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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Running Back Usage, Strength In Secondary Stand Out At Raiders

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Running Back Usage, Strength In Secondary Stand Out At Raiders 1

You hear all the time that football is a game of inches, but I've never seen a game with two seasons on the line for both teams come down to index cards and late fumbles. This was the case as the Dallas Cowboys visited the Oakland Raiders for a game played with a playoff atmosphere in hostile territory for the Cowboys last night.

Coming away with a thrilling 20-17 victory, the 8-6 Cowboys kept their playoff hopes alive heading into a week 16 game that will see Ezekiel Elliott return to face the Seahawks at AT&T Stadium. With things now looking up for the Cowboys, here are a few of my notes on the good and the bad from this memorable game.

Sean's Scout: Running Back Usage, Strength In Secondary Stand Out At Raiders

  • Ezekiel Elliott's return is coming at the perfect time for a ton of reasons, but it is especially timely considering how the Cowboys utilized both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith in this game. 

Early on, the Cowboys' offense was putting on a clinic in how to expose a Raiders defense that simply lacks talent on the second and third level. Doubling Khalil Mack and forcing him to run through traffic allowed this offensive line to get out in space and play up the field, which got Alfred Morris going similarly to last week's effort against the Giants.

The Cowboys seemed primed to wear down the Raiders all night long with Morris before searching for big plays with Smith, but instead had a few drives stall thanks to poor decisions with these backs. Throwing the ball to Morris in space while running Rod Smith in tight zone is poor coaching by Scott Linehan, and it allowed the Raiders to fight their way back into this game with a great chance to steal it.

Rod Smith was able to score for the fourth consecutive game in the second quarter, and this play was a perfect example of the Cowboys' unison up front as Jonathan Cooper and Tyron Smith flowed to the second level with ease to create the gap for Smith.

  • Khalil Mack did finish the game with two sacks, but the Cowboys will be happy with La'el Collins' performance against him at RT. 

This was a premier match up in this game that I highlighted in a previous Sean's Scout, and Collins - with the help of chipping TEs and RBs - got the job done against Mack for the majority of the night.

When Mack did capture the edge, something he can do in an endless amount of ways, Collins did well to use his strength and steer Mack behind the pocket to give Dak Prescott areas to step up and deliver the football.

Ultimately, the Cowboys were going to be the better team on the field last night if they didn't let this Raiders pass rush derail their offense, and for the most part they didn't - scoring just enough to pull out the win.

  • David Irving was missed badly in this game by a Cowboys defense that adjusted well to the Raiders' running game. 

On a number of critical plays that kept Oakland drives alive, QB Derek Carr was able to escape the pocket and extend plays. Each time, it felt like he was running right into an area that Cowboys DT David Irving would have occupied and been in position to make a stop.

As it was mentioned all night on the broadcast, the Raiders lack a true identity on offense. A unit lost between being a spread team or a physical running one, both concepts were used in their comeback against the Cowboys here.

With Irving's presence also missed inside against the run, the Cowboys adjusted very well to Marshawn Lynch's punishing style up front as this game went on. Some fans may think Sean Lee is all the Cowboys need defensively to hold up in this area, but Rod Marinelli was able to put DeMarcus Lawrence in better situations to play the run along with 1T DT Richard Ash in support of Lee.

Lawrence's effortless ability to win both inside, on the edge, and on the move continues to stand out in what was one of his best all-around performances of the season last night.

  • Speaking of Cowboys defensive ends, rookie first round pick Taco Charlton had some of his most productive rushes as a LDE in this game. 

The problem that exists for Charlton in this defense right now is that his best spot to make plays continues to be at LDE, where DeMarcus Lawrence is rarely going to come off the field. When Charlton did get opportunities to rush off of that strong side, he showed some burst off of the edge that translated better than it has at any previous point to some power rush moves back towards Carr.

On Jeff Heath's game-winning forced fumble, Charlton did a great job of initially keeping Carr in the pocket, using his length with the Cowboys in man coverage behind. Charlton tried to spin out and stop Carr from ever crossing the line of scrimmage, but was held back as the play got loose and nearly ended the Cowboys' hopes.

For a rookie that was given some high expectations to start his Cowboys career, give a lot of credit to Taco Charlton for the way he's handled starting in a rotational role and slowly improved his pass rush ability with each rep he gets.

  • Having cornerbacks that are willing tacklers on the boundary continues to elevate the play of this entire Cowboys defense. 

Once the Raiders' running game was slowed down, they looked to get the ball out of Carr's hands quickly and attack a Cowboys defense that will always take short throws being completed in front of them.

CBs Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis did a great job tackling in space and delivering some big hits along the way in this role, as they've done consistently since both being inserted into the starting lineup. Their play on the outside has allowed Anthony Brown to move inside along with S Xavier Woods, and this coverage package for the Cowboys worked well all night in sticking to their scheme and forcing Oakland to make enough plays to beat them - something they came one snap short of.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The next time we're laying out one of these post game Sean's Scout posts, it will once again include notes on Ezekiel Elliott as the Cowboys' running back. This boost to their offense will come in yet another must win game against a Seahawks team looking to respond after a bad divisional loss on their home field.

Regardless of if Elliott's efforts will be enough to get the Cowboys into the playoffs, something that is not entirely in their control, adding another proven, young player back into the mix to go with the number of guys that stood out on both sides of the ball in this season's most thrilling game from last night will be exciting.

Until then, carry around index cards for good luck (I'll be doing so for my finals this week), and check back here for future editions of Sean's Scout.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Running Back Usage, Strength In Secondary Stand Out At Raiders" 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.

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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