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Game Notes

Cowboys-Redskins Preview



Jerry Jones's "moral victory" over the Denver Broncos will mean nothing if his Dallas Cowboys suffer a letdown against the Washington Redskins this Sunday night at AT&T Stadium (8:25, NBC). If the Cowboys are seeking any further motivation, other than taking another step toward ending a three year playoff drought, they should look no further than last season's games against the 'Skins.

In a performance that made many Cowboys fans throw up their Thanksgiving dinner, the Cowboys put up a turkey when the Redskins came to Arlington last November. They fell behind 28-3 at halftime before making a comeback that fell just short, losing the game  38-31. As painful as the Thanksgiving loss was, the later Washington loss undoubtedly stung more. In the final game of the 2012 regular season, which served as a de facto NFC East championship game, the Redskins topped the Cowboys 28-18 to clinch their first division title since 1999, and their first sweep of the Cowboys since 2005.

The most polarizing and scrutinized figure on the Redskins is obviously QB Robert Griffin III. Griffin captured the attention of the nation with his amazing rookie season, but his shaky knee has temporarily grounded the explosive QB. To say he has had a sophomore slump is being friendly. After a five interception rookie year, he has already tossed four to opposing teams this season. His completion percentage numbers are also down (65.6% to 62.4%) as well as his rushing average (6.8 to 4.0). While I do believe Griffin will return to the form we saw last season eventually, I don't believe we'll see it this week, even though he's had an extra week to prepare thanks to the Week 5 bye.

However, even if Griffin is grounded, the Cowboys learned the hard way that the Redskins don't need Griffin to post monstrous numbers like he did on Thanksgiving (19-27, 304 yards, 4 TD's) to win. In the season finale last year, Griffin posted pedestrian numbers (9-18, 100 yards, 63 rushing yards, 1 TD), but the Cowboys were burned by RB Alfred Morris who ran for 200 yards and 3 TD's. Like Griffin, Morris has also struggled in his second year, but that could be attributed to the fact that Washington has fallen behind early in all of their games this season, leading them to ignore the run game. He has just one 100 yard game (He ran for 107 in a Week 2 loss to Green Bay), but his season high in carries came in Washington's last game against Oakland, when he had 16. One of the biggest reasons the Cowboys couldn't finish off the Broncos last week was that they couldn't stop Denver RB Knowson Moreno, allowing him to tally 150 total yards, not to mention the previous week's loss against San Diego, a game that saw RB Danny Woodhead tally 2 touchdowns in addition to 86 total yards on 10 combined carries and receptions.

Tony Romo cannot be blamed for last week's loss. Sure, last year's dreadful season finale was on him (he threw 3 picks)  but when you score 48 points and still lose, put that one on the defense. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin told the media to point the finger at him. That's nice and all, but it means nothing if the defense blows it again. The Cowboys defense is coming off back to back rough weeks against top five offenses Denver (1st) and San Diego (5th). Washington's offense lacks the firepower of 2012, but they still rank 8th in the NFL in total offense with 390.8 yards per game.

The Cowboys have already sent a message through the release of safety Will Allen that defensive duds will not be tolerated. The defense must step it up this week. As we've seen this season, the fragile Griffin makes bad choices when the pressure is on him. After failing to sack Peyton Manning once last week, it's important the Cowboys get to the quarterback early. The defense does a get a break when it comes to Washington's receivers. Other than Pierre Garcon (29 receptions, 339 yards, 2 TD's) nobody in the Washington receiving corps is particularly frightening, although Santana Moss always seems to save his best stuff for Dallas.

On the offensive side of things, the Cowboys have a golden opportunity to expose a Washington defense allowing a league high 440.5 YPG, in addition to 28 points per game, which ties for 6th with Chicago. With so much of the media focused on his one gaffe from Sunday this week, you may have already forgotten that Romo threw for 506 yards and 5 TD's in a valiant effort to stop the Broncos. After four weeks of conservative football, none of which saw Romo reach the 300 yard plateau, Romo was allowed to revert to his gun slinging ways on Sunday, and, interception notwithstanding, it paid off. Three receivers tallied 100 plus yards and the Cowboys scored 48 points.

