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Who Deserves Blame for Cowboys Lack of Passing Game in Carolina?

Sean Martin

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Who Deserves Blame for Cowboys Lack of Passing Game in Carolina?

The most frustrating part of the Dallas Cowboys 16-8 loss on the road in Carolina is that they once again failed to disprove a popular narrative about them. It will stick with the Cowboys returning home for an NFC East "elimination" game against the 0-1 Giants.

Met with constant questions about their lack of proven receivers, the Cowboys were confident that Quarterback Dak Prescott could silence doubters with new coaches around him on offense. In the end it was a fatal mix of familiarity in OC Scott Linehan and unfamiliarity with his targets that led to Prescott's third consecutive game under 200 yards passing.

After reviewing the film from Prescott's 35 drop backs, it's not too hard to determine who deserves the blame for the Cowboys ineptitude on offense Sunday. The Cowboys were once again painfully predictable in their routes, giving Prescott very few openings to throw into.

A lot of things have to go wrong for any NFL offense to be held to one score however, and in this game it was Prescott leaving a few big plays on the field paired with six allowed sacks that sealed Dallas' fate.

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This roll out play here is a stunning example of just how far the Cowboys offense has regressed. A staple of their passing game in Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys have not had nearly the same success in moving the pocket for Dak ever since.

A close look at the clip above shows why, as before the snap the Panthers are prepared for the only real threat on the play, Terrance Williams in motion across the formation. Shifting to a single high look while maintaining a nine man box (something Running Back Ezekiel Elliott saw plenty of), the extra defensive back on the near side remains in perfect position to take Williams away.

The result is Prescott throwing the ball out of bounds.

The Cowboys inability to creatively use any of their weapons didn't stop here. Relying heavily on simple routes that forced receivers to turn around and see Prescott already in trouble, all of the new teachings from WR Coach Sanjay Lal were wasted in this contest.

Focusing on his players' ability to separate quickly and run precise routes, perhaps the Cowboys second best route runner in Michael Gallup was limited to 29 snaps in his debut. Cole Beasley got off to an encouraging start with seven catches for 73 yards.

Dak2

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To say the Cowboys got all of their offseason decisions wrong after one tough game against a top defense would be an overreaction. There is plenty of merit, dating back to last season, on which to question the coaches that remain on the Dallas sideline. Doing so only in the context of this season opener loses sight of some much larger problems for the Cowboys.

Not only was this clearly a team that could have used a veteran play from Dez Bryant or Jason Witten in Carolina, but one that feels destined to feel the aftermath of what Bryant said on the way out (as well as on Twitter during the game).

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So, perhaps the title of this article was just slightly misleading. Make no mistake that the Cowboys don't have the gift of time to fix this offense. Legitimately assigning blame between now and the three days before Sunday Night Football will not accomplish anything.

Head Coach Jason Garrett did put out this fire quickly this week, assuring the media that Linehan will remain the Cowboys play caller. A coach that knows the Cowboys changes for 2018 must lead to success, despite not changing much himself, Garrett's allegiance to Linehan is alarming.

Even more alarming is this final query into the Cowboys ineptitude through the air. When the Cowboys did flash some creativity on offense, their offensive line had several key busts to take away big gains.

Left Tackle Tyron Smith, the second most assured asset on this OL, was called for two penalties that led to Dallas punts. Rookie Left Guard Connor Williams allowed a fourth quarter sack. Fill-in Center Joe Looney performed well in his first start, but was not in position to block in space as much as the Cowboys will hope to see Travis Frederick return to doing. Fortunately, Zack Martin was his usual self, but even Right Tackle La'el Collins struggled against a few speed rushes that flushed Dak out of the pocket early.

There won't be many tenured Cowboys coaches (of which there are already very few) that can survive another season derailed but what's supposed to be the strongest unit on the team - the Cowboys offensive line. It remains too early to predict the team's faith here considering the caliber of players on their line.

It's not too early however for Cowboys Nation to be frustrated in the offensive staff. Overcoming their deficiencies with a weakened OL is likely out of the realm of possibility for the Cowboys competing in a loaded NFC.

With Dak Prescott being the only Cowboys passing game component to question beyond this, week two is set to be a revealing one for the Cowboys at AT&T Stadium.

Tell us what you think about "Who Deserves Blame for Cowboys Lack of Passing Game in Carolina?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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5 Comments
  • Ray Criscoe

    The fans are to blame. Romo’s time wasn’t up and everyone fell in love with the mirage. Now we’re stuck with an average QB who can only throw short zip throws, who has no long game and nothing near Romo’s accuracy. The best chance for the team is to start using the RPO and take advantage of cheating up CBS for lobs (if he can throw them) to Austin or Thompson. He is not a pocket passer and that’s what they’re trying to make him.

  • Jonathan Young

    Scott Linehan, Scott Linehan,
    Scott Linehan, Scott Linehan

    P.S. I don’t see any thing wrong with Dak, the o-line needs time to work together. I do agree that we should look at WR’s, T-Will is on top of the list to be traded. I would also put TE Swaim on the list. (side note, at season end Cole Beasley is gone and then what) but I will start handing out the pink slip to Scott LINEHAN.

  • TreFKennedy88

    Dak isn’t that good, we were lead astray and this is what we’re stuck with, a pure Run first offense with s qb who can’t throw

    • Hector Espindola

      Indeed, Moore is useless as QB coach, Dak just regressed and throws poorly.

