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Option Reads: Was Scott Linehan An Effective Play-Caller Against Giants?

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Should Scott Linehan's Playcalling Be Questioned?

The Dallas Cowboys were nearly able to do just enough to come away with a victory against the New York Giants to kick off the 2016 season, but ultimately failed in the last few seconds of the game.

If you are anything like me, you are left with more questions than answers after the completion of the game against the Giants. There are a lot of things that worked well, but in the end it wasn't enough.

The Dallas Cowboys were able to win the time of possession battle, they created more turnovers than the Giants, had more total yards, and more quarterback sacks, yet still managed to lose in the end. Usually, when a team wins in those areas of the game it usually results in a W in the win column.

That simply wasn't the case Sunday afternoon against the Giants and I honestly think it has a lot to do with the playcalling of offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.

Below are just a few examples of why I question Linehan's playcalling against the Giants.

Failure to adjust in the running game

Cowboys Headlines - Should Scott Linehan's Playcalling Be Questioned? 1We all knew coming into this game that the New York Giants were going to try to stack the box and shut down the Cowboys running game.

What we didn't know was that Scott Linehan would continue to call running plays that were designed to attack the strength of the Giants defense.

Ezekiel Elliott and even Alfred Morris are at their best when they are running outside zone, where they can attack the outside edge of opposing defenses and then find the cutback lane if there is one.

For some reason, Linehan kept calling inside zone plays which was running right into the "meat" of the Giants defense. Jonathan Hankins (320) and Damon Harrison (350) shut down the inside runs and clogged up the middle of the field with their size alone.

Elliott's best run of the night was a quick pitch where he was able to use his speed to get to the outside and run away from the middle of the Giants defense.

You would've thought that Linehan would continue to attack the edge of the Giants defense with more outside zone plays or swing passes to get the running backs out in space, but for some reason or another he failed to make the adjustment.

Dez Bryant's lack of involvement

Cowboys Headlines - 10 Takeaways From The Cowboys Season-Opening Loss To The GiantsThe failure to make adjustments in the running game might've been the most questionable in regards to Scott Linehan's playcalling, but the failure to get Dez Bryant involved in the game is a close second.

Bryant was only targeted a handful of times and ended the night with only one catch for 8 yards.  That is simply unacceptable for a number one wide receiver in the NFL, let alone for someone with Bryant's talents.

Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams, Geoff Swaim, Brice Butler, and Lance Dunbar all finished with more receiving yards than Bryant.

Scratching your head yet?

Bryant is at his best when he can get a few catches early. The fact that most of his targets were deep passes where he was asked to win in jump ball situations is questionable to say the least.

He needed to be targeted much more often with short to intermediate passes to get him going. He is dangerous all over the field when he has the ball in his hands.

Red zone woes continue

Cowboys Headlines - 10 Takeaways From The Cowboys Season-Opening Loss To The Giants 1The Dallas Cowboys have struggled in the red zone since Scott Linehan has taken over as the offensive coordinator, so I guess it really shouldn't come too much of a surprise that they continue to find ways to disappoint in this area.

It really astounds me that this is still an area of concern with all of the offensive weapons Linehan has at his disposal. Other teams around the NFL are able to be successful in the red zone with a lot less to work with.

Yes, he was working with a rookie quarterback, but Dak Prescott not only looked like a veteran QB Sunday afternoon but can be a threat in that it area as well.

Prescott has the unique ability to make plays with both his arm and his legs. I would've liked to have seen him get a chance to show this skill set in not only the red zone, but in different areas of the field as well.

This is definitely an area the Cowboys need to work on in practice. Hopefully things improve as the season progresses.

What do you think of Scott Linehan's playcalling against the Giants?

Please feel free to use the comment section below to share your thoughts and opinions on this topic. I look forward to opening up the discussion and hearing all of your responses.



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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22 Comments

22 Comments

  1. Sal Sanchez

    September 13, 2016 at 8:13 am

    Linehan REALLY SUCKED SUNDAY HE NEEDS TO STEP IT UP OR STEP OUT…DESIGN PLAYS TO OUR PLAYERS STRENGTHS ..IF A DEFENSE IS HIP..CHANGE IT UP!! Cmon man!

