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Game Notes

Rocky Mountain Low; Duel with Denver Ends in Disappointment



Cowboys Blog - Rocky Mountain Low; Duel with Denver Ends in Disappointment 1

The Cowboys have defeated a seemingly unbeatable Peyton Manning team in the past and were hoping history would repeat itself on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.

History did repeat itself, but in the last way that Tony Romo and the Cowboys intended it to.

Despite a historic day from Romo, a performance which saw him go 25-36 for a franchise record 506 yards, everyone's focus will be on his costly interception deep in Dallas territory that set a game winning Denver Broncos field goal as time expired.

Just before the two minute warning - and with the game knotted at 48-48 - Romo's pass, intended for TE Gavin Escobar, landed in the hands of LB Danny Trevathan at the Dallas 24. Manning took advantage of the short field, setting up Denver's kicker Matt Prater for a game winning 28 yard field goal, giving the Broncos an insane 51-48. The 99 points accounted for by the two teams tied for the 4th highest scoring output by two teams in NFL history.

The attention of the NFL nation will undoubtedly linger on Romo's deadly interception, but could the situation have been avoided entirely?

For example, Dallas's defense -  still reeling after the dreadful San Diego game - allowed Denver to score on six consecutive possessions, including five straight touchdowns, after forcing a turnover on their opening drive. In addition, the offense might have lost the game in the 1st half on two separate occasions. After taking a 14-7 lead into the 2nd quarter, the Cowboys drove into the Denver red zone poised to score again, but a 17 yard sack by Denver LB Shaun Phillips, his first of two on the day, forced Dan Bailey to kick a field goal to put them up 17-7, a lead that was quickly trimmed by another Denver touchdown.

On the next Dallas possession, WR Dez Bryant had a first down, but was stripped of the ball by CB Kayvon Webster. Denver scored on the ensuing drive, giving them a lead they wouldn't relinquish until the second half.

While no one expected the defense to completely shut down Peyton Manning's powerful offense, they could have done a lot better. There was rarely, if ever, pressure on Manning, and the one time they did  put pressure on the Denver QB, DE George Selvie was whistled for a facemask penalty.

Numerous other careless penalties, which ranged from pass interferences to neutral zone infractions, kept Denver drives and gave the high octane offense the last thing they needed: free yardage. Despite allowing him a touchdown, the Cowboys were able to hold WR Wes Welker to pedestrian numbers (5 receptions, 49 yards), likewise with Demaryius Thomas (5 receptions, 57 yards, 0 TD's).

The problem was, however, Denver's other receivers stepped it up big time. TE Julius Thomas has made huge strides with fellow TE's Jacob Tamme and Joel Dressen hurting this season. The 3rd year vet had 9 receptions, leading all receivers, and scored 2 touchdowns. Eric Decker recovered from his fumble, the aforementioned turnover on the Broncos' first drive to have a soid day (5 receptions, 87 yards, 1 TD). CB Morris Claiborne had an interception that changed the course of the game, but work still needs to be done. Claiborne allowed a 57 yard Decker reception early in the first half that set Denver's first touchdown up. The defense also allowed RB Knowshon Moreno to look like Terrell Davis. Moreno finished the game with 150 total yards (93 rushing, 57 receiving) and one touchdown. As for the honorable Mr. Manning, he finished his day 33-42, 414 yards, with 4 touchdowns. His four touchdowns give him 20 on the season, reaching that plateau faster than any previous QB in NFL history, though he did see his interception-free streak end.

Despite the loss, there are several silver linings to take out of this thriller. The Cowboys do have to feel good about themselves for keeping up with a Denver Broncos team that has a realistic chance at perfection (it sure isn't ending next week, as the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars take a hike up to Mile High). Despite the costly pick, it's nice to see Romo back to throwing the deep ball. After failing to throw for 300 yards in the four games of the season, Romo tallied 506, shattering Don Meredith's 50 year old record of 460. Romo found eight different receivers on the day and had five touchdown passes. While many were to the usual suspects like Bryant (6 receptions, 141 yards, 2 TD's) and TE Jason Witten, who had his best game in a long time (7 receptions, 121 yards, 1 TD), it was a pair of newcomers that stood out.

It had been a rude welcome to the NFL for WR Terrence Williams, Dallas's 2013 3rd round pick out of Baylor. The receiver's wrong route gave Romo his first (and, before Sunday, only) interception of the season on opening night against the Giants, and his fumble at the Chargers' one yard line late in the game killed any hope of a Dallas comeback. Today, though, Williams stepped it up. With Miles Austin missing his second straight game, caught the ball all four times he was targeted, picking up 141 yards, leading all receivers. He also scored his first NFL touchdown, and 82 yard hook up that brought Dallas back in the game in the 3rd quarter, and also scored on a two point conversion that gave Dallas a brief lead.

