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Red Zone Blues: Analyzing the Cowboys Week 1 Scoring Struggles

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Red Zone Blues: Analyzing the Cowboys Week 1 Scoring Struggles 3

It is such a simple concept, but yet such an important one in the National Football League. Scoring touchdowns will always win you more games as opposed to kicking field goals. We hear this as fans all the time, particularly when it comes to an offense playing within the opponent's 20-yard line - the red zone.

Coming away with seven instead of three in this scoring area was a problem all last season when the Cowboys had difficulty running the ball in tight yardage situations against suspecting defenses that played with little respect for the Cowboys infinitely sad rotation of backup quarterbacks Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassel, or Kellen Moore.

Unfortunately for them in week 1, this issue carried over against the Giants even with Dak Prescott at quarterback, who presents both a legitimate passing and running threat.

In the one point loss, the Dallas Cowboys came away with just one touchdown on three red zone chances. Let's look at each possession to further understand why they came up just short.

First Quarter: Missed Opportunities on the Opening Drive

Dallas actually found themselves in first and goal from the ten, which is the hardest red zone look to convert. Still this drive will be remembered as one that certainly should have ended in a touchdown, as Cole Beasley dropped a pass over the middle on first and goal that would have seen him walk in for a score.

 

Cowboys Headlines - Red Zone Blues: Analyzing the Cowboys Week 1 Scoring Struggles

 

Prescott made the right second read by throwing to Beasley breaking over the middle, but unfortunately didn't make the perfect throw. Beasley, who was called upon throughout the game to make plenty of big plays (targeted 12 times), would certainly want to get this play back - as the ball was just slightly too high, but still in his hands. Dak also had Dez Bryant breaking off the snap for an easy throw that we likely see Tony Romo make, but Prescott didn't pull the trigger.

On the next two plays, the ball ended up in the hands of Ezekiel Elliott. The interior of this team's offensive line did not play great all game, but on Zeke's second down carry, Collins, Frederick, and Martin all did a fantastic job.

The play gained five yards, and it could have went for more if not for Jonathan Hankins powering through RT Doug Free to make the stop in the gap.

Finally, on third down, the Giants played textbook coverage to force a check down throw to Elliott. Prescott delivered the ball with some good touch, but Jonathan Casillas just made a great tackle before he could turn the corner and potentially fight for the pylon.

Second Quarter: Dez Bryant's Overturned Touchdown

Another play that will be remembered from this game was the overturned touchdown pass to Dez Bryant in the second quarter. New York had just taken the lead, so Bryant's touchdown would have swung momentum back towards Dallas.

What might not be talked about as much is the fact that Dak Prescott was able to keep this scoring chance alive on the very next play, rushing for a first down on the read option, before the drive stalled.

On the ensuing set of downs, Elliott received the first down touch to the outside. The Cowboys did a decent job of sealing things off against a loaded box, but La'el Collins was overpowered once the play became too stretched out.


The next play would prove to be the back breaker (get well soon, Tony Romo), as Doug Free had one of his worst pass blocking sets of the game.

 

Cowboys Headlines - Red Zone Blues: Analyzing the Cowboys Week 1 Scoring Struggles 1

 

Jason Pierre-Paul beat Free to the inside, giving the DE a free run at Dak Prescott. With nowhere to quickly go with the ball, Prescott was forced to run for his life and shuffle the ball incomplete to Jason Witten.

Overall, the Giants had this played pretty well in the secondary, but with a clean pocket I believe Prescott would have had time to find Dez Bryant running to the corner of the end zone - breaking away from Janoris Jenkins.

With time to throw on third down, Dak delivered a strike to Witten which was caught just short of the first down, bringing on Dan Bailey once again.

Third Time's the Charm: Ezekiel Elliott's Touchdown

A rare Brandon Carr interception in the third quarter finally set up a Cowboys touchdown, as Zeke Elliott found the end zone in his rookie debut for the first time.

The play calling was great throughout this drive, as Elliott was also responsible for the run that put Dallas inside the 20. Running on one of this team's favorite run plays, the toss sweep, Elliott moved the chains on a second and ten from the 23.

Like his ensuing touchdown run, this play served as an example for why Elliott was brought to Dallas - his ability to accelerate and do damage at the second level.

