FRISCO, Texas – Having watched the tape, here are my impressions from Sunday afternoon’s game.
· It clearly was the right call on Tyron Smith for the block in the back on the screen to Tavon Austin. Smith did the best he could to get all the way to the outside, but when James Bradberry ducked underneath him, he had no choice but to extend his hands on him. It was one of those bang-bang decisions. Smith did what he felt was right, but it ended up costing them.
· Outstanding quick move by Daniel Ross to swim Trai Turner in order to knock the ball out of Christian McCaffrey’s hands early in the game. It’s generally not easy to defeat Turner in such a small space, but Ross was able to make himself small, then square back up in the hole in order to meet McCaffrey. DeMarcus Lawrence was also in good position on the scrap behind him to secure the ball once it was on the ground.
· In the first half, the defense had a problem of containing Cam Newton on the run. It wasn’t as much a physical issue -- but more in the line of mental ones. A good example of this was Damien Wilson getting sucked inside on a third down where Newton was able to run around the corner for a first down. If Wilson had played his assignment, there is a chance that he would have trapped Newton in the backfield to get the defense off the field. Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie were outstanding in coverage, thus forcing Newton to pull the ball down -- but there was no defender there to make the tackle.
· On the Maliek Collins sack, it wasn’t even the first defensive line in the game with him. Taco Charlton, Daniel Ross and Dorance Armstrong provided the pressure. Collins took advantage of Ryan Kalil believing he was going to get help from Greg Van Roten. Collins just powered his way through Van Roten while also leaving Kalil overextended and in poor blocking position. Collins was able to capture Newton in the pocket before he had a chance to step up.
· I’m surprised that Jeff Heath couldn’t come up with the deflected ball from Cam Newton intended for Torrey Smith. Heath did an outstanding job adjusting his body to give himself a chance, but he just couldn’t get his hands underneath the spinning ball as his elbows hit the ground. If Heath makes that play, the defense once again has a red zone turnover, but instead the Panthers took advantage and drove in for the first touchdown of the game.
· Not sure why Dak Prescott didn’t pull the trigger and attempt to hit Geoff Swaim on the curl route with Kawaan Short bearing down on him. Short did beat Connor Williams off the snap, but Prescott slid to the front of the pocket and had ample time to make the throw. His eyes clearly were on Swaim, but instead he tried to pull the ball down and run, leading to a sack.
· Dak Prescott’s miss to Blake Jarwin was a tough throw going to his left, but it is one we’ve seen him make before. I initially thought Prescott would have had a chance to run for the first, but with Luke Kuechly closing on the play it would have been close. I understand what he saw at the time, but he just couldn’t get enough on the ball -- especially with Jarwin moving away from him. He might have had a chance if Jarwin had settled down once he became open.
· One of the better Ezekiel Elliott runs of the day came on a zone-read to the outside, where they were able to trap Luke Kuechly with Geoff Swaim. This allowed Zack Martin and Joe Looney to get to the edge. With all the Panthers defenders accounted for, it left Elliott one-on-one with DaNorris Searcy, who forced him out of bounds -- but not before he had a sizeable gain on the play. It was the first running play where they had everyone accounted for and the result reflected that.
· Poor read by Dak Prescott not to allow Cole Beasley to clear on third and short. Prescott wanted to go in his direction out of the bunch formation initially, but maybe feeling the rush he chose to look back toward Allen Hurns who was also open. The throw wasn’t as clean -- probably because Ezekiel Elliott tried to cut Shaq Thompson instead of taking him on square. Thompson was able to get off the ground and force Prescott to move in order to get rid of the ball.
· I can’t ever remember a snap when studying Trai Turner where he completely was overpowered for a sack, but DeMarcus Lawrence was able to do that. What was unique about the play was that Lawrence wasn’t the focal point of the stunt. It was his job to drive inside to free up Maliek Collins, who was running behind him. Lawrence made such a push that all he had to do was make a slight adjustment and was right on top of Newton before he had a chance to slide forward in the pocket.
· It was fortunate for the offense that Dak Prescott has the ability to scramble for first downs, because he missed an opportunity to hit Geoff Swaim and Michael Gallup both for a touchdown on the same play. Swaim had beaten Donte Jackson to the inside, while Gallup had done the same to Mike Adams. Instead, Prescott pulled the ball down and decided to run in order to keep the drive alive.
· Dak Prescott missed a huge opportunity to hit Michael Gallup with a pass across the middle which could have put the offense deep in Panthers territory. Prescott just needed to put the ball out in front of him and let Gallup do the rest. Instead, the ball was behind him, which forced Gallup to have to adjust -- which he was unable to do.