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Scout’s Eye: Where Were The Passing Breakdowns?

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FRISCO, Texas – Watching the film is always going to change some of your preconceptions from a game.

That’s not to say this game was much better than you remember. But it’s important to go back and look at the pivotal moments to see why things shook out the way they did. It’s exactly what I did this morning, and I came away with some better ideas about this team’s offensive issues. 

On top of that, there was plenty to like and learn from this Dallas defense. So let’s settle in with this week’s tape and see what we can see.

·             It was amazing how many times DeAndre Hopkins was allowed to push off from coverage while running his routes. I give him credit. If the officials are not going to call it, then he should continue to do it. On the Texans’ final drive in overtime, Hopkins clearly shoved Anthony Brown at the top of the route to buy space. The mistake Brown made was that, instead of staying on Hopkins’ hip, he tried to undercut the route and the ball went over the top of him. That gave Hopkins a good two yards of separation up the field. I will also say this: if Deshaun Watson doesn’t spin away from DeMarcus Lawrence, that ball is getting knocked out of his hands.

·             Opening series of the game, down in the red zone. Scott Linehan tried to get Ezekiel Elliott one-on-one to the outside with an empty formation. Against the Lions it worked because a linebacker walked with him in coverage. The Texans played it differently, keeping cornerback Johnathan Joseph over him. Elliott’s double-move off the line wasn’t nearly clean enough and Prescott was forced to go to Michael Gallup underneath instead for a smaller gain.

·             Even after watching the play again on tape, I still don’t know what Xavier Woods could have done differently to knock the ball away from Keke Coutee. The receiver was falling backward toward the ground when Woods arrived. If Coutee had stayed on his feet, then Woods was going to hit him in the chest. The fact that he was falling gave Woods absolutely no shot at hitting him in any other spot to knock the ball loose.

·             There’s no question that Dak Prescott could have hit Cole Beasley for a first down on the opening drive, but the play call was a red zone screen to Ezekiel Elliott. The design had the right idea with Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup running inside as moving picks. The problem with the execution was that Hurns never got in the way of Benardrick McKinney, who never stopped running toward Elliott. If Hurns had been run over or made McKinney hesitate for a second, Elliott would have gotten around the corner for a first down. Instead, McKinney made the tackle and the Cowboys were forced to kick a field goal.

·             Say what you want about Jeff Heath as a player, but in the red zone his instincts and ability to finish are outstanding. Heath had several tackles, but his one to stop DeAndre Hopkins on the goal line might have been his best. Deshaun Watson read the slot blitz by Anthony Brown and was throwing a hot route to DeAndre Hopkins. The ball was a little behind Hopkins, but Heath took a great angle and arrived at just the perfect time to deliver a blow in order to keep him out of the end zone and keep the Texans off the scoreboard.  

·             Tremendous play fake by Dak Prescott to draw Tyrann Mathieu into him to allow Rico Gathers the necessary space to get open. Gathers didn’t really do a good enough job acting like he was going to block, but Mathieu was so aggressive coming forward that it was all Prescott needed to put the ball over the top to Gathers for the long reception.

·             I usually don’t give Xavier Woods credit for playing with his eyes, but that was the case defending Ryan Griffin on the “Y” delay the Texans tried to pull. Woods played his technique perfectly by staying at home and not chasing the play as Griffin tried to work across the field. Watson had nowhere to go with the ball and was lucky that his tipped pass by Jaylon Smith wasn’t intercepted.

·             The ball from Dak Prescott to Tavon Austin on the interception was high, but it might have had something to do with Austin’s route that caused that. Austin was trying to execute a double-move, but Kareem Jackson was not buying it. He gave Austin plenty of room to operate. It appeared that Prescott was throwing the ball ahead of Austin – but, as he came inside on the break, Austin was not running at full speed. Once he saw the ball, it was only then that he burst to try and cover the ground. His body position and lack of extension caused the ball to be tipped in the air.

·             It was just a matter of time before DeMarcus Lawrence and Jaylon Smith were able to get home on a rush in this game. Lawrence and Smith blasted Watson and it affected the way the ball came out of his hand, helping Xavier Woods to nab the interception.

·             If your quarterback is going to hang in there and take a wicked shot to the chest by a rusher, as a receiver, you had been find a way to come down with the ball. Tavon Austin had an opportunity to make the Texans pay with a clutch reception from Dak Prescott, but he couldn’t come down with the ball. I don’t believe that Prescott could have put the ball in a better spot and it was up to Austin to finish the play -- but he couldn’t. There is no excuse here. Austin has to pull that ball down and tuck it away, especially with the punishment that Prescott took to get it to him.

·             I didn’t see this the first time around, but on the snap where Dak Prescott avoided J.J. Watt and found Tavon Austin on that miracle pass, Prescott switched the ball from his right hand to his left hand and back to his right hand to avoid the rush of Brandon Dunn. All this to keep Dunn from swatting at the ball. Austin did a great job of coming all the way back across the field in order to present himself to Prescott for the reception.

·             Some days you have to tip your cap to All-Pro players. J.J. Watt’s sack of Dak Prescott saved the game for the Texans. Scott Linehan set up a play with Tavon Austin running ghost motion while Blake Jarwin delayed for a tick or two like he was blocking before heading up the field. The play was designed to hit Jarwin -- who was wide open. Had Watt not been able to get through Joe Looney and Zack Martin, Jarwin would have likely taken the ball inside the Texans’ red zone.

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