    • Brian Martin

      Brian Martin

      September 13, 2016 at 9:43 am

      Sal, I agree with everything you said. I was excited when Linehan first became the offensive coordinator, but he has failed to live up to my expectations. He needs to do a much better job of finding the best way to attack defenses. I don’t know if it’s just me, but I think he has become somewhat predictable.

    • Bryson Treece

      Bryson Treece

      September 13, 2016 at 11:04 am

      I have to agree. I was frustrated from the fourth running play on during Sunday’s game. The offense was so vanilla and the Giants just saw every run up the middle coming. Okay, so new QB, might not want to get too fancy. That could explain why the passing game was what it was. I was just frustrated. Conservative is not a team with Dez, Cole, Jason, Zeke, that offensive line. Linehan needs to realize that fast. Linehan needs to call the appropriate plays and give his guys a chance to surprise him. Just my two…

      • Brian Martin

        Brian Martin

        September 13, 2016 at 12:48 pm

        100% agree. I think Linehan has become somewhat predictable and conservative. Maybe that’s because he doesn’t have Tony Romo, but you can’t continue to play conservatively with all of the weapons the Cowboys offense has. Not if you actually want to win games. Linehan failed to make adjustments and continued to play to the strengths of the Giants defense. They didn’t have to worry about the down the field passing game, so they could continue to stack the box and keep plays in front of them. It was frustrating to watch and not hope that’s not what we continue to see.

  2. Jeff Cook

    September 13, 2016 at 12:11 pm

    I totally agree some people want to blame the D for not getting much pass rush but I feel the D played good enough to win this game and was actually better then the Giants D but the Offensive play calling sucked just like last year its like they are afraid to win a game with a QB besides Romo maybe they are afraid Dak will do better than Romo and create a QB controversy. Now they did great at controlling ball and time of possession however that only works when you have at least a 2 TD lead not a 2 FG lead because like we saw this game it only takes 1 play from your opponent to take the lead and you would think a guy from an Ivy league school could figure that out with just a little math lol

    • Brian Martin

      Brian Martin

      September 13, 2016 at 12:51 pm

      Jeff, I completely agree. Linehan is calling plays conservatively and not taking many chances. It’s almost like they are trying to make it easy on the QB to help prevent against turnovers or something. I don’t know, but if this is what we continue to see in 2016 and the Cowboys are in trouble. Things definitely need to change.

  3. Mike Young

    September 13, 2016 at 4:43 pm

    I’ve got to agree Cowboys were out-coached by a wide margin. I blind man could see by the 3rd quarter that running at teeth of Giants defensive line was ineffective. Zeke is a tremendous weapon in space but little variation in plays called to get him there. Same with Dez little persistence to get him the ball in space. Alond with defenses inability to stop the run were the key reason Cowboys lost this one.

    • Brian Martin

      Brian Martin

      September 13, 2016 at 5:06 pm

      Mike, thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. The coaching staff actually had a good game plan for the Giants, but unfortunately they just didn’t make any adjustments when certain things weren’t working. To keep running into the strength of the Giants defense was mind-boggling and to not get Dez Bryant more involved was questionable as well. They did enough to win the game, but needed to execute better. If Beasley would’ve caught that one poorly thrown pass it would’ve been a walk-in touchdown and Bryant nearly had another TD but failed to secure the catch all the way to the ground. Let’s just hope this isn’t a sign of things to come.

      • Eric Welly

        September 15, 2016 at 9:28 pm

        Let’s run directly at the 350lb guy they call “Snacks” instead of forcing Snacks to chase cheese all day. Last thing is how did Morris get to the 2nd level? Made it look easy running under center, shotgun is not going to work for Dak until the running game goes off, besides it’s really hard to run playaction, slants and screens out of shotgun. Asking the kid to think instead of react, he looked good when our offense was vanilla.

