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Scout's Eye: Giving Credit For Cowboys' Playcalling, Blocking & Defensive Effort

FRISCO, Texas – There's bound to be a lot of good stuff from a 21-point win.

As has been the case several times this season, the Cowboys had the win in hand with plenty of time to play on Monday night. The reasoning for that was an efficient night from the offense, along with some spectacular adjustments by a swarming defense.

You know all of this if you watched the game. But as usual, there's plenty of details that get lost in the shuffle of an NFL game. So here's my breakdown of the film, starting with some inspired moments from the offense. But we didn't forget to focus on a fantastic effort from the defense.

Here are some highlights:

  • On the Brice Butler touchdown, the Lions showed Dak Prescott a two-deep look pre-snap and then rolled to a single-high safety with Rafael Bush moving down to take Jason Witten. What was great about the play was that it appeared Dak Prescott saw the two-deep coverage and opted for vertical routes to beat the coverage. With Bush coming down and Miles Killebrew working wide, it created a seam in the coverage, which Butler was able to take advantage of. I believe that -- even with the initial pre-snap look -- Prescott was going to attempt to fit the ball inside to Butler, who had to use every inch of his frame to pull it down for the touchdown.
  • Doug Free doesn't get much credit for his run blocking and the things that he is able to do off the backside. Without his block on Tyrunn Walker -- there would have been no 55-yard touchdown run by Ezekiel Elliott. The play initially was drawn up for Elliott to hit it off the left side, but he saw a small gap between Free and Martin that allowed him to take it back to the right and through the hole. Glover Quin took a poor angle on the fill and Cole Beasley got just enough of Tavon Wilson to get Elliott in the clear to finish.
  • I can't say enough about the job Byron Jones did playing out of the slot when Orlando Scandrick had to move outside for the injured Anthony Brown. The Lions tried to pick him a couple of different times in the game and they were able to get him for a first down once, but the other time he was up to the task down in the red zone. They ran Golden Tate inside like he was going to run a screen, with Anquan Boldin faking like he was going to block. Instead of blocking, Boldin turned up the field on the wheel route -- but Jones was able to cross in front of Brandon Carr to carry Boldin up the sideline. With no window to fit the ball into, Matthew Stafford was forced to unload the ball four yards up the field, giving Boldin no chance to make the reception.
  • On the combined sack by David Irving and Benson Mayowa, Rod Marinelli called the perfect defense to take advantage of a backup player in a key spot for the Lions. Marinelli put dime personnel on the field and blitzed Sean Lee toward Joe Dahl, who was in the game for starter Laken Tomlinson. Lee got such good penetration on the play that it forced Dahl to have to try and carry him outside -- which allowed Mayowa a clear path to Stafford. What is interesting about the play was that Stafford had been throwing hot routes against the blitz, and he had Eric Ebron open in the middle of the field. But the protection broke down so quickly he had no chance to get rid of the ball.
  • We all know that Dallas is a big run-heavy team on first down, so Scott Linehan went with a tendency breaker call. He sent Keith Smith into the game, which caused the Lions to walk Tavon Wilson down into the box to create eight-men down to defend the run. With Glover Quin focusing on Dez Bryant on the outside, Linehan ran Terrance Williams right to left out of the slot across the field. Prescott knew all he has to do was throw the ball out in front of Williams with some touch and it's a big play. Williams executed the route perfectly and Prescott was even better with the throw for a 30-yard gain. It's those type of calls that will drive defenses from loading the box on Elliott.
  • I'm not surprised to hear that touchdown pass that Dez Bryant threw was something that he had done while he was playing high school football in Lufkin, Texas. I'm also sure there aren't many receivers in the league that are left-handed, which made it work even better. There were two key components to the play – Bryant running hard like he was going to carry the ball and Jason Witten selling the play as if he was blocking on the backside. Bryant got Glover Quin to commit, which allowed Witten the space to get up the field. Bryant executed the throw with perfect touch in a spot for Witten to make an easy reception.
  • One day in my dreams, the NFL is going to treat a missed field goal as a turnover. Given where teams get the ball after an unsuccessful try, it might as well be a turnover. When Matt Prater missed from 47 yards – the Cowboys got the ball on their own 37-yard line and on the very next play were on the Lions' 45. The drive ended with Dak Prescott hooking up with Dez Bryant for a 19-yard touchdown and a lead the Lions were never able to recover from.
  • It was a terrible decision by Matthew Stafford to throw the ball where he did on the J.J. Wilcox interception. Stafford had no window to deliver that pass, especially with Benson Mayowa chasing him to his left. Brandon Carr did a great job of carrying Marvin Jones inside to cut off that option and Anquan Boldin carried Wilcox toward the play, which allowed him to be in position to grab the deflection off Carr. Wilcox should have had back-to-back interceptions after a great read on a crossing route of Jones when he helped Carr on the coverage.
  • For the first time out, Randy Gregory gave this defense everything he had until he suffered the oblique injury. I had a feeling the plan was going to use him early and often to see where he was. There is no question of his quickness and burst as a pass rusher, which gives this defense a little different dynamic with Mayowa and Irving. It might not have been a noticeable play because it was an 11-yard run by Zach Zenner, but on his first tackle – he showed his ability to redirect and finish the play. He was well up the field then retraced his steps to get back to Zenner for the tackle. It was nice effort on his part to prevent what potentially could have been a larger gain.
  • This defense is all about its flexibility along its front, but it was pretty impressive to see all the different spots that Jack Crawford, David Irving and Benson Mayowa lined up in this game. The only guy that played his normal position was Maliek Collins and he did that very well. With injuries to Terrell McClain and Ryan Davis during the game you would have thought that would have put them in a huge bind, especially rushing the passer, but that wasn't the case at all. The pressure matched the coverage and made it difficult on Matthew Stafford the entire night.    
  • It's usually not a good thing when your kicker and punter show up on the stat sheet for tackles, but I have to admit I did enjoy Chris Jones' physical tackle on Andre Roberts.    
  • On the Benson Mayowa and David Irving sacks in the fourth quarter, it was the only time that Kyle Wilber played defensive snaps during the game. Wilber showed tremendous balance on the Irving sack in keeping his feet and locating the ball on the ground to make the fumble recovery.
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