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Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Defense Leaves Lasting Impression in Loss to Cardinals

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Defense Leaves Lasting Impression in 27-3 Loss to Cardinals
(Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

As far as team performances go, there isn't much to say about the Cowboys third preseason loss in as many weeks. Falling 27-3 to the Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium last night, the Cowboys all but conceded this game on offense by resting Quarterback Dak Prescott and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott while Left Tackle Tyron Smith, Center Travis Frederick, and Right Guard Zack Martin all sat out.

Early on, this gave the Cowboys first team defense plenty of opportunities to continue doing what they've done best - get opposing offenses off the field by containing the run and pressuring the quarterback.

The longest Cardinals scoring drive would come out of the locker room to start the third quarter, as the Cowboys ran out their second team defense while T.J. Logan capped a three play drive with a 59-yard touchdown run. This would be the only touchdown the Cowboys defense allowed, as the Cardinals took advantage of a Lance Lenoir muffed punt and poor decision by Quarterback Cooper Rush to put up two other scores on special teams and defense.

As always, here are my initial takeaways from the Cowboys penultimate exhibition game before wrapping up the preseason on Thursday in Houston.

  • Randy Gregory's counter move that resulted in a third-down sack of Sam Bradford might have been his most impressive play of the preseason. 

When you think of Randy Gregory rushing the passer, you immediately jump to the ability he has to bend the corner off the right edge. This has simply been a missing component to the Cowboys defensive line without Gregory in the lineup, and his consistency bringing pressure with it has been a top story this preseason for Dallas.

Gregory's strength here also made his sack that much more impressive. Starting to the outside on his rush, Gregory used his length to initially keep the left tackle away from his frame. Once he caught his blocker leaning, Gregory knew he could counter to the inside, doing so with a powerful spin move that put him right on Bradford's back.

Randy has added weight to his upper body in preparation for this season, and he's simply been a more disruptive player as a direct result.

  • Kavon Frazier continues to add skills to his game that make him a legitimate candidate to start at safety.

Every time the Cowboys safety unit is doubted by fans and media alike, Kavon Frazier finds a way to step up. An ideal fit for the third safety spot, the Cowboys should feel comfortable turning to Frazier as their starting option alongside Jeff Heath if Xavier Woods misses any regular season time.

Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard has used Frazier to his strengths, playing him down in the box as a contain player against the run. All of the Cowboys defensive backs have taken strides in run defense thanks to Richard, but this is Frazier's most noticeable trait.

Unfortunately, it was his last play in this game as he injured his shoulder, but Frazier carrying a slot receiver up the field in man coverage to force an incomplete pass was a fantastic sign for the Cowboys passing defense.

Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones have understandably received a lot of attention for their play as the boundary cornerbacks in this defense, but opposing quarterbacks are really going to struggle against the Cowboys if players like Frazier can take away routes all over the field as well.

  • Really poor angle from Safety Marqueston Huff on a long run from Chase Edmonds that set up a Cardinals field goal. 

The Cowboys had to be hopeful that a few of their depth options at safety could take advantage of their extended playing time last night, but this wasn't really the case. One of the more experienced safeties on the roster, Huff was the only defender in the hole that had a shot on Edmonds' longest play of the game.

Instead of breaking down and at least forcing Edmonds to change direction, Huff was late getting to his spot and caught flat-footed against the runner in the hole. I don't think Edmonds had to hesitate for a second to avoid Huff and break a big gain to the outside.

This was not the only instance in this game where Huff was sloppy with his technique, and the ball seemed to find him each time to make matters worse.

  • Nice showing from UDFA Cornerback Charvarius Ward, who should get plenty of looks in the Cowboys final preseason game as well. 

It still may be too late for Ward to make the Cowboys roster, but the young defensive back has done a nice job separating himself from the rest of the field as a depth option at cornerback. With the ideal length and ball skills to play in Richard's defense, Ward has taken a bit longer than expected to play with any consistency, but for the most part he did just that against the Cardinals.

Always around the ball, Ward contested everything at the catch point and was credited with two passed defended. Not the most fluid athlete when it comes to turning his hips and running in coverage, Ward still finds ways to be effective in man coverage at his size, and it just might be enough for him to hang around after roster cuts with Dallas - be it on the active roster or practice squad.

  • Finally, a note on the offense, where I'm starting to come around on Running Back Bo Scarbrough being the team's third running back ahead of Darius Jackson.

