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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Refueled Pass Rush, Inspired Alfred Morris Put Cowboys Back On Track

Sean Martin

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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.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: Refueled Pass Rush, Inspired Alfred Morris Put Cowboys Back On Track” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Pleasant NJ, no we’re not how you think we are. Host of “Upon Further Review” on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. You may @ me: @SeanMartinNFL.

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1 Comment
  • Russ_Te

    Dak, Dez, Morris, Lawrence and Awuzie save Garrett’s job… ;^)

    And Irving and Switzer. His punt return TD justified the 4th round selection, in 1 play. He outran everyone on the Redskins coverage team. Comparable quicks to Beasley, although finding the soft spots in the coverage is a big part of the slot WR or TE position, and we don’t know how good he may be at that.

    Otherwise, you figure Beasley can be shopped offseason. We need an OT prospect.

Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Awuzie and Lewis Impress, Concerns Around Dez Bryant

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: Awuzie and Lewis Impress, Concerns Around Dez Bryant

The Dallas Cowboys headed to New York a couple of days ago with a mission: survive a potential trap game versus a 2-10 New York Giants team. Despite not getting most of the help they needed from other teams around the league, at least Dallas was able to do the job they could control.

Through three quarters, the Cowboys struggled a lot. It wasn’t until the fourth quarter when they decided to have a touchdown party, outscoring the Giants 20-0 in the final eight minutes of the game.

What did we learn from the Cowboys’ seventh win of the season? Here is this week’s edition of Takeaway Tuesday! 

Dak Prescott Bounced Back

Although the Cowboys are a team that’s barely breathing in the playoff race, the truth is there’re a lot of ways that Dak has improved as a QB. It’s easy to look at a team lose football games and blame the QB without hesitating. That’s been the case most of the season.

It’s fair to say that Prescott hadn’t had an awesome game in a long time, though. But this time, he did just that.

Film Room: How Dak Prescott Beat The Giants' Blitz

Dak Prescott needed a performance like this one. He threw for 332 yards and three touchdowns last Sunday. He made some key throws and key reads during the game and managed to beat the Giants’ blitz with ease. Glad to see you hush the haters, 4.

Certainly a good thing to see when you need to go 3-0 in order to stay in the postseason conversation.

Concerns Around Dez Bryant Continue to Increase

Listen, I love Dez Bryant. He’s been one of my favorite players to ever watch. But at some point, you have to start admitting there is a problem. Yes, Dez Bryant has been struggling this season. Whether you want to blame Dak or Dez about it, it’s fair. I think they both are to blame.

The thing about Dez is that he can have quite a few bad plays and makes you forget about it when he  does something awesome. A perfect example of this is his 50-yard TD against the Giants last Sunday. It came at a perfect moment, but he had dropped some easy balls earlier in the game.

Dez – Streamable

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Dez is getting paid like an elite WR, and despite some great moments on the field, he’s been having a lot of bad ones lately. If you have a $70M contract, you can’t frequently drop passes like that.

It may be about chemistry with his new QB, it may be about age, or it may be just about a couple of bad years for the guy. Whatever it is, as much as we hate to say it, Dez isn’t anywhere close to the “top receivers” conversation this year.

Sean Lee Proved to be Invaluable Once Again

Less Is More For Sean Lee And Cowboys' LBs?I’m constantly amazed by the difference the Cowboys’ veteran linebacker makes when he’s on the field. In his heroic return against the Giants, he finished the day with 18 total tackles, 10 of which were solo. With Sean Lee on the field, this defense has been able to be a headache for opposing offenses.

Sean Lee could easily be this team’s MVP. For Cowboys Nation, it’s been a season of constantly missing football players in Dallas. Out of everyone, I think Sean Lee is the player we missed the most. Including Ezekiel Elliott.

This defense transforms into a very capable one with Lee around. The Cowboys need Zeke back if they want to have success in their hunt for the playoffs, but without Lee, they wouldn’t stand a chance.

Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis Are Still Killing It

Coming into this game, one of the biggest question marks was the cornerback position for Dallas. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis were going to get the start, and there’s always uncertainty around rookies going up against a QB like Eli Manning.

lewis – Streamable

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Look at that coverage by Jourdan Lewis. Look at him turn his head around when the ball’s coming. The way this secondary will grow is exciting to think about. The Cowboys have something special in these two guys. They’ll make for an amazing CB duo for years to come, and I’m excited about what they bring to the table.

Chidobe Awuzie has played the last two games, and he’s been very impressive. Throughout the entire game, his converge was pretty impressive. Eli only targeted him 5 times in the ballgame and was able to complete just two passes against him.

Sean Lee ended up with the interception late in the fourth quarter, but it was perfectly set up by Chidobe Awuzie.

Awuzie – Streamable

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It was a very fun fourth quarter for the Dallas Cowboys, and even though it looks difficult… this football team’s playoff hopes are still alive. Jason Garrett must keep this team focused in the Oakland Raiders for now, though.

Hope dies last, Cowboys Nation. Keep your head up.

