Cowboys’ secondary, Freeman completed just one pass that went more than 10 yards in the air, instead beefing up his stats by checking down at every opportunity as the Dallas defense took their foot off the gas. He may have completed 63% of passes, but 79.2% of all aimed passes were thrown nine yards or fewer. It’s a large part of the reason why even when it was a two-score game you never really felt the Bucs were going to get back into this.

 

Brilliant Bennett: Part 2

It wasn’t all bad for the Buccaneers with a number of performers on their defensive line having decent days (not all of them mind you). Martellus wasn’t the only Bennett to excel, with Michael Bennett (+3.2) making a case for more playing time than the 36 snaps he received. Bennett collected a sack, two pressures, and a pair of stops in the run game–including one on his younger brother (Q3, 2:23). With Roy Miller (+3.3) putting forth his best effort of the season, this was definitely a day for the backups, though neither Adrian Clayborn (+3.0) nor Albert Haynesworth (+2.8) will be hanging their heads after good days that got lost in the Bucs’ struggles.

 

Same old problems

If there’s been a big issue with the Buccaneers it’s been when runners have got to the second level. Simply put, the linebackers and safeties continue to miss tackles, take poor angles, and generally stink up the joint. The worst offenders against Dallas were Foster (-3.7) and Jones (-2.5), though another three missed tackles by Tanard Jackson (-0.8) didn’t help. Too much has been asked of Foster this year and, after a decent start, he’s had some poor games in the second half of the season. This was one of them as he failed to find good angles, was manhandled by any blocker that could reach him, and finished with just two positively-graded plays on the day (one of which was an unblocked tackle for a short gain). Jones’ issues were more noticeable as he gave up two touchdowns and missed two tackles, taking his season tally to 14 on the MT front. With his -12.9 grade on the year, let’s just say the Bucs would be well-advised to move on from him once the season closes.

 

Games Notes

- The 11 tackles the Buccaneers missed take their seasons’ tally to 139. Adding some context, the 49ers have missed just 38.

- Tony Romo completed 5-of-6 attempts further than 10 yards downfield.

- The five snaps Tyron Smith missed at the end of the game means that he has now missed only eight all year.

 

PFF Game Ball

This was Felix Jones showing the Dallas faithful he can lead them to the promised land if they give him the ball (and if he stays healthy). That gets you a game ball.

 

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  • Mauha Deeb

    Why do you think it is that people say “LeGarrette Blount can’t pass block”? I haven’t seen anything to think that is true. So I checked your grading as well as your Pass Blocking Efficiency reports and neither point to a severe blocking problem. Let alone a problem big enough to say he “can’t pass block”. Why do you think this might be? Perhaps I am missing something.

    Thanks for your help!