FRISCO, Texas – From my vantage point in our studio, here are my main impressions from the Cowboys' division-clinching win against Tampa.
I'll have my in-depth review of the game ready when I've had a chance to watch it again. But for now, here are my quick reactions from Sunday's game, where the Cowboys punched their playoff ticket.
· If Randy Gregory doesn't come up with that sack/fumble on Jameis Winston, I think Winston was going to hit DeSean Jackson for a touchdown. The Buccaneers were attempting to run a pick play to free Jackson on the drag, but when Winston was forced to scramble forward in the pocket, Jackson broke his route up the field. Chidobe Awuzie was a good four yards away from Jackson as Winston was loading the ball up. Gregory hit Winston just a split second before he was about to release the ball.
· Dak Prescott is going to be sick when he studies the tape and sees how open Blake Jarwin was on the waggle that he missed with Jarwin coming across the field. Jarwin's route opened up perfectly due to the clear out by Amari Cooper and the out route by Michael Gallup. There wasn't a defender within 15 yards of Jarwin when the ball left Prescott's hand. If somehow Prescott could have put that one to Jarwin on the move, he would have easily ended up inside the Buccaneers' red zone.
· Tremendous redirection by Randy Gregory not to be fooled on the jet sweep by Bobo Wilson, which resulted in a fumble by the Buccaneers. The defensive line was charging to the inside, which meant that Gregory had stepped hard to his left to execute his assignment. When he saw the fumble, though, he quickly exploded back to his right in order to defend the play. It was that flash which forced Wilson to take his eyes off the ball and focus on Gregory, who was right on top of him.
· I came away very impressed with the way La'el Collins blocked in the running game. There were several snaps where Zack Martin posted Gerald McCoy or Vita Vea, and Collins just wiped them out with the down block. He got some serious movement in this game and it was evident by some of outstanding runs that Ezekiel Elliott was able to pull off.
· Jaylon Smith continues to cause problems for the opponents when he's used on the blitz. Smith rushed with such force on Caleb Benenoch that he had no choice but to sling him to the ground, which resulted in a holding call. If Benenoch doesn't grab Smith, he is right on top of Winston and poised to bring him down for the sack.
· It was just a really tough call on Tyron Smith for holding on the big Ezekiel Elliott run in the final minutes of the game. If the officials wanted to call holding, La'el Collins was in far worse shape than Smith with his block of Jason Pierre-Paul. Where Smith has been drawing these calls has generally been in space and with his hand placement. It appeared initially that his hands were on the outside, then he tried to quickly work them back to the inside. Pierre-Paul did a pretty good job of selling the holding by turning his body away from Elliott as if he could escape.
· What an effort by Maliek Collins to get home for a sack when it appeared he had no shot of getting close. Collins had to fight through two blocks, and he worked the move like he was working through the bags in Oxnard. He swam Ali Marpet, then just powered through Donovan Smith. Both blockers had a chance to slow him down, but Collins was able to discard them and capture Jameis Winston as he attempted to climb forward in the pocket.
· Amari Cooper had a quiet game by his standards, but he was really close to scoring on the screen pass he caught in the game. All Cooper needed was one block from Xavier Su'a-Filo and he would have had a great shot to score. Blake Jarwin did a nice job of kicking Javien Elliott to the outside, while Tyron Smith cleaned up things to the inside on Adarius Taylor. If Su'a-Filo was looking upfield instead of back at the ball, he would have been able to see Andrew Adams bearing down on the play. Su'a-Filo's eyes came around just a tick too late, which allowed Adams the opportunity to come forward and make the tackle.
· Well-executed twist stunt by DeMarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods to get a sack on Jameis Winston. Lawrence penetrated so quickly and deeply into the line that Demar Dotson had no chance to stop him. Once Lawrence got past Dotson, Caleb Benenoch tried to cut him off -- but it was too late. Lawrence split the blockers and was on Winston before he had a chance to even slide in the pocket.
· I will need to ask about the play in the red zone where Scott Linehan called the handoff to Amari Cooper that went for negative yards. I liked the idea of the call, but I am not sure if they were trying to influence Jason Pierre-Paul to the inside -- which would have allowed Dalton Schultz to block Jordan Whitehead on the outside. Pierre-Paul is a tough man to fool in the first place. During his career he's seen his share of boots/waggles to his side and played them all well. With the way Schultz came off the ball and then tried to adjust back to him, I feel like he was surprised that Pierre-Paul was there to make the play.
· I have never seen a game where a quarterback had two delay of game penalties while he also had timeouts available to call. The one that Jameis Winston took with his team facing a fourth down and goal was inexcusable. That five-yard markoff against his offense gave the Cowboys just the breath of life they needed. To make matters worse for Winston, it appeared that the Cowboys weren't really sure what defense they were going to play in that situation. Jaylon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence were trying to sort things out as Rich Martinez threw the flag.
· I am sorry, but that was one of the best hits that I have seen this season from a defensive back when Xavier Woods collided with Adam Humphries. After watching many NFL games during my career from field level, I understand the speed of the game and how there are "bang-bang" plays -- but Woods did absolutely nothing wrong on that hit. All I can think of is that the official saw the violence of Humphries' head jerking back and he made the call. I would like to see, in those types of situations, that the booth official can buzz down and ask for a review on the play. It was clear that Woods didn't hit Humphries in the head and his shoulder pad was used to deliver the blow. It was a textbook hit and needed to treated that way.