Again, my overlying thought on the Cowboys backfield is that Rod Smith has done more than enough to earn nearly all the carries this team doesn't give Ezekiel Elliott. This was once again the case against the Cardinals, as Smith carried the ball seven times and hauled in three passes.

Even if it's only for a few carries a game, I like what Scarbrough gives the Cowboys as a downhill runner more than what Jackson provides in the passing game - a level of play the team can replicate in Smith, Tavon Austin, or Lance Lenoir.

Finding another 6'2", 228 pound running back that continues to create yards that simply haven't been there is difficult. Scarbrough has had to bounce a number of runs to the outside thanks to suspecting front sevens loading the box, punishing smaller defensive backs each time he does.

Working his skills into a game plan that involves a heavy dose of Elliott is something the Cowboys should be preparing for, as they can absolutely trust Rod Smith to be the primary, all-around backup to their star running back.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

If it looked like the Cowboys were just going through the motions at times against the Cardinals, the bad news is that there's still four more quarters of preseason football to be played. Even fewer potential starters should see the field against the Texans, leaving this game to the roster long shots making their last impressions for either the Cowboys or another team after cuts.

The Cowboys loss to the Cardinals was much more about the impact their inactive players are expected to have, but with some tough roster decisions still looming, there were a number of players on defense that helped their stock.

With the first team defense playing a stellar first half, any spots on Rod Marinelli's side of the ball will be hard to come by, as the Cowboys are now just two weeks away from fielding this defense in support of a (close to) full-strength offense at the Panthers.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Defense Leaves Lasting Impression in Loss to Cardinals" 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.

Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Coming into their week two match up against the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys knew they could control the game with -- for the first time in years against Eli Manning -- their pass rush and strong secondary. Exposing a weak Giants offensive line went well beyond the Cowboys front four in this win though.

The Cowboys put Manning on the turf six times, with Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard relentlessly dialing up pressure. With the depth at linebacker to match up with Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram, along with Byron Jones' efforts on Odell Beckham Jr., it's no secret how the Cowboys defense forced Manning to dump the ball to his running back for 14 receptions.

Barkley's longest catch going for ten yards, this was a nearly flawless game for Rod Marinelli's defense to even the Cowboys record at 1-1. Expecting much of the same from their front seven against a poor Seahawks OL, now is a good time to look back at some of the pressure packages the Cowboys used in week two.

With a core of versatile linebackers they can trust, the Cowboys deployed Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Damien Wilson, and Leighton Vander Esch all over the field to present the Giants with different looks. What made the Cowboys defensive play calling so successful was their LBs ability to cover ground quickly and create depth in coverage.

By doing so, the Giants could not take any chances down the field, their longest passing play going for 37 yards.

Blitz1

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On this play, even with the Giants looking to get the ball out quickly, the pressure from Smith and Wilson disrupt the timing. Sean Lee, the only Cowboys linebacker not sent after Manning on the play, ends up rallying from his starting WILL position to get in on the tackle. The Giants did not have the numbers up front to block Damien Wilson attacking from SAM, although more impressively, Smith was able to rip through a partial block from the right guard and get ahead of Wilson on their rush.

Blitz2

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This next blitz shows off the Cowboys strong coverage downfield against the Giants. Cornerback Anthony Brown had his fingerprints all over this game in the back end for Dallas, but on this play comes out of the slot after Manning. Sensing the pressure at his feet, Manning steps up and actually puts himself in position to deliver a good ball, but is forced into yet another check down.

While linebacker blitzes are part of the "Richard effect" on the Cowboys defense, a well-timed slot blitz is a staple of Rod Marinelli's scheme. Using Brown a number of times in this role off the strong side, the Giants had no answers for the different pressures Dallas sent their way against Ereck Flowers at right tackle.

Blitz3

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Even when Smith was picked up, as he was in the above play, the Cowboys capitalized on missed blocking assignments to get home with their front four. Taco Charlton the benefactor at RDE here, watch as Barkley rushes to keep Lee from having a straight run at his QB - allowing Charlton to do the same off the edge. Running untouched on the play, Charlton does a nice job taking a sharp angle to Manning and chasing him to the ground.

Blitz4

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As much as the Cowboys cornerbacks were a huge part of the team's confidence in sending pressure, their safeties also performed well in coverage. I wrote about the above play on Monday morning in my Sean's Scout that immediately follows every Cowboys game:

"That's a fantastic play by Jeff Heath to run across the field and tackle Evan Engram short of the line to gain on third down.

The Giants drive would continue with a fourth down conversion, but the Cowboys defense did eventually force a punt.

