Monday, September 19, 2016

The Morning After: Cowboys 27, Redskins 23

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2016/09/19/sturms-morning-prescott-appears-future

Words are tough to come by when talking about this kid. He has now been on public display for about six weeks and we are still waiting for him to show us he can't handle any of this. 
He is a rookie. 
He is a QB. 
He is starting for a team that has expectations this year. 
And he isn't letting them down.
In fact, if you would like to make a list for me on players who have done more to help this Dallas Cowboys team win than Dak Prescott so far, I am anxious to see what that list has on it. Prescott continues to dazzle and his play on Sunday was perhaps far more solid and repeatable than spectacular and jaw-dropping, but isn't that the point?
He looks like he does this all of the time. And as he made his first start away from home yesterday in Washington, we were still on guard that around the next corner there could be adversity waiting. He is a rookie QB making his first divisional road start against last year's champions, so this is going to be when he learns some tough lessons.
And then he does all of that. He makes plays, he moves the chains, he puts the ball in the end zone, he makes proper decisions, and he engineers a game-winning drive.
It appears Mr. Prescott has some qualities worth expanding upon. 
As someone who thought he played remarkably well in Week 1, you can imagine that I was even more pleased with his performance yesterday. The guy puts the ball where it needs to be on a repeated basis. He makes the right read, delivers the ball on time and gives his guys a chance to make a play after the catch. He worked the middle of the field and punished Washington for their coverage decisions as they pertained to Dez Bryant. He completed about 3 of every 4 passes and did so at a pretty impressive 10 yards per attempt. And, he stayed out of trouble all day.
Yes, he missed a few things on Sunday. He did not throw a perfect game. There were a few opportunities that might have escaped his vision at times when he was under duress. But give me the last Cowboys QB who was not named Romo who could drive the length of the field in the fourth quarter of a game and punch it in for a go-ahead touchdown. Then, tell me about that guy's rookie season - especially around Week 2.
If it isn't clear what I am getting at by now, let me continue with a few other thoughts on Prescott's start.
We have now seen him play 255 snaps as a Cowboy: 109 in the preseason and then 146 more in regular season. Through it all, he really has only flirted with an interception a few times. He takes care of the ball. He plays it safe as a default setting. Somehow, that is used against him at times, but I have never met anyone who really wants their rookie QB to show up with no discerning ability to know when to throw it into triple coverage. You must be a trustworthy QB before you earn the trust to take over the offense completely. 
And seeing him survey the action yesterday and gain enough trust from the coaching staff to run a 4th down in the first quarter to Geoff Swaim off a play-action fake was just unreal. 
You can tap the brakes all you want. I am going to call it what it really is. Phenomenal. This kid has played phenomenally well to put his team in position to win the first two games. And I have no doubt he can put them in position to compete all season long if he has to. 
The reason I feel that way goes all the way back to the 255 snaps number. That is about the number of snaps that teams need to get a "book" on someone. Three to four complete games of a player or team is what any defensive coaching staff want to see. Now, I am fudging the numbers a bit, because we usually would not allow preseason to be part of those numbers, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that the Giants and Redskins both used the Rams, Dolphins and Seahawks preseason games to get a read on what Prescott can and can't do. 
Defenses now understand what he can do, and now they're trying to figure out how to slow him down. The Cowboys have scored over and over again with him at the helm in pretty much all five of these games he has played in. And, if you were to ask me how many of these games was he supplemented with a dominating rushing attack, I think a fair answer may be that he really hasn't at all. 
