FRISCO, Texas – As always, I’ll have my film review for you on Monday.
Until then, here are my early impressions from an ugly afternoon at Lucas Oil Stadium.
· I had a feeling going into this game that Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus was going to try and attack the middle of this Cowboys offensive line. Joe Looney and Xavier Su’a-Filo had been playing well, but that was with Zack Martin in the lineup. Without Martin, having to control Denico Autry and Margus Hunt plus get blockers up on these Colts linebackers was going to be a tall task. It didn’t help matters when Su’a-Filo suffered an eye injury on the goal line stop. That forced Adam Redmond into the lineup, and that put the line in a situation where they had two guards that lacked power.
· The Colts’ running game with Marlon Mack took a ton of pressure off Andrew Luck, and that allowed him to play a very comfortable game from the pocket. With his running game going, Colts coach Frank Reich didn’t have to put his quarterback in harm’s way. Reich was able to dial up whatever play he needed, regardless of the down or distance. The Cowboys did nothing defensively to disrupt the Colts’ rhythm.
· I have seen Darius Leonard make a lot of plays in the running game, but I didn’t realize what an outstanding pass defender he is. That gives Eberflus a defender that not only runs well and make tackles, but his coverage ability is the perfect complement for this scheme. That pass that he knocked away from Cole Beasley on fourth down is all you need to know about the type of player that Leonard is. Beasley is no easy cover but Leonard made it look that way.
· That was the worst that I have seen this Cowboys defense tackle in at least five weeks. The night they defeated the Saints might have been their best game, but this outing against the Colts was the exact opposite. It’s usually a bad sign when you see a missed tackle early in the game like the one that Chidobe Awuzie had on Marlon Mack that resulted in a 19-yard gain. Awuzie did everything but finish the play. He rallied to the spot and was in perfect position -- but for some reason Mack just burst right through him. Awuzie wasn’t alone. Byron Jones also had issues that led to some significant gains for the Colts.
· I need to figure out why Dak Prescott opted for the back shoulder throw to Allen Hurns when it appeared that he had separation on his defender. It could have been that Hurns doesn’t always get that separation and Prescott figured that would be the case again here. My first glance on the play was that Prescott had a chance to throw the ball out in front of him and let him run under it. There appeared to be room available to pull that off instead of what they did.
· Other than the reverse, Amari Cooper had a quiet afternoon by his standards. As well as the offense was moving the ball early in the game, they just couldn’t get him the ball in a consistent fashion. The film will likely show that Matt Eberflus wasn’t going to let Cooper get in any type of rhythm with Prescott. Other than controlling Ezekiel Elliott, Cooper was his unit’s next biggest challenge. Even when the Cowboys had gone away from the run, Cooper was not available and that’s something we have not seen opponents manage to pull off.
· I know there are people out there that wanted Scott Linehan to hand the ball to Ezekiel Elliott two straight times to see if they could have scored on the goal line when they got stopped. In all likelihood, you would have been exactly right. I didn’t have a problem with the call, but I had a problem with the execution. What is disappointing from my standpoint is that Jamize Olawale is usually an outstanding pass receiver out of the backfield, and Scott Linehan was not wrong to throw him a pass in that situation. The play was well set up and Linehan got exactly what he wanted -- with the exception of the result. I wish that Prescott would have put the ball on him instead of attempting to float it to him. If it was on him, I feel like he would have had a better chance to adjust to it -- especially going backwards.
· I continue to have the upmost respect for Ezekiel Elliott as a blocker in pass protection. No featured back does a better job than Elliott when it comes to knowing his assignments. A great example of this was the third down blitz pickup he had which allowed Dak Prescott to complete the ball to Blake Jarwin to convert. With Elliott stepping up to Prescott’s right side, it gave him that extra split second to find Jarwin and make an accurate throw.
· In our pregame show, I was singling out Anthony Brown for his play during the five-game winning streak. I had a feeling that Brown might have a big game in coverage having to deal with T.Y. Hilton. Instead, Brown drew a holding call that kept the Cowboys on the field after a crucial third down stop. What was disappointing about the play was that Brown didn’t have to hold. If he would have just moved his feet like he has before, he would have been able to maintain position and play the coverage. When Brown gets in trouble it’s generally when he gets lazy with his technique and this was clearly an example of that.
· I will need to check this. But it was just a backbreaking reception by Nyheim Hines on third down. From first glance, it appears that Leighton Vander Esch might have busted in coverage with Hines out of a bunch formation. It doesn’t happen often, but Vander Esch and Jeff Heath wound up confusing their coverage, with both guys taking a receiver instead of Hines. When Andrew Luck saw the play develop, it was a simple pitch and catch to Hines -- who was wide open for a 19-yard gain.
· I am interested to see what happened on the field goal that was blocked. I watched the game from our studio inside The Star, so like many of you, I didn’t have a great angle or replay to show what happened. It appeared that the block came from the left side of the Colts defense -- which would be the right side of the Cowboys’ field goal unit. Generally, that side would have Zack Martin in the lineup. In this case it was: Joe Looney, Tyron Smith, Adam Redmond and Dalton Schultz. It appeared that Muhammad Al-Quadin and Denico Autry were able to break through and were into the backfield as Brett Mahar attempted the kick. This is something that I will check on and report for Scout’s Eye on Monday.
· As bad as I wanted to rip this team for their performance, the bottom line was the Indianapolis Colts just physically beat them up. This doesn’t happen very often to this club, but it happened. The five-game winning streak is over, so it’s time to start a new one. What I take from this game, as painful as it was to watch, is that the goal of winning the NFC East and securing a home playoff game is still out there in front of them. They don’t need help in any form or fashion. At times this team has played very well this season. This just so happened to be one of those afternoons they didn’t. Go out and beat a Tampa Bay team next week and you’re in the tournament. Seven weeks ago, I wasn’t sure that was even possible.