Don't write off the 2018 Dallas Cowboys yet. Playing like a team in desperate need of a win on Sunday against the Lions, the Cowboys managed a final Brett Maher field goal as time expired to defeat the Detroit Lions 26-24.
Throughout the first three quarters, the Cowboys inability to finish drives with touchdowns seemed destined to cost them. Marvin Jones' late touchdown -- sneaking in behind a stunned Cowboys secondary -- could have assured just this, if not for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott moving the offense for a winning score.
Elliott finished his day with a career high 240 yards, 38 of which came on the winning drive. It was a standout day for Elliott as a receiver, highlighted by his 34 yard reception to the Lions' 25-yard line with under 90 seconds to play.
Here are my full post game thoughts on what will be an uplifting win for this young Cowboys team, improving their record to 2-2.
- Despite the win, this was not a game for Kris Richard's secondary to write home about.
The Cowboys difficulty defending Matt Stafford was evident on both of Golden Tate's receiving touchdowns. His first coming after the Cowboys settled for a 32-yard FG, the Lions jumped on the Cowboys early by taking advantage of Anthony Brown on the outside.
After getting beat across the field in man coverage on the outside, Brown was pulled for Jourdan Lewis on the touchdown play. Coming off the bench without a lot of reps while being asked to cover Golden Tate is a tall order, and one Lewis was not at all ready for.
After making quick work of him, Tate beat Jeff Heath to put the Lions on the board. Heath was unable to be the Cowboys trusted safety in this game, struggling to settle in at any point. The Cowboys should expect Heath to struggle if continuing to play him down against the run (evident on Kerryon Johnson's touchdown), but his poor angles in coverage have left the Cowboys secondary exposed multiple times.
From my initial viewing of this game, it appeared that Xavier Woods was mixed into the safety rotation down in the box, but was caught taking poor angles at times too.
Their worst collective play in this game came on Tate's go-ahead touchdown, as he got behind Brown again to give the Lions the lead with just 2:17 to play. As was the case most of last season, where Brown was nearly always at a loss with his technique, Stafford caught Brown peeking into the backfield and not getting depth against Tate.
He won't score many easier touchdowns this season, but the Cowboys offense did enough to pick up these mistakes from the defense to earn a team win.
- The Cowboys promised some new "wrinkles" on offense in this game, and while using their best player more efficiently was a great sign, Elliott's biggest impact in the passing game came on unscripted touches.
One play in particular that stood out was a third down conversion on the Cowboys second field goal drive. Feeling the blitz right in his face, Prescott was able to stand in the pocket and effectively "replace the blitz with the ball".
The trust between Prescott and Elliott in the passing game has always been there, but the execution and frequency at which the Cowboys use their running back in this way has been lacking. On this play, Prescott simply floated the ball into the flat where Elliott had to make a contested catch before lowering the shoulder to ensure a first down.
Paired with perhaps the most important play of this young Cowboys season, Elliott's go-route catch to set up Maher's game winner, the Cowboys may finally be turning the corner when it comes to getting the most out of their premier player on offense.
- There are a lot of Cowboys coaches and executives that deserve credit for how well Leighton Vander Esch has performed in his first season.
The controversial first round pick was labeled as a bust by fans before ever suiting up for the Cowboys. Now, he's the Cowboys fill-in for Sean Lee - a hopeless position that's costed them countless games in recent seasons thanks to a lack of depth at linebacker.
The Cowboys had a clear plan for Vander Esch throughout the draft process, focusing in on him early and pulling the trigger at 19th overall. Through four games, the Cowboys are executing this plan by keeping him clean on the second level to find the ball and attack.
Vander Esch is the starter at WILL but has also received plenty of snaps at SAM in Nickel looks for the Cowboys.
All Leighton has done so far is reward his team by making nearly every tackle in front of him. A product of the talent in front of him on the defensive line, occupying the attention of blockers, as well as Jaylon Smith alongside him, LVE has been one of the Cowboys few consistencies in the first quarter of the season.
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The Cowboys will move on to play at the Houston Texans in week five. The Texans managed their first win of the season on Sunday, winning on a field goal of their own against the Colts in overtime.
When the Cowboys lost in Seattle, the post game narrative was that the team missed a chance to take full advantage of an easier stretch on the schedule. Bouncing back with a gritty performance against the Lions, the Cowboys must now build on this and clean up their own mistakes that remain in the passing game as well as in the secondary.
For now, the Cowboys should absolutely enjoy this win, particularly Brett Maher - who has to be feeling incredible after making good on the Cowboys trust in him, converting his first game winning opportunity.
Sean’s Scout: Resilient Prescott Inches Cowboys Closer to NFC East Title
If an overtime win over the defending Super Bowl champions that ends their dreams of repeating while increasing your own playoff odds can be both ugly and beautiful, then the Dallas Cowboys 29-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles was certainly that - and a whole lot more.
