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Dallas Cowboys Vs Detroit Lions: Previewing Detroit With Lions Beat Writer Nate Atkins

Sean Martin

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Terrance Williams, Lions

While the Lions have legitimate things to play for in the NFC playoff picture, needing a win in Dallas on Monday night and some help to potentially wrap up a playoff spot prior to their week 17 game against the Packers, Jason Garrett's top-seeded Cowboys will be looking to match their intensity in a "tune-up" for the playoffs that will come through AT&T Stadium.

These two teams are meeting for the first time since a 2014 playoff game down in Dallas that featured plenty of fireworks, and a Cowboys victory.

So what can Cowboys Nation expect this time around from the Detroit Lions? I talked with MLive.com Lions Beat Reporter Nate Atkins about this Monday Night Football match up. 


Q: I like to start off with how opposing fans are viewing the Cowboys coming into their game. The Lions haven't played in Dallas since that 2014 playoff game, which featured plenty of controversy and late theatrics from Tony Romo. Now the Lions are seeing Dak Prescott, what is their perspective coming into this match up? 

Nate Atkins (@NateAtkins_): When it comes to the fans, for several days now, there's a nervous sense of energy. They had a five game winning streak snapped by the Giants, leaving them wondering how the Lions will play against top competition. I think their hopes probably got a little bit better after last night (Thursday) with the Giants loss wrapping things up for Dallas, but everyone realizes this is no small feat no matter how much Dallas gets up for it.

This whole Dallas roster is so loaded, they've become a model for how you build a team. Its going to be a huge test for the Lions one way or another.  I think people are definitely excited for it, they know Green Bay is right on Detroit's heels, and its likely week 17 is going to be mean everything for the division. If you win in Dallas, it sets you on course and potentially wraps up a playoff spot before then. That is what everyone's been looking for.

Q: Matt Stafford missed some throws against the Giants due to the injury in his hand, going up against a great New York defense. He's still playing as an MVP candidate under Jim Bob Cooter. Not having to deal with the elements in an indoor game against a Cowboys defense that can give up some passing yards, what is the latest on his status and what are you expecting from him in this game after another week off?

Nate Atkins (@NateAtkins_): The preparation for Stafford is a little bit different this week than it was last week. He's been dealing with the dislocated middle finger that he suffered in the Bears game.

Last week he was preparing with a one-handed glove built for the rainy conditions in New York. This week he's switched to a white, one-finger glove that he thinks will make him more comfortable playing indoors.

I think it will - he's had some really nice games at AT&T Stadium against the Cowboys. I don't know if being a Texas guy makes him more comfortable, but he's had a great year and a few off weeks against great defenses dealing with this injury.

He's ready to get back on track and these WRs are ready to get some individual match ups they can win. New York made that incredibly hard last week. If there is one area you can attack Dallas, it is through the air and I think that is what they're looking forward to.

Brandon CarrQ: Speaking of the WR match ups for the Lions against the Cowboys, it seems like Brandon Carr will get most of the work against the Lions top target in Golden Tate. Carr has played well against guys like Mike Evans in recent weeks, so who else needs to step up in the Detroit passing game against Anthony Brown and Orlando Scandrick? 

Nate Atkins (@NateAtkins_): The Lions have been facing teams lately that really play a lot of man coverage. The Giants had superior athletes to where these Lions WRs are right now.

Against Dallas, Rod Marinelli loves to run more zone than teams usually do. It will be interesting to see if he tries to go with a little bit more press man.

With a QB as in-control as Stafford, he has a good time against zone coverage where he can read the field and find holes. Without Calvin Johnson now, he really spreads the ball around seeing what match ups are there.

The Cowboys secondary is a little bit more vulnerable so it will be interesting to see what the Lions do.

Q: Stafford has been doing this without a strong running game, as he has his whole career with the Lions. Looking ahead to this week against a Cowboys team that leads the league in rushing defense, what needs to improve in this Lions running game moving forward for this week and in the playoffs without that true rushing threat? 

Nate Atkins (@NateAtkins_): Its been an ongoing problem for them ever since Ameer Abdullah went out with a foot injury on Injured Reserve a couple of weeks ago. They've shuffled the deck at that position with Theo Riddick who is more of a scat back, and he has also not been here with a wrist injury the past couple weeks.

