The Dallas Cowboys first game of 2018 is in the books. Although it goes as a loss on the scoreboard, last night was a win for the Cowboys in the important areas. Above all else, the team avoided any major injuries, and navigated Quarterback Dak Prescott through his first scoring drive.
There's plenty for the Cowboys to like about what they left on the field in San Francisco before returning to Oxnard, as well as plenty of room for improvement. Here is my first official Sean's Scout of the season, on some takeaways from the Cowboys performance against the 49ers.
- Great block from Tight End Dalton Schultz to seal the corner for Rod Smith's first run of 15 yards.
The rookie was able to come off the ball with good explosiveness, using his quick hands to sustain the block downfield. This relentless blocking ability is Schultz's best trait, and if he can continue to show it off on the second and third level of the defense, he's going to earn snaps in this offense.
- Dak Prescott continues to be a "gamer", finding rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup for a 30-yard touchdown on the Cowboys first drive.
Prescott had been struggling to connect on deep passes like this one in practice. As we know about the Cowboys third-year starter though, Prescott continues to be better in real game situations. The protection was perfect for Prescott to deliver this ball to Gallup, but his small window of opportunity to do so didn't allow Dak to step up in the pocket.
The throw was still perfect to Gallup, who uncovered right as he ran under the scoring pass -- his first of what the Cowboys can expect to be many more receptions this season.
- Jaylon Smith's first signature "swipe play" of the game was really set up by Linebackers Joe Thomas and Damien Wilson.
Take nothing away from Smith, who looked fantastic running around last night, but the Cowboys got everything they could ask for out of their veteran linebackers in this game too.
As a defense, the Cowboys excelled at containing the edge all night long. On this play it was Wilson motioning down from his SAM position before the snap to do just that. Joe Thomas also stayed home to meet the runner in the hole and Smith was there to finish off the play.
Later in the same drive, on a third and long, Smith carried a 49ers tight end down the seam to force the ball underneath. The Cowboys got off the field, and it was an even better sign seeing Smith plant and flip his hips in coverage.
- I really wish we got to see Defensive End Taco Charlton at LDE since the start of his rookie season.
The Michigan product always projected best as a left end. Drafting for need at 19th overall though, the Cowboys felt the need to try Charlton at right end at the start of 2017. This was a less than ideal position for him to begin his career, and it made his strong push at the end of the season from the left side even more impressive.
Above all else, Charlton looked like he had a plan for every rush off the strong side in this game. With Taco off one edge and Tyrone Crawford on the other, the Cowboys deep defensive line has a chance to be great against the run.
Charlton looked much more comfortable turning the corner and avoiding blocks with quick change of direction ability, which led to him being in the quarterback's face multiple times.
- That's a perfect angle from Kavon Frazier on the blitz to tip a pass that was intercepted by Joe Thomas.
I already mentioned the Cowboys ability to play contain defense very well, and this was an area that Frazier brought some juice to. Reading the eyes of the QB on this pass play, Frazier avoided a low block to time his run and leap for the ball.
If Beathard held onto the ball for another second, he likely would have been sacked by rookie Defensive End Dorance Armstrong, who also did a nice job collapsing on the play. Instead, his pass resulted in one of two turnovers Dallas came up with last night -- both on deflected balls.
- Nice job by Blake Jarwin to look back for the ball as he converted a third down in the red zone to set up a Bo Scarbrough touchdown.
Jarwin ran wide open on the wheel route underneath. It would have been easy for him to continue the route up the field into the end zone. With Cooper Rush needing to throw the ball under pressure, Jarwin turned back at the perfect time and presented his quarterback with a big target.
Jarwin's athleticism and size really stands out at TE, catching this pass easily and turning up field to move the chains.
This drive ended with Bo Scarbrough crossing the goal line from one yard out, pushing behind rookie Left Guard Connor Williams. Though it was nice to see Scarbrough score in a short yardage situation, I thought Rod Smith had the much better overall game, and is nearly a lock to be this team's second running back.
I don't know how far Scarbrough has to rise up the depth chart to make the Cowboys roster, but spots behind Ezekiel Elliott and Smith should be at a premium given both backs completeness.
- Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli has to absolutely love Defensive Tackle Brian Price running down a screen pass to knock Ricky James out of bounds.
