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.
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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.