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Film Room: Cowboys Young LBs Face Another Test In RB Alvin Kamara

Kevin Brady

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Film Room: Cowboys Young LBs Face Another Test In RB Alvin Kamara

Just about the biggest story of the Cowboys 2018 season has been the emergence of their young linebacker group. First round pick Leighton Vander Esch and former second round gamble Jaylon Smith have begun to come into their own, and are playing a brand of football which the Cowboys defense has been striving for years to attain.

When evaluating both Vander Esch and Smith, it is their athleticism and sideline to sideline pursuit which often shines through. Despite their large frames, both young linebackers are agile and athletic enough to be effective, and downright impressive in the open field.

These abilities will be tested heavily on Thursday night when the New Orleans Saints come to town, bringing with them an elite offense and one of the league's most versatile running backs, Alvin Kamara.

Kamara has carried the ball 150 times for 706 yards and 11 touchdowns on the season, but it is his ability as a receiver that really scares defenses. So far in 2018 Kamara has caught 57 balls and 4 touchdowns, following up a rookie season where he eclipsed 80 receptions on the year.

The Saints like to get Alvin Kamara out in the open field as a receiving threat, and can do so in a variety of different ways. Let's take a look at some of those methods the Saints have effectively deployed this season.

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Here we see Alvin Kamara during his rookie season, lined up in the backfield with Drew Brees. This, as you would expect, is where Kamara spends most of his time. The Redskins give a 2-high look with their middle linebacker directly over and responsible for Kamara.

This is where Kamara is incredibly dangerous. He releases through the line of scrimmage and meets up with the MIKE backer. Here, he breaks him down with his quick footwork and works to the outside. He creates plenty of separation to give Brees a window to complete this pass.

Then, once the ball is in his hands, it's really hard to get him down. Kamara ducks through three Washington defenders and works his way into the end zone for a late touchdown.

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Going back to week 1 of the 2018 season we once again see Alvin Kamara score out of the backfield. He is a dangerous red zone weapon, and one that you can rarely account for with man coverage. Tampa Bay tries to stop him with a bracket coverage look down inside their own 10 yard line, but this fails as well.

Alvin Kamara is able to find the soft spot in the zone, right near the goal line, and then extend into the end zone for the score. Tampa keeps one defender in the flat with outside leverage on Kamara, and another inside of him, but neither is able to stop Kamara on this option route.

He has the ability to make you wrong no matter the coverage call, and Brees is smart enough to identify these plays right on time.

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Lastly, we see the Saints utilize Alvin Kamara as a traditional receiver. Flexed outside to the near side, the Eagles bring down safety Malcolm Jenkins to cover Kamara one on one. Jenkins tries to get physical with him at the line of scrimmage and mess up his get-off, but Kamara is a good enough route runner to break his hands down and create outside leverage.

Once Jenkins turns his hips, Kamara uses his speed to jet by him and create separation down the sideline. Brees delivers a well-placed ball, and there is simply no stopping him on his way to the end zone.

What's interesting is on this play the Eagles have a single high safety slightly shaded to the opposite side of Kamara, to account for the trips look to that side. The Saints just have too many weapons to place too much focus on particular player, and this is a huge reason why they have had such a prolific offense this season.

Stopping Alvin Kamara and the Saints will be a group effort defensively, starting with the pass rush and trickling through the linebackers and safeties in coverage.



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 have been with ITS since 2016.

Game Notes

Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts

Sean Martin

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Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts

The Dallas Cowboys offensive line depth will be tested as they play for a chance to clinch the NFC East on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Suffering a knee injury last week against the Eagles, Right Guard Zack Martin will not be able to play. In missing his first career start, rookie Connor Williams rightfully returns to the starting lineup as Martin's replacement.

The 50th overall pick from this year's AT&T Stadium hosted Draft has started eight games this season at left guard. Williams' last start happens to be in the last game Dallas lost, a week nine defeat to the Tennessee Titans. This opened the door for Xavier Su'a-Filo to become something of a sensation for Cowboys Nation as the starting left guard throughout the team's current five game win streak.

David Moore on Twitter

Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained knee. Rookie Connor Williams will start in his place.

Zack Martin being unavailable is hardly how Marc Colombo wants to prepare for the Cowboys first road game since week 11. Having both Su'a-Filo and Williams in the lineup will be valuable for the Cowboys moving forward though, as Williams could earn his job at left guard back from the right side.

While he won't nearly be expected to play at the level of Martin, Williams looked poised coming off the bench against the Eagles and helping the Cowboys offense score their final three touchdowns. Williams was on the field for all three of Amari Cooper's scores, as Dallas rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries with him in the game.

Williams flashed some of the traits that made him a top left tackle prospect out of college, flowing to the second level with ease and creating movement with quick feet at the point of attack. The Cowboys have forced him to remain game ready despite losing his starting position by finding a few emergency snaps for him in recent weeks, as well as special teams looks. The team has every reason to believe Williams is an ascending young player still.

The same cannot be said of Su'a-Filo, who simply has to focus on continuing to hold up at left guard again this week. With each passing win, Su'a-Filo's LG spot has become more of a liability in a Cowboys offense in need of a jump-start late in this 2018 season.

Consistent offensive line play is one of the few things that's clearly hurting the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC behind a stellar defense and game breaking wide receiver.

The Cowboys won't be at full strength against the eighth best rushing defense and 15th ranked passing defense in yards per game. With three separate chances to clinch the NFC East starting at the Colts and extending until the end of the regular season, the Cowboys stand to learn all they need to know about the offensive line that will start in the playoffs.

Martin, who's elevated his game to a new level this season despite this lingering knee injury, should be on track to return when the Cowboys come home to play the Buccaneers in week 16.

Tell us what you think about "Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Game Notes

#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone

Kevin Brady

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Fantasy Football - Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings - Week 2 2
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.

This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.

In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.

There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.

For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.

Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.

Bob Sturm on Twitter

I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.

Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.

Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.



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Game Notes

#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction

Kevin Brady

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Has RB Rod Smith Emerged As Ezekiel Elliott's Primary Backup? 2
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.

Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.

The Line

Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points. 

Dallas Cowboys

The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.

Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.

And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.

Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.

Indianapolis Colts

At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.

Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.

Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.

The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.

Trends

  • The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
  • The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
  • But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
  • The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
  • Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.

Prediction

The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?

Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.

A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.



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