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Super Manning’s Kryptonite…the Dallas Cowboys?

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peyton_manning_090912_AP876230197664_620x350If you told a Dallas Cowboys fan that his favorite team had a shot at beating the Denver Broncos this Sunday at AT&T Stadium, you could understand their incredulousness about this statement.

Following their disappointing finish to last season, an unbelievable loss to the Ravens at Mile High in one of the best playoff games in recent NFL history, the Broncos have entered 2013 as a team on a mission. Sure, they lost LB Von Miller, but they brought in WR Wes Welker. Returning from the incredible 2012 squad are studs like WR's Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, and KR Trindon Holliday has established himself as the new specialist sensation, scoring touchdowns that are sure to garner multiple YouTube viewings.

The catalyst behind all of this, though, is QB Peyton Manning. Manning was already going down as one of the greatest quarterbacks in NFL history, but this season could end up being his best season yet. Through four games, Manning has completed 75 percent of his passes, thrown for 1,470 yards, 16 touchdowns, and has yet to record an interception en route to a passer rating of 138.0. Needless to say, all of stats are tops in the NFL. In the process, the Broncos have put up a 4-0 record, posting score that would make Arena Football League teams blush.

So naturally, these Cowboys, already 2-2 with heartbreaking losses to Denver's AFC West brethren Kansas City and San Diego, don't stand a chance against Peyton and his army, right?

All I'm going to say is don't put that win in Denver's win column just yet.

Don't get me wrong, the Cowboys probably deserve to be double digit underdogs, despite the game being held at the friendly confines of AT&T, where they're 2-0 this season. If you read the fine print though, you'll find that those wins are against the Giants and Rams, which is like saying  the Baylor Bears own wins over Buffalo and Wofford. The Dallas defense is also coming off a dreadful performance on Sunday in San Diego, giving up 506 yards of offense, 401 of which came from Philip Rivers's passing. If Philip Rivers can tear up this defense, just imagine what Peyton can do.

So why should Cowboys fans have any reason to believe they can pull off an improbable upset? Well, to quote the immortal Yogi Berra, "It's deja vu all over again!" In other words, Manning has squared off against a vulnerable Dallas team before...and the last couple of times it's happened, things didn't work out for him.

Though it seems like a long time ago, Manning was once the face of the Indianapolis Colts franchise. His most memorable year in Indy had to be 2006, when he guided the Colts to Super Bowl XLI, currently the only time he has hoisted the Lombardi Trophy. The road to that Super Bowl went through Dallas, during Week 11 of the '06 regular season. The Colts were undefeated at the time, boasting a 9-0 record upon their descent to Irving, Texas. Nobody gave the Cowboys, who entered the game with a 5-4 mark, much of a chance. Indianapolis was looking like a Super Bowl favorite and they were coming off a huge 27-20 win over the New England Patriots two weeks earlier. The Cowboys, on the other hand, had a winning record, but were labeled no more than mediocre by several experts. They were coming off a 27-10 win over the Arizona Cardinals, but two weeks prior, before Indy handled New England in the night game, the Boys dropped a rough 22-19 decision to a Washington Redskins team that would go on to finish 5-11. Finally, while the Colts were working with the stability and promise of Manning, the Cowboys had a young quarterback named Tony Romo making his first start at Texas Stadium.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Colts predictably jumped out a 2nd quarter lead when Manning found Reggie Wayne for a 23 yard score just before halftime. Other than that, both defenses held strong in the first half, and the Colts went into the locker room up 7-0. Romo had been harassed all day by the Indy defense, losing the ball on a Dwight Freeney sack on his first drive, then throwing an interception to Nick Harper later in the half. To make matters worse, he was unable to get the Boys inside the Indianapolis red zone. Dallas did have their chances to get on the board, but former Colts K Mike Vanderjagt, whom Manning once referred to as "our idiot kicker" missed two field goals, from 43 and 46 yards out, wide right. The fans were so upset that they booed Vanderjagt when a commercial starring the kicker appeared on the video boards. It would turn out to be Vanderjagt's second to last game in a Cowboys uniform, as he was booted for Martin Gramatica after the Cowboys' Thanksgiving game.

The seeds for an upset were planted in the opening minute of the 3rd quarter when LB Kevin Burnett tipped and caught a Manning pass, taking it 39 yards for the tying score. The Colts ended the 3rd quarter with a 14-7 lead, thanks to a Manning-to-Dallas Clark touchdown, but the 4th quarter belonged to the Cowboys. Romo was at his best, masterfully guiding the Cowboys a 68 yard drive that tied the game, followed by an 80 yard drive to win it. RB Marion Barber III was responsible for the scores each time taking it in from 5 yards the first time and 1 yard the second time. Manning then drove to the Dallas 8, but his final two passes fell incomplete, giving Dallas the ball back. Romo sealed the game by hitting WR Terry Glenn on a slant, picking up just enough on 3rd and 7. A few kneels ended the game, a 21-14 Dallas win. Romo finished 19-23 (10-11 in the 2nd half) with 226 yards, while Manning ended up 20-39 with 254 yards with 2 TD's but 2 key interceptions as well. The other pick, attributed to S Pat Watkins, came at the Dallas 4 in the 2nd quarter.