Through two games, the Cowboys have run the ball on 60 different occasions. Forty-one of those have gone to the No. 4 overall pick, Ezekiel Elliott, and all 60 plays combined have accumulated 203 yards.  I don't know about you, but I would like to think that 60 plays gets me closer to 300, and the staggering reality is that the running game has supplied just 3.4 yards per carry. It has not been close to what was advertised: that this team would be able to bulldoze its way down the field repeatedly, with opponents waving white flags. That was a silly offseason idea that just doesn't materialize very often in this league. The NFL doesn't have teams run to championships; teams use the run game as part of a bigger mosaic. One that always includes a QB that can make sound decisions and then execute his duties with precision and timing. 
Dak Prescott is doing all of that.
In fact, if the 2016 NFL Draft were held today, I think we all see that Prescott goes higher than just about anyone else in the draft - including Zeke. I know it is crazy and I know I am contradicting what I saw from 200 of his Mississippi State snaps from 2015, but we have gathered new information. He has proven he is capable of playing well in the NFL and in Dallas.
Anytime this topic comes up, the self-loathing factions of Cowboys fandom as well as all of those who enjoy the Cowboys failing are quick to speak up and mock any declarations of positivity around here. I get it. You have seen dynasties, and this is a team that struggled to get to 1-1 against equally mediocre teams. This defense is spotty. The "all-time great" offensive line and running game are not hitting on even half of the cylinders right now. 
But, amidst all of this and the normal circus routine from the owner/general manager is a sparkling gem. If you have a rookie QB who can play, you might have the key to the next period of competing for playoffs and beyond. 
I have spent the last few years feeling like we were approaching the final act of Tony Romo's career. I am not in a big hurry to get there, but the realities cannot be ignored.His body has been battered and used up in so many ways. He may have more to give, but I think the train has left the station in terms of ever assuming the QB situation is settled with #9 under center for years at a time. 
To replace a guy like Romo should take some massive assets. Perhaps assets that need to go elsewhere. The irony of replacing an undrafted free agent with another QB who was taken after the 4th round seems like lightning striking twice.
Look, Prescott has a long, long way to go. 
But, did you see him standing tall in the pocket, surveying the field while his pass protection battled around him? Did you see his eyes stay up as guys are hanging on him? Did you see him know to take off and run for the end zone when nothing else looked appealing? Did you see him know to take the sack rather than throw the ball up for grabs?
I'm sorry, but there is nothing wrong with admitting this guy has already surpassed your wildest dreams. You take a guy that low and he is supposed to be hidden from the field for the first few years and then attempt to be a backup QB for a few more years. 
That's it.
So, this is already casino money on Prescott. He has won a game and put the team in position to win the other. The upgrade at the position from 2015 and really every other Romo-backup is obvious. They believe he can win. And so does he.
Yes, there are many other things we could discuss about this win in Washington. We could talk about the defense standing tall and forcing field goals and getting stops when it mattered most. We could talk about Alfred Morris and Justin Durant, two low-price veterans factoring in big or the defense getting an end-zone takeaway that meant the world in that game.
But, we have all week to get to that.
I want to entertain the idea that the Cowboys have found a QB worth talking about to consider the future after Romo.   
There are no guarantees where this journey leads, but I feel like I have seen the future, and it is worth being excited about. Don't be self-loathing. It is OK to dream that you have found the next guy.  
I'm not saying he is Russell Wilson, I swear.  But, he has a chance to be very good, it appears.  And that is the No. 1 reason why you should be smiling today.

