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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Punt Away Chance at Division Lead with Heartbreak in Houston

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Punt Away Chance at Division Lead with Heartbreak in Houston
(AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

The Dallas Cowboys and Houston Texans, two teams fighting for their footing early in this NFL season, remained gridlocked through sixty tough minutes on Sunday night. In the end, it was the Texans earning their second straight overtime win, doing so at the expense of a now 2-3 Cowboys team.

The decision that will haunt the Cowboys ahead of another match up with the AFC South's Jaguars in week six is an overtime punt from the Texans' 42 yard line on fourth and a yard. On the previous play, Ezekiel Elliott was stopped for no gain running to his left behind Connor Williams and Tyron Smith.

Taking the emotion out of a game like this is always difficult, but now more than ever its a necessary step for the Cowboys - who remain in contention for the top spot in the NFC East despite weekly turmoil. With that said, here as always are my immediate thoughts on the Cowboys performance.

  • Once again, poor safety play plagued the Cowboys at the wrong times in this game.

On the Texans first touchdown drive, both Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods were responsible for giving up extra yards that kept Deshaun Watson and Houston on the field. First, Heath was late dropping into coverage from a down position to help Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie on a catch by DeAndre Hopkins.

Awuzie was later taken out of the game, allowing Jourdan Lewis to see his first extended action of the season. I'll wait until I can study the film to see how Lewis held up, but at first glance it seemed like he finally took advantage of some playing time, as Anthony Brown moved from the slot to the outside.

Later in this same drive, Woods took a poor angle and arrived high trying to tackle Hopkins, who made him miss on his way to a big gain. Both Heath and Woods made up for these plays later in the game, with Xavier securing the Cowboys first interception of this season, but the Cowboys defense was later put in position to lose this game in overtime - which is exactly what happened.

  • The Cowboys came into this game thin at defensive tackle without Maliek Collins and David Irving. While their pass rush ability was missed against Watson, give a ton of credit to Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford for their play on the inside.

Rookie Defensive End Dorance Armstrong was even in the Cowboys rotation at 3T-DT in this game, but it was mostly Crawford handling this position alongside Woods.

Woods executed his assignments brilliantly throughout the night, holding the line of scrimmage when needed and creating some penetration as a 1T. On Jaylon Smith's touchdown-saving play before the half, it was Woods occupying a block while pushing into the backfield  that helped Smith free himself to catch Watson.

It's a shame that this play won't be remembered as part of a Cowboys win, as its easily one of the best Jaylon has made with the Cowboys, and the same can be said about the consistency that Woods showed at DT.

The Cowboys defense deserved a better outcome in a game they brought to overtime thanks only to some red zone heroics.

  • An underappreciated part of Dak Prescott's game was on full display during his touchdown pass to Allen Hurns.

The Cowboys best sequence of this game came out of the locker room to start the third quarter. Anthony Brown made a strong tackle that would've led to a Texans punt, but instead forced a fumble that was recovered by Lewis.

The Cowboys started from the Texans' 16 yard line, and thanks to some aggressive play calling by Scott Linehan were able to put the ball in the end zone. When Prescott came into the league in 2016, his ball handling ability to sell fakes was a huge part of the Cowboys offensive plan.

From three yards out, Hurns found himself wide open at the end line after Prescott was given time to execute a fake to both Tavon Austin and Elliott. It would have been fascinating to see if the Cowboys could have found similar success on fourth down in overtime, after not running behind Zack Martin on a failed third down.

  • Rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch remains a bright spot for the Cowboys defense, and Kris Richard has proved he knows how to best utilize the Boise State product.

The Cowboys knew they were taking on a project in Vander Esch, and one with endless amounts of untapped potential. Criticized for being the team that pulled the trigger on this potential in the first round solely because of Sean Lee's injury past, the Cowboys are looking smarter with each week that Leighton gets a chance to prove himself.

All along, the Cowboys have had a plan for Vander Esch. Whether or not this plan involved him starting games this early in his career, Leighton has embraced the opportunity and is using every game as a chance to progress into a future leader for this Dallas defense.

Amazingly, Vander Esch has been free to flow to the ball without taking on many blocks this season. If LVE was ready to do one thing at the next level based on his college tape, its tackle in space. Vander Esch has done so at a tremendous rate, playing as a perfect complement to Jaylon Smith.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Cowboys will have plenty of questions to answer this week about what could have been in Houston, while also preparing for what could be still to come this season. On offense, this team's personnel faces a very tough match up against the Jaguars this week - a team that certainly won't feel sorry for Dallas after their own unraveling at the Chiefs on Sunday.