  • TD4SPORTS

    It’s the same as I said last year, JJ owns the team and SJ runs the team, they are to blame because they don’t know Anything about the game of FOOTBALL. They are Not going anywhere so the Blame falls on the Incompetent people you hire to run your team. The main two and the Worst Coaches on this team is Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan, Garrett has been a thorn in the Side for years. He is Jerry”s boy with No Intelligence of the game he can’t hold anyone accountable because he is the main one Screwed up. Lineman was Sorry When They bought Him here, he couldn’t do anything with a top 10 Qb in Stafford and was fired. Nothing new JJ likes to hire Other teams rejects to come to Dallas and keep us Average. You then take a Sorry Qb that played under a Sorry Coach that couldn’t beat out a rookie two years in a row and make him the QB’s Coach. Where do they Stupid stuff like that except Dallas and the Sad part is like I say it Can’t change until there is a Legitimate Football mind hired to run the Cowboys. We need a GENERAL MANAGER that knows how to build a team and is allowed to Hire and Fire his Own Coach. I have said it for years and until JJ throws his pride and ego aside we will continue to be Mediocre to Average at best. It won’t do any good to talk about players because the Coaches and the Scheme is what matters first.

Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.

Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.

Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.

  • A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.

The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.

Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.

If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.

  • Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.

The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.

On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.

Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.

  • Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.

Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.

I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.

  • The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.

Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.

Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.

His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.

Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.

Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.

Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.

  • Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.

Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.

Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.

Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.

It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.

Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.

This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose

Mauricio Rodriguez

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3 Reasons Why RB Ezekiel Elliott Will Dominate in 2018

The Dallas Cowboys looked great on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. There were very few things to complain about their last showing and now that they're back at .500, the season doesn't seem lost as previously thought. After all, the NFC East has been a mediocre division so far in 2018 and the division title is not that far from the Cowboys' grasp.

In fact, if they win this Thursday on Thanksgiving, the Dallas Cowboys would become the NFC East's division leader. The Washington Redskins were off to a great start on the season but after falling to the Houston Texans on Sunday, they only hold a one game-lead over the Cowboys.

This will be the second time of the year these two teams face each other. Back in week 7, the Cowboys played one of their worse games on the year in Washington. Many times the Cowboys shot themselves on the foot until they failed to get to overtime as Brett Maher's FG attempt bounced off the goalpost.

This time though, things should be different.

The team is on a two-game winning streak on the road against the last two NFC Champions. Of course, neither of these teams are the same than they were in previous years, but Dallas has done a good job these past two weeks. Some staff members might be coaching for their jobs as the team approaches "now or never" territory to contend in 2018. Although play-calling and execution haven't been perfect, at least the offense is showing signs of life.

Both the Cowboys and the Redskins suffered key injuries on Sunday. Towards the end of the game, Cowboys' LT Tyron Smith went down injured and headed to the locker room. With his injury history and a short week on deck, it's tough to imagine Smith will suit up on Thursday.

David Helman on Twitter

Tyron Smith, as only he could say it: "It didn't feel good, but I'll be alright." #cowboyswire

However, the more serious injury came for the Redskins. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibia and will end his season due to surgery. With Colt McCoy playing at QB for Washington, winning the NFC East will become an easier task for the Cowboys.

But they can't take the win for granted. This is a flawed, inconsistent team we're talking about. On a short week, it'll require a lot of effort to beat their hated division rivals.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

DAL 22, ATL 19: Elliott, Maher Carry Cowboys to Season-Saving Win

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott

A last-minute field goal by Brett Maher lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. On the strength of 201 yards of total offense out of Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas improved to 5-5 and arguably saved their 2018 season.

Elliott had 122 yards rushing and 79 receiving today, plus scored one touchdown, to make up well over half of the team's offensive production. Dak Prescott was also solid, throwing for over 200 yards and committing no turnovers.

Dallas and Atlanta traded field goals in the first half, and the Falcons took a 6-3 lead into the locker room. But the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal on their first second-half possession, then scored a touchdown on their next drive.

Maher was 3/3 on his field goals today, which included a 50-yarder. A missed extra point created concern, but the Cowboys kicker delivered in the biggest moments.

Once again, Dallas' defense was impressive and played a major part in the win. The Falcons never got into the endzone until their last possession.

Game Notes

  • Leighton Vander Esch had another interception, securing a tipped ball that lucked its way into his grasp. He also made some big tackles and continued last week's exceptional play.
  • DeMarcus Lawrence was credited with 1.5 sacks, getting him back among the league leaders with 8.0 on the year.
  • Elliott was Dallas' leading receiving today. Next up was Cole Beasley with five catches for 51 yards, and Cole's day could've been better if not for a dropped touchdown pass.
  • Jeff Heath nearly had his second interception of the year, but Falcons WR Julio Jones made an impressive play to hit Heath and break up the catch.
  • Tyron Smith left the game on the final drive with an injury, but Cam Fleming came in and the team didn't suffer for it. We'll have to see what the short Thanksgiving week means for Smith's status against the Redskins.
  • Speaking of Washington, the NFC East leaders fell to 6-4 today at home against the Houston Texans. Even worse for them, QB Alex Smith suffered a nasty ankle injury is almost assuredly out for weeks to come. Colt McCoy will be their starting QB on Thursday against Dallas.
  • If Dallas wins next week, they will pull even with Washington in overall record, division record, and split the head-to-head series. With the Eagles facing a tough road game today in New Orleans, and with Alex Smith going down for Washington, the NFC East may have just become the Cowboys' to control.



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