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Film Review: RB Christian McCaffrey Presents Problems For Cowboys Defense

Kevin Brady

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Film Review: RB Christian McCaffrey Presents Long List Of Problems For Cowboys Defense

After many long months of waiting the 2018 NFL regular season is finally here. And with it, for the Dallas Cowboys, comes the season opener against the Carolina Panthers.

Unlike the Cowboys the Panthers were a playoff team in 2017, and much of their success can obviously be attributed to their former MVP quarterback Cam Newton. It's the other member of Carolina's backfield, however, which may be giving defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli the biggest headaches during preparation this week.

Now second year running back Christian McCaffrey is coming off of a rookie season in which he accounted for over 1,000 yards and 7 touchdowns. Entering 2018 most expect McCaffrey to play an even larger role in the Panthers offense, though, as indicated by his average draft position during fantasy football drafts.

McCaffrey presents the "dual threat" running back skill set which offenses are valuing greatly as of late, and a season in which he catches 80 balls and tallies close to 300 touches is not out of the question. Although the Panthers did draft Maryland wide receiver DJ Moore, and still have Greg Olsen as their starting tight end, Christian McCaffrey will most likely be their most dynamic offensive weapon moving forward.

One of the more common ways the Panthers like to use McCaffrey is as a receiver out of the backfield. While they do often throw him the ball on swing routes and screen passes, his route running ability allows Carolina to get more creative than that.

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Against Green Bay here we see McCaffrey on an option route, something Carolina loves to use in the red zone. With quick feet, fluid hips, and impressive acceleration McCaffrey is often able to shake opposing linebackers and defensive backs in man coverage.

Green Bay simply loses McCaffrey here, allowing for the easy touchdown, but he does have the ability to beat tight coverage when necessary.

On this particular play, the Panthers motion their receiver inside the numbers, nearly stacking him with the tight end in the slot. They then run that receiver on a crossing route and ask their tight end to pick off the defenders.

While Green Bay adjusts to defend the crosser, McCaffrey is allowed to run free for the score. Dallas will have to stay disciplined in coverage on Sunday and look to avoid these pick routes in the red zone. Easier said than done, of course.

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The Panthers are not afraid to use Christian McCaffrey as a traditional receiver either. Putting Cam Newton in an empty backfield with McCaffrey in the slot gives Carolina a ton of different options offensively, and could create issues for any defense.

Here we see McCaffrey win on the boundary with an out-and-up route on a modified scissors concept. Once again we see McCaffrey's quick feet and acceleration, as he breaks down the defensive back and works his way up the field.

After winning against man coverage, McCaffrey shows off his pass catching ability to create a big play for the Panthers. Any time you try to cover McCaffrey in man, it's going to be a tough ask.

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The creativity with Christian McCaffrey doesn't stop with the pass game, however. Considering how big and physical quarterback Cam Newton is, the Panthers are able to execute option and "college" plays in the red zone.

Here we see McCaffrey in the slot with Newton and Jonathan Stewart in the backfield. Carolina brings a receiver in jet motion across the formation, giving Newton the option to give on the jet. It appears the motion is a designed fake here, but that option still must be respected by the linebackers.

Carolina then shows a traditional option look with Newton and Stewart, but they also bring McCaffrey across the formation as a shovel option. All this motion confuses the Lions defense, and allows for a walk-in touchdown from McCaffrey.

Once again, the Cowboys must stay disciplined on Sunday and read their keys if they hope to contain McCaffrey.

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Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys' linebackers this offseason, with Jaylon Smith looking healthy and a first round pick in Leighton Vander Esch being added to the unit. They're going to face a huge test in the season opener, however, as Cam Newton and Christian McCaffrey look to create big plays out of the backfield on Sunday.

Carolina doesn't have the dangerous receiving weapons on the boundary, but they're ability to utilize option routes, zone read plays, and creativity in the run game can cause problems for this Cowboys defense.



Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and am currently a college student. Lets get going.

Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott’s Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott's Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark

When the Dallas Cowboys took the field last Sunday against the New York Giants, they did so very differently than last week, starting with a 64-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to connect with WR Tavon Austin in the third play of the game. Although there are still many things this team must continue to work on, they looked like a very improved unit in week 2.

