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Scout's Notebook: Keys To Great Run Defense


FRISCO, Texas – Here are my initial reactions to the Cowboys' 24-22 playoff win against Seattle as I saw it unfold from our studio at The Star.

My full analysis will be out after I've had a chance to watch the game back, but there was plenty to like from the initial viewing.

·             I had a feeling after studying the Cardinals game last week that Kris Richard was going to try and attack the middle of the Seahawks offense with some type of pressure. They didn't do a good enough job when it came to "A" gap pressure, and Richard made them pay by blitzing Jaylon Smith -- which left Maliek Collins unblocked for the sack of Russell Wilson. Mike Davis was in position to pick up Smith, but D.J. Fluker worked outside instead of picking up Collins. It was the exact same bust that the Seahawks had last week. 

·             Perfectly-executed blocks by Connor Williams and Zack Martin allowed Dak Prescott the space necessary, not only to secure the first down on the final drive, but work the ball in position for the clinching touchdown. Martin drove Jarran Reed right to left, while Williams drove Quinton Jefferson left to right. Prescott made a slight move from his right to left as the hole opened up. The Cowboys were fortunate on the play that Blake Jarwin didn't get called for a block in the back on Bobby Wagner to wipe out the play. 

·             Great awareness by Randy Gregory to avoid Ed Dickson on the crack block to trap Rashaad Penny behind the line for a seven-yard loss. Gregory was late getting down in his stance, but he was quickly able to react as Russell Wilson attempted to snap the ball early. Dickson appeared to be in good position initially, but Gregory beat him up the field and was on Penny just a split second after he caught the ball going to the edge.

·             Shaquill Griffin lost track of the ball on the touchdown pass to Michael Gallup. He shot a quick glance to the outside, thinking that Prescott might be trying to throw it back shoulder. Instead, Prescott put it over the top and into the hands of Gallup before Griffin had a chance to get his eyes back around and react to the pass. It was a well thrown ball and nice adjustment by Gallup to haul it in.

·             It's not often that we see DeMarcus Lawrence playing as the right defensive end, but that was just a little wrinkle that Kris Richard threw at his old club. Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford switched spots, which allowed Lawrence to work against J.R. Sweezy. He was able to defeat Sweezy quickly and trap Chris Carson behind the line of scrimmage for a loss. This wasn't the only play Lawrence made in the running game. There were several snaps where he was either down the line or handling things at the point of attack. 

·             The Cowboys were so close to scoring on the Amari Cooper screen pass. If Cooper would have cut back to the inside instead of the outside, Tyron Smith was going to get him a block. The only defender that could have made the tackle was Tedric Thompson. Cooper's decision to go to the outside allowed Thompson the opportunity work under Smith's block to make the tackle. Get that block and Cooper scores.

·             What a play by Jaylon Smith to not only mirror Russell Wilson on third and short, but to position himself in a way to knock the ball down before Wilson had a chance to get it to J.D. McKissic along the sideline. The Cowboys were in their dime package and Jourdan Lewis was covering McKissic, who was able to lose him. Wilson had a wide open shot for the first down, but Smith maintained his leverage and was able to close on Wilson to affect the throw.

·             On the 27-yard completion to Amari Cooper, when Dak Prescott rolled to his right with Joe Looney in front and Ezekiel Elliott faking to his left, I thought that Scott Linehan was setting up a throwback to Elliott across the field. Instead, Prescott hit Cooper on the post. If he would have thrown it a little bit more up the field, it would have likely been a touchdown. Not only did Cooper lose Justin Coleman, he also had Tedric Thompson turned badly on the play. Cooper made a heck of an adjustment to track the ball down and bring it in. 

·             I thought it was a good non-call when Chidobe Awuzie was battling Doug Baldwin down the field on the ball that went through Baldwin's hands. Baldwin shoved Awuzie and he had no choice but to grab Baldwin's arm to fight back. I think Awuzie's swat with his right arm distracted Baldwin enough to cause him to miss the ball.

·             Blake Jarwin might not have had the game he had last week, but he had a key block on Ezekiel Elliott's long run on third-and-short. La'el Collins and Zack Martin had a nice double-team as well, but it was Jarwin's block on Jacob Martin that allowed Elliott to grab the corner. Once Elliott saw the space to the outside of Jarwin, he knew exactly where he needed to take the ball as Akeem King and Shaquill Griffin gave chase.

·             I've been waiting since the Jacksonville game to get Tavon Austin back in the lineup returning punts. It is hard for defenders to block, then get off blocks and sprint in order to try to stop him. His elusiveness is rare, and even when you put him in a small space, he can make things happen. It was unfortunate that his touchdown return was called back -- but later in the game he received a great block from Anthony Brown to spring him, which put the offense in business on the Seahawks' 35-yard line. 

·             I don't quite know what happened on the Tyler Lockett reception at the end of the game, where it appeared that Byron Jones lost the coverage? Jones must have thought he was getting some help from the inside from Jeff Heath. Leighton Vander Esch was underneath with Heath to his inside. Heath never reacted to the ball until Lockett was past Jones. Xavier Woods was playing in the deep middle, which put him in no position to defend the ball. There must have been a miscommunication between Jones and Heath that allowed the play. Regardless, it shouldn't have happened at that point of the game.