The Cowboys play caller on defense is all about effort from his defensive line, and there's no better example of this than Price's effort here. Playing without a true 3T in David Irving's absence to start the season, the Cowboys are more than prepared to still hold up at defensive tackle thanks to their depth at 1T.
Collectively, this group has the size and range to hold up on the interior for Dallas. Brian Price -- whose first season was cut short due to injury last year -- deserves a chance to start at 1T over Richard Ash and Antwaun Woods.
Ash did push the pocket with a spin move that put him in position to tip a pass that was intercepted by Cornerback Duke Thomas in the fourth quarter.
Not only is Price hard to move off the spot, but he is freakish in his pursuit of the football once disengaging. As the 49ers failed to get a seal on Price for this screen play, the 318 pound DT flew to the sideline and made the play 21 yards downfield.
San Francisco would score their first points of the game on this drive, but that shouldn't matter when the team reviews the tape to see Price's effort.
- Lance Lenoir's awareness in a tight space set up his touchdown reception from Rush.
We've said all along that a talented wide receiver is going to miss the Cowboys final cut, and Lance Lenoir continues to do everything he can to assure it won't be him. Not on the active roster in 2017, Lenoir did show enough as an undrafted rookie to stick around on the practice squad, and has shown significant improvement this year.
Lenoir is the type of route running technician that Sanjay Lal is looking for. With his defender planted in the back of the end zone at the stem of his route, Lenoir knew he would have little room to work with in selling the route to the inside before breaking out.
It was a violent and quick move from Lenoir that gave him some separation towards the sideline, gathering himself to tap both feet in bounds and score. It's hard not to be impressed with the way Lenoir shows up and competes every day at training camp, and it was great for the whole Cowboys offense to see his efforts rewarded with a touchdown.
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The Cowboys will return to Oxnard to prepare for the second week of the preseason now. A home game at AT&T Stadium against the Cincinnati Bengals awaits them - another opportunity for the players fighting to make this team to prove themselves.
The Cowboys should be impressed by their depth at OL, TE, and DL based on this performance against the 49ers. Having depth in the trenches has gone a long way for this team before, as competitions for playing time are sure to heat up this week.
IND 23, DAL 0: Cowboys Get Shut Out, Embarrassed by Colts
The Dallas Cowboys must think they've already won the NFC East, because they looked like a team with nothing to play for today. The result was an embarrassing 23-0 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
The Cowboys were shut out for the first time since the 2003 season, which was Jason Witten's rookie year.
Dallas squandered a major time-of-possession advantage in the first half, finishing three drives with a blocked field goal, punt, and a failed 4th-and-1 play near the Colts' goal line. Indianapolis capitalized on their own drives and took a 10-0 lead into halftime.
The Colts got the ball back to start the third quarter and drove down for another touchdown. Down 17-0, Dallas responded with a weak drive and a punt. The game felt out of reach even then, with the Cowboys just looking flat from that point forward.
Ezekiel Elliott had 87 rushing yards 41 receiving for some empty production. Amari Cooper won't be winning any awards this week, held to just four catches for 32 yards.
Dak Prescott completed 62% of his passes for 206 yards. He was sacked three times and threw a late interception; an overthrown ball got tipped by the receiver and picked off on the team's final offensive series.
While the offense was especially bad today, the defense wasn't much better. Dallas surrendered 139 yards rushing yards and two touchdown to Colts RB Marlon Mack, who hadn't had a 100-yard game since October. Andrew Luck wasn't sacked and went virtually untouched the entire day.
The Cowboys could have taken the NFC East with a win, but they didn't come close. Hopefully this serves as a wake-up call with the postseason only a few weeks away.
- With the Redskins defeating the Jaguars today, Dallas will have to wait until next week to try to clinch the NFC East. The Cowboys needed losses by both Washington and Philadelphia if they didn't win themselves. The Eagles are visiting the Rams tonight.
- The Cowboys will get some softer competition to finish the year, hosting the Buccaneers next week and then going to play the Giants in Week 17.
- With the Bears defeating the Packers today and moving to 10-4, they will likely stay the #3 seed in the playoffs. That means Dallas, assuming they do win the NFC East, will almost certainly be hosting the 5th-seeded Seahawks in the first round.
- Jaylon Smith led the Cowboys with 11 tackles, but neither he or Leighton Vander Esch were making the big plays that we've grown accustomed to.
