The Cowboys entered their season opener in Carolina with plenty of hype on the defensive side of the ball, and just as much cautious optimism on offense. With the Panthers defense having other ideas, it was the Dallas defense that made the most lasting impression from this otherwise forgettable week one performance.
Falling 16-8 with only 232 yards to show for it on offense, the Cowboys find themselves quickly looking for answers in the passing game ahead of a week two home meeting with the 0-1 New York Giants. The Cowboys inability to make any plays on the outside limited their rushing game against the Panthers, as Ezekiel Elliott made his return to the field by failing to gain over 70 rushing yards for just the third time in his career.
Elliott was responsible for the Cowboys lone touchdown, which gave the team some hope behind their strong showing on defense. As always, here are my initial thoughts on the game that was for the Cowboys on the road Sunday.
- Great, acrobatic play from Jarius Wright on third down to make a catch while falling down, but it was a missed opportunity for Anthony Brown to get the Cowboys defense off the field.
Wright would extent the Panthers first scoring drive, which ended in a Cam Newton touchdown run, with his tumbling catch in the second quarter. Cowboys Cornerback Anthony Brown played the rub concept well, flipping his hips to steer Wright towards the sideline.
With Newton under pressure, he had no choice but to throw the ball where Wright could come back to it. Doing just that, Wright secured the catch in front of Brown, who simply didn't react to the pass. If he did, Brown likely has no problem knocking the ball away from an otherwise out-of-position receiver, ending the Panthers drive.
The play was a concerning reminder that Brown has regressed from his 2016 form. A rookie at the time, Brown elevated himself to a starter as a sixth round pick by consistently making plays on the ball. The Cowboys will give Brown every chance to do so this season, but the Purdue product is no longer the same player.
- The Cowboys defense got off the field in a big way when they sent a well-timed linebacker blitz at Cam Newton on third down in the fourth quarter. It would unfortunately lead to a missed Brett Maher field goal on the next drive.
The Cowboys are not known for sending many linebackers on blitzes under Rod Marinelli. Still this team's play caller, Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard has worked closely with the linebackers, and had his say in when Marinelli's defense brought pressure.
The Cowboys can only hope that Sean Lee's struggles in this game were early season rust, but it's a great sign that they still played as well as they did without their captain being his usual self. Dallas stayed committed to using a true rotation at linebacker, with Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Damien Wilson, and Justin March-Lillard all seeing action.
On a pivotal third down play, backed up to their own 20, Newton had absolutely nowhere to go with the ball as the Cowboys sent both linebackers on the field at him. Give credit to the Cowboys defensive front for occupying their blocks, as the play created pressure in Newton's face and brought up a Panthers punt.
- Kavon Frazier continues to take advantage of opportunity every time he can, a welcome sight for a Cowboys defense thin at safety.
Playing without Xavier Woods, Cowboys Safety Kavon Frazier proved that he'll remain an integral part of the Cowboys rotation in the secondary regardless of Woods' status. The Cowboys struggled to contain the edge a number of times early against the Panthers power running game. Their adjustment here was to move Frazier closer to the line of scrimmage.
Frazier was as comfortable as always coming downhill to make physical plays against the run in the box, but also flashed a few times in coverage. One of his best traits remains Frazier's ability to cover ground quickly and efficiently. If the Cowboys scheme allows him to do just that once Woods returns to the lineup, this team could be much better off at safety than ever expected.
- I'll wait for the game tape to make any definitive judgments on the Cowboys offensive line, but I'd love to know how much the absence of Travis Frederick affected rookie Left Guard Connor Williams.
Backup Center Joe Looney had his hands full in his first regular season start for the Cowboys, and although he wasn't the most glaring issue with the Cowboys offense, this team still clearly missed Travis Frederick.
His ability to keep the offensive line playing together, and help his guards to either side with blocks, is what makes Frederick one of the best, technically refined linemen in the league. The Cowboys won't get the same level of cohesiveness from Looney, and this affected rookie Connor Williams at left guard.
Williams continues to struggle against power rush moves as a smaller guard (and college tackle). The Cowboys were in no position to help Williams and potentially get him out in space more thanks to the Panthers depth up front, which occupied the entirety of this Dallas line.
