*FRISCO, Texas – *That was a lot to digest.
Understatement of the season, right? This would have been a compelling game to watch on tape, even without all the craziness at the end. But the Cowboys always find a way to make things even more interesting, and that’s certainly what happened in Oakland.
I’m obviously going to cover the dramatic moments – the Cowboys’ go-ahead field goal drive as well as their dramatic defensive stand. But there were plenty of other commendable moments throughout this game to help them preserve their playoff hopes.
This is what jumped out to me when I went back over the game:
- The Cowboys were playing two deep safeties, with man coverage underneath when Jeff Heath knocked the ball loose from Derek Carr to seal the win. The Raiders ran trips, and Heath lined up on the opposite side. With Chidobe Awuzie handling Jared Cook to his side, he was able to focus on Carr the entire time. What was amazing about the play is DeMarcus Lawrence and Taco Charlton had shots in the pocket to bring Carr down -- but they just couldn’t get their arms around him. What helped Heath on the play was Carr pumped the ball to Cook and that slowed him down a step. Heath was able to make up that ground and take the perfect angle to drive him out of bounds and knock the ball free from his left hand.
- Nice job by Dez Prescott of reading Reggie Nelson in the middle of the field on the 40-yard pass to Dez Bryant. Prescott knew that Nelson had too far of a run to affect the play and decided to take a shot. The protection in the pocket was outstanding with La’el Collins, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick all handling the twist stunt by Khalil Mack. It gave Prescott a place to step up and get his entire body into the throw, which he needed.
- I have a ton of respect for Chidobe Awuzie stepping up and taking Marshawn Lynch on in the flat, holding him to a short gain. The initial blow might have appeared bad for Awuzie but that wasn’t the case. He was able to put his right shoulder into Lynch, driving him to the sideline. He knocked Lynch off balance, stopping all his momentum from going up the field. It’s no easy task bringing down Lynch -- especially when he’s able to square his pads and run downhill.
- Good play call by Scott Linehan to send Jason Witten up the field against a Raiders blitz for a chunk play. Instead of dropping, Khalil Mack tried to play coverage and had no idea where Witten was off the line. Mack appeared to believe he had safety help on the play -- but when Karl Joseph turned to his right to help Dez Bryant, Mack was out of luck. It was a really nice blitz pickup by Alfred Morris off the play action to allow Prescott the time to find Witten wide open.
- I really liked the early tone that Jourdan Lewis set on the initial third down attempt for the Raiders. He didn’t allow Michael Crabtree any separation off the line. As a matter of fact, they tried to pick him with Seth Roberts but he wasn’t the least bit affected by it. His eyes, hands and feet were all in great shape on the play, which resulted in Derek Carr missing badly with his pass. The only thing I could have faulted Lewis for was not coming up with the ball. He was in much better shape to make the catch than Crabtree was.
- Tremendous execution by Dak Prescott on the read option for 17 yards in the third quarter. The Cowboys ran a play earlier in the game where Prescott handed the ball off inside behind a trap block from Jason Witten. It once again appeared that Linehan had made the same call with Witten pulling. This time, Prescott pulled the ball from Rod Smith. Bruce Irvin got pulled to the inside as Witten moved around him and headed down the field to block Reggie Nelson in the alley. Prescott also got a big-time block from Dez Bryant on Dexter McDonald in order to get up the sidelines for some extra yards.
- What a smart play by Chris Jones to read the correct side to take the ball in order to pull off that fake punt. The Raiders were running a twist stunt to Jones’ left and Jeff Heath did a great job of sorting that out to pick up Shalom Luani to keep him from the ball. Jones got key blocks from Keith Smith and James Hanna, as well, then made a nifty cut off his right foot in order to get the necessary space to finish the play.
- Cordarrelle Patterson had a touchdown on a kickoff return called back for holding and another big return that should have been wiped out, as well. Xavier Woodson-Luster was called for holding the first time and the officials missed a second one where he tackled Keith Smith right at the point of attack. The coverage overall wasn’t great, but that was a pretty simple call they missed that allowed great field position -- which the Oakland offense capitalized on for a touchdown.
- There’s nothing really pretty about Keith Smith’s game -- but what a valuable player he has become. Smith doesn’t get many offensive snaps, but when he does, something good generally happens. Late in the game, on the same play he was able to pick up a blitz from NaVorro Bowman and then slide to the flat as a check down for Prescott. Most players would have become too preoccupied with the block and not made themselves available for the play, but not Smith. He did his job and a little extra to pick up some valuable yards on a critical drive.
- It was alarming how many opportunities for turnovers in this game that the defense missed. It was as if this group had never done a ball drill in their lives at practice. Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown and Damien Wilson all had shots to pick off Derek Carr but came up empty. This is not to mention all the fumbles that were on the ground. The only one that they were credited with for a recovery was the ball that Jeff Heath knocked out of Carr’s hand to seal the game. The Raiders were trying to help them but the Cowboys just couldn’t finish the plays.
- Nice to see Scott Linehan bring back the play where he gets in trips formation and drags Terrance Williams behind two vertical receivers. It’s one of those plays that beats man coverage, especially when you have a big-bodied guy like Jason Witten running up the field to pick defenders off. Cole Beasley did a really nice job of clearing out, as well, which left the middle of the field wide open for Williams to drive across. The protection was good and Prescott was able to slide forward to deliver a nice touch pass to Williams for the first.
- I have often been critical of Jason Garrett throughout his tenure as the head coach. There have been games where his game management and decision-making have come under question. To his credit, in a game with so much on the line and his team needing him the most -- he was at his best. He knew the condition of his team and took the necessary steps in order to give them a chance to win. For a head coach, that’s all you can ask and hats off to him for doing just that.