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Game Notes

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.

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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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