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.
— 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
- 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!
Takeaway Tuesday: Scott Linehan’s Job Shouldn’t Be Safe
The Dallas Cowboys didn't look like they did during their five game winning streak when they entered Lucas Oil Stadium to face a hot Indianapolis Colts team. In fact, they had one of their poorest showings of all season, failing to score a single point all game. Heading home after being shutout 23-0, there isn't much to be said about the Cowboys' performance.
Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday. This time, instead of talking about many takeaways, I needed to get one big takeaway off my chest. I hope you enjoy. Make sure to let me know how you feel about this topic in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL.
Scott Linehan's Job Shouldn't Be Guaranteed Going into the Playoffs
As tough as it is to fire one of your three main coaches when your team is headed into the postseason, the Dallas Cowboys should not rule out moving on from Scott Linehan. One win away from clinching the NFC East, it's not something you easily pull off but Linehan's play calling has been terrible all year long.
The truth is, despite Dak Prescott's struggles and a disastrous offensive line, the offense shouldn't be as inefficient as it is.
Watching a unit that counts with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott run a screen pass to Allen Hurns on fourth down and 14 was truly a microcosm of what this year has been for the offense.
Despite having a playoff berth practically clinched, the Cowboys should consider a change at offensive coordinator. Even if they don't fire Linehan, it's clear his play-calling is not good and could cost this team a real opportunity at a legit shot in the postseason. It would be an aggressive measure, without a doubt. The Minnesota Vikings did something similar by firing John DeFillippo a week ago. Based on their 41-17 win over the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, being aggressive sometimes pays.
The Cowboys have arguably the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott and yet they continue to misuse him. Whether it's turning their backs on their star tailback or over-using him, this offense has a hard time reaching balance. Dak Prescott's strengths could be exploited even more, but this OC refuses to do so.
As hard as it is to make a drastic change in coaching two weeks before the regular season ends, it truly could end up being a great move by the front office. Sure, Amari Cooper has had monster games since joining the Cowboys, but he could be even more dangerous under another coach.
Cowboys versus Colts was a coaching battle between Scott Linehan and former Dallas Cowboys LB coach, Matt Eberflus. It was the matchup of the week, and one we expected to be fun. Instead, we saw one side completely dominate the other. In the NFL, coaching matters. Probably even more than talent on a roster.
The biggest problem would be, who'd take over play-calling?
Since there isn't a promising candidate within the team, the team's only option would probably be letting HC Jason Garrett take over. It may not be ideal, but it could end up being an improvement over Linehan. Of course, it could also let the front office see what Garrett has to offer as a play caller and consider that when deciding how this coaching staff will look like in 2019.
It's unlikely that we see such a thing occur for the Cowboys, but if the offense has another letdown game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I don't see how the front office doesn't at least consider this. They should.
Ezekiel Elliott Productive in Cowboys Blowout Loss to Colts
It was as ugly of a performance as we’ve seen from the Dallas Cowboys in the Jason Garrett era. For the first time in a decade and a half, the Cowboys were shut out and it was a game full of bad pretty much everywhere you looked. Everywhere accept Ezekiel Elliott.
What a waste!
Elliott and the Cowboys offensive line played well for much of the game even with All-Pro Right Guard Zack Martin missing his first career start and losing starting Left Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo went out with an eye injury.
On the day, Ezekiel Elliott carries the ball 18 times for 87 yards and added another seven receptions for 41. 25 touches for 128 total yards is a good game, but with nothing else going right for the Cowboys it was a game that ultimately didn’t matter.
The one play where Elliott and the offensive line failed to come through was early in the game in a fourth and one that the Colts defense seemed to have snuffed out and blew up from the start. Elliott was able to convert a fourth and one later in the game. It looked like Elliott was close to breaking one for a long run several times but got tripped up at the end of the runs. He was his typical self this week. Taking runs that looked to be going for a loss and turning them into positive gains.
In the race for the NFL's rushing title, Elliott has extended his lead on Todd Gurley to nearly 100 yards rushing. At 1,349 rushing yards on the season, Elliott will have a great shot to set a career high in rushing yards with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants remaining on the schedule. The Bucs have allowed the sixth most rushing yards and the fourth most rushing touchdowns in the NFL this season while the Giants have allowed the fifth most rushing yards and the seventh most rushing touchdowns in 2018.
