Scout's Notebook: Defensive Resiliency, Aggressive Coaching; Pass Protection

ARLINGTON, Texas – There will be a lot more to unpack after I watch the tape. But for now, here's some quick thoughts from my vantage point in the press box at AT&T Stadium.

This Cowboys team is 10-1 after a big win against an NFC East rival. Here's how they got there.

  • If defenses are going to play eight or nine in the box to handle Ezekiel Elliott, then getting the ball out on the edges is going to be the best way for the offense to counter that. I really liked the plan -- especially during the first drive -- of angle blocking the front, then using pullers from the opposite direction to secure blocks at the point of attack. I noticed plays where Jason Witten and Ronald Leary were able to work up the field, which allowed Elliott some much needed space against the stacked box and came back to it later in the game for some chunk runs.
  • I was worried about Orlando Scandrick in this game from a health standpoint due to the short week. I know for a fact that he was struggling during practice this week but didn't take himself off the practice field. His pass breakup of DeSean Jackson down the right sideline to open the second half and his awareness to get his hands up on the slot blitz to knock away the screen again to Jackson saved a big gain.
  • Talk about saving four-point plays for this Cowboys defense on their own 5-yard line. They stopped Rob Kelley on a "Wildcat" run for a loss of one. They covered a fade to DeSean Jackson in the corner and pressured Kirk Cousins to throw the ball too high to Jordan Reed across the back of the end zone. The momentum was clearly in the Redskins' favor, but those three stops forced a field goal and preserved a 7-3 lead.
  • Smart by the coaching staff to take advantage of Redskins cornerback Kendall Fuller. Cole Beasley and Dez Bryant were able to convert two big third downs in his direction. Beasley's post corner was well-executed for 18 yards, and Bryant's crossing route in the red zone was just a tremendous adjustment on his part to get the ball to the goal line for Elliott to bang it home the next play.
  • Jay Gruden made two decisions that cost his team 14 points. Attempting a 55-yard field with his club down a touchdown instead of punting gave Dallas the ball near midfield, and they were able to convert that into a touchdown with Terrance Williams. Then, the decision to attempt an onside kick with 9:22 left in the game allowed Dallas to score with Ezekiel Elliott and take nearly 3:00 off the clock. In a game where both teams were evenly matched on both sides of the ball -- those decisions were the difference.
  • I don't know how badly Justin Durant is going to be out with this hamstring injury, but give Damien Wilson a lot of credit for stepping in and playing a big role in the base and sub packages. From my seat in the press box, he was physical tackling and appeared to be in good shape when asked to play in coverage. His recovery of the first onside kick shouldn't go unnoticed, either. His aggressiveness on the play was the difference.
  • This defense has yet to allow a two-point conversion to be made. Going back to the Pittsburgh game, Jason Garrett has said their ability to put plays behind them and focus on the next one is why they've had so much success in defending these chances and turning them away. Just a note from my final thoughts on Friday: Kirk Cousins was 2-of-6 in throws inside the 10-yard line. Cousins had two interceptions as well coming into this game. The coverage made him hold the ball and the pressure made him have to just throw it in a crowd.
  • As good as Dak Prescott was scrambling with the ball, I am surprised that the Redskins didn't try and use Su'a Cravens to "spy" on Prescott. It was a scheme that they used last week against Aaron Rodgers, but it didn't appear that they carried it over this week. Prescott ended up with eight carries for 39 yards and a touchdown. His scrambling ability hurt the Redskins and using Cravens might have helped combat that.
  • You have to be impressed with Terrance Williams and his ability to work in tight spaces. I would say that Cole Beasley is likely the best when it comes to finding room, but Williams is right there with him. Williams told the media that he and Dez Bryant play games during practice where they throw the ball back and forth working on getting their feet down whether they are along the sideline or in the field of play. Williams also said he knew that he had to go get that ball once it was thrown by Prescott.
  • David Irving didn't appear on the stat sheet, but I had a feeling just watching him play that he was a factor in this game. It appeared to me that there were several snaps where he found his way into the backfield and was disruptive, especially dealing with Rob Kelley and this Redskins running game. They were unable to gain any traction after having success these previous three weeks.
  • Ryan Kerrigan, Preston Smith and Trent Murphy ended up with one sack and a hurry. The last time these two clubs met, the Redskins ended up with four sacks -- which is the most that any opponent has had this season. In a game where I was worried about the pressure from the Redskins, Tyron Smith and Doug Free were not challenged and I believe the film will show that.
  • Did you recognize the screen pass to Cole Beasley to kill the game? Scott Linehan made the same call to end the San Francisco game earlier in the year. Love the aggressive call.


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