So this is what life is like for the Dallas Cowboys without Ezekiel Elliott...maybe. Losing 27-7 to the Falcons yesterday to fall to 5-4 on the season, the Cowboys dealt with a dangerous Atlanta team without Tyron Smith nor Sean Lee, who exited in the first quarter.
While the amount of absent stars the Cowboys had provides some hope that things can improve without Elliott, the simple fact that Zeke was sorely missed can't be hidden. Rushing for just 107 yards, Dak Prescott was under fire all afternoon, standing no chance on most of his 30 drop backs thanks to the performance of Chaz Green at LT.
Facing essentially a must-win game this Sunday at home against the Eagles, the Cowboys won't have much time to recover from this potentially demoralizing loss and more importantly nurse these key players back to health.
For now, here are my scouting notes on Dallas' performance in Atlanta as always in another edition of Sean's Scout.
- We don't have to dive too much into Chaz Green's nightmarish day, because anyone watching this game saw just how much he cost the Cowboys any real chance of sustaining drives offensively. Simply put, Green had zero success putting all of the traits needed to play left tackle against the speed of the Falcons' rushers together from snap to snap. When he was alright in his movement or slide ability, Green was broken down due to repetitive hand placement and poor play strength. On the rare occasion that his upper body wasn't the issue, Green conceded the corner and was beaten with speed numerous times as Adrian Clayborn got to Dak Prescott six times. Tyron Smith was missed dearly on Sunday, to say the absolute least.
- It wasn't only Green that struggled on the left side of Dallas' offensive line in this game. I thought that Jonathan Cooper was well below average compared to the dominant level of play he's been at the previous few weeks. Some of this can surely be attributed to Cooper not having the same confidence that he would if Tyron Smith was next to him, but there were plenty of snaps where Cooper was forced to catch his man thanks to poor balance and technique. When Cooper struggles with his balance, he is simply a very beatable football player - as this leads to issues with his power and hands. Unable to deliver his normally strong initial blows to defensive linemen before clearing to the second level, Cooper was not nearly as effective on the afternoon moving defenders or anchoring in his pass sets. For these reasons, I believe the Cowboys can still be effective rushing the football without Elliott - assuming Cooper regains his form following this off day for the entirety of the Cowboys' offensive line.
- Dak Prescott's fourth rushing touchdown of the season was the only score of the game for the Cowboys, and rookie WR Noah Brown deserves some credit for allowing the play to develop as easily as it did. The only defender that had a chance to contain and close on Prescott was rookie DE Takk McKinley. A very tough blocking assignment, the willing blocker in Brown rode McKinley behind Prescott before forcing him to disengage and chase the ball from behind. Already turning the corner and gaining speed, Prescott beat the backside pursuit to easily cross the goal line.
- Adding another sack on the day, DeMarcus Lawrence continues to prove that he is one of the most versatile pass rushers in the entire NFL. What gives Lawrence so many ways to get to the quarterback is his quick hands. When Lawrence can use his hands to either take away a blocker's ability to reach on him or to stab and sharpen the corner, he becomes impossible to block. Lawrence is equally dominant bending towards the quarterback with great speed and drive or countering inside to get in a QBs face. There is no doubt that a healthy DeMarcus Lawrence is going to continue to be a player opposing offensive coordinator's dread game planning for.
- I am hopeful that the Cowboys' coaches on the defensive side of the ball saw enough from UDFA Lewis Neal (playing in his first regular season game) at the 1T DT position for him to replace Richard Ash. Ash has not played poorly, doing his job by eating up space on the interior, but the Cowboys are just noticeably better with an athletic 1T in the game like Maliek Collins or Neal. The penetration these players create is unique for a 1T, but it helps the Cowboys' linebackers do what they do best in shooting gaps and finding the football. Lewis Neal's best trait is his superb lower body strength, which keeps him from getting cut low by blockers. Both Ash and Neal freed themselves up to make plays down the line in this game, but it was Ash failing to get in position to stop the run at the line numerous times while Neal flashed some speed along with his high motor to make a noticeable impact playing next to David Irving.
- There weren't many bright spots for a Cowboys secondary that was simply outclassed by the Falcons receiving corps, but Xavier Woods' interception was sure one of them. The play was perfectly executed by both him and Anthony Brown. Dropping to the right depth in coverage, Brown put himself in position to drive on a Matt Ryan pass to Mohamed Sanu at just the right time - arriving as the high throw sailed into his hand and deflected into the air. Continuing to impress with his range and instincts, Woods saw the ball shoot behind Brown and, with his momentum going towards the sideline already, rallied to the football to grab a tip drill interception that set up his team's only touchdown.
The Cowboys chances against the Eagles will rest on the health of the simply irreplaceable players that were missing in this ugly loss to the Falcons. Nobody with the Cowboys this week should believe that not having Ezekiel Elliott on the field cost them this game, and Alfred Morris along with Rod Smith will be even more motivated to respond with better performances on the ground.
