For as much that had gone wrong with the Dallas Cowboys during their three game losing streak, it felt like just as many things went their way in snapping this streak last night with a 38-14 home win over the Washington Redskins.
Restoring some hope for a playoff spot by moving to 6-6, the Cowboys finally executed as the desperate team fans have been calling to see for weeks now. Rushing for 182 yards while creating four turnovers and scoring on special teams, there was a lot to love about Dallas' Thursday Night Football performance.
It has been a while since I've gotten to write a Monday morning Sean's Scout about a win, leaving me with plenty to discuss. Here is how I saw things at AT&T Stadium.
- There's something about the Washington Redskins that brings out Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's best play calling for WR Dez Bryant.
The connection between Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant struggled again to get going early in this game, but by the end of the night you saw Dez use his size over the middle of the field and secure some crucial gains that kept drives alive. Using the physical Bryant on more middle-of-the-field shots is something the Cowboys can do more of, but it feels like they realize this the most against the Redskins' man coverage scheme.
Perhaps this is the reason Washington CB Josh Norman was so upset after the game, discussing his team's inability to beat Dallas, as they've struggled to slow down a recently-beatable Cowboys offense thanks to Dez Bryant getting going.
Bryant of course capped off his performance in memorable fashion, becoming the Cowboys all-time leader in receiving touchdowns by easily beating Bashaud Breeland on a back shoulder fade.
- This game was the perfect example of why the Dallas Cowboys' coaching staff has believed so much in RB Alfred Morris.
Morris' 127 yards were the most he's gained since joining the Cowboys, as the first game this team played post Darren McFadden's retirement displayed why McFadden never had a spot behind Alfred Morris.
Morris allows everyone in the Cowboys rushing game to play to their strengths, which gives these coaches a chance to truly evaluate and adjust. Adept at patiently running in the zone scheme, Morris allowed plays to develop all night and read his blocks while keeping his legs moving.
Always finishing runs by falling forward, the Cowboys still lacked the explosive plays on the ground without Ezekiel Elliott, but they did get a running game that tired out the Redskins and was effective all the way through finishing drives - two things that will need to remain true if the Cowboys have any chance.
- Take away Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, and I don't know if we've seen a Cowboys rookie make as big of an overall impact as CB Chidobe Awuzie did last night in a long time.
Making his first start at corner for the Cowboys, second round pick Chidobe Awuzie went from a bit of a forgotten man in this Dallas secondary to a piece they absolutely needed.
Not only was Awuzie the player he showed at Colorado - an instinctive defender with length and athleticism - but his efforts allowed for so many other pieces to fall into place in the back end of this defense.
The Redskins quick passing game should have been a strength for them against this Cowboys secondary, but with Awuzie coming down to cover they were held in check for most of the night.
Byron Jones was allowed to play down more in coverage, a role that suits him very well. Xavier Woods also remained closer to the line of scrimmage, a natural cover guy anywhere on the field with more of a presence against the run than Jones.
Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier were then given massive opportunities as the deep safeties for the Cowboys in this game. The range of these two players was on full display all night long in support of these CBs, as Heath came up with an interception and Frazier rallied down to be an enforcer in run defense all night.
It certainly didn't make headlines every week, but a huge part of why the Cowboys were successful last year was because of their rotation at safety creating multiple looks for a defense that lacked a pass rush.
Don't look now, but the addition of Chidobe Awuzie to this secondary allowed them to get back to this rotation - while the pass rush also took advantage of a depleted Redskins offensive line.
- Speaking of this pass rush, that is an excellent use of his hands by DeMarcus Lawrence on his strip sack of Kirk Cousins.
Lawrence was running a twist designed to get David Irving to the quarterback on this play, but as he charged inside he caught the guard off balanced from dealing with Irving.
All Lawrence had to do was maintain his leverage through his rush, as his blocker was late anchoring against him. Powering his way to the quarterback, Lawrence finished with a strip sack that led to a Cowboys field goal and set the tone up front for Rod Marinelli's unit.
- If I had one negative note for this defensive line, it is that Maliek Collins is struggling to get off of blocks right now.
