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Game Notes

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

The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Giants

Brian Martin

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Giants

I don't know about you, but I feel a lot better this week about the Dallas Cowboys after they thoroughly controled the game against the New York Giants last Sunday night. It amazes me how much better they played in the second week of the 2018 season as opposed to what they put on the field Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.

The Dallas Cowboys performed better in all three phases of the game. The defense was simply outstanding, the offense looked much improved, and the fact that there weren't any breakdowns on special teams is an added plus. Overall, it's hard to be too disappointed with the way the overall team performed Sunday.

With all of that in mind, I want to share with you what I believe is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys from the primetime matchup with the division rival New York Giants. I know you may disagree with what I decided to go with in each category, but that's part of the fun of it.

The Good

Taco Charlton

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

If you watched the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants Sunday night then you pretty much know what the good was. How could I not go with the Cowboys defense? They were simply phenomenal against the Giants and are starting to become the identity of this year's team.

The Cowboys pass rush continuously put pressure on Quarterback Eli Manning and ended the game with six QB sacks. Nearly every defensive lineman got in on the action, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. The secondary was also really impressive. They played man-to-man coverage nearly the entire game and shut down the Giants aerial attack, including Odell Beckham Jr.

I was also really pleased to see the Cowboys linebackers playing much better. You may not have noticed, but the coaching staff is going with a rotation of sorts with the LBs, and it really looked as if it's helping keep them fresh. This could pay huge dividends moving forward, especially with Sean Lee's injury concerns.

The Bad

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

I debated several different things to put in this section, but ultimately I decided the bad for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night was Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game. Yes, it was better than what we saw from them in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done from both Prescott and his receivers.

Unfortunately, Prescott only completed 16 of 25 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown against the Giants. Those are nearly identical numbers to what he put up against the Panthers, the only difference is he was much more successful on the ground, rushing for 45 yards on seven carries. If you take away his long TD completion to Wide Receiver Tavon Austin, those numbers are even more depressing.

The passing game and Dak Prescott needs to improve dramatically. The Cowboys simply aren't going to be able to continue to win games like this. The offense should've been able to put up a lot more points on the Giants Sunday night. Hopefully, things will continue to get better because if not, the Cowboys are in trouble.

The Ugly

There was a number of different directions I could've gone here, but for me the ugly for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night against the Giants was the penalties. Penalties became a problem for the Cowboys in Week 1 against the Panthers and once again reared their ugly head against the Giants. Unfortunately, this has continuously been a problem under the tutelage of Head Coach Jason Garrett.

The Dallas Cowboys were lucky that the untimely penalties didn't have much impact on the outcome of the game. If they would have been playing a better team than the Giants, they probably wouldn't have overcome the long down and distances. I want to believe this can be cleaned up, but Jason Garrett's going to have to start holding his players accountable, which at this point seems a little unlikely.

The Cowboys players are going to take it upon themselves to cut down the penalties. Most of the time it's just mental mistakes, so there is reason to believe they can accomplish this task. But, they are really going to have to buckle down and focus on remaining consistent down after down.

What is your good, bad, and ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the Giants?



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Game Notes

Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Bounce Back Against Giants

Brian Martin

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Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Bounce Back Against Giants

Unlike last week, today's Monday morning hangover isn't nearly as bad. Thankfully, the Dallas Cowboys had a bounce back game against the New York Giants Sunday night, meaning you were probably drinking in celebration instead of drowning your sorrows. Hopefully, this continues.

Today, I want to do a little recap over what took place last night for the Dallas Cowboys and share with you some of the good and not so good I observed. Luckily, there was much more good for the Cowboys compared to what they put on the field Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.

First off, how impressive was the Cowboys defensive play against the Giants? The pass rush consistently put pressure on Eli Manning and finished the night with six quarterback sacks. Nearly all of the defensive line got in on the action. I think we can credit Passing Game Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard for the aggressive game plan.

The pass rush wasn't all that was dominant against the Giants for the Cowboys defense. Dallas' secondary pretty much shut down Odell Beckham Jr. and the rest of the Giants aerial attack. They played man-to-man coverage nearly the entire night and it paid off. Again, I think we can give credit to Kris Richard. He's changed how these defensive backs are being utilized.

Jeff Heath, Saquon Barkley

Dallas Cowboys S Jeff Heath (Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

The one negative I took away from the Cowboys defensive performance was the missed tackles once again. There were several Cowboys defenders who failed to take down Giants Running Back Saquon Barkley on first contact. Barkley unfortunately was able to pick up several yards after contact because of this. Tackling was a problem against the Panthers as well and it needs to be cleaned up in a hurry.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys looked like an entirely different unit than what took the field in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers. Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan was much more aggressive with his playcalling, evidenced by the long touchdown pass to Tavon Austin on the first offensive series.

Unlike against the Panthers, Linehan put Dak Prescott in the best position to succeed. He didn't have No. 4 sit in the pocket, instead he put him on the move and allowed him to use his mobility to put pressure on the Giants defense. I believe this is where Prescott is at his best and should continued to be utilized in this manner.

Ezekiel Elliott didn't have the biggest rushing totals, but we all know the Giants defense was trying to take him out of the game. He finished the night with 78 rushing yards on 17 carries, but he did manage to pretty much put the game away with a rushing TD. Personally, I would love to see Zeke more involved in the passing game, especially down the field instead of around on a scrimmage.

All in all, the Dallas Cowboys did what they needed to do in order to secure the victory. They still have several things they need to clean up and improve upon, but what team doesn't at this point in the season. Now, they need to carry over this momentum into Week 3 on the road against the Seattle Seahawks.

