As we all eagerly await the Sunday Night Football game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys, I will break down what we should look for, including matchups at each phase of the game and projected inactives going into Sunday.
I do not take these projections lightly, research has gone on from watching tape, reading what scouts say, and what those following each team also have said going into the game. Yet, I will not simply regurgitate information, I firmly believe everything listed below. With that let's get this underway.
Cowboys Projected Inactive List:
- Christine Michael
- Lucky Whitehead
- Geoff Swaim
- Jordan Mills
- La'el Collins
- Ken Bishop
- Damien Wilson
Yes, I am making the assumption that some highly talked about fan-favorites will not dress Sunday Night.
I cannot see Lucky dressing if Cole Beasley is returning Punts and Lance Dunbar is returning Kicks. With additional spots needed elsewhere, I foresee Lucky being inactive for at least the first few weeks.
La'el Collins? From everything that I have read and heard it does seem like the Coaching Staff is more comfortable with Mackenzy Bernadeau at this point. He is a veteran that has flexibility at Guard and Center. As of right now Collins is really only a Left Guard. If a critical situation arises, Bernadeau provides the most insurance at the most positions as a backup.
Michael and Mills are listed as inactive due to just getting to the team and probably not having a grasp of the system as of yet. It would be a bit premature to throw either one on the field against the Giants, especially Michael as I feel there's already an advantage in the running game. More on that later. Also, Mills making the injury report Thursday with a foot injury makes this an easy decision. Unless they do not trust Darrion Weems in the slightest.
With Nick Hayden and Terrell McClain likely to play 1st and 2nd down at the One Technique, I cannot see room for Bishop on the 46. He does not present any position flex, so he will simply be the odd man out along the deep Defensive Line.
Damien Wilson is the one I am not sure on.
As while looking at the roster, I definitely want to take six Linebackers to the game, but that would bring up several different scenarios. If Wilson dresses it probably would come down to making Corey White or Byron Jones inactive. With how White looked during Training Camp and Preseason games, there is no way I would sit him for this game.
Byron Jones sitting would create a number of stories within the media that would jump to the conclusion that Jones is a bust. I do not feel the Cowboys really care about that aspect, but I do feel they will avoid that for the player's sake. Jones also provides a flexibility that could put the defense in quality matchups against the Giants.
Danny McCray and Jeff Heath are core Special Teams players and with how the unit looked during the Preseason, I can see Rich Bisaccia asking to have both active. The only aspect here to look at is McCray's neck, if it's not at one-hundred percent going into the game, Wilson should remain active.
Cowboys Offense vs Giants Defense
Without any bias whatsoever, this is by far the biggest mismatch on paper heading into Sunday night.
The Giants have five Safeties on their Injured Reserve list. Listed starting Strong Safety Cooper Taylor missed all of last season with a foot injury and has limited experience being a down after down player.
While the Giants' starting Free Safety and this year's second-round pick, Landon Collins, is a player with limited range and coverage skills, he is practically a Strong Safety lining up at the Free. If either one of these Safeties gets trapped in one on one coverage, it will be a matchup to watch as they will be at a major disadvantage.
Even their corners do not really seem to be the players you expect to shut down the Cowboys weapons.
The Giants front seven does not present many problems on paper either. Their starting Mike Linebacker Jon Beason missed practice today and their only down lineman that I have any major concerns over is Jonathan Hankins on the inside. But with the combo of Ron Leary, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin I feel they will be able to handle him.
Key Match Up: Scott Linehan vs Steve Spagnuolo
This comes down to how Giants Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo calls the game. If he trusts his Corners with one on one Coverage against Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley, they will bring blitzes all game long. If he wants the Cowboys' running game to prove itself, we could see more zone, forcing the Cowboys to drive the ball down the field.
Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan will have to recognize Spagnuolo's gameplan then dictate the game the way he wants to call it. I see a huge game for both Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle. Linehan sees the same defense that I do, and the running game will be used to set up throws down the field. If the Giants are unable to get pressure on Tony Romo, it will be a very long day for the Giants defense.
The Giants simply do not have the Secondary to hold up in Man Coverage for long.
Once Safeties start creeping toward the line, the Cowboys will be able to exploit these matchups and march up and down the field.
Strong Advantage Cowboys
Cowboys Defense vs Giants Offense
This is a slightly more intriguing matchup which hinges on the health of Wide Receiver Victor Cruz, who missed the first two days of practice this week with a calf injury.
