Scout's Eye: Improvement By The Pass Rush, Special Teams Success; More

FRISCO, Texas – The Cowboys aren't the only ones that are grateful for a break.

Of course, I didn't play three football games in 12 days – kudos to them for that. But this breakdown marks the end of a tough stretch of this schedule that saw us prepare for three different opponents in the last two weeks. I'll be glad to have a couple of days off before we launch into our prep work for the New York Giants.

Before that, though, here's some of my top thoughts from the tape of this gutsy win against the Minnesota Vikings. There will be a lot the Cowboys want to clean up, but the film reveals plenty of positives – not to mention an 11th straight win.

  • It was a tremendous play by Terrell McClain to draw the holding call on Alex Boone with the Vikings facing a 3rd-and-1 on the Dallas 21-yard line. McClain was so quick off the snap and into the gap, Boone had no choice but to jump on his back and ride him to the ground. The Vikings had the first down with fullback Zach Line, but it was brought back when Tony Corrente made the easy call for holding. The next play, Bradford missed Kyle Rudolph on a pass and the Vikings were forced to kick the 48-yard field goal.
  • One of these games, Byron Jones is going to come up with an interception. He had a chance on a pass that wasn't thrown by Sam Bradford, but by Jerick McKinnon in the "Wildcat" formation. Jones, playing in the middle of the field, saw the inside fake to Cordarrelle Patterson, then focused his attention to Kyle Rudolph running up the field to his left. Rudolph had a step on Jones up the field, but McKinnon threw the ball flat, opting not to put air under it. Jones, seeing the flight of the pass, undercut the route by Rudolph and laid out. He was able to get both hands on the pass, but he was unable to secure it before he slammed into the ground.
  • These are the types of plays Dak Prescott can make for you. Dallas sent five receivers into the pattern facing a crucial 3rd-and-13 in the second quarter. Four of the receivers were outside the right hash, with only Dez Bryant to Dak Prescott's left. The Vikings dropped seven defenders into the zone, which took away Prescott's options to throw the ball down the field. The Vikings also lined up Brian Robison and Everson Griffen to the same side to run a twist game. Ronald Leary and Tyron Smith managed to pin both Robison and Griffen to the inside, which allowed Prescott to spin to his left and out the back door. Anthony Barr was caught in no man's land, trying to play the pass as well as defend the run. Prescott made him think that he was heading out of bounds, which caused Barr to overshoot him. Prescott then cut hard back to the inside and -- from four yards away – dives for the first down marker, picking up it up with one yard to spare. Five plays later, Dallas scored its first touchdown of the night.
  • It looked like the Vikings wanted to double Dez Bryant and Jason Witten on Bryant's 56-yard strike, as they played one-on-one coverage everywhere else. Bryant lined up in the slot with Cole Beasley to his outside. Bryant sprinted up the field between Harrison Smith and Xavier Rhodes. Bryant had Smith's attention and he knew it.  Once Bryant got six yards away, he dropped his weight like he was taking the route inside on a deep "in" cut. Smith felt Bryant's weight drop and planted hard off his right foot to drive on the route. Bryant knew he had Smith once he saw him step forward. From there he turned on the jets, heading up the field, and was able to get four yards of separation on the safety. Dak Prescott, with a clean pocket, was able to slide forward and put the ball out in front of Bryant to let him run underneath it. Bryant tracked it well and was able to haul it in, taking it down to the one-yard line. Ezekiel Elliott scored on the next play.
  • There was no question that the Vikings offensively were interested in attacking Anthony Brown down the field. With the ball near midfield, Brown was lined up one-on-one with Adam Thielen on the outside. Thielen took off up the field on a sprint, while Brown calmly turned to the outside and ran with the receiver stride for stride. Thielen was never able to get away from Brown as they began to hand fight down the field. Brown felt Thielen reach his right hand out for the ball and snapped his eyes up to locate it. Thielen laid out -- as did Brown, who then was able to swat the pass away with his right hand to prevent the reception of the long attempt.
