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Sean’s Scout: Lions Secondary is Latest Problem for Cowboys Passing Attack

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Lions Secondary is Latest Problem for Cowboys Passing Attack to Overcome

A lot is on the line for the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions in this week's match up at AT&T Stadium, with both teams at 1-2. The Cowboys and Lions have played their share of meaningful and competitive games in recent years, and this one expects to be no different.

If you believe in week three talking points having any merit, the Lions are the team coming to Dallas with momentum while the Cowboys have been faced with doom and gloom ever since returning from Seattle. The Lions did start the season 0-2, with reports that first-year Head Coach Matt Patricia was already losing his new team in the locker room, but a prime time win over the New England Patriots remedied all of this.

Now, it is the Cowboys coaching staff hoping to do the same with a resurgent performance against the NFL's top passing defense - seemingly a tall order for Scott Linehan's offense. Linehan has hinted at the Cowboys adding some much-needed wrinkles to the team's game plan this week.

His quarterback, Dak Prescott, was able to provide some clarity on Linehan's comments, telling the media that the Cowboys plan to "sling it around" against the Lions. Again, this is a bold strategy going against a team that's defended the pass exceptionally well while struggling more than any other against the run.

Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott is second to Todd Gurley in rushing yards this season. He'll be the first to tell you that his 274 yards on the ground are mostly empty without the Cowboys wins to show for it, making his continued presence against the Lions all the more important.

Elliott can remain the key for the Cowboys to unlock their struggling passing game. The Lions struggled against play action passes from the Patriots last week, something New England was forced to abandon thanks to the score - just as Dallas has with their own running and PA options.

This was just one takeaway I found when watching the Lions defense hold Tom Brady to 133 yards with a longest completion of just 19 yards, coming away with the impression that Sunday could be another difficult afternoon for Prescott in the pocket.

DET1

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This first clip is an outstanding play from Lions safety Glover Quinn. Traditionally a two high safety team, the Lions are mixing up their looks in the back end more under Patricia. Still as committed as ever to playing man coverage, Quinn ends up playing single high with the inside route coming his way.

If there was one weakness on film from the Lions secondary, it was their inability to consistently pass off receivers through the second and third level. More times than not though, their speed made up for this, as Quinn ensures here.

This is a defense that will punish mistimed or inaccurate throws.

Despite the extra defensive back doing little to reroute Hogan, Quinn finds a way to remain on top of the throw and break on it. This ball is just slightly behind his target for Brady, who never had much of a window to hit Hogan anyway.

DET2

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

This next clip is a great example of why the Cowboys will need to establish Elliott on the ground early in this week's game. Although they lack the receiving threat at tight end to execute this play exactly (the Cowboys are second to last with eight TE receptions this season, the Lions being one of three teams with six), the Lions aggressiveness at linebacker stands out.

Overall, this is a fast defense that reacts to the ball and uses the boundary to its advantage, all traits of Patricia's Super Bowl winning defenses in New England. Lined up with a wide front in the play above, the MIKE linebacker is forced to react to the pulling guard off the snap.

As soon as this action is effective for the Patriots, Brady knows where he's going with the football. Giving this linebacker no chance to get back in the play, especially with the WILL giving Rob Gronkowski a free release by following the run fake, Brady connects with his favorite target for an easy gain.

Again, the Cowboys don't have the same go-to tight end, but this is easily a concept that Linehan could run with Cole Beasley or even Elliott as a receiver to create that successful wrinkle.

DET3

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This last play comes down to a fantastic individual effort from the Lions best cover man, cornerback Darius Slay. Coming away with the interception on the play, Slay utilizes the help from his deep safety brilliantly.

Overall, the Lions did a much better job not biting on the play fake here, giving their coverage a chance to hold up. The Lions drop six into coverage, relying on that deep safety to make the right read if the Patriots run a vertical concept like this one.

Doing just that, Slay flips his hips to the inside and remains in position to pick off this pass with the ball in the air. When Brady releases the ball, he sees the safety at shallow enough depth to be taken over the top, but as the Lions secondary does so well he's able to cover the needed ground.

The Lions may lead the NFL in completed passes against with 48, but they've also faced just 73 attempts. Both Isaiah Crowell and Matt Breida eclipsed 100 rushing yards against the Lions in their two season opening losses.

Breida is currently tied with Elliott for second in total rushing yards this season.

The Cowboys defense is playing without Sean Lee in this game too. Despite optimism that they're prepared to handle his loss better than last season thanks to rookie Leighton Vander Esch, the Cowboys know they're not winning games because of Rod Marinelli's defense - even with Lee.

It's time for the offense to finish drives and allow this talented defense to protect the lead, something their passing attack must accomplish. Failure to do so against the Lions would see Detroit even their record at 2-2 with back-to-back impressive wins, allowing for hope in the NFC North at the hands of the Cowboys NFC East outlook taking a major blow.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Lions Secondary is Latest Problem for Cowboys Passing Attack" 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, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report
Patrick Smith/Getty Images

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:

Dallas Cowboys

  • 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.

Washington Redskins

  • 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.



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Game Notes

Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins

Sean Martin

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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.

David Moore on Twitter

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.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins" 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

#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Pass Rush Better than They're Given Credit For
James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

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.

Brian Burke on Twitter

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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