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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.

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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

Film Room: WR Ryan Switzer Showed Flashes Vs. Eagles

Kevin Brady

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Film Room: WR Ryan Switzer Showed Flashes Vs. Eagles
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There's no doubt the Dallas Cowboys passing game faltered in 2017. Though never expected to throw for many yards, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys failed to maximize their attempts down the stretch. The passing game was simply inefficient and ineffective.

One reason the passing game took a step back was the disappearance of slot receiver Cole Beasley. Whether you blame defenses adjusting their coverages on third downs towards Beasley, Beasley growing another year older, or quarterback Dak Prescott, Beasley simply didn't look like the same player in 2017.

In the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected a wide out who many anticipate could replace Beasley, in time. Rookie wide receiver Ryan Switzer rarely got chances to make an impact on offense this season, designated as the return man for much of the year. With Cole Beasley out for the season finale, however, Switzer got his chance to make a name for himself.

While the numbers were far from gaudy, Ryan Switzer showed some things we should be excited about for the future.

dalvsphi2018 switzer - Streamable

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Ryan Switzer's first target came on a third down -- something Cowboys Nation should get used to heading into 2018. Switzer is lined up inside in trips on the near-side of the formation. The Eagles show man coverage pre-snap, and with just one safety over top and the other rotated down on top of Jason Witten, it is clear to Dak Prescott they plan to bring some pressure.

As soon as Prescott gets the snap, his eyes go to Ryan Switzer.

The cornerback plays Switzer with inside leverage, refusing to be beat with a hot slant route. Switzer instead keeps the defender on his back hip and creates separation with an out-breaking route.

Prescott delivers the ball towards the sideline where the defender can't catch up to it, and Switzer comes away with the first down.

dalvsphi2018 switzer 2 - Streamable

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Later in the game, we once again see Ryan Switzer targeted from this inside-alignment.

Switzer is a pretty prototypical slot receiver, and if used correctly he should win in man coverage situations often. The cornerback attempts to maintain inside leverage on Switzer and get physical at the top of his route. Ryan Switzer does a nice job of fighting through that physicality and crossing the defender's face over the middle. He flashes open pretty quickly, and Prescott delivers a strike for the completion.

If Switzer can create this type of separation often, I see no reason why he shouldn't be a focus of the offense in 2018.

dalvsphi2018 switzer 3 - Streamable

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Switzer's third target is actually an incompletion, but it is worth studying, regardless. Switzer is in the slot on the far side and the Cowboys once again are in trips alignment. The cornerback over Switzer is in man coverage, but gives him room to breathe at the line of scrimmage.

Switzer exploits the cornerback -- who is cheating to the inside -- with his footwork and route running. He gets to the sticks, breaks to the outside, and creates enough separation for a first-down completion. Prescott delivers the ball a bit late and behind Switzer, causing an incompletion instead.

I'd still like to see Switzer adjust to the ball and make this catch, but I put more of the blame for this play on Prescott.

With a full offseason to work within the offensive system, as well as to develop chemistry with quarterback Dak Prescott, Ryan Switzer will prove to be an important piece to the 2018 Dallas Cowboys.


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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Datone Jones Should Be Back, Switzer’s Good Game

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: Datone Jones Should Be Back, Switzer's Good Game 1
AP Photo / Michael Ainsworth

The Dallas Cowboys put an end to a long, long season last Sunday after they defeated the Eagles in Philadelphia in a game that had absolutely no meaning for either team. Surprisingly, the Cowboys played with their healthy starters most of the game, but were barely able to put six points on the board, which were enough to take the win home.

The Cowboys might've lost more than what they actually won, and most of the fans were unhappy with the victory. Despite it being a pretty boring football game, we still learned a few things about the Dallas Cowboys.

The season's finally over. It wasn't easy, but we're still here. Here's to 2018. Let's hope it's a good one for our Cowboys. Here's this week's edition of Takeaway Tuesday!

