FRISCO, Texas – It might be painful to be read, but there's a lot to be gained from re-watching that loss to the Packers.
There aren't many quarterbacks in football who can challenge you the way Aaron Rodgers does. So even though the Cowboys didn't get the win, we got some valuable tape of this team against one of the best players in the NFL.
On top of that, I took plenty of notes on the Dallas offense – what they did well, and what needed to be improved.
Here's what I learned from my re-watch:
- This was the first time in a long time that Cole Beasley didn't see some form of double coverage in the red zone. On both of Beasley's touchdown receptions, the Packers played him with a single man. Beasley, working one-on-one in the slot against Quinten Rollins, was a bad matchup for the Packers -- especially when Rollins allowed free access to Beasley on the route. Dak Prescott's play fake to Ezekiel Elliott drew the linebackers up, which gave Beasley all the room he needed to execute his route for the reception.
- Much has been written and said about the Cowboys' running game and how to get things back on track. The coaches went with a different wrinkle and added an unbalanced line on a first down run with Ezekiel Elliott. Tyron Smith moved from left tackle to the right side, lining up next to La'el Collins. With Smith now on the outside, Clay Matthews adjusted his alignment a little further outside of Smith, making his block even more difficult. Smith tried to turn Matthews, but couldn't get his hands inside. That allowed Matthews to escape and wrap Elliott up as he tried to turn the corner. With that result of the play, it was the only other time that we saw the Cowboys go with the unbalanced look.
- The Packers receivers are outstanding at running deceptive routes once inside the 10-yard line. Last week against the Bears, Randall Cobb was able to shake loose when he faked the out and turned it into a slant for a touchdown. This week, Davante Adams worked a "slug-go" against Anthony Brown that gave him the necessary separation for Aaron Rodgers to fit the ball into his hands for a touchdown. Brown bit on the inside move by Adams and that was all he needed. Brown did the right thing by trying to cut Adams off from the inside, but even as he tried to rally on the ball, Rodgers gave him no shot to defend it.
- Nice job by Anthony Hitchens and DeMarcus Lawrence of getting off the ball to help on David Irving's initial sack of Aaron Rodgers. Irving was able to swim Corey Linsley quickly, which put Aaron Jones in a terrible position to be able to help. Jones chooe to work to his right instead of trying to cross in front of Rodgers. With that decision, he left Irving with a straight path to Rodgers, who had no choice but to get down in the middle of the pocket and take the sack. If not for Hitchens and Lawrence, Jones might have been able to slide over and help, but he just couldn't make that work.
- On the touchdown pass to Dez Bryant, it appeared from the way that the offensive line came off the ball that Prescott had a run/pass option. Prescott saw the one-on-one coverage to the outside and elected to take a shot in that direction. Instead of throwing a ball that Bryant had to high-point, he threw it flatter and to a spot where Bryant could run under it. Damarious Randall didn't locate the ball until it was already on Bryant's right hand. Great job by Bryant tracking it all the way and an even better job by Prescott putting it in a spot where he could go get it.
- It's a fine line how you need to rush Aaron Rodgers, and the 33-yard pass to Martellus Bennett was a great example of that. Rodgers initially didn't want to throw the ball to Bennett. But after seeing nothing to his left and feeling Tyrone Crawford coming from that same side, he turned his attention the other way. DeMarcus Lawrence was pushing Bryan Bulaga into Rodgers, but instead of being level with him like Crawford was, he got trapped inside. Just that little inside move gave Rodgers all the room he needed to get outside the pocket. Once outside, his eyes found Bennett working against Byron Jones. Rodgers delivered the ball over Jones and into the extended hands of Bennett as he was going to the ground. Initially, the Cowboys' pass rush was in excellent shape -- but all it took was that inside move by Lawrence to give up a big play.
- I don't know who made the call for the Packers to go for it on fourth down on their own side of the 50, but it was a gutsy call. The flip toss off jet sweep motion is a nice wrinkle. To run it to the short side of the field made it an even more interesting call. With not much room to operate into the sideline, Aaron Jones received a nice block from Jordy Nelson on Tyrone Crawford and Davante Adams was able to take care of Anthony Brown. But the key block was Lane Taylor on Jaylon Smith. Taylor was able to peel back and get just enough of Smith to allow Jones to get past the sticks and a few extra yards.
- He didn't have many snaps, but Chidobe Awuzie lined up at safety and didn't perform poorly at a new spot for him. Had did have a missed tackle in space where he lunged at Aaron Jones and ended up on the ground. But he later showed some nice range lining up outside the left hash and chasing Martellus Bennett to the far sideline. Awuzie was able to deliver a physical blow, knocking the larger Bennett out of bounds before he had a chance to get to the first down marker. Awuzie was the third rookie to play in the secondary on Sunday, with Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods.
- One of my favorite running plays the Cowboys have is the "crack toss." When you have the type of athletes they do along the offensive line, it makes the play even better. Scott Linehan went with a little different wrinkle by adding Keith Smith to the blockers leading the way for Ezekiel Elliott. As soon as I saw Geoff Swaim take out Nick Perry and they were able to get Tyron Smith on the edge, I knew the play had a chance. There were outstanding blocks by Terrance Williams, Tyron Smith and Keith Smith to allow Elliott the opportunity to finally have some space to run -- which he hasn't seen much of early the season. It was the type of play call that the Cowboys needed to start the final quarter in order to kick start their running game.
- I was surprised that Dak Prescott didn't take a deep shot to Terrance Williams on the third down pass to Jason Witten that was knocked away by Kentrell Brice. Initially, I thought Brice went over the back of Witten, but the official was right there for the call. Williams was open down the right sideline with no safety help over the top. Damarious Randall passed Williams off like he was in zone coverage, but there was no one there to pick him up. In studying the play, Prescott really couldn't set his feet due to La'el Collins crossing underneath him to pick up Clay Matthews. To be honest, it was amazing that Prescott was able to get enough on the pass to have a chance for a completion. On the next play, Dan Bailey knocked home a 43-yard field goal to give the Cowboys the lead.
- The Cowboys had some untimely penalties in this game defensively. Jourdan Lewis' holding call on Jordy Nelson was really unnecessary. Lewis was actually in really good shape on the double-move and was in position to contest the ball. Rodgers was trying to throw Nelson open down the field, but instead of putting air under it, he threw it on the line too far and hard. Nelson never had a chance to adjust on the play, but because Lewis was pulling on his jersey, the official was forced to make the call, giving the Packers a fresh set of downs. The Packers took that penalty and were able to convert it into a touchdown nine plays later.
- I really liked what special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia tried to do with the sky kick to Jeff Janis right after the Cowboys had taken the lead, 24-22, in the fourth quarter. Janis was at the on the east side of the field, looking back into the sun as Bailey kicked him the ball. Bailey was able to place the ball near the three-yard line, which was outstanding -- but if he could have landed it between the four and five, it would have forced Janis to have to look right into the sun to catch it. Regardless, Damien Wilson, Xavier Woods and Keith Smith did a nice job of covering the kick, stopping Janis on the 19-yard line.