Four years later, the Cowboys and Colts were on completely opposite ends of the spectrum. While the Colts, as usual, were contenders, 2010 is basically a year Cowboys fans do not speak of. After thoughts of "hosting" the Super Bowl danced through our heads in the offseason, the Cowboys drew blanks when the games started to count. It took a 1-7 start to convince Jerry Jones that the Wade Phillips era...or error...was over and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett was given the reigns. While Garrett had made noticeable improvements to the team, which led to back-to-back wins over the Giants and Lions, again, nobody gave the Boys much hope. The Colts did enter with a pedestrian 6-5 mark brought about by two losses coming into the Dallas game, but that didn't stop oddsmakers from giving the Colts a 5.5 point advantage. The fact the game was held at Lucas Oil Stadium didn't help matters, nor did the fact the Cowboys were coming a painful Thanksgiving loss to New Orleans, which more or less ended hope for a miraculous playoff run.

Like they did against Peyton's brother Eli three weeks before, the underdog Cowboys got off to a hot start on the road. QB Jon Kitna, filling in for an injured Romo, led the Boys on a 9 play, 80 yard drive to open the game, culminating on a 20 yard touchdown run from RB Tashard Choice. A Manning interception to CB Alan Ball set up K David Buehler's 30 yard field goal, giving Dallas a 10-0 advantage to end the first quarter. To the shock of many, Manning's second drive ended in his second interception. This one was taken back 40 yards for a score by CB Orlando Scandrick, bringing a massive panic to Colts fans everywhere in addition to a 17-0 deficit.

Manning eventually composed himself and connected with his favorite targets, WR's Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne to shrink the Dallas lead to 17-14. Manning found Garcon on a 13 yard strike before halftime, and opened the 2nd half on a speedy 4 play, 80 yard drive that took just 1:07 off the clock and ended with a 34 yard hook up with Wayne. The Indianapolis defense toughened up to, only allowing another Buehler field goal after the 3rd quarter mid-point. On the ensuing Colts drive, Manning threw another touchdown pass...to the wrong team. Rookie LB Sean Lee, a 2nd round pick out of Penn State, took it 31 yard for the score. The pick six capped the scoring for the 3rd quarter, with Dallas somewhat comfortably ahead 27-14.

Manning took charge at that point. Following the costly miscue, Manning's ensuing possession was a 10 play, 80-yard drive that concluded with a 1 yard run by rookie RB Javarris James to shrink the gap to 27-21. The Colts used the momentum to force the Dallas offense into a three and out on their possession, but the worst was yet to come. The would-be Mat McBriar punt was blocked by Colts reserve WR Taj Smith, who recovered his blocked ball in the end zone, giving  the Colts their first lead of the day. Undeterred, Kitna, taking the ball with 12:56 left and a one point deficit, engineered a spectacular 19 play, 78 yard drive that took 10:18 of time away from the Colts. The drive culminated in Kitna's only touchdown throw of the day, a 2 yard strike to TE Jason Witten. Kitna's two pointer to WR Roy Williams made it 35-28 Dallas with 2:38 to play. However, even though Kitna killed a lot of time, he left just enough for Manning, who took it 81 yards in 2:09. James's one yard run retied the score. Dallas had a massive scare on the subsequent kickoff, but Lonyae Miller recovered Bryan McCann's fumble. Kitna then kneeled on the ball, sending it to overtime.

Indianapolis won the toss, and, since they weren't coached by Marty Mornhinweg, elected to receive. While many expected Manning to pull off one of his signature game winning drives, the Cowboys defense instead forced a punt. After a Dallas three and out, the Colts took over on their own 27. On 3rd and 4, Lee, in what many consider his breakout game, intercepted a pass intended for TE Jacob Tamme (Manning's currently injured teammate in Denver), giving the Cowboys the ball back. After a few plays getting closer, Buehler launched a 38 yard field goal that sailed through the uprights. Manning would finish the game 36-48, for 365 yards, 2 TD's and 4 costly INT's, doubling his total from the 2006 meeting. Lee would win Pepsi Rookie of the Week honors and has been a vital piece of the Cowboys defense ever since.

So while things may not look very bright for the Cowboys, or even if this Broncos team is looking better than any team Manning had in Indianapolis, don't chalk up the L just yet. The Cowboys were equally vulnerable in their past two meetings with Manning, but as the classic saying goes, that's why they play the games. I'm not predicting a win by any means, but what's that other classic saying? History tends to repeat itself.

 

 



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Game Notes

Jason Garrett’s Decision Making Stands Out in Playoff Loss

John Williams

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Distancing Themselves from HC Jason Garrett? 2

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.

Here's why.

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.

Declining Penalties

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.

Ball game.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

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.



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Game Notes

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly From Cowboys Divisional Round Loss

Brian Martin

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The Good, Bad, and 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.

The Good

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

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.

The Bad

C. J. Anderson

Los Angeles Rams RB C. J. Anderson (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

The Ugly

Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

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?



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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Run Defense, 4th Down Decision End Season in Los Angeles

Sean Martin

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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.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Run Defense, 4th Down Decision End Season in Los Angeles" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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