The Dallas Cowboys suffered their first loss of this young 2017 season yesterday, showing up flat in the high altitude of Denver as the Broncos handled them for an easy 42-17 win.
Coming into this game, the Cowboys seemingly had another chance to control the action with Ezekiel Elliott on the ground and a defense that swarmed to the ball in a week one win against the Giants.
Elliott carrying nine times for a career-low eight yards while Trevor Siemian and the Denver offense put the game away behind his four touchdown passes was hardly an expected outcome for Cowboys Nation, but it is the reality the team will have to live with as they learn from their week two mistakes and begin preparing for a week three Monday Night Football trip to Arizona.
As always, here are some of my immediate thoughts on the Cowboys' performance in Sean's Scout:
- There is no question who the most encouraging player on Rod Marinelli's defense has been through these two games, as DE DeMarcus Lawrence added two more sacks by winning his favorable match up against Menelik Watson. What continues to stand out from Lawrence is his ability to effectively rush inside of his blockers, which keeps them guessing and makes his edge ability even more dangerous. Lawrence has never been a rusher that will capture the corner with great initial quickness, speed, or bend. This isn't to say that he won't convert his power into the ability to "run the arc" and finish at the quarterback, but it is the consistent use of this power as an inside and outside rusher that has him leading this Dallas pass rush - with help on the way in the form of Damontre Moore set to return for week three off of his two game suspension.
- The ability to tackle underneath is so incredibly important against a Broncos offense that will scheme plenty of ways for their receivers to catch the ball on the move, and it was the lack of execution in this area on all levels that really wrecked the game for the Cowboys yesterday. Nolan Carroll's rough day was cut short when he entered the concussion protocol, but prior to that he struggled to react on the boundary and give the Cowboys anything on his side of the field. An underrated part of Anthony Brown's game is his ability to play with this toughness and technique against the run, which could go a long way in ushering in a secondary of Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and Chidobe Awuzie as soon as this week. The failures to wrap up and limit the damage against Denver extended to players you would never expect it from on Rod Marinelli's defense as well on Sunday though, as Sean Lee had one of his worst games reacting to the breaks in front of him and getting to the ball on time. When Lee visibly struggles the way he did, it is going to be a long day for the Cowboys defense, and some added breakdowns from Jeff Heath and Byron Jones at safety only put this game further out of reach early.
- This was obviously not the performance that Dez Bryant was expecting to have after struggling once again with Janoris Jenkins to start the season, but he was able to get the best of Aquib Talib on a touchdown reception to tie the game in the second quarter. The play was an example of where this Dallas passing offense is hopefully heading as Prescott has better days, with Bryant taking advantage of how Talib wants to play his route at the stem on a great play call. Using his size and physicality, Bryant caught Talib with a lower center of gravity trying to break on the route, but the throw from Dak was timed so well that all Dez had to do was extend against Talib and snag the pass in the end zone above the outstretched arms of Aquib.
- Anytime this Cowboys team rushes for 40 yards in a game, it is safe to say that the offensive line hardly achieved what they set out to do each and every week. As we continue to monitor La'el Collins' progress at right tackle though, I thought his ability to deal with Von Miller was nothing but another positive in his development back at his college position (where he played LT at LSU). Collins' technique is where it needs to be, and he's made the mental adjustments to deal with speed rushers like Miller without feeling like he needs to initiate contact - a difference from his previous experience at guard. Collins' hand placement against Miller was also a noticeable positive, while his strength and light feet allowed him to steer Von behind the pocket when needed.
- There are plenty of reasons I always expand on these takeaways in Sean's Scout after getting to the tape of the game, but the most important one is to hopefully gain context on player's assignments that are lost during the live broadcast of the game. With that said, I'll be hoping to be proved wrong on Jaylon Smith during tape study this week, as it appeared he was well off with his depth on drops at MIKE linebacker, creating even more windows for the Broncos to exploit throwing the ball and running away from both Smith and Sean Lee at will.
Cowboys, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report
Though it's still early in the 2018 season, the lead in the NFC East is up for grabs when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins meet this Sunday. Both teams would like their full roster available for the game, but the Week 7 injury reports indicate that won't be the case.
Here are the players either confirmed to be out of action tomorrow or are otherwise listed by Dallas and Washington:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - OUT
- CB Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) - Questionable
The Cowboys are getting healthier, with Sean Lee finally off the injury report and set to return to action. Not only will Dallas get their elite linebacker back, but it means a deeper rotation while the team remains without Joe Thomas.
Tavon Austin elected to skip season-ending surgery on his injured groin, but his should be out a few weeks. That will put Cole Beasley on punt returns and perhaps create more offensive opportunities for Deonte Thompson and Brice Butler.
Awuzie remains limited in practice but has played the last few weeks despite the ankle injury. There is no reason to think he won't suit up in Washington.
- WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) - OUT
- WR Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) - Doubtful
- S Troy Apke (hamstring) - Doubtful
- RB Adrian Peterson (ankle, shoulder) - Questionable
- RB Chris Thompson (rib, knee) - Questionable
- G Shawn Lauvao (calf) - Questionable
- CB Quinton Dunbar (shin) - Questionable
- CB Danny Johnson (forearm) - Questionable
It's a rough time for Washington's offensive weapons. They will definitely be without slot receiver Jamison Crowder and likely starter Paul Richardson, who current lead all WRs in receptions. Josh Doctson will put into a major role, as will veteran Brian Quick off the bench.
Peterson and Thompson both practiced this week and should play, but have nagging injuries that could slow them down. Washington is already missing Rob Kelley and rookie Derrius Guice, who are both on injured reserve.
Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao is also nursing a lower leg injury, but practiced in a limited capacity all week. His backup is undrafted rookie Casey Dunn out of Auburn.
In the defensive backfield, starting CB Quinton Dunbar was a Friday addition to the injury report with a shin injury. He did practice with it, though, so will likely play. Backup safety Troy Apke is doubtful with a hamstring issue.
Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.
Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.
Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.
Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.
Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.
The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.
Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.
Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.
Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.
Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.
He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.
If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.
Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.
Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.
That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.
#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance
It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.
But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.
According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.
Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.
What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.
For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.
As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.
Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.
Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).
Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.
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