FRISCO, Texas – It's not a very eventful outing in terms of entertainment value – especially after an overtime thriller against Philadelphia the week before.
But in terms of this team's progression, there's a lot of good tape that comes out of a workmanlike 35-10 win against an overmatched opponent. The Cowboys simply executed better on both sides of the ball, and you saw the results reflected on the scoreboard.
As usual, there's a lot of nuts and bolts that go together in an effort like that, and it adds up to quite a tally in all three phases of the game. So here's an in-depth breakdown of some of my favorite moments from Sunday's win, which put the Cowboys in the driver's seat in the NFC.
- If you want to talk about unselfish players on this team, look no further than Terrance Williams and the route he ran on Jason Witten's touchdown. If Williams hadn't sprinted up the field and bent to the inside, there was no way Jamar Taylor and Derrick Kindred would have reacted the way they did. Williams made himself a threat and the Browns defenders had no choice but to carry him up the field. Give Dak Prescott credit for seeing what was developing down the field and getting the ball to Witten in a position where all he had to do was secure the ball and sprint five yards into the end zone.
- Damien Wilson has been the starter at strong side linebacker these previous two games, and against the Browns he was outstanding. His sack on Cody Kessler with Anthony Hitchens was all athletic ability and effort. On the blitz, his right leg was going to get cut by Isaiah Crowell, but he somehow managed to keep his balance on his left leg. Spinning, he caught Kessler in the middle of the pocket along with Hitchens before he had a chance to get the ball off.
- Dez Bryant had a reason to complain about the defensive holding in this game. I am surprised the officials missed the route he ran against Joe Haden from the slot. Dak Prescott did a nice job of holding safety Ibraheim Campbell in the middle of the field with his eyes. Bryant had Haden beaten up the field, and Haden had no choice but to grab his left arm. With the ball within two feet of Bryant, he was only able to extend his right hand while his left hand was near his side. Bryant did his best to come up with the ball but he was unable to pull it into his body.
- I'm not usually the scout that likes when offensive coordinators get "cute" on plays – especially when it's a short yardage situation. But I will give credit to Scott Linehan for the packages he has come up with using Lucky Whitehead in motion. The back door flip to Ezekiel Elliott off the fly motion is as tough as it gets for a defense to handle. When they get Jason Witten or Geoff Swaim on the arc release blocking first support, there is no way that Elliott is going to be stopped one-on-one in the open field.
- Creative scheme by Rod Marinelli on the second sack by Maliek Collins. Marinelli covered all three Browns blockers inside with Collins, Cedric Thornton and Jack Crawford. On the snap, Thornton and Crawford drove hard inside to their right, while Collins sneaked around his teammates, coming to his left. The blockers got compressed together, which allowed Collins the opportunity to get on Kessler before guard Alvin Bailey even had a chance to react. Well-designed and executed stunt by the defensive line.
- It was clear that the Browns felt like Doug Free was the weak link in the offensive line by the way they put their best pass rusher, Emmanuel Ogbah, to his side. Ogbah was credited with four assisted tackles -- but more importantly, no pressures or sacks. I have to admit that I was concerned about Free's ability to hold up against Ogbah due to his power and quickness, but that was not the case at all.
- I couldn't tell on the coaches' tape what happened with David Irving and Cameron Erving to get them kicked out of the game. Irving was rushing Kessler when Erving took a run at him, hitting him in the ribs and knocking both of them to the ground. Irving ended up on top of Erving, and there was a struggle -- but then the shot goes away from them as Kessler rolls to his left trying to throw the ball to Andrew Hawkins.
- It's late in the second quarter. The Browns have three defenders to cover Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant. Beasley is out wide of Bryant and motions inside to stack behind Bryant in the formation. At the snap, Bryant breaks up the field with Beasley in tow. Tramon Williams is playing Beasley short with Joe Haden and Derrick Kindred just behind him. Bryant runs into the bracket of Haden and Kindred, while Williams turns his body outside to prevent Beasley from coming inside. The problem with this cover was that Beasley had no intention of coming inside and broke hard to his left, leaving Williams dead in his tracks. With a clean pocket, Prescott fires the ball to the outside to Beasley, with no Browns defender within 10 yards, for the touchdown. After the game, Tramon Williams said there was a miss communication on the play and that was why Beasley was so open.
- Rod Marinelli put his dime package on the field with Jeff Heath at safety. The Browns went with a bunch formation to the left with tight Gary Barnidge lined up inline on the right. Heath lined up across Barnidge, 12 yards deep, in man coverage. Knowing that the Cowboys are in that coverage, the Browns tried to run a pick with Andrew Hawkins and Terrelle Pryor across the field. Because Heath was at depth, they were unable to take him out of the play and he was able to easily clear and chase Barnidge across. Kessler went through with the play and tried to fit the ball to him, but Heath arrived at the exact same time as the ball to keep Barnidge two yards short of the first down, forcing a punt.
- The film showed that Brandon Carr played a tremendous game -- and with Morris Claiborne sidelined, this defense needed it. The best example of this was his coverage of Corey Coleman in the red zone, which was textbook. His ability to stay with Coleman and ride him into the sideline put him in position to knock the ball away with his right hand once Coleman extended his hands. It was perfect timing and awareness by Carr in a difficult situation to make a play.
- Did you know Ezekiel Elliott had a fumble in this game? I didn't until I checked the box score after the game. The play occurred after the Jason Witten 35-yard gain to open the second half. Elliott got the ball going to his left and then tried to cut back to his right. Linebacker Demario Davis went through the back door on Zack Martin's block and met Elliott in the hole. Davis was able to get his right hand on the ball as he wrapped Elliott up. The ball fell to Martin's feet, but Elliott fell right on top of it as he was going to the ground, preventing a turnover.
- Really nice coverage sack by Justin Durant. Defensive personnel on the field was dime, and on tape there was not one Browns receiver that was even close to being open. Anthony Brown was beating up Corey Coleman. Orlando Scandrick was mirroring Andrew Hawkins in the middle and Brandon Carr was cutting Terrelle Pryor off on the outside. Cody Kessler had no choice but try to climb the middle of the pocket and see if he could scramble for yardage, but Durant was right there. Durant was in coverage on Duke Johnson, but when he stayed in to block, that left Durant open to rush forward and trap Kessler behind the line to once again get the defense off the field.