Likewise, Cole Beasley turned a few heads as well. Beasley joined the Cowboys in 2012 as an undrafted free agent, and played 10 games for the team last season after making the 53 man roster. He had not done much this season before Sunday (He did not play in the Giants game and had just 4 receptions for 23 yards coming in), but Beasley had 4 receptions for 47 yards and also scored his first NFL touchdown on a four yard throw from Romo, Dallas's final score of the game.

If anything, the Cowboys simply drove home the point that they are the class of a weak NFC East. At 2-3, they currently are tied for first with the Philadelphia Eagles (who more or less knocked the New York Giants out of playoff contention with a 36-21 win earlier in the afternoon), but gave Denver a challenge no other team has given them this year. Sure, the winner of the NFC East is basically playing for the right to have their butt whooped by San Francisco, Chicago or Green Bay in the wild card round, but a playoff appearance would be progress for these Cowboys.

The Cowboys, 2-1 at AT&T Stadium after Sunday's loss, will stay put for next week's game, a tilt with their divisional rival, the Washington Redskins. It will be the Cowboys' second appearance  on NBC's Sunday Night Football, their first being the aforementioned win over the Giants in Week 1. The Redskins enjoyed their bye week this past Sunday, but felt a little better going into it after picking up their first win two weeks ago, a 24-14 decision over the Oakland Raiders. Last season, the Skins swept the annual season series over the Cowboys for the first time since 2005, including one of Romo's most recent choke games, throwing three interceptions in the de facto NFC East title game that sent the Cowboys home for the winter. No doubt revenge will be on their mind as the Skins descend on Arlington.

Check back later this week for my Cowboys-Redskins preview!

  • Ken

    Bottom line-money on the table Tony comes up small-again.

    “If anything, the Cowboys simply drove home the point that they are the class of a weak NFC East. At 2-3, they currently are tied for first with the Philadelphia Eagles (who more or less knocked the New York Giants out of playoff contention with a 36-21 win earlier in the afternoon), but gave Denver a challenge no other team has given them this year”

    All I can say to that is: In the land of the blind the one eyed man is king. NFC East is the worst division in football.

    Enjoyable read though.

  • John

    Nice article. Maybe a weak NFC East, but still in the lead. Washington will be another test of Kiffen’s defense. Failed miserably against Denver. One punt in the game and the Cowboys win that one.

Game Notes

Byron Jones Has Been The Cowboys’ Best Player, And Here’s Why

Kevin Brady



Byron Jones
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

For a former first round pick, Byron Jones has had to prove himself to the Cowboys fan base quite a few times.

As a rookie Jones was impressive, flashing just how high a ceiling he had. Jones split some time between cornerback and safety due to injury and inconsistencies of his secondary mates, but he excelled in both roles.

As his career continued, Byron Jones continued to do what he does best. Jones became the Cowboys' tight end eraser, matching up with some of the best in the league and downright shutting them down. Over time, however, the coaching staff began to misuse Jones a bit. Moving him to safety full time but still wanting him to use those tight end coverage skills, Dallas started to move Jones into the box more often.

That, especially in 2017, is where Byron Jones struggled the most. Being utilized as a box safety put Jones' weaknesses as a physical tackler on full display, and left him open for fans' criticism.

Luckily for both Jones and the Cowboys, new passing game coordinator Kris Richard values him as a cornerback, where he will spend the rest of his career in Dallas. And, thus far, the returns on that move have been fantastic.

PFF DAL Cowboys on Twitter

After 3 weeks, Byron Jones has the highest season defensive grade among CBs with a 91.0. Jones is tied for the 7th highest defense grade among all defensive players with at least 50 snaps. #CowboysNation Be a PFF ELITE member to check out stats and more:

Pro Football Focus has graded Byron Jones out as the league's best cornerback through three games, and the 7th best defensive player overall. Against the Seahawks last week, Jones allowed just 3 catches for 10 yards when he was the primary defender. He also came away with two pass breakups against veteran wide out Brandon Marshall, and was one of the few positives from the horrible loss.

dalvssea2018 byron jones first

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On the Seahawks' opening drive they faced a third down and five deep in their own territory. Seattle has a bunch formation to the right with Marshall locked up in man coverage at the bottom of the screen.

The Cowboys bring a blitz, leaving Jones on an island against Marshall. Russell Wilson initially looks towards the bunch side of the formation, but quickly works back to Marshall on a shallow crosser. Byron stays sticky in coverage on his backside hip, and deflects the ball away at the catch point.

