FRISCO, Texas – The wonders of a noon game are amazing.
The Cowboys finished off their 26-24 win against Detroit at an uncharacteristically early hour, which meant I was already watching the tape on Sunday evening.
Having had some extra time to digest what we just watched, I came away impressed with my second watch. The Cowboys' offense obviously played their best game of the season, and there was a lot to break down from this defense on both the positive and negative side.
Here's my breakdown of the re-watch:
· We haven't seen the waggle/boot pass work with much success early in the season. Opponents have taken it away from the offense by playing the correct assignment and not letting Dak Prescott get outside the pocket. On his pass to Geoff Swaim, Prescott took advantage of the Lions' over pursing on the fake to Ezekiel Elliott. This allowed Prescott to get the ball to Swaim early instead of waiting until the defense had a chance to recover. Swaim received an exceptional block down the field from Tavon Austin to gain an additional 14 yards.
· Good use of the slot blitz by Rod Marinelli to affect Matthew Stafford early in the game on third down. I really wasn't sure how much pressure the front would have been able to generate, but the blitz by Anthony Brown was a precursor for what Marinelli and Kris Richard had in mind in dealing with Stafford in this game. They knew they had to create pressure, and by bringing it off the edge and through the middle, it provided them the opportunities for some stops.
· If the coaches gave helmet stickers for pancake blocks, then Tavon Austin would have received one for his point-of-attack block on Glover Quin. Austin was giving up size to Quin, but he hit him with a perfect block to the chest that would have made Zack Martin envious. Austin drove Quin to the ground, which allowed Ezekiel Elliott to cut behind him for a nice gain.
· I don't know what got into Anthony Brown this game, but he didn't do as good of a job tackling as he has in previous outings. Brown had the chance to get the defense off the field on third down, but he didn't do a good enough job of driving on the crossing route by Kenny Golladay. Brown read the route correctly, but his foot work put him in a terrible position and it allowed Golladay to get around him for the first. After the play you could see Kris Richard correcting him to drive quicker on the play.
· Exceptional job by Dak Prescott -- not only to use the hard count to draw the Lions offside, but to take advantage of the free play to Allen Hurns. It wasn't an easy throw with Devon Kennard pushing La'el Collins into Prescott. Somehow he was able to get the ball over the top of Jamal Agnew and in front of a driving Darius Slay. Hurns showed great concentration and balance to pull off the reception along the sideline.
· If you only judge from the stat sheet, it might have appeared that Chidobe Awuzie played poorly. But after studying the tape, that wasn't the case at all. It was clear that the Lions' game plan was to attack him and Anthony Brown, staying away from Byron Jones. The problem for Awuzie was he was in outstanding position in coverage to defend the routes -- but the ball placement by Matthew Stafford and his receivers to finish on those receptions were spectacular. There honestly was nothing that Awuzie could do any differently that he wasn't already doing.
· It could have been an even bigger day stats-wise for Ezekiel Elliott if he could have just turned the corner on a read-option later in the second quarter. Elliott received three quality blocks from Zack Martin, La'el Collins and Geoff Swaim, which opened up the inside of the field to him. Elliott made the smart decision to bounce outside to avoid Quandre Diggs, but by doing so it forced him wide to the sidelines. If he gets that corner, he's getting a block down the field from Cole Beasley and would have likely scored.
· How big was the DeMarcus Lawrence sack right before the half? If Lawrence hadn't beaten Kenny Wiggins around the edge, Stafford was looking right down the middle of the field at a wide open Golden Tate. Lawrence got some help when Daniel Ross stuck up his hand just at the right moment, which forced Stafford to pull the ball down and try to escape – right where Lawrence was waiting for him.
· I am usually on the officials pretty hard, but Umpire Jeff Rice never hesitated on the Dak Prescott roughing the passer penalty. As soon as Prescott's knee hit the ground, Rice blew his whistle and shot his arm in the air to signal the end of the play. Romeo Okwara had a chance to stop, but he didn't – thus, the penalty. It was a violent hit to the left shoulder area that knocked Prescott to the ground.
· Leighton Vander Esch finished the game with six tackles. Two of those tackles were in the open field that, if he had missed, could have ended up as big gains. I thought his best tackle was the screen pass where he split both Graham Glasgow and Frank Ragnow to bring down the difficult Theo Riddick for a short gain. Byron Jones and Jaylon Smith were rallying on the play, but Vander Esch didn't need their help. He read the play well to get into position and the finish was textbook wrapping up Riddick's legs.
· On the screen pass touchdown to Ezekiel Elliott, it was the fake to Cole Beasley going to the left by Dak Prescott that drew the Lions linebackers out of position and allowed Zack Martin, Joe Looney and Connor Williams to get out clean. With all three of them staying on their feet out in space, the Lions were in trouble. Martin was able to drive Jarrad Davis to the sideline, which allowed Elliott to cut back to the inside where Looney and Williams were able to secure blocks to get him into the end zone.
· The Lions thought they had a great matchup on the outside with Theo Riddick against Leighton Vander Esch. The call was for Riddick to double-move Vander Esch and it actually worked. Vander Esch lunged forward to attempt to cut off Riddick from going inside. In the process, Vander Esch fell down, allowing Riddick to go up the sideline. Jeff Heath was held in the middle of the field by Golden Tate's route. If not for the pressure inside by Jaylon Smith, Caraun Reid and backside pressure from DeMarcus Lawrence, Stafford was going to let that ball go down the field to an open Riddick for a potentially big play.