        • Brian Martin

          Brian Martin

          September 16, 2016 at 9:15 am

          Eric, I was thinking the same thing the entire game. They continue to attack the “meat” of the Giants defense for some unknown reason. I reviewed the tape and Morris was more successful because he was more patient as a runner. He allowed the lineman just a little longer to secure their blocks a little better and because that had better running lanes to go through. And I agree about Prescott. They need to just let him cut loose. Quit game planning to not lose and game plan to win.

  4. roger stiles

    September 13, 2016 at 9:43 pm

    The Cowboys almost always call a running play on 2nd down after an incomplete pass on 1st down. They are predictable and why they call a 2 yard pass play to Witten when he can’t run anymore or break tackles. Screen pass to Witten? Crazy.

    • Brian Martin

      Brian Martin

      September 14, 2016 at 8:56 am

      Roger you make a great point. I also think that they have become pretty predictable with their playcalling.

  5. Mike Young

    September 14, 2016 at 10:12 am

    It was amazing how Cowboys were able to move the ball early so the game plan was effective but as you said not many adjustments once the Giants figured out what they were doing. And yes incompletions to Beasley and Bryant in red zone turned out to be huge differences in the final results. Looking for better play from the O-Line and the ‘Boys run game to have better results against the ‘Skins. It will also be interesting to see if Dez can get open against the ‘Skins secondary. Visa versa can Cowboys D stop Kirk Cousins and his aerial attack? Go D-Boys!

    • Brian Martin

      Brian Martin

      September 14, 2016 at 11:36 am

      Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment Mike. It was a conservative game plan to help limit Prescott from making mistakes. It worked early and allowed the Cowboys to move the ball, but I would like to see them allow Prescott to take a little more chances. You can’t expect to win many games with the conservative approach. I’m hoping things look different against the Redskins.

  6. TRUE BLUE

    September 14, 2016 at 5:17 pm

    Scott Linehan no longer has the capabilities to coach in today’s NFL..Maybe if the base defense was the old Buddy Ryan 46 defense…Even with Romo he doesn’t knows how to attack a defense with all of our weapons. If Romo was healthy we will still finish 8 and 8..

    • Brian Martin

      Brian Martin

      September 14, 2016 at 5:48 pm

      True Blue, I would like to disagree with you but I think you might be right. I initially thought Linehan would be a good offensive coordinator when he joined the Cowboys. When in Detroit he was able to get Calvin Johnson the ball despite being double and triple covered, but has failed to do so with Dez Bryant here in Dallas. I don’t know if Jason Garrett has any influence over the game plan or if it all falls on Linehan, but something definitely needs to change. The Cowboys offense simply has too many weapons to play conservatively like they did against the Giants.

  7. david snyder

    September 14, 2016 at 7:10 pm

    s and possibly an interception than the vanilla play calls that were being made.let Dak play do some roll outs and move the pocket ,he throws well on the run.screens to Dez ,Brice,Lucky,Zeke,…. just saying go boys

    • Brian Martin

      Brian Martin

      September 14, 2016 at 7:32 pm

      Thanks for commenting David. I agree with you that they need to just let Dak play. They called a conservative game plan in order to protect him from making mistakes, but that also limited any big plays. Unfortunately, that played right into the game plan for the Giants defense. Hopefully things will change against the Redskins.

  8. Eric Welly

    September 15, 2016 at 6:55 pm

    Out coached…Take what they give and they gave them the game.
    Who’d think Dez and Dunbar would tie for receptions and Beasly would catch more than Dez was targeted…hmmmm, Lenihan seems a bit skiddish or did JG get in the way, wouldn’t be the first time the RedHeadedGenius shot us in the foot.

    I like Z, but a rook is a rook and a rook with a no contact offseason, should be eazed into the game by sharing series with his 2 capable veteran RBs.

    Whatever the gameplan was against Seattle, would be the blueprint. Apparently they didn’t have enough time when Romo went down to make the gameplan Dak friendly like against the Giants. Way to much thinkin’ on both sides of the ball.

    Let Dak loose, Morris\Dunbar are easy set-up guys early, Z will get his in 2nd halves, Dez needs 5 targets a quarter until the O is rolling. Please please put Dak under center and give him a TE\FB and let him play behind that line.