I've given a lot of credit to Collins for filling in at the 1T DT spot as needed, after dominating at the 3T position as a rookie - a spot that not only suits him best but one that can produce stats more so than his current one.
There have been plays where Maliek unconventionally plays this position effectively, finding ways to shoot gaps and get up the field while still drawing the attention of blockers that frees up his teammates to finish plays.
Regardless of how he lines up now though, Maliek Collins is struggling to get off of blocks and run to the football. This was one of his best strengths in his first season, as Collins has numerous ways to disengage with his power and speed.
Now, when the Cowboys need to push the pocket with a player that can do it all, they line up David Irving directly over the center or guard.
Collins' progress as the starting DT next to the versatile David Irving is something to monitor, but he simply needs to do a better job of not staying blocked through these downs.
- Returning punts and kickoffs is about getting north and south, which Ryan Switzer did masterfully for the Cowboys' first punt return TD in four seasons.
Switzer has been gaining confidence in the return game with his teammates over recent weeks, and seeing it pay off in prime time for him was an amazing moment for all of Cowboys Nation.
The rookie was able to get up the field in a hurry, reading his blocks as fast as he accelerated. All Ryan had to do in taking this ball the distance was evade a few out-of-position defenders in the hole.
Switzer's short, rapid strides and quick feet helped him ensure that nobody on the Redskins' special teams unit would have a chance at him as he put his team ahead 17-0.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Next up for the Dallas Cowboys, they will travel to MetLife Stadium to face the struggling New York Giants. Already with a win against the Eli Manning led Giants under their belt, the Cowboys have life on this 2017 season again thanks to a mix of veterans and highly praised rookies meeting expectations for four full quarters against Washington.
The Cowboys will play the Giants and then the Raiders without Ezekiel Elliott still, but for at least the next ten days the talks of this entire team being built around #21 can quiet a bit.
There will always be things to improve on, but for now the Cowboys can enjoy the efforts they received in all three phases of last night's win to save their chances at the postseason.
Cowboys, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report
Though it's still early in the 2018 season, the lead in the NFC East is up for grabs when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins meet this Sunday. Both teams would like their full roster available for the game, but the Week 7 injury reports indicate that won't be the case.
Here are the players either confirmed to be out of action tomorrow or are otherwise listed by Dallas and Washington:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - OUT
- CB Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) - Questionable
The Cowboys are getting healthier, with Sean Lee finally off the injury report and set to return to action. Not only will Dallas get their elite linebacker back, but it means a deeper rotation while the team remains without Joe Thomas.
Tavon Austin elected to skip season-ending surgery on his injured groin, but his should be out a few weeks. That will put Cole Beasley on punt returns and perhaps create more offensive opportunities for Deonte Thompson and Brice Butler.
Awuzie remains limited in practice but has played the last few weeks despite the ankle injury. There is no reason to think he won't suit up in Washington.
- WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) - OUT
- WR Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) - Doubtful
- S Troy Apke (hamstring) - Doubtful
- RB Adrian Peterson (ankle, shoulder) - Questionable
- RB Chris Thompson (rib, knee) - Questionable
- G Shawn Lauvao (calf) - Questionable
- CB Quinton Dunbar (shin) - Questionable
- CB Danny Johnson (forearm) - Questionable
It's a rough time for Washington's offensive weapons. They will definitely be without slot receiver Jamison Crowder and likely starter Paul Richardson, who current lead all WRs in receptions. Josh Doctson will put into a major role, as will veteran Brian Quick off the bench.
Peterson and Thompson both practiced this week and should play, but have nagging injuries that could slow them down. Washington is already missing Rob Kelley and rookie Derrius Guice, who are both on injured reserve.
Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao is also nursing a lower leg injury, but practiced in a limited capacity all week. His backup is undrafted rookie Casey Dunn out of Auburn.
In the defensive backfield, starting CB Quinton Dunbar was a Friday addition to the injury report with a shin injury. He did practice with it, though, so will likely play. Backup safety Troy Apke is doubtful with a hamstring issue.
Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.
Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.
Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.
Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.
Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.
The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.
Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.
Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.
Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.
Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.
He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.
If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.
Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.
Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.
That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.
#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance
It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.
But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.
According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.
Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.
What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.
For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.
As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.
Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.
Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).
Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.
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