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.
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.
Q: 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.
Q: 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.
Jason Garrett’s Decision Making Stands Out in Playoff Loss
The 2018 NFL season has come to an end for the Dallas Cowboys. The Los Angeles Rams were simply the better team on Saturday night in the Coliseum and it showed in the 30-22 loss. While it was a disappointing performance, there were several things to take away from the game to give us reason for optimism moving forward. Connor Williams played well against Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh on the interior, Dak Prescott kept the team in the game despite little help from the running game, and Head Coach Jason Garrett perhaps coached his best game from a management point of view.
After the first drive, this game had one of those, if the Dallas Cowboys have to punt, it's likely going to be a loss feels. The defense's inability to force more than one punt or create a turnover was going to make it really difficult for the offense to keep up, and yet at the end of the game, the Cowboys were within a score and had a shot to win. Dak Prescott deserves a lot of credit for that, but so does Jason Garrett.
4th and 1's
Jason Garrett has long been viewed as a conservative coach in the NFL, and this season he didn't do much to help his reputation, but that game on Saturday should change some of that perception. On a night where it looked like his defense didn't have it, he called the game he needed to maximize his team's possessions.
On the opening drive of the game for the offense, the Cowboys got to the Rams 49 yard line, but faced a 4th and 1. Garrett didn't waste any time going for it and the Cowboys were able to convert on Ezekiel Elliott's five yard run. A Marcus Peters' unneccessary roughness penalty gave the Cowboys an extra 15 yards and the Cowboys scored on the next play on Amari Cooper's 29 yard catch and run to give the Dallas Cowboys the lead.
It would be their only lead of the night.
Again, in the second half, the Cowboys faced a 4th and 1, this time it was at the Rams 41 yard line and this time, the Cowboys were down 23-7. This was not nearly as difficult a decision as the Cowboys were in catch up mode and needed to get a score to bring the game within striking distance, and they did just that. Again, Elliott picked up five yards when the Cowboys needed one and Elliott capped off th drive with a one yard touchdown run after Michael Gallup's long reception on a broken play.
At the Rams 35 yard line and the game within reach, the Cowboys went for it again on fourth down, but this time were stopped short of the first down marker when Ndamukong Suh made an excellent play to prevent Elliott from picking up the yard. On the play, you can see Suh start to Joe Looney's left, which forced Elliott to go to Looney's right and Suh followed Elliott into the hole. There was much Looney could do as Suh had the necessary leverage to make the play. It was absolutely the right call to go for it in that situation, but the Cowboys went to the jumbo formation-Elliott inside run one too many times. It was clear where the ball was going to go in that situation, and they were stuffed.
On what turned out to be the final drive of the season for the Dallas Cowboys, they needed to score and score rather quickly to have a chance to get the ball back one more time. The offense scored, but took a little too much time doing so as the drive took just over five minutes off the game clock. Again, on the drive, they were faced with a fourth and 1, but this time they used Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott on a speed option to the right and they were able to convert and eventually get the touchdown.
For the game, the Dallas Cowboys went three for four on fourth down attempts.
Point After Decisions
In the middle of the third quarter, the Dallas Cowboys scored to make it 23-13. Generally in the NFL, teams don't go for two until they have to go. Knowing that possessions were going to be few and far between the Cowboys were likely going to have to score on every possession the rest of the game, Garrett went for two and the Cowboys converted to make it an eight point game.
Then after the Dallas Cowboys scored to make the game 30-21, there was much discussion on social media on whether the Cowboys should have gone for two there or just kicked the extra point, which was a bit surprising.
To me, it was simple. Kick the extra point to make it 30-22 and hope your defense gets you the ball back and you can score again. If you go for two in that situation and don't make it, the game is essentially over with just over two minutes remaining. Taking the extra point kept you in the game, even if it was still only a slight chance to pull out a win.
With about 3:20 to go in the third quarter, the Dallas Cowboys defense faced a third and two situation around midfield against the Rams. They were able to force Rams Quarterback Jared Goff into a hurried throw and he overthrew Josh Reynolds in the flat for what would have been a first down.
On the play there were two penalties, offensive holding and offensive pass interference and Jason Garrett declined the penalties.
To me it was one of the boldest coaching decisions has made in his career on something that seemed very innocuous.
Sean McVay and the Rams were having their way with the Dallas Cowboys defense as Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson gashed their way to over 100 yards rushing each. With the Rams facing a fourth and two on the Dallas Cowboys side of the 50 yard line, most people thought the Rams would go for it there and completely steal the soul of the Dallas Cowboys.