Without Cruz, the attention turns towards Odell Beckham Jr. and Larry Donnell. The Cowboys struggled at times last year against Tight Ends, so it will be interesting to see how they attempt to cover Donnell.
Beckham has the opportunity to be an All-Pro Wide Receiver in the NFL. Whether he lines up against Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, or Tyler Patmon, extra attention will be paid to him. I personally expect to see him in the Slot a great deal against Patmon and lining up against Carr. Giants Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo could look to exploit Carr's lack of quickness and Patmon's inexperience. I feel Claiborne has the best opportunity to compete against Beckham.
Wherever he lines up, there should always be a jam at the line of scrimmage. Giving him a free release allows him to get into his route far too easily.
Much attention has gone to the Cowboys' new-look Defensive Line.
To minimize the effects of Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jeremy Mincy, and Randy Gregory the Giants may attempt to establish the run right out of the gate. With uncertainty at the Cowboys Mike Linebacker - Anthony Hitchens being projected to start coming off of missing several weeks of practice - they may attempt to run straight at him. If Hitchens is not at full strength, I have a lot of confidence in Andrew Gachkar as he has shown he can be a physical Mike Linebacker.
This is where a healthy Sean Lee comes into play. If Tyrone Crawford and Nick Hayden can eat enough blocks up front, Lee will be able to roam clean from his Wheel Linebacker position and attack the ball carrier. I expect him to tally anywhere from eight to twelve tackles in this game.
If either Rashad Jennings or Andre Williams get going, it could really change the dynamic of this game.
Aside from Beckham, the one other mismatch in favor of the Giants is Shane Vereen. He has a reputation for being a solid receiving Running Back and him leaking out of the backfield could be a method to slow down the Cowboys pass rush. I expect him to have a bigger game than their projected Slot Wide Receiver, Preston Parker.
Where Corey White and Byron Jones are really beneficial is on obvious passing downs. I could see them both back there at Safety not allowing either JJ Wilcox or Barry Church to be exposed in the passing game.
Key Match Up: Cowboys Defensive Line vs Giants Offensive Line
No matter what comes out of the Giants camp, their Offensive Line has to be of concern. They played quite a bit during the Preseason, but you cannot expect their group to be a strength of their team.
Eli Manning struggles when he has to throw on the move or throw moving to the side, he needs his feet set to be effective. With Giants First Round Draft Pick Ereck Flowers starting at Left Tackle, I feel he will struggle to protect Eli, as he does not have the feet of a natural pass protecting Left Tackle.
It will be up to Lawrence, Mincey, Gregory, and Ryan Russell to move him off his throwing spot. When he attempts to climb the pocket, hopefully Tyrone or Jack Crawford is there to deliver a hit.
Eli is not in the slightest bit mobile and I expect Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli to bring some blitzes early to make Eli uncomfortable off the bat. Look for Sean Lee to come several times this game.
With that being said, if the Cowboys can get pressure with their front four then the game becomes a lot more difficult for the Giants offense. This will be one of the more interesting matchups of the game, especially with the hype surrounding the Cowboys Defensive Line.
Slight Advantage Cowboys
Special Teams Matchup
This is not just a discussion of Dan Bailey against Josh Brown, as obviously most would take Bailey without any hesitation. Nor are we just looking at Chris Jones against Brad Wing. This is a look at the entire group.
This is where the Giants could flip the game in their favor.
We all saw the struggles of the coverage units during the Preseason. Jarryd Hayne of the 49ers was made to look like a Hall Of Fame caliber return man; it was rather hard to watch at times. Which brings us to the Giants' new Return Specialist...
Whatever you may think of him after comments he made about Cowboys practice, his proficiency as a return man is difficult to argue. He is dangerous when he gets the ball so it is paramount that the Cowboys are disciplined on their coverage teams and maintain gap integrity.
This is where you hope guys like Dunbar, Keith Smith, Heath, McCray, and Gachkar make a difference on the Special Teams units as Harris returning a Punt for a touchdown could change the entire outlook of this game.
I do not see the same threat with Beasley returning Punts if he is chosen to do so on Sunday.
Slight Advantage Giants
I don't like to guess scores, but I feel the Cowboys should win this game by at least ten points. It is hard for me to believe the Giants Offensive Line will keep Eli clean on a consistent enough basis to make up for their defense.
The Cowboys can get into trouble through sloppy Special Teams, Turnovers, and not stopping the Giants' run game. Where they can thrive is by simply executing on offense and keep the Giants from making big plays.
