The Dallas Cowboys won their second game of the 2016 season against the Washington Redskins 27-23. Although multiple players shined when it came to crunch time, the film also showed issues for the Cowboys that could linger on going forward.
This win comes after a heartbreaking loss to the New York Giants, and it now seems Dallas has the confidence and momentum shifting in their favor going into next week’s game against the Chicago Bears. The offense had five scoring drives of 76, 94, 43, 75, and 80 respectively, highlighting the Cowboys’ ability to move the ball at will while milking the game clock at the same time. The defense made plays when it counted in the fourth quarter, but the bottom line is that there are still major issues on this side of the ball. I will be highlighting those issues in this film review.
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 a good win against the Washington Redskins, but below are my main takeaways and notes from the second week of my season-long film review series.
– After watching Sunday’s game, it was obvious that Dak Prescott made a big jump in his play at the quarterback position. He led his team on five scoring drives, three of them going for touchdowns, something this team needed last week against the Giants. However, there is still one big critique I have in my notes on Dak Prescott, and that is his inability to make throws in the red zone. It is confusing because he did show promise in this area with Dez Bryant in the preseason, but it is now week three, and he has yet to become comfortable in this part of the field. There was a play where he had Bryant one on one with a fade route, but was indecisive and too late in his delivery as the ball sailed out of bounds. This is the part of the game where the Cowboys miss Tony Romo the most because of his chemistry with Dez Bryant in the red zone. After all of the talk that Prescott trusts Bryant in jump ball situations leading up to the season, I have yet to see it come to fruition. This must change if Dallas is to finish games against better teams in the future.
– The heat Ezekiel Elliott has received from fans regarding his two fumbles late in the game is warranted, but it is not an indicator of how he played Sunday. After showing impatience by trying to take every carry to the house against the Giants, Elliott apparently learned his lesson because his patience to let the holes develop was quite impressive. Elliott also finished his runs downhill with leg drive and toughness. The fans will remember Elliott’s lack of ball security for his performance against the Redskins, but his developing patience and ability to set up play action, considering how much attention he draws each play, provides a lot of hope going forward. On another note, Lance Dunbar once again proved his value as a third-down back by making an impressive adjustment to a subpar throw by Prescott. Many underestimate Dunbar’s value to this team, and I believe he will be an important piece to this offense going forward as long as he stays healthy.
– Dez Bryant proved that his performance against the Giants with only one catch on five targets was an anomaly with his stat line of seven catches for 102 yards on Sunday. Bryant was heavily targeted throughout the game and played like the elite receiver that fans love to watch. As mentioned above with Prescott, Bryant and Prescott need to build chemistry in the red zone. Instead of throwing fades high and outside to Bryant, there should be more back-shoulder fades thrown down the line instead. We have seen Bryant and Prescott execute these back-shoulder fades in the preseason, and it should help their efficiency in the red zone. Cole Beasley is one of the hardest slot receivers to cover in the entire NFL. His understanding of how and when to sell routes with his head fakes and plant foot is simply remarkable. Add that to his quickness to get separation on anybody lined up against him, he could lead this team in catches at the end of the year. In fact, he is on pace to catch more than 100 passes this season. On a play against Bashaud Breeland, he made him look silly with a double move and was bound to catch an easy touchdown before Breeland basically tackled him to prevent a score, resulting in a holding call. Beasley lacks the size to be a true threat at the goal line, but he is a sneaky red zone threat because of his ability to get underneath in man coverage so quickly.
– Terrell McClain has been a force in the run game for the Cowboys thus far. McClain could be an impact player as long as he stays healthy, and his past two performances have clearly shown him to be the best defensive lineman for this team. His relentless pursuit to chase plays down from the backside is admirable, and it just seems he is always disrupting plays in the backfield for a loss time and time again. Maliek Collins also had an impressive outing. His motor and effort on one specific third down before the half was the difference in Washington kicking a field goal and potentially scoring a touchdown. Chris Thompson caught a check down from Cousins and was about to run for an easy first down, but Collins was able to chase him down from behind. In addition, he was quick off of the line and would have brought down Matt Jones for a loss in the backfield if Benson Mayowa was able to keep his contain, but because that did not happen, Jones scored a 14 yard touchdown. In an interesting move to help mitigate the lack of pass rush depth on the outside, Tyrone Crawford was able to get a sack on the last drive of the game. I wonder if Collins’ recent success at three technique will have Marinelli moving Crawford outside more often, but it is just food for thought.
– There has to be a better MIKE linebacker on this roster than Anthony Hitchens, right? Hitchens has been dreadful the past two weeks. I said it during training camp along with a couple of others that he is strictly a WILL linebacker, as he is not able to take on or shed blocks at the point of attack. He is too hesitant, and his lack of functional strength is a grave concern for his ability to play in the middle. Last week against the Giants, he took an extremely poor angle trying to get over the top on a Larry Donnell touchdown, and Sunday was no different, as he was sucked in by the play action fake and allowed Jordan Reed to get behind him for a big gain. One has to wonder how long this team will put up with Hitchens’ poor play at the position because Justin Durant was able to make plays when they counted at the MIKE linebacker spot, including a game-ending deflection on fourth down.
– Another thing that I do not understand about this team is why they deploy JJ Wilcox on the field so often, let alone as a centerfielder. With his lack of understanding of how and where to take his range/pursuit angles, he is more of a liability than asset in coverage. There were a couple of times where DeSean Jackson got behind the defense because of Wilcox’s inability to get over the top, but Kirk Cousins was unable to complete any of them. If Kavon Frazier is not ready to play, I understand why the Cowboys would have Wilcox active, but putting him in a “rotation” with Byron Jones at free safety is inexcusable in my opinion, and this team will pay for it when they face a quarterback who can actually complete a deep ball. On another note, I think Morris Claiborne is really coming into his own. I have said since last year that Claiborne is the best cornerback on this roster as long as he is healthy, and that has been the case so far this season. He has been light years better as an open-field tackler, mostly due to him filling out his frame and getting stronger in the offseason. Other than one of the lousiest holding calls thrown in a long time in the first quarter, Claiborne played a near-perfect game as he was asked to play with his back to the ball and showed his sticky man coverage skills. The biggest play of the game came on a Kirk Cousins misfire in the end zone. He predetermined and stared down his throw to Pierre Garcon on an in route while Barry Church was sitting there the whole time. As a result, Church intercepted the ball and the rest is history. If there is one thing that this defense as a whole is doing better this season, it is that they are capitalizing on quarterback mistakes. Last week, it was Brandon Carr intercepting a poorly thrown ball by Eli Manning, and now this week, Barry Church undercut a throw in the end zone. It is hard to believe, but the Cowboys rarely did this in 2015, and as long as they can keep this up, this team will be in better position to win games.