Johnny Hekker did his best to get the Dallas Cowboys to think he was going to run a fake, but the Cowboys never panicked and stayed onside as the punter attempted to game them.
It was a huge call in that situation. If Garrett accepts the penalties, the Rams would have faced a third and 12 at their own 43 yard line, but would have had another opportunity to convert the first down and extend the drive.
I really liked the call, because it put McVay in a difficult position himself. If the were to go for it and fail to convert on fourth down, the Cowboys would have gotten the ball at about midfield with a chance to tie the game.
Kicking Deep vs Onside Kick
With the new rules governing kickoffs, mainly that teams have to keep a amount of players on each side of the kicker, onside kicks have become less and less successful in today's NFL. Even before the rule changes, recovering an onside kick was less than a 50/50 proposition.
Kicking deep was really the only decision to make. The hope is that your defense is able to get a stop and the Cowboys would get the ball back with decent field position.
And it nearly worked.
The Dallas Cowboys run defense came up big on first and second down, holding the Rams running game to three yards setting up a third and seven. Just as everyone was expecting the Rams to throw it, they ran a play action with a naked bootleg that left Jared Goff all alone on the outside with a ton of room to run, and zero Cowboys in position to prevent him from picking up the first down.
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On Saturday, Ian Rapoport from NFL Network, reported the Cowboys were looking to extend for Jason Garrett this offseason. It should come as no surprise as he helped orchestrate an impressive turnaround from 3-5 to 10-6 and NFC East champions all while fielding one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Jason Garrett has grown a lot as an NFL head coach and in the playoff loss, made excellent decisions to keep the Cowboys in the game. He's going to be around here for a long time and there should be a lot of optimism heading into 2019 that the Cowboys can make some strides.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly From Cowboys Divisional Round Loss
Well Cowboys Nation, the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season had to come to an end at some point. Not many of us would have predicted earlier in the season that it would've come at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Round, but that's what happened and it's kind of bittersweet.
I don't know how you feel today, but I don't find myself all that upset the Dallas Cowboys season is officially over. Yes, I would've loved to see them completely dominate the LA Rams and advance in the playoffs, but I'm surprisingly really pleased with the way this team played this season. We have to remember that this is a young team and this is hopefully just the beginning of something great.
Today, I want to share with you some of the positives and negatives from the Cowboys game against the Rams Saturday night. This of course will be the last edition of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys 2018-2019 season.
Finding the positive after a loss isn't always the easiest thing to accomplish. The Dallas Cowboys didn't particularly play their best football Saturday against the Rams, which makes it even more difficult. But for me, the good has to be the resiliency and grittiness the Cowboys played with in LA.
I don't think anyone would argue that the LA Rams pretty much dominated the entire game Saturday. They put the Cowboys on their heels pretty much from the get-go, which took them out of their game. Dallas was never really able to establish their running game and couldn't get the Rams offense off the field. They've been able to pretty much do that against all their opponents this season, but just fell flat at the wrong time.
Despite getting manhandled, the Dallas Cowboys continued to fight back and never quit. They could've easily rolled over and given up, but they didn't. I think that really speaks volumes to the kind of players Dallas has on the roster. This is a really talented young team with a bright future ahead of themselves.
Anyone who watched the game Saturday night pretty much knows what goes in this category. The bad for me and probably everybody else is how the Dallas Cowboys defense was gashed by the Los Angeles Rams rushing attack. C. J. Anderson and Todd Gurley absolutely dominated on the ground, leading their team to victory.
I knew the Rams rushing attack would give the Cowboys defense problems, but I never imagined they would rush for nearly 300 yards and multiple touchdowns. C. J. Anderson and Todd Gurley may be the ones earning all the praise with their performances, but they definitely wouldn't have found as much success as they did if not for their offensive line.
Dallas' front seven has been really good against the run all season. They only allowed a couple of 100 yard rushers this season (Chris Carson, Marlon Mack) until Anderson and Gurley both rushed for over 100 Saturday night. Unfortunately, the Cowboys DL just got overpowered by the Rams OL and it definitely impacted the outcome of the game.
What was pegged to be a matchup between two of the best running backs in the NFL, Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, ended up being pretty much a one-man show. That is why the ugly Saturday night for the Dallas Cowboys in my opinion was their rushing attack.
