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.
Takeaway Tuesday: DeMarcus Lawrence Silences Doubters vs Eagles
Dallas Cowboys fans should be happy about the change of pace in the conversation surrounding America's Team. A week ago, the talk in Cowboys Nation was all about just how hot was Jason Garrett's seat. Three consecutive losses will do that to most fan bases. Fortunately, though, we can put a pin on that conversation for a while after the Cowboys handily defeated the Philadelphia Eagles 37-10 last Sunday Night.
It was a great team performance all around, but we should dive in to the specifics. Overall, it was a good win to claim the NFC East division lead as the Cowboys get ready to rest this upcoming bye week. Let's get to this week's takeaways!
Ezekiel Elliott Played His Best Game of the Year
The way Ezekiel Elliott ran versus the Eagles' defense reminded me of his rookie season. Elliott has had a pretty good season even though the Cowboys haven't leaned as much on the running game as they had the last few seasons.
Last Sunday, he accounted for 111 rushing yards and 36 receiving yards. But it wasn't about his total yardage. What was special was the way he juked defenders, broke tackles and fought for the dirty yards.
There was a fire about #21 and I'm sure Cowboys Nation is just as excited as I am to watch it. He truly was something versus the Eagles.
Ezekiel Elliott's best game of the season BY FAR. Look at this chart from Next Gen Stats. Green lines mean 5+ yards gained or touchdown.
Not to mention, Elliott was extremely effective as he found multiple ways to have 5+ yard run after 5+ yard run. Simply put, an impressive performance from the Cowboys superstar running back.
DeMarcus Lawrence Silenced Doubters
I don't know if it was his huge contract that turned many fans against DeMarcus Lawrence early in the season, but the Cowboys' defensive end managed to silence doubters against the Eagles. On his way to one sack and one forced fumble, Lawrence dominated in the trenches.
He was solid versus the run and kept pressuring Carson Wentz all game long.
DeMarcus Lawrence coming in HOT 🔥🔥 @TankLawrence https://t.co/m0QPSnJgOK
The truth is that D-Law has played well this offseason, but constant double-teams and the lack help from the interior defensive linemen have kept his box score stats down. However, when you look at more advanced metrics such as pass-rush productivity, you'll notice Lawrence is still playing at a very high level.
His play versus the Eagles proved that to many fans watching at home.
I was intrigued by the Cowboys lining him up against the Eagles' LT, trying to exploit the fact that Jason Peters was out injured. I wonder if Rod Marinelli continues to look for favorable match-ups in the future and keeps moving him around occasionally.
Amari Cooper is Fine
After Amari Cooper's quad injury against the New York Jets, reports emerged on him being in "terrible pain." Many doubted he'd even play against the Philadelphia Eagles but he did, along other key players who were dealing with injuries too. In his return to the field, Cooper led the Cowboys receiving core with 106 yards in only five receptions (five targets).
Once again, his route running was on full display. He managed to burn a secondary that has been far from great this year. The Cowboys needed him to show up, and he delivered. He even caught a 44 yard pass when he absolutely destroyed Eagles DB Rasul Douglas on a double-move. Cooper would also have a diving jaw-dropping catch later in the game.
It's fair to assume he's healthy and ready to go for the rest of the season.
Cowboys Run Defense Still an Issue
Takeaways and a strong defensive performance against the pass secured the win for the Cowboys, but the run defense continues to be a problem for Rod Marinelli's unit. The Eagles running backs combined for 103 rushing yards and Dallas was beaten in the trenches a handful of times on this game.
The linebackers looked drastically better, and Leighton Vander Esch had his best half this season so far. Fortunately, it seems like his injury isn't serious enough for him to miss any additional playing time.
However, there were a handful of plays in which the Cowboys' defensive tackles were pushed around again. If I had to choose one position to upgrade, I wouldn't hesitate to address the interior defensive line. It's a problem.
This Defensive Drive Sealed the Game for the Dallas Cowboys
Things couldn't have started off any better for a Dallas Cowboys team that was desperately in need of a fast start in this pivotal week seven matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. In the midst of a three-game losing streak, tied atop the NFC East at 3-3 with the Eagles, and hosting their division rival on Sunday Night Football, the Cowboys needed to put their best foot forward early in this game.
After a couple of fumbles recovered by the Dallas defense, the Cowboys jumped out to a 14-0 lead by the midway point of the first quarter. In a two-score hole early in this contest, the Philadelphia Eagles came out guns blazing on their third offensive series of the game and marched right down the field in seven plays, aided by a couple of personal foul calls, and brought the game to within a score.
At 14-7, the Dallas Cowboys offense was then forced to punt on the ensuing drive setting the Philadelphia Eagles up with an opportunity to tie the game in the second quarter if they were able to put a drive together. Getting the score even in the first half after pretty much gifting the Cowboys with a two-touchdown lead early would be a huge momentum swing in the game and provide the Eagles with a ton of confidence.
The Dallas Cowboys defense, however, wouldn't allow that to happen.
With the Eagles pinned back on their own 10-yard line after a Chris Jones punt, the Dallas Cowboys defense went to work with some excellent team defense and individual open field tackling performances on three plays that led to a Philadelphia Eagles three and out.
On first and 10 from their own 10-yard line, the Eagles attempted to run Jordan Howard through the right side of the line. There was nowhere to go on the play as Maliek Collins got excellent penetration into the left "A gap" making first contact behind the line of scrimmage and getting an assist from DeMarcus Lawrence to finish off the run stop for just a one-yard gain.