Maintaining balance to their offense is the only way the Cowboys can control games still and ultimately win enough to remain in the playoff hunt. This, and continuing to see young defenders like Xavier Woods take strides will help Dallas focus on the few positives heading into week eleven.
For now, this concludes another Monday post game Sean's Scout. Stay posted to Inside The Star as we look further at this Falcons game and move on to the Eagles before Sunday.
Why The Seahawks Will Be Looking Into A Mirror Against The Cowboys Sunday
For the better part of the last decade one defense has reigned supreme over the NFC. One defense has continually put their offense and team in position to win big games, including a dominant Super Bowl win over one of the more productive offenses in recent memory.
That defense, of course, belonged to the Seattle Seahawks.
With a secondary deemed as the "Legion of Boom" and a defensive line which rotated through Pro Bowl level talent routinely, the Seahawks bolstered one of the best defenses the NFL has ever seen. A defense which perfectly complimented the physical, run first philosophy their offense lived by.
Players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, and Bobby Wagner will arguably be Hall of Famers one day, and they wreaked havoc on the conference for a strong 3-5 year stretch.
Now, however, things are changing.
Gone are many of the elite players which once bolstered the Seattle defense to top-tier status, and while some big names remain, the talent level simply isn't the same. The Seahawks missed the postseason a year ago, and now sit at 0-2 before their home opener today against the Cowboys.
Their window looks to be closed, while their opponent today is looking to build their defense (and team) in the mold of what once was in Seattle.
Former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard has come to Dallas and brought with him a more aggressive defensive philosophy, one which he deployed successfully with the Seahawks. Under Richard the Cowboys are blitzing more often on third down than they have in the past under Rod Marinelli, they're utilizing more single high safety looks, and they are allowing their long and talented corners to do what they do best in coverage.
The Seahawks once leaned on a deep pass rush and long, physical secondary. The 2018 Cowboys are looking to do the same thing.
The Seahawks once leaned on a mobile quarterback to make plays with his feet while relying on a strong running game and one of the league's best backs. The 2018 Cowboys are looking to do the same thing.
Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie look like they were molded in a 2013-Seahawks lab as cornerbacks, and DeMarcus Lawrence is as productive as any pass rusher those defenses had. Of course, we aren't able to say the Cowboys have the consistent front four depth that those Seattle teams did or that they have the single high safety of Earl Thomas' caliber, but the preliminary pieces are clearly in place.
Today the Cowboys look to improve to 2-1 with a conference road win. But, they also look to bury the Seahawks in the past and take another step towards cementing themselves as one of the elite defenses in the NFC.
It won't happen over night, but anyone can see that the potential is there.
Cowboys, Seahawks Week 3 Injury Report
Believe it or not, Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas isn't the only guy whose playing status is in question for today's game. Other key players for Seattle and the Dallas Cowboys appear on the teams' Week 3 injury reports.
The Cowboys are looking to move to 2-1 and maintain a slim lead in the NFC East. The Seahawks are still looking for their first win of 2018, and the drama around Thomas isn't helping the fear of a locker room implosion.
What players may not be out there to help their teams to victory?
- C Travis Frederick (illness) - OUT
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - OUT
- WR Cole Beasley (ankle) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
- S Xavier Woods (hamstring) - Questionable
Frederick remains out as he deals with his neurological disease. Dallas decided to keep him on the 53-man roster, rather than place him on injured reserve, with the hope that he could return before Week 9. There are still several weeks before we'll know if that was a good move.
Maliek Collins will be out today after a minor knee injury suffered last week against the Giants. Taking his spot will be Datone Jones, who returns from his own knee issue after missing the first two games.
You don't like seeing your quarterback's favorite receiver and your defensive leader on the same injury report. Thankfully, though, it appears both Cole Beasley and Sean Lee will be available today.
For the #Cowboys, WR Cole Beasley (ankle) is expected to play, and LB Sean Lee (hamstring) should be good to go, as well, based on how he moved around in practice on Friday, sources say.
Finally, we come to the ever-intriguing Xavier Woods. While limited in practice all week, Woods is expected to make his season debut in Seattle. We will see if Xavier gets the start at free safety, or if Dallas will ease him back in and keep Kavon Frazier starting for now.
With all of the hype around Dallas' possible acquisition of Earl Thomas, one has to hope that Xavier won't overdo it and make matters worse with his hamstring. Between the enthusiasm just to play and the threat to his starting job, the second-year stud should be pretty amped up.
- WR Doug Baldwin (knee) - OUT
- C/G Ethan Pocic (ankle) - OUT
- LB K.J. Wright (knee) - OUT
- C Justin Britt (shoulder) - Questionable
- LB Mychal Kendricks (ankle) - Questionable
- S Earl Thomas (???) - ???
