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Game Notes

Final Thoughts: Can the Dallas Cowboys Pull off the Upset?

John Williams

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Cowboys Headlines - Are Dallas Cowboys Fans Being Overly Optimistic? 2

Cautiously optimistic. That's how I'd describe how much of Cowboys Nation feels about this game. Deservedly so. The Dallas Cowboys seem to matchup pretty well with the Los Angeles Rams as we head into Saturday's Divisional game. However, matching up well and taking advantage of those areas where you have an edge are two entirely different things.

Remember when Jerry Jones said the Cowboys have similar weapons as the Rams. Not so crazy now.

The last time these two teams played in the regular season was in 2017. It was a shootout in every essence of the word. It was one of two games that season where the offense scored 30 or more points and still lost the contest because their defense couldn't stop the Rams that day. In large part because there was no Sean Lee.

Without Sean Lee in 2017, the Dallas Cowboys were terrible on defense. Jaylon Smith was still working his way back to a football field functional level of health and Damien Wilson was your second linebacker that day. We all remember him in coverage attempting to stay with Todd Gurley. It wasn't a pretty site.

Fast forward a year and a half and the linebacking situation has changed drastically since that disappointing loss in 2017.

Sean Lee is now on the back burner at the linebacker position. Jaylon Smith played as well as any linebacker in football this season and Leighton Vander Esch could win the defensive rookie of the year in a year where there were several standout defensive rookies. The team is still using Damien Wilson, but is doing so sparingly, which helps him and the defense. Also, they have Joe Thomas getting sub package snaps and playing really well for the Cowboys in coverage.

This is a totally different Cowboys team than the one we saw in 2017. They have what it takes to win, but will they?

Final Thoughts

On the Road -- but not really -- Again

The Dallas Cowboys this season were 3-5 on the road. Prior to this season, only once since 2014 have the Dallas Cowboys been worse than .500 on the road; the 2015 season where they went 4-12. That team went 3-5 on the road.

In Jason Garrett's tenure as head coach, the Cowboys have never been worse than 3-5 on the road. However, in the 2014 and 2016 seasons, where they won the division, they went 8-0 on the road and 6-2 on the road. In 2017, they also went 6-2 on the road.

It's the first time the Dallas Cowboys had a winning record on the season, while having a losing record on the road.

Generally speaking the Cowboys have been really good on the road in Jason Garrett's tenure, but for some reason, they haven't fared as well this season. Now they've played in some tough places this season like Seattle and Carolina. In the first seven games of the season, the Dallas Cowboys went 0-4 on the road. They finished the season strong by going 3-1 in the back half of the season, their lone road loss, the shutout in Indianapolis.

With an expectation that there will be a Dallas Cowboys fans in Los Angeles for this week's game, this has the possibility of being more of a neutral site game than a road game. Pundits are anticipating that the crowd could be more than half Cowboys fans. The Cowboys have held training camp in Oxnard, California for years and have had a footprint in Southern California for a long time.

Even though they're on the road, that should give the Cowboys a huge lift, especially on defense.

Starting Fast

The Cowboys don't have the luxury of starting slow on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball. The Rams can score quick and put you in a double-digit hole in the blink of an eye. We've seen the offense start slow in a lot of first halves, but come on strong in the second half to pull away.

The offense can't afford to be sluggish out of the gate. The Rams are one of the worst run defenses in the NFL and the Dallas Cowboys have to take advantage of that. They have to get Ezekiel Elliott going early and use Dak Prescott in the running game to try to take the wind out of the Rams defense, in particular Aaron Donald.

This is a defense that wants you to throw the ball, so if you can get touchdowns early in the game and not allow the Rams offense to get ahead of you, the Cowboys should have an opportunity to control this game from the outset with their excellent running game.

On the flip side, the Cowboys defense can't afford to allow any big plays in the early going or quick scoring drives. When those things happen, it puts pressure on the offense to score and if they don't, it can take all the wind out the team's sails.

Making a Difference, By Amari Cooper

Imagine how this season would have gone had the Dallas Cowboys front office not pulled the trigger on the Amari Cooper trade. The team was 3-4 and was struggling to find their footing in the 2018 NFL Season. They were struggling to find any consistency on offense. The Cowboys weren't getting big plays.

Since the trade that was widely panned by NFL observers across America, the Cowboys have gone 8-2 including the Wild Card win over the Seattle Seahawks.

The offense is just different with this guy in the lineup.

Cooper is always open and his run after catch ability has been a huge asset for the Cowboys offense that was much more plodding prior to the trade.

With Cooper and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys now have two legitimate threats to score every time they touch the ball.

Rise of the (New) Triplets

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Amari Cooper all out their imprint on the Cowboys win last week and now the Cowboys finally seem to have a Triplets Redux.

Dak Prescott’s passing line wasn’t impressive, but it was the plays he made at the end of the game that gave Cowboys Nation belief that this is a guy that is going to will the Cowboys to victory.

Ezekiel Elliott has more than 100 yards rushing and had his two biggest runs of the game at times where the team needed a big play. First at the end of the first half, Elliott bounced outside and took the ball for a huge gain that led to Dak Prescott’s touchdown pass to Michael Gallup. Then as the Cowboys were trying to salt away the game, he again bounced to the outside and after putting a Seattle defensive back in the dirt was able to pick up the first down and more while keeping the clock running.

Amari Cooper has a huge impact on the game as well. Caught four first downs while going over 100 yards on seven catches himself. He sparked the offense with his big run after the catch toward the end of the game, and has done that for 11 weeks.

For years the Cowboys front office tried to have an updated version of Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin, with little success. But with the 2018’s version of The Triplets all under 25 and still on their rookie contracts, they’ve finally found three players who can be what the Triplets if the 90’s were to the Cowboys of the 90’s.

Prediction

This is a really hard game to pick. All week I’ve been working to not let the fan in me take over. I’ve attempted to maintain a sense of rationality with this game. Every time I think about the game, I just get the feeling the Cowboys win.

The Cowboys offense can win on the ground and through the air against the Rams defense.

We’ve seen this defense take over games like they did against the Saints. They have the mix of speed, physicality, and heart to play with a team as explosive as the Los Angeles Rams.

The Cowboys have the offensive and defensive formula to win this time of year. They run the ball, hit explosive plays in the passing game, and eat up large portions of the game clock. On defense they can get pressure with their front four and have a team that rallies to the ball and makes plays.

So with that, I see the Cowboys coming away with yet again, a close victory.

Cowboys 26 - Rams 20



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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Game Notes

Jason Garrett’s Decision Making Stands Out in Playoff Loss

John Williams

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Distancing Themselves from HC Jason Garrett? 2

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.

Here's why.

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.

Declining Penalties

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.

Ball game.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

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.



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Game Notes

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly From Cowboys Divisional Round Loss

Brian Martin

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The Good, Bad, and 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.

The Good

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

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.

The Bad

C. J. Anderson

Los Angeles Rams RB C. J. Anderson (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

The Ugly

Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

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?



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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Run Defense, 4th Down Decision End Season in Los Angeles

Sean Martin

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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.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

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.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Run Defense, 4th Down Decision End Season in Los Angeles" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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