The Lions are down to a 7th round rookie in Dwayne Washington and a 2nd year player in Zach Zenner, who is more of an inside runner. The real issues for them, more than who is carrying the ball, is what they're dealing with up front. They've had some shuffles on the offensive line at both guard spots, and center Travis Swanson suffered a concussion a couple of weeks ago.

They'll come out and run plays that they think will work with pulling guards but they are not connecting, trying to combine that with the running backs this late in the year is difficult. A quick fix would be to get Theo Riddick healthy, but I highly doubt that he plays on Monday against the Cowboys.

Bigger than that, they need to stick to their run blocking scheme and get guys connecting with backs going to the right holes. Executing the right way is important against teams with personnel advantages against them to stay on schedule instead of having the rushing numbers they had at the Giants.

Q: Getting into these defenses, the Lions defense may not have a lot of well-known names but they have played well in support of this pass-happy offense. Who are a few names on this side of the ball for Cowboys fans to be aware of as they try to evaluate Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott in the last two weeks before the playoffs? 

Nate Atkins (@NateAtkins_): One guy to keep an eye out for is FS Glover Quin. He's one of their most tenured players and he's just been doing one role well for a very long time.

The Lions will run a Cover 4 that looks like a prevent defense as their base, they are hell-bent on not giving up the big plays. They've matched up well with Dez Bryant a few times because of this.

Quin will prevent that deep pass while also stepping right up in the running game, almost like a linebacker. He's a very sure tackler, and with CB Darius Slay dealing with a hamstring injury he'll be counted on to step up against Bryant and against Dallas' running game.

Another guy to look out for is OLB DeAndre Levy, who's snaps are increasing working back from a knee injury. I would expect him to play over 60% of the Lions' defensive snaps, and he is a huge difference maker when he's out there. He made eight solo tackles on less than half of the snaps against the Giants. Levy is a sideline to sideline player who also covers RBs and TEs out of the backfield.

The Cowboys use Elliott and Jason Witten in the short passing game along with running stretch plays to Zeke to take advantage of his speed and vision. The Lions will be leaning on Levy to limit those plays from turning into big ones.

Dez Bryant, LionsQ: Do you see anything changing schematically for the Lions defensively since they play a Cover 4 look, based on the fact that they'll need to try to slow down the Cowboys running game and perhaps force Prescott to throw more against a secondary that is playing well? 

Nate Atkins (@NateAtkins_): I don't think they will change too much from what they normally do. When you think of two high safety looks, you typically expect to be vulnerable to the run. Their version of Cover 4 has their linebackers and safeties reading these running plays, and it has worked out pretty well.

Levy and Quin can know where the plays are going based on this defensive line winning run gaps, but the Lions will probably keep more guys in the box with the linebackers spread out since Levy covers so well. LB Josh Bynes has covered well too, so they'll rely on those guys in the middle of the field.

You can't rely on your front to stop everything against Dallas, but you know what they're going to do.

Few teams can stop it though, except the Lions are the #1 tackling team in the NFL right now. They know Dallas is going to get a push and get some yards, but if they limit the big plays to force 3rd down throws and win little battles they'll look at it as a win.

Q: Before we get to your game prediction, I wanted to ask about DE Randy Gregory - who will finally be back on the field this week. He'll be trying to help a Cowboys pass rush that is surprisingly making plays. My take on Gregory has been that he is a guy that offensive coordinators actually have to game plan for at his position against the Cowboys. I don't think the same can be said about David Irving or Benson Mayowa, who can make plays but might not force an offense to change things in the blocking scheme.

What are the Lions saying about the fact that they'll be facing Randy Gregory, and what is their game plan for him outside of playing him 1 on 1 to start - chipping with a back or tight end if needed later?

Nate Atkins (@NateAtkins_): We asked Jim Bob Cooter about him today, and they are totally prepared to see Gregory. Its been an interesting process scouting him, going back to last year's tape but projecting how he'll play with Mayowa and Irving.

There is a challenge there, and it will be a challenge for Gregory to get his feet under him, but nothing matters more than protecting Stafford through this injury. Having a running back, tight end, or sometimes a fullback help block is always something the Lions are conscious of.

