Welcome back to Sean's Scout - and welcome back to the win column, 2017 Dallas Cowboys! Coming off of the bye with a decisive 40-10 win at the San Francisco 49ers, the Cowboys finally showed off 60 minutes of football that displayed who this team is.
As the reigning NFC East champions, the Cowboys improved to 3-3 behind a rushing attack that gashed the 49ers for a season high 265 yards and a defense that created two takeaways while sacking rookie QB C.J. Beathard five times in his first start.
Even with the victory coming against a win-less, outmatched 49ers team, there was plenty to love from the Cowboys' performance. While I can't wait to dive into the coaches film and evaluate just how this team responded the way they did, here are my initial thoughts on Dallas' week seven performance in another Monday morning edition of Sean's Scout.
- Leading up to this game, it appeared that Chaz Green was going to be the team's starter at LG. I wrote up that news here, endorsing a healthy Green as the best option between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, and had an incredibly hard time finding anyone that felt the same way. After watching Jonathan Cooper once again start and perform well, it is easy to see why. The Cowboys understand that they must set the tone with their running game, and Cooper has helped them do that up front. Cooper's game has played very well to the offensive line's overall ability to dominate athletically, on the move, and with power. Not a truly overpowering player, Cooper was solid at the point of attack against the tough DeForest Buckner Sunday. When he was able to clear to the second level, Cooper did so with great pad level and an above average punch to move bodies in the running game. Add in his performances against the stout defensive fronts of the Rams and Packers, and the Cowboys have a starter to trust at left guard moving forward.
- Speaking of the Cowboys' running game, it was refreshing to see this team execute what they do best with all eleven guys on offense. Major adjustments were not needed for an offense that had scored at least 30 points in consecutive losses, and this 40 point outburst started with everyone recommitting to running this offense through Ezekiel Elliott. As Cooper tightened up Dallas' offensive line play, it was the inspired blocking performances from Jason Witten and the WRs on the outside that helped Elliott grind for 5.65 yards a carry. Zeke Elliott also took a screen pass 72 yards to the house in the first half, with Noah Brown and Brice Butler doing work downfield to lead him across the goal line. From here, the rest of the Cowboys' offense showed off their lethal simplicity, as Dak Prescott did not have to win this game with his arm. Instead, getting Prescott outside of the pocket and finding ways to stretch the 49ers defense while playing ahead of the chains let Scott Linehan dictate this game - in an offensive performance that resembled many from a year ago, 13 of which went for wins.
- Getting a season high seven receptions from Dez Bryant was also a great sign that the Cowboys' offense was firing on all cylinders this afternoon, and it was great to see Bryant consistently find ways to win with his size and strength. Too much has been made about Bryant's game regressing to a point where Prescott struggled to utilize his skill set effectively, but this simply wasn't the case against the 49ers' man coverage. Bryant was able to work inside of his defenders with ease, once again serving as a massive target for Dak to hit in rhythm. It was the touch from Prescott on Bryant's touchdown reception that made the difference, as his man was able to recover late in the down with not a ton of room to work with in the end zone. The pass hung in the air for the perfect amount of time, allowing Bryant to make a play "above the rim" on it for a circus catch and score.
- On the defensive side of the ball, the difference that Sean Lee makes at linebacker was of course felt against a San Francisco offense that has struggled to get out of their own way for much of this season. The Cowboys' defense with Sean Lee is conceding just 16.3 points a game, compared to an unmanageable 35 a game without their leader. What was fascinating about Lee's performance was the way he moved around to all three linebacker positions and was effective despite visibly limping a bit through the second half. With hopes that Lee at WILL and Anthony Hitchens at MIKE would fix a lot of this defense's problems, it was Lee lining up to start the game at SAM as his replacement from the past two weeks in Damien Wilson remained at WILL. I had been skeptical of Wilson's performance at this spot, but with Lee taking on blockers and finding the football, Wilson was just fine in flying around and finishing at the point of attack as he does best. Lee also helped take Jaylon Smith off the field by shooting gaps as a MIKE linebacker numerous times. This was as inspired a performance as I've seen Lee play, and it helped Rod Marinelli's unit put a lot of moving parts into place at all three levels on defense.
- The level where the Dallas defense has faced the most uncertainty in is the secondary, with inexperience and injuries causing a major lack of continuity in the back end. Having a rotation of safeties was so important for a defense that thrived in 2016 with heavy doses of Nickel and Dime sets. The Cowboys' pass rush is improving, but it is still not consistent enough to shut down opposing passing offenses, meaning the Cowboys must change up looks in coverage. Trusting Xavier Woods more and more has allowed them to do just that, as the rookie sixth round pick has flashed the ability to play comfortably at all levels of the defense. On the 49ers' first drive of the game, CB Jourdan Lewis was matched up with Pierre Garcon as the lone receiver on the weak side. With Lewis trailing on the corner route, Beathard saw an opportunity to throw the ball over the smaller defender for a first down. With great anticipation and burst, Xavier Woods was able to break over the top and tighten the throwing window as the pass was thrown too far outside and incomplete. Woods' steady play has been absolutely critical for the Cowboys, as it has helped both Byron Jones and Jeff Heath alongside him to constantly play to their best traits.