Friday, September 16, 2016

DMN - Mailbag Sept 16 - Special Teams

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2016/09/16/sturms-cowboys-mailbag-special-teams-role-call-dak

On we go to Week 2, where the Cowboys are packing for a Noon kick in Washington.  Divisional games are all around the NFL as they have made it a point to start and end the season with these divisional battles.  It is enjoyable, for sure.  But, wow, if you lose both of them to the Giants and Redskins right off the bat, the stress level will go way up.
The Cowboys have slim margins throughout as they have to do many things right to emerge victorious.  I am not sure this is a team that can win too many weeks when they don't play very well.  They need, as their coach will say, to be solid in "all three phases."  Of all of the things he says, most don't shed much light on anything.  But, his acknowledgement about the special teams phase is vital is something I have always appreciated.  
Special teams are not that important - until they are.  And while that sounds silly, it is the margin for so many teams.  A few years ago, a mediocre 2014 Eagles team was able to disguise their mediocrity because their special teams were getting them so many points.  In the end, they were found out, but they rode that all the way into December that year.  Meanwhile, the 2010 San Diego Chargers were just the opposite:  A playoff team on offense and defense, but a few blocks here and there and the Chargers did not make the playoffs because their special teams unit cost them a few games.  In this league, you cannot spare a few games.  
That is why on certain mailbag days, I will supplement your content with a look at the various elements of the Cowboys Special Teams under their ST coach Rich Bisaccia.  Unlike college football, this requires all sorts of mental gymnastics, because NFL teams only have 46 available on game day.  When you deduct almost every starter from the choices, then deduct almost all of the linemen from the options, all of the QBs, and then all of the players that just aren't very good at running and tackling, Bisaccia has a list of about 15 players with which to build his 4 kick and cover teams.  Field Goal and Field Goal block teams can use linemen and it is easier, but covering and returning kicks require the end of your roster.  
The object of special teams is simple:  Don't be a catastrophe.  Every coach would accept league average.  Just don't get us beat.  Now, if you can find a great special teams, then your team might erase a lot of other weaknesses.  It could be a beautiful thing.
The Cowboys haven't really been particularly special on special teams since I have been tracking them, but they also have gone several years since they have been a real problem.
Today, I wanted to share a look at the kick teams.  Soon, I will do the same with the punt teams, but not today.
Here first, is the coverage team:

