FRISCO, Texas – From my vantage point in our studios at The Star, here are my initial thoughts following that 20-17 loss to Washington.
As always, I'll have more when I've had a chance to study the tape, but here's my first impression:
· I had a feeling the Cowboys were going to hit a deep ball on a double-move. It's been a problem Washington has had all year. Their corners are big reaction guys and one of their safeties is always down in the box working to handle the run, so there is space on the outside. Michael Gallup was outstanding executing the route and Dak Prescott put the ball right where he needed to.
· Preston Smith is one of the more underrated defensive players in the league. I was worried about Tyron Smith in this game just from what I had seen from Preston Smith this year. For a tall, long rusher he does a great job of breaking the blocker down and that was the case with the early holding penalty on Tyron Smith during Dak Prescott's scramble. Generally, when Tyron Smith can take his guy wide, he has the ability to recover. Preston Smith held the point of attack and didn't allow Tyron Smith to move him up the field, which wiped out a 22-yard gain.
· I liked the decision by Jason Garrett to go for it on fourth down early in this game. Dak Prescott had the necessary yardage driving between Joe Looney and Zack Martin. It appeared that Prescott had a good handle on the ball, but the hit by D.J. Swearinger was textbook in the execution. Any time a defender can get a shoulder pad on the ball, there is a pretty good chance it will be knocked loose -- and in this case it was. Give Swearinger credit for the play to create the turnover.
· The Redskins didn't have many third down conversions on offense. One of the ones they did have, which bothered me, was the pass to Michael Floyd before the end of the half. I felt like Chidobe Awuzie was playing way too cautious for that situation. The Redskins were in long yardage and for Awuzie to give Floyd the free access to run the route inside and make the play without driving on him was disappointing. Awuzie should have made that a contested ball, but he wasn't even close. The Cowboys defensively managed to hold, but I felt like they missed an opportunity to get off the field right there.
· I wasn't really sure how the Cowboys would play Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis in this game. It appeared that it was a combination of cornerbacks and safeties. Reed did make a third down reception against C.J. Goodwin, spinning him around pretty good while losing him along the way. This led me to wonder: with the health problems the Redskins were having at receiver, why not put a better cover man on Reed in those situations? He is the one guy that would scare me the most when it came to converting those third downs against my defense. Reed got the ball near the goal line, but the Cowboys managed to hold the Redskins to a field goal to open the second half.
· We saw some better snaps from Allen Hurns in this game, but his drop on third and long was huge. The drive started off with a sack by Ryan Kerrigan over La'el Colins, so the offense was already behind the chains. A short gain by Geoff Swaim left them needing a big play -- and it initially appeared that they were going to get it. Prescott climbed the front of the pocket and threw what I believed was a catchable ball. But for some reason, Hurns lost concentration and the play resulted in an incompletion. Everything about the play was well-executed until the moment that Hurns had to finish the play. The Cowboys were forced to punt and the Redskins drove down and kick a field goal to extend their lead.
· Good job by the coaches sneaking Jourdan Lewis into the game for a chance at a jet sweep. They got him in there after the 33-yard pass to Allen Hurns to try and set something else up. Lewis has some skills with the ball in his hands and once he turned the corner, he had a little juice. With Tavon Austin out for several games, Lewis just might be the guy they could turn to. I've seen this guy make some incredible catches in college, as well, so throwing him the ball could be an option.
· Really nice bounce-back play by Sean Lee to tackle Kapri Bibbs in the backfield on the third and short play. Bibbs hit on a play earlier in the drive where Washington caught the Cowboys in a blitz and Lee had to chase Bibbs through the trash in man coverage. The Redskins had run the read-option earlier in the game for some success, but this time Lee recognized the formation and was able to scrape from his linebacker position to tackle Bibbs for no gain. It was the type of instinctive play that we've seen from Sean Lee time and time again.
· The film is probably going to show that Connor Williams didn't play poorly overall -- but his holding call wiped out a huge play by Dak Prescott to Cole Beasley. Williams has to learn that, when going to the ground with a rusher, he has to try and pull his hands off the block. This wasn't a hard call for the officials to make, but if he would have just ridden his man to the ground instead of hanging on he would have likely gotten away with one. I believe this is something he will learn from in the future.
· I didn't get a clean look at the replay of the Ryan Kerrigan sack/fumble, but it appeared just from a flash that Prescott had Michel Gallup open down the left sideline. I will get a chance to check out the film on Monday, but this just might be a case where Prescott's eye level came down on the rush and he lost track of what was going on down the field. Again, it was just a flash that I noticed on the play.
· Hearing from some folks around the league that Jay Gruden had warned the officials before the game that L.P. Ladouceur likes to adjust the ball by picking it up to adjust it in his hand. This is something that I've always noticed about him, but it's no different from the other long snappers in the league or offensive centers from that matter. I believe that if Da'Ron Payne doesn't jump offsides, that call probably isn't even made. It took him doing that to draw the attention of the officials.
· As much as I appreciated Jason Garrett going for a fourth down earlier in the game, I was disappointed by the clock management in the final minute. I was watching from our studio, pleading for him to go for the win. Fabian Moreau, the nickel corner for the Redskins, got knocked out of the game. At that point the Redskins had no one to cover Cole Beasley because they weren't going to move Josh Norman. The protection was holding up and Beasley was feeling it. Besides that, Prescott had done a nice job of holding on to his one timeout, so that wasn't going to be an issue. What I didn't understand is, how do you just run two offensive snaps in the final minute of that game? The Cowboys had the Redskins on their heels and momentum was clearly in their favor. Even if you don't like my idea of going for the win, why not give your kicker a better shot for a field goal by getting closer? If you're closer and you suffer that penalty, it's still potentially a makeable kick.