The Cowboys will have a much better time reviewing the film from this game at The Star compared to their previous two weeks before the bye. As mentioned, I'll be doing the same throughout the week here at Inside The Star as Dallas prepares for a much more difficult test in the Washington Redskins on the road.
The Redskins will be in action on Monday Night Football tonight at the Philadelphia Eagles.
Until then, enjoy the fact that we made it back to Cowboys game day in emphatic fashion yesterday - and that this team is far from finished on the 2017 season.
4th-and-1 Conversions Against JAC Were Hollow Victories for Garrett
The Dallas Cowboys' Head Coach Jason Garrett was under fire all week-long after his passive decision to NOT go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Houston Texans 42 yard line in overtime last week. Instead of taking a shot with a really good offensive line and one of the best running backs in the NFL, Garrett opted to punt the ball to a Texans offense that the Cowboys defense struggled to stop -- until it got inside the five yard line that is.
Well, in typical Jason Garrett fashion, in a game in which they were leading from start to finish en route to a 40-7 victory -- that was never really that close -- the Dallas Cowboys' head coach kept the offense on the field on two 4th and 1 occasions. Converting both of them.
The head coach and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys organization may feel vindicated in pulling the trigger in situations that the Dallas Cowboys have been almost automatic in converting since the start of 2016. The reality is there was nothing at risk in the point of the game in which Garrett opted to try to convert the fourth down.
Though they converted on both 4th-and-1 attempts, they were nothing more than hollow victories for the much maligned head coach.
Their first 4th and 1 attempt was late in the first half of the game with the Dallas Cowboys already leading 17-0. They were driving with under two minutes to play in the half at the Jacksonville Jaguars 37 yard line. The Jaguars had only crossed midfield once and hadn't sniffed any scoring opportunities. There was little risked at that point in the game. If you miss on the conversion, the Jaguars would have to pick up at least 26 yards to get into field goal range. At that point in the game the Jacksonville had only picked up two first downs. The Jaguars had only averaged 13 yards per drive on their four first half drives to that point and three of those drives went three and out.
You can make a case that if the Dallas Cowboys missed on this opportunity and the Jaguars took the ensuing possession and scored, it could have had an impact on the outcome of the game. But with the way that the defense completely dominated the Jaguars in the first half, there was little chance of them driving the length of the field to score a touchdown with under a minute to play.
The next time the Dallas Cowboys went for it on 4th and 1 was with 10:22 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys up 37-7. The game at this point was already decided.
Unlike the week before.
Tony Romo said it best during the broadcast. He talked about the leeway Garrett would have gotten from Jerry Jones had the Dallas Cowboys gone for it on 4th-and-1 against the Texans and missed because Jones is a risk taker (paraphrasing). Now, I know Garrett has been known to take a chance or two at times, think of the Chris Jones fake punts, but there are situations in football that aren't that big of a risk. When you're in opponent territory and have the run game that the Cowboys have, picking up 4th-and-1 is about as sure a thing as you'll find in the NFL. Since 2016, the Dallas Cowboys had gone 18 for 19 on 4th-and-1 situations. Even if they don't make it, the opponent still has to pick up a 2-3 first downs to have a shot at winning the game.
Don't be fooled by what Garrett did on Sunday. He wasn't being aggressive. He wasn't taking the fight to an opponent who was still in the game. He was kicking a team while it was down. The Jaguars had zero answers for the Cowboys on either side of the football. The Cowboys wouldn't have lost the football game if they missed on either of those two opportunities.
If anything, Garrett was just being petty about all the criticism he took this week for declining his offense the chance to keep the ball week five. I've always been a Garrett believer because of the way he gets his teams mentally prepared to play. They rarely have bad games and typically when their backs are against the wall, they respond. On 4th and 1 against the Texans a week ago, their backs were against the wall as a team and he didn't give them the opportunity to respond. Had Garrett had faith in his defense, he would have gone for it because he would have believed in their ability to prevent the Texans from getting into field goal range. He showed a lack of faith in both sides of the ball by not giving the offense a chance to convert and by trying to help the defense with better field position.
I don't believe for a second that Jason Garrett changed his philosophy on those types of calls and I fully expect us to be rather frustrated by another conservative call in the future. Like I said before, these two 4th-and-1 conversions meant nothing in how the game was going to play out. Is it possible that Jerry Jones got in Garrett's ear about taking those kinds of chances to win the game? Absolutely. If we see a similar situation come in the future and Garrett goes for it, perhaps there was a change, but change is a difficult thing. Most humans do not like change and most people don't change.
