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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

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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

Sean’s Scout: Resilient Prescott Inches Cowboys Closer to NFC East Title

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Resilient Prescott Inches Cowboys Closer to NFC East Title
(Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images)

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.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

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.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Resilient Prescott Inches Cowboys Closer to NFC East Title" 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

#DALvsPHI: Evaluating Jason Garrett’s 4th Down OT Decision

Kevin Brady

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Report: Jason Garrett "Not Going Anywhere" with Possible Extension Coming Soon 1

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.



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Game Notes

Amari Cooper has Final Say on Trade Compensation in Cowboys Win

John Williams

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Amari Cooper has Final Say on Trade Compensation in Cowboys Win 3

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.

Amari Cooper has Final Say on Trade Compensation in Cowboys Win 2

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.

RJ Ochoa on Twitter

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.

Amari Cooper has Final Say on Trade Compensation in Cowboys Win 1

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.

Amari Cooper has Final Say on Trade Compensation in Cowboys Win

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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