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Scout’s Eye: Assessing The Secondary

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FRISCO, Texas – It’s another weird week, as it’s already time to move on to the Saints. But as you ease your way back from the holiday weekend, there’s still time to digest how the Cowboys played on Thanksgiving.

Here’s my film review for the Cowboys’ 31-23 win against Washington, as we put this game to bed and move on toward another big-time Thursday game.

· DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford are fun to watch when they’re playing next to each other while rushing the passer. They work so well together. It appeared that the scheme required both sides to run a twist stunt, but Lawrence and Crawford made an adjustment at the snap and went for a coordinated spin move. Lawrence and Crawford set up like they were going to run the twist, which got the Redskins’ blockers off balance. Then, at the last moment, Lawrence spun outside and Crawford to the inside. The move freed Crawford up, which allowed him to chase down Colt McCoy and force him to throw the ball away.

· After a rocky start on his return, Noah Brown showed why the front office and coaches value him as a player. When you can have a big-bodied player that is not afraid to throw his body around at the point of attack and execute routes the way he did, you have something special. With Geoff Swaim out of the lineup, the coaches asked Brown to take over some of his responsibilities in the running game and he was up to the task. A great example of this was the block he threw on linebacker Zach Brown by digging him out of the hole. Not only did Brown hit him square with some pop, but he was able to keep his feet moving to walk him back to allow Ezekiel Elliott to make a cut.

· This is the second week where an opponent’s receiver was able to prevent an interception by a defensive back. Xavier Woods had a great opportunity to pick off a ball that came out of Colt McCoy’s hand with some wobble. Woods had his hands in position, but not his body -- which allowed Josh Doctson to drive through him to knock it away. If Woods would have been a little more aggressive and had been able to work his body in front, he’s likely picking that pass off.  

· I initially thought the block by Joe Looney on Da’Ron Payne to seal him inside on the Ezekiel Elliott touchdown run was due to Looney’s ability to turn him, which is a tough thing to do. Instead, Looney was able to get in position when it appeared that Payne went the wrong way on the stunt and Looney was able to take advantage of him. Both Payne and Matt Ioannidis ended up in the same gap, which opened up a nice lane for Elliott to get through.

· I have to give the Cowboys’ secondary some acknowledgement for the way they were able to hold the Redskins’ running game in check. One of the big reasons that the Redskins had been having success with Adrian Peterson was due in large part was his ability to attack the edges and get to the outside. As a unit, when Peterson attempted to bounce the ball to the outside, someone from the secondary was right there to take him on. Both Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie took on blockers all day and didn’t give an inch. Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods were able to clean up the play when Jones and Awuzie took on those blocks. The key to this game was going to come down to how well they tackled Peterson and they were able to accomplish that. 

· The flag that Dak Prescott received for jumping in The Salvation Army kettle didn’t help the kickoff coverage unit at all. Brett Maher, kicking from his own 20-yard line, managed to get the ball to the Washington 13. What hurt them even more was the return by Danny Johnson. Johnson did an outstanding job of selling a middle return, which drew them to the inside and then bounced to the outside. Noah Brown and Dorance Armstrong took an aggressive approach, which left Rod Smith by himself to defend the return. Once Johnson turned the corner, Smith had no chance to catch up. Jeff Heath, who plays as a safety to that side, luckily was playing his assignment and was able to rally back to the outside to knock Johnson out of bounce to save a score.  

· Scott Linehan caught a bad break on the goal line with the sack of Dak Prescott. Linehan called a play thinking that the Redskins were going to play man-to-man, but they instead went zone. Cole Beasley and Dalton Schultz both ran routes to the inside as moving picks with Ezekiel Elliott coming behind them. It was a good idea and design, but D.J. Swearinger was standing on the other side of the field waiting for the ball. Prescott saw this and tried to pull the ball down to hit Beasley on the cross the other way, but Ryan Kerrigan had worked his way around La’el Collins and Preston Smith had defeated Cam Fleming.

· Missed opportunity right before the half, as Dak Prescott had a chance to hit Michael Gallup to convert a third and long in the middle of the field. Prescott did the right thing by climbing the front of the pocket, but his initial stride was so long and his plant foot slipped a tad. He could never get his arm into position to make the throw. With his feet wide and his arm late, the ball just didn’t have enough on it. Gallup did a nice job of breaking away from Josh Norman and was well ahead of Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, who was also in coverage, so he had a chance to make the play beyond the sticks.

· Amari Cooper does a unique thing with his body that I haven’t noticed from other receivers in the league when he executes his routes. Instead of running and then sitting his weight down, he opens his hips up to the side he’s making the cut, which allows to him plant off his outside foot and then explode. There is no wasted motion in the way he runs his routes and the defensive back has trouble reacting to him for that split second, which buys him that separation that we’ve seen from him so far.

· After the Redskins made it a 31-20 game in the fourth quarter, it was pretty clear that they were trying to pin Jourdan Lewis in the corner with a kickoff and see if they could trap him inside the 20-yard line. As the ball was coming down, I thought he should have let it go out of bounds or through the end zone, considering how close it was to the sideline. Where the ball landed it put Lewis in a terrible spot not know knowing which way it was going to bounce. To his credit, Lewis did field the ball and manage to get it out to the 22. After the play, he appeared to be frustrated and I don’t believe it was for his decision, but where he had to field the kick. The play didn’t hurt the Cowboys in the game but it could have.

· I thought Chidobe Awuzie was going to come away with that interception down on the goal line early in the fourth quarter. It all came about with excellent pursuit by Jaylon Smith to beat the block of Kapri Bibbs to force Colt McCoy to have to make a throw on the move. Leighton Vander Esch was outstanding, as well, by keeping himself between McCoy and the goal line. McCoy had no choice but to attempt to fit that ball into Maurice Harris due to Vander Esch cutting him off from the running lane. Vander Esch put his hands up just at the right moment to deflect that pass. Awuzie tried to adjust to the ball behind him but just couldn’t make the play.  

· In case you were wondering. Connor Williams did make an appearance in the game at left tackle for just one play. It was midway through the fourth quarter due to Cam Fleming’s shoe getting knocked off the previous play. With Tyron Smith only available for emergency duty, Williams had to step in and was able to cut Jonathan Allen off from the play as Ezekiel Elliott ran a zone play off the right side.

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