Scout's Eye: Breaking Down Claiborne's Return, TD Chances For Dez, More

IRVING, Texas – My full breakdown of the Cowboys' 19-16 win at Washington after reviewing the tape from Monday night:

  • I thought the tone of the game for this Dallas defense was set very early when they were able to sack Kirk Cousins on a 3rd-and-6 during the Redskins' opening drive. Not only was the "T – E" stunt executed well between Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence to get Lawrence home, but the coverage by Barry Church on Jordan Reed also choked off any opportunity for them to convert on the play. You can tell in studying the play that there was no question Cousins wanted to get the ball to Reed in that situation but there was no avenue to make that happen.
  • This is the first time that Dez Bryant looked completely healthy in a game since coming back from his foot surgery and playing through an ankle and knee injury. Bryant was able to win off the line against press coverage which allowed him to separate to get in his routes. There were two plays where I thought he could have scored touchdowns if the ball had just got to him. Cassel missed him on a slant in the red zone with no safety help in the middle of the field which upset Bryant because he knew that was a rare opportunity. Later in the game, after making an incredible catch to put the ball on the Redskins' 3-yard line, Bryant the very next play beats Will Blackmon inside which leaves him flat footed. Instead of being a touchdown, the ball was knocked away by Ricky Jean-Francois who beat La'el Collins around the corner to get in the throwing lane. Despite only having three receptions, the night could have been much bigger for Dez Bryant.
  • I don't know what more Darren McFadden can do to protect the ball in traffic because on his second fumble of the night, he had both hands around the ball as he going through the hole. By protecting it this way, it actually slowed him down. The play was the scissors action that they used well in the Miami game where the ball starts in one direction then goes back the other way. McFadden got two nice blocks by Terrance Williams and Lucky Whitehead on the play to get him in the open field but Jason Hatcher was able to somehow get the ball out of his hands while going to the ground. It was just a really bad break for him that led to points for the Redskins.
  • Would have never believed that Cole Beasley would have had zero catches in this game. With the way that the Redskins were having their issues in the secondary I would have bet anything that Beasley would have been more of a factor. His best shot for a big play came in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys facing a 3rd-and-10 from their own 43-yard line. Defensive coordinator Joe Barry sells out on the blitz, leaving his secondary in man coverage. On the snap, Beasley drives inside to the middle of the field and has separation but for some reason Zack Martin sets wide instead of inside and there was a free runner at Cassel. Martin, realizing there is a problem, tries to kick his left leg out but the damage was done. Cassel doesn't have the time to get the ball in front of Beasley who would have no doubt secured the first down but also likely would have put Dan Bailey in field goal range – instead it was incomplete and they were forced to punt.
  • I agree with Jason Garrett – the Redskins did try and play defense on the Darren McFadden touchdown run. The play might have been the best blocked running play of the night for the Cowboys. La'el Collins, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin were able to get a hat on hat and get some serious push off the ball. McFadden could have buried his head into the ground after making his cut but he didn't feel any contact until he got near the goal line. By that time his running back's instinct took over to just score.
  • When this Dallas defense is playing well it generally is doing a nice job with their running game fits. This was the way they beat Philadelphia in Week 2 and were able to hold this Washington running game in check. The middle of this defense I thought was outstanding. Nick Hayden and Tyrone Crawford played square the entire night and there were several snaps where they were up the field as penetrators which allowed Sean Lee and Rolando McClain the ability to crash the gaps or flow down the line to make the play on the edges. It was disruptive, textbook technique by this group that took away the balance that Jay Gruden needed in his offense.
  • Came out of the game feeling that the offensive line did a nice job of working against Ryan Kerrigan and the problems he can present. What was interesting is that early in the game the Redskins chose not to put him in many rush situations but instead use him more in coverage. When he did rush, he only managed two pressures on Doug Free but no sacks which I worried about the most. For him not to be a factor in this game was big for this Dallas offense.
  • For his first game back since his hamstring injury, I thought that Morris Claiborne held up well despite DeSean Jackson getting by him for the game tying touchdown. It was an outstanding route by Jackson and an even better pass from Kirk Cousins that beat Claiborne. There was also a snap or two where receivers were able to carry him across the field and he was trapped in a trail position that resulted in a catch, but for him to stay in position on other routes was a positive sign. I also like how physical he was on the ball. His hit on Jordan Reed knocked the ball free on what could have been a big throw and catch for the Redskins. Claiborne was also able to play the game penalty free which is an area that he has struggled in the past.
  • I am not always sure of responsibilities of players in these games, so I like to ask when I have a question. The film showed that in this Dallas running game there are plenty of plays where the ball is handed to one of these running backs and they are asked to beat a man right in the hole. I thought it might have something to do with the backs, but in this game especially I saw plenty of unblocked Redskins defenders. Defensive linemen and linebackers, it didn't matter. I wrote earlier that the best blocked play of the night was the McFadden's touchdown run late in the game. What is surprising is that as athletic and powerful as this group is, there are still plays where there are unsecured defenders and these backs are paying the price for it.             
  • Interesting several snaps in this game where the Cowboys decided to keep both Jason Witten and James Hanna in for "Max" protection. The Redskins were not known as a big pressure team but evidently Jason Garrett and the staff felt that allowing Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams to be the only options on the outside was good enough to keep Matt Cassel upright. It did pay off big on Williams' 38-yard reception in the second quarter. I believe this is a wrinkle that we will continue to see as long as Cassel remains the quarterback.
  • Don't get caught up in the lack of numbers when you talk about Greg Hardy. He might not be the elite pass rusher that I thought but his effort, motor and desire are still very strong. Where I believe that he doesn't get enough credit is the way in which he plays in the running game. As this Redskins offensive line found out, he can be difficult to block while he is on the move. There was a time where I thought he might have been a liability in the running game but that's not the case at all. When he sees the ball, he can finish. There are some matchups ahead where I could also see those sack numbers improve as well if the coverage can give him one more step on his rush.
  • I am excited to see what Lucky Whitehead can do with more opportunities in the kicking game. When I was in Green Bay we had Desmond Howard as our primary returner and he was that electric type of player. Whitehead has those similar qualities as Howard in his ability to break a game open with the ball in his hands.
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