Scout's Eye: Re-Evaluating The QB Play & The Defensive Effort Against Eagles

FRISCO, Texas –There's not really a lot that needs to be said after a night like that, so let's just get into the business of dissecting that loss to Philadelphia.

Here are my notes from a re-watch of the game tape:

  • The Cowboys are having some success running the football in "13" personnel with Alfred Morris as the primary ball carrier. I liked the wrinkle this week with both Zack Martin and Travis Frederick as pulling linemen. On Morris' 22-yard run, Geoff Swaim was outstanding sealing the edge, which allowed Martin and Frederick to turn the corner and get blocks on the second level. Morris ran through a couple of arm tackle by Rodney McLeod and Jalen Mills before Brandon Graham caught up to him. This is the second game where this personnel group was able to break Morris on a sizable carry.
  • If you're looking for issues on why the Cowboys at times have trouble defending the run, no need to point the finger at DeMarcus Lawrence. There were several snaps where he took advantage of Lane Johnson's lack of power and used it against him. Johnson made the mistake of trying to catch and steer Lawrence, which was a bad idea. When Lawrence can fire his hands inside, he's a hard man to defeat and Johnson learned that first hand. We're starting to see a more complete player in Lawrence both as a pass rusher and run defender. 
  • The Eagles did a great job of defending the boot/waggle game of the Cowboys. Usually defenders when get sucked inside on the play fake by Prescott -- but not this bunch. The Cowboys gave the Eagles the exact play action look that I described earlier by pulling both Frederick and Martin. This time instead of Vinny Curry chasing the play down the line, Derek Barnett stayed wide and trapped Prescott. The Eagles had the play well defended on the back end, as well. Jason Witten was doubled and Ronald Darby was driving on Brice Butler on the out. Prescott might have hit James Hanna, but it would have had to be quick.
  • It's not often that you see a running back split wide in the formation and make a catch down the field like Kenjon Barner did. As good as the play was, Barner and Carson Wentz had a little help from Anthony Brown in coverage. For some reason, Brown bit on Wentz's pump fake and that little bit of hesitation allowed Barner to get behind him. Xavier Woods tried to cover ground from the hash to help, but he hesitated, as well, and was in no position to offer any type of assistance. It was a big-time throw from Wentz but an even better catch from Barner. 
  • I've been waiting for Ryan Switzer to have an opportunity for a kickoff return. Tremendous double team block by Keith Smith and Geoff Swaim got Switzer to the edge. He then picked two more blocks from Kavon Frazier and Bene Benwikere to form the alley. Switzer did his best to allow Rod Smith to lead him up the sideline, but Malcolm Jenkins was able to hold Smith up enough to put Jake Elliott in position to make the tackle. If Switzer wasn't so near the sideline, he might have been able to do something with Elliott in the open field to score. 
  • It's not often that you see Dak Prescott miss a throw on the move going to his left. Prescott did a nice job of climbing the pocket to his left to set himself up to make the throw. Cole Beasley had worked himself open along the sideline about a yard or two from the sticks. If Prescott had been able to make that connection, Jason Garrett was going to be left with a decision to go for it on fourth down or attempt a field goal with Mike Nugent. Instead, the pass was too high and they were forced to punt.
  • Sometimes the difference in making a sack is just half of a step. David Irving found himself in that exact situation. With the Eagles facing a third and long, Irving threw Jason Kelce aside on his rush and was right on top of Wentz as he let the ball go. If Irving had arrived just a tick earlier, he would have sacked Wentz and got the defense off the field. Instead, Wentz found Alshon Jeffery in the middle of the field for an 18-yard gain and a first down to keep the drive alive. The Eagles would later score a touchdown and regain the lead.  
  • This is terrible to say, but Dak Prescott can't throw the ball behind Terrance Williams and expect it not to get knocked up in the air. As good as Williams has been at times during his career, the one area that he will struggle with is a ball off his body that is contested. This is the worst possible situation to put him in. He just doesn't have the skill to catch it cleanly, especially when the defender hits him while he is attempting to execute the catch. What made the play even more interesting is that it appeared that Prescott had a run/pass option and instead of handing the ball to Rod Smith chose to try and fit it into Williams.
  • The Cowboys needed the ball back to start the fourth quarter down, 23-9. Rod Marinelli made a perfect call on third down, bringing Damien Wilson off the edge to attack Carson Wentz. Wilson initially rushed under control but wasn't able to maintain that control the closer he got to Wentz. Wilson was off balance and Wentz was able to drop his shoulder and duck under him. Alshon Jeffery did a great job of continuing to run across the field, separating from Orlando Scandrick. Wentz made a gutsy throw to the only spot he could for the first down. Marinelli put Wilson in position to make a play – but, like so many of his calls on the night, the execution was poor.
  • It's never a bad idea to get the ball in Dez Bryant's hands on a screen in the red zone, especially when he is matched up one-on-one. But Scott Linehan had a different idea when he lined up Cole Beasley in the backfield and sent him into the flat. If Prescott had flipped him the ball, they're likely to score on the play. The design had Jason Witten and Brice Butler running inside routes with Beasley going the opposite direction. He had a step on Rodney McLeod thanks to him having to avoid Witten and his route. It was a designed play that we've seen Ezekiel Elliott run on third down successfully to take advantage of man coverage.
  • Poor job by an unblocked Orlando Scandrick and his teammates not trying to tackle Corey Clement on the Eagles' first two-point play. Scandrick had the best shot to tackle him at the four, but for some unknown reason pulled up on the play. Anthony Hitchens took a terrible angle inside while Byron Jones and Anthony Brown let their men block them out of the play. Just a bad effort all around to try and keep it just a five-point game.
  • One of my favorite Scott Linehan plays is the fake toss sweep and boot leg. It's a call that he used against the New York Giants last season for a touchdown to Terrance Williams. This week, Linehan broke the play out again, but this time he brought Noah Brown in motion to the inside like he was going to run the crack toss on the edge. Instead of blocking, Brown continued across the formation and into the flat with no one covering him. Prescott was able to flip the ball over the top of Brandon Graham for a nice gain. The play works well when you have success running the ball -- especially when the defense is trying to defend the run.
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