It was a horrendous loss at a time when the Cowboys could have locked up the NFC East and there is zero excuse for it. They got out coached, out played, and were beaten physically on both sides of the ball and that doesn't happen very often, especially to the defense.
But if we're looking for something positive to take away from this game, it's that with all the offensive line injuries and the poor play of the passing game, Ezekiel Elliott and the running game continues to find ways to shine. With as bad as the loss was, that's something to hang your hat on.
All the Cowboys need to do moving forward is Feed Zeke!
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Can’t Finish Drives, Division Clinch with Shutout Loss at Colts
What is there to say about the Dallas Cowboys week 15 performance? After five straight wins, the last three coming at home, the Cowboys have only a return home to look forward to, facing the 5-9 Buccaneers on Sunday after a 23-0 defeat at the Colts.
Shutout for the first time since 2003, the Cowboys playoff hopes didn't take a hit despite the Redskins and Eagles winning on the road. Washington's last-second win went final just before the Colts ran the clock out on a game the Cowboys simply weren't ready for.
The Cowboys moved the ball well at times but failed to ever come away with points, opening the door for the Colts to expose this defense like it hasn't been all season. The Cowboys front four was hardly a factor on defense, allowing Colts Running Back Marlon Mack to average 5.1 yards a carry. Scoring the Colts only touchdowns, Mack and Andrew Luck assured the Cowboys running game wouldn't be a factor with their 10-0 halftime lead. Down to three backups at LG, C, and RG, Quarterback Dak Prescott stood little chance to bring the Cowboys back as the second half quickly got away from Dallas.
Internally, the Cowboys will have much more to say about their effort on Sunday, but here are just a few of my observations in the first somber edition of Sean's Scout since week nine.
- The Cowboys defensive problems up front extended well into the second level, with Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith both playing one of their worst games of the season.
The Colts took a blocked Brett Maher field goal 44 yards for the game's opening score. Mack accounted for 34 of these yards and the touchdown. On his seven yard run to set up first and goal, Smith was caught taking a poor angle on Mack. The Cowboys were aggressive rushing up the field on the play, with Smith ending up being in the best position to slow Mack.
Vander Esch was sealed and couldn't fight to get off, which happened again three plays later on third and goal. Leighton looking like a rookie for the first time was just the start of the Cowboys problems, and with Sean Lee being active yet conceding starting snaps to him, it shouldn't take long for Vander Esch to figure things out again.
- Jamize Olawale's dropped touchdown on third and goal to bring up a failed fourth and one was the moment the Cowboys were taken out of this game.
This sequence was particularly deflating because the Cowboys did a great job getting down the field to have an opportunity to score. The fourth down decision to run out of a heavy formation, inviting extra defenders to the line of scrimmage, looks especially egregious when stacked against the Amari Cooper rush that picked up the Cowboys initial first down. Rookie Tight End Dalton Schultz got involved, Elliott ripped off a 24 yard run, and the Cowboys still came away empty on this drive.
A year removed from coaching the Cowboys linebackers, Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus had his way with Scott Linehan's offense all afternoon, stymieing their most promising drive after Olawale should have scored easily.
- The Cowboys only chance to get back in the game was taken away from them by a Joe Looney holding call, just another example of players that had carried them through a winning streak not playing up to standard.
The Colts took the second half kickoff down the field to extend the lead to 17-0. On fourth and two on the ensuing possession, Prescott hit an injured Cole Beasley for 18 yards to the Colts' 23-yard line. The Cowboys red zone offense certainly doesn't provide the confidence that Dallas would finish the drive, but Looney's hold negated Beasley's catch and forced a punt.
The Colts tacked on a field goal and finished out the game without the Cowboys threatening again. Looney played down to the level of Adam Redmond to his left, who replaced Xavier Su'a-Filo, and Connor Williams in for Zack Martin - though I thought Williams held up fairly well and should be in play to earn more snaps wherever needed.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys can regroup and still accomplish everything they set out for this season, forced to make this loss to the Colts and afterthought like their last one to the Titans became. A five game win streak as a response is out of reach, but a streak of just one is all Dallas needs to clinch the NFC East and focus on improvements for the playoffs.
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