Safeties on the perimeter, Church has the position called "L1" and Wilcox is over on "R1".  Jones and Brown are L2 and R2 to keep speed on the edges, and then you start stacking linebackers and tight ends on the inside for L3, L4, L5 and R3, R4, R5.  Sometimes, they put safeties inside next to the kicker, too.  This time, Jeff Heath has L5.  Usually, the L5/R5 and L2/R2 are the first to arrive, with L1/R1 playing safety, and the 2nd wave behind the 1st, is L4/R4 and L3/R3.
Now, the return team:
Here is the kick return team.  We should point out that the NFL is slowly taking out the kickoff with rules that limit how often you actually need these teams, but for now, we proceed.  
The first line is often going to be linebackers/tight ends/full backs/safeties.  Then, the Cowboys like having a diamond behind the first line of five.  Behind the diamond are the last two, #45 Rod Smith will be the lead blocker for #13 Lucky Whitehead who is barely in the picture.  
These teams change constantly, due to injuries.  I imagine when the bullets are flying, Bisaccia is trying to keep his group intact, given that any injury on offense or defense could have immediate implications to the punt team he has to run out.  Everyone has to know every scenario to keep from catastrophes during the game.  In college, you have a huge roster to account for this, but on Sundays, he has no roster and little time to come up with quick solutions.
For now, the spine of his special teams appears to be:  Kyle Wilber (21 special teams snaps in week 1), Andrew Gachkar (18), Jeff Heath (18), Rod Smith (18), Damien Wilson (18), Byron Jones (15), and Keith Smith (13).  
How is this useful information for you?  Well, of course, you want to know who to credit or debit for big special teams moments, but you also want to know which names down the roster provide added value on gameday and thus keep from being scratched or even released when they need roster room. It is very basic job security for a lot of those names above - provided they do a great job.
Now, on to your emails:
Do you think this new guy, Ryan Davis will bring a spark to the pass rush?
I sure hope so.  I am sure you have seen how this guy - who I am guessing most had never heard of - is instantly the Cowboys career sack leader on the roster with his 11.5 career sacks.  Wow.  He is 27 years old and has played plenty in this league.  The Cowboys do a decent job of targeting names and jumping on them on the waiver wire when they come available at this position.  George Selvie and David Irving both come to mind as guys they see fit their profile (high motor, active players) who can cause commotion.  I have been asked if he is a player this weekend, and while I have no idea, I suggest that he is only here to help in September for now.  So, I would not be surprised if they run solution possibilities right out there in these first four games.  
Would you change the offense at all to take advantage of more Dak skills, like maybe running the read option?
Oh, yes.  And I expect that is already their plan.  They are trying to get him prepared for so many scenarios that they are likely trying to keep things simple, but I expect that will be a real weapon this year before it is all over.  His one "keep" on Sunday was pretty effective.  But, more than anything, it is the threat that he will keep it that is most valuable.  It should keep defenses honest.
At what point would you hit the panic button on Zeke? Is it not alarming that he couldn't produce behind this offensive line?
It surely wasn't a great debut by any stretch and you already know my consternation on the idea of investing so heavily in him.  But, let's slow before we get too carried away on the debuts of Elliott or even Dez Bryant.  It was one game.  Let's chat when it gets to four or five games.  By then, either they have demonstrated their quality or we are panicking.  
People scoff at Week 2 being a "must-win" but isn't it when you consider not just starting 0-2 but being two back in the division?
All along, I was thinking 2-2 in the first four was vital.  I was planning on splitting the first two divisional games and then splitting the next two with the Bears and 49ers.  0-2 would not be ideal, but it also would not be the end of the year.  So, yeah, winning on Sunday would be a real great plan.  But, it will also be a very angry Redskins team that was humiliated on Monday Night in that same stadium.  That should make one optimistic, but it always makes me nervous when you have to play a humiliated opponent.  
Alfred Morris has been the ideal teammate and is producing in limited action. You think he's earned the right to more carries, especially against his former team?
I think Morris is quite an impressive man.  He really says all the right things and then just plays his tail off.  I would be quick to give him a heavy workload on Sunday as it will mean a lot to him to show his old team that they definitely made a poor choice.  The odd thing is, I kind of think they did the right thing.  You see, Morris as a #2 is great.  Morris as a #1 is probably not great.  I think Washington realized that, too.  The real mystery is why Washington really didn't do anything at RB and now they look like they have nothing there.
Is Dak being too safe right now? Seemed like in the preseason when he had nothing to lose he would let it rip to Dez but now he seems a little scared...
I really don't have much concern about this.  His job is to lead drives down the field and then make throws for points.  If Beasley holds his touchdown and Dez holds his, Dak fever is off the charts and the Cowboys scored 27 or so in their opener.  From what I have seen from Prescott, I would not call him "captain check-down" at all.  He did his part.  Now, as he gets more comfortable and as the coaches make adjustments (please, please), getting the ball to Dez in better spots is the goal.
Do you think the Cowboys have enough depth in the secondary? Seemed like once Scandrick went out for a bit last week things fell apart. Is Anthony Brown any good?
I like what I have seen from Brown, but I will grant you that I haven't seen much in a Cowboys uniform yet. I think they have decent depth, but they desperately need Scandrick to be Scandrick again for this to work.  He was victimized badly by Odell Beckham on Sunday and that was quite distressing.  Let's see how he is able to rally from what we are hearing is a small hamstring issue.  If he isn't special this year, things might start to fall apart in that secondary.  Brown seems capable, but they need better than that right now. 
The Cowboys have made a habit of restructuring contracts (and drafting them with an eye toward that possibility). Is this an advisable/sustainable way to allocate resources or does it risk too much dead money if players break down or underperform?
No.  It is not advisable or sustainable.  I don't like it and no team does more of it than Dallas.  In fact, I have even heard them admit that they write contracts knowing they are going to restructure the deal.  Other teams try to go the other way and find ways to do a deal where they pay a ton in Year 1 to make the end of the deal nothing.   But, the Cowboys always have this giant boulder rolling at them - take Tony Romo's deal - and they run to stay ahead of it, like Indiana Jones.  
I don't think that anyone keeps record of this, but I would love to see the league's restructuring standings in the last decade.  It would be a real shock to me if anyone did it more than Dallas does.  This type of business cost them DeMarcus Ware and it always keeps them in a financially tight spot where they never seem to catch up.
Ok, that is the mailbag this week.  Enjoy the game.  The Cowboys can definitely win it, but this one should be another tight game with 5 minutes to go.  Let's hope they make a few plays down the stretch this time.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Marinelli Report - Week 1 - Giants

