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Sean’s Scout: Dak’s Misses, Defensive Breakdowns See Eagles Soar Past Cowboys

Sean Martin

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With concerns about a 20 point loss in Atlanta starting a stretch of six games without Ezekiel Elliott impacting the team's confidence, the Cowboys came out inspired through the first half against the NFC East leading Eagles. Proving to be outmatched badly in the second half though, 30 consecutive Eagles points saw Philadelphia all but clinch the division at AT&T Stadium last night with a 37-9 victory.

To perhaps only make matters worse, the banged up Cowboys must attempt to again save a sinking season on Thanksgiving - with the Chargers coming to town on Thursday.

Before we can focus on them, here are my immediate thoughts on a few things concerning the Cowboys' performance against the now 9-1 Eagles.

Zack Martin, Fletcher Cox, Eagles

  • A lot of eyes were on Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan in this game, as he needed to find ways to adjust without Tyron Smith to protect Dak Prescott.

With the second half playing out the way it did, it sure would have been nice to see Prescott's receivers help him out more early on to further set the tone as Dallas built their small lead.

With that said, I thought Linehan did his job in lining up these guys to give them a chance--particularly Dez Bryant. It would have been easy for Bryant to get taken out of this game from the start with a few missed throws and calls that didn't go his way, but his continued work out of the slot and over the middle allowed for a few plays that gave the Cowboys hope.

There was a third down throw to Bryant that would have extended a huge drive in the second quarter, where it appeared he could have caught the pass facing Prescott with space to work up the field. Pressure allowed by Byron Bell at LT forced Dak to reset his feet and Bryant released down the sideline. It forced a tough throw to the boundary that went incomplete as the safety help arrived.

Plays like these summed up a night of poor execution for the Cowboys.

  • Speaking of Byron Bell at LT in place of Tyron Smith or Chaz Green, I thought there were some positive things he did in dealing with the wide range of pass rushers the Eagles deploy.

Bell's best football over his career has come at guard, and he was able to utilize some similar traits to control rushers with his power while not allowing them to work within his frame. Bell's biggest struggles came when dealing with speed off of the edge, although he did his best to frequently steer these rushers behind the pocket.

Unfortunately, it felt like Dak Prescott was uncomfortable, at times, knowing defenders could be pressuring him from behind.

Dak wanted to do everything he could to hang in the pocket and throw instead of exploiting these abandoned rush lanes and make more plays with his feet. Even with this considered, Byron Bell - or the absence of Tyron Smith - was not the reason you lost this football game if you're the Cowboys.

  • Credit the Eagles' execution up front when running the football against a Dallas front seven that was without Sean Lee.

The Eagles understood very well that David Irving is a force to be dealt with on the interior, and they were able to scheme his strengths into a weakness the Cowboys never adjusted to in this game. I've written previously about how 1T DT Maliek Collins is unique in his ability to penetrate up the field and still be effective, and the same applies to the disruptive Irving.

The Eagles were able to open up gaps that cleared their bruising RBs to the second level with ease by sealing Irving off of the ball, catching him in the trap game with his length and burst.

Also of note: it was Richard Ash and Lewis Neal, two players with relatively limited range, lined up together at DT on Jay Ajayi's backbreaking 71 yard rush.

  • This was Jaylon Smith's best game of his career.

The things that came so naturally and consistently for him at Notre Dame have been struggles for him in the NFL as he continues to improve from his injury. Against the Eagles here, the short-range burst, hand strength, change of direction ability, and overall tackling skills were there for Smith - who may need to be relied on even more with Anthony Hitchens exiting this game with a groin injury and a short week.

  • Anthony Brown is simply not playing with any of the technique that made him such an important rookie contributor on last year's team.

Being able to play with confidence is everything for CBs in the NFL, and Brown has none right now. He's struggled to react to plays in time to use his pure speed and length to disrupt passes.

Getting pushed off-balanced, turned around, and thrown at the top of routes, Brown is a liability in coverage right now. This Cowboys team has so many other young starters around him in the back-end. Dallas was banking on Brown being able to take another step with his game in 2017, but instead he's cost them huge plays and is being targeted every time an opposing offense needs a favorable matchup to exploit.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Cowboys' focus--if they hope to play more than 16 games on this draining season--is all but turned towards an NFC Wild Card berth now, sitting four games behind with six to play in the NFC East.

Losers of two straight, the Cowboys will not have much time to get healthy nor correct their wrongdoings from Sunday Night Football as the Chargers come in on Thursday. Failing to put together four full quarters of football through much of this season, the Cowboys are just hours away from lining up for four more quarters that will truly define this 2017 campaign.

I'll be back with Sean's Scout then, along with more on the implications of this loss and further thoughts on the Chargers throughout the week, right here at Inside The Star.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Dak’s Misses, Defensive Breakdowns See Eagles Soar Past Cowboys" 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

Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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Zack Martin

The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.

Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:

Dallas Cowboys

  • WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
  • DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
  • DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
  • DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
  • DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
  • G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
  • G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
  • DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
  • LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable

The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.

Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.

The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.

Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.

Atlanta Falcons

  • LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT

It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.

The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.

Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.

So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.



