Who am I kidding?
There truly was very little to not like about how the Cowboys attacked the Seahawks. The Cowboys walked into that NFL playground, gave the biggest baddest bully a wedgie and stole his lunch money. If you didn’t watch the game and merely saw the score at the end, know this: it wasn’t really that close.
The Cowboys had a few miscues that afforded the Seahawks an opportunity to stay in this game.
In summation, The Big Three:
- Punt blocked and returned for a Touchdown. Tough to point fingers here. This was a very well-executed/timed blitz by the Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin to create a walk-in touchdown for Mike Morgan.
- The muffed punt. Two weeks in a row now, Dwayne Harris has been guilty of the worst possible type of mistake for a punt returner. This cannot become a trend if he wants to keep that job.
- The premature snap. Frederick sent it, Romo wasn’t ready. This particular gaff is par for that particular course, given the level of crowd noise in Seattle.
The above accounted for 17 of the Seahawks 23 points. Without them the Cowboys would have blown out the Seahawks and one could make the argument avoiding those 3 turnovers very well could have led to additional points for the Cowboys given the overall offensive effectiveness in what was supposed to be a low-score outing. I won’t attempt to make that argument; I’m just pointing out there is a viable debate to be had.
I said it last week, you cannot make mistakes against the Seahawks; they will make you pay…and they did…and it still wasn’t enough. True to form, the Seahawks did not make many mistakes themselves, save a few key penalties and the game-ending interception to Rolando McClain gift wrapped by Russell Wilson.
It begs the question: Are the Cowboys that good or are the Seahawks not who we thought they were?
I honestly do not want to take anything from that win…clearly the Cowboys are a much better team than what the football-watching nation thought coming into the season. The defense does have several players who have answered the questions that were looming over them in the offseason and they've answered favorably.
Tyrone Crawford is ideal as a 3-tech DT. Anthony Spencer and Henry Melton look to be putting their injuries behind them and have steadily improved as the season progresses. Bruce Carter seems to be more comfortable a year removed from looking lost the majority of the time in the new 4-3 defense last season. Rolando McClain does care about football and has brought physicality to this defense that was lacking. Justin Durant can be a leader on defense and is quietly having a very productive season. JJ Wilcox has gradually made strides in making better decisions as a Safety and the angles of attack he has taken lately have been on point. Brandon Carr is much better in man coverage. Jerry Jones is looking like a genius in hindsight for locking up Scandrick, who is arguably the Cowboys' best defensive back. At this stage in their perspective careers, Rod Marinelli may be the better defensive play caller/defensive coordinator over Monte Kiffen.
Add to that the confidence this team has - as a whole - now and we should see improvement as the season progresses and as various players get added to the rotation, like DeMarcus Lawrence and Josh Brent.
Having said all of that, the Seahawks were exposed Sunday afternoon.
Their lack of top-tier talent at receiver was made obvious. If a defense can remain disciplined and cut off Russell Wilson’s bail-out lanes, his lack of comfort being a pure pocket passer becomes evident. If a team can impose their will and run the ball, the Seahawks defense is nowhere close to being as vaunted as advertised. Along with shutting down Marshawn Lynch, therein is the blueprint for making Seahawks fans sleepless in Seattle.
Granted, all of this is easier said than done and clearly the team has to have the right players with a high degree of discipline and focus to execute, but the less than stellar side of Sunday above and beyond the aforementioned big 3 is the fact that every team the Cowboys face down the stretch will present unique and different challenges. My predominant concern in regards to the Cowboys defense is their ability to effectively employ zone coverages against quarterbacks that thrive in the pocket, such as Eli Manning whom the Cowboys will face this upcoming Sunday.
Given the comfort level the Cowboys displayed in man-coverage Sunday against Seattle's receivers, going forward teams will attempt to force the Cowboys into zone coverages. This means employing route combinations that feature drag and slant routes which I expect the Cowboys will be seeing a lot of against the Giants.
Special Teams continue to disappoint, excluding Dan Bailey and the coverage teams. Blocking on both return units have been lackluster, we have seen far too many penalties, and – aside from the muffed punts of the last two games – Harris has also been seemingly tentative with picking his lane in both kick and punt returns. Poor blocking could certainly be part of the issue, but nevertheless, the best returners seem to break into a sprint from the point that they secure the rock and do not stop until they hit a human wall or the end zone.
