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Scout’s Eye: Important Details In A Playoff Win

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FRISCO – The Cowboys won’t have a ton of time to digest this.

After the Eagles’ win in Chicago on Sunday night, they’re off to Los Angeles to face the Rams in another Saturday night contest. The shortened week might make things tough on everyone, but it’s far more preferable than the alternative.

Before we move on to the Rams and all the challenges they present, here’s one last look back at this win against the Seahawks. This is what jumped out to me upon a second viewing of the game.

·      Scott Linehan went back to his “01” personnel group with Tavon Austin and Cole Beasley playing in the slots. This time Linehan flipped Austin and Beasley, allowing Beasley to run his route from the right side. Austin cleared from the opposite side, while Beasley ran an option route against K.J. Wright. The protection was good enough to allow Dak Prescott the opportunity to hold the ball until Beasley broke open for the reception.

·      I can’t say enough good things about the way the Cowboys’ defensive tackles played in this game. Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Caraun Reid and Tyrone Crawford played on the Seahawks’ side of the line the entire night. The inside three for the Seahawks didn’t have a good answer for them, and it showed -- especially in the running game, as the Seahawks couldn’t get anything going with Chris Carson or Rashaad Penny. To play great run defense you have to be able to play square along the line, and the Cowboys were able to do just that.

·      At the time, I was surprised by the third down ball that was thrown down the sideline to Michael Gallup -- especially with the offense needing a couple of yards to convert. It didn’t appear to be the best play to run that in that situation. Scott Linehan was attempting to run a little flat pass to Blake Jarwin with Cole Beasley running the pick. The problem was that K.J. Wright did a nice job of avoiding Beasley and was able to maintain his coverage on Jarwin. When Prescott didn’t see it open up quickly enough, that’s when he decided to attempt to throw the ball to Gallup along the sideline -- which wasn’t even close.

·      Randy Gregory continues to show outstanding effort and finish as a pass rusher. We saw the sack/fumble against the Buccaneers, and then early in this game, he stayed wide in his rush on Russell Wilson and raced around the corner to run down Wilson before he had a chance to escape through the front of the pocket. Wilson appeared to have a lane to run through, but Gregory was there to close it down quickly to prevent the big play.

·      Let’s look at the third and short stop that the Seahawks had on Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys went with a heavy package, with Cam Fleming and Dalton Schultz on the right side. That’s where Elliott attempted to run the ball. The down block by Fleming and Collins was good, but Schultz had trouble with K.J. Wright -- which forced Jamize Olawale to make a decision. He could either help Schultz with Wright, or stay outside to pick up Brad McDougald. Olawale blocked the first man to show, which was Wright, leaving Elliott exposed to avoid McDougald and Bobby Wagner from the inside. Elliott did his best but just couldn’t get low enough to make the yard.

·      One of my biggest fears in this game was a Cowboys defender having Russell Wilson trapped in the pocket, and then going right over the top of him -- allowing him to escape and complete a pass. Jeff Heath had that moment for me. I thought Heath initially did a nice job of delaying his rush just to the moment where he almost caught Wilson by surprise. If not for Wilson’s cat-like reactions, Heath would have been able to get him on the ground. Instead, Wilson avoided the pressure and flipped the ball in the flat to Ed Dickson for a good gain.

·      Maybe I was asking too much on the screen pass that Dak Prescott threw into the ground at Ezekiel Elliott’s feet. I thought there might have been a chance for Elliott to break his route off and head up the field, thus allowing Prescott to throw a touch pass over the top. We have seen plenty of snaps this season where Elliott has adjusted his route when necessary. If Elliott could have gotten past Brad McDougald, there was nothing but open field ahead of him. Prescott, not wanting to force the turnover, just unloaded the ball to allow Chris Jones to punt.

·      Going into this matchup, I thought this was the type of game where Sean Lee would have thrived. Lee didn’t get many opportunities and was once again held off the stat sheet. On the long run by Rashaad Penny, Lee didn’t do a good enough job of using his hands to disengage from a block by Germain Ifedi. Honestly, that was surprising because Lee saw the play the entire way. Lee did bounce back the next play and was right there with Randy Gregory as he tackled Penny behind the line on the toss sweep. Lee worked through the trash and showed a burst to close on the play. 

·      It appeared that the Seahawks didn’t have a good plan when the Cowboys got into their “trips” look. I believe this was an adjustment that the Cowboys made at halftime, as they didn’t handle it well earlier in the game. The Seahawks struggled with the route combinations and Scott Linehan took advantage of them with the pass to Amari Cooper behind Dalton Schultz’s vertical route. Each time the Seahawks faced a trips look, there was an open Cowboys receiver -- which is surprising, given how well the Seahawks generally handle their coverages.

·      I am usually very critical of the officials in these games, but I did feel like Walt Anderson and the assigned crew did do a good job running this contest. Where I did take one exception with Anderson was the holding call he missed on Duane Brown, as he held Randy Gregory on the fourth down pass from Russell Wilson to Doug Baldwin. Brown was beaten so badly that he had no choice but to extend his left arm around Gregory’s neck. Brown even turned Gregory’s body as he was rushing toward Wilson, which is a clear indication that he was being held. I believe Anderson was too focused on Wilson and not the big picture of the rush.

·      Give Ezekiel Elliott a “Buckeye” helmet sticker for the block he threw on K.J. Wright, which allowed Dak Prescott to take the ball down to the goal line. The play design was a straight power run with Prescott running behind Elliott, Dalton Schultz and a pulling Tyron Smith to the left side. Elliott, with textbook form, was able to chop down Wright in the open field before the linebacker knew what hit him. Two plays later, Elliott was able to carry the ball into the end zone for the go-ahead score.

·      I had never seen a drop kick used as a kickoff in a game. That was a NFL first for me. And what was even more surprising was that it was also used for an onside kick. I don’t understand why Michael Dickson didn’t put the ball on a tee or even on the ground and attempt to make the Cowboys hands team have to field a bouncing ball. Anything would have been better for the Seahawks than having him drop kick the ball and have it go high off his shin. It took Cole Beasley absolutely no effort to field that ball. By the way: hats to special teams coordinator Keith O’Quinn for the toughness he showed on that kick. Noah Brown drove J.D. McKissic completely off the field into the legs of O’Quinn, standing on the sideline. O’Quinn might be a little sore but I am told he is no worse for wear.

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