- DeMarcus Lawrence's two stops on the Panthers last drive proved why he's among the elite defenders in the NFL.
As a whole, this probably wasn't the dominant performance that the tight-knit Cowboys defensive line was expecting against a weakened Panthers OL. Newton was hit four times (sacked three) on 26 drop backs.
Lawrence was still able to prove that he's the undisputed leader of this group late in the fourth quarter.
Lawrence showed off his hand usage on a first down run from C.J. Anderson, effortlessly getting inside of his blocker and making a stop. Later on third down, Lawrence would pressure Newton off the left edge and force him to step up into a waiting Tyrone Crawford for a gain of one.
It's a shame the Cowboys did so little with their final possession, because the Cowboys defense did everything it could to win this game on their own, up until the closing moments with Tank leading the way.
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With plenty to still unpack about how the Cowboys began their 2018 season, it's too early to consider what an 0-2 start could mean for this team. The Cowboys brass was clearly unhappy with this 16-8 result at the Panthers, with both Jerry and Stephen Jones declining to comment after the game.
As expected simply by looking at the box score, Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan has also taken plenty of heat for the way his offense came out flat and predictable.
Whether or not it continues to bode well that this Sean's Scout covered mostly the Cowboys emerging defense will be determined by the offense's ability to get in manageable down-and-distances and find creativity in the passing game.
Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott’s Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark
When the Dallas Cowboys took the field last Sunday against the New York Giants, they did so very differently than last week, starting with a 64-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to connect with WR Tavon Austin in the third play of the game. Although there are still many things this team must continue to work on, they looked like a very improved unit in week 2.
Here are my main takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys' first win of the year. Let me know what yours are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL and let's talk football!
Cowboys' Secondary Capable of Holding Top WR
If there was one player who could've changed the outcome for the New York Giants, it was WR Odell Beckham Jr. Widely recognized as one of the best wideouts in the nation, Beckham was the biggest challenge the cornerbacks, led by Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie, have had in the first two weeks.
None of them followed Beckham all over the field, each stayed on their side of the field and still managed to limit him to four receptions for 51 yards in nine targets. The Giant's offense is not known for being one of the best in the league, but it's the fact that this defense was able to limit exactly the player they needed to. They did their job.
Also, props to the defensive line for keeping the pressure on Eli Manning.
Taco Charlton Was Dominant VS Nate Solder
With Randy Gregory ruled out for the game, Taco Charlton had a golden opportunity to stay on the field for more snaps. He took advantage of this, as he finished the night with three tackles, one for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Charlton still has a long way to go in order to prove he was worthy of a first round pick, but we can't deny he hasn't stopped developing. It will be interesting to see how he does now that Gregory is expected to return for week 3.
Dak Prescott's Legs Give Offense a Needed Spark
One of the things I liked the most about the Cowboys' game versus the Giants was how Dak Prescott was utilized. Criticized after a poor performance in Carolina, Prescott came out with a chip on his shoulder.
We've been talking a lot about how Scott Linehan must play Prescott to his strengths and that's precisely what he did by letting Dak run for 45 yards in seven carries. It's completely understandable if the Cowboys don't want to run him as much as the Panthers do with Cam Newton, but the truth is, if #4 hurts defenses with his leg, Ezekiel Elliott won't receiver all of the defense's attention.
Also, shoutout to how they used Tavon Austin. With Elliott, Prescott and Austin being a threat on option plays, this offense could take a step on the right direction.
Rico Gathers Will Be Used
The Cowboys' Rico Gathers project is moving in the right direction. The 2016 sixth-round pick was active for the first time in his career last Sunday. The first question that popped into our heads was whether or not he'd be actually used in the game. He was.
He even managed to get open in the end zone in a play that could've been TD but Prescott didn't throw a good pass. However, the mere fact that he was able to get open and that the coaches actually put him on the field told us a lot about his future. Cowboys Nation should be excited to see him involved.
Dallas Cowboys vs the New York Giants: Stock Up and Stock Down
The Dallas Cowboys bounced back in a big way against the New York Giants in week two. Several players bounced back as well after struggling a bit in week one against the Carolina Panthers. Other players continued to struggle or saw a drop in play from week one to week two.
Here are the Dallas Cowboys who saw their stock rise and some who saw their stock fall this week.
