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Scout's Notebook: Defense's Game Plan, Witten's Hidden Plays; More

FRISCO, Texas – What a performance.

Any time you grab a win against one of the NFL's best teams, it's a good bet you played a solid ball game. But for the Cowboys to come away with such a dominant performance – offensively and defensively – against Kansas City, you knew it was going to take some inspired play.

Having re-watched the tape, I just saw that – all the way around. The Cowboys' offense continued its impressive roll through the past month or so, while the Dallas defense played its best game of 2017 in limiting this Chiefs offense.

Here's my breakdown of what we saw, and what we can learn about the Cowboys going forward.

  • What tremendous game planning and execution by the Cowboys defense to handle Travis Kelce. As we talked about all week leading up to the game, it just wasn't going to be Byron Jones in coverage but a different combination of defenders. As the game wore on we saw Jeff Heath, Orlando Scandrick and various linebackers as part of that plan. Early on, Jones took the primary responsibility along with Xavier Woods, and together they got the defense off the field early with some tight man coverage. Facing a third and short, Jones was determined not to let Kelce drive inside. Woods, playing in the area, avoided a pick from Tyreek Hill in order to arrive at the same time as the ball, knocking it away from Kelce.
  • I really liked Scott Linehan's decision to challenge Marcus Peters early on in this game. The best way to go at Peters is try to attack him with double moves. Linehan tried to do just that, except Peters wasn't looking at Terrance Williams -- but instead he was focusing on Dak Prescott. Peters never moved from his position, but the adjustment to the route was for Williams to come toward Prescott instead of heading up the field. Prescott threw a dart from the middle of the pocket just before Peters arrived to Williams. It was a contested play that Williams was able to make for a nice gain on first down. Linehan later came back and challenged Peters again, working Dez Bryant across the middle where he was able to separate for 17 yards.   
  • How do you control the leading rusher in the league? Run fits. It might sound really simple, but when you face a team that can run the ball as well as the Chiefs do, it's no easy task. A great example was the toss sweep to Kareem Hunt with a full complement of blockers out front. DeMarcus Lawrence and Xavier Woods held the backside while on the front side, Anthony Brown gave his body up on Eric Fisher. Anthony Hitchens battled Anthony Sherman and Damien Wilson played off Demarcus Robinson to tackle Hunt for a short gain of three yards when it appeared the play could have gone out the gate.
  • Jason Witten told me that the way Dak Prescott runs the read-option has made things easier for him to execute his backside cut off blocks. With Prescott's ability to pull the ball and take the ball around the corner, it's made defensive ends and linebackers have to respect that. Witten said that those defenders can no longer just fly inside chasing the ball. When that does happen, like Frank Zombo did on Sunday, it is easy for Witten to just release outside and pick up the first support. Prescott is so good with the ball in his hands that those calls from Scott Linehan are impossible to stop.
  • I had a feeling that the Chiefs were going to take a shot down the field with Tyreek Hill. They've done it in the majority of their games, so it made sense that they were going to try it here. On the outside they got the matchup they wanted with Anthony Brown. On the route, Brown got caught looking at Alex Smith and he guessed that Hill was going to break to the outside, but instead he went vertical. Brown was beaten so badly that he didn't even have a chance to collide with Hill -- which actually turned into a break, because by missing him he didn't draw a penalty. Another thing that saved Brown on the play was the delayed blitz from Jaylon Smith. The defensive line ran a game inside, which occupied the Chiefs blockers, allowing Smith to have a path to the quarterback. Charcandrick West tried to come across to pick up Smith, but he was unsuccessful. Smith's blitz put him right on top of Alex Smith, forcing him to have to put too much on the pass -- which fell incomplete.
  • I still don't know how Jason Witten caught that out route with Eric Murray hanging on all over him. Murray should have had an interception, but somehow the ball went right through his hands. What makes the reception even better was that Witten was able to catch the back end of the ball along his left thigh, control it and then get both feet in bounds just past the sticks. As good as these receivers and tight ends are in the league, 90 percent of them would have dropped that ball. Instead it was a routine play for Witten for a first down. 
