The Dallas Cowboys have now appeared on prime time twice this season, coming out victorious both times with an opening night win against the rival Giants and a Monday Night Football win in Arizona last night. Putting the ugly 42-17 loss in Denver behind them with their efforts on both sides of the ball against the Cardinals, there was plenty to love about the way the Cowboys responded from another slow start to escape at 2-1 returning home.
In this latest post game edition of Sean's Scout, we'll break down some of the things that stood out to me watching the Cowboys beat the Cardinals 28-17.
Here's the TD catch from Carson Palmer to Jaron Brown to put the #Cardinals up 7-0 over the #DallasCowboys! #BeRedSeeRed pic.twitter.com/emXWLY0Wgd
— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) September 26, 2017
- This Dallas defense once again had fans on the edge of their seats early, putting the team in a hole as the Cardinals took the opening kickoff downfield for a touchdown. On the 25-yard Jaron Brown touchdown reception, it was Jeff Heath biting on an underneath route that exposed Anthony Brown in zone coverage. Brown may have the recovery speed to get back into plays, but once he was asked to run with Jaron – who had beat him to the inside – with no safety help, the play was busted as Carson Palmer stepped up and delivered a perfect ball. On top of his poor performance last week, there needs to be real concerns for the Cowboys that Heath is not capable of handling the play-to-play assignments needed to start at safety next to Byron Jones. The hope for Heath taking on this bigger role was that he would consistently prove to be the player he's flashed as in a rotational role. Instead, Heath continues to struggle in coverage but will make plays coming downhill on the ball – particularly when the Cowboys are in man coverage across the board, which they were when Heath made a big stop on the Cardinals' second drive. Fortunately, the Cowboys have Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier to take on snaps at safety when called upon. Additionally, I believe Chidobe Awuzie will ultimately be the player that reduces Heath's role the most once he returns from injury.
Jourdan Lewis has ball skills. pic.twitter.com/REgDhUg80o
— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) September 26, 2017
- Right now, Jourdan Lewis is this team's best cornerback. A CB trio of Lewis, Orlando Scandrick, and Anthony Brown held their own against everything Bruce Arians threw at them. Should Awuzie actually see more time at safety, these three CBs may be what we see for the rest of the season. What really allowed this group to come together so well was Lewis' ability to hold his own on the outside and not just in the slot. Going back to my thoughts on Lewis from during the draft, I never questioned if the smaller Michigan product could play on the boundary in coverage – only if he would be able to hold up on the edge against the run. Sure enough, Lewis allowed Orlando Scandrick to dominate inside as he does so confidently by playing with his hands on the outside, trusting his eyes, and showing off the fluidity in coverage that will keep him covering some of the game's best WRs for a long time.
- The ability to work the middle of the field on offense remains a concern for the Cowboys, but Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan made up for this very nicely in the second half by getting back to what has always worked best for QB Dak Prescott. In creating numbers to run the football, throws across the field and the moving pocket passes from Prescott are critical. Prior to his keeper for a touchdown, Prescott hit Noah Brown for his first career reception to keep the drive alive. The play was classic Dak, as he rolled out and hit Brown across the field with a perfectly led pass. Brown, who released strong off the line and accelerated through his route, was able to create the separation needed and secure the catch through contact to set up a Cowboys score.
- These scouting notes will never be about speculation, but it is pretty clear that – for whatever reason – Ezekiel Elliott is lacking that finishing speed on plays that could have been home runs against the Cardinals. Of course, the amount of runs that Elliott has found space on the second and third level to run is down from last season thus far, and even as a rookie it took Elliott some time to regain that extra acceleration that made him the best RB prospect in some time. Zeke Elliott is still the reigning rushing champion, and nobody in Cowboys Nation should be concerned about his ability to perform as long as he remains on the field. This new-look offensive line has simply had to hold their blocks a beat longer to clear Elliott in 2017 though – meaning there is a further improvement to be expected in the Dallas running game over the coming weeks.
- The Cowboys absolutely needed to take advantage of the favorable match ups presented to them by the Cardinals' offensive line starting two backups, and they were able to do that all night long in big moments. DeMarcus Lawrence stole the show once again, finishing with three sacks and even more pressures on Palmer. What made Lawrence's performance even more impressive was the lack of push the Cowboys got off of the right edge in support of his efforts on the strong side. Tyrone Crawford is far from the guy you want at that RDE position, but sure enough he was tasked with rushing off of the weak edge and chasing down Palmer – something he did relatively well on plays where Carson held the ball. Making the most impact alongside Lawrence though was again this rotation of DTs for Dallas. Maliek Collins and Stephen Paea played well off of each other again on the move. Damontre Moore made his Cowboys debut in this contest, coming off of suspension with a lot of hype for his ability to go play DE opposite Lawrence. Instead, the two lining up at LDE and 3T respectively on passing downs produced great results. Moore is a rusher that will always work up the field quickly and bend or dip his way towards the point of the quarterback, which paired nicely with Lawrence's power and flatten game off that edge. Even DT Brian Price saw some meaningful snaps at the 1T position, and was impressive in his movement ability for his size – clogging running lanes and only further freeing up Collins and the rest of these rotational linemen for a big night.
- To conclude with another note on the offensive line and running game, I believe Travis Frederick is not yet fully comfortable with Chaz Green as the starter next to him at LG. The Cowboys ask Frederick to do so much for them at the center position, including pull and get to the second level. When Ronald Leary or La'el Collins started at LG, Frederick knew that these blockers would fire off the ball and get to the second level with remarkable consistency and ease. A healthy Chaz Green has been just fine at the point of attack, but his inability to play with elite power or movement ability has held back Frederick in his ability to allow Green to work his defender and move interior run-stoppers away from the ball. Through all of this, Frederick's “struggles” have still seen him handle some great DT talent as he remains an invaluable core starter up front for the Cowboys.
The Cowboys are back on track with this win against the Cardinals, setting up a meeting of 2-1 teams at AT&T Stadium this Sunday when the LA Rams come to town. The Rams, resting off of Thursday win at the 49ers, will be ready to spoil any momentum the Cowboys hope to take out of Arizona into the next month of the season.
As we review the tape of the Cowboys' full performance against the Cardinals and look ahead to the Rams, be sure to look for new additions of Sean's Scout!