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Coaching Staff Didn't Help Its Cause

It's more than fair to say that a lot of us want to see changes in Dallas. And specifically, changes in the coaching staff. After the Cowboys were eliminated from playoff contention, Jerry Jones said Jason Garrett's job was not an issue. Now, Jerry's even talking about Rod Marinelli and Scott Linehan being back in 2018. Who knows if it's true.

While I don't think we'll see a new head coach anytime soon, I'd dare say that after the horrible game versus Philadelphia the front office at least got to thinking.

Dak Prescott, Jason Garrett

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, HC Jason Garrett

Coming into this game, the team had a choice to make: play with the starters to win it, or let guys like Cooper Rush in the game and see what happens. A loss would've meant a better draft position for the Cowboys and a chance to see what rookies and other young players could bring to the table.

But they decided to manage the game like it was a "real action" game. Being conservative. Not going for it when there was nothing to lose. They did so after a team that, with the NFC's #1 seed secured, basically played with its B team. Not only that but for the Eagles, most of the game was played by a third string QB.

Despite all this, the Cowboys could hardly beat the Eagles 6-0. Poor execution and all, I can't help thinking about the coaches.

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Cowboys Should Keep Datone Jones for 2018

In late November, the Dallas Cowboys signed Datone Jones after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers. The former Packers' first-round pick made an impact when he was given the chance. His play at DT was pretty solid and he showed very promising flashes.

DatoneJones - Streamable

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Jones will be under contract in 2018 and I'd be surprised if the Cowboys don't keep him another year. Per Over The Cap, he'll be paid $790,000 next year which isn't at all expensive for a 27-year-old player.

The Cowboys would add depth and even a potential starter at DT for next season.

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Ryan Switzer Can Play as a Wide Receiver

With Cole Beasley missing the game because of an illness, we finally got to see Ryan Switzer at WR. We had already seen good things from him as a kick returner, but on offense, he hasn't been as involved as Cowboys Nation expected him to be.

Last Sunday though, Switzer was used for more than a jet sweep.

SwitzerWR - Streamable

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He still has a long way to go, but I was impressed by his ability to create separation. I really hope he's used more next season.

At the end of the day, he's a fourth-round pick. He should be playing more on offense, not just on "gadget plays" or special teams. Could Ryan Switzer be Dak Prescott's best friend in the future? Only time will tell. Right now, it's too optimistic to expect something like that.

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Dan Bailey's Confidence is Shattered

Dallas Cowboys K Dan Bailey

Dan Bailey's 2017 season hasn't been easy at all. We've seen him miss kicks we never imagined he would, including extra points. One of the most painful moments of the Cowboys' season came late in the season finale when he lined up to kick a simple 20-yard field goal.

The ball went up, but failed to split the uprights. Dan Bailey stood in complete disbelief, with a blank look in his face. His confidence, shattered.

For kickers, it's all about confidence.

For years, we referred to Dan "Automatic" Bailey as the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Now we're not sure about calling him "Automatic" anymore. Bailey will have a lot of time to pick himself up though, and will probably be back at it next year.

Let's hope that's the case.

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For now, the only thing left to say is one of the most encouraging, yet sad phrases in sports... Maybe next year. We're on to the offseason.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Datone Jones Should Be Back, Switzer’s Good Game" 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

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Starters Uninspiring in Week 17 Win

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Starters Produce Uninspiring Week 17 Win

Playing more than enough of their starters in hopes of ending this 2017 season on a high note at the Eagles, the Cowboys produced a lackluster 6-0 win that will surely leave a bad taste in the mouths of Cowboys Nation - despite it being a victory.

The win put the Cowboys at 9-7 on the season, and it is a shame they had nothing to play for in this regular season finale. Once again in week 17, it was the offense holding back another fantastic performance by Rod Marinelli's defense.

We'll discuss both units in this final 2017 Dallas Cowboys version of Sean's Scout.