While it is my personal belief that average points allowed (Cowboys ranked 8th in the league allowing 21 points per game) is a far more telling stat as compared to yards allowed, even so, the Cowboys presently rank 29th allowing 6.1 per play. Therefore, the one disconcerting truth that all fans should accept is that these Cowboys cannot depend on their defense to carry the team. The Cowboys are very much reliant on the offensive line and DeMarco Murray sustaining their current level of performance.
All of their liabilities considered, the Cowboys can ill-afford to become complacent and/or start harboring the belief that they have arrived. Thus far winning has blinded the casual-watchers to many of their shortcomings, particularly on defense. These deficiencies, however, are not lost on the Cowboys coaches and by extension, the players. But if there is any sense of entitlement among the players, it will become obvious this Sunday afternoon as the Giants will give the Cowboys their best effort to stay relevant and in the playoff chase.
Takeaway Tuesday: Scott Linehan’s Job Shouldn’t Be Safe
The Dallas Cowboys didn't look like they did during their five game winning streak when they entered Lucas Oil Stadium to face a hot Indianapolis Colts team. In fact, they had one of their poorest showings of all season, failing to score a single point all game. Heading home after being shutout 23-0, there isn't much to be said about the Cowboys' performance.
Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday. This time, instead of talking about many takeaways, I needed to get one big takeaway off my chest. I hope you enjoy. Make sure to let me know how you feel about this topic in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL.
Scott Linehan's Job Shouldn't Be Guaranteed Going into the Playoffs
As tough as it is to fire one of your three main coaches when your team is headed into the postseason, the Dallas Cowboys should not rule out moving on from Scott Linehan. One win away from clinching the NFC East, it's not something you easily pull off but Linehan's play calling has been terrible all year long.
The truth is, despite Dak Prescott's struggles and a disastrous offensive line, the offense shouldn't be as inefficient as it is.
Watching a unit that counts with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott run a screen pass to Allen Hurns on fourth down and 14 was truly a microcosm of what this year has been for the offense.
Despite having a playoff berth practically clinched, the Cowboys should consider a change at offensive coordinator. Even if they don't fire Linehan, it's clear his play-calling is not good and could cost this team a real opportunity at a legit shot in the postseason. It would be an aggressive measure, without a doubt. The Minnesota Vikings did something similar by firing John DeFillippo a week ago. Based on their 41-17 win over the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, being aggressive sometimes pays.
The Cowboys have arguably the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott and yet they continue to misuse him. Whether it's turning their backs on their star tailback or over-using him, this offense has a hard time reaching balance. Dak Prescott's strengths could be exploited even more, but this OC refuses to do so.
As hard as it is to make a drastic change in coaching two weeks before the regular season ends, it truly could end up being a great move by the front office. Sure, Amari Cooper has had monster games since joining the Cowboys, but he could be even more dangerous under another coach.
Cowboys versus Colts was a coaching battle between Scott Linehan and former Dallas Cowboys LB coach, Matt Eberflus. It was the matchup of the week, and one we expected to be fun. Instead, we saw one side completely dominate the other. In the NFL, coaching matters. Probably even more than talent on a roster.
The biggest problem would be, who'd take over play-calling?
Since there isn't a promising candidate within the team, the team's only option would probably be letting HC Jason Garrett take over. It may not be ideal, but it could end up being an improvement over Linehan. Of course, it could also let the front office see what Garrett has to offer as a play caller and consider that when deciding how this coaching staff will look like in 2019.
It's unlikely that we see such a thing occur for the Cowboys, but if the offense has another letdown game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I don't see how the front office doesn't at least consider this. They should.
Ezekiel Elliott Productive in Cowboys Blowout Loss to Colts
It was as ugly of a performance as we’ve seen from the Dallas Cowboys in the Jason Garrett era. For the first time in a decade and a half, the Cowboys were shut out and it was a game full of bad pretty much everywhere you looked. Everywhere accept Ezekiel Elliott.
What a waste!
Elliott and the Cowboys offensive line played well for much of the game even with All-Pro Right Guard Zack Martin missing his first career start and losing starting Left Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo went out with an eye injury.
On the day, Ezekiel Elliott carries the ball 18 times for 87 yards and added another seven receptions for 41. 25 touches for 128 total yards is a good game, but with nothing else going right for the Cowboys it was a game that ultimately didn’t matter.
The one play where Elliott and the offensive line failed to come through was early in the game in a fourth and one that the Colts defense seemed to have snuffed out and blew up from the start. Elliott was able to convert a fourth and one later in the game. It looked like Elliott was close to breaking one for a long run several times but got tripped up at the end of the runs. He was his typical self this week. Taking runs that looked to be going for a loss and turning them into positive gains.
