Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Sep 2009

Five Downs With DMN (sorta) 2009, Week 2

Each week last season and for the first week of the 2009 season, Tim MacMahon of the Dallas Morning News conducted a "Five Downs" feature with us discussing the Cowboys and their opponents through the lens of FO.

For various reasons, we're putting that feature on hiatus for the time being, although we expect it to return in the future. While we answered Tim's questions for Week 2, the answers didn't make it onto the Cowboys blog.

So, we're providing them here this week. When the feature re-launches on a weekly basis, we'll make a note at FO.

Tim: The Cowboys managed to win convincingly despite allowing 174 rushing yards. Does the FO database have any numbers that indicate just how rare it is to win with such shoddy run defense?

Bill: I don't have the exact answer to that question, but your premise is correct. From 1995 through 2007, when one back (as opposed to a team) rushed for 175 yards or more, his team was 123-15. That's a winning percentage of nearly 90%.

Of course, a lot of teams can have a bad week. If Dallas repeats that performance against New York's rushing offense this week, though…it could get ugly.

Tim: How much of a drop-off is there from Aaron Ross to Terrell Thomas?

Bill: Not that much, to be honest, but they're different types of players. Ross isn't a great athlete, so you can beat him deep and with double moves, but he's fundamentally sound and a good corner against the run.

Thomas is the same size as Ross, but they play differently. Thomas is speedier, but isn't as refined of a player at the line of scrimmage -- he's easier to block on the edge when he's out there (although he's a great special teams player), and he still needs some work in jamming players at the line and using his hands effectively. He's sort of like a defensive Patrick Crayton; you can play him on the edge, but his skill set really lends itself to working out of the slot.

I think Miles Austin could have a very nice day against Thomas if he's able to use his size effectively, especially in the red zone.

Tim: Do you expect the Giants’ running game to be as good with Ahmad Bradshaw taking over for Derrick Ward as the No. 2 back?

Bill: Yes. The independent variable in that equation isn't the back, it's the blocking. The Giants' offensive line (along with fullback Madison Hedgecock) was really great last year, although they didn't look as effective against the Redskins last week in short-yardage.

Again, they're different players; Ward's a patient runner that was great at getting to the outside and following his blocks, while Bradshaw's more dynamic -- he's better at making players miss, and despite his 5'9" frame, he can absolutely run over defenders at times. Different players, and Bradshaw can't block or really catch the ball all that well, but not much of a difference in their ability to run the football.

Tim: Tony Romo threw for a career-high 353 yards in the season opener, more than half of which came on long touchdowns to Miles Austin, Roy Williams and Patrick Crayton. Is that enough to convince you that the Cowboys will have an explosive passing game?

Bill: I'm not sure how repeatable those plays are, but I do believe that the Cowboys' passing game will be effective. Of course, that comes from the run; when the Cowboys are running the ball well, that opens up opportunities downfield for Austin and Williams.

Truthfully, I don't think one week of anything is enough to convince me that something will be a year-long trend. A lot of things can go right (or wrong) in a single game. Remember, this time last year, the Dolphins hadn't even thought about implementing the Wildcat, the Ravens weren't using an unbalanced line, and Terrell Owens was still great. A lot can change.

Tim: Which matchups with the Giants should most concern the Cowboys?

Bill: I'd be worried about Justin Tuck on the interior. I don't think the Giants have much respect for the pass-blocking ability of the Cowboys' guards, and I think you'll see Tuck line up on the interior in obvious passing downs to try and use his speed to blow by Kyle Kosier.

On the other side of the ball, I think you have to worry about who's going to cover Kevin Boss. I don't think either Bradie James or Keith Brooking can handle him. Boss isn't going to go out and win the game for the Giants by himself, but he could become a crucial player on third downs to keep drives alive.

Posted by: Bill Barnwell on 19 Sep 2009

2 comments, Last at 20 Sep 2009, 5:54pm by Key19

Comments

1
by Tim Wilson :: Sun, 09/20/2009 - 11:18am

Tuck's success last year came against Corey Proctor. The line starting today, including Kyle Kosier, has been very successful against this Giants' DL. Osi in particular gets erased by Flozell every time they match up.

Surprised the Giants' OL didn't come up-- any thought on David Diehl and whether he'll be given help vs. Ware? Ware stated after last year's game (in which he logged 3 sacks gainst Diehl) that Diehl is incapable of blocking his speed, which seemed a rare weakness in this excellent NYG OL group.

2
by Key19 :: Sun, 09/20/2009 - 5:54pm

Answer to the last one: Gerald Sensabaugh.