What do you think about the Dallas Cowboys performance against the Giants?



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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Secondary Play, Improved OL Stand Out in Cowboys Win Vs. Giants

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Secondary Play, Improved OL Play Stand Out in Cowboys Win Vs. Giants
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Not many things about the Dallas Cowboys performance through two weeks has been pretty, but when they look up on Monday morning they'll be leading the NFC East at 1-1. Evening their record with a win on Sunday Night Football against the New York Giants, the Cowboys did enough in front of their home crowd to hold off a late Eli Manning comeback.

Tavon Austin's long opening touchdown would set the tone for the Cowboys on their first possession. Points would be at a premium for both teams the rest of the way, leaving the Cowboys with plenty to like about their defense and reason to be encouraged on offense.

Here are my full takeaways from the Cowboys first win of 2018.

  • There aren't enough good things to say about the play call from Scott Linehan to get the ball over the top to Tavon Austin for the Cowboys first touchdown. 

The Cowboys were able to take advantage of Giants Safety Landon Collins playing down in the box, something he's had success doing against Dallas before. I thought that trend could continue when Collins called out the Cowboys offense leading up to this game, but it was Dak Prescott getting the last laugh.

Prescott knew exactly where the ball needed to be placed once Austin beat Janoris Jenkins cleanly, giving Tavon room to run under it and find the end zone for the first time as a Cowboy.

  • It was another tough match up for rookie Left Guard Connor Williams, but this time he was up for the challenge of playing on the second level and getting out in space.

The Cowboys should be happy with Williams' steady progress at LG, as he took another step forward on Sunday night. A converted tackle from college, Williams looked much better playing on the move, which is when the entire Cowboys OL is at its best.

Not only was Williams comfortable handling more wrinkles in the play book, but he was able to play with improved power and leverage to get to the second level often. With Center Joe Looney holding his own against Damon Harrison, the Cowboys went back to their roots in grinding out this NFC East win.

  • That's a fantastic play by Jeff Heath to run across the field and tackle Evan Engram short of the line to gain on third down.

The Giants drive would continue with a fourth down conversion, but the Cowboys defense did eventually force a punt.

The Cowboys safeties were primarily called upon to play in run support in this game, a role Heath has struggled in previously. Showing off his strengths as an athletic and rangy defensive back on this play, Heath didn't get pushed up the field by Engram on his release, hunting him down after the catch in front of a fired up Dallas bench.

  • Speaking of the Cowboys safety usage in this game, it was a standout performance against Odell Beckham Jr. and the Giants receivers by Cornerbacks Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie. 

Both Awuzie and Jones were asked to play on an island for much of this game, and handled this as well as Kris Richard could ask for. Beckham's longest reception was for 17 yards. The Cowboys kept the Giants best play maker in front of them all night, giving them a fighting chance to slow down RB Saquon Barkley.

Barkley was able to punish the Cowboys front seven a number of times with broken tackles, but never escaped the Cowboys grasp enough for the Giants to sustain a drive until the fourth quarter.

I'm not sure if the Cowboys strong cornerback duo of Awuzie and Jones were expected to play this well as early into the season as we are, but their man coverage ability has really allowed Dallas to mix things up on defense.

  • Kris Richard's impact on the Cowboys defense went beyond the secondary play against the Giants, as the team remained aggressive in blitzing the Giants offensive line.

It sure felt good to see the Cowboys exploit the Giants weakness up front, not content with letting their front four create the only advantage on defense. Knowing what Eli Manning is capable of when sitting in the pocket, the Cowboys disrupted the Giants passer all night by relentlessly sending stunts and blitzes at him.

Damien Wilson had a bounce back game at linebacker by using his speed to pressure Manning. Getting home for a game-changing sack, Wilson knocked the ball out of Manning's hand and created a turnover for his defense.

Defensive End Taco Charlton, who had a sack from the RDE position, recovered the fumble for Dallas. It was the right side of the offensive line for the Giants that let them down, but with so much attention being given to DeMarcus Lawrence at left end, Charlton simply had a free run at Manning for his sack.

  • That's a bad miss by Dak Prescott of Rico Gathers in the end zone off the Cowboys only turnover.

Looking to put the game away after their fumble recovery, the Cowboys called the perfect play for Tight End Rico Gathers - who was active in a regular season game for the first time. The play became an example of just how far criticism of Scott Linehan should stretch, as Prescott simply didn't execute.

Gathers sold his route up the field perfectly, breaking for the back corner of the end zone and running to open space before finding the ball sail over his head. Had Prescott thrown a better ball, Gathers turns around and easily secures a touchdown.

Who knows what the internet would be like this morning if he did. Nonetheless, the Cowboys settled for a Brett Maher field goal and took a 13-0 advantage before the Giants began their climb back into the game.

The Cowboys shouldn't be discouraged from using Gathers more in the passing game, but whether or not they will depends on the numbers they need on the active roster each game day.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The only NFC East team to earn a win in week two, the Cowboys have a long way to go to prove they're contenders in the division. With the Seahawks coming to town this week, the Cowboys will be reminded of how quickly things can go wrong, as Seattle's win in AT&T Stadium a year ago ended their hopes of making the playoffs.

On Sunday night, it was the Cowboys hindering the Giants chance to do just that by forcing an 0-2 start in New York. The Cowboys were impressive in their control of the game, executing a great game plan on defense while the offense started fast and finished with a physical drive in the fourth quarter.

Getting back to work after a win is always best, and such is the week ahead for the Dallas Cowboys.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Secondary Play, Improved OL Stand Out in Cowboys Win Vs. Giants" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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