When it comes down to the Giants and Cowboys, Dallas is the better team on paper and hopefully they play like it come Sunday Night.
Jason Garrett’s Decision Making Stands Out in Playoff Loss
The 2018 NFL season has come to an end for the Dallas Cowboys. The Los Angeles Rams were simply the better team on Saturday night in the Coliseum and it showed in the 30-22 loss. While it was a disappointing performance, there were several things to take away from the game to give us reason for optimism moving forward. Connor Williams played well against Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh on the interior, Dak Prescott kept the team in the game despite little help from the running game, and Head Coach Jason Garrett perhaps coached his best game from a management point of view.
After the first drive, this game had one of those, if the Dallas Cowboys have to punt, it's likely going to be a loss feels. The defense's inability to force more than one punt or create a turnover was going to make it really difficult for the offense to keep up, and yet at the end of the game, the Cowboys were within a score and had a shot to win. Dak Prescott deserves a lot of credit for that, but so does Jason Garrett.
4th and 1's
Jason Garrett has long been viewed as a conservative coach in the NFL, and this season he didn't do much to help his reputation, but that game on Saturday should change some of that perception. On a night where it looked like his defense didn't have it, he called the game he needed to maximize his team's possessions.
On the opening drive of the game for the offense, the Cowboys got to the Rams 49 yard line, but faced a 4th and 1. Garrett didn't waste any time going for it and the Cowboys were able to convert on Ezekiel Elliott's five yard run. A Marcus Peters' unneccessary roughness penalty gave the Cowboys an extra 15 yards and the Cowboys scored on the next play on Amari Cooper's 29 yard catch and run to give the Dallas Cowboys the lead.
It would be their only lead of the night.
Again, in the second half, the Cowboys faced a 4th and 1, this time it was at the Rams 41 yard line and this time, the Cowboys were down 23-7. This was not nearly as difficult a decision as the Cowboys were in catch up mode and needed to get a score to bring the game within striking distance, and they did just that. Again, Elliott picked up five yards when the Cowboys needed one and Elliott capped off th drive with a one yard touchdown run after Michael Gallup's long reception on a broken play.
At the Rams 35 yard line and the game within reach, the Cowboys went for it again on fourth down, but this time were stopped short of the first down marker when Ndamukong Suh made an excellent play to prevent Elliott from picking up the yard. On the play, you can see Suh start to Joe Looney's left, which forced Elliott to go to Looney's right and Suh followed Elliott into the hole. There was much Looney could do as Suh had the necessary leverage to make the play. It was absolutely the right call to go for it in that situation, but the Cowboys went to the jumbo formation-Elliott inside run one too many times. It was clear where the ball was going to go in that situation, and they were stuffed.
On what turned out to be the final drive of the season for the Dallas Cowboys, they needed to score and score rather quickly to have a chance to get the ball back one more time. The offense scored, but took a little too much time doing so as the drive took just over five minutes off the game clock. Again, on the drive, they were faced with a fourth and 1, but this time they used Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott on a speed option to the right and they were able to convert and eventually get the touchdown.
For the game, the Dallas Cowboys went three for four on fourth down attempts.
Point After Decisions
In the middle of the third quarter, the Dallas Cowboys scored to make it 23-13. Generally in the NFL, teams don't go for two until they have to go. Knowing that possessions were going to be few and far between the Cowboys were likely going to have to score on every possession the rest of the game, Garrett went for two and the Cowboys converted to make it an eight point game.
Then after the Dallas Cowboys scored to make the game 30-21, there was much discussion on social media on whether the Cowboys should have gone for two there or just kicked the extra point, which was a bit surprising.
To me, it was simple. Kick the extra point to make it 30-22 and hope your defense gets you the ball back and you can score again. If you go for two in that situation and don't make it, the game is essentially over with just over two minutes remaining. Taking the extra point kept you in the game, even if it was still only a slight chance to pull out a win.
With about 3:20 to go in the third quarter, the Dallas Cowboys defense faced a third and two situation around midfield against the Rams. They were able to force Rams Quarterback Jared Goff into a hurried throw and he overthrew Josh Reynolds in the flat for what would have been a first down.
On the play there were two penalties, offensive holding and offensive pass interference and Jason Garrett declined the penalties.
To me it was one of the boldest coaching decisions has made in his career on something that seemed very innocuous.