I hope I'm wrong and this marked a change in the approach of Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff. With their offensive line and the running ability of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, I don't care if they only convert half of those opportunities, those two are too good with the ball in their hands to not go for it.
Hopefully Jason Garrett realizes that running those two are his best avenue to winning football games and is aggressive on future 4th-and-1 situations. Since I like my life, I'm not going to hold my breath.
Cowboys Defense Stands Out in Blowout Win over Jaguars
The Dallas Cowboys defense has found different ways to get the job done at different times during the 2018 season. They're a big reason the team is 3-3 and sits only a half game back of the first place Washington Redskins.
Even last week, I was critical of the defense for giving up a ton of yards and felt like they were very fortunate to only lose by three in overtime to the Houston Texans. They were amazing when the Texans got inside the five yard line forcing a turnover on downs on four first and goal attempts inside the five last week.
After giving up 462 total yards to Deshaun Watson and the Texans in week five, the Dallas Cowboys' defense only allowed 204 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. They held Jacksonville to 4 of 11 on third downs. The Cowboys forced four three and outs during the game and only allowed three drives to cross midfield.
The Cowboys' defense was led by Leighton Vander Esch with 11 total tackles (7 solo) and Jaylon Smith with nine total tackles (6 solo) and a forced fumble. Jourdan Lewis made an excellent hustle play along the sideline late in the third quarter to recover that Smith fumble.
Byron Jones was excellent in coverage yet again on Sunday and if this were hockey, would get a primary assist for his pass deflection that led to the Jeff Heath interception in the third quarter. The Cowboys were able to turn both turnovers into field goals.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive line blocked the Dallas Cowboys front seven pretty well and Quarterback Blake Bortles was really good at avoiding pressure. Bortles was only sacked three times during the game. Randy Gregory and Maliek Collins each had a sack, while Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford combined for the other sack.
Though he didn't register a tackle or a sack on the stat sheet, it was awesome to see Defensive Lineman David Irving on the field for the first time since the middle of the season last year. He had an impact early in the game. Irving had a pressure on Blake Bortles and forced a hold on a punt in the first half of the game. His presence was definitely felt.
As a defense they held Jacksonville Jaguars Quarterback Blake Bortles to 149 yards passing and a 70.8 passer rating. Even as the Jaguars were down 20 points at halftime, they never could get much offense going in the second half. The Cowboys kept Bortles and the Jaguars passing game in check for most of the night, only allowing a touchdown when Anthony Brown fell down when he released his receiver to try to get to the intended target, Dede Westbrook. Westbrook went relatively untouched into the end zone for the Jaguars score of the day. That play aside, the Cowboys did a really good job limiting big plays against a receiving corp with a lot of speed.
Even with Bortles scrambling, the Cowboys were able to hold the Jaguars as a team to 3.6 yards per carry on the day. The Jaguars' T.J. Yeldon was able to come up with some decent runs, but the defense kept those positive gains from having much of an impact on the game.
The Dallas Cowboys' defense isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a unit that has played really good football for much of the 2018 season. On Sunday, the Cowboys did an excellent job getting off the field on third downs and forcing turnovers and other errors, which were created by the Cowboys pressure.
Everything seems to be coming together for Dallas with David Irving and Maliek Collins getting back into the lineup. If Sean Lee and Chidobe Awuzie are able to go for the Cowboys next week, this defense is going to make life extremely difficult for Alex Smith and the Washington Redskins next Sunday.
After allowing a ton of yards last week, the Cowboys defense rebounded with a dominant performance against a Jaguars team that played for the AFC Championship last season. For the Cowboys to get to the playoffs in 2018, they're going to have to play at a high level like they did on Sunday.
I, for one, don't doubt that they can.
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Win Big On the Ground, In Trenches With Rout of Jaguars
On paper, the Dallas Cowboys were going to struggle generating any offense against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. The league's top defense matched up against a Cowboys team that came in ranked 30th in pass yards per game, with the defensive front to slow down Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys seemed destined for a 2-4 start through the end of six weeks.
Thankfully, NFL games are not played on paper, and the action on the field at AT&T Stadium would tell an entirely different -- albeit unforeseen -- story of the Cowboys dominance. With a season high 206 rushing yards, the Cowboys ran wild on the Jaguars, making this win look remarkably easy behind a defense up to the task of defending the lead from the opening drive.
The Cowboys improved their home record to 3-0 this season. Now coming off their most impressive effort of 2018, the team earned a shot at first place as they travel to the Washington Redskins in week seven - searching for their first road win of the season.
Here are my initial thoughts on the Cowboys drubbing of the Jaguars, a wonderfully unexpected result that keeps plenty of postseason dreams alive for Dallas.