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2016/09/14/sturms-marinelli-report-gashed-middle-defense

Everything was going really well for the Cowboys' defense on Sunday. With 10:12 left in the game, the Cowboys had limited the Giants to just 13 points on seven drives.
In the second half of the game, the Cowboys had stopped Eli Manning with a Brandon Carr interception on the first drive of the third quarter, a Benson Mayowa sack on the next drive, an Orlando Scandrick sack on the next drive and a pretty impressive play by Byron Jones to break up a pass on third down on the fourth drive that was early in the fourth quarter.
The Cowboys were making plays defensively. A takeaway, two sacks and breaking up passes? Who were these guys?

But as we know, the game didn't end with 10 minutes to go in the fourth quarter. At that point, the Giants hadn't accomplished too much offensively and very little on the ground. But, somehow, on the final two drives, when the Dallas defense had only played about 16 minutes the entire afternoon, they were unable to deal with the Giants' running game right down the middle.
The Cowboys were about to taste the pain. The Giants cranked up a running game we didn't really realize they had and pushed the ball down the field twice when it counted most. Once to take the lead was just complementing Eli and his crew through the air. But the killer was the final Giants drive that took the clock and all the timeouts away from the Cowboys.
It was a classic four-minute drill. This is not as famous among fans as the two-minute drill, because it is pretty much the opposite. Instead of trying to score quickly, you are trying to bleed the clock dry. This is best done on the ground so that you don't stop the clock. The problem is that the defense knows you want to run and that means it is a matter of might. Can your guys block theirs?
With Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton and a healthy Tyrone Crawford, I was optimistic the Cowboys would be fine in these situations. But, if any part of your preseason confidence should be rattled, it might be what we saw in those final two drives. A fresh Cowboys defense was gouged repeatedly.
In yellow, please see six carries for 58 yards -- very discouraging against what the league expects will not be much of a run game. But they ran it down the Cowboys' throat in Dallas.

Just demoralizing -- and almost all similar runs where they were between the tackles and attacking the Cowboys in the heart. And maybe most discouraging, with all six of these runs, is there are almost no signs of linebackers making a positive impact.
We saw the first sign back in the second quarter. Look at this run right at the Cowboys' middle:
The Giants' left guard, Justin Pugh (No. 67), counters around and Rashad Jennings goes untouched into the secondary. Both linebackers get blocked and there is just nothing the Cowboys' front is able to accomplish.
Now, on to those six runs in the fourth quarter. Ben McAdoo knew he could go back to this.
The Giants' right guard, John Jerry (No. 67), counters the other direction with Shane Vereen behind him through the hole. Rookie defensive tackle Maliek Collins (No. 96) is tossed aside and you could drive a truck through that hole. Lee gets blocked, Durant gets caught in the traffic and again, your safety makes a tackle.
Fullback lead. Same concepts. Double-team the defensive tackle, push the defensive end out and have a lead run right at a linebacker untouched. Secondary is exposed and must make the tackle.
Do you think, by now, the Giants are wondering if the Cowboys can stop them? Jennings, your turn again. Look at this one. Double-team the 1-tech (McClain), pull the weak-side guard to get the linebacker, and off to the races again.
Now, pull the weak-side guard in the other direction. This is getting silly now. Mayowa gets shoved inside by the tight end (can't happen) and now, on a play that looks confusing, the Giants and Jennings are in the secondary again.
This is the portion of the review where it might be worth asking why in the world Rod Marinelli isn't putting this team in the right defense.  You know, when the team is getting killed in the middle, why are they still with only six men in the box?  Why not - as the Giants did all day - put 7 or 8 in the box to chase the Giants out of this repeated hammer session?
At this point of the exercise, it is possible you are starting to understand why the Cowboys have an irrational dependency on Rolando McClain, right? It is tough to play in this league without a middle linebacker.
And finally, a 3rd-and-12, where they almost got it.
I didn't mean to make you sick on this Wednesday morning, but these are seven runs -- all pretty important in the game -- where I'm not sure a running back had to break an attempted tackle from the D-line or linebackers. They were seven big runs in which the safeties and corners had to make all of the tackles on inside runs! Ground-and-pound.
Heaven help us.