I think they are also taking David Irving seriously after his breakout game against Tampa Bay, and they know Mayowa finds a way with his effort to affect the game. They will have a plan for Gregory to help their tackles, and there will not be any lapses in preparation of knowing where he will be and what he can do.

Q: Who wins this game and why? 

Nate Atkins (@NateAtkins_): I planned on picking the Cowboys at home, they are a machine right now, but I'm going to go with the Lions now based solely on last night's (Thursday's) result changing the game for Dallas.

I don't know if it will change them playing their starters, but it changes the fire they'll bring into this game. The Lions are so frustrated by last week's loss to the Giants, they are ready to beat a good team and get away from the fear of losing three straight to end the season.

Right now I would go with the Lions 27-21. The Cowboys are so deep that they could go to their backups and it will be a really competitive game, but it seems like Stafford against this secondary, back in Texas and in a dome, can get back on track and find a way to pull this out.

Tell us what you think about "Dallas Cowboys Vs Detroit Lions: Previewing Detroit With Lions Beat Writer Nate Atkins" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

Game Notes

Film Room: WR Ryan Switzer Showed Flashes Vs. Eagles

Kevin Brady

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Film Room: WR Ryan Switzer Showed Flashes Vs. Eagles
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There's no doubt the Dallas Cowboys passing game faltered in 2017. Though never expected to throw for many yards, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys failed to maximize their attempts down the stretch. The passing game was simply inefficient and ineffective.

One reason the passing game took a step back was the disappearance of slot receiver Cole Beasley. Whether you blame defenses adjusting their coverages on third downs towards Beasley, Beasley growing another year older, or quarterback Dak Prescott, Beasley simply didn't look like the same player in 2017.

In the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected a wide out who many anticipate could replace Beasley, in time. Rookie wide receiver Ryan Switzer rarely got chances to make an impact on offense this season, designated as the return man for much of the year. With Cole Beasley out for the season finale, however, Switzer got his chance to make a name for himself.

While the numbers were far from gaudy, Ryan Switzer showed some things we should be excited about for the future.

dalvsphi2018 switzer - Streamable

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Ryan Switzer's first target came on a third down -- something Cowboys Nation should get used to heading into 2018. Switzer is lined up inside in trips on the near-side of the formation. The Eagles show man coverage pre-snap, and with just one safety over top and the other rotated down on top of Jason Witten, it is clear to Dak Prescott they plan to bring some pressure.

As soon as Prescott gets the snap, his eyes go to Ryan Switzer.

The cornerback plays Switzer with inside leverage, refusing to be beat with a hot slant route. Switzer instead keeps the defender on his back hip and creates separation with an out-breaking route.

Prescott delivers the ball towards the sideline where the defender can't catch up to it, and Switzer comes away with the first down.

dalvsphi2018 switzer 2 - Streamable

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Later in the game, we once again see Ryan Switzer targeted from this inside-alignment.

Switzer is a pretty prototypical slot receiver, and if used correctly he should win in man coverage situations often. The cornerback attempts to maintain inside leverage on Switzer and get physical at the top of his route. Ryan Switzer does a nice job of fighting through that physicality and crossing the defender's face over the middle. He flashes open pretty quickly, and Prescott delivers a strike for the completion.

If Switzer can create this type of separation often, I see no reason why he shouldn't be a focus of the offense in 2018.

dalvsphi2018 switzer 3 - Streamable

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Switzer's third target is actually an incompletion, but it is worth studying, regardless. Switzer is in the slot on the far side and the Cowboys once again are in trips alignment. The cornerback over Switzer is in man coverage, but gives him room to breathe at the line of scrimmage.

Switzer exploits the cornerback -- who is cheating to the inside -- with his footwork and route running. He gets to the sticks, breaks to the outside, and creates enough separation for a first-down completion. Prescott delivers the ball a bit late and behind Switzer, causing an incompletion instead.

I'd still like to see Switzer adjust to the ball and make this catch, but I put more of the blame for this play on Prescott.

With a full offseason to work within the offensive system, as well as to develop chemistry with quarterback Dak Prescott, Ryan Switzer will prove to be an important piece to the 2018 Dallas Cowboys.



