Scout's Notebook: Breaking Down The Defense & Grading Dak Prescott

FRISCO, Texas –These noon kick offs sure do make it easy to turn the tape around.

By the time the Cowboys landed back in Dallas on Sunday night, I was already well on my way to breaking down this 30-10 win against the Giants. For a second-straight week, the Cowboys managed a fairly convincing win against a divisional opponent. It wasn't all pretty, as you should know if you watched the first three quarters, but the Cowboys did what they needed to do to keep their season going.

Looking at all aspects of the game film, here's what stood out to me the most about the Cowboys' successes and failures against New York:

  • Give Rod Marinelli some credit for putting Sean Lee in position to trap Sterling Shepard in the backfield for a 9-yard loss. Marinelli called a blitz where he slanted his front to the Giants' strength and brought Lee off the edge to fill as the end man on the line. Bobby Hart had no chance to block Lee, who was already two yards up the field by the time Shepard took the ball from Eli Manning.
  • Great job of Rod Smith beating Kelvin Sheppard off the line on his 81-yard touchdown reception. Smith was able to get so much space due to the Giants doubling Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant on the play. They were not going to let either receiver inside, which opened up the middle of the field for Dak Prescott. The Cowboys bench knew as soon as Smith caught the ball that he was going to score.
  • Datone Jones might have been called for a couple of different penalties in the game, but I was impressed with the way he handled things inside at tackle. Playing as a cocked nose tackle, he totally overpowered Brett Jones, carrying him into the backfield and then bringing down Orleans Darkwa with only his right arm. It was an impressive show of upper body power by the former first-round selection.
  • Tremendous pickup by Rod Smith, coming across the pocket to handle a blitzing Darian Thompson to allow Dak Prescott to get the ball into Cole Beasley's hands for a 54-yard gain. Thompson had a clean run at Prescott, who stood tall in the pocket as Beasley completed his route. If Smith hadn't picked up Thompson, Prescott was going to get a face full of the Giant safety and unlikely have time to complete the pass.
  • Bit of confusion between Sean Lee and Kavon Frazier on who was going to pick up Evan Engram on the Giants 35-yard pass play. Xavier Woods came on a blitz from the slot with Frazier behind him picking up Sterling Shepard. Lee was eyeing Engram as he started up the field, but he stopped as he was waiting for Shepard to cross. Frazier, on the other hand, drove on the route as Engram slipped behind him into open space. The fact that Engram was inline might have had something to do with the mixup. It was a nice open field tackle by Jeff Heath to save a touchdown on the play.
  • It wasn't easy, but Dak Prescott put the ball in a perfect spot for Dez Bryant to snatch it and score. Avery Moss beat Zack Martin inside off the snap and was right on top of Prescott as he released the ball. To Prescott's credit, he never flinched or lost his focus in order to get the ball to Bryant. 
  • Talk about a reactionary athlete. Jourdan Lewis made a heck of a play on third down, having no idea what the defensive call was. Lewis was in coverage on Evan Engram to the outside. As the ball was snapped, he was looking to Byron Jones to get the call. By the time he turned around, Engram was already on top of him. Lewis was forced to sink and -- just as a reaction -- put his left hand into Engram's chest. Eli Manning was looking at Engram the whole time, but he didn't get enough on the pass. Lewis was in such good position that Engram had to try and go through him to get the ball. The officials let them play as the ball hit the turf and the defense got off the field.
  • On the Jason Witten touchdown, Dak Prescott had two options to score with. Prescott threw the ball to Witten, which obviously worked out well -- or he could have hit James Hanna running up the sideline, as well. The routes from the two tight ends put cornerback Brandon Dixon in a bind trying to split the difference. The throw to Witten had a wider window, whereas the one to Hanna would have been a little tougher but manageable.
  • If Jeff Heath hadn't played with his eyes, Eli Manning was going to throw a touchdown to Roger Lewis at the end of that game. Lewis had separation on the play against Jourdan Lewis. Heath did a great job of rotating off the hash to work himself in position to cut in front of Lewis. Manning threw the ball well, but Heath was able to extend and high point it to seal the victory. Great job by Heath reading the play and coming up with the finish.
  • I can't say enough about the block by Geoff Swaim to seal the edge in order to get Rod Smith into the end zone on his 15-yard touchdown run. Swaim knocked down Calvin Munson, who in turn tripped Damon Harrison chasing the play. As bodies were going to the ground, Travis Frederick hooked Olivier Vernon while Tyron Smith and Keith Smith executed kick out blocks to create a lane for Smith to run untouched. It was a well-designed play and a nice call by Scott Linehan for the situation.  
  • It has been a rough go this season for Anthony Brown, but he came up with a nice open field tackle to get the defense off the field on third down. The Giants were facing a long yardage situation and flipped the ball into the flat to Shane Vereen. Initially, I thought he might have a chance to convert. But Brown, playing zone coverage, read the play and was able to drive forward. Using the sideline, Brown made a perfect form tackle get his head across, knocking him out of bounds. It was the type of play that we saw plenty from Brown last season but rarely this year.
  • I still don't know how Dak Prescott escaped Olivier Vernon and got the ball to Alfred Morris for a nice gain. It appeared on the play, that Prescott wanted to throw all the way across the field to Noah Brown, who was open on the play coming from the right to the left. By Prescott sliding forward in the pocket, it put Vernon behind him. If Prescott would have stayed where he was, then I believe Vernon would have had a chance to wrap him up. What was even more amazing about the play was that Prescott was able to transfer the ball from his right hand to his left and back to his right all to throw off the wrong foot for the completion.  
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