Look back: Took time for offense to figure it out

December, 11, 2012
12/11/12
12:31
PM ET
IRVING, Texas – The Cowboys had 10 drives in Sunday’s win against Cincinnati but they struggled for answers in most of them.

The different zone blitz looks that Bengals defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer gave the Cowboys had them confused. After the Cowboys’ first drive, in which Tony Romo completed 5-of-6 passes, Romo had only one drive in which he completed more than one pass in the next six drives.

The Cowboys could not block Geno Atkins. Every offensive lineman had at least one breakdown in pass protection and they could not get a push up front.

On the eighth drive, which started at the Dallas 2, something started to click. It started with a slant to Miles Austin on five-man pressure. It was the first completion the Cowboys had against five-man pressure in the game as they started out 0 for 6. That drive ended with a punt, but it gave the offense a template off which to work on their final two drives.

On the ninth drive, Romo and Austin hooked up again when the Bengals came with five defenders. Romo was hit as he threw it, but he waited just long enough for Austin to clear the second window to make the grab on the run. The Cowboys had 15 yards and a first down. On the next play Dez Bryant had his 27-yard touchdown.

It came after Bryant made the wrong route read, going behind the cornerback on his crossing route, but Romo had enough time to wait for Bryant coming across the middle and threaded a throw in which Bryant was able to sprint into the end zone.

On that ninth drive the Cowboys found some success with 11 personnel runs (three wide receivers). On the 10th drive, DeMarco Murray was able to get the crucial first down on third and 5 on a 11-personnel run, bouncing to the right against an eight-man box. Dwayne Harris did just enough on the corner on the outside for Murray to cut inside to lunge for the first down with a defender on his back.

Romo’s second biggest completion of the drive (the first was the third-down throw to Jason Witten) came when Zimmer brought five guys on first-and-10 from the Dallas 42 and he waited for a crossing Bryant for 9 yards.

After starting 0 for 6 against five-man pressure, Romo completed three of his final four vs. Zimmer’s pressure.

Romo completed 19-of-28 passes against four-man pressure, 2-of-3 against six-man pressure and missed on both of his throws on three-man pressure. He had one goal-line throw.

How was the Cowboys’ offense given a chance to make the comeback? The defense finally made plays when it needed to after failing to do so in six previous games.

Rob Ryan’s unit has been criticized and deservedly so, injuries or no injuries, but DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer came up with the two biggest plays in the fourth quarter.

Ware’s 3-yard sack of Andy Dalton came on third-and-12 when Ryan chose to rush three guys. And everybody hates that, right? Running back Brian Leonard did not get a good enough chip on Ware, giving the Pro Bowl linebacker the chance to sprint by right tackle Andre Smith and track down Dalton for the first stop.

Spencer’s sack came when he lined up at inside linebacker in the dime defense. I wonder if he was there because Ernie Sims was hurt. Most of the time when he lined up at inside linebacker in recent weeks, he dropped into an underneath zone. On this third-and-4 play, he was able to beat guard Kevin Zeitler up the middle to get into Dalton’s face quickly.

Jason Hatcher’s play in the final two drives should also be recognized. He had two pressures and drew a holding penalty.

Todd Archer

ESPN Dallas Cowboys reporter

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