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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!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @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

Sean’s Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

The Dallas Cowboys are halfway through their 2018 preseason. Given the injuries they're left to deal with to Zack Martin, Xavier Woods, and Jameill Showers, the Cowboys were happy to see their first home game of the season come to an end when it did. Despite the 21-13 loss, the Cowboys starters made another strong impression before exiting for backups that once again failed to hold the lead.

This is a game I'm looking forward to getting another look at on film, but for now here are a few thoughts the first time through.

  • Rookie Connor Williams is still a work in progress at guard, as he'll get himself in trouble trying to catch rushers too often. 

This "catch blocking" is not uncommon for young offensive linemen, particularly ones learning a new position in preparation to start on the league's best front. On the Cowboys second drive of the game, Williams was caught back in his stance dealing with a twist from the Bengals with Left Tackle Tyron Smith.

The result of the play was an incomplete pass on third down from Dak Prescott. With Williams' footwork being as consistent as it has, I wouldn't worry too much about his upper body technique and strength improving greatly before week one of the regular season. Perhaps most importantly, Williams has looked smooth playing in space, something the Cowboys are prepared to ask the second round pick to do plenty of.

  • With Randy Gregory back in the lineup, the Cowboys potential to have a great rotation of defensive ends was on full display. 

The play that stands out is a tackle for loss by Safety Jeff Heath. On the play, Defensive End Tyrone Crawford did a great job setting the edge against the run, allowing Heath to come down and make the aggressive play.

Crawford created penetration against a tight end, staying disciplined in his rush lane from the right defensive end position to force the run outside.

On the Bengals' offensive series prior to this play by Heath, the Cowboys forced a punt following a missed Andy Dalton throw to A.J. Green. Despite not being tight in coverage on third down, Randy Gregory looked sharp coming off the edge to rush Dalton slightly.

With Taco Charlton also looking strong against the run, and rookie Dorance Armstrong continuing to develop as a weak side pass rusher, the possible match ups the Cowboys can create up front are seemingly endless.

Almost all of them will include last year's sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence, who was also disruptive on nearly every snap in this game.

  • Give credit to Joe Looney for handling the reps he did at center, but the backup interior lineman left a lot to be desired from this position. 

It should come as no surprise that Looney is a better guard than center, or that the Cowboys would look significantly worse at center without Travis Frederick in the lineup.

Overall, this was a disappointing game for the Cowboys thin offensive line depth. Paul Alexander's unit was unable to give quarterbacks Cooper Rush and Mike White a fair chance to settle into the game.

Looney's contact balance was suspect throughout the evening. Not the most powerful player, it's important for Looney to play with leverage and balance, which he did inconsistently last night.

Awaiting news on Zack Martin's first quarter injury still, the Cowboys should have already been concerned about their backups at tackle, with the guard position becoming a late concern now.

  • This is becoming the standard for Jaylon Smith, but I did not see one Bengals blocker effectively slow him down.

The power that Smith is playing with is an outstanding sign for continued success. Not only is Smith physically up for the challenge of starting at MIKE for the Cowboys, but he's physically dominating opponents with strength, speed, and range.

Whether he was running laterally and avoiding blocks with great awareness, or attacking the pocket, Smith's path to the ball was rarely impeded against the Bengals.

No matter who the Cowboys lined up in their front seven, the group did a great job setting a strong tone. Antwaun Woods was once again impressive at the one technique position inside, and Brian Price made a flash play from this position late in the game as well.

Thanks to Smith's gap shooting ability, and the Cowboys willingness so far this preseason to be creative with the Notre Dame product, the team's defensive tackles don't have to be asked to do too much. Holding their spots while drawing blockers will be more than enough to free Smith and the rest of the Cowboys linebackers to make plays.

Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals 1

Dallas Cowboys CBs Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

  • Chidobe Awuzie's interception in the second quarter is a reminder of just how high the second-year cornerback's potential is. 

Sure, Awuzie's length put him at an advantage to take a leap into year two once Kris Richard arrived as the Cowboys passing game coordinator.

Being productive on the ball, as Awuzie was here, is a testament to just how athletic he is as a boundary cornerback though. A beat late recognizing the ball coming his way, Awuzie remained in perfect position to get a hand on this pass.

Doing so with an explosive leap off the ground and full extension, Awuzie snagged the ball with one hand before bringing it into his body to secure another turnover for the Cowboys first team defense.

The Cowboys cornerback depth proved suspect beyond Awuzie and Byron Jones in this game, but being as good as they already are on the boundary is a huge step in the right direction for Rod Marinelli's defense.

I also thought that UDFA Tyree Robinson did a great job answering the bell at safety, showing up a number of times in run support with the Cowboys in desperate need of depth at his position.

