IRVING, Texas – There's always a lot to digest any time you sit down with the tape of a game. As you might attest from watching Sunday's loss to the Seahawks – a loss in which the Cowboys scored no touchdowns – one of the themes of the day was missed opportunities.
The coaching staff broke down the tape Monday morning, and I'm sure they'll have a similar message for their players when they sit down with them.
As for me, these are my biggest impressions from the Cowboys' fifth-straight loss this season.
- No one has more respect for this Seattle defense than me. I told their general manager, John Schneider, that before the game. What was disappointing from an offensive prospective was that there were opportunities to make some key plays, and the Cowboys didn't. I thought Matt Cassel missed Dez Bryant two times early in this game. He had him on an arrow route on the first drive that would have likely resulted in a touchdown. His second miss was on "9" route out of max protection where Bryant had separated from Richard Sherman. Cassel also struggled to find Terrance Williams, who had one of his best games running routes. Williams got open on a slant against off coverage and then a third-down comeback that was well executed. Then, after the Hardy interception, Williams ran a beautiful corner route in the end zone, but Cassel chose to go underneath to McFadden for only a three yard gain. But the play that Cassel would likely like to have back in the game was the final drive, where Cole Beasley went vertical down the right side of the field and was wide open. Beasley would have easily put the ball in field goal range if Cassel had just been able to see him.
- I can't begin to tell you how athletic a play it was for Greg Hardy to intercept that ball. For Hardy to react to Marshawn Lynch going into the flat, playing off a low block and then getting his hand up all in the same motion just tells you what kind of rare, reactionary athlete he is.
- Another big missed opportunity, this time for the Dallas run game. Scott Linehan called a crack toss going to the left with James Hanna and Gavin Escobar blocking down inside. When I saw the play from the press box, I thought McFadden was going to score, but instead the result was a gain of only four yards. It was a beautiful design with the down blocks, but also getting Tyron Smith and La'el Collins out on the edge. Smith was able to kick Kam Chancellor to the outside with Collins trailing behind him. Collins had a full head of steam and was running through the alley looking upfield. Collins didn't see Cary Williams sitting behind Chancellor and went right past him. If he had been able to adjust and make that block, there was nothing but clear sailing up the sideline, as Jason Witten hustled across the field to get that final block on Earl Thomas. Collins might have missed that one adjustment, but his play along with Tyron Smith on that left side was outstanding. Both are working nicely together.
- After the game, I had a question about whether Barry Church should have carried tight end Luke Wilson up the seam on the play that resulted in a Seahawks touchdown. The film showed that was exactly the case and it was a mistake on his part. Just by the positioning of Jeff Heath, I knew there was a mistake. Heath was on the other side of the field. There was no way that he could have been in coverage from where he was. It was Church's job in that particular coverage to carry Wilson.
- On their final drive, the Seahawks were able to convert on three of their four third down attempts. The back breaker for the Cowboys came with 3:01 on the clock, when Russell Wilson was able to get around right end for 10 yards. On the play, Dallas rushed three with Rolando McClain sitting in the middle of the field watching Wilson as a spy. As Wilson pulled the ball down, for some reason McClain was late to react to his movement and that was all Wilson needed to get outside, diving past the sticks. If McClain could have tracked Wilson down, he would have forced the Seahawks to kick the field goal earlier than they did -- which would have given his offense more time on the clock to try and win the game.
- The tape showed that this was by far the best game that DeMarcus Lawrence played this season. He did a nice job of not only playing the read-option well toward his side, but he was able to chase several plays down from the backside, creating some negative plays. It was Lawrence who was able to drive Marshawn Lynch out of bounds late in the game in order to preserve some time on the clock for the offense. He did have one snap where Russell Wilson was able to get past him, but that damage was minimal. Lawrence was also able to generate some pressure on the initial drive for the Seahawks, forcing Wilson to have to hold the ball a little longer than he wanted to and forcing him to make a poor throw into the end zone. Next to Greg Hardy, he was the best defensive lineman the Cowboys had in this game.
- I was very critical of the way Doug Free played in the game, but from studying the tape – my assessment was incorrect. Free did not execute well in that final drive, where Michael Bennett did take advantage of him. Free was able to handle his assignments in the running game -- not only on the front side with the ball behind him, but making those backside cut off blocks as well. Free's positioning in those run blocks was consistent throughout the game, which I initially had questions about. In pass protection he was able to set his feet the majority of the game and when he and Zack Martin had to pass twist stunts – they were right where they needed to be. Thought I needed to make that correction.
- Lucky Whitehead should be applauded for his willingness to stick his nose in the action and be a point-of-attack blocker. Since Dwayne Harris signed with the Giants, this club has been looking for a guy to handle that job. We have seen Terrance Williams and Devin Street play in that role, but without much success. It was unfortunate that Whitehead drew the illegal motion penalty by coming up the field early on the crack toss. The play was blocked perfectly and executed well. Even without his block, McFadden did exactly what he needed to do to get the ball to the outside and up the sidelines. It's a shame that Whitehead had to learn the hard way, because without that call the offense is sitting with a first down inside the Seattle 5-yard line.
- Randy Gregory was double teamed more in this game than Greg Hardy was. It appeared that the Seahawks were locked into what they were going to do protection-wise, regardless of who played at right end for the Cowboys. In the chances that Gregory had – he was coming off the ball better, but he still isn't there with that explosive quickness that we saw in Oxnard and in the preseason games. He just wasn't able to capture that corner with quickness and he was stalemated along the line of scrimmage without using any true pass rush moves. Gregory looked very ordinary, which might be due to that ankle and his conditioning.
- As much as these defensive coaches love Nick Hayden - his play in this game was really up and down. There were snaps where he was able to hold the point, get off a block and then get in on the play. There were others where he was controlled one-on-one and washed out of the play. When he gets turned, he is really no use to this defense, and I have seen this too often. When opponents have had success running the ball inside, that has been the case. The coaches are in a tough spot because there really isn't a suitable backup after Terrell McClain got hurt. They are starting to use David Irving there, but he appears to be better suited to play the three or under-tackle.
- Brice Butler was on the inactive list this week, and it could have been due to the slight problems he has been having with his hamstring. Butler did practice all week and managed to work through any issues that he might have had. I believe this week we will see a competition between Butler and Devin Street to see who gets to dress against the Eagles. Street does play limited special teams while Butler does not, so that could be a factor. But it might mean more to have a player on the field like Butler -- who can stretch the defense with his speed. From the first meeting with the Eagles, we all remember the issues they've had in the secondary and handling those types of receivers that can stretch the field.
- I was glad to see that Seahawks linebacker Bruce Irvin came out and said what he did about Dez Bryant. Nobody wants to see a player laying on the field with doctors huddled around, and that includes Bryant. We all know how much of an emotional player Bryant is but to accuse him of anything other than concern is misguided. I do know that Ricardo Lockette is in great hands here with the staff at Baylor Hospital and I guarantee they will make him as good as new. Some very talented folks looking after him.