Sean McVay and the Rams were having their way with the Dallas Cowboys defense as Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson gashed their way to over 100 yards rushing each. With the Rams facing a fourth and two on the Dallas Cowboys side of the 50 yard line, most people thought the Rams would go for it there and completely steal the soul of the Dallas Cowboys.
Johnny Hekker did his best to get the Dallas Cowboys to think he was going to run a fake, but the Cowboys never panicked and stayed onside as the punter attempted to game them.
It was a huge call in that situation. If Garrett accepts the penalties, the Rams would have faced a third and 12 at their own 43 yard line, but would have had another opportunity to convert the first down and extend the drive.
I really liked the call, because it put McVay in a difficult position himself. If the were to go for it and fail to convert on fourth down, the Cowboys would have gotten the ball at about midfield with a chance to tie the game.
Kicking Deep vs Onside Kick
With the new rules governing kickoffs, mainly that teams have to keep a amount of players on each side of the kicker, onside kicks have become less and less successful in today's NFL. Even before the rule changes, recovering an onside kick was less than a 50/50 proposition.
Kicking deep was really the only decision to make. The hope is that your defense is able to get a stop and the Cowboys would get the ball back with decent field position.
And it nearly worked.
The Dallas Cowboys run defense came up big on first and second down, holding the Rams running game to three yards setting up a third and seven. Just as everyone was expecting the Rams to throw it, they ran a play action with a naked bootleg that left Jared Goff all alone on the outside with a ton of room to run, and zero Cowboys in position to prevent him from picking up the first down.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
On Saturday, Ian Rapoport from NFL Network, reported the Cowboys were looking to extend for Jason Garrett this offseason. It should come as no surprise as he helped orchestrate an impressive turnaround from 3-5 to 10-6 and NFC East champions all while fielding one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Jason Garrett has grown a lot as an NFL head coach and in the playoff loss, made excellent decisions to keep the Cowboys in the game. He's going to be around here for a long time and there should be a lot of optimism heading into 2019 that the Cowboys can make some strides.
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly From Cowboys Divisional Round Loss
Well Cowboys Nation, the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season had to come to an end at some point. Not many of us would have predicted earlier in the season that it would've come at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Round, but that's what happened and it's kind of bittersweet.
I don't know how you feel today, but I don't find myself all that upset the Dallas Cowboys season is officially over. Yes, I would've loved to see them completely dominate the LA Rams and advance in the playoffs, but I'm surprisingly really pleased with the way this team played this season. We have to remember that this is a young team and this is hopefully just the beginning of something great.
Today, I want to share with you some of the positives and negatives from the Cowboys game against the Rams Saturday night. This of course will be the last edition of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys 2018-2019 season.
Finding the positive after a loss isn't always the easiest thing to accomplish. The Dallas Cowboys didn't particularly play their best football Saturday against the Rams, which makes it even more difficult. But for me, the good has to be the resiliency and grittiness the Cowboys played with in LA.
I don't think anyone would argue that the LA Rams pretty much dominated the entire game Saturday. They put the Cowboys on their heels pretty much from the get-go, which took them out of their game. Dallas was never really able to establish their running game and couldn't get the Rams offense off the field. They've been able to pretty much do that against all their opponents this season, but just fell flat at the wrong time.
Despite getting manhandled, the Dallas Cowboys continued to fight back and never quit. They could've easily rolled over and given up, but they didn't. I think that really speaks volumes to the kind of players Dallas has on the roster. This is a really talented young team with a bright future ahead of themselves.
Anyone who watched the game Saturday night pretty much knows what goes in this category. The bad for me and probably everybody else is how the Dallas Cowboys defense was gashed by the Los Angeles Rams rushing attack. C. J. Anderson and Todd Gurley absolutely dominated on the ground, leading their team to victory.
I knew the Rams rushing attack would give the Cowboys defense problems, but I never imagined they would rush for nearly 300 yards and multiple touchdowns. C. J. Anderson and Todd Gurley may be the ones earning all the praise with their performances, but they definitely wouldn't have found as much success as they did if not for their offensive line.
Dallas' front seven has been really good against the run all season. They only allowed a couple of 100 yard rushers this season (Chris Carson, Marlon Mack) until Anderson and Gurley both rushed for over 100 Saturday night. Unfortunately, the Cowboys DL just got overpowered by the Rams OL and it definitely impacted the outcome of the game.
What was pegged to be a matchup between two of the best running backs in the NFL, Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, ended up being pretty much a one-man show. That is why the ugly Saturday night for the Dallas Cowboys in my opinion was their rushing attack.