 

Cowboys Headlines - Red Zone Blues: Analyzing the Cowboys Week 1 Scoring Struggles 2

 

This scoring play was well blocked across the board at the point of attack by the Cowboys, and Elliott stuck his foot in the ground and did the rest by cutting back and finding a seam to the end zone. It was an electrifying play in an otherwise dull debut for #21, as the Giants won the vast majority of the battles in the trenches.


The Cowboys are in danger of starting the season at 0-2 both overall and in the division with a loss on Sunday on the road in Washington. The simplest area to look in terms of improvements from week 1 that will help them get this win is scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

More eyes will be on Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan this week to put his players in the best situations to succeed. Dez Bryant must be targeted more, and make some plays to help out his rookie quarterback.

The running game is only going to improve as the passing game becomes a consistent threat from the Cowboys, but there should also be more room to run for Elliott and former-Redskin Alfred Morris as the offensive line play improves.

Whether or not all of these things come together for a Dallas win on Sunday is obviously yet to be determined, but we should be in for another tight NFC East battle.

Do you expect the Cowboys to turn things around in the red zone and blow past the Redskins? Comment below to share your thoughts, or email Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com!

Tell us what you think about "Red Zone Blues: Analyzing the Cowboys Week 1 Scoring Struggles" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Game Notes

DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win

Kevin Brady

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Kerry Hyder

Kerry Hyder joined the Cowboys this offseason on a one year deal, and while the four-year NFL veteran has put up some solid tape in his time around the league, it was hard to project just what he could bring to the Cowboys defense.

Listed at 6'2" 270 pounds, Hyder is a bit of a tweener on the defensive line. Though the answer to "will he play tackle or end" seems to be "both" to this point in the preseason.

As he fights for his life on this deep defensive line, Kerry Hyder had himself a day in the Cowboys 14-10 victory over the Rams last weekend.

Hyder made an excellent play defending a screen pass in the first quarter, reading the play perfectly and reacting quickly to running back Darrell Henderson coming out of the backfield. Hyder also created some pressure on the quarterback, and finished with 3 combined tackles in very limited playing time.

Hyder's versatility is working well for him as he looks to make the final roster. Like a Tyrone Crawford type player, Hyder will be able to move inside and out depending on the situation. This allows the Cowboys to be flexible in how they structure their depth chart on defense, and in how they decide to rush the passer on third down.


A pass rushing package involving Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge with the combination of Hyder and Maliek Collins on the inside could turn out to be a very dangerous one for opposing offenses to deal with.

Rod Marinelli spoke to this versatility a couple of months ago, showing just how much he values what Kerry Hyder can bring to this team.

"Maybe you adjust him sometime, once in a while – in a one-on-one pass rush situation, stick him over a guard and start to get a feel for it.” - Rod Marinelli

Earlier this offseason, I wrote that Kerry Hyder could end up being Rod Marinelli's next great under-the-radar find on the defensive line. And if he continues to play with the hustle and awareness that he had on Saturday, he's going to make Rod look very smart in his evaluation.

Kerry Hyder is making it very difficult for the front office to let him go. And, at the end of the preseason, I do expect Kerry Hyder to find himself on the Cowboys' active roster. Especially considering how Mike White is playing at quarterback, and how his release could open up an extra spot at a different position group.


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#DALvsRAMS: Tony Pollard Proves he’s no Longer Darrell Henderson’s Backup

Brian Martin

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#DALvsRAMS: Tony Pollard Proves he's no Longer Darrell Henderson's Backup

For the better part of three years Tony Pollard was forced to play second fiddle to Darrell Henderson during their time with the Memphis Tigers. But, Saturday night in the second week of preseason Pollard emerged from the shadows and proved he's no longer Henderson's backup.

Tony Pollard put on an impressive show Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams. He touched the ball a total of six times and turned it into 51 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 42 yards on the ground, averaging 8.4 yards per carry, and had one reception for 9 yards. All in all it was an impressive performance and one that arguably outdid his former teammate, Darrell Henderson.

Tony Pollard is starting to look like a real weapon for the Dallas Cowboys. It's still a small sample size, but in the first two preseason games he's proven the jump up in competition isn't too big for him. As a runner he's been decisive, picking up what yardage is given and not dancing around. He hasn't been utilized much in the passing game yet, but that time will come.

The Dallas Cowboys couldn't be happier with the way their rookie RB has performed thus far. He's everything they've said he was, and quite possibly much more. Maybe those Alvin Kamara comparisons weren't that far off after all.


