I hope everyone enjoyed Wild Card Weekend. Let's try this again! I hope everyone is ready for some Dallas Cowboys playoff football! This weekend of games was supposed to partially fill our appetite for the Divisional Round, but most of the games were lackluster.
With that said, once I knew that the Cowboys would be getting the winner of what turned out to be the best Wild Card game between the Packers and Giants, I watched Sunday afternoon's game with a notebook in hand - putting down some thoughts on both teams.
Since the Green Bay Packers came out on top 38-13, here are my notes on their impressive performance. Reminder: This is based solely on the Packers' match up with the Giants, and will serve as a starter for diving into their match up with the Cowboys later in the week - which I plan to do by also reviewing the week 6 meeting between these teams.
Green Bay Packers Offense
Aaron Rodgers was Aaron Rodgers in this game, which is really where you have to start when it comes to this Green Bay offense - one that has been firing on all cylinders throughout this seven game winning streak. While I would have been fascinated to see how the Giants defense could have played throughout this game if New York's offense capitalized on all their early scoring chances, the adjustments that the Packers made on this side of the ball were the biggest turning point in this game.
Green Bay's wide receivers are far from the best group of pass catchers in these playoffs, which makes Rodgers dominance all the more impressive. Early in this game, this unit collectively played into the strength of the Giants' secondary with bad route running all around.
When Jordy Nelson (who exited with an injury), Davante Adams, and Geronimo Allison were not crisp with their routes, they played right into the bracket coverages that the Giants used to force Rodgers to hold onto the ball.
As the WR play improved, Rodgers was able to pick apart the Giants zone looks, and his "dagger" plays came when he was able to hold onto the ball and still navigate the pocket to make a late throw.
This highly paid Giants defensive line made plays at times, but against a sub par offensive line they really didn't dominate like they were going to need to in order to beat Rodgers. Particularly, I thought the veteran right tackle Bryan Bulaga played exceptionally well as a pass and run blocker, helping Green Bay find some rushing attack with 47 timely yards on the ground from former Cowboy Christine Michael.
Green Bay Packers Defense
The Packers' defense gained more and more confidence as this game went on, turning in what was a really solid performance against a Giants offense that has carried them much like Green Bay's own offense.
Early in this game, as the Giants looked to establish some resemblance of a running game, I thought the youth at the linebacker position for the Packers really showed. Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez were late in their run fills, but improved greatly throughout the game.
What made the difference for these linebackers was the improved containment play of experienced EDGE players like Clay Matthews and Julius Peppers. As they began to clog gaps against the run, the Packers crowded the line of scrimmage more to force Eli Manning into beating their coverage.
The secondary coverage for Green Bay certainly wasn't perfect, and their main flaw was on display when Tavarres King beat them on a 41 yard touchdown in the third quarter. Damarious Randall was expecting help over the top from a safety, and in a two-deep safety look he played the right technique. This look worked for the Packers in enticing the Giants into running the ball against "softer" boxes, but as King ran past Randall to the post the Packers' safeties were caught stretched too far across the field - and up closer to the line.
The Packers' secondary has battled through so many injuries this season, and they are just not consistently on the same page with the personnel they have out there when it comes to rolling coverages. Green Bay also showed some true double team looks to Odell Beckham Jr., which is something they may regret against Dallas if they throw a similar look at Dez Bryant with the way Ezekiel Elliott gashed them previously - without Bryant on the field.
QB Dak Prescott Continues To Come Through In Clutch Situations
Dak Prescott is possibly the most criticized quarterback in all of football.
Of course, this comes with the territory of being the Cowboys starting quarterback, but each throw Prescott attempts is placed under an intense microscope, even by NFL standards. We analyze every snap of every game, looking to find where Dak was right or wrong with this reads.
There's no question, though, that Prescott has been inconsistent throughout his young career. Week to week, drive to drive, and even play to play, we seemingly have no gauge on just how Dak Prescott will perform.
One scenario where we can say with confidence he will come through, however, is when it matters most. Last Sunday, in yet another must-win game for the Dallas Cowboys, Prescott orchestrated a game winning drive to lead his team over the favored Atlanta Falcons.
The Cowboys offense was pedestrian for much of the afternoon, but when Prescott got the ball in a tied game, I felt confident he would give Brett Maher a chance to win the game. Even on the road, and even after the offense had struggled a bit through the air all day.
Prescott got the ball late in the fourth quarter, looking to answer former NFL MVP Matt Ryan's game tying touchdown strike to Julio Jones. Dak went for it all on the first play, looking for Michael Gallup deep down the sideline, but the ball fell incomplete. After that throw, Prescott went 4/5 for 45 yards, including a huge completion to Cole Beasley, putting Dallas in game winning field goal range.
This confidence in Dak Prescott is justified, as is shown by his numbers in late game situations. Prescott now has 12 game winning drives, tying him for the league lead over the last three seasons. For comparison sake, Eagles starter Carson Wentz has just 3 game winning drives over that same stretch.
Overall the box score shows a rather quiet day for Prescott, but it was exactly the kind of Sunday they need from him. He completed over 60% of his passes, ran for a touchdown, and avoided the key turnover which could have sung this close game.
He played efficient football, and gave the Cowboys a chance to win it late. Then, he did what he does best, making plays in clutch situations and coming through in the 2 minute drill.
For all of Dak Prescott's flaws, those end-of-half and end-of-game situations have been a clear strength for the young quarterback, and continued to be this week.
Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración
Entre los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys, pocas cosas son criticadas tan frecuentemente como la administración de la franquicia que no ha ganado ningún Super Bowl en más de dos décadas. Se ha convertido en un equipo que, a pesar de ser el más valioso en el mundo deportivo, no ha sido nada relevante en el emparrillado. Lo que alguna vez fue una dinastía se ha convertido en una unidad que rompe frecuentemente los corazones de los fans.
Jerry Jones y Stephen Jones, siendo los operadores del ámbito deportivo del negocio familiar, son criticados semana tras semana y en gran parte por justa razón. Pero en gran parte, por cosas no muy válidas.
Cambios de Coach
A mi parecer, lo más criticable para la administración de este equipo viene cuando hablamos de los coaches. Muchos se burlan de los Cincinnati Bengals y de la manera en la que están atascados con el Head Coach Marvin Lewis. Con Jason Garrett al volante, la situación para los Cowboys no es nada diferente.
A mediados de la temporada 2018, no parece que esta narrativa vaya a cambiar. Una vez más, los Cowboys arrancaron de una manera muy inconsistente y ya no sabemos que esperar de ellos. Gran parte de las derrotas, la mayor parte, es el coacheo.
Sin duda el equipo no será exactamente el mismo en 2019, pero ¿serán suficientes los cambios como para decidir quedarse con el mismo capitán que no ha podido mantener el barco navegando por años?
A diferencia de como se manejan muchos equipos en la liga, los Jones fungen como general managers de su propio equipo. Con la ayuda de Will McClay han logrado superar varios de los fracasos de los Jones de antaño, pero actualmente, siendo sinceros no han hecho un mal trabajo.
A pesar de las critícas de Abril, Leighton Vander Esch está probando haber valido más que la pena. Siendo objetivos, aparte de Taco Charlton en el 2017, todas las selecciones de primera ronda de los Cowboys han sido valiosas. La línea ofensiva, el corredor, un cornerback que por fin se está perfilando como uno de los mejores en la liga.
En cuanto a la segunda ronda, ha habido varias críticas, muchas con razón. Pero el mejor caza cabezas del equipo, DeMarcus Lawrence, el linebacker Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory y más están teniendo un impacto muy fuerte en el equipo.
La administración se ha visto en la necesidad de tomar decisiones bastante difíciles después de una temporada de nueve victorias en 2017. El LB Anthony Hitchens fue liberado, Dan Bailey se fue inesperadamente, se confió en Byron Jones para tomar su opción de quinto año.
Hasta ahora, pura decisión digna de aplaudirse. Pero ninguna como la más reciente de todas: Amari Cooper.
Por más caro que haya salido, los Cowboys merecen bastante crédito por haber mejorado muchísimo su posición de WR. Si el equipo llega a tener una oportunidad esta temporada, será en gran parte por él.
No cabe ninguna duda en mi cabeza de que los Jones han cometido errores a lo largo de los años, el más evidente siendo la resistencia de dejar ir a Jason Garrett. Pero a pesar de esto, la administración ha tomado excelentes decisiones y ha realizado el draft muy bien. En ese aspecto en específico, les aplaudo.
Sack Numbers Don’t Tell DeMarcus Lawrence’s 2018 Story
Coming off of a career year in 2017, many fans expected DeMarcus Lawrence to continue his ridiculous sack production this season. After all, he is once again in a "contract year" due to the franchise tag, and fans are hoping the Cowboys can secure him longterm this offseason.
Through the first four games of 2018, Lawrence looked as ridiculous and unstoppable as ever. He had 5.5 sacks, tied for the league lead, and was dictating the pass protection schemes of every offense the Cowboys were facing.
Since that hot start, though, DeMarcus Lawrence has recorded just 1 sack, falling behind some of the league leaders he was once ahead of. This has some people scratching their heads and wondering if Lawrence's career year in 2017 was just that, a career year. One which he will never replicate again, and one which the Cowboys should factor out when talking contract extensions.
Here's why those people are wrong.
Let's first talk about what makes DeMarcus Lawrence so good, and then we'll get into the full context of the Cowboys defense and how that explains some of the drop in sacks.
Lawrence, unlike some of the league's other top pass rushers, is a complete 4-3 defensive end. He is one of, if not the best run defending defensive ends in football, as shown by his 12 tackles for loss on the season (only Aaron Donald and Danielle Hunter have more).
Much of the year, the Cowboys run defense has boiled down to Lawrence making splash plays, as we saw against the Washington Redskins. Adrian Peterson was gashing the Cowboys during that game, and the only one who did anything to stop him was DeMarcus Lawrence, as indicated by his 3 tackles for loss that Sunday.
There's also the point that 6.5 sacks through half the season is, well, good. It's really good! And when you couple his sack numbers with his solid pressure and QB hit stats, you can see that Lawrence is having a very good season.
Then there is the context of this entire Cowboys defense, specifically their defensive line and pass rush. To put it bluntly, DeMarcus Lawrence has been their only consistent rusher this season. Though we came into the year with high hopes for Randy Gregory, and cautious optimism about first round pick Taco Charlton, neither have been all that impressive this season.
Somebody, anybody, has to step up and become a threat opposite of Lawrence. David Irving could help matters with his interior pass rush ability, but he has been unavailable for basically the entire season.
Without another pass rusher for offense's to even think twice about, Lawrence is getting double teamed and/or chipped by a tight end or running back on just about every rush. It's becoming rare that Lawrence is in a true one-on-one pass rush situation.
Of course, if you are elite, offenses are going to shift protections to you in this way and you still have to find ways to be productive.
And thus far in 2018, DeMarcus Lawrence is doing just that.
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