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Scout’s Eye: Dak’s Night; How They Handled Ertz

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FRISCO, Texas – A game like that requires multiple viewings – even more than the usual re-watch.

So much happened in the whacky fourth quarter and overtime alone that it’d be easy to lose track. And that doesn’t even do justice to the strong defensive play by the Cowboys in the early going of this 29-23 win.

That’s what I’m here for – to watch it back and find some further context on a crazy win. So here’s my tape review on the good, the bad and the strange in a memorable victory. 

Let’s get into it:

·             On the Randy Gregory sack, it appeared that Carson Wentz was attempting to set up a screen to Corey Clement -- but Jaylon Smith read the play perfectly. Smith was able to beat the block by Jason Kelce and put himself in position to cover Clement. It made Wentz hold that ball just a split second longer to give Gregory the opportunity to work around Jason Peters and capture Wentz from behind.

·             Sometimes you just have to give the defender some credit for making a play, which was the case on the interception by Rasul Douglas. The design by Scott Linehan was good in the idea of bringing Amari Cooper all the way across the field in open space. Dak Prescott anticipated Cooper being open the way the play was developing, but Douglas just made a great read. He recognized the route Cooper was running and just dropped his coverage. The idea was to run Dalton Schultz on the out in order to open up that area, but Douglas didn’t buy it. Maybe next time, Linehan will put a receiver to that side to better influence the corner? I initially thought Prescott should have laid the ball out further with more air but if Douglas isn’t there it’s a touchdown.

·             Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins continue to be a force inside for this defense. The interior of the Eagles offense struggled with their power the entire night. This was clearly evident when they attempted to run the football. There was absolutely no movement by their line on Woods and Collins to create any type of lanes for Josh Adams, Corey Clement and Darren Sproles to operate. The Cowboys have had some pickups off the street that have gone on to do outstanding things, but I can’t remember any of them playing as well as Antwaun Woods has.

·              Re-watching the 28-yard touchdown pass where Dak Prescott laid the ball into Amari Cooper over the top of Sidney Jones. Prescott had another option on the play that would have likely scored, as well. Cole Beasley ran a pivot route underneath where he lost Cre’von LeBlanc to the outside and there was nobody between him and the goal line. It would have been a nice, easy throw for Prescott to make, but he took the shot down the field instead and it paid off for him in a big way. 

·             The Cowboys caught a huge break on the Tyrone Crawford strip/sack because Carson Wentz was loading up to hit Nelson Agholor wide open in the middle of the field. It appeared that Wentz initially wanted to go to Zach Ertz working against Byron Jones, but Jones was all over the route. Agholor had worked free right behind the linebackers and in front of the safeties. Wentz saw the development too late, which resulted in Crawford knocking the ball out of his hand from behind.

·             Nice use of the bunch formation to free Amari Cooper up to drag underneath to pick up a first down. Cole Beasley not only picked Cooper’s man, but he got in the way of Cre’von LeBlanc so he couldn’t have chased on the play. On the other side of the field, Allen Hurns executed his route well to help clear the space, as well. Hurns ran his man off, which gave Cooper the ability to turn the corner and get past the sticks. The Cowboys knew the Eagles were likely going to play man coverage and took advantage of the situation with a great play call.  

·             I had a feeling that DeMarcus Lawrence was going to give Lane Johnson problems with his rush, especially when Lawrence worked him with power. There was a particular snap on third and long where Lawrence caught Johnson on one leg, and, before he could get his foot back on the ground, he had his right hand in his chest. Johnson was never able to recover to set his feet. This forced Wentz to the front of the pocket -- but both Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins were waiting right there. Wentz was forced to make a crazy, off-balanced throw to Zach Ertz, who was covered well by Byron Jones.

·             I am not going to sell myself as an expert when it comes to quarterback mechanics, but I was curious why Dak Prescott was high with his pass over the middle to Michael Gallup. The pocket was clean and he had good line of sight, so that wasn’t an issue. The pass wasn’t going to be contested and Gallup was square to him. I focused on Prescott’s feet -- where he had his toe and shoulder pointed at the target. When Prescott does get in trouble, it’s when he takes a big stride to generate power. I also notice that his arm angle appeared to be poor. He released the ball well above his head instead of near his ear, which likely forced the ball to sail on him resulting in the interception.

·             Really nice job by Jeff Heath of hanging in there on Zach Ertz, one-on-one, down in the red zone. Doug Pederson put Ertz in space, which forced Heath into the coverage. Ertz tried to hit him with the stick-nod to the inside, but Heath never moved. With no real separation there, Wentz tried to fit the ball inside regardless, and Heath was able to contest the throw for the incompletion. I have seen countless snaps where defenders have struggled with Zach Ertz in that situation but Jeff Heath played him perfectly.

·             I honestly don’t know what Randy Gregory could have done any differently on the roughing the passer penalty where Clete Blakeman said he went low on Carson Wentz. I understand protecting the quarterback’s legs, but in this case once Gregory had turned the corner, and Jason Peters was still engaged with Gregory, pushing him in the back. The placement of Peters’ hands forced Gregory toward the ground. Gregory’s natural reactions were to reach for Carson Wentz’s legs due to the position of his own body. Gregory didn’t dive into his legs -- he simply wrapped him up in a form tackle. To me this is just like a roughing the kicker penalty when the blocker pushes the defender into the kicker. Same rules should have applied here with Peters forcing Gregory to go low.

·             On the fourth down and short conversion by the Eagles, this is where Sean Lee’s experience of playing against Darren Sproles might have paid off. This is the first time that Leighton Vander Esch had faced Sproles. In those situations, as much as Doug Pederson likes to run rubs and picks to create space, seeing Sproles in the lineup should have been a red flag. Alshon Jeffery did pick Vander Esch, but only because he stepped up instead of avoiding Jeffery with a lateral step. Next time, Vander Esch will be more prepared and handle it better in the future. These coaches put special players in those situations for a reason.

·             One of the funnier reactions after the Brett Mahar 62-yard field goal was Zack Martin and Chris Long standing in the middle of the field watching the flight of the ball. It appeared as if Martin had his arm around Long like two long lost friends. As soon as it went through the uprights, Long looked at Martin as if to say “What the heck?” Then, Martin patted Long on the chest a couple of times as both went their separate ways to the locker room.

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