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
Jaylon Smith has been really good to start the season and had an excellent game against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. Every day Smith is removed from the devastating knee injury he suffered in his final game at Notre Dame is a day closer to realizing the elite play that many expected of him before the injury.
Pro Football Reference credited the starting middle linebacker with seven solo tackles and three assists. Pro Football Focus had Jaylon Smith with 3 stops -- plays that were a "loss" for the offense -- while becoming a stabilizing force for the linebacker position.
Byron Jones, Cornerback
The fourth year player who has made a successful move from safety to cornerback, Byron Jones has been everything the Dallas Cowboys hoped he'd be when they made him their first round pick back in 2015.
Shame that it took so long to get him to cornerback.
Against a potent New York Giants receiving corp, Jones only allowed one reception on five targets on Sunday night. He also had six solo tackles and three stops, per Pro Football Focus.
The one reception that Pro Football Focus credited to Byron Jones was by Running Back Saquon Barkley and that catch went for zero yards.
So on the night, Byron Jones allowed zero yards into his coverage areas. He's really good at cornerback and is taking to Kris Richard's coaching quite nicely.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
After much gnashing of teeth after the week one loss to the Carolina Panthers, Dak Prescott rebounded with a strong, confident performance in the Dallas Cowboys week two win over the Giants.
He completed 64% of his passes for 160 yards and ran for 45 yards on seven carries. The passing yardage isn't huge, but on a night in which the defense was absolutely dominant, Dak Prescott made the plays that needed to be made for the Dallas Cowboys to win the game.
He was great in the read-option on Sunday night, perfectly executing it for several really good runs.
The throw to Tavon Austin on the third offensive play from scrimmage was a great throw that set the tone for the Dallas Cowboys the rest of the night. His yards per attempt and passer rating were both improved from week one and he just looked better.
If Dak Prescott can continue to put together performances like this, the Dallas Cowboys will win a lot of games this season.
Connor Williams, Left Guard
After getting pushed around for much of last week's game by Kawann Short, rookie Connor Williams rebounded with a really nice game.
Williams didn't allow a pressure all night and the offensive line was much better as a whole. The unit didn't allow a sack against the New York Giants.
According to Pro Football Focus, Elliott's biggest run of the night came behind Connor Williams at left guard.
Williams is an important piece to the puzzle and if he's playing well, it will provide better pockets for Dak Prescott.
Tavon Austin, Wide Receiver
After seeing only 10 snaps in week one, Tavon Austin was on the field for nearly twice as many and made them count as he ended with two receptions for 79 yards and had one rush for 15 yards.
That's 94 total yards on three touches. The "Tavon Effect" was in full force last night as the team used his speed to their advantage. Even when the ball didn't go his direction he had an effect on the game.
Damien Wilson, Linebacker
Seemingly the odd man out after the Dallas Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Damien Wilson had an excellent game in his limited playing time.
Wilson played 17 defensive snaps and 22 snaps on special teams and was credited with three solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He's was excellent on Sunday night in the snaps he was given.
It's unlikely that we'll see a big snap increase for him with the talent ahead of him on the depth chart, but he provided very valuable snaps when given the opportunity.
Terrance Williams, Wide Receiver
Terrance Williams who has been a starter for several years now with the Dallas Cowboys, and even started week one, saw his snap count drop from week one to week two. After seeing 19 snaps against the Carolina Panthers, he was onlyon the field for 10 snaps in week two.
There's been speculation as the Dallas Cowboys have resigned former Wide Receiver Brice Butler that Terrance Williams could be the odd man out of the wide receiver room. That snap count is either an indication of his status on the team or the game plan they had against the New York Giants.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Williams moving forward.
La'el Collins, Right Tackle
A week after allowing four pressures, most along the offensive line, La'el Collins allowed three more pressures on Sunday night against the New York Giants. He was the only offensive lineman to allow multiple pressures and appeared to struggle with the Giants blitz and stunt schemes.
The New York Giants had rushers go unblocked at times on Sunday night.
Dak Prescott wasn't sacked against the Giants, but he had to avoid some pressure on that side to throw the ball away.
Collins has to be better against the pass rush going forward to keep Dak Prescott clean and able to play better.