  • You have to love the way Chidobe Awuzie was able to bring physicality to a young Cowboys secondary that had another solid game. 

There were times earlier in this season when it seemed the Cowboys' second-round pick would have a lost season due to multiple hamstring injuries, but Awuzie quickly tuned around his rookie campaign by coming in and playing with exceptional technique and awareness.

With enough length to turn and run, Awuzie thrived in this zone scheme by keeping everything in front of him, as he did on his interception of Nick Foles. With Dallas in Cover 2 on the play, Chidobe read Foles' eyes the whole time to the boundary and was in position to cut off the pass.

This is a topic we'll now have much more time to discuss, and it is a hollowing one considering it was truly the Cowboys offense that kept them from the playoffs this season. The need for new talent at WR is clear, but the need for a target that better suits Prescott's strengths going into year three is even more important.

His pass catchers, along with inconsistencies in pass protection, were the main reasons Prescott struggled in 2017, although in this game it seemed like the only time he was affected in the pocket was when forcing the ball late to Bryant.

Coming from a spread system in college, Prescott simply does not have experience throwing his receivers open -- relying on route combinations and separation ability to hit open targets. Dez Bryant hasn't been that type of player through his career, and certainly isn't now that he's lost a step.

  • 9 wins for a team unlike their usual selves up front offensively is still pretty impressive. 

The Cowboys got nearly no impact from any of their free agent signings this season, which is why the depth of the team held them back once again. Veteran Byron Bell was brought in as a backup swing tackle, but he is simply not a scheme fit at tackle here.

Dak Prescott should not have been playing with Bell as his LT, and eventually Joe Looney at LG after Jonathan Cooper went down.

Bell lacks the quick-twitch ability and athleticism needed to be successful on every down, and it showed as he was again beaten by both speed and power against the Eagles.

The Cowboys have proven their acumen drafting young OL talent that performs at a high level early and often. So, instead of relying on more free agents, like Bell and Looney, drafting talent up front to spark the running game and give Prescott adequate protection is likely the best answer.

  • Ryan Switzer's ability to separate late in the down really stood out, as he finally got his chance at WR without Cole Beasley

Growing calls for more of Ryan Switzer on offense will surely take root this offseason after he caught four passes for 32 yards in the absence of Cole Beasley yesterday. More of a one-speed player at North Carolina, Switzer's spacial awareness and smoothness in giving Prescott somewhere to throw the ball as plays developed was really impressive.

In order to be a great team at the NFL Draft, you have to accurately scout your own roster. It will be fascinating to see just how the Cowboys feel about their current pass catchers, with not only Ryan Switzer but the likes of Lance Lenoir and practice squad addition K.D. Cannon in the fold as well.

  • The Cowboys found themselves a valuable addition to their rotation at DT with Datone Jones. 

Jones was able to push the pocket throughout this game in Philadelphia, and has done so consistently since getting here, at both the 1T and 3T positions. Using his hands to generate power as a down-the-line player, Jones plays with great pad level. That allows him to shoot gaps when needed, or anchor the line of scrimmage.

The Cowboys have not prioritized adding premier talent at DT in recent years, and may forego it again this offseason as well. The Cowboys expect Maliek Collins to contribute further with another season at 1T and David Irving back at 3T.

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To everybody who made this 2017 season at Inside The Star as enjoyable as ever, I would like to thank the readers of Sean's Scout. All this aspiring scout can ask for is to enhance the fan experience through both wins and losses, and your feedback on this series helped me to confidently do just that.

As we prepare for an even better 2018, Sean's Scout won't be going anywhere! I'm shifting my full attention towards the NFL Draft, looking for prospects that could help the Dallas Cowboys reach the playoffs again next season.

Thank you for another roller-coaster ride we call football season, Cowboys Nation. Truly the best fans anywhere.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Starters Uninspiring in Week 17 Win" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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