With a failed first-down run, the Eagles were set up with a 2nd and 9 at their own 11-yard line for the first play of the second quarter. Here they run Jordan Howard off of left tackle on a shotgun sweep handoff and he's able to pick up a nice bit of yardage to set up 3rd and 4.
To me, this was a huge third-down play for the Dallas Cowboys defense. On their previous drive, they had just given up a touchdown and needed to find a way to get of the field. If the Eagles are able to pick this up, it continues to put pressure on the defense and Philadelphia has some momentum.
Needing just four yards for the first down, the Eagles had both run and pass options at their disposal. As the Eagles are in have a tight bunch on the left side, the Cowboys have seven into the box to face six blockers, including the tight end who has a wider than normal split from the left tackle. Jeff Heath is the seventh man and on the snap is able to remain untouched as Carson Wentz hands off to Miles Sanders and snakes his way through the mass of humanity to stop the running back just shy of the first down.
They had the play fairly well blocked, but nobody accounts for Heath who is able to stay clean and track down Miles Sanders before he's able to get to the first down marker.
In a game that had a ton of highlights, this was a play that may go unnoticed when people talk about the outcome of this game but was huge given the current game situation. The Dallas Cowboys needed to get a stop on defense.
The Philadelphia Eagles attempted to attack the Dallas Cowboys' defense on the ground on this drive, which has been an area of vulnerability for the Cowboys in 2019. Their attempt to ground and pound in order to gain some momentum and reassert themselves in the game didn't come to fruition because the Cowboys defenders rallied well to the football on three straight running plays. The Dallas Cowboys turned a weakness into a strength on this drive and did their part to help the offense put the game away early.
After forcing the three and out, something the Dallas Cowboys defense doesn't do a lot of this year, the offense was able to take the ball and go on a 12 play, 71-yard drive for a touchdown that took nearly seven minutes off the clock. The Cowboys were able to go up two touchdowns again on their division rival and pretty much put the game out of reach, but it wouldn't have been so had the defense not stepped up and forced the three and out on this early second-quarter drive.
The defense played arguably their best game of the season on Sunday Night Football on a night where they desperately needed to play their best game of the year. There are still nine games to go and have a pretty rough seven-game stretch coming out of the bye starting with another divisional matchup on the road against the New York Giants in week nine. If the Dallas Cowboys defense can show this kind of consistency against the run moving forward, they'll be very difficult to beat.
The Brady Report: Cowboys’ Fast Start Dooms Eagles
It's been nothing but doom and gloom around the Dallas Cowboys in recent weeks. After a 3-0 start propelled them towards the top of the league's elite, three straight disappointing losses had fans wondering if it was time for a regime change at head coach.
They went into Sunday night's game with the Eagles needing a win to salvage hope at earning a playoff spot, and boy did they answer the bell. The Cowboys dominated the Philadelphia Eagles from the opening snap, routing their hated rivals 37-10 and improving to 4-3 on the season.
Let's get into my game notes from this overwhelmingly positive performance.
- Let's start with the quarterback. Dak Prescott was tremendous yet again on Sunday night, and we're getting to the point where his sample size of positive play is too large to ignore. Prescott was 21 of 27 for 239 yards and a touchdown (and an interception as well), but he also had a rushing touchdown to add to his totals. Prescott has complete control of the offense, and even checked out of a negative box count to exploit the Eagles blitz look down in the red zone. He leads the league in QBR this season, and he is the unquestioned franchise quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. As he should be.
- Sticking with praise on offense, Ezekiel Elliott looked like Zeke on Sunday night. From his very first carry you could tell Elliott was running with a different burst and energy than we'd seen in recent weeks, and he later ran right over Malcolm Jenkins to set up the team's second score of the game. Elliott was impossible to bring down all night, to the tune of 111 yards and a touchdown on 5 yards per carry.
- La'el Collins has been incredible this season, and Sunday was no different. The Cowboys recently extended right tackle shut Brandon Graham down for basically the entire night, and kept Prescott upright and comfortable in the pocket. Tyron Smith was clearly not healthy or himself on the other side, but the rest of this offensive line picked up the slack and had their best performance since the season opener.
- Connor Williams deserves a shoutout as well. He was getting off double teams to the second level and cutting linebackers off to clear rushing lanes for Zeke all night long.
- Defensively, the Cowboys had their best performance of 2019. They hadn't been able to force turnovers all season, but they came away with four in this week's win. Xavier Woods' interception of Wentz might've spoken the loudest, as it proved how good this defense can be when the game script is working in their favor. When things go according to plan early for this team, they have the talent to take total control and dominate.
- Jourdan Lewis was inserted into the starting lineup due to injury, and he was awesome from the opening snap. Lewis came away with a big sack on Caron Wentz and had 4 tackles overall as well. Byron Jones returned from the injury he suffered a week ago, and was back to his old shutdown ways. Jones is clearly the best cornerback on this team, and is one of the better corners in all of football. When he's healthy and playing as he did during Sunday's win, few have an argument over him.
- DeMarcus Lawrence also had his best game of 2019, creating consistent pressure on Wentz throughout the night. His biggest play, of course, was his sack fumble which set the Cowboys up for a 14-0 lead just two possessions into the game. Lawrence has been taking a lot of heat from the fanbase in recent weeks, but he responded in a big way on Sunday.
- Those are the linebackers I remember from 2018. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were all over the field during this game, and Sean Lee had a pretty nice game as well once Vander Esch went down. Lee and Smith each finished with 7 tackles, and Smith forced the Eagles' first fumble of the night on their opening drive. Lee made a nice play on the ball on a late fourth down throw that easily could've been an interception as well.
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