Extending their winning streak to five didn't come without the Cowboys toying with a total collapse, as Quarterback Dak Prescott turned the ball over three times. Fresh off a win against the New Orleans Saints where the Cowboys managed just 13 points, the Eagles pushed this defense to the edge thanks to continued struggles on offense.
In overtime, Prescott made sure Carson Wentz and the Eagles would never see the ball, putting four indescribable quarters behind him to lead a game-winning touchdown drive. The Cowboys are a win away from claiming the NFC East. The full scope of how this season has turned on its head goes well beyond this most recent Cowboys win, at least back to their first win at the Eagles five weeks ago.
For now, my first attempt at sorting out what we saw at AT&T Stadium on Sunday will have to do, with another post game edition of Sean's Scout.
- With both Tight Ends Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz setting new career highs in receptions, I was waiting for the Cowboys patience on offense to pay off with a big play on the outside, finally provided twice by Wide Receiver Amari Cooper.
In the Cowboys previous win over the Eagles, their receivers had their way with a depleted Philadelphia secondary. Dealing with injuries at cornerback mid-game that are still effecting this group, the Eagles were in no position to line up against Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Cole Beasley.
The counter for the Cowboys offense this week was to use heavier formations, pound Ezekiel Elliott, and get their tight ends involved more than they've been all season. Perhaps the only normal thing to come out of this game was Elliott's 40 touches.
Despite it being a career high, there's no reason Elliott shouldn't be this involved in the Cowboys offense. The Cowboys patience with Elliott was eventually rewarded when Cooper scored from 28 yards out to break a 6-6 tie, and again from 75 yards to put Dallas ahead 23-16 in the fourth quarter.
If not for a few missed shots to Michael Gallup and a missed Brett Maher field goal, the Cowboys efforts on offense could have kept this game out of overtime, though their execution on the winning drive is hard to dispute.
- The Cowboys are last in the league at scoring touchdowns in the red zone over their last three wins, something that has to change quickly in preparation for the playoffs.
The Cowboys were 3 of 5 in the red zone in the win that started this streak in Philly, and 2 of 3 the following week at the Falcons. Their decline on offense has been a recent trend that must come back up over the last three weeks of the regular season.
Only six of Elliott's 40 touches came in the red zone, which feels inexcusable from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, considering also it was an adjusted play call by Cooper and Prescott that created their long touchdown to force overtime.
Perhaps the trust the Cowboys showed in Schultz and Jarwin will lead to more red zone opportunities for tight ends, of which the Cowboys have no true middle-of-field threat.
- There is no reason for Prescott to be falling away on his first interception in the end zone, targeting an open Cooper to the back corner.
Prescott never saw Rasul Douglas break off his man and end up under a throw to Cooper that was placed in a horrible spot. Cooper was open, but thrown into coverage on a ball he never really came close to.
After another look at the play, it's even more disturbing to see Prescott's mechanics. Sliding in a clean pocket, Prescott was falling away slightly when he released the ball. The Cowboys defense would bail out Prescott after probably his most egregious turnover, forcing a three and out.
This was not the case after Prescott's second interception that turned into the Eagles first touchdown, or fumble that lead to a tying field goal.
- For as good a pass rushing duo as DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are, Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins and Tyrone Crawford don't get enough credit for their all-around game.
Before kickoff, I wrote about the Cowboys not needing David Irving, who missed his sixth straight game. This is a compliment to not only Collins and Crawford, but Antwaun Woods as well. All three played their part in keeping the Eagles offense in check once again.
Crawford may be playing the best football of his seven-year career. No longer struggling to fit in as either a defensive end or tackle, Crawford is simply a leader by example for the Cowboys defense wherever he lines up.
Carson Wentz is a quarterback you have to make reset his feet defensively, and Crawford was able to force this a number of times. His speed rush ability paired with the power of Collins and Woods on the inside is incredibly disruptive for Dallas.
Following Maher's missed field goal, Crawford turned in one of the hustle plays of the season for the Cowboys to strip Wentz. Beating the left guard off the snap, Crawford dipped Jason Peters at left tackle on his way to a forced fumble that produced another field goal before the half.
This game was that close to having a first half all about the Cowboys taking advantage of Eagles mistakes, instead leaving points on the field and letting the Eagles punish second half mistakes on the way to overtime.
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With a win at the Colts, vs. the Buccaneers, or at the Giants the Cowboys will have gone from 3-5 to NFC East champions for 2018. The merits of just how good this division is will be worth discussing prior to the playoffs, but with two wins over the Eagles and one over the Redskins within an ongoing five game win streak, the Cowboys are objectively one of the hottest teams in the league right now.
Amari Cooper has probably made six or seven plays "better" than his miraculous overtime touchdown, proving his worth more and more each week, though his winning score will surely be a lasting moment from the Cowboys week 14 win.
#DALvsPHI: Evaluating Jason Garrett’s 4th Down OT Decision
It's no secret that Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is the victim of much criticism among Cowboys Nation. Often called too conservative, or called out for "coaching scared," Garrett has gotten killed by the media throughout much of the 2018 season.