In the race for the NFL's rushing title, Elliott has extended his lead on Todd Gurley to nearly 100 yards rushing. At 1,349 rushing yards on the season, Elliott will have a great shot to set a career high in rushing yards with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants remaining on the schedule. The Bucs have allowed the sixth most rushing yards and the fourth most rushing touchdowns in the NFL this season while the Giants have allowed the fifth most rushing yards and the seventh most rushing touchdowns in 2018.
It was a horrendous loss at a time when the Cowboys could have locked up the NFC East and there is zero excuse for it. They got out coached, out played, and were beaten physically on both sides of the ball and that doesn't happen very often, especially to the defense.
But if we're looking for something positive to take away from this game, it's that with all the offensive line injuries and the poor play of the passing game, Ezekiel Elliott and the running game continues to find ways to shine. With as bad as the loss was, that's something to hang your hat on.
All the Cowboys need to do moving forward is Feed Zeke!
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Can’t Finish Drives, Division Clinch with Shutout Loss at Colts
What is there to say about the Dallas Cowboys week 15 performance? After five straight wins, the last three coming at home, the Cowboys have only a return home to look forward to, facing the 5-9 Buccaneers on Sunday after a 23-0 defeat at the Colts.
Shutout for the first time since 2003, the Cowboys playoff hopes didn't take a hit despite the Redskins and Eagles winning on the road. Washington's last-second win went final just before the Colts ran the clock out on a game the Cowboys simply weren't ready for.
The Cowboys moved the ball well at times but failed to ever come away with points, opening the door for the Colts to expose this defense like it hasn't been all season. The Cowboys front four was hardly a factor on defense, allowing Colts Running Back Marlon Mack to average 5.1 yards a carry. Scoring the Colts only touchdowns, Mack and Andrew Luck assured the Cowboys running game wouldn't be a factor with their 10-0 halftime lead. Down to three backups at LG, C, and RG, Quarterback Dak Prescott stood little chance to bring the Cowboys back as the second half quickly got away from Dallas.
Internally, the Cowboys will have much more to say about their effort on Sunday, but here are just a few of my observations in the first somber edition of Sean's Scout since week nine.
- The Cowboys defensive problems up front extended well into the second level, with Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith both playing one of their worst games of the season.
The Colts took a blocked Brett Maher field goal 44 yards for the game's opening score. Mack accounted for 34 of these yards and the touchdown. On his seven yard run to set up first and goal, Smith was caught taking a poor angle on Mack. The Cowboys were aggressive rushing up the field on the play, with Smith ending up being in the best position to slow Mack.
Vander Esch was sealed and couldn't fight to get off, which happened again three plays later on third and goal. Leighton looking like a rookie for the first time was just the start of the Cowboys problems, and with Sean Lee being active yet conceding starting snaps to him, it shouldn't take long for Vander Esch to figure things out again.
- Jamize Olawale's dropped touchdown on third and goal to bring up a failed fourth and one was the moment the Cowboys were taken out of this game.
This sequence was particularly deflating because the Cowboys did a great job getting down the field to have an opportunity to score. The fourth down decision to run out of a heavy formation, inviting extra defenders to the line of scrimmage, looks especially egregious when stacked against the Amari Cooper rush that picked up the Cowboys initial first down. Rookie Tight End Dalton Schultz got involved, Elliott ripped off a 24 yard run, and the Cowboys still came away empty on this drive.
A year removed from coaching the Cowboys linebackers, Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus had his way with Scott Linehan's offense all afternoon, stymieing their most promising drive after Olawale should have scored easily.
- The Cowboys only chance to get back in the game was taken away from them by a Joe Looney holding call, just another example of players that had carried them through a winning streak not playing up to standard.
The Colts took the second half kickoff down the field to extend the lead to 17-0. On fourth and two on the ensuing possession, Prescott hit an injured Cole Beasley for 18 yards to the Colts' 23-yard line. The Cowboys red zone offense certainly doesn't provide the confidence that Dallas would finish the drive, but Looney's hold negated Beasley's catch and forced a punt.
The Colts tacked on a field goal and finished out the game without the Cowboys threatening again. Looney played down to the level of Adam Redmond to his left, who replaced Xavier Su'a-Filo, and Connor Williams in for Zack Martin - though I thought Williams held up fairly well and should be in play to earn more snaps wherever needed.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys can regroup and still accomplish everything they set out for this season, forced to make this loss to the Colts and afterthought like their last one to the Titans became. A five game win streak as a response is out of reach, but a streak of just one is all Dallas needs to clinch the NFC East and focus on improvements for the playoffs.
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