- Xavier Woods had the highlight play on defense, delivering a perfect hit to dislodge the ball from Colts TE Eric Ebron and stop a potential big gain.
- Blake Jarin and Dalton Schultz combined for seven catches for 68 yards; another week of increased TE production from what we've seen must of the year.
- Fullback Jamize Olawale doesn't get many opportunities on offense, and he may not get more after dropping an open touchdown on the team's second drive of the day.
Cowboys Can’t Finish Drives, Trailing Colts 10-0 at Halftime
The Cowboys have had no trouble moving the ball today, but they've failed to finish drives with points. Dallas is thus trailing the Indianapolis Colts 10-0 at halftime.
Dallas has had possession for over 19 minutes compared to just 10 for the Colts. But their three drives have ended with a blocked field goal, a failed 4th-and-1 play near the endzone, and a punt.
The offensive line continues to suffer from health issues. With Zack Martin already out and Connor Williams starting at right guard, Xavier Su'a-Filo left the game with an eye injury during the second quarter and will not return. Backup Adam Redmond is now playing.
The Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win in any of their final three games. They could also clinch today if the Redskins and Eagles lose. Washington is trailing 10-3 in Jacksonville at halftime, and the Eagles are visiting the Rams tonight.
Hopefully, Dallas will start showing up on the scoreboard in the second half.
Remembering the Cowboys NFC East Clinching Win Vs. Colts, 4 Years Later
The 2014 Dallas Cowboys season still feels like a landmark in the rich history of this team. Going deeper into Cowboys annuls is nothing more than a hopeless drift through wasted time that all of us are guilty of, though looking ahead at the 2018 team also leaves just distant memories of 2014.
Perhaps it was the memorable and painful way this season ended, with Dez Bryant's catch in the divisional playoffs at the Packers being played on loop ever since. This clip has surely overshadowed the way Dallas clinched the NFC East in 2014, with a 42-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium.
The Cowboys find themselves in a similar position Sunday, beginning a stretch of three straight "win and you're in" games. The NFC East will belong to the once 3-5 Cowboys with a win over the Colts, Buccaneers, or Giants.
In that 42-7 drubbing of the Colts four years ago, Tony Romo threw three first half touchdowns to three different targets. At halftime, the Cowboys were on their way with a 28-0 lead, jumping out to a 42-0 advantage before Matt Hasselbeck would throw a garbage time touchdown (yeah, I feel old writing that too).
Just like in this match up, the Cowboys are fresh off a win over the Eagles, as they were in 2014 before rolling to the division title. Four starters from Jason Garrett's first NFC East clincher remain on his roster, though only two will play, speaking to the strides Garrett has made to salvage his reputation this year.
The 2014 Cowboys established themselves as the run-first team that's very much still in tact thanks to Ezekiel Elliott. Only Giants rookie Saquon Barkey has more rushing yards over the last five weeks than Elliott. While Barkley continues to impress for a team that will not make the playoffs, Elliott is carrying the Cowboys closer to the postseason with every carry.
Unlike 2014, the path out of the Cowboys backfield to the top of the division hasn't been as straight. The '14 Cowboys featured a veteran lineup on both sides of the ball, focused on weekly improvements yielding a 12-4 record.
The only time the Cowboys have won more games under Garrett was in 2016, where the Cowboys altered the future of the franchise again with a new-look team that went 13-3 before losing in the divisional round to Green Bay again.
Neither 12 or 13 wins is attainable this year for the Cowboys, but the best of both recent divisional championship seasons is. Wins over the Saints and Eagles have brought back the miraculous 2016 feel Quarterback Dak Prescott's rookie season brought to Dallas. For going through both that season together, as well as a nine win campaign in 2017 that serves as Prescott's "down year", the Cowboys staffers that remember 2014 should be nostalgic at kickoff Sunday.
With the NFL being such a week-by-week, day-by-day, and even minute-by-minute experience, taking the chance to add perspective whenever possible is refreshing. The Cowboys arrival as perennial contenders in 2014 can come full circle with a new cast of players and familiar coaching staff here in week 15.
Remember just how much this team has been through to reach this point the next time you call for sweeping changes to America's Team, and if you're feeling lucky, a prop bet on Garrett having blue Gatorade dumped on him before night's end could go a long way.
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