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Scout's Notebook: The Dallas D's Big 3rd Quarter Stand


Key Stand

With the Cowboys offense driving the ball into position to expand its 10 – 0 lead, DeMeco Ryans, in coverage against Phillip Tanner, intercepted a ball from Tony Romo and returned it to the Dallas 30 yard line with 2:39 left in the third quarter.

It was the worst field position Monte Kiffin and his crew had been put in all day. To that point they had been outstanding in dealing with Chip Kelly's high-powered offense.

To begin the series, Kelly opens with his "11" personnel, which Kiffin matched with his nickel. The dangerous DeSean Jackson linesup in the right slot with Orlando Scandrick lined up four yards off him. Kiffin who had been playing a great deal of single high safety, shows Nick Foles a Cover 2 look, with J.J. Wilcox lined up 12 yards behind Scandrick. 

At the snap of the ball, the secondary drops into zone coverage with Barry Church and Wilcox playing almost a Cover 3 look. Scandrick funnels Jackson inside to Wilcox, who rotates to the middle of the field.

Sean Lee starts his drop, looking for Jackson, who is seven yards behind him. Wilcox, seeing Jackson running through the middle of the field from his left, turns and opens his hips to adjust to Jackson's route.

Church from the right side, sees Jackson running his direction, sprints from the 15 to run down the speedy Jackson. Nick Foles, in the pocket, lets the ball fly as Jackson crosses the nine yard line. Jackson is clear of Church and Morris Claiborne, who has also joined the chase.

Wilcox moves within two yards of Jackson on his up field shoulder, as Jackson scoots underneath Wilcox. The rookie sees the ball coming down to Jackson and leaps off his right foot and extends his right arm.

Jackson is clearly going to make the catch and easily get both feet down for the touchdown, but Wilcox is able to tip the ball away, saving the play.

On second down, Foles hands the ball inside to LeSean McCoy, who has his longest run of the day for 10 yards to the Cowboys 20 for a first down. The Eagles go with a three-wide receiver formation to the left.

Kiffin, still in nickel, lines up 10 across with Brandon Carr across from Jason Avant in the slot. At the snap, Avant breaks inside, causing Carr to have to reach for him, putting him in a trailing position. Avant starts hard inside then breaks to his left. Carr is thrown off by the move but J.J. Wilcox is once again in the middle of the field, ready to play the route. In the pocket, Foles is moving to his left, but has the space and time to throw the ball, but he doesn't get much on it.

Wilcox is trying to close ground, but Avant is in position to make the catch. The ball is thrown low and he has to adjust and he knocks the ball into the air. Wilcox hustles over to try and make the play and actually catches the tipped ball but after a review from John Parry, it's ruled an incomplete pass.

After three runs by McCoy, the ball is on the Dallas nine yard line with a new set of down. On first down, McCoy again tries the right side, but Jason Hatcher and Sean Lee beat their blocks for no gain.

On second down, Kiffin decides to rush four out of his nickel formation and play zone behind it. Up front, the defensive line runs a twist stunt with Hatcher, Nick Hayden and George Selvie, which causes Foles to flush to his left. Hatcher is able to work off the block of Travis Kelce and begins to close ground on Foles.

Kyle Wilber is also closing from the backside and arrives at the same time as Hatcher. Foles has no choice but to ground the ball in the direction of Jason Avant forcing third down.

The Eagles are still in "11" personnel and Kiffin in his nickel. At the snap, Kiffin decides to clog the field with Cover 2 and play zone. The coverage across the board is outstanding.

There is no place for Foles to deliver the ball. Scramble rules take over and still no one is able to work free from the Cowboys' coverage. Foles this time is forced to flush to his right, while Selvie and Jarius Wynn give chase to the outside.

Foles is now looking back inside, but Selvie is right on top of him with Wynn closing as well, which causes Foles to have to eat the ball, take the sack. The tackle ends his day after a blow to the head by Selvie and Wynn.

The sack forces the Eagles to settle for a field goal, which results in their only points of the day. It was an outstanding job by this Cowboys defense to not allow a touchdown that would have put the Eagles back in the game.

Instead, they were able to make the stop and keep it at a touchdown lead.

The Band of Backups

When you hold an offense like the Eagles in check for the majority of the day, there is no question that you had to have several key players in the game. You can't say enough about the effort of the Cowboys linebackers and defensive backs in this win. As a group, they tackled well and overall technique was outstanding.

Where I felt like game was really won, however, was the way that Jason Hatcher and his teammates played along the defensive line.

For two weeks now, when this group has needed a play or two, they got it from the most unlikely group. The numbers will not say that Kyle Wilber, Nick Hayden, Drake Nevis and Jarius Wynn made many big plays, but what they were able to do controlling this Eagles running game and forcing Nick Foles into poor throws should not go unnoticed.

The Eagles' plan offensively was to dictate the pace of the game, but Rod Marinelli and Leon Lett's guys were not going to allow that to happen. To their credit, they practiced hard during the week, and they looked in condition.

When they had to get on and off the field in their rotations, they were clearly on their game.  

If this Cowboys defensive line was unable to get off blocks, it was going to be a long day for this defense, but they were able to make that happen. Jason Hatcher was at his best and he was able to give these Eagles guards fits. [embedded_ad]

On Sunday, he played on the Eagles' side of the ball. There were several times when he was so quick off the ball that Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans had no choice but to either put their hands in his face or hold him to slow him down.

Hatcher continues to raise his level of play each week and it is really clear at times when he does have that series or two where there is a struggle.

George Selvie continues to impress at the left end spot for this defense. I would have never believed that Selvie could have held that side of the line the way he has, but to his credit, he once again played with outstanding technique and that relentless sprit that Jason Garrett likes to talk about.

Jarius Wynn and Caesar Rayford were also thrown into the mix this week and didn't have any mistakes that would have you shaking your head at the way they played. 

If there was a disappointment in the game for the group, it's that a Bruce Carter interception was taken off the books when Jason Vega jumped offsides on the play.

Vega is an aggressive player and you knew that he wanted to get off the ball and try to make something happen in his first opportunity. But to do that twice in a game will get you on the inactive list each week or looking for a new job.

It was remarkable that this defensive line was able to cause so many problems against the Eagles with no DeMarcus Ware in the lineup, but they were able to put it all together for another week.

Coaches like to talk about team wins and this one surely was. But the game I got to study showed me that this defensive line and the way that they played was without a doubt the difference in this game.

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