The Cowboys safeties were primarily called upon to play in run support in this game, a role Heath has struggled in previously. Showing off his strengths as an athletic and rangy defensive back on this play, Heath didn't get pushed up the field by Engram on his release, hunting him down after the catch in front of a fired up Dallas bench."

Heath picking up Engram is just one example of a Cowboys defender exceeding expectations in coverage. Smith was able to run with Beckham Jr., as was Charlton on separate plays later in the game.

Blitz6

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The only fitting way to conclude this film study is with a DeMarcus Lawrence sack. The Cowboys best individual defender, Lawrence had his way with Flowers as we all expected. Playing to another one of Tank's strengths here though, Lawrence rushes to the inside off a well-executed T/E stunt with Tyrone Crawford.

Also sending Brown at Manning again, the Giants pass pro leaves Lawrence unabated to the quarterback. Unlikely to escape the grasp of Lawrence on such a free rush, Manning does try to abort the pocket, but had Brown crashing down on him to collapse things.

Lawrence might not earn many easier sacks this season. None of the Cowboys starters on defense are more capable of using their own ability to get to the QB than Lawrence still, who is getting all the help he needs from Richard as his play caller.

Through just two games, the Cowboys commitment to forcing the issue on defense has potential to keep this team atop the NFC East as the offense comes into its own.

Depending on the development of their own passing game, this may have to be a defense that can win Dallas games. The only way to do so is with sacks and turnovers.

The latter is something Marinelli's defenses have always excelled at when at full strength (the Cowboys are expecting Randy Gregory back as early as this week and DT David Irving comes off suspension in week five). The former is something the Cowboys are creating with a deeply talented front seven, orchestrated by one of the best in the business.

The Cowboys will look to build on their nine sacks this season against the Seahawks on Sunday, a team that's allowed the most in the league at 12. Their timing to go after Russell Wilson will be tested more than it was against the Giants, with Richard also better positioned to aid the Cowboys against his former team.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Game Notes

Dallas Cowboys’ Path to Victory Over the Seattle Seahawks

John Williams

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Dallas Cowboys' Path to Victory Over the Seattle Seahawks

In every game, whether it's a sporting event or a board game there is a path -- and sometimes more than one -- to victory. For the Dallas Cowboys, it's no different. As they get set to face a Seattle Seahawks team that is 0-2 for the first time since 2015, they'll have to win in several areas to bring home the W.

After starting out 0-2 in 2015, the Seahawks finished the season with a 10-6 record and won their wild card game over the Minnesota Vikings before falling in the divisional round to the Carolina Panthers.

The Seahawks are one of those teams that you can get down, but can never count out. If the Dallas Cowboys want to come out on top in their trip to the Pacific Northwest, they are going to have to come ready to play.

In particular, these are the things that the Dallas Cowboys have to achieve to be the victors on Sunday.

Limit Big Plays

The Seattle Seahawks are a very interesting offensive case study. They have one of the better quarterbacks in the league, but have invested very little in trying to protect their most important asset.

They rely on Russell Wilson's improvisational ability and penchant for big plays.

In 2017, Wilson had a quarterback rating of 100.9 on attempts greater than 20 yards down the field, per Pro Football Focus. He threw the ball "deep" 91 times, completing 31 passes for 1,134 yards, 12 touchdowns and five interceptions. He had the most deep attempts in the league last season and tied with Alex Smith with the most touchdowns on deep attempts. Wilson's yardage was nearly 200 yards more than the next best in the NFL on deep passing.

Wilson's going to take some deep shots. If you watched the Monday Night Football game between the Seattle Seahawks and the Chicago Bears, you noticed that even though Wilson was getting battered, it didn't deter him from taking shots deep down the field. Sometimes into unfavorable coverages.

The secondary has an advantage over the Seattle Seahawks group of wide receivers, but they'll have to stay disciplined and not allow the big pass plays to beat them.

In a game where they were being dominated for more than three quarters, the Seahawks were able to hang around and had a chance at the end because of their penchant for big plays.

Don't get beat deep.

Wrangling Russell Wilson

The Seattle Seahawks have allowed the most sacks in the league through two weeks. They've allowed six in each of their first two games this season. The Dallas Cowboys are going to have opportunities to sack Russell Wilson this week.

They have to take advantage.

Like Cam Newton in week one, Russell Wilson is a very elusive quarterback. Not only is he really good at making plays with his legs, he can be difficult to bring down. The Dallas Cowboys will have to work to keep Wilson in the pocket and finish when they get an opportunity to bring him down. He's not a physical presence like Newton is, but he's slippery and has some of that Tony Romo elusiveness to him.