You could easily argue that Garrett cost the Cowboys the game against the Houston Texans, and even the first match up with Washington, but how this team has rallied over the last 5 weeks is a direct reflection of their head coach's character.
Last Sunday the Cowboys faced another one of those late game, fourth down decisions. It was fourth and 1 in overtime with just about 4 minutes left to play in the extra period. Dallas had driven the ball down the field for a potential field goal, but you know the fans wanted more.
The overtime rules state that if Dallas, who possessed the ball first, were to make a field goal, the Eagles would get the ball and a chance to score. This made the decision all-the-more interesting for Jason Garrett, who decided to pound the ball with Ezekiel Elliott for a first down. Elliott made a great individual effort on the play to dive forward for the conversion without much push from the offensive line.
Just a few plays later Dak Prescott would find Amari Cooper for the game winning touchdown, further vindicating Jason Garrett for his "gutsy" fourth down call.
Back when Garrett decided to punt in overtime against Houston, we all killed him, and I did so with my win probability numbers. But, with the decision going the other way against Philadelphia, let's examine what that same probability model says, and give Garrett credit where it is due.
Before any decision was made, with the Cowboys facing fourth and 1, the model had Dallas at a 72% chance of winning the game. Had they kicked the field goal, and made it, their win probability would have moved to just 73% (with decimal rounding). Basically, the kick, although it would put Dallas up 3 points, would have no change on their win probability.
If they had missed the fourth down conversion, their probability would have dropped down to 53%. Clearly this is a steep drop of nearly 20 percentage points, but they still wouldn't be in terrible position to win or tie the game. But, since they went for it and converted, their win probability jumped to 77%.
ESPN's win probability model was much more bullish on the Cowboys' chances, bringing their win probability to 95% after the fourth down conversion. Regardless of the model you use, converting that fourth down clearly made it very unlikely for Philadelphia to win the game.
So credit to Jason Garrett for making the call, and credit to Ezekiel Elliott for making good on the conversion.
Amari Cooper has Final Say on Trade Compensation in Cowboys Win
The big debate that occurred when the Dallas Cowboys made the move to acquire Amari Cooper from the Oakland Raiders, revolved around the trade compensation required for the Cowboys to complete the deal. Many thought that sending the Oakland Raiders a first round pick for Cooper to be too much, especially after it was rumored that the Philadelphia Eagles had offered a second round pick the week before. Well, after a huge game that saw Amari Cooper completely dominate the game, we can once and for all put this conversation to rest.
On the night, Amari Cooper caught 10 passes on 13 targets for 217 yards and three touchdowns including the game winner in overtime. He came up with huge catches for first downs and touchdowns throughout the game and continues to show an important ability to get open at will. Even on Dak Prescott's first interception, Cooper was open heading into the end zone, but Dak left the ball a bit short allowing Rasul Douglas to make the play and take points off the board.
The Dallas Cowboys offense was listless for most of the game until Dak Prescott and Cooper hooked up for their first touchdown of the game, a 28 yard score that brought life to the offense. Cooper was left alone in man coverage. Cooper wasn't in the best position to catch the ball when it was released, but he used his elite speed and ball tracking skills to get into a better position and make the catch for the first of three go-ahead touchdowns.
Dak and Amari had to continue to hook up throughout the second half and overtime in order for the Cowboys to pull out the win and take a commanding two-game lead in the division. Cooper followed up his first score with a 75-yard touchdown reception to again give the Dallas Cowboys a seven point lead. After the game, Cooper talked about the play with the media.
After the game Amari Cooper talked about his 75-yard touchdown and how he originally had a stop route but Dak Prescott gave him a hand signal to run a go instead.
Again, Cooper gets a one on one matchup. Cooper is able to get down the sideline in a hurry and again use his ball tracking skills to find the ball in the air and get into a great position to make the catch and then hurry away from the defensive backs.
From the get go, you could tell that Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper have had a nice chemistry this season and that 75-yard touchdown reception is just further evidence of their connection. Amari Cooper took full advantage of a depleted Eagles secondary on Sunday and made some nice moves after the catch.
Sometimes being lucky is just as important as being good. On third and eight in overtime, Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys were extremely lucky to come away with the victory on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. Cooper's concentration on the game-winning touchdown reception was really good, but this play could have gone a few terrible ways, but it didn't and the Cowboys came away with a victory that puts them in a commanding position in the NFC East.
Since he's come over from the Oakland Raiders, he's caught 40 passes on 50 targets for 641 yards and six touchdowns on the season. He's averaging 16 yards per reception and has caught 80% of his passes on the season. He also hasn't had a drop this season and is getting open with tremendously regularity.
Since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper, they are 5-1 and are a win away from clinching the NFC East with three games to go. The offense has looked much more explosive in the last five games and have moved the ball more consistently over the last six games. In pretty much every way that you can evaluate the move, Amari Cooper has been excellent for the Dallas Cowboys and for the price of a first round draft pick, he's far exceeded his price tag.
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