  • It was a nice job by the Dallas linebackers of not allowing the crossing routes to hurt them underneath. The previous two weeks we had seen both the Ravens and Redskins run those, trying to hit plays on the move for first downs. Damien Wilson was going to have none of that when Stefon Diggs tried a shallow cross on a 3rd-and-6. He popped him with a shoulder, which forced Sam Bradford to have to throw the ball to Matt Asiata in the flat, where Sean Lee ate him up for a loss of three yards, forcing the Vikings to punt.
  • Maliek Collins continues to do nice things inside for this defense. His sack of Shaun Hill was all about technique and effort on his part. Collins was able to set up Brandon Fusco with a hard move to his left, which made Fusco overextend and come off balance. Once Fusco's head went down, that's all that Collins needed to spin to the inside. The coverage down the field made Hill pull the ball down, and before he had a chance to get to his next read, Collins was right there to wrap him up for the sack, getting the defense off the field right before half.
  • Chris Jones was a weapon all night for the Cowboys on special teams. The distance and height of his punt to Adam Thielen is what allowed Vince Mayle and Kyle Wilber the necessary time to get down the field, get into position and force the turnover. Mayle managed to outwork both Trae Waynes and Jayron Kearse in order to wrap up Thielen as he tried to escape to his left. Only Mayle and Leon McFadden beat Wilber down the field. While Thielen was going down, Wilber was able to punch the ball out with his right hand then roll over the top him to secure the ball before Thielen had a chance to regain control. Last week it was Damien Wilson with the onside recovery against the Redskins, and Thursday it was Kyle Wilber turning the game completely around for his team.
  • What a jump cut by Ezekiel Elliott behind the block of Travis Frederick on his 30-yard run. Frederick somehow managed to pass Linval Joseph off to Zack Martin, who pinned him inside. Frederick then moved to the second level, coming nose-to-nose with Chad Greenway. The only chance that Greenway had to make the tackle was push Frederick into Elliott -- which he was unable to do. With both feet off the ground, Elliott was able to get past Frederick's right foot to keep his balance. Now in the clear, he picked up blocks from Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar and Terrance Williams down the field before he was finally tackled by Eric Kendricks.
  • It's not often that you can drop DeMarcus Lawrence into coverage and then get a sack from another player -- but that's what Rod Marinelli was able to accomplish in this game. It was a blitz that we had seen earlier in the season with Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson coming off the same side. Marinelli slanted the front to the right, which caused offensive tackle Jeremiah Sirles to commit inside, leaving a gap for Hitchens to run through. Sam Bradford didn't see Hitchens coming due to the play action fake, and he was unable to adjust away from him. Cedric Thornton was also there to help clean up in case Bradford got away. I mentioned Lawrence in coverage. He was able to carry Kyle Rudolph 15 yards down the field and wasn't in bad shape position-wise.
  • I liked the idea from Scott Linehan of trying the pop the screen pass to Ezekiel Elliott late with the Cowboys trying to kill the game. The Vikings had eight men in the box and were expecting a run. Linehan sent Lance Dunbar into the game with Elliott. Both Dunbar and Witten flowed hard to their left while Elliott sneaked out to the right. Ron Leary and Travis Frederick were working that way as well, but they didn't secure Linval Joseph -- who tried to chase Dak Prescott out of the pocket. Shamar Stephen grabbed Elliott before he had a chance to get outside, killing the play. Prescott did the smart thing and took off running down the sideline. He got a block from Frederick on Harrison Smith and began his slide one yard from the marker, all while staying in bounds. It's a shame they couldn't have hit the screen because it had a chance to put the game out of reach.
  • Speaking of smart things – how about Dez Bryant allowing the onside kick to go over his head to let Jason Witten field it? Bryant could have tried to jump, but then he would have risked deflecting the ball up in the air and allowing the Vikings a chance of a recovery. By letting Witten have it – there was a clean catch. Give some credit as well to Jeff Heath, Damien Wilson, Gavin Escobar and Andrew Gachkar for their blocks that kept the Vikings away from the football.           

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