A winning streak can turn a season around in just a matter of weeks. On Thursday, both the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints put their win streaks on the line and inch their way closer to the playoffs. The Saints are riding a 10-game win streak since week 2 and the Cowboys, for whom some believed this season was lost, are on a three-game win streak that could save their almost lost season. However, the Saints are a different animal than any team they’ve faced so far.
The Cowboys beat the likes of the Eagles and Falcons, who are both having down seasons, and an injury-ridden Washington Redskins team. The Saints are the Cowboys' toughest task on their schedule by far.
Already this week, Cowboys fans and experts have started to look ahead to next week's game, penciling in this contest as a loss. They might want to slow down for a second. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that the Cowboys can pull this off.
Yes the Saints are the best team in the NFL but that doesn’t mean they’re unbeatable, it doesn’t mean they don’t have weaknesses, and it doesn’t mean the Cowboys can’t find and exploit their weaknesses.
Even the great warrior Achilles was thought to be unkillable until he was struck in his heel. Goliath was thought to be unstoppable, until David came with a slingshot and a rock. There’s always going to be an overwhelming favorite, but there’s really no such thing as unbeatable.
In this case, the Cowboys have their slingshot, and here’s how they can win.
Keep the Saints out of the End Zone
The Saints can out-score just about anyone they want. In only three games, they were held at 30 points or less. In those three games, they played the three best defenses they’ve faced so far: Cleveland, Baltimore and Minnesota.
All three of those defenses have playmakers at all three levels.
They’ve got pass rushers, good linebackers and solid secondaries. The Cowboys are a mirror image of that.
Dallas comes in with the fourth-best total defense in the league, and with playmakers to spare: DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, to name a few. The best offenses the Cowboys have faced so far have been Carolina, Seattle and Atlanta. In those contests, they allowed only one 100-yard rusher, one 300+ yard passer and none scored more than 24 points.
In fact, the Cowboys have not allowed any team to score 30 or more points all season. It's true they’ll give up yards from time to time, but this defense has done an exceptional job of forcing the kicking game to score instead of opposing offenses.
Doing this to the Saints, who can score at will, defense will be HUGE. Hopefully we see plenty of Wil Lutz.
The New "Triplets"
At the time of the Amari Cooper trade, everyone thought the Cowboys overpaid for a wide receiver. In the four games Cooper has been in Dallas, the offense is moving better in all aspects.
The Cowboys' new, young triplets seem to have meshed well into a formidable offense that has caught the league's eye.
Don’t believe me? The numbers speak for themselves.
Since the Cooper trade:
- Dak Prescott - 91-130 for 1,010 yards, five touchdowns and one interception, with a 102.3 passer rating, including three rushing touchdowns.
- Ezekiel Elliott - 85 carries for 455 yards (5.4 yards per carry) and three rushing touchdowns. 22 receptions for 187 yards and a touchdown.
- Amari Cooper - 22 catches for 349 yards (15.9 yards per catch) and three touchdowns.
Each week Dak Prescott gets better at throwing it to Cooper. As a result, not only is Prescott playing more like everyone planned, but it’s also helping Ezekiel Elliott. He’s once again reclaimed the top rushing spot and is only getting hungrier.
These three players will be key against the Saints defense.
Pass 1st, Run 2nd
Feeding off the last point, the Dallas Cowboys offense needs to produce. However, this week the game plan may need to be tweaked a bit.
The Saints defense is 1st against the rush, but 30th against the pass. It looks like while the Cowboys like for the running game to open up the pass, the pass will need to open up the run.
This would be a bit out of character for the Cowboys, who pride themselves on running the football with the league's leading rusher and a mobile quarterback capable of making plays with his legs.
The Cowboys have the ability to spread the ball around. Whether it’s Amari Cooper or Ezekiel Elliott getting the bulk of the targets, or Michael Gallup or Cole Beasley who have been open more recently as a result of defenses keying in on Cooper and Elliott, the Cowboys have the firepower but they’ll need to change the way they play for this week.
Stop the Running Game
Drew Brees is able to do so well not just because he’s a hall of fame-level quarterback, and the Saints don't have a great offensive line or solid receiving corp. A lot of it is because of Thunder and Lightning; Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara.
Kamara can beat you with his outside speed and ability to catch the ball, while Ingram can beat you up physically between the tackles and with his underrated closing speed.
It’s not likely that they both have an off day. Usually they both come on strong, or one makes up for the other.
To stop Ingram, you need a strong defensive line that doesn’t blow tackles. To stop Kamara, you need fast linebackers and a secondary that can match a player's closing speed. Luckily, Dallas has both.
If the Cowboys are able to slow down and contain the Saints' running game, it would make the Saints one-dimensional, even if that puts the ball in Drew Brees’ hands. If they can’t stop one or both of these running backs, it will be a long game for the Cowboys defense.
Open Up the Play Calling
The Cowboys have done a better job of not just going with their simple game plans like run on first down, pass on second down; or run out of an I-formation with two tight ends.
In recent games, the team has done a good job of opening up the playbook and spreading the offense out. Against the Saints, with the NFC East up for the taking, they’ll need to make all the stops.
They can’t simply keep handing the ball to Elliott and throwing it to Cooper, but need to implement more players and formations to confuse the Saints defense. The Saints defense has great personnel and can match up well with Dallas and if Dallas keeps their same script, the team will miss this golden opportunity.
Once the offensive playbook is opened up, the Cowboys have the firepower to take over the game. Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan can’t stick to their old tricks if they want to beat New Orleans.
This game can set the tone for the rest of the year if they can pull it off.
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.
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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.
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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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