We all know Ezekiel Elliott will return to the Dallas Cowboys at some point, but for now Tony Pollard doesn't look completely out of place as their lead back. He still needs to work on his pass protection, but everything else he's been asked to do he's excelled at.

I don't know about you, but I'm excited about seeing what No. 36 can do when these games start to matter in 2019. He will once again have to accept a backup role like he did behind Darrell Henderson in college, but you can bet the Cowboys coaching staff will reward him based on his play so far in preseason.

Pollard's versatility to be a weapon as both a runner and receiver in the passing game should make him a unique chess piece in the offensive game plan each and every week. He's been exciting to watch so far and we haven't even seen him in the return game yet, which was a big part of his game in college. I'm personally expecting big things from him this season. What about you?

What do you think of Tony Pollard's preseason performance so far?


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The Brady Report: Tony Pollard, Devin Smith Steal The Show On Offense

Kevin Brady

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The Brady Report: Tony Pollard, Devin Smith Steal The Show On Offense

The Dallas Cowboys earned their first win of the 2019 preseason on Saturday night, defeating the Los Angeles Rams 14-10 in Hawaii.

Despite the low scoring affair, there were certainly standout performances from both offensive and defensive players for Dallas. Some who are looking to earn a roster spot, and others who are rather solidified in their place with the team.


Let's get into some of my game notes from the Cowboys preseason victory.

  • Tony Pollard. I mean, I've said enough right? The rookie running back was awesome in his one drive of action Saturday night, rushing 5 times for 42 yards and a touchdown on the team's opening possession. Pollard was decisive, patient, and comfortable in the zone blocking scheme, and seemed to know exactly where and how to run on each rep. Pollard is looking like a complete back, rather than just a receiving threat for the Cowboys offense going forward.
  • While undrafted free agents Jon'Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton have garnered much of the attention, it was Devin Smith who impressed the most out of all the Cowboys' down-roster receivers this week. He caught 3 balls for just 24 yards, but had a fantastic touchdown grab from Cooper Rush in the third quarter.
  • Speaking of Cooper Rush, he's your backup quarterback for the 2019 season. The coaching staff gave Mike White a chance to work with the 2's this week, allowing him equal ground for competition with Rush. But even with this opportunity, Mike White did not play well whatsoever. He's indecisive in the pocket, abandons clean protection, runs into pressure, and just looks kind of lost out there. Hopefully White can improve, but Rush is certainly deserving of the QB2 spot going forward.
  • While Rush solidified his position as the QB2, QB1 Dak Prescott led another impressive drive on Saturday night. Prescott has command in the pocket and of the entire offense, and he orchestrated an excellent touchdown drive in his own possession this week. Prescott went 5/5 for 64 yards, but the highlight of the game for Prescott was his third and seven completion for 31 of those yards to Michael Gallup. He and Gallup seem to be connecting this preseason, and if that's going to happen regularly, look out.
  • Now to the defense. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins continues to show signs that 2019 could be a career season for him. He was disruptive in limited playing time this week, and showcased a scary spin move on the inside. He can be an electric interior pass rusher for the Cowboys, and he looks to be "putting it all together" this year.
  • Jourdan Lewis is too good to rot away on the bench, guys. Though he did get beat for decent completion in the first half, Lewis was also sound as a tackler and sticky in coverage once again this week. Lewis looks to be playing at the highest level we've seen from him yet, but once Byron Jones comes back he may not be getting the playing time he'd easily earn elsewhere. Dallas has a bit of an embarrassment of riches at cornerback right now, and Lewis just needs to keep competing every week.
  • Lewis' Michigan teammate Taco Charlton had a decent night himself. While Dorance Armstrong has been the talk of the town at defensive end, Charlton deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage and was credited with 2 quarterback hits against the Rams. He wasn't creating the level of pressure you'd hope to see out of a former first round pick playing that deep into a preseason game, but you can tell he's looking a bit better as of late. Still, there's a whole heap of defensive ends on this roster who are flat out better than him right now.
  • The Cowboys linebackers showed up to play on Saturday night. Of course, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander-Esch are who they are, but Justin March-Lillard led the team in tackles with 6, and Justin Phillips came away with an exceptional interception in the third quarter. He made a play on the ball that you don't expect to see from any linebacker, let alone someone of his roster status. This is a really deep linebacker room, and there's a strong chance the Cowboys will have to let go of a good player.


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