FRISCO, Texas – Like we always say, tape review isn't fun after a game like that – but it's necessary.
This was an ugly performance, and the replay bears that out. And whereas the Cowboys' miscues this season have mostly been limited to offense, there were some problems Monday night in all three phases of the game.
Here's what I took from my re-watch on Tuesday:
· I didn't like the call of the fade to Amari Cooper on that opening offensive drive to start the game. That's a tough throw for a player that Dak Prescott hasn't had much time to work with. Cooper was getting a bail technique from Malcolm Butler turned to the inside. I would have liked to see them throw the back shoulder fade or the out route there to get the first down to keep the drive going. I thought Butler was in poor position to defend either one. Prescott's throw should have been more to the back corner of the end zone instead of wide to the sideline, which gave Cooper no chance. Give him a chance to run under the ball or high-point it over Butler.
· The Cowboys defensively had no answer for the Titans' screen game. The secondary did a poor job of getting off blocks and rallying to the ball. Dion Lewis hurt them with a couple of big ones, but the little-used Cameron Batson on 3rd-and-long was a killer. It wasn't like there were offensive linemen out in front. It was receivers Corey Davis and Tajae Sharpe as the lead blockers. Really poor job of defending those calls.
· Speaking of screen passes, creative design of once again using Jourdan Lewis on offense to draw attention away from Ezekiel Elliott sneaking into the flat. The fake of the jet sweep to Lewis held the Titans' linebackers in place, which allowed the Cowboys to get blockers out in front of the play to get Elliott down the sideline and almost into the end zone.
· Xavier Woods has become a 50/50 player when it comes to making a tackle. His angle on the Dion Lewis 37-yard screen was poor, and as a result he wasn't close to making the tackle. The path he took in order to get to Marcus Mariota on his touchdown run up the middle late in the fourth quarter was even worse. Instead of taking Mariota on head up, he went too far to the inside, which allowed Mariota to run right by him into the end zone -- basically untouched -- for the score. It's hard to play good defense when you have a safety that struggles as a tackler and that has been the case for Xavier Woods at times during the year. He just hasn't been consistent enough overall.
· I've been screaming to get Michael Gallup more opportunities in these games, but for every nice snatch catch, there have been some drops. I thought that Dak Prescott put the ball in a great spot for Gallup to catch on a waggle where Gallup ran hard across the field with a little separation on Ryan Logan -- but he just couldn't come up with the ball as it bounced off his hands. It was as if he struggled to get his hands in place as he extended in order to try and pull it in. The kid is super talented, but it's these types of drops that have prevented the offense from sustaining drives.
· I thought the call on Blake Jarwin for offensive pass interference was poor until I studied the tape. Jarwin did exactly what needed to be done to try and pick Amari Cooper's man on the crossing route. The route was perfect as Cooper broke behind him and Prescott was able to get him the ball on the move. The reason for the call was that Jarwin lowered his head into Kevin Byard, then got his hands on him like he was blocking down the field. If he had avoided Byard or hadn't put his hands on him, he would've gotten away with the play. Instead, he made a young player mistake and cost his team a first down.
· Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard had the perfect call to handle the Titans running the read-option on 3rd-and-short, with the exception of Leighton Vander Esch getting blocked by Jack Conklin to the outside. Both DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford crashed inside while Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch stayed to the outside. With Vander Esch out of the play, it was easy for Mariota to take the ball up inside for the first down and more before Jeff Heath could make the tackle from deep in the middle of the field.
· To execute double moves on the outside by receivers, you sometimes have to have excellent protection and that was the case on the touchdown pass to Allen Hurns. Those plays take time to develop and the Cowboys' offensive line did an outstanding job of handling not only the Titans blitz, but a twist stunt, as well. The protection was so good that Tyron Smith actually blocked both Harold Landry and Rashaan Evans by himself while Prescott got rid of the ball.
· Give Marcus Mariota some credit for hanging in there when the Cowboys came on the blitz, especially on third down. He made some extremely tough, clutch throws when the pocket was breaking down around him. There were several snaps where DeMarcus Lawrence was swiping at him as he climbed forward in the pocket. There was one particular throw to Corey Davis where he slid forward in the pocket with Damien Wilson and Jaylon Smith on the blitz and he was able to avoid Wilson, who got washed out of the way by Ben Jones. If Wilson could have ended up to his right instead of his left, then he would have likely sacked Mariota. Instead, it was a 17-yard gain.
· I need to check this, but there appeared to be only one real mix up on assignments between Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott. The scheme called for the Cowboys to max protect with Rico Gathers and Dalton Schultz along with Ezekiel Elliott. The pocket held up well, but Prescott still double-clutched the ball before he let it go. He threw the ball like he was expecting Cooper to break to the outside instead of inside, which resulted in Prescott being wide of his target.
· I don't believe the quarterback throwback that Scott Linehan called in the final minutes of the game would have worked. Even if Logan Ryan hadn't come on the blitz, both Harold Landry and Wesley Woodyard were in position to make it a contested catch once Cole Beasley threw the ball in Prescott's direction. Woodyard did a nice job of covering some ground to pick up Prescott in coverage once he saw him rolling out of the backfield. Kamalei Correa also closed on Beasley, making sure he couldn't set his feet in order to make an accurate throw. Good heads up play all around from the Titans in coverage.
· The tape didn't show any issues when it came to the operation on the missed field goal by Brett Maher. The snap from L.P. Ladouceur was perfect to Chris Jones, who didn't even have to spin the ball. Laces were away and protection was good, so there was really no reason for Maher to miss the kick other than his own fault. That's now back-to-back kicks that he has missed since being near perfect the majority to the season.