Here are my main takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys' first win of the year. Let me know what yours are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL and let's talk football!

Cowboys' Secondary Capable of Holding Top WR

If there was one player who could've changed the outcome for the New York Giants, it was WR Odell Beckham Jr. Widely recognized as one of the best wideouts in the nation, Beckham was the biggest challenge the cornerbacks, led by Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie, have had in the first two weeks.

None of them followed Beckham all over the field, each stayed on their side of the field and still managed to limit him to four receptions for 51 yards in nine targets. The Giant's offense is not known for being one of the best in the league, but it's the fact that this defense was able to limit exactly the player they needed to. They did their job.

Also, props to the defensive line for keeping the pressure on Eli Manning.

Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Bounce Back Against Giants

Taco Charlton Was Dominant VS Nate Solder

With Randy Gregory ruled out for the game, Taco Charlton had a golden opportunity to stay on the field for more snaps. He took advantage of this, as he finished the night with three tackles, one for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.

Charlton still has a long way to go in order to prove he was worthy of a first round pick, but we can't deny he hasn't stopped developing. It will be interesting to see how he does now that Gregory is expected to return for week 3.

Dak Prescott's Legs Give Offense a Needed Spark

One of the things I liked the most about the Cowboys' game versus the Giants was how Dak Prescott was utilized. Criticized after a poor performance in Carolina, Prescott came out with a chip on his shoulder.

We've been talking a lot about how Scott Linehan must play Prescott to his strengths and that's precisely what he did by letting Dak run for 45 yards in seven carries. It's completely understandable if the Cowboys don't want to run him as much as the Panthers do with Cam Newton, but the truth is, if #4 hurts defenses with his leg, Ezekiel Elliott won't receiver all of the defense's attention.

Also, shoutout to how they used Tavon Austin. With Elliott, Prescott and Austin being a threat on option plays, this offense could take a step on the right direction.

If Activated, Where Does Rico Gathers Fit Offensively?

Rico Gathers Will Be Used

The Cowboys' Rico Gathers project is moving in the right direction. The 2016 sixth-round pick was active for the first time in his career last Sunday. The first question that popped into our heads was whether or not he'd be actually used in the game. He was.

He even managed to get open in the end zone in a play that could've been TD but Prescott didn't throw a good pass. However, the mere fact that he was able to get open and that the coaches actually put him on the field told us a lot about his future. Cowboys Nation should be excited to see him involved.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott’s Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

Dallas Cowboys vs the New York Giants: Stock Up and Stock Down

John Williams

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The Jaylon Smith We've Been Expecting Is Finally Here

The Dallas Cowboys bounced back in a big way against the New York Giants in week two. Several players bounced back as well after struggling a bit in week one against the Carolina Panthers. Other players continued to struggle or saw a drop in play from week one to week two.

Here are the Dallas Cowboys who saw their stock rise and some who saw their stock fall this week.

Stock Up

Jaylon Smith, Linebacker

Jaylon Smith has been really good to start the season and had an excellent game against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. Every day Smith is removed from the devastating knee injury he suffered in his final game at Notre Dame is a day closer to realizing the elite play that many expected of him before the injury.

Pro Football Reference credited the starting middle linebacker with seven solo tackles and three assists. Pro Football Focus had Jaylon Smith with 3 stops -- plays that were a "loss" for the offense -- while becoming a stabilizing force for the linebacker position.

Byron Jones, Cornerback

The fourth year player who has made a successful move from safety to cornerback, Byron Jones has been everything the Dallas Cowboys hoped he'd be when they made him their first round pick back in 2015.

Shame that it took so long to get him to cornerback.

Against a potent New York Giants receiving corp, Jones only allowed one reception on five targets on Sunday night. He also had six solo tackles and three stops, per Pro Football Focus.

The one reception that Pro Football Focus credited to Byron Jones was by Running Back Saquon Barkley and that catch went for zero yards.

So on the night, Byron Jones allowed zero yards into his coverage areas. He's really good at cornerback and is taking to Kris Richard's coaching quite nicely.

Dak Prescott, Quarterback

After much gnashing of teeth after the week one loss to the Carolina Panthers, Dak Prescott rebounded with a strong, confident performance in the Dallas Cowboys week two win over the Giants.