- Jerry Jones caught a lot of heat this week for his comments on Head Coach Jason Garrett's job security, but certainly deserves a lot of credit for wanting to see more of Quarterback Dak Prescott as a runner.
Jones called Garrett the "real deal", a sentiment better reserved for Prescott when he's able to take matters into his own hands and run the football. With 82 yards on the ground, Dak was eight yards shy of doubling his previous career high, sprinting down the sideline for the Cowboys first touchdown of the game.
Prescott's rushing ability takes advantage of the Cowboys offensive line's ability to get out in space and block. A fearless runner that can keep defenses honest on his own before unleashing Elliott on the ground, Prescott's legs are the key to the Cowboys repeating a performance like this later in the season.
- Without Leonard Fournette, the Jaguars are not built to play from behind, and the Cowboys defensive line made sure of this.
The "Hot Boyz" were at full strength with David Irving back on the field for the first time this season. Rushing with DeMarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, and Randy Gregory on the Jaguars' third down attempt following Brett Maher's first FG, Irving was able to chase after Bortles and force an incomplete pass out of bounds as he recorded the QB hit.
With Jaylon Smith also blitzing on the play, this had to be an incredibly proud moment for Garrett, Rod Marinelli, and the Jones' upstairs, as their trust in both Irving and Gregory paid off to create a fearsome pass rush.
Knowing they had interior defenders that could get off blocks and finish plays, the Cowboys defensive ends in this game were aggressive rushing up the field and collapsing the pocket on Bortles.
- Michael Gallup is slowly emerging as this team's number one wide receiver, thanks to his ability to make plays on contested balls.
Look no further than Allen Hurns' stat line from this win to see why rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup is going to be crucial to the Cowboys passing offense as this season progresses. Hurns was the only receiver targeted that failed to bring in a catch, as Prescott has struggled to find any rhythm with the big-bodied free agent signing.
On the other side of the field, Gallup has flashed similar 'above the rim' abilities to Hurns, while also being a more reliable route runner with big play potential after the catch. Cole Beasley was open all afternoon against the Jaguars secondary, but early in the game when Prescott needed a play he was able to fit some great passes into Gallup.
I include Gallup's touchdown catch that was called back, since it was a safe strike from Dak. Putting the ball where only Gallup could make the incredible catch, Gallup was inches away from scoring his first NFL touchdown.
Instead, with the Cowboys rotation at WR trimmed down due to injury, Gallup staked his claim for a larger share of the snaps in the Cowboys 40-point performance.
- This was another good game for rookie Left Guard Connor Williams, but I thought he had a chance to prevent the Calais Campbell sack that forced the Cowboys to settle for three points on their first possession.
As Prescott stepped up in the pocket, Campbell was able to change directions and cut across the face of Williams. With nobody else in front of him, it looked like Williams was in prime position to deliver a shot to Campbell, but was unable to get a hand on the Jaguars top pass rusher.
Reacting late to the whole play, Campbell finished the play for his only sack, a stat the Cowboys will certainly take when evaluating a fairly dominant day for their entire offensive line.
- The rate at which Linebackers Jaylon Smith and rookie Leighton Vander Esch are making open field tackles is easily the best thing going for the Cowboys defense right now.
Whenever Jaylon Smith appears in the vicinity of an opposing receiver or running back, they better brace for impact. Where Smith has been the enforcer of the Cowboys defense at MIKE, Vander Esch is playing off him perfectly as the second starter with range and athleticism to cover from sideline to sideline.
The Cowboys have allowed an average of 16.67 points over their last three games without Sean Lee, a full point better than the three games Lee's played against the Panthers, Giants, and Seahawks. This is exactly the reason why Dallas was so comfortable drafting Vander Esch.
Even still, having the Boise State product rising to the occasion so early in his Cowboys career alongside Smith gives the Cowboys a LB pairing they can trust for years to come. This is more than they ever signed up for when drafting both players to ideally play with Lee, something they'll still get the chance to do in the coming weeks.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Alternating wins and losses through their first six games, the 2018 Cowboys remain an enigma that (again, on paper) have a lot to build on after defeating the Jaguars soundly. The ease at which the Cowboys moved the ball should at least partially be attributed to how difficult it was for the Cowboys to manage any offense in their three road losses.
With a defense that's shows up each week to keep Dallas in any game, the time is now for the offense to travel away from AT&T Stadium and earn the Cowboys first winning streak at Washington. In doing so, the Cowboys would claim first place in the NFC East.
Given the expectations set on this team before the year, this feels like the only surefire way for the Cowboys to put their tumultuous start behind them, serving as a reminder that the NFL is the ultimate week-to-week league.
Keeping that in mind, this team deserves a day to enjoy their decisive win from Sunday. Welcome back to Victory Monday, Cowboys Nation.
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