FRISCO, Texas – It was a late night and a long Tuesday, but I've finally had a chance to break down this win in the desert.
I don't need to tell you that it wasn't always pretty. But it certainly was impressive the way the Cowboys managed to gut out a convincing win on Monday night.
Here are my notes from the game tape, with a few hiccups but a lot to feel encouraged about heading into Week 4.
- On Ezekiel Elliott's longest carry of the night, the Cowboys were in 22 personnel (two tight ends and two running backs) to try and convert on 3rd-and-1. The play was designed to go off the left side behind Chaz Green, Tyrone Smith and Geoff Swaim, with Keith Smith as the lead blocker. But as soon as Elliott had his hands on the ball, you could see that his eyes moved to the right, where Jason Witten had kicked Chandler Jones wide and La'el Collins had driven Frostee Rucker inside. That space was too inviting for Elliott to pass up, as he planted his left foot in the ground to make his cut. The only Cardinals defender in the picture was Tyrann Mathieu, who filled the hole quickly. Elliott, sensing contact, dipped his right shoulder, giving Mathieu nothing to hit and went right past him. The run picked up 30 yards, as well-executed blocks by Witten and Collins along with an instinctive run by Elliott brought the offense out of a deep hole.
- There were several snaps where Rod Marinelli went with his dime personnel to get his defense off the field. One of those times was on the first Maliek Collins sack of Carson Palmer. With Collins at nose tackle and DeMarcus Lawrence and Benson Mayowa on the edges, Marinelli locked Sean Lee and his defensive backs up in man coverage with Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath in a two-deep look. Palmer wanted to throw the ball in the middle of the field to Larry Fitzgerald, but Anthony Brown was all over him. Palmer tried to climb the middle of the pocket like he had done in previous snaps, but Collins snatched Arizona center A.Q. Shipley out of his stance. With Shipley out of the way, Collins had a clean run to Palmer, who was forced to eat the ball.
- Give Dak Prescott some credit for his touchdown run right before the half. Earlier in the game, he handed the ball inside to Ezekiel Elliott on a read-option and Markus Golden crashed hard to the inside, tackling him for no gain. The next time the play was called, Prescott rode Elliott as long as he could before pulling the ball. The fake was so good that not only did Golden go inside, but Haason Reddick was pulled that direction, as well. With Jason Witten kicking Tyvon Branch to the outside down the field, it was just Justin Bethal between Prescott and the goal line with Prescott winning that matchup.
- Coming into the game I felt like it was Cole Beasley that was going to be able to make some plays against Tyrann Mathieu. But it was actually Terrance Williams that came up big. What was impressive about this particular play was, despite having ankle issues, Williams was able to separate from Mathieu. Running from that tight wing, he was at full speed and on Mathieu before he had a chance to react. What also helped Williams was on the opposite side of the field, both Chandler Jones and Justin Bethel were both shallow in coverage and allowed Williams a little more room. By the time Bethel turned to find the crossing Williams, the ball was over his head. With Williams going full extension, he was able to pull the ball in just as he took the hit from Tyvon Branch. It was a beautiful pass by Prescott from the middle of the pocket that had Jason Witten and James Hanna helping to secure their blocks.
- Will McClay told me one time that he doesn't mind playing with shorter cornerbacks as long as they had length. At 5-10, Jourdan Lewis doesn't have much height, but he does have length in his arms. It was that length which allowed him to make a really nice defensive play on Jaron Brown to get his team off the field. Brown successfully executed a stutter-go that bought him a little space on Lewis. As the ball was coming down, Lewis had his eyes on Brown's hands, and when he saw him extend them, Lewis took his right hand and put it between Brown's hands just as the ball arrived, punching it away at the last moment.