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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Datone Jones Should Be Back, Switzer’s Good Game

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: Datone Jones Should Be Back, Switzer's Good Game 1
AP Photo / Michael Ainsworth

The Dallas Cowboys put an end to a long, long season last Sunday after they defeated the Eagles in Philadelphia in a game that had absolutely no meaning for either team. Surprisingly, the Cowboys played with their healthy starters most of the game, but were barely able to put six points on the board, which were enough to take the win home.

The Cowboys might've lost more than what they actually won, and most of the fans were unhappy with the victory. Despite it being a pretty boring football game, we still learned a few things about the Dallas Cowboys.

The season's finally over. It wasn't easy, but we're still here. Here's to 2018. Let's hope it's a good one for our Cowboys. Here's this week's edition of Takeaway Tuesday!

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Coaching Staff Didn't Help Its Cause

It's more than fair to say that a lot of us want to see changes in Dallas. And specifically, changes in the coaching staff. After the Cowboys were eliminated from playoff contention, Jerry Jones said Jason Garrett's job was not an issue. Now, Jerry's even talking about Rod Marinelli and Scott Linehan being back in 2018. Who knows if it's true.

While I don't think we'll see a new head coach anytime soon, I'd dare say that after the horrible game versus Philadelphia the front office at least got to thinking.

Dak Prescott, Jason Garrett

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, HC Jason Garrett

Coming into this game, the team had a choice to make: play with the starters to win it, or let guys like Cooper Rush in the game and see what happens. A loss would've meant a better draft position for the Cowboys and a chance to see what rookies and other young players could bring to the table.

But they decided to manage the game like it was a "real action" game. Being conservative. Not going for it when there was nothing to lose. They did so after a team that, with the NFC's #1 seed secured, basically played with its B team. Not only that but for the Eagles, most of the game was played by a third string QB.

Despite all this, the Cowboys could hardly beat the Eagles 6-0. Poor execution and all, I can't help thinking about the coaches.

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Cowboys Should Keep Datone Jones for 2018

In late November, the Dallas Cowboys signed Datone Jones after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers. The former Packers' first-round pick made an impact when he was given the chance. His play at DT was pretty solid and he showed very promising flashes.

DatoneJones - Streamable

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Jones will be under contract in 2018 and I'd be surprised if the Cowboys don't keep him another year. Per Over The Cap, he'll be paid $790,000 next year which isn't at all expensive for a 27-year-old player.

The Cowboys would add depth and even a potential starter at DT for next season.

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Ryan Switzer Can Play as a Wide Receiver

With Cole Beasley missing the game because of an illness, we finally got to see Ryan Switzer at WR. We had already seen good things from him as a kick returner, but on offense, he hasn't been as involved as Cowboys Nation expected him to be.

Last Sunday though, Switzer was used for more than a jet sweep.

SwitzerWR - Streamable

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He still has a long way to go, but I was impressed by his ability to create separation. I really hope he's used more next season.

At the end of the day, he's a fourth-round pick. He should be playing more on offense, not just on "gadget plays" or special teams. Could Ryan Switzer be Dak Prescott's best friend in the future? Only time will tell. Right now, it's too optimistic to expect something like that.

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Dan Bailey's Confidence is Shattered

Dallas Cowboys K Dan Bailey

Dan Bailey's 2017 season hasn't been easy at all. We've seen him miss kicks we never imagined he would, including extra points. One of the most painful moments of the Cowboys' season came late in the season finale when he lined up to kick a simple 20-yard field goal.

The ball went up, but failed to split the uprights. Dan Bailey stood in complete disbelief, with a blank look in his face. His confidence, shattered.

For kickers, it's all about confidence.

For years, we referred to Dan "Automatic" Bailey as the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Now we're not sure about calling him "Automatic" anymore. Bailey will have a lot of time to pick himself up though, and will probably be back at it next year.

Let's hope that's the case.

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For now, the only thing left to say is one of the most encouraging, yet sad phrases in sports... Maybe next year. We're on to the offseason.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Datone Jones Should Be Back, Switzer’s Good Game" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Starters Uninspiring in Week 17 Win

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Starters Produce Uninspiring Week 17 Win

Playing more than enough of their starters in hopes of ending this 2017 season on a high note at the Eagles, the Cowboys produced a lackluster 6-0 win that will surely leave a bad taste in the mouths of Cowboys Nation - despite it being a victory.

