The Dallas Cowboys held the New York Giants to three points on 233 yards over the 25:46 minutes they held the football in Sunday night's decisive 19-3 win. The Giants were of course playing without star WR Odell Beckham Jr., which helped the Cowboys execute their game plan of limiting big plays on defense and grinding things out to control the game on offense.
Among things that stood out more than expected though were the performances from Rod Marinelli's defensive line across the board, LB Jaylon Smith, and this new look offensive line with Chaz Green starting (and finishing the game) at LG with La'el Collins holding up at RT.
Here are my full thoughts on this opening win from the Cowboys on Sunday Night Football. We'll be sure to expand on some of these notes throughout the week in preparation for week two with Sean's Scout.
- The Giants' offensive line may not be the greatest litmus test for any team's pass rush, but you had to come out of this game impressed with the all-around performance from this Dallas defensive line. Maliek Collins continues to show great improvements every time he takes the field, translating a strong training camp into another dominant showing at the important 3T DT position in this defense. It was Collins' ability to burst off of the football and power into the backfield with some quickness on a twist that allowed DeMarcus Lawrence to get home on the Giants' first drive for a drive ending sack. When Lawrence has struggled in past seasons, it has been because of his inability to capture the corner or bend back to the quarterback. Playing with power has rarely been his issue, and the play of these interior defensive tackles really allowed him to take advantage of some favorable match ups and disrupt Manning. Charles Tapper also made a strong debut as a rotational DE, rushing off of both the left and right edges with some fresh legs and improved closing ability.
- The first surprise of this night actually came before kickoff, when the Cowboys' inactive list included LG Jonathan Cooper. The Cowboys prefer offensive linemen that can play with some power, move guys off of the ball, and get out in space. Cooper rarely showed these traits through the preseason, losing the competition for the job to the rarely healthy Chaz Green. Fortunately, Green made it through his first meaningful game at this new position, and looked good doing so. When Chaz appeared at tackle last season, he was able to impress with his base and strength against rushers. Able to take this same ability to the interior, there were times where Green seemed to catch his man as a blocker instead of controlling him - but overall he was more than a formidable replacement for both Ronald Leary and La'el Collins, who held up just as admirably as an ever-improving right tackle.
- As always, Scott Linehan's play calling was criticized at times throughout this night by Cowboys Nation. What he did do a great job of was scheming plenty of Ezekiel Elliott's 24 touches away from DT Damon Harrison. Harrison is among the best in the NFL at stuffing the run from inside, and is the type of DT that Travis Frederick has historically struggled slightly against thanks to his elite power but active hands. Instead of consistently helping Frederick with RG Zack Martin and running into the teeth of the Giants' defense, Linehan was able to utilize both Martin and La'el Collins at their best - playing on the move to allow Elliott a chance to wear out a New York defense that was consistently a step late to the ball.
- There are just so many people in the Cowboys' organization that had to be elated the second Jaylon Smith left the locker room last night and entered his first regular season game in the NFL. His path towards becoming the player he was out of Notre Dame before his injury is still a long one, but Smith didn't show many signs of being held back by that leg - fitting this defensive scheme perfectly at MIKE linebacker. Especially with Dallas' front four generating pressure and clogging running lanes, Smith and the Cowboys linebackers were able to free themselves early and often to get to the ball and limit the Giants to 4.4 yards per play. Jaylon Smith flashed as a sideline-to-sideline player with improved burst, tackling ability, and change of direction skills. The playbook is only going to expand for Smith as his comfort level and trust from the coaching staff increase, but for now there is a need on this team for any linebackers to get on the field and play with their feet and hands together, something Smith is impressively doing.
- Getting Terrance Williams the ball on the move continues to be an incredibly reliable option for Dak Prescott and the Cowboys offense. Before anyone scrutinizes Prescott's performance too much in this game (he'll be the first to admit some throws he missed were unacceptable), you have to remember how talented this Giants defense is and how bad they made him look at times as a rookie. Once again quieting Dez Bryant in single coverage, the Cowboys had to rely on match up nightmare Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams in some key spots to keep drives alive. With the way NY wants to stack the box pre-snap against the run but still commit numbers in coverage, running route concepts that freed up Williams to grab the ball on the run and accelerate exposed some soft spots in the Giants' defense and kept the Cowboys #2 WR in this game mentally - even after exiting on the first drive with an injury but returning later in the quarter.
- It is impossible to ever understate just how meaningful Sean Lee is to this Dallas Cowboys team. While the Cowboys may have one of the deepest and talented rosters in the NFL, their would be some serious struggles without Lee playing with the consistency that he's found over the past seasons at WILL linebacker. As already mentioned, the Cowboys LBs as a whole did a great job of disengaging blocks, playing physical, and getting to the ball last night. To no surprise, the best example of these traits by far was Sean Lee, who finished off another excellent night of work with eight tackles.
The Cowboys are 1-0 with plenty of room for improvement and plenty to be happy about on both sides of the ball following a week one NFC East victory.
As they prepare for a tough trip to Mile High against the Broncos in week two, be sure to stay posted to Inside The Star at Cowboys Nation for more reactions on Sunday's win over the Giants and further preparation for Denver.
Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.
We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.
- TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
- G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
- DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
- WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
- OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
- DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.
Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving. Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.
Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.
Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.
While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.
- G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
- LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
- S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
- WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
- TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
- S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable
The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.
Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.
Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.
Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.
Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line depth will be tested as they play for a chance to clinch the NFC East on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Suffering a knee injury last week against the Eagles, Right Guard Zack Martin will not be able to play. In missing his first career start, rookie Connor Williams rightfully returns to the starting lineup as Martin's replacement.
The 50th overall pick from this year's AT&T Stadium hosted Draft has started eight games this season at left guard. Williams' last start happens to be in the last game Dallas lost, a week nine defeat to the Tennessee Titans. This opened the door for Xavier Su'a-Filo to become something of a sensation for Cowboys Nation as the starting left guard throughout the team's current five game win streak.
Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained knee. Rookie Connor Williams will start in his place.
Zack Martin being unavailable is hardly how Marc Colombo wants to prepare for the Cowboys first road game since week 11. Having both Su'a-Filo and Williams in the lineup will be valuable for the Cowboys moving forward though, as Williams could earn his job at left guard back from the right side.
While he won't nearly be expected to play at the level of Martin, Williams looked poised coming off the bench against the Eagles and helping the Cowboys offense score their final three touchdowns. Williams was on the field for all three of Amari Cooper's scores, as Dallas rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries with him in the game.
Williams flashed some of the traits that made him a top left tackle prospect out of college, flowing to the second level with ease and creating movement with quick feet at the point of attack. The Cowboys have forced him to remain game ready despite losing his starting position by finding a few emergency snaps for him in recent weeks, as well as special teams looks. The team has every reason to believe Williams is an ascending young player still.
The same cannot be said of Su'a-Filo, who simply has to focus on continuing to hold up at left guard again this week. With each passing win, Su'a-Filo's LG spot has become more of a liability in a Cowboys offense in need of a jump-start late in this 2018 season.
Consistent offensive line play is one of the few things that's clearly hurting the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC behind a stellar defense and game breaking wide receiver.
The Cowboys won't be at full strength against the eighth best rushing defense and 15th ranked passing defense in yards per game. With three separate chances to clinch the NFC East starting at the Colts and extending until the end of the regular season, the Cowboys stand to learn all they need to know about the offensive line that will start in the playoffs.
Martin, who's elevated his game to a new level this season despite this lingering knee injury, should be on track to return when the Cowboys come home to play the Buccaneers in week 16.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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