If the potential tackler doesn't get Wilson down on first contact, it could lead to big plays both through the air and on the ground. Wilson averages 33.6 yards per game on the ground in his career and 5.7 yards per attempt. In order to get off the field on third down, they're going to have to prevent Wilson from using his legs to pick up third downs.

Establishing the Pass to Set Up the Run

At this point in the Dallas Cowboys offensive approach, everyone in the world knows what the Dallas Cowboys want to do on offense. They want to run the ball.

The Dallas Cowboys did a great job using this knowledge to their advantage on the first series of the game against the New York Giants.

On the first play of the game, they used a Run-Pass Option, with a clear out to the flat by Tight End Geoff Swaim, and found Allen Hurns on a slant to set up a second and short. Then after picking up that second and short with a run by Ezekiel Elliott, they used a straight play action out of a two running back, one tight end set, and hit Tavon Austin for the 64 yard touchdown.

Dak's willingness to throw the ball deep on a couple other occasions helped open up the run. The deep ball has to be a threat in order to back defenses off the line of scrimmage and do what you do best: Run the Ball. If they aren't going to back off, then you have to keep throwing it until you hit the deep ball enough that it forces them to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys were able to run the ball pretty effectively for the rest of the game, even if they didn't hit a lot of big plays. With the New York Giants interior defensive line, it was going to be tough sledding anyway. Getting things going through the air, helped out immensely.

The Seattle Seahawks are going to try to do what everyone does; put the ball in Dak Prescott's hands. If they're going to win on Sunday, it's going to be because Prescott had another efficient game throwing the ball.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

This game sets up really well for the Dallas Cowboys to improve their record to 2-1 and keep pace with the upper tier teams in the NFC. Every win matters, but these NFC games matter even a bit more. No game in the NFL is a cakewalk and this game is no different. If the Dallas Cowboys aren't able to do the above, it could be a long day for America's Team. 



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Game Notes

#SEAvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Wishlist Christmas Edition: Seahawks @ Cowboys

The Dallas Cowboys found a way to get their first win last Sunday, defeating the New York Giants from start to finish, 20-13.

Now at 1-1 and locked in a three way tie for 1st place in the NFC East, Dallas is looking to string together a few victories and create some early separation. Seattle is now sitting at 0-2, and while that's typically a hole teams cannot climb out of in the NFL, the Seahawks will be desperately fighting to avoid an 0-3 start.

The Seahawks opened up as 3 point home favorites against the Cowboys, with the over/under set at 44.5 points.

Dallas Cowboys

After an abysmal season opener against Carolina, the Cowboys came out firing against the Giants on Sunday night. Dallas led by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter, and ended up holding on as the Giants made a late garbage-time run.

Dak Prescott looked as comfortable in the pocket as he as in weeks, finding Tavon Austin for a 64 yard touchdown pass on the opening drive. Ezekiel Elliott scored another rushing touchdown, and the Cowboys defense was straight up dominant.

Now, the Cowboys defensive line has another chance to increase their sack total against the Seahawks' weak offensive line. And you know DeMarcus Lawrence is salivating.

Dallas improved to 1-1 straight up and against the spread, covering the 3 point spread set by Vegas a week ago. Both Cowboys games have gone under thus far as well.

Seattle Seahawks

The Seahawks fell to 0-2 on Monday night with a tough road loss to the Chicago Bears. Khalil Mack dominated the Seahawks offensive line, dictating protections and keeping Russell Wilson uncomfortable all night long.

The Seahawks haven't been able to get much of a run game going this season, despite their insistence upon doing so. Russell Wilson is their offense, and if the Cowboys can pressure him and force him into hero-ball throws, they should have success on Sunday. After all, this was the Bears recipe for success on Monday night.

Seattle is 0-2 straight up and 0-1-1 against the spread this season.

Trends

  • The score total has gone under 5 straight Cowboys' games.
  • Dallas is 2-4 against the spread their last six times playing at Seattle.
  • Seattle is 1-5 against the spread their last six games at home.
  • The under has hit 4 of the last 5 Cowboys/Seahawks games.

Prediction

While I've thought hard about picking the under for the third straight week (I'm 2-0 doing so), I'll pick the actual game for you guys this time. I think the Cowboys will get this road win and improve to 2-1 behind dominant defensive line play and a strong running game.

This match up favors Dallas in multiple ways and I expect them to take advantage of Seattle's weak spots.

I like the Cowboys +3 a lot this Sunday.



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