The win put the Cowboys at 9-7 on the season, and it is a shame they had nothing to play for in this regular season finale. Once again in week 17, it was the offense holding back another fantastic performance by Rod Marinelli's defense.

We'll discuss both units in this final 2017 Dallas Cowboys version of Sean's Scout.

  • You have to love the way Chidobe Awuzie was able to bring physicality to a young Cowboys secondary that had another solid game. 

There were times earlier in this season when it seemed the Cowboys' second-round pick would have a lost season due to multiple hamstring injuries, but Awuzie quickly tuned around his rookie campaign by coming in and playing with exceptional technique and awareness.

With enough length to turn and run, Awuzie thrived in this zone scheme by keeping everything in front of him, as he did on his interception of Nick Foles. With Dallas in Cover 2 on the play, Chidobe read Foles' eyes the whole time to the boundary and was in position to cut off the pass.

This is a topic we'll now have much more time to discuss, and it is a hollowing one considering it was truly the Cowboys offense that kept them from the playoffs this season. The need for new talent at WR is clear, but the need for a target that better suits Prescott's strengths going into year three is even more important.

His pass catchers, along with inconsistencies in pass protection, were the main reasons Prescott struggled in 2017, although in this game it seemed like the only time he was affected in the pocket was when forcing the ball late to Bryant.

Coming from a spread system in college, Prescott simply does not have experience throwing his receivers open -- relying on route combinations and separation ability to hit open targets. Dez Bryant hasn't been that type of player through his career, and certainly isn't now that he's lost a step.

  • 9 wins for a team unlike their usual selves up front offensively is still pretty impressive. 

The Cowboys got nearly no impact from any of their free agent signings this season, which is why the depth of the team held them back once again. Veteran Byron Bell was brought in as a backup swing tackle, but he is simply not a scheme fit at tackle here.

Dak Prescott should not have been playing with Bell as his LT, and eventually Joe Looney at LG after Jonathan Cooper went down.

Bell lacks the quick-twitch ability and athleticism needed to be successful on every down, and it showed as he was again beaten by both speed and power against the Eagles.

The Cowboys have proven their acumen drafting young OL talent that performs at a high level early and often. So, instead of relying on more free agents, like Bell and Looney, drafting talent up front to spark the running game and give Prescott adequate protection is likely the best answer.

  • Ryan Switzer's ability to separate late in the down really stood out, as he finally got his chance at WR without Cole Beasley

Growing calls for more of Ryan Switzer on offense will surely take root this offseason after he caught four passes for 32 yards in the absence of Cole Beasley yesterday. More of a one-speed player at North Carolina, Switzer's spacial awareness and smoothness in giving Prescott somewhere to throw the ball as plays developed was really impressive.

In order to be a great team at the NFL Draft, you have to accurately scout your own roster. It will be fascinating to see just how the Cowboys feel about their current pass catchers, with not only Ryan Switzer but the likes of Lance Lenoir and practice squad addition K.D. Cannon in the fold as well.

  • The Cowboys found themselves a valuable addition to their rotation at DT with Datone Jones. 

Jones was able to push the pocket throughout this game in Philadelphia, and has done so consistently since getting here, at both the 1T and 3T positions. Using his hands to generate power as a down-the-line player, Jones plays with great pad level. That allows him to shoot gaps when needed, or anchor the line of scrimmage.

The Cowboys have not prioritized adding premier talent at DT in recent years, and may forego it again this offseason as well. The Cowboys expect Maliek Collins to contribute further with another season at 1T and David Irving back at 3T.

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To everybody who made this 2017 season at Inside The Star as enjoyable as ever, I would like to thank the readers of Sean's Scout. All this aspiring scout can ask for is to enhance the fan experience through both wins and losses, and your feedback on this series helped me to confidently do just that.

As we prepare for an even better 2018, Sean's Scout won't be going anywhere! I'm shifting my full attention towards the NFL Draft, looking for prospects that could help the Dallas Cowboys reach the playoffs again next season.

Thank you for another roller-coaster ride we call football season, Cowboys Nation. Truly the best fans anywhere.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Starters Uninspiring in Week 17 Win" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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