Even if Marshall were to catch this, Jones was right there to stop him short of the sticks.

dalvssea2018 byron jones

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Later in the game the Seahawks tried to allow Marshall to beat Jones with his size. Marshall tries to get physical with Jones here, and wants to body him on a back shoulder fade. Jones shows no backdown, trading blows with Marshall at the line of scrimmage and effecting his get-off.

Still, Marshall is bigger than Jones and is able to create some separation towards the sideline. Jones does a nice job of recovering from this physicality, however, and gets himself back into a position to make a play on the ball. Even though he was initially boxed out, Jones's awareness to get a hand on the ball shines through here.

This goes down as Jones' first of two pass breakups on the day.

dalvssea2018 byron jones 2

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Here's the second one, once again on a back shoulder fade. Byron Jones uses his length to jam Marshall off the line, and quickly turns his hips to keep up in coverage. Once he reads Marshall's eyes, Byron gets his head around and is able to deflect the pass away.

This is textbook coverage of the back shoulder fade, and Jones' athletic traits and length aid him greatly in covering the larger Marshall on this route.

dalvssea2018 byron jones odell

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You may be thinking to yourself, "sure, Byron Jones was great against Brandon Marshall, but what about an elite receiver like Odell Beckham?" Well do I have some news for you.

Jones did an excellent job against Beckham during their week two match-up, as did the entire Cowboys secondary. On this play, Jones is locked up in man coverage with Beckham at the top of the screen. He allows Beckham to get a clean outside release, but trusts his hips and speed to recover in coverage with inside leverage.

Jones shows off just how fluid an athlete he is running stride for stride with Beckham down the sideline. Eli Manning puts the ball on Beckham's shoulder, giving him a shot at the 50/50 ball. Jones uses his length and ball skills to get up and deflect the pass away, even against the talented Beckham.

Byron Jones has done a nice job covering this route, using the sideline as an extra defender and minimizing the available area for the receiver. His arm length also help him shrink the catch point in the air.

dalvssea2018 byron jones odell 2

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Here we see Byron Jones in man coverage with Beckham again, this time at the bottom of the screen. The Giants are looking to utilize play action to take a deep shot to Beckham, anticipating he will defeat Jones' coverage and find a soft spot over Awuzie's head.

Instead, Jones runs step for step with Beckham across the middle, and stays sticky to his backside hip. Manning is forced to hold the ball longer than he expected to due to Jones's coverage, and ends up taking a sack for a big loss.

There's no question that Byron Jones has been a bit of a controversial figure among Cowboys Nation throughout his young career. But, since moving to cornerback full time this season, he has been flat-out awesome.

Byron Jones looks like the shutdown corner the Cowboys have been looking for since trading up for Morris Claiborne back in 2012.

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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Coaches Should Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat

Mauricio Rodriguez



Doug Pederson's Success Will Make Jason Garrett's Seat Hotter 1
Bill Streicher / USA TODAY Sports

A loss in week in week 3 is subject to overreactions from NFL fans everywhere, something we should always be careful with. But as the Dallas Cowboys head to work after another terrible offensive performance, it's tough to imagine the conversation going on in Cowboys Nation is an overreaction. I imagine I'm not alone in wishing that's what it was. But it isn't.

The Dallas Cowboys have opened their 2018 NFL season with a 1-2 record, and even though other teams (such as the New England Patriots) unexpectedly have the same record, or that other crazy stuff is going on around the league, the Jason Garrett-led Cowboys haven't given us much reason to believe they can turn the offense around.

Without further ado, let's get to another Takeaway Tuesday. As always, feel free to share your takeaways from last Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!

Coaches Must Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat

OK, it's high time we have this conversation. Dak Prescott and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys' offense has been struggling. Although the defense has been playing surprisingly well, there are simply no excuses for the way Scott Linehan's unit has been playing.

There has been trouble at every single aspect of the offensive side of the ball, which was supposed to be this team's strength heading into the season. As much as the future at the quarterback position is uncertain, the biggest problem is coaching. Sure, Prescott isn't living up to the expectations so far, having terrible stats in the first three weeks of the season but the coaches could definitely be putting him in better positions to succeed.

Playing to his strengths. Prescott is at his best when the team runs play-action plays or lets him throw on the run or use his legs to hurt opposing defenses on the ground as well. Prescott could thrive on RPOs and read option runs, but that's not how they're utilizing him.

Jake Kemp on Twitter

per @PFF, Dak Prescott play action percentages by week. week 1 - 17.9% week 2 - 44.0% week 3 - 12.5%

As much as it pains me to say it, it honestly feels like the Cowboys are stuck with Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett at the wheel. Although there aren't big names in the pass-catchers positions, the offense is talented enough to keep the ball moving. Even still, they aren't.