We all know that the Cowboys have receivers capable of putting up outstanding numbers, like Dez Bryant (6 receptions, 141 yards, 2 TD's on Sunday), Jason Witten (7 receptions, 121 yards, 1 TD) and Miles Austin, who has been practicing this week and could return from a hamstring injury on Sunday. However, it was guys like Terrence Williams (4 receptions, game high 151 yards, 1 TD) and Cole Beasley (4 receptions 47 yards, 1 TD) that stood out last week. With the Redskins no doubt focusing on the big names, it will be important for the "other guys" to keep playing at this level on Sunday night.

The Washington Redskins will always be a rival to the Dallas Cowboys. The rivalry started before the Cowboys had played a down of NFL football, as Cowboys founder Clint Murchison Jr., seeking revenge on Redskins owner George Preston Marshall for changing terms of a deal that would've sold the Redskins to Murchison at the last second, bought the rights to the infamous Redskins fight song "Hail to the Redskins" from the song's composer, who had a falling out with Marshall. Murchison agreed to return the song to Washington only when Marshall, the one naysayer against a pro football franchise in Dallas, gave his approval to award the NFL's 13th franchise to Dallas. Since then, the Cowboys have enjoyed more of the rivalry's better moments, leading the all time series 62-44-2, though the Redskins have had their the two wins in 2012 that knocked Dallas from the playoffs.

The Cowboys, despite their 2-3 record, have been crowned the class of the NFC East by many pundits, and it's time to live up to that statement. Standing strong against the mighty Broncos is cute and all, but this isn't college football, where a game like that will get you some respect in the latest rankings. A team needs wins to make the playoffs, and with a visit to Philadelphia on the docket next week, the Cowboys better get one against a Redskins team that ranks last in defense. There's no reason to think the Cowboys couldn't be 5-0 entering this matchup with a hated rival. It's time to start playing like the undefeated team they could've been.

Prediction: Cowboys 37, Redskins 21


1 Comment
  • John

    These next two Weeks are make or break for the 3 remaining NFC East contenders.

    Nice analysis.

Game Notes

Byron Jones Has Been The Cowboys’ Best Player, And Here’s Why

Kevin Brady



Byron Jones
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

For a former first round pick, Byron Jones has had to prove himself to the Cowboys fan base quite a few times.

As a rookie Jones was impressive, flashing just how high a ceiling he had. Jones split some time between cornerback and safety due to injury and inconsistencies of his secondary mates, but he excelled in both roles.

As his career continued, Byron Jones continued to do what he does best. Jones became the Cowboys' tight end eraser, matching up with some of the best in the league and downright shutting them down. Over time, however, the coaching staff began to misuse Jones a bit. Moving him to safety full time but still wanting him to use those tight end coverage skills, Dallas started to move Jones into the box more often.

That, especially in 2017, is where Byron Jones struggled the most. Being utilized as a box safety put Jones' weaknesses as a physical tackler on full display, and left him open for fans' criticism.

Luckily for both Jones and the Cowboys, new passing game coordinator Kris Richard values him as a cornerback, where he will spend the rest of his career in Dallas. And, thus far, the returns on that move have been fantastic.

PFF DAL Cowboys on Twitter

After 3 weeks, Byron Jones has the highest season defensive grade among CBs with a 91.0. Jones is tied for the 7th highest defense grade among all defensive players with at least 50 snaps. #CowboysNation Be a PFF ELITE member to check out stats and more:

Pro Football Focus has graded Byron Jones out as the league's best cornerback through three games, and the 7th best defensive player overall. Against the Seahawks last week, Jones allowed just 3 catches for 10 yards when he was the primary defender. He also came away with two pass breakups against veteran wide out Brandon Marshall, and was one of the few positives from the horrible loss.

dalvssea2018 byron jones first

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On the Seahawks' opening drive they faced a third down and five deep in their own territory. Seattle has a bunch formation to the right with Marshall locked up in man coverage at the bottom of the screen.

The Cowboys bring a blitz, leaving Jones on an island against Marshall. Russell Wilson initially looks towards the bunch side of the formation, but quickly works back to Marshall on a shallow crosser. Byron stays sticky in coverage on his backside hip, and deflects the ball away at the catch point.

Even if Marshall were to catch this, Jones was right there to stop him short of the sticks.

dalvssea2018 byron jones

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Later in the game the Seahawks tried to allow Marshall to beat Jones with his size. Marshall tries to get physical with Jones here, and wants to body him on a back shoulder fade. Jones shows no backdown, trading blows with Marshall at the line of scrimmage and effecting his get-off.