- As good as Dak Prescott's touchdown pass to Brice Butler was, the play would have never happened had James Hanna not tied up Markus Golden long enough to get Prescott out on the edge. Once outside the pocket, Prescott was able to turn his attention down the field, and that's where Butler took over. Realizing the ball was going to come down short, Butler was able to slow his route down and Bethel went right behind him. It was that positioning which allowed Butler to secure the ball at the highest point for the score.
- It was a really nice design by the offensive coaches to get the space necessary for the Dez Bryant touchdown. Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley ran vertical routes to carry their men out of the play. Jason Witten and Ezekiel Elliott were both in the backfield and flared out, which carried two more defenders away from the play. That left the middle of the field open for Bryant on the shallow cross, working against linebacker Josh Bynes one-on-one. Prescott read the play the entire way and got the ball into Bryant's hands with Chandler Jones bearing down on him from the left. Bryant escaped Bynes, then he put a move on Patrick Peterson to get him to the ground. That left Antoine Bethea and Tyvon Branch to make the tackle -- but by this time, Bryant had too much determination and a nice shove from Travis Frederick to get him into the end zone.
- The Cowboys caught a break when Bruce Arians made a strange play call to start the fourth quarter. With the Cardinals facing a 3rd-and-1 deep in their own territory, instead of trying to run the ball for the first, Arians tried to flood the right side with Andre Ellington in the flat. Larry Fitzgerald ran a pick inside that didn't affect anyone. Sean Lee, Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick and Jourdan Lewis all executed their assignments in coverage. Palmer had no window to throw the ball into. With DeMarcus Lawrence defeating Evan Boehm off the snap and in his face, he had no choice but to ground the ball at the feet of Jaron Brown.
- Tyrone Crawford lined up at a couple of different spots along the defensive line and played well in this game. His pressure on Carson Palmer late in the game saved a touchdown to Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals were trying to go back to a play they had used to score on earlier in the game, with Fitzgerald working against Anthony Brown. On this particular snap, Fitzgerald was lined up across from Jourdan Lewis. Fitzgerald took Lewis inside, then broke for the corner with separation. Palmer, trying to hold Byron Jones in the middle of the field with his eyes, now felt pressure inside from Crawford -- who had beaten Evan Boehm around the edge. Palmer didn't want to take the sack, so he just unloaded the ball down the field in the general direction -- but it wasn't even close. After the play you could even see Fitzgerald clapping his hands knowing they missed an opportunity to score a touchdown instead of having to kick a field goal.
- Text book blocking on the front side of Ezekiel Elliott's touchdown run. Travis Frederick was able to snatch Frostee Rucker, while La'el Collins and Zack Martin were able to double-team Markus Golden. It was such an effective combo block, Collins was able to get up on the second level and take Tyvon Branch out of the play. Jason Witten was able to steer Josh Bynes to the outside, which gave Elliott a clear path to the goal line. Just for good measure, Elliott got a block from Cole Beasley on Tyrann Mathieu to make sure he made it into the end zone to seal the game.
- With time winding down and the Cowboys needing a defense stop, they got a tremendous play from Xavier Woods on Larry Fitzgerald. The Cardinals went with a bunch formation, with Fitzgerald on the inside. At the snap, they ran Brittan Golden and Jaron Brown off the ball with Fitzgerald behind them, into the flat. Woods read it all the way and drove through the trash, arriving to Fitzgerald just as the ball did. Not only did Woods keep Fitzgerald out of the end zone, but he tackled him in bounds to keep the clock running and force a fourth down attempt -- which the defense turned back to end the game.
- The longest punt return of the night for the Cowboys took place with just 10 men on the field. I am not sure why Jeff Heath ran off the field, leaving them short, but that was the case. Before the snap, Heath sprinted to the sideline next to the down marker and waited for the ball to be punted. Ryan Switzer fielded the ball on his own 46-yard line and found a nice sideline wall set up, minus Heath. If not for a hustle play by Elijhaa Penny, Switzer might have scored. After the play, I saw Heath tapping his chest and Rich Bisaccia put his arm around him.