FRISCO, Texas – Game tape is always easier to digest after a win.
That's an obvious statement, but it shouldn't be taken for granted around the Cowboys' facility this week. Sunday's win against Washington was the first of the season and just the fifth in the calendar year.
If you go back to that forgettable 2015 season, this is the first win to put this team at or above .500 since that fateful Week 2 win at Philadelphia, when Tony Romo suffered a broken collarbone.
Anyway – win, lose or draw there are elements of every game that require further examination. The Cowboys improved on a lot from Week 1, but there were plenty of negatives, as well.
Let's get into this week's breakdown:
- When you have a quarterback that can throw the ball going to his left or right with equal ability, there is no reason not to take advantage of that. Scott Linehan is playing to the strengths of Dak Prescott by allowing him to operate on the move and the offense is making those chunk plays as a result of it. On the Cowboys' first touchdown drive, Prescott was able to find Jason Witten for 29 yards, and he followed that up by finding Geoff Swaim for 28 yards. Both of those gains came off the ball handling and athletic ability of Prescott. The pass to Swaim was especially impressive due to Prescott having to deal with pressure in his face from Ryan Kerrigan and Terence Garvin, who were blitzing to the same side Prescott was rolling toward. It was a well-designed play that was executed perfectly considering the situation.
- I thought the defense did a nice job of handling all the pick routes that the Redskins tried to throw at them. The one that especially drew my attention was when Kirk Cousins tried to get the ball to Jordan Reed working against Byron Jones in the fourth quarter. Reed lined up on the right side of the formation with Chris Thompson to his outside. Sean Lee had walked out in coverage over the top of Thompson, and it appeared he had a feeling that something was up by the way he was motioning with his hands. At the snap, Thompson drove hard to the inside and squared to face Jones. Where Jones played this beautifully was that he went flat down the line instead of adjusting up the field. Thompson was never able to affect Jones' path, and he was able to get his right hand on Reed all while maintaining positioning up the field. Cousins tried to fit the ball over the top, but there was just no window for him to drop the ball in. Byron Jones played Jordan Reed well all day.
- Really nice job by Jack Crawford on his sack of Kirk Cousins. Crawford came flying off the ball with such quickness that Jordan Reed doesn't even have a chance to react. As soon as Cousins hit the last step on his drop, Crawford was right there for the finish. After the play, Reed was talking with Morgan Moses like he was expecting some help -- but it never came.
- His awareness of what is going on around him is what makes Travis Frederick one of the better centers in the league. Facing a 3rd-and-9 in the first quarter, Dak Prescott ripped a ball down the middle of the field to Dez Bryant, but none of it would have happened if Frederick -- who was uncovered on the play -- didn't come across the pocket and help with a twist stunt to his right. If he doesn't, there is a good chance that Prescott gets sacked. His block allowed Prescott to step up and be able to hit Bryant for 17 yards and a clutch conversion on third down.
- There were plenty of questions before the season and through training camp about why the coaching staff was starting Terrell McClain over Cedric Thornton at the nose tackle spot. Through two games, McClain has been the best defensive linemen in the rotation and all those concerns are starting to die down. McClain continues to be an effective player when it comes to handling the run -- especially at the point of attack. He is the one lineman that they have who doesn't stay blocked -- and when gets in a position to finish, he is able to come through. It's not that Thornton has played poorly, it's more that McClain has just been that much better and the tape has shown that.
- I liked what I saw from the running game, especially those plays where they were able to get the ball to the edge. One of the better gains of the day was a well-executed "Counter O-G," where Jason Witten and Tyron Smith were able to capture the edge. This allowed La'el Collins and Zack Martin to pull to the outside and wipe out David Bruton and Mason Foster – both of whom tried to show up in support. The next play, they went the other direction with a "Crack Toss." Lucky Whitehead was able to set the edge on Ryan Kerrigan, which allowed Zack Martin and Doug Free to pull in space. Ezekiel Elliott was able to once again get behind the blocks and take the ball downhill. This is a better way to make a defense to have to defend sideline-to-sideline.
- I would not be one bit surprised if Justin Durant starts at Mike linebacker against the Chicago Bears next week. His time on the field against the Redskins was better than that of Anthony Hitchens. The thought has always been that Hitchens is a better Will than he is a Mike, and that is starting to show. I am not going to say Durant was perfect, but it's telling that the coaches put him on the field in crunch time – and he rewarded them by helping to force a turnover on downs. Durant gives them a little more stoutness at the point and instincts in coverage.
- It was a smart thing for Dak Prescott to take the sack on that final drive in order to give the offense a chance to punt. The Redskins came with a nice blitz off the side that Prescott was rolling to, and he had no chance to get rid of the ball. If somehow Ryan Kerrigan and David Bruton decided to go inside and chase the play fake, Prescott would have been able to hit Cole Beasley flying across the field to extend the drive.
- On the touchdown run by Alfred Morris, the Redskins defensively were not ready to play. Pre-snap, Prescott saw that they weren't ready to play and went with a quick count in order to get the offense off the ball. Zack Martin, Doug Free and Gavin Escobar all got their blocks at the point, which allowed Morris to walk into the end zone untouched.
- This was another game where the defense played their dime package, and it resulted in a sack. Last week, Benson Mayowa was able to get home and this week it was Tyrone Crawford off the edge. Crawford lined up at defensive end and was able to beat Morgan Moses up the field and then around the corner. The key on the play was that it took 25 seconds off the clock before the Redskins were able to run another play on their final drive.
- It appears that the confusion on the Josh Doctson 57-yard reception between Byron Jones and Brandon Carr was due to the alignment of the receivers. Jones and Carr should have exchanged assignments, and that wasn't properly executed by them -- which is why Doctson was uncovered the way he was. What was unfortunate for the defense was that Kyle Wilber was just inches away from knocking the ball out of Kirk Cousins hand just before he let it go.
- I would like to see Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant attempt more back shoulder throws in the red zone than those fades we saw on Sunday. They were able to hit on one against the Rams in the preseason, but they have struggled since. For me, this goes back to those training camp practices where Prescott struggled with his touch and accuracy. It will be something that they continue to work on, but I just feel like we would see better results with Prescott throwing the ball more on the line than up high.