Still, Marshall is bigger than Jones and is able to create some separation towards the sideline. Jones does a nice job of recovering from this physicality, however, and gets himself back into a position to make a play on the ball. Even though he was initially boxed out, Jones's awareness to get a hand on the ball shines through here.

This goes down as Jones' first of two pass breakups on the day.

dalvssea2018 byron jones 2

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Here's the second one, once again on a back shoulder fade. Byron Jones uses his length to jam Marshall off the line, and quickly turns his hips to keep up in coverage. Once he reads Marshall's eyes, Byron gets his head around and is able to deflect the pass away.

This is textbook coverage of the back shoulder fade, and Jones' athletic traits and length aid him greatly in covering the larger Marshall on this route.

dalvssea2018 byron jones odell

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You may be thinking to yourself, "sure, Byron Jones was great against Brandon Marshall, but what about an elite receiver like Odell Beckham?" Well do I have some news for you.

Jones did an excellent job against Beckham during their week two match-up, as did the entire Cowboys secondary. On this play, Jones is locked up in man coverage with Beckham at the top of the screen. He allows Beckham to get a clean outside release, but trusts his hips and speed to recover in coverage with inside leverage.

Jones shows off just how fluid an athlete he is running stride for stride with Beckham down the sideline. Eli Manning puts the ball on Beckham's shoulder, giving him a shot at the 50/50 ball. Jones uses his length and ball skills to get up and deflect the pass away, even against the talented Beckham.

Byron Jones has done a nice job covering this route, using the sideline as an extra defender and minimizing the available area for the receiver. His arm length also help him shrink the catch point in the air.

dalvssea2018 byron jones odell 2

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Here we see Byron Jones in man coverage with Beckham again, this time at the bottom of the screen. The Giants are looking to utilize play action to take a deep shot to Beckham, anticipating he will defeat Jones' coverage and find a soft spot over Awuzie's head.

Instead, Jones runs step for step with Beckham across the middle, and stays sticky to his backside hip. Manning is forced to hold the ball longer than he expected to due to Jones's coverage, and ends up taking a sack for a big loss.

There's no question that Byron Jones has been a bit of a controversial figure among Cowboys Nation throughout his young career. But, since moving to cornerback full time this season, he has been flat-out awesome.

Byron Jones looks like the shutdown corner the Cowboys have been looking for since trading up for Morris Claiborne back in 2012.

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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Coaches Should Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat

Mauricio Rodriguez



Doug Pederson's Success Will Make Jason Garrett's Seat Hotter 1
Bill Streicher / USA TODAY Sports

A loss in week in week 3 is subject to overreactions from NFL fans everywhere, something we should always be careful with. But as the Dallas Cowboys head to work after another terrible offensive performance, it's tough to imagine the conversation going on in Cowboys Nation is an overreaction. I imagine I'm not alone in wishing that's what it was. But it isn't.

The Dallas Cowboys have opened their 2018 NFL season with a 1-2 record, and even though other teams (such as the New England Patriots) unexpectedly have the same record, or that other crazy stuff is going on around the league, the Jason Garrett-led Cowboys haven't given us much reason to believe they can turn the offense around.

Without further ado, let's get to another Takeaway Tuesday. As always, feel free to share your takeaways from last Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!

Coaches Must Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat

OK, it's high time we have this conversation. Dak Prescott and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys' offense has been struggling. Although the defense has been playing surprisingly well, there are simply no excuses for the way Scott Linehan's unit has been playing.

There has been trouble at every single aspect of the offensive side of the ball, which was supposed to be this team's strength heading into the season. As much as the future at the quarterback position is uncertain, the biggest problem is coaching. Sure, Prescott isn't living up to the expectations so far, having terrible stats in the first three weeks of the season but the coaches could definitely be putting him in better positions to succeed.

Playing to his strengths. Prescott is at his best when the team runs play-action plays or lets him throw on the run or use his legs to hurt opposing defenses on the ground as well. Prescott could thrive on RPOs and read option runs, but that's not how they're utilizing him.

Jake Kemp on Twitter

per @PFF, Dak Prescott play action percentages by week. week 1 - 17.9% week 2 - 44.0% week 3 - 12.5%

As much as it pains me to say it, it honestly feels like the Cowboys are stuck with Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett at the wheel. Although there aren't big names in the pass-catchers positions, the offense is talented enough to keep the ball moving. Even still, they aren't.

Right now, it's not even about the offense not being the best unit for the team, but a unit that is costing them games and will continue to do so unless some drastic changes are made.