He completed 64% of his passes for 160 yards and ran for 45 yards on seven carries. The passing yardage isn't huge, but on a night in which the defense was absolutely dominant, Dak Prescott made the plays that needed to be made for the Dallas Cowboys to win the game.

He was great in the read-option on Sunday night, perfectly executing it for several really good runs.

The throw to Tavon Austin on the third offensive play from scrimmage was a great throw that set the tone for the Dallas Cowboys the rest of the night. His yards per attempt and passer rating were both improved from week one and he just looked better.

If Dak Prescott can continue to put together performances like this, the Dallas Cowboys will win a lot of games this season.

Connor Williams, Left Guard

After getting pushed around for much of last week's game by Kawann Short, rookie Connor Williams rebounded with a really nice game.

Williams didn't allow a pressure all night and the offensive line was much better as a whole. The unit didn't allow a sack against the New York Giants.

According to Pro Football Focus, Elliott's biggest run of the night came behind Connor Williams at left guard.

Williams is an important piece to the puzzle and if he's playing well, it will provide better pockets for Dak Prescott.

Tavon Austin, Wide Receiver

After seeing only 10 snaps in week one, Tavon Austin was on the field for nearly twice as many and made them count as he ended with two receptions for 79 yards and had one rush for 15 yards.

That's 94 total yards on three touches. The "Tavon Effect" was in full force last night as the team used his speed to their advantage. Even when the ball didn't go his direction he had an effect on the game.

Damien Wilson, Linebacker

Seemingly the odd man out after the Dallas Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Damien Wilson had an excellent game in his limited playing time.

Wilson played 17 defensive snaps and 22 snaps on special teams and was credited with three solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He's was excellent on Sunday night in the snaps he was given.

It's unlikely that we'll see a big snap increase for him with the talent ahead of him on the depth chart, but he provided very valuable snaps when given the opportunity.

Stock Down

Terrance Williams, Wide Receiver

Terrance Williams who has been a starter for several years now with the Dallas Cowboys, and even started week one, saw his snap count drop from week one to week two. After seeing 19 snaps against the Carolina Panthers, he was onlyon the field for 10 snaps in week two.

There's been speculation as the Dallas Cowboys have resigned former Wide Receiver Brice Butler that Terrance Williams could be the odd man out of the wide receiver room. That snap count is either an indication of his status on the team or the game plan they had against the New York Giants.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Williams moving forward.

La'el Collins, Right Tackle

A week after allowing four pressures, most along the offensive line, La'el Collins allowed three more pressures on Sunday night against the New York Giants. He was the only offensive lineman to allow multiple pressures and appeared to struggle with the Giants blitz and stunt schemes.

The New York Giants had rushers go unblocked at times on Sunday night.

Dak Prescott wasn't sacked against the Giants, but he had to avoid some pressure on that side to throw the ball away.

Collins has to be better against the pass rush going forward to keep Dak Prescott clean and able to play better.

Dallas Cowboys Tight Ends

The Dallas Cowboys' tight end group of Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers did not have a single catch to their name on Sunday night. There were opportunities that were missed, like the Dak Prescott overthrow to Rico Gathers in the end zone. However, not being able to come up with a single catch against the Giants is a bit surprising.

Speaking frankly, their isn't a receiving threat on the TE depth chart. They need to become a factor at some point to help take pressure of Dak Prescott and give him another option in the passing game. The Dallas Cowboys prefer to run most of their formations with a tight end on the field. They need to be a factor

The Cowboys Nation Twitter account asked David Helman from DallasCowboys.com to look up when the last time the Dallas Cowboys tight ends finished a game without a reception.

Mark Lane from WFAA.com and the Texans Wire found the information.

Mark Lane on Twitter

@HelmanDC @CowboysNation @SullyBaldHead @Marcus_Mosher @CHQ_Jordan @FO_ScottKacsmar When you do, Dave, tell them that Mark Lane found it at 1:15 a.m. Central Time. It was Dec. 1, 2016 at the #Vikings. https://t.co/XS3FVrWhT8

It's unbelievable that there was a game played in which Jason Witten was around for that he didn't have a reception, and yet, there it is.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Were there any players that moved the needle in either direction for you?

Let us know in the comment section. 

 



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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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