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Scout's Notebook: A Closer Look At The Cowboys' Tone-Setting Plays in Seattle

23 May 2018:     Views
of the Dallas Cowboys during OTA day 2 practice at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas.   Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys
23 May 2018: Views of the Dallas Cowboys during OTA day 2 practice at Ford Center at The Star in Frisco, Texas. Photo by James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys

IRVING, Texas – So much praise has been heaped upon this Cowboys defense for their outstanding effort Sunday in Seattle. I wanted to go back to the film and take a look at a few of the big plays that helped the Cowboys set the tone.

From the very beginning of the game, the Cowboys gave every indication that they were going to make things difficult for Russell Wilson and the Seattle offense.

That, and more notes:

  • There were two games I used as models in my preparation when it came to defeating the Seahawks. I studied their last home loss, to the Cardinals in 2013, and their loss earlier in the season against the Chargers.

Against the Chargers I thought the difference in the game was their ability to keep the ball away from the Seahawks with some timely running and third down conversions. The Cowboys were 10-of-17 on third down, which was the exact number the Chargers were. The Cowboys ran 70 plays to the Seahawks' 48, while the Chargers ran five more plays and limited the Seahawks to eight fewer.

Both the Cowboys and Chargers also held a significant time of possession advantage, as well. The Cowboys were able to take that same blueprint of the Chargers victory and execute it to perfection.

  • I thought the Cowboys defense set the tone very early in the game with the Barry Church breakup of the pass to Doug Baldwin on the goal line. If Baldwin catches that ball, Russell Wilson gets off to a good early start with a confidence-builder on the opening drive, because the pass was right on the money.

There have been times where Church has struggled in coverage when he has had to play in space, but in this particular route his technique was perfect. His timing was outstanding and his physicality when he arrived at the ball was exactly what he needed to make the play.

  • In the first half of this game, Rod Marinelli, Jerome Henderson and Joe Baker decided that playing Seattle in zone coverage was the route they needed to go in order to best handle their passing attack.

Zone coverage really isn't the strength of these corners and safeties, but as a collective group they couldn't have played it any better. There were several snaps where I observed outstanding coordination between not just the corners and safeties, but the linebackers, as well.

When these Seahawks receivers and backs were in their routes, you could see the secondary pass guys off to the next player, which was able to limit their space. Russell Wilson had to hold the ball several times due to how well the Cowboys were playing in the back end.

In the second half they flipped and went to man coverage -- which is right in the wheelhouse of this secondary -- and they responded equally as well.


  • It's never easy to face the Seahawks pass rush, whether that's on the road or at home. They do a really nice job of getting pressure with their four-man line without bringing extra rushers on the blitz.

On the 47-yard strike to Terrance Williams in the third quarter, Scott Linehan decided to take a shot there -- but he did it with the thought of trying to give his quarterback a chance to get the ball off. Linehan went with max protection, keeping both Jason Witten and James Hanna in to handle the Seahawks' four-man rush.

It was a two-man route with Williams and Dez Bryant in the game. What really made the play work was Tony Romo's ability to really sell the play action fake to Joseph Randle, who also did a nice job of selling it, as well. Romo was also able to hold Earl Thomas in the middle of the field with his eyes, which allowed Williams to work one-on-one against Marcus Burley.

By the time Romo back went to Williams on the outside, Thomas was just reacting from the hash and had no chance to help. The Seahawks' rush never got off the ball and Williams was able to make a nice adjustment on the ball that put them in position for a Dan Bailey 56-yard field goal.  

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