With reports out of Valley Ranch that Matt Cassel will be given the opportunity to start at quarterback following the bye week replacing Brandon Weeden, I want to take a look at why Weeden fell from grace.
I use falling from grace in the lightest sense as half the people thought he would be useless and the other half thought he would grow into the position over the duration of Tony Romo’s injury.
While he was serviceable enough to get you through one game with a “fill-in” QB, he proved time and again that he just wasn’t willing to pull the trigger when the opportunity arose. Whether he didn’t see the option or simply felt he couldn’t make the play is neither here nor there, he hasn’t and that’s become a problem.
I don’t mind a QB checking down at all, but Weeden’s progressions don’t move quick enough and he never trusts his intermediate or deep passes.
I believe the Cowboys opening up the bye week to be a mini-training camp and letting the guys compete for the job is good especially with a group of new players in the mix.
Is Ron Leary still the best option over La’El Collins? Is Joseph Randle a better back than Christine Michael? Can Matt Cassel inspire the team to at least a couple of winnable games in the absence of Romo? Jason Garrett and Co. are in charge of answering these questions heading into next week against the Giants.
For now let’s try to take a look at some of the things happening and not happening for the Cowboys passing game.
I know nobody trusts Devin Street but this is the first pass play of the game. He’s looking at Witten short but the Pats took Witten out of this game. He looked Witten for too long and should move to the next progression with Street very open. By the time he does, the ball is out of bounds and Street has no chance at making a play.
On this play you have Cole Beasley lined up at the top. It was a third and short situation, everybody knew the Cowboys were going to Beasley especially after showing double coverage on Witten earlier. The Pats drop a linebacker to bracket Beasley from Weeden, his second progression was Witten who was still moving up field to draw double coverage but it didn’t happen. An inside blitz doesn’t give Weeden anytime but it didn’t matter, no receivers beat 1-on-1 coverage with the single high safety.
On this play what’s he really supposed to do? It’s a bootleg play and they decide they are going to bracket Beasley again to limit the short play for a first down. Instead the linebacker pursues Weeden leaving the other defender deep enough to stop Beasley from gaining big yards and can bat down a pass.
In addition, Terrance Williams eventually gets open deeper near the 40, but not before Weeden already has to force the ball out as to not take a sack. I don’t blame Weeden on this because of pressure, but nothing tells me he would anticipate Williams route with a precise enough throw to get a big gain if his first read in Beasley isn’t open.
At the bottom of the screen you can see Weeden tries to force the ball into Williams. It’s the first pass out of the second half and they likely discussed ways of getting him open at the break.
On this play, A) he never gets open and never really has a good position on the defender. B) The throw is high and behind him. The defender cuts back behind Williams to wrap around and defend, and Weeden nearly throws it directly to him instead of leading his receiver toward to the middle of the field where he would have picked up a first down. Bad throw, little separation equals another incompletion.
He finally has all the space in the world and delivers a great pass and catch for 17 yards. But at this point the Patriots were allowing more in the middle and the safety coverage was even deeper to keep from allowing a big play for a TD.
And the final straw for Weeden came here. All the time in the world, all the space open in behind the defender and he fails to deliver an NFL quality QB easy pitch and catch. He over throws Williams over his to the sideline forcing Williams to spin and watch it sail out of bounds. Sure the game is over and it’s a stretch to be able to come back at this point, but you gave your team and your receiver no chance.
This lack of focus, lack of ability or lack of touch is a reason the Cowboys are taking a look at another option at quarterback. If Weeden couldn’t deliver on this, after three games of NFL level competition, then they have the wrong guy. Problem is, I bet the Cowboys wish they would have deciphered that during mini camps, training camp and over the last year. However, the reliance upon Romo always gave the Cowboys confidence they would be okay.
The fact that Dez could be coming back also gives Cassel a better chance to succeed so maybe the Cowboys are hoping to inspire a few players with a different QB who may be able to feed the beast while the defense keeps this team in striking distance of a win.
Cory Mageors is co-host of The K&C Masterpiece weeknights on 105.3 The Fan. Follow him @inthemageors on twitter and follow the show @kandc1053
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