Seattle remains without Baldwin, their leading receiver from 2014-2017, and it shows in their offensive play. QB Russell Wilson is currently at career lows in completion percentage and passer rating, plus has already thrown three interceptions in just two games.
The Seahawks have issues up front as well. Starting left guard Ethan Pocic will also miss today's game. With right guard D.J. Fluker returning this week after missing the first two, that will allow backup J.R. Sweezy to flip over to the other side.
If that wasn't enough, starting center Justin Britt missed the entire week of practice with a shoulder issue. He has not been ruled out, though. Regardless, those are a lot of red flags on your offensive line with the Cowboys' emerging defense coming to town.
Also out today will be Pro Bowl linebacker K.J. Wright. That means we could see Mychal Kendricks, who was just recently booted from Cleveland after being charged with insider trading, playing a major role today. Kendricks knows the Cowboys well, having played with the Eagles from 2012-2017.
And lastly, Earl Thomas.
No health or injury-related reason has been given for why Thomas missed practices on Wednesday and Friday. "Personal reasons" is all you're getting from Seattle, fueling rampant speculation that a trade is in the works. Whether or not that trade is with the Dallas Cowboys is pure conjecture at this point.
What we do know is that Seattle is 0-2 and trending down this year. Holding onto Thomas and his expiring contract, only to lose him for nothing next year in free agency, would be foolish.
We'll see if Earl plays at all today. If he doesn't, the trade talk is going to explode.
Cowboys Wishlist: Dallas Cowboys VS. Seattle Seahawks
It's week 3 of the 2018 NFL season and this match-up already feels like one of the most important ones the Dallas Cowboys will play in the season. The reason why is they need to prove they're good enough to win consistently and that they won't have another year that feels like a roller coaster of wins and losses like 2017 did. As they travel to Seattle to face the 0-2 Seahawks, the 1-1 Cowboys can't miss a perfect opportunity versus one of the weakest units in football: the Seahawks' offensive line.
As every gameday, here is my Cowboys Wishlist for this week's action. As always, I encourage you to share your wishes with me in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Brett Maher Kicks a 50+ yard FG.
Dan Bailey recently signed with the Minnesota Vikings. Cowboys Nation will experience a very odd feeling when they see their former kicker wear purple. If there's something that can make fans feel better is watching the guy who replaced Bailey nail a long field goal in Seattle.
Brett Maher showed he could kick a 47-yard FG in preseason, but we want to see him pull it off in a kick that will actually go down in the books. The decision to release Dan Bailey won't leave our minds until we see Maher do his job.
Wish #2: Rico Gathers Scores His First Career TD.
It felt like forever, but tight end Rico Gathers was activated for the first time in his career last Sunday. Rico didn't get his first catch even though he was targeted twice by Dak Prescott. The most notable moment was when Gathers seemed to be open in the endzone but Dak missed him.
Although Prescott's pass could've been better, Gathers did stumble a little bit and wasn't where he should've been to catch that touchdown. No worries, Rico's career is only beginning. I wish his first touchdown ever finally comes this week.
Wish #3: Defense Gets Its First Interception of the Year.
Through two weeks of NFL action, the Dallas Cowboys defense has been one of the most impressive units. Ranking as the third best in total points in the league, the Cowboys' defense might begin being the team's best side of the ball. At least, it has been for the first two weeks.
Last week, they limited Odell Beckham Jr. to only 51 yards. Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie have played pretty well so far, but I wish they're able to get their first interception of the year. Dallas has one takeaway from week 1 versus the Panthers, but it came in form of a fumble.
Let's get that interception from Russell Wilson, who will be pressured most of the day by a very productive Cowboys' front seven.
Wish #4: 20+ Point Performance
Despite a very exciting first drive versus the Giants last week, the Cowboys' offense still needs to prove it can be successful enough to win games. Scott Linehan's unit had some good drives but it also failed to maintain a consistent attack all game. That may seem okay, but the Cowboys will have to win against some pretty tough defenses.
Seahawks will present the team with a very interesting challenge and one that I wish they pass. As good as the defense is playing, the offense needs to show up in order to win later games.
Wish #5: Contain Russell Wilson
Wilson is one of the most dangerous quarterbacks in the NFL. His agility might be the best among every other signal caller in the game, becoming a very tough guy to defend. He can hurt you with his arms and legs and can throw on the run pretty well. All week we've been talking about how sacking the Seahawks' QB is a key to the victory, but it's more than that.
Wilson is good in the pocket, but when he starts scrambling or running out of the pocket only to throw the ball once the defense is out of position, he becomes a pretty painful headache. The Cowboys need to put him on the ground, but they also need to contain him all day long. He's basically his team's entire offense.
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