Tell me what you think about “Takeaway Tuesday: Awuzie and Lewis Impress, Concerns Around Dez Bryant” in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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Game Notes

Forget Elliott For Now, Cowboys Must Focus On Raiders

Kevin Brady

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Despite looking dead to rights just two weeks ago, back to back wins have put the Dallas Cowboys into the playoff hunt with just three games remaining.

In order to even have a chance at sneaking in as the sixth seed, Dallas will need to win each of its remaining games to finish 10-6. In some ways, the playoffs started two weeks ago when Dallas took on the Washington Redskins. But even though this Sunday’s contest is another must-win, elimination game for the Cowboys, it’s also a classic “trap” or “look ahead” game as well.

Before the season started, most expected the Oakland Raiders to be competing for AFC supremacy. Like the Cowboys, Oakland bursted onto the scene in 2016 with a young quarterback, a dynamic offense, and an exciting roster. But, like the Cowboys, they have faltered a bit this season due to underperforming stars, injuries, and a somewhat undermanned defensive unit.

The Raiders are now 6-7, and while still alive in the AFC West race, saw their best shot at overtaking the division go up in a smoke last Sunday as they were demolished by the Kansas City Chiefs.

Simply put, the Raiders are not a very good football team right now. And though this will be a road game for the Cowboys, it is one they should win if they are truly a playoff team. In fact, it’s one they have to win if they want to keep their slim playoff chances alive.

The reason why this could potentially be a “trap” game of sorts is who the Cowboys are scheduled to play after traveling to Oakland. A team who has been a perennial playoff contender in the NFC, and a team directly in front of the Cowboys in the current NFC standings – the Seattle Seahawks.

Not only will that Seattle game be massively important to the Cowboys if they can sneak out of Oakland with a victory, it will also feature the return of star running back Ezekiel Elliott from his six game suspension.

December 24th will be a huge day in Dallas if the Cowboys can get to 8-6 this week, but they can ill-afford to look ahead to that potentially important showdown with the Seahawks. Because if they do and the Raiders upset them at the home in primetime, the Cowboys season will end before Elliott even gets the chance to come back.

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Game Notes

Film Room: How Dak Prescott Beat The Giants’ Blitz

Kevin Brady

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Film Room: How Dak Prescott Beat The Giants' Blitz

While much of Sunday’s victory over the New York Giants featured some ugly football from the Dallas Cowboys, the team continued to fight until completing a 20 point route of their division rivals.

Of course, stars emerged on both the offense and the defense throughout the game. Rod Smith had a breakout day, Dez Bryant made a couple of “vintage” plays, and Sean Lee returned to health and led the defense to a fantastic performance.

But as we all know, quarterbacks make the world go ’round. And no matter how great the other pieces play, it’s hard to win football games unless you can maintain high level quarterback play.

Dak Prescott returned to that high level against the Giants on Sunday.

Even if Prescott is missing throws or having accuracy issues, he had never lost his composure or made the wrong reads until that Atlanta Falcons debacle. I really believe that Dak lost faith in his protection, began abandoning clean pockets, and ended up having a few bad games in a row.

All seems right with Prescott now, as he threw for over 300 yards and three touchdowns during the Cowboys’ big win. The area he was most impressive, was with those reads – specifically against the blitz.

dalvsnyg dak to dez td – Streamable

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On his first touchdown pass of the game, Dak Prescott beats the blitz perfectly. Just before snapping the ball, Prescott notices the safety roll down into the box. You can see him subtly move his arm to point out the safety, while calling it out to his linemen as well.

As soon as he gets the snap, Dak knows exactly where to go. The Giants tried to beat him with a delayed safety blitz, but once that safety comes, Prescott knows he has Dez Bryant in man coverage on the perimeter.

His eyes immediately snap that way, and his throw replaces the blitzer quickly. This allows Bryant to do the rest, and the Cowboys to tie the game.

dalvsnyg 17 cole beasley – Streamable

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Later in the game we see more of the same from Dak Prescott. With the game tied at 10 the Cowboys faced a critical third down backed up in their own territory. The Giants once again show blitz, bring the  blitz, and Dak burns them for it.

The Giants show man coverage across the board pre-snap, with safety Landon Collins on the near hash. Cole Beasley is in the near-slot, and while he technically has a man over him directly, the Giants show 2-over-1 in the slot pre-snap. This usually tips off a blitz, as the Giants plan to bring their slot defender off the edge, and allow Landon Collins to cover Beasley one on one.

Prescott notices this pre-snap once again, and makes the defense pay. He quickly replaces the blitzer with his throw, allowing Beasley to make the easy catch underneath and then do the rest after the catch.

This may not seem all the difficult to do to those analyzing the game the next morning, but these reads indicate high level quarterback-ing from the Cowboys’ franchise leader, Dak Prescott.

Last season against the Giants, their defense was able to bring more than the Cowboys could block on key third downs a few times. Too often, Prescott and the passing offense could not beat those blitzes.

That was not the case this week at all.

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