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Game Notes

Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta

The Dallas Cowboys play their next three games in 13 days, all critical to their hopes of winning the NFC East despite alternating wins and losses since week one. For the Cowboys to earn consecutive road wins, their first coming on Sunday night at the Eagles, they'll have to come out of Atlanta in much better shape than they did just a year ago.

As expected in the NFL, a lot has changed in this year. The Cowboys 27-7 loss at the Falcons in their first game without Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was the beginning of the end on a season that forced a multitude of coaching changes in Dallas.

The Cowboys stubbornness in allowing Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to sack Dak Prescott six times by beating Chaz Green and Byron Bell is something they hoped to move past when new positional coaches were brought in at OL, TE, QB, and WR.

It took the team admitting that these moves below Offensive Coordinator Scot Linehan were not all correct two weeks ago for the Cowboys to see any real progress, but with their win last week there's hope that the Cowboys are the improved team expected weeks ago - arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.

Firing Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander was the first move, as the Cowboys named Marc Colombo OL Coach and Hudson Houck his assistant. Colombo told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week that he has injured Center Travis Frederick on a headset during games as well.

Colombo, Houck, and Frederick have the Cowboys offensive line confident in their ability to play to their strengths, rewarded with a renewed faith in the zone blocking scheme that was forgotten under Alexander.

If the Cowboys offensive line was their first problem in last year's Falcons loss (it was), it's becoming their biggest strength at the right time in the season.

The Cowboys necessary changes didn't stop here though.

In desperate need of a play maker on the outside, the Cowboys are seeing their investment into Wide Receiver Amari Cooper pay off so far. Cooper is averaging 3.2 yards of separation on his routes this season, ahead of Cole Beasley's 2.6 yards as the next closest pass catcher.

Cooper's presence was a big part of Ezekiel Elliott's 151 yard rushing performance at the Eagles. A player that can win on the outside with ease and dictate coverage has benefited Prescott and the Cowboys game plan on offense enough to send away a first round pick.

It will be up to this "rebuilt" Cowboys offense to match the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta is averaging 27.1 points per game this season, but a much more dangerous 32.2 at home. After a 1-4 start, the 4-5 Falcons are playing in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks, losing at the Browns in week ten.

The Cowboys felt they'd be prepared for games like this after their offseason moves, instead needing to show the type of in-season urgency that's been rare for Jason Garrett's team. The same can be said about a Falcons team that's experienced playing with their backs to the wall much sooner than the Cowboys have this season, setting up a big NFC match up in the early slot Sunday.

Dak Prescott will be thankful that Chaz Green nor Byron Bell are protecting him, wanting nothing more than to deliver another win for the Cowboys to take into Thanksgiving against the division-leading Washington Redskins. Not all of the coaches responsible for the lack of adjustment in last year's game are gone. What the Cowboys do have are tangible new ideas from coaches that understand they need more than a win at the defending Super Bowl champions to call this Cowboys season a success.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta" 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

Do Or Die: Chidobe Awuzie Must Improve Sunday, Or Cowboys Season Could End

Kevin Brady

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Will Chidobe Awuzie's Return Benefit The Cowboys' Defense?

Coming into the season there was a lot of hype surrounding the Dallas Cowboys' cornerbacks. With Byron Jones moving from safety full time, and now second year player Chidobe Awuzie playing opposite Jones after a promising rookie season, there was a lot for Cowboys fans to be excited about.

Through the first 10 weeks of the year, though, only one of those two has maintained fans' excitement. While Byron Jones has been arguably the best cornerback in all of football, Chidobe Awuzie has been damn-near an automatic completion when thrown at.

Awuzie has a -5.8 coverage rating this season, 65th among cornerbacks in the NFL. Coverage rating is a metric which factors in how often a cornerback is targeted as well as how many passes they've defensed per target. Quarterbacks also have a 116.6 passer rating when targeting Awuzie, compared to just 64.5 when targeting Byron Jones. For comparisons sake, Jones' coverage rating is a +45! So you can see why "cornerback opposite of Jones" is becoming a need for the Cowboys.

What's perplexing about Awuzie's season, though, is that he is only giving up an average 0.95 yards of separation, 27th in the league (courtesy of playerprofiler.com). So while Awuzie is playing relatively sticky coverage, he's still being targeted often, and he's still allowing completions way too often.

This week, Chidobe Awuzie will be tested once again, this time by the dynamic passing game of the Atlanta Falcons. The match-up many fans are focusing on is that between Byron Jones and Julio Jones, but how Awuzie does against Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu may play a bigger factor in the result.

Both Ridley and Sanu are solid supporting receivers, and considering how much attention the defense typically has to pay to Julio Jones, they tend to get man coverage often. This allows for a precise route runner like Ridley to take advantage of opportunities, and come away with the types of big plays we've seen from him this year.

When matched up with either of these weapons, Awuzie will need to continue to stay close, but play and defense the ball better. He must continue to make it hard on these receivers and force them into contested catches, but hopefully he can improve on his play when the ball gets to the catch point.

Sunday will be another big test for the Cowboys' young defense. And as well as they have played most weeks, this game has the potential to be a season ender if certain guys do not step up. One of those guys who will certainly play a key role in influencing the result in Chidobe Awuzie.



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