    Defense wasn’t terrible for a bunch of guys playing into shape, rotations wise they got some pressure and held the run pretty well. the missed no brainer from the refs on the Cruz TD.

    Game was there all day for the taking, I wonder if we had gotten down 2 or 3 scores if they would have opened it up.

    • Brian Martin

      Brian Martin

      September 15, 2016 at 8:02 pm

      Eric, I appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment. I 100% agree with everything you said. I honestly have nothing to add. I think you hit the nail the head.

  9. Erebustx

    December 12, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    I like Linnehan. I really do. I just think he’s become incredibly predictable, and I worry that neither he, nor Garrett have realized that because it’s not like this is a new thing. He’s been relatively predictable since 2014. Or at least, to ME he has. Seems like our offensive drives are ultimately determined by the 1st play, which is a run probably 95% of the time (and that’s fine). But if Zeke fails to get at least 6 or 7 yards, Linnehan has a bad tendency to abandon the run altogether for the remainder of the drive. Even going so far as to pass the ball our of shotgun on 3rd and short, without even putting a running back in the backfield to make defenses think we MIGHT run the ball. I watch it play out in every game. Run, pass, pass. Run, pass, pass. Run, pass, pass. So on and so forth. Defenses know that if we’re in single-back that we’re running the ball. Shotgun? Pass play. Even IF we run out of shotgun (which is generally useless), defenses don’t need to stack the box because they know that Zeke can’t get the kind of momentum he needs.

    I feel like due to the insane amount of talent we have on offense, we’re winning games in SPITE of Linnehan’s questionable play-calling.

    I’d like to see more pass plays ran out of single-back and I-formation, that way defenses stay guessing. And quite frankly, we need to do a better job of playing to our STRENGTH, which is pounding the rock. Don’t send Zeke home after the 1st play of the drive if he doesn’t get 8 yards. Run it again. 2nd and long shouldn’t keep you from running the ball. In fact, I would recommend it.

    Hopefully, Linnehan will do a little honest self-scouting and resolve this issue. If not, is there any chance of getting Norv Turner?

    • Brian Martin

      Brian Martin

      December 12, 2016 at 2:38 pm

      I completely agree with everything you said. I’ve never been a big Linehan fan. Here lately it seems as if he’s kind of abandoned what was working for them earlier in the season and trying to go to a more down the field passing team. Hopefully he can get back to the drawing board this weekend figure out what works.

      • Erebustx

        December 16, 2016 at 1:23 pm

        I wonder how much of that is geared towards keeping Zeke fresh for the playoffs? If that’s the case, I now question his ability to focus on FIRST, winning the game at hand.

        We may have secured A playoff spot, but a first round bye would do more for Zeke’s legs than 10 more carries would.

        Idk. Maybe I’m just old school. Linnehan’s “pass to set up the run” philosophy is a little bass backwards, imo. Especially when you have a rookie QB, Ezekiel Elliot, and the best o-line in the NFL.

        • Brian Martin

          Brian Martin

          December 16, 2016 at 3:15 pm

          You’re certainly not alone. I guess I have that same old-school mentality as well. The Cowboys offense is best suited to run the football and I think they need to do that with the heavy dosage of Ezekiel Elliott with either Alfred Morris or Darren McFadden filling in. I’m personally not a big fan of using Dunbar.

          • Erebustx

            December 21, 2016 at 8:42 am

            The Dunbar situation is a little tricky for me because although I like him (only in obvious passing situations), I still have a hard time imagining a scenario where I’d rather have him on the field than Elliott or Morris.

            On a positive note, I did see one…I repeat…ONE designed pass play from under center where they didn’t use play action. Not that I don’t like play actions passes. I love them, but I think a bigger repertoire of plays from single-back and I-formation would do us a lot of good. Especially if we didn’t limit those formations to 1st down, only.

            Like I said, it just bothers me that a normal guy like me can know with near absolute certainly whether we’re going to run or pass based on our formation. That and the fact that running the ball seems like a chore, or a “necessary evil” to Linnehan lol.

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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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