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Scout’s Notebook: Grading Defensive Standouts; Williams’ Big Night

FRISCO, Texas – I finally sat down with the tape of this game, and it was certainly an enlightening experience.

There’s so much to dissect from this game, particularly from the defensive side of the ball – a dominant effort by the Cowboys. But for however much criticism the Dallas offense might draw, there was a lot to like about the execution on Sunday night, and there was a lot to learn about the misfires.

Here’s what stood out to me during my film study of the Cowboys’ 19-3 win.

On the long pass play to Brice Butler, give Jason Witten an assist for allowing it to be successful. Butler ran a double-move, which took some time to execute. Witten was running a route inside against Jason Pierre-Paul in coverage. Landon Collins was on the same side of the field, knowing that Pierre-Paul would likely need help. Collins paid no attention at all to Butler on the outside and drove to cover Witten -- which left Eli Apple in one-on-one coverage. With no help over the top, Dak Prescott was able to lay the ball out far enough where Butler could lay out with the clutch reception to finish the play.

It’s not often that Dak Prescott misses a throw when on the move going to his left or right. His accuracy in those situations is generally deadly. With the ball on the Giants’ 3-yard line, it initially appeared as if he wanted to go in Jason Witten’s direction in the flat. But he quickly pulled out of that. Looking back to his left, he had nothing doing with Cole Beasley and a double-covered Dez Bryant. When La’el Collins drove Jason Pierre-Paul to the inside, it left a soft corner. Prescott was able to take advantage sprinting to his right. Bryant began to mirror Prescott and found space in the end zone. Prescott, having shifted his eyes toward Bryant, put the ball in a spot where he had absolutely no chance to make a play -- which resulted in a wasted opportunity.

Tremendous job by Sean Lee playing underneath coverage with the Giants facing a 3rd-and-4. Judging by their alignment, Lee knew that Sterling Shepard was going to run a crossing route, so he angled his drop in order to cut Shepard off from the inside. Lee’s positioning forced Shepard away from the marker and back toward Manning, who had committed to the throw. Shepard didn’t have a chance, as he was short of the first down and had to adjust to a poorly-thrown pass. Shepard was able to make the reception, but he ended up on the ground and was easily touched down by Lee to get the defense off the field.

Creative call by Scott Linehan to get Terrance Williams the ball in space on 3rd-and-6. It was as if Williams ran a screen without the benefit of linemen being out front. Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley and Williams all lined up on the right side, with Williams being the furthest outside. What made the play even better was that they caught the Giants in man coverage and it forced Eli Apple to have to cross through some serious traffic to get to Williams. Three receivers took five defenders to one side of the field. Once Williams caught the ball inside, all he had to do was beat Darian Thompson, who took a terrible angle to the ball. That allowed Williams the necessary space to convert the third down.

I can’t say enough about the game that DeMarcus Lawrence had. My favorite play of the evening wasn’t one of his two sacks but his sniffing out the screen to Orleans Darkwa to his side. Lawrence was on a hard, upfield rush to the outside of Bobby Hart. Darkwa tried to sneak out of the backfield to the right, but Lawrence was waiting for him right there after throwing Hart aside. With Darkwa in his sights, Lawrence was able to close quickly to the inside just as the ball arrived from Eli Manning. Lawrence delivered a huge hit before Darkwa had a chance to even react.

The coaches have to feel good about the way Chaz Green played after studying the game film. Green wasn’t the weak link like many thought he might be, and to be honest, he got better as the game wore on. Where I thought he might have his biggest issues was making those second-level blocks -- but that wasn’t the case at all. He was instrumental on several blocks where he had to play in space and secure his man, and it allowed Ezekiel Elliott more room to run. His pass set from the Oakland game improved. He was more square and his body positioning was exactly where it needed to be -- especially working with Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick. I didn’t see the panic in his play that we had seen before.

When a linebacker undercuts a blocker, generally bad things happen, but that wasn’t the case for Jaylon Smith. The Giants attempted a reverse to Sterling Shepard with blockers out front. Smith was trapped inside and appeared to be accounted for by Ereck Flowers. There was an alley for Shepard to run through – that is, until Smith makes the bold move of running underneath Flowers. As Shepard turned the corner, Smith flew past Flowers and was on a direct path to the ball. With a burst, he was able to fully extend, wrapping his right arm around Shepard and bringing him to the ground. What had the potential to be a sizeable gain only turned into small one.

Nice coverage sack by Charles Tapper to knock the Giants off the Cowboys’ goal line. Rod Marinelli made the call to double Evan Engram with Byron Jones and Jaylon Smith, which appeared to be the direction that Manning wanted to go. With that option taken away, Eli Manning tried to come back to the other side -- but there were no options there. By the time he had made his second read, Tapper had beaten Flowers to the inside and was able to finish the deal. Manning had no choice but to eat the ball and take the sack for a nine-yard loss.

During training camp, we talked about how the offense was working on ways to throw screen passes to counter blitz looks from opposing defenses. Instead of playing coverage on 3rd-and-12, the Giants brought Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie off the edge. Dak Prescott recognized it all the way and flipped the ball to the outside to Terrance Williams. Eli Apple was the only defender to that side of the field and had to deal with Jason Witten and several offensive linemen coming out to support. Williams took the ball and exploded up the field, easily getting the first down. He would have likely scored if Chaz Green had been able to hold onto his block of B.J. Goodson just a little bit longer.

The second sack that was credited to DeMarcus Lawrence could have just as easily been given to Stephen Paea or Maliek Collins, as well. Lawrence had pulled himself past John Jerry. Paea had driven Weston Richburg back into Eli Manning and Collins had disposed of Justin Pugh. All three of the linemen arrived at roughly the same time and were right there on Manning as he collapsed in the pocket.  

I have to say that I was a little disappointed in the way that Taco Charlton played. He had made great strides through training camp practices and the games, but against the Giants I thought he took a step back. Where he had been showing promise as a pass rusher was with his technique and bend – of which he had neither in this game. I felt like he rushed too tall and without any real game plan off the edge. He made it too easy for these Giants offensive tackles to handle him one-on-one. He’s a strong player, but when he rushes down the middle of these tackles, he is doing them a big favor. Where Charlton was able to make a little traction was when he played inside at tackle near the end of the game, paired to the same side with Charles Tapper. Keep an eye out for him doing more of this in the future if it can get him going.

My crazy theory. Did anyone notice how much Dak Prescott was sweating during the game? His uniform appeared drenched and, and he doesn’t wear a sweat band on his right wrist. Is it possible he had some problems with sweat rolling down into his hand? The ball came out of his hand funny a couple of times where I thought he might have had a problem with his grip? Usually his ball has a tight spiral, but there were times where that wasn’t always the case. Again, just my crazy theory. Enjoy the victory.     

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