Dallas Cowboys Tight Ends
The Dallas Cowboys' tight end group of Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers did not have a single catch to their name on Sunday night. There were opportunities that were missed, like the Dak Prescott overthrow to Rico Gathers in the end zone. However, not being able to come up with a single catch against the Giants is a bit surprising.
Speaking frankly, their isn't a receiving threat on the TE depth chart. They need to become a factor at some point to help take pressure of Dak Prescott and give him another option in the passing game. The Dallas Cowboys prefer to run most of their formations with a tight end on the field. They need to be a factor
The Cowboys Nation Twitter account asked David Helman from DallasCowboys.com to look up when the last time the Dallas Cowboys tight ends finished a game without a reception.
Mark Lane from WFAA.com and the Texans Wire found the information.
@HelmanDC @CowboysNation @SullyBaldHead @Marcus_Mosher @CHQ_Jordan @FO_ScottKacsmar When you do, Dave, tell them that Mark Lane found it at 1:15 a.m. Central Time. It was Dec. 1, 2016 at the #Vikings. https://t.co/XS3FVrWhT8
It's unbelievable that there was a game played in which Jason Witten was around for that he didn't have a reception, and yet, there it is.
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Were there any players that moved the needle in either direction for you?
Let us know in the comment section.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Giants
I don't know about you, but I feel a lot better this week about the Dallas Cowboys after they thoroughly controled the game against the New York Giants last Sunday night. It amazes me how much better they played in the second week of the 2018 season as opposed to what they put on the field Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.
The Dallas Cowboys performed better in all three phases of the game. The defense was simply outstanding, the offense looked much improved, and the fact that there weren't any breakdowns on special teams is an added plus. Overall, it's hard to be too disappointed with the way the overall team performed Sunday.
With all of that in mind, I want to share with you what I believe is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys from the primetime matchup with the division rival New York Giants. I know you may disagree with what I decided to go with in each category, but that's part of the fun of it.
If you watched the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants Sunday night then you pretty much know what the good was. How could I not go with the Cowboys defense? They were simply phenomenal against the Giants and are starting to become the identity of this year's team.
The Cowboys pass rush continuously put pressure on Quarterback Eli Manning and ended the game with six QB sacks. Nearly every defensive lineman got in on the action, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. The secondary was also really impressive. They played man-to-man coverage nearly the entire game and shut down the Giants aerial attack, including Odell Beckham Jr.
I was also really pleased to see the Cowboys linebackers playing much better. You may not have noticed, but the coaching staff is going with a rotation of sorts with the LBs, and it really looked as if it's helping keep them fresh. This could pay huge dividends moving forward, especially with Sean Lee's injury concerns.
I debated several different things to put in this section, but ultimately I decided the bad for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night was Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game. Yes, it was better than what we saw from them in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done from both Prescott and his receivers.
Unfortunately, Prescott only completed 16 of 25 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown against the Giants. Those are nearly identical numbers to what he put up against the Panthers, the only difference is he was much more successful on the ground, rushing for 45 yards on seven carries. If you take away his long TD completion to Wide Receiver Tavon Austin, those numbers are even more depressing.
The passing game and Dak Prescott needs to improve dramatically. The Cowboys simply aren't going to be able to continue to win games like this. The offense should've been able to put up a lot more points on the Giants Sunday night. Hopefully, things will continue to get better because if not, the Cowboys are in trouble.
There was a number of different directions I could've gone here, but for me the ugly for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night against the Giants was the penalties. Penalties became a problem for the Cowboys in Week 1 against the Panthers and once again reared their ugly head against the Giants. Unfortunately, this has continuously been a problem under the tutelage of Head Coach Jason Garrett.
The Dallas Cowboys were lucky that the untimely penalties didn't have much impact on the outcome of the game. If they would have been playing a better team than the Giants, they probably wouldn't have overcome the long down and distances. I want to believe this can be cleaned up, but Jason Garrett's going to have to start holding his players accountable, which at this point seems a little unlikely.
The Cowboys players are going to take it upon themselves to cut down the penalties. Most of the time it's just mental mistakes, so there is reason to believe they can accomplish this task. But, they are really going to have to buckle down and focus on remaining consistent down after down.
What is your good, bad, and ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the Giants?
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