Scout's Eye: What Went Wrong On Defense?


FRISCO, Texas – Having a day to reflect on the game won't make it any easier, but it's still worthwhile to re-examine it.

Saturday's loss to the Rams was such an uncharacteristic showing for this Cowboys team, for a variety of reasons. The offense stalled, and the defense wasn't its typical stout self. It's not going to help them now, but there's still plenty to be learned from the tape.

That's how I spent my morning, revisiting the tape of this 30-22 loss in Los Angeles. For the last time until August, here's a look at what I saw:

·             What a tremendous job by Amari Cooper taking advantage of Lamarcus Joyner in coverage. The Rams were in a single-high look with John Johnson playing extremely deep. Just by that look, Dak Prescott knew where he wanted to go with the ball. The way Johnson lined up created so much space underneath, it made perfect sense. It helped that Johnson overplayed the route just as Cooper received the ball going the opposite direction. Give another helmet sticker to Ezekiel Elliott, as, well for cutting down a blitzing Mark Barron in the hole.

·             The longest pass of the night for Jared Goff only went for 21 yards, but it was executed against one of the Cowboys' better pass rush schemes. When the Cowboys can put Tyrone Crawford and DeMarcus Lawrence on the same side of the field and use Maliek Collins as part of the game, they generally find a way to get pressure on the quarterback. In this case, the Rams used four blockers against three and left Andrew Whitworth to handle Randy Gregory by himself. It was masterful how they passed the stunts, giving Goff all the time he needed to find Brandin Cooks behind Anthony Brown for the first down.

·             Give Ndamukong Suh credit. He played one of the better games that I have seen this season. If not for him, Dak Prescott would have been able to hit a wide open Michael Gallup coming across the field for a gain that would have likely resulted in a first down. Suh was in a battle with Zack Martin as Prescott tried to slide to his right, but Suh was able to overpower Martin and disengage from his block. Suh was able to get his hands on Prescott's waist keeping him from getting any momentum on his throw to Gallup.

·             Just what I thought from last night, the Rams were chip blocking with receivers on DeMarcus Lawrence instead of using a running back. What was creative about the scheme was that they were able to bring the blocker across the formation to help instead of just lining him up on Lawrence's outside. It made Lawrence have to fight blocks at different angles, not really understanding where he was going to get hit next. Robert Woods got him one time while helping Tyler Higbee, which allowed Jared Goff just that extra split second to find Brandin Cooks downfield.   

·             I initially thought it was just a really bad miss by Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper across the field, but it appeared that Cooper got his hands up late and the ball went right between them. The ball was there -- Cooper just couldn't make the play. They got exactly what they wanted with Mark Barron in coverage and separation. It was an exceptional clear out by Michael Gallup to open the field. If somehow Cooper had managed to catch that ball, they would have been deep in Rams territory with a fresh set of downs. 

·             As well as the defensive tackles played in the victory against the Seahawks last week, it was quite the opposite against the Rams. They didn't play on the Rams' side of the line of scrimmage in this game. Antwaun Woods, Maliek Collins and Caraun Reid were a big non-factor in this matchup. There were several snaps where they were engulfed by blockers. Woods didn't win at the point of attack with his power. Reid was either on the ground or driven back into the depth of the linebackers, while Collins was stuck along the line of scrimmage.

·             I re-watched the play where referee John Parry called Dak Prescott down in the grasp of Dante Fowler. I now believe that if Parry would have had allowed the play to continue, that Prescott would have been sacked by Aaron Donald. It was great discipline by Donald not to hit Prescott after the whistle had blown. I also believe that the play had no chance of succeeding. The design was to run to the sticks and then curl back to Prescott. Other than Ezekiel Elliott in the flat, there was no one close to being open. It would have been a tight window throw to Blake Jarwin and that was really it. The design needed to be quick just to make sure they had the attempt at the field goal -- but it was far from that.

·             I didn't feel like this was one of Xavier Woods' better games. He had been so aggressive these past several weeks, patrolling the middle of the field with his big hits, but we saw none of that against the Rams. It was as if the field conditions were affecting the way he was playing, because he never showed that burst and anticipation we've come to see from him. He was just plain slow reacting and there were a couple of snaps where he knew he was just that.

·             Just a horrible sequence of plays coming out of the half for the offense. First, Zack Martin lost Aaron Donald for a small gain. Then, a bunch formation made a "hot" route too cluttered for Dak Prescott to execute, so he had to fire an off-balanced pass to Ezekiel Elliott in the flat. On third down, Scott Linehan was expecting man coverage, but he got zone instead. Elliott was forced to sit down in his zone, but lost his footing resulting in an incomplete pass. Prescott had Cole Beasley open down the field and had the time to make the throw, but he decided to stick with the play and attempt to hit Elliott instead.

·             When this defense is playing well against the run, they're generally square across the front and the linebackers are filling to the ball. In this game, there were far too many snaps where the front had their shoulders to the sideline and the linebackers were getting bounced working to the ball. There were several snaps where there were just some really poor fits overall. It didn't help matters either that, when they tried to have that defensive back show up as a linebacker in the scheme, there were missed tackles in the hole. The Rams did a great job of playing on their feet, but more importantly they accounted for every defender in that front seven.

·             As crazy as this might sound, Jason Garrett did the right thing in kicking the ball deep and hoping for a stop. I understand those of you that say they hadn't stopped the Rams all night, but he did get the Rams to a third down and long. If they get a stop there, Garrett is going to get his offense the ball back with plenty of time on the clock and a timeout to work with. I will take my chances that, if somehow you could get the ball into Tavon Austin's hands one more time, than try and recover an onside kick. I initially thought Jeff Heath might have lost the ball, but he was in man coverage on Gerald Everett, who was blocking Tyrone Crawford on the play. Heath could have gambled and just dropped the assignment and gone after Goff but he didn't. The bigger problem was that they couldn't get anyone in the flat quick enough to keep Goff from converting.

·             If this was Sean Lee's last game in a Cowboys uniform, it was an honor to have covered him all these years. There was nobody on this squad that I enjoyed talking with more than Lee. He was reflective, thoughtful and honest. I can't begin to tell you how many of my stupid scheme questions he answered over the years. To his credit, he never tried to blow me off when he had every right to do so. I'll always be grateful of him helping me celebrate my 50th birthday with a cake and that afternoon we solved the problem of paying college players. I hope this wasn't his final game here, but in listening to him talk after the game, those instincts that he showed over the years sounded as if they were kicking in.

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