Not that the coaches are the only ones that should be accountable, just about every player should be, including QB Dak Prescott, who might be playing for his job the rest of the year. But if this mediocre performances continue into week 8, for instance, it might just be time to move on from the current coaching staff. What will change in the next seasons that can makes us believe Garrett and Linehan are the answer for the franchise's future?

And yet, no changes will be made as far as the Cowboys' play-caller is. Right now, it's tough to imagine where this season is headed. But two things might be for sure. 1) It won't be good. 2) We'll see some RB screens on third and long and three tight end sets on first downs.

Wish List for Dallas Cowboys 1st Preseason Game

Dallas Cowboys LBs Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee

Defense Might Just Be Fine With Vander Esch Filling in for Sean Lee

Sean Lee hurt his other hamstring playing in Seattle last Sunday, which usually would have us freaking out about the linebacker position. However, as we've discussed since the preseason, Jaylon Smith is looking pretty amazing and healthy. But now, it's not only Smith that's been showing off his football skills.

It's first round draft pick Leighton Vander Esch who's having a pretty nice start to his career. At least, it's been way better than what some expected (myself included) from his rookie season.

In just three weeks and limited snaps, Vander Esch has had 18 tackles and a tackle for loss. He's been around the football a lot, just like Lee when healthy. If the Boise State product continues to play this week, one has to wonder about Sean Lee's future in Dallas.

The Jury is Still Out on K Brett Maher

Kicker Brett Maher kicked a 50-yard field goal last Sunday as Cowboys' fans at home breathed a huge sigh of relief. After letting Dan Bailey go, it was time for something positive to say about the kicker position in Dallas.

Maher was pretty good on the field last week, but there's no denying his kicks were sort of scary and not perfect attempts right down the middle. Cowboys Nation should be more comfortable with the cut of Dan Bailey, but the jury should still be out on his replacement.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Coaches Should Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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Game Notes

LB Leighton Vander Esch Rare Bright Spot In Cowboys’ Disappointing Loss

Kevin Brady



LB Leighton Vander Esch Rare Bright Spot In Cowboys Disappointing Loss

Sunday in Seattle didn't go nearly as well as anticipated for the Cowboys, as they fell to the Seahawks in embarrassing fashion, 24-13. While the final score looked close, the fact of the matter is that Dallas was dominated for much of the game.

Offensively they looked lost, unable to create any downfield passing threat or sustain scoring drives. Defensively they played okay, but not up to the standard they had established the first two games of the season. With the offense being as pedestrian as it has been, though, there is a ton of extra pressure placed upon the young defense's shoulders.

One of the youngest members of that young unit shouldered the pressure just fine on Sunday, however. Rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch had himself a heck of a day, leading the team in tackles with 11 including 9 solo ones and a tackle for loss. He flashed his speed, pursuit, tackling ability, and overall athleticism as he worked laterally to make plays and contain the Seahawks running game on the edge.

Wish List for Dallas Cowboys 1st Preseason Game

Dallas Cowboys LBs Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee

His performance built upon an impressive first two games, including a solid home opener against the New York Giants where he tallied 7 tackles in just 28 defensive snaps. Vander Esch hadn't seen the snaps that Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee saw prior to Sunday, but when Lee was forced to miss chunks of the game with injuries, Vander Esch shined.

A key knock placed on Vander Esch's game during the draft process was that he wasn't physical enough as a player. He tended to struggle when taking on blocks and wasn't as sure a tackler when things got muddied up as you'd like to see from a first round pick.

While these were legitimate concerns from his college tape, Leighton Vander Esch looked as comfortable and refined as you can expect from a rookie against the Seahawks. He was a top 3 player on the Cowboys' defense on Sunday, and the Cowboys should be ecstatic about his progress moving forward.

On Monday it was announced the the veteran Sean Lee is expected to miss a few weeks with yet another injury, allowing for Vander Esch to likely be the starter. Lee has been unreliable when it comes to his injury history, and you have to wonder if Vander Esch could supplant him as the full time starter earlier than anyone expected due to those injuries.

I, like many, questioned the Cowboys' selection of Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of last year's draft. The lack of comparative position value combined with the questions about Vander Esch's game made me value a pass rusher like Harold Landry much higher than Vander Esch at 19.

So far, though, Leighton Vander Esch is proving the Cowboys right in their selection, and looks to be the starting WILL and three-down backer of the future in Dallas. With Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch playing how they have with limited experience, that future looks very bright defensively.

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