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Scout's Notebook: Breaking Down The Line Play; Wins For The Pass Rush

FRISCO, Texas – This was a fun one to re-watch.

The main thing we’re going to remember from this Cowboys-Redskins matchup is the constant rain and the challenging conditions, but it makes for some interesting viewing.

Jason Garrett loves to talk about handling adversity, and this entire game was an example of that for the Cowboys. Many of the things you plan for all week go out the window when you wind up playing in a downpour like this, and it was fascinating to see how the entire Cowboys team responded to those situations.

Here are my biggest takeaways from reviewing Week 8, before we get into our preparations for this big home game against the Kansas City Chiefs.

  • One of the most difficult plays for the defensive back to make is when he has to carry a route across the field. They generally have to deal with trash in their path, which makes it difficult to stay with the receiver. Veteran players like Orlando Scandrick understand this, and when they have to carry a receiver across, they stay as tight to their man and sprint across the formation with them. Along the way they take a quick glance back to the inside to see if the quarterback is delivering the ball, which is exactly what Scandrick did on the Redskins’ first drive of the game. With Ryan Grant running parallel to the sticks, Scandrick was able to maintain his positioning and just as Grant reached back for the ball, he threw his right arm around him and drove him to the ground. It was textbook coverage and tackling to hold him from the first down, thus forcing the Redskins to settle for a field goal. Early in the game, that was likely a four-point play for the Cowboys defensively.
  • On Sunday night I wrote about the trap block by Jason Witten on Ezekiel Elliott’s 13-yard touchdown run. In studying the play, as good as Witten’s block was to get Elliott into the end zone, the block by Jonathan Cooper was even better. Cooper had Terrell McClain square along the line of scrimmage, and as soon McClain tried to reach for Elliott to his right, Cooper took him and slammed him to the turf. With D.J. Swearinger filling on the opposite side, there was no safety in position to make the tackle once Elliott worked into the secondary level. 
  • This is now two weeks in a row where an opposing receiver was running wide open in the end zone and the defensive line came up with a sack. Orlando Scandrick lost Jamison Crowder and Kirk Cousins never saw him due to the pressure from Taco Charlton and Maliek Collins. As Cousins broke from the pocket to his right, he momentarily took his eyes from down the field to look at the charging David Irving. Cousins tried to avoid Irving, but his reach was too much. Irving was able to grab Cousins with his right hand and wrap him up and get him to the ground for the sack. The next play, the Redskins had their field goal blocked, and the Cowboys turned that into points.
  • What an effort by Tyrone Crawford to block that Redskins field goal attempt in order to turn the game in favor of his team. There were two things interesting about that play. Crawford nearly blocked the Redskins’ first field goal attempt with a similar rush, going between Matt Ioanndis and T.J. Clemmings. Crawford was able to adjust the angle of his rush and the way he went up to go get the ball resulted in the block. Give the unit credit, as well, for switching their wall from the right side to the left once Orlando Scandrick reversed his field. There were a lot of big bodies hustling to get out front to get Scandrick down the sideline.
  • I still can’t believe Tyron Smith was called for holding on the Ezekiel Elliott 26-yard touchdown run. Smith had both of his hands inside on Terrell McClain and was pushing him backward as Elliott was hitting the hole. If you look across the board, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin have their hands in the exact same position as Smith. In the NFL, this is a common way to block, whether it’s run or pass. If Smith’s hands were outside the framework of McClain’s body, I could understand the call -- but that wasn’t the case at all. That would have been a tough pill to swallow if that call was made and it affected the outcome of the game.
  • As crazy as you might have thought things were for Ryan Switzer on special teams, he did play well filling in for Cole Beasley. You have to like the confidence that Dak Prescott showed in him throwing the ball his direction on third down needing six yards. With the empty formation, Prescott could have looked at Witten, Elliott or Terrance Williams, but he chose the rookie. Right off the snap, Switzer was able to defeat Kendall Fuller to the outside and secure the ball, falling down a yard beyond the marker. It was a great throw from Prescott, in a clean pocket to keep the chains moving.
  • Great communication between Travis Frederick, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott to pick up that key fourth down on their own side of the 50. Frederick took a look at the front and signaled to Prescott -- who in turn relayed that to Elliott. Frederick, along with Jonathan Cooper, was able to blast a hole big enough between them that allowed Elliott to pick up the first down easily. Frederick knew where the ball needed to be run to get the first and Elliott was able to hit that spot.
  • Even though Jason Witten was flagged on the play, I loved the call to Dez Bryant on the third down screen. You put the ball the ball in Bryant’s hands with a head of steam and one man to beat in the secondary, I am taking this shot every time. In studying the play, I don’t believe that Bryant needed Witten’s block, because he was up the field before the defense had a chance to react. Instead of staying along the sideline, Bryant did the smart thing and cut the ball back to the inside. He could feel that D.J. Swearinger was going to overrun the play, coming from the inside by the angle he was taking. It was a well-executed play with the exception of the penalty.
  • On Tress Way’s 63-yard punt for Washington, it was a nice job by Kavon Frazier and Bené Benwikere of pinning Joshua Holsey along the sideline and not allowing him back on the field of play for a good 25 yards. With Holsey out of the action, the officials were able to identify him for illegal touching of the bal,l which wiped out a huge play. If Holsey doesn’t touch that ball and Fabien Moreau does, it the Cowboys’ ball on their own 12-yard line. Instead, Jason Garrett made the Redskins punt again, and with pressure from Noah Brown, Damien Wilson and Kyle Wilber, the ball only traveled 46 yards. Ryan Switzer managed to field this one better and brought it back to the 43-yard line. It was a huge mistake by Holsey that cost the Redskins massive field position.
  • I have to say that I was a little disappointed in the way Anthony Brown played that fourth down pass late, which gave the Redskins a first down. There was some hand fighting between he and Josh Doctson down the entire sideline, but Brown never turned back for the ball until it was too late. If Brown was in better position and got his head around quicker, I don’t see the official making that call. The official was right there and it appeared that initially he wanted to call the pass incomplete, but when Doctson went to the ground, he had no choice. I have felt like it’s been a rough year for Brown, who played so well in his rookie season.
  • How bad was it for the Redskins on their final drive of the game? Neither guard that was in the game at the time of Byron Jones’ interception was on their flip card that we use in the press box. On the play, David Irving was able to split the double-team of Tony Bergstrom and Morgan Moses to get right on top of Kirk Cousins to knock the ball in the air. Initially, it appeared that Irving wanted to work the twist stunt with DeMarcus Lawrence, but he had penetrated so far up the field that he made the decision to go ahead and attack Cousins -- which resulted in the pick-six for Jones.
  • I had never noticed this, but I need to ask Chris Jones why he taps the spot on the ground with his left finger after the ball leaves the kicker’s foot? Despite my curiosity, Jones and L.P. Ladouceur were outstanding in their field goal operations on a very difficult day. The more it rained, the better they were. Ladouceur rarely gave Jones a difficult ball to handle and that allowed him to easily put it in a position where Mike Nugent could knock it home.    

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