We all know the Cowboys offensive blueprint is to establish the running game to help control the clock and game speed. That unfortunately never materialized Saturday night against the Rams, a team by the way that was giving up 5.1 yards rushing to opposing running backs. It was supposed to be a matchup that favored Zeke and Dallas' ground game.
I'll give credit where credit is due though. The Rams defensive line stepped up their game and didn't allow Zeke to get any kind of momentum going in the running game. They gave the Cowboys OL all they could handle and pretty much made their offensive attack one-dimensional. They wanted to put the game in Dak Prescott's hands and for the most part accomplished what they set out to do.
What is your good, bad, and ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the LA Rams?
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Run Defense, 4th Down Decision End Season in Los Angeles
The last round of the Dallas Cowboys fight in 2018 came at the hands of a hungry Los Angeles Rams team, ending their season in the Divisional Round behind 273 rushing yards. Effectively, the third seed in the NFC beat the Cowboys at their own game with the bye week to prepare. The fallout from this loss won't be fully realized until the sting is gone, but sweeping changes aren't expected in Dallas after a resurrection from 3-5 saw the Cowboys within a few plays of the NFC Championship Game.
How those plays were made and what the Rams did to execute a near flawless game plan is the subject of this final Sean's Scout of the season.
- The Rams' success on the ground against Richard's defense was stunning for a lot of reasons, none more so than the way Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith struggled to react and fight off blocks.
The Cowboys issues at linebacker were a result of their front four getting blown off the ball all game by LA's offensive line. I wrote in my final game preview piece about how the Cowboys needed to win the line of scrimmage on both sides, losing with their own offense when the game was in the balance and never putting up a fight on the defensive line.
To the Rams' credit, even the simple things Sean McVay's team executes are done with an attention to detail that makes them very difficult to contain. The Rams did a great job scheming blockers to the second level, where Smith and Vander Esch were handled to the point of playing tentatively and taking poor angles.
In what could be his final game with the Cowboys or the end of his career, Sean Lee played 21 snaps, one shy of his week 17 total when the Cowboys played the Giants with the division already wrapped up. Getting caught in a game they couldn't possibly win against the better team at home, the Cowboys defense had no answers for Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson.
- Dak Prescott's "in the grasp" call when he scrambled into La'el Collins' arms on third down was a bad look for the officials, but also an injured Cole Beasley, who was late working his route back to Prescott and into his line of vision.
If Beasley was at full strength, he's likely able to stop his vertical route sooner and give Prescott an easy throw underneath as he rolled to the right. Left with nowhere to go, Dak had the play blown dead after Right Tackle La'el Collins wrapped his arms around Prescott while scrambling.
With the way the Rams came out on offense, it became clear that every Cowboys possession would be of dire importance. Losing one on a strange call like this was a blow Dallas never had a chance to recover from.
- Lost in the Cowboys turnover on downs in the fourth quarter, the final time they touched the ball within a score, is the incredible third down throw Prescott made on the run to Noah Brown.
To give his offense a chance on fourth and short, Prescott delivered a strike to Brown on the sideline for 13 yards. Without being able to set his feet, Prescott felt the pressure well and put the ball where only Brown could secure it falling out of bounds.
It's unfortunate the next play became the defining moment of the season for Dallas. Deciding to attack the strength of the Rams' defense, Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers were ready for an Elliott rushing attempt right up the middle out of 12 personnel.
Not only was Center Joe Looney beat on the play, but Collins lost leverage and was beat across the face to further clutter the middle of the field for Elliott to be stopped short. Making matters even worse, the Rams came out and attacked the Cowboys defense by flashing the misdirection plays that worked all night.
In just 12 plays, Anderson scored his second touchdown to all but put the game away for LA. The Cowboys would use Prescott's legs much too late on the ensuing drive, getting into the end zone but failing to get the ball back.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
As mentioned, this won't be an offseason of drastic change for the Cowboys. Bowing out in the divisional round for the second time in three seasons, adjustments to both the coaching staff and roster are needed for this team to take the next step.
For a team that looked nothing like a postseason contender for much of the regular season, the Cowboys improbable run of close wins came to an end against the Rams - determined to not lose their first playoff game in consecutive seasons.
They won't be happy with the result, but the Cowboys should be proud of their final outcome on this year.
As always, I'd like to thank Cowboys Nation for reading another season of Sean's Scout. Win or lose you make this job fun.
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