Right now, it's not even about the offense not being the best unit for the team, but a unit that is costing them games and will continue to do so unless some drastic changes are made.

Not that the coaches are the only ones that should be accountable, just about every player should be, including QB Dak Prescott, who might be playing for his job the rest of the year. But if this mediocre performances continue into week 8, for instance, it might just be time to move on from the current coaching staff. What will change in the next seasons that can makes us believe Garrett and Linehan are the answer for the franchise's future?

And yet, no changes will be made as far as the Cowboys' play-caller is. Right now, it's tough to imagine where this season is headed. But two things might be for sure. 1) It won't be good. 2) We'll see some RB screens on third and long and three tight end sets on first downs.

Wish List for Dallas Cowboys 1st Preseason Game

Dallas Cowboys LBs Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee

Defense Might Just Be Fine With Vander Esch Filling in for Sean Lee

Sean Lee hurt his other hamstring playing in Seattle last Sunday, which usually would have us freaking out about the linebacker position. However, as we've discussed since the preseason, Jaylon Smith is looking pretty amazing and healthy. But now, it's not only Smith that's been showing off his football skills.

It's first round draft pick Leighton Vander Esch who's having a pretty nice start to his career. At least, it's been way better than what some expected (myself included) from his rookie season.

In just three weeks and limited snaps, Vander Esch has had 18 tackles and a tackle for loss. He's been around the football a lot, just like Lee when healthy. If the Boise State product continues to play this week, one has to wonder about Sean Lee's future in Dallas.

The Jury is Still Out on K Brett Maher

Kicker Brett Maher kicked a 50-yard field goal last Sunday as Cowboys' fans at home breathed a huge sigh of relief. After letting Dan Bailey go, it was time for something positive to say about the kicker position in Dallas.

Maher was pretty good on the field last week, but there's no denying his kicks were sort of scary and not perfect attempts right down the middle. Cowboys Nation should be more comfortable with the cut of Dan Bailey, but the jury should still be out on his replacement.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Coaches Should Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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Game Notes

LB Leighton Vander Esch Rare Bright Spot In Cowboys’ Disappointing Loss

Kevin Brady



LB Leighton Vander Esch Rare Bright Spot In Cowboys Disappointing Loss

Sunday in Seattle didn't go nearly as well as anticipated for the Cowboys, as they fell to the Seahawks in embarrassing fashion, 24-13. While the final score looked close, the fact of the matter is that Dallas was dominated for much of the game.

Offensively they looked lost, unable to create any downfield passing threat or sustain scoring drives. Defensively they played okay, but not up to the standard they had established the first two games of the season. With the offense being as pedestrian as it has been, though, there is a ton of extra pressure placed upon the young defense's shoulders.

One of the youngest members of that young unit shouldered the pressure just fine on Sunday, however. Rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch had himself a heck of a day, leading the team in tackles with 11 including 9 solo ones and a tackle for loss. He flashed his speed, pursuit, tackling ability, and overall athleticism as he worked laterally to make plays and contain the Seahawks running game on the edge.

Wish List for Dallas Cowboys 1st Preseason Game

Dallas Cowboys LBs Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee

His performance built upon an impressive first two games, including a solid home opener against the New York Giants where he tallied 7 tackles in just 28 defensive snaps. Vander Esch hadn't seen the snaps that Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee saw prior to Sunday, but when Lee was forced to miss chunks of the game with injuries, Vander Esch shined.

A key knock placed on Vander Esch's game during the draft process was that he wasn't physical enough as a player. He tended to struggle when taking on blocks and wasn't as sure a tackler when things got muddied up as you'd like to see from a first round pick.

While these were legitimate concerns from his college tape, Leighton Vander Esch looked as comfortable and refined as you can expect from a rookie against the Seahawks. He was a top 3 player on the Cowboys' defense on Sunday, and the Cowboys should be ecstatic about his progress moving forward.

On Monday it was announced the the veteran Sean Lee is expected to miss a few weeks with yet another injury, allowing for Vander Esch to likely be the starter. Lee has been unreliable when it comes to his injury history, and you have to wonder if Vander Esch could supplant him as the full time starter earlier than anyone expected due to those injuries.

I, like many, questioned the Cowboys' selection of Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of last year's draft. The lack of comparative position value combined with the questions about Vander Esch's game made me value a pass rusher like Harold Landry much higher than Vander Esch at 19.

So far, though, Leighton Vander Esch is proving the Cowboys right in their selection, and looks to be the starting WILL and three-down backer of the future in Dallas. With Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch playing how they have with limited experience, that future looks very bright defensively.

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