As much as it hurt to lose to the New York Giants in the home opener, the Dallas coaching staff along with several Cowboys players certainly feel sick after watching the film.After a gut-wrenching loss of 20-19, the team’s downfall was their inefficiency in the red zone. The Cowboys settled for four field goals while just scoring one touchdown on five trips to to the red zone, which ultimately came back to bite them in the end. The game wasn’t all doom and gloom, however, as some players rose to the occasion on both offense and defense. Either way, this was a game that most Cowboys fans would like to forget.
Throughout the entire season, I will compose a film review for each game providing my takeaways and overall assessment of how the team did both offensively and defensively. This will include players that stood out for the right or wrong reasons. It was not a pretty game against the Giants, especially after going back and watching the film, but below are my main takeaways and notes from the first edition of my season-long film review series.
– The two most anticipated debuts this week across the league came from rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott’s stat line may not have been as impressive as what he put up in the preseason, but I thought he showed a lot of poise in his first regular season game. The moment was not too big for him. Prescott was at his best on play action as he sold the fake well and completed multiple throws on the run with accuracy. There were a few moments where I thought he sailed the ball too high or did not put the ball where it needed to be. One example came when Prescott led wide receiver Dez Bryant too far inside on a fade route against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie when it should’ve been right over his outside shoulder for what could have been a much easier catch. Prescott also has to learn to protect his receivers better as he almost killed both Cole Beasley and Lance Dunbar by throwing the ball too high or too late. I would like to see more RPO (run-pass-option) plays called for Prescott in the future as it would certainly make this offense less predictable. The lone read-option play was an 11 yard first down. Overall, this was a game to build on for Dak Prescott.
– For rookie Ezekiel Elliott, his much anticipated debut was not as impressive according to the box score scouts. On about 90 percent of his touches, he was not given a chance to make a play as the defense was already in the backfield. The Cowboys have the best offensive line in football, but they sure did not look like it on Sunday with the lack of running room they gave to Elliott. There was a run in the second quarter where I thought if Elliott was patient enough to let Witten get around, he could have bounced it outside to the left for a big gain, but instead, he was stuffed in the backfield. To me, Elliott’s lackluster debut was more about the play calling from Scott Linehan. Dallas runs a zone-blocking scheme, but the Cowboys did not run a ton of zone running plays for either Ezekiel Elliott or Alfred Morris. It does not make sense to simply run Elliott up the middle every play when the Giants stack the box and have elite run stuffers in Johnathan Hankins and Damon “Snacks” Harrison. I also saw that Elliott was quite inconsistent in his blitz pickups, but I will give him the benefit of the doubt in his rookie debut. The bottom line is that the Giants sold their soul to stop the running game, so with that being said, people who are panicking about Elliott’s stat line on Sunday need to settle down.
– Dez Bryant was simply nonexistent on Sunday finishing with one catch for eight yards on just five targets. He did have a touchdown overturned, but the main takeaway from this game is that this team simply does not scheme Bryant to get the ball enough. If this team truly views Bryant as one of the best receivers in the league, they need to do whatever they can to get him the ball so that he can prove that. It confuses me how they would rather throw screens to Cole Beasley and Jason Witten, but not to one of the best playmakers in all of the league in Dez Bryant. The fact that Dallas did not scheme their offense to get Bryant open by moving him across the field made him nonexistent, not solely because he was doubled all game. Most of Bryant’s routes were away from the quarterback and used as a decoy to get Cole Beasley, Jason Witten, and Terrance Williams open. Speaking of Beasley and Williams, they need to get the first down and not run backwards each time they catch the ball.
– There is no doubt in my mind that the New York Giants dominated the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball on Sunday. Hankins and Harrison controlled the middle, Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul controlled the edge, and Jonathan Casillas did a nice job filling and finishing at the linebacker position. That is not to say players like Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, and Travis Frederick had bad games because they did not. However, I do think La’el Collins and Doug Free were a bit exposed against the Giants. Free had problems all game with Pierre-Paul and his inside move in pass protection, while Collins struggled to create a push in the run game as well as failing to move his feet quick enough in pass protection. After such a promising offseason for Collins, I was most disappointed in his individual performance. On the other side of the ball, center Weston Richburg was phenomenal in creating lanes for Rashad Jennings up the middle. The pass rush for Dallas on the edge was predictably poor despite Benson Mayowa’s one sack on Eli Manning. The lone bright spot on the defensive line in my opinion was Terrell McClain, the oft-injured one technique. He showed his explosiveness and first-step quickness to get in the opponent’s backfield, but also finished on multiple plays for either a loss or no gain. If McClain can stay healthy, he could very well be the unsung hero of this defense.
– I have been very critical of Anthony Hitchens over the last few weeks, and this week is no different. He failed to fill the gaps, finish plays, and take proper pursuit angles in the run game. Linebacker play on Sunday was a big reason as to why New York’s running game was efficient, and a large part of that blame goes to the fact that this team does not have a true MIKE linebacker. Both Hitchens and Durant are WILL linebackers in this league, and they were exposed as to why they can’t play in the middle because of their inability to take on blocks. On the Larry Donnell touchdown, Anthony Hitchens’ job is stay on top of that route, yet he takes a horrible angle and instantly lets Donnell get behind him for six points. The Cowboys need to pray that Mark Nzeocha comes back healthy and can generate success at the position because if not, they may be better off looking for someone like Perry Riley Jr. off of the street.
– Other than Orlando Scandrick getting burned down the sideline by Odell Beckham Jr., I thought the secondary was a bright spot for the Cowboys. Brandon Carr was given a gift-wrapped interception, Morris Claiborne looked sticky and physical in man coverage, Barry Church was disciplined in run support, Byron Jones finished strong with a PBU on Larry Donnell, and even JJ Wilcox saved the game on the Giants’ last drive. Overall, a very solid performance from a highly criticized group.