  • It's not often that you see Dez Bryant misplay a ball, especially when coming across the middle. The ball from Dak Prescott was a little high, but it's a play that we've seen Bryant make plenty of times. This time it just so happened that Bryant hit the patch of the field five yards right of the hash where the sun was completely in his eyes. What made matters worse was that the shield he generally wears is clear, and because of that it was unable to help him in that situation. As a matter of fact, it might have made things worse for him. 
  • I think if you asked Jeff Heath how many interceptions he should have had against the Chiefs, he would have said a couple. His pick at the end of the game was a big part of the victory, but he could have had one earlier in the game that would have been just as big. Alex Smith fired a ball in the middle of the field to De'Anthony Thomas on an in cut. Heath read it all the way, but instead of driving straight to the spot like he later did, he took a little wider angle to the ball -- which allows Thomas to beat him to the spot. To Smith's credit, if the ball was a hair more to the inside, Heath would've had it. But Smith put it where he needed to in order to give his man a chance.
  • The game plan for the Cowboys' secondary was to have to cover different receivers and tight ends throughout the game. It did come down to one-on-one matchups, but generally not with the same guy. A great example of this was Orlando Scandrick and the job that he did on Ross Travis -- who lined up one time in the slot on third down and ran a corner route down the field. Scandrick, giving up almost eight inches to Travis, had no problem carrying him down the field and was never out of position. Scandrick got some help from DeMarcus Lawrence, who forced Alex Smith to make a throw falling to his left. Just from that pressure, the ball drifted wide of the extended Travis and fell to the ground incomplete.
  • I can't say enough about the job that this Cowboys offensive line did -- especially La'el Collins. There is nothing easy about facing Justin Houston and the problems that he can cause. For Collins to basically keep him off the stat sheet is a credit to the way he played. Where we tend to worry about Collins is with his technique -- which was poor last week against the Redskins, but not in this game. He was patient with his hands and set. He didn't allow Houston to break him down like Ryan Kerrigan had. There were several snaps where Prescott was able to make some long throws from the pocket due to the Collins and Tyron Smith keeping their men wide. In the running game, he used his power to neutralize Houston once again, not allowing him to be a factor. 
  • Coming into this game, I thought the Cowboys and Chiefs were evenly matched teams. I knew this game would come down to which team defensively could make two stops in the second half. I also thought Kansas City might been a little better equipped to get those stops and get out of here with a victory. This game did come down to those two stops, but instead of the Chiefs making them, it was the Cowboys. The first one came at 3:29 in the third quarter when the Chiefs had an illegal shift and delay of game penalty along with a David Irving sack to get the defense off the field. The Cowboys' offense took the ball and went 13 plays for 87 yards all while taking 6:46 off the clock and scoring a touchdown from Dak Prescott to Cole Beasley. That gave Dallas a 28-17 lead with 8:52 to play. The second stop came the very next drive when Sean Lee tackled Charcandrick West for three yards -- which was one of those plays that could have gone for plenty more. On the next play, Taco Charlton recorded his first sack and then Alex Smith threw his first interception in what appeared to be a million attempts. It was exactly what the Cowboys needed to do defensively in order to win the game.
  • I got confirmation on what I wrote about last night after the game -- that the Chiefs tried a trick play with Tyreek Hill on the punt return. Hill faked as if the ball was heading in his direction in order to draw the coverage his way. I was told it was something that the Chiefs in fact had tried earlier in the season and broke it out against the Cowboys. I was also told that the coaching staff has so much confidence in Chris Jones and his directional punting that if they call a punt left or right they know that Jones will not fail in his execution -- so having a trick play such as the one the Chiefs tried to use would not affect the punt team one bit.
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