FRISCO, Texas –There's always something you can learn from the tape.
Jason Garrett said as much at his Monday press conference. The tape never looks as good as a win suggests it does, and it never looks as bad as a loss would suggest. There's always information in each game, waiting to be gained.
With that, here's what I found when I re-visited this 42-17 loss the Cowboys suffered in Denver on Sunday afternoon.
What was surprising about the nine carries that Ezekiel Elliott had was that four of those came with the Cowboys in "12" personnel. It is usually an outstanding running package with Jason Witten and James Hanna, but it had its share of struggles. When you chart the overall breakdowns, there was only one time where I felt like Elliott made a poor choice with his cut. Other than that, the main culprit for the lack of running room can be traced to individual breakdowns. Missed cut off blocks. No movement on defensive tackles when executing fold blocks and just physically getting shed at the point of attack. The only time Elliott had any real space to operate came on his final carry, with seven Broncos in the box. Tyron Smith and Chaz Green were able to cave down the right side of the line to get Elliott inside.
The theme of the day for the Cowboys' defense was missed tackles. It started on the Broncos' first offensive series and lasted throughout the game. Nolan Carroll had a chance to bring down Emmanuel Sanders for a five-yard gain, but he missed and the result was 20 more yards. The next series, C.J. Anderson ripped off a 28-yard run when Jaylon Smith, Jeff Heath and Carroll were all in position to make a play but all three were unable to finish.
The film showed that La'el Collins had 34 snaps where Von Miller was his responsibility in the passing game. On 20 of those plays, I would have given Collins a plus (+) for executing his assignment -- holding Miller in place or pushing him past Prescott. On 12 of those plays, I would have given him a minus (-) for not executing his assignment -- getting beat on his technique, giving up pressure or allowing a sack. I threw out the two remaining snaps due to Miller running a twist stunt, which required Collins to pick up a different rusher. Overall, I didn't feel like Collins played that poorly, especially with who he was facing the majority of the game. He did have a mistake in the running game where he allowed Derek Wolfe to get inside of him, which resulted in him making the tackle.
The defense was able to take advantage of the Broncos attempting to man a twist stunt instead of passing it off. DeMarcus Lawrence came flying off the ball inside and was past Menelik Watson. Ronald Leary tried to react to Lawrence, but Maliek Collins did a nice job of holding him in place so he couldn't get over to cover. Trevor Siemian never saw Lawrence, who was able to knock the unprotected ball out with his left hand for the strip/sack.
As well as Trevor Siemian played for the Broncos, I knew there was a pretty good chance that he was going to throw an interception. The one thing Siemian likes to do is throw the ball to an area, whether the receiver is there or not. He has a predetermined trait to his game. On the pass that Jourdan Lewis picked off, that's exactly what he did. Siemian was looking for a pass toward Demaryius Thomas the entire time. To Lewis' credit, he knew the ball was coming his direction. Lewis played the route well and was right where he needed to be as the ball sailed over Thomas' head and his ball skills took over.
If Dak Prescott doesn't get a blitz pickup by Ezekiel Elliott, he is not completing that touchdown pass to Jason Witten. Safety Will Parks tried to blitz behind Von Miller, and Elliott searched him out, then stoned him in his tracks. That block allowed Prescott the extra second he needed to find Witten open down the field. Elliott might not have been a factor in the running game, but this was just one of many times where he was able to help as a pass protector.
Speaking of the Witten touchdown, really nice job by Dak Prescott using his eyes to hold Darian Stewart in the middle of the field. The move allowed Witten just enough time to escape from Justin Simmons into space, where he was able to extend for the ball. It was a difficult catch for Witten to make falling away, but it was one that we've seen from him plenty of times during his career.
Bradley Roby caught a heck of a break defending that jump ball to Dez Bryant on fourth down in the end zone. Instead of Bryant going up vertically for the ball, he is forced to turn and extend -- but his back was going toward the ground. Roby made his leap and had put himself in perfect position. His hand was slightly above Bryant's outstretched hands and was swiping at the ball as it was coming down. As a matter of fact, his positioning was so good that he was able to take two swipes at it, thus knocking it away from Bryant to get the Broncos off the field.
As bad as it was for the secondary with the injuries to Nolan Carroll and Chidobe Awuzie, I think this staff learned something about Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods. I wrote about Lewis earlier, so I will focus on Woods. I have to admit I wasn't sure how he was going to fare in the slot, but he showed some skills in there. Emmaunel Sanders and Isiah McKenzie tried to lose him a couple of different times but weren't able to do it. He's not a stiff moving guy at all, and with more training I could see this being more of a full-time deal. I do remember him showing some coverage skills against the tight ends during training camp, but there is something more here with his ability that caught my eye.
This is two games now where Chaz Green has made improvement working with Tyron Smith. I really wasn't sure how this was all going to play out. But it has been so far, so good in pass protection. A great example of this was on the Dez Bryant sideline catch where he got his toes down. Green and Smith were able to pass a twist stunt of Shaquil Barrett and Derek Wolfe. Those blocks allowed Prescott just enough time to slide to his left in order to get the ball outside to Bryant to pull off the circus catch.
Despite not practicing all week, Terrance Williams was able to suit up and give it a go. I have to say that Williams deserved better than the limited targets he received in this game. He was the one receiver on tape that was able to find space against these Broncos cornerbacks while his teammates struggled. Surprisingly, he wasn't compromised with his injury. His quickness and stamina were good, but the ball just didn't go enough in his direction. I feel like that was a missed opportunity, because he was playing that well.
Just in case you wondered. The number of Denver Broncos defenders in the box when Ezekiel Elliott carried the ball:
8 in the box: 5 times.
7 in the box: 2 times.
6 in the box: 1 time.
9 in the box : 1 time (on the goal line).