FRISCO, Texas – From my seat in our studios at The Star, here are some snap reactions from what was a frustrating night in this loss to the Titans.
· The Titans tried to double Amari Cooper on his touchdown reception, but his route was too good. Malcom Butler had the outside coverage with Kenny Vaccaro on the inside. Cooper sold the route hard to the inside, which forced both Butler and Vaccaro to react to him – then, with both defenders off balance, he returned where he came from. Dak Prescott showed great patience to allow him to get back to the outside and finish the play.
· Marcus Mariota had nowhere to go with the ball on the strip/sack by DeMarcus Lawrence. Every receiver was covered on the play with Xavier Woods sitting in the middle of the field in case someone broke free. Mariota had no chance in the pocket with how quickly Lawrence had beaten Jack Conklin around the edge. If Lawrence didn't knock the ball loose, there was a good chance that Taco Charlton could have been right there for the sack, as well.
· It was initially a nice idea by Scott Linehan to get in "21" personnel and see if he could get the Titans linebackers and safeties to bite on the play action fake to Ezekiel Elliott. Linehan got the movement from the linebackers, but Kevin Byard never reacted until he saw Amari Cooper break across his face. It appeared that Prescott threw the ball to a spot thinking that Byard was going to step up. Logan Ryan could have been called for holding as he grabbed Cooper, but the official let him get away with it.
· Tremendous push by DeMarcus Lawrence on the sack that Tyrone Crawford ended up making. Lawrence once again drove Jack Conklin right into Mariota's lap, which forced him to avoid the middle of the pocket -- where Crawford had destroyed Taylor Lewan and was waiting right there for Mariota to finish him off. Lawrence was once again very close to knocking the ball out of Mariota's hand for a second fumble.
· Nice decision by Dak Prescott to allow the route by Allen Hurns to develop on Malcolm Butler. With Cole Beasley doubled to the inside, it was the best choice that Prescott could have made. It was surprising that Hurns was able to pull off the double move, considering that he's not the most fleet of foot. Butler bit badly on the play and the credit needs to go to Hurns for selling the inside move.
· Great job by Daniel Ross of continuing to work on the twist stunt to make sure that the defense had contain on the play to sack Marcus Mariota. If Ross doesn't keep coming from the left side, there is a great chance that Mariota would have been able to get to the outside and make a throw down the field to convert the third down. Instead, the Titans were forced to punt.
· The Cowboys' coaches knew that the Titans were big on running pick stunts in order to free their blitzers on the pass rush. Jayon Brown crashed directly into Joe Looney's hip in an attempt to free up Jurrell Casey. Brown was able to create a gap, but Casey got tied up with Zack Martin so he didn't get home. Dak Prescott would have survived the play and the fumble created by Brown if Rod Smith didn't go low into the line in order to cut him. If Smith stays on his feet, the front of the pocket would have been clean and Prescott would have had a chance to look for options that were down the field. Instead, Prescott had Brown on his back ripping at the ball.
· Biggest play of the night for the Titans offensively was the screen pass Marcus Mariota threw to Dion Lewis for 37 yards. The play was well-executed by the Titans -- but that's due in large part to very poor reactions and positioning by the Cowboys secondary. Both Anthony Brown and Chidobe Awuzie were trapped to the outside as Lewis worked behind his blockers, and that left Xavier Woods to attempt to fill on the play. But instead of running through the ball, Woods ducked and threw his body at Lewis, who easily avoided him. It reminded me of that play last season against the Chargers where nobody wanted to tackle Keenan Allen.
· Not really sure why Joe Looney left Connor Williams alone on an island to block Austin Johnson by himself. The line was sliding to their right with Looney in the hip pocket of Zack Martin. By Looney's positioning, it created a sizeable crease for Williams to account for in trying to get in front of Johnson. Looney put his left hand up as if to give help, but it did nothing to slow Johnson down. Without that help, Johnson just out muscled Williams for the sack.
· Give Tennessee offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur a ton of credit for the play called on third down and long that was thrown down the middle of the field to Darrius Jennings for 36 yards. LaFleur guessed right that the Cowboys were going to be in a two-deep look, which meant that the middle of the field would open up. At the snap, Jennings took off and Mariota never took his eyes off him. Even with Sean Lee trying to cover ground, Mariota threw the ball just over the top of Lee and between two wide safeties. Jennings did a tremendous job of tracking the ball, knowing that there was a good chance he was going to take a big hit.
· On the sack by Harold Landry, it appeared that La'el Collins was surprised that Ezekiel Elliott was helping him on the chip block. Collins extended his arms as if to punch Landry, but when Elliott hit him instead, it completely threw Collins off balance. And he was unable to recover back to the inside. All his weight was over the tops of his feet and Landry took advantage of the opportunity to slide inside to capture Prescott, who held the ball waiting for Beasley or Cooper to break open.
· I don't know what more Leighton Vander Esch could do in order to tackle Marcus Mariota. As a runner Mariota was trying to slide to the ground, but Vander Esch was already committed in order to make the tackle. Trying to pull up on the play would have been nearly impossible. I don't believe that Vander Esch was head hunting on the play, but these officials have to understand that these defensive players can close ground in a hurry and once they react there are going to be some collisions.