At this point, it feels like even another Cowboys win would do little to douse the flames surrounding this coaching staff, but there were enough on-field positives from the overtime loss to the Texans to expect this team to remain competitive.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Punt Away Chance at Division Lead with Heartbreak in Houston" 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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1 Comment
  • oneputter

    safety play is going to kill us. heath for one should not be a starter, he would not start any where else in this league. woods missed several games so maybe that’s the reason but he should be on a short leash. why did they release tyree robinson for brice and brice doesn’t get on the field? call tyree back he can’t be any worse than what we have here now.

    it seems like every other week, zeke has a problem keeping his footing, he slips and trips over himself way to much, get some better shoes seriously! looney and williams did not play well last night.

    dak, when are you going to take a shot down the field? get up to the LOS and run the play, quit trying to act like you are some all pro QB that can change plays and read defenses and how about running on occasion. on RPO’s you have not run in two weeks, time to put your big boy pants on and run.

    play calling stinks! how about running away from 90 when they are ready to stunt up the middle? we run right at them and continued to all night, just plain pathetic from top to bottom. defense plays great but as usual the offense cannot sustain drives.

Game Notes

#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone

Kevin Brady

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Fantasy Football - Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings - Week 2 2
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.

This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.

In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.

There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.

For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.

Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.

Bob Sturm on Twitter

I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.

Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.

Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.



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Game Notes

#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction

Kevin Brady

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Has RB Rod Smith Emerged As Ezekiel Elliott's Primary Backup? 2
Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.

Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.

The Line

Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points. 

Dallas Cowboys

The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.

Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.

And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.

Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.

Indianapolis Colts

At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.

Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.

Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.

The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.

Trends

  • The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
  • The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
  • But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
  • The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
  • Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.

Prediction

The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?

Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.

A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.



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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Randy Gregory, Eagles

It was a dramatic win for the Dallas Cowboys but a win nonetheless. The Philadelphia Eagles gave the Cowboys one hell of a fight at AT&T Stadium in a great rivalry game. It was undoubtedly one of the most exciting games this season has seen as it ended with a walk-off touchdown that gave the home team the victory.

Here is this week's Takeaway Tuesday on what we learned from such a thrilling match!

Amari Cooper Trade Shouldn't Even Be a Discussion

Once a complicated debate, the Amari Cooper trade has a clear winner. It's simple, really. If it wasn't for Amari Cooper, the Cowboys would not be 8-5 en route to the NFC East title. Cooper has literally saved the 2018 season for the once 3-5 Cowboys team.

Since becoming a part of the Cowboys, the former Oakland Raider has accounted for 40 catches, 642 yards and six touchdowns. Last Sunday alone, he was responsible for 217 yards and three scores. Not to mention the amount of times he's moved the chains for this offense. The 24-year old can seriously play football. Despite struggles, this offense is very promising with that caliber of a WR1 and an elite RB such as Ezekiel Elliott.

What was it again? A first rounder? Should've asked for more, Raiders.

Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player

Gregory's journey to be back on a football field was a difficult one. But it was worth it. Versus the Eagles, his presence was constantly felt by Carson Wentz. He was able to get in five pressures, one of which resulted in a sack.

The last couple of games, Gregory has drawn a few costly flags, but his play is still amazing. He's one of the fastest defensive ends in the league and he continues to improve in bending around the corner. He has five sacks in the last eight games. If you weren't convinced #94 should be our starting right defensive end, you should be by now.

Dalton Schultz

Tight Ends Rise

The lack of a tight end did not stand out this past Sunday. But Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin did. With Geoff Swaim out with an injury, this couple of young rotational players had their best games of their careers. Both were targeted in key moments of the game. Blake Jarwin had 56 yards in seven catches and a big third down conversion and Dalton Schultz finished the night with 37 yards.

A promising sign for the Cowboys moving forward. The offense is clicking at wide receiver with Amari Cooper, having a tight end (or a couple) stand up will only make this unit better.

Report: Jason Garrett "Not Going Anywhere" with Possible Extension Coming Soon

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, HC Jason Garrett

Garrett Deserves a Round of Applause

Whether or not you think Jason Garrett is a good head coach, the guy deserves an applause. I get why you might not like him. In fact, I still question if he should be in Dallas in 2019 if the Cowboys fail to have success in the playoffs. But the way this team has come back from such a terrible start can't be ignored.

The players on this team fight for this guy. The Dallas Cowboys went from a team everyone had written off from playoff contention to legit Super Bowl contenders since they fired Paul Alexander and got Amari Cooper.

Dak Prescott is One of the Best Facing Adversity

Dak Prescott's career continues to cause a great debate among Cowboys' fans. You see, in the NFL, things are not white or black. When judging a player, there are a lot of gray areas. Take last night's performance from Dak Prescott. He threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball once and pretty much played bad football for three quarters. But his night ended with 455 yards and three touchdowns and a 78% completion percentage in 54 attempts.

In the NFL, not any quarterback comes back from turning the ball three times. With the help of his tremendous defense, Dak did. In the fourth quarter, he completed 17 out of 20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. His performance was clutch.

This isn't a one thing either. Since 2016, Dak is tied for the most game-winning drives in the NFL. Prescott might be inconsistent and can have some pretty bad plays. But he's one resilient quarterback. As T.O. would've said: "that's my quarterback."

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player" 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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