It's in the slot, where Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis continue to feel the pressure of competition, that the Cowboys are struggling to find the right starter - even trying Lewis on the outside well into the fourth quarter of this game.

 ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Cowboys will remain in their home state to conclude their training camp and preseason. Needing to see more out of their second and third team, practices will resume at The Star on Monday before another preseason game at AT&T Stadium.

This time, it will be the Arizona Cardinals coming in for a Sunday Night Football tune up. The Cowboys starters could very well see even more playing time than they have through the first two weeks, giving them a better chance of sustaining success and coming away with a preseason win.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Game Notes

CIN 21, DAL 13: Dak Prescott Continues Strong Preseason in Loss

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Bengals

The games may not count yet, but Dak Prescott looks ready for the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback continued his strong preseason play in the team's 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Prescott played three series, going 10/15 for 86 yards and a touchdown. He got the offense out of trouble a few times with his feet, avoiding sacks and ultimately getting the scoring pass off on a redzone scramble.

Dak's strong play has coincided with shutdown performances from the starting defense. The Cowboys' first-team defenders have yet to allow a score in two preseason games. Tonight, the Bengals were forced into four punts and two turnovers on their first-half possessions.

Overall, the Cowboys are a combined 24-7 in the first halves of their first two preseason contests.

The second half has been the problem, and for two weeks now Dallas' reserves have squandered halftime leads and given up losses. Thankfully, most of the responsible players will not be on the final 53-man roster.

Other Notes

  • There were several concerning injuries for the Cowboys tonight. None was scarier than when All-Pro guard Zack Martin went out with a knee injury, but it does not appear to have been serious. Starting defensive backs Byron Jones and Xavier Woods also got banged up; Byron returned to the game but Woods did not. Defensive lineman Datone Jones also left with a knee injury.
  • Even more concerning was the play of the second-team offensive line. Chaz Green was typically awful, but we also saw swing tackle Cam Fleming struggling and just an overall lack of protection for the backups quarterbacks. Green got benched in the second half and may have finally played his way off the team.
  • Credit to Terrance Williams for getting open in the endzone to give Dak Prescott a receiver for the touchdown throw. Even with his warts, Williams' two years of experience playing with Dak can't be ignored in deciding who makes the team.
  • Tight end Blake Jarwin continues to run with the starters on offense and may have quietly taken the job away from Geoff Swaim.
  • Darius Jackson took advantage of some extra playing time tonight after Bo Scarbrough left with a hip injury. He broke off a few nice runs to amass 42 yards on just six carries, plus had four receptions.
  • We finally get to see Dan Bailey kick a field goal again, and it was an easy 35-yarder with no issues.
  • Shout out to Chidobe Awuzie for one of the pretty interceptions that a Cowboys DB has made in some time. Awuzie had to bend like Beckham (Odell, that is) to get a hand on the ball, then tipped it to himself for the pick.
  • Preseason fun continues for the Cowboys next Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals on NBC's Sunday Night Football.



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Game Notes

#DALvsCIN: Can WR Lance Lenoir Continue To Impress?

Kevin Brady

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Lance Lenoir

Entering training camp projecting who would make the final roster from the Dallas Cowboys wide receiving room was a crapshoot. The combination of misfits from other teams, unproven young guys, and a couple of Cowboys veterans makes this position group the most questioned across the entire roster.

But while Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup were stealing headlines, Lance Lenoir was making a name for himself among the Cowboys faithful.

After serving on the practice squad for the Cowboys a year ago, Lenoir seems to have entered 2018 with one goal in mind: to make the official game-day roster. And even if he falls short of this goal, it won't be due to any fault of his own.

Day in and day out Lance Lenoir has been a consistent wide out, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running some of the crisper routes on the team. Under new receivers coach Sanjay Lal, Lenoir has become a technical route runner and dangerous receiving threat.

Maybe most importantly for his future with the team, Lenoir has developed an obvious chemistry with starting quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has continued to compliment Lenoir throughout training camp, and you know that the Cowboys front office is well aware of Prescott's trust in Lenoir on the field.

During the preseason opener against the 49ers, Lance Lenoir caught his first touchdown of the season, dazzling with his toe-tap ability. If he is going to steal a roster spot away from one of the more seasoned wide outs, however, he will have to remain that consistent target.

This Saturday, Lenoir gets another shot to prove why he's not only deserving of a roster spot, but of a starting spot. Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch, but if he continues to play like he has during camp and preseason, Lenoir could find himself working with the 1's more frequently.

Look out for Lance Lenoir against the Bengals this week, as he makes it harder and harder for the Cowboys to cut him by the second.



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