We all know the Cowboys offensive blueprint is to establish the running game to help control the clock and game speed. That unfortunately never materialized Saturday night against the Rams, a team by the way that was giving up 5.1 yards rushing to opposing running backs. It was supposed to be a matchup that favored Zeke and Dallas' ground game.
I'll give credit where credit is due though. The Rams defensive line stepped up their game and didn't allow Zeke to get any kind of momentum going in the running game. They gave the Cowboys OL all they could handle and pretty much made their offensive attack one-dimensional. They wanted to put the game in Dak Prescott's hands and for the most part accomplished what they set out to do.
What is your good, bad, and ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the LA Rams?
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Run Defense, 4th Down Decision End Season in Los Angeles
The last round of the Dallas Cowboys fight in 2018 came at the hands of a hungry Los Angeles Rams team, ending their season in the Divisional Round behind 273 rushing yards. Effectively, the third seed in the NFC beat the Cowboys at their own game with the bye week to prepare. The fallout from this loss won't be fully realized until the sting is gone, but sweeping changes aren't expected in Dallas after a resurrection from 3-5 saw the Cowboys within a few plays of the NFC Championship Game.
How those plays were made and what the Rams did to execute a near flawless game plan is the subject of this final Sean's Scout of the season.
- The Rams' success on the ground against Richard's defense was stunning for a lot of reasons, none more so than the way Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith struggled to react and fight off blocks.
The Cowboys issues at linebacker were a result of their front four getting blown off the ball all game by LA's offensive line. I wrote in my final game preview piece about how the Cowboys needed to win the line of scrimmage on both sides, losing with their own offense when the game was in the balance and never putting up a fight on the defensive line.
To the Rams' credit, even the simple things Sean McVay's team executes are done with an attention to detail that makes them very difficult to contain. The Rams did a great job scheming blockers to the second level, where Smith and Vander Esch were handled to the point of playing tentatively and taking poor angles.
In what could be his final game with the Cowboys or the end of his career, Sean Lee played 21 snaps, one shy of his week 17 total when the Cowboys played the Giants with the division already wrapped up. Getting caught in a game they couldn't possibly win against the better team at home, the Cowboys defense had no answers for Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson.
- Dak Prescott's "in the grasp" call when he scrambled into La'el Collins' arms on third down was a bad look for the officials, but also an injured Cole Beasley, who was late working his route back to Prescott and into his line of vision.
If Beasley was at full strength, he's likely able to stop his vertical route sooner and give Prescott an easy throw underneath as he rolled to the right. Left with nowhere to go, Dak had the play blown dead after Right Tackle La'el Collins wrapped his arms around Prescott while scrambling.
With the way the Rams came out on offense, it became clear that every Cowboys possession would be of dire importance. Losing one on a strange call like this was a blow Dallas never had a chance to recover from.
- Lost in the Cowboys turnover on downs in the fourth quarter, the final time they touched the ball within a score, is the incredible third down throw Prescott made on the run to Noah Brown.
To give his offense a chance on fourth and short, Prescott delivered a strike to Brown on the sideline for 13 yards. Without being able to set his feet, Prescott felt the pressure well and put the ball where only Brown could secure it falling out of bounds.
It's unfortunate the next play became the defining moment of the season for Dallas. Deciding to attack the strength of the Rams' defense, Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers were ready for an Elliott rushing attempt right up the middle out of 12 personnel.
Not only was Center Joe Looney beat on the play, but Collins lost leverage and was beat across the face to further clutter the middle of the field for Elliott to be stopped short. Making matters even worse, the Rams came out and attacked the Cowboys defense by flashing the misdirection plays that worked all night.
In just 12 plays, Anderson scored his second touchdown to all but put the game away for LA. The Cowboys would use Prescott's legs much too late on the ensuing drive, getting into the end zone but failing to get the ball back.
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As mentioned, this won't be an offseason of drastic change for the Cowboys. Bowing out in the divisional round for the second time in three seasons, adjustments to both the coaching staff and roster are needed for this team to take the next step.
For a team that looked nothing like a postseason contender for much of the regular season, the Cowboys improbable run of close wins came to an end against the Rams - determined to not lose their first playoff game in consecutive seasons.
They won't be happy with the result, but the Cowboys should be proud of their final outcome on this year.
As always, I'd like to thank Cowboys Nation for reading another season of Sean's Scout. Win or lose you make this job fun.
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