WEEKLY DATA BREAKDOWN 



The defensive overview shows us plenty of interesting things, with a lot of numbers you will take on a weekly basis. In this league, giving up 20 and 316 yards is pretty decent. Low explosive plays against (20-plus yards) and that time of possession is solid.
But you can't give up three touchdowns on three red zone drives -- that is not going to get it done. Last year, of all of the things the Cowboys tried to do on defense, they actually were pretty solid in this category: finishing eighth in the league with a red zone defense of 51 percent. Only 51 percent of drives by opponents in the red zone ended with touchdowns. That was good. Allowing 100 percent is going to get you beat.
ELI MANNING THROW CHART:
Behold, the McAdoo offense. Get the ball out quickly and spread it around. You can see a lot more between the numbers than Dak Prescott from yesterday. Also, fewer shots downfield.
SPLASH PLAYS:
We are looking for playmakers and moments in the game where the defense has a chance to do something to turn the tide.
That is why I keep splash plays here to see who is doing what. There is no question that the big takeaway from Week 1 was the run defense could not get a stop in the fourth quarter. I don't want that to influence you about the quality of Terrell McClain. I think he was the bright spot defensively in Week 1 as a defensive tackle who was routinely making big plays and causing havoc. He lost some snaps -- this league is hard and the players are very good -- but he also ended the game with a team-high 3.5 splash plays, demonstrating why everyone on the coaching staff raved about him through training camp.
TEAM TOTALS - SPLASHES - WEEK 1:
Unfortunately, all we saw from the defense with any degree of consistency was the play of Terrell McClain (3.5 splashes). Otherwise, there were several occasions when someone made one play.
Clearly, watching Mayowa rush the passer was enjoyable, but there are concerns about him holding up against the run. Scandrick certainly didn't look like he could run vertically with someone like Odell Beckham, but in blitzing, he has some real value.
And even publicly, Jason Garrett said they need more from Tyrone Crawford, which is starting to become a bit of a trend we hope changes quickly.
I thought David Irving really showed he needs more opportunities and Byron Jones has plenty of value as both a safety and a slot guy against tight ends. And, more than anything, I am very worried about Anthony Hitchens and Justin Durant trying to play big snaps at middle linebacker. It seems like a real weak spot right now, but we need to see more to verify on Sunday.


I thought we would see more blitzes in 2016, but I also said we shouldn't expect it against the Giants in Week 1. Teams don't blitz them and for good reason. So, this is just for your information. But, 6-29 is roughly the 20 percent Rod Marinelli usually sends.

CONCLUSIONS AND TAKEAWAYS

Overall, the defense was like the offense: Some good, but too much that needs to be better. From the defensive perspective, they are trying to play without defensive ends and linebackers they believe in (besides Sean Lee). The good news is that the most talented defensive lineman they have will be returning for Week 5 in DeMarcus Lawrence, but that won't help them get ready for their next three opponents.
They have to find their strengths and identity. You have to be good at either stopping the run or stopping the pass. When you look at the personnel, you are tempted to say that stopping the pass should be their strength, but then you see that rushing the passer is a real issue. You think they have some good run-stoppers, but then you see they have no linebackers who can clean up any issues on run plays in the middle, like peak Rolando McClain would. If a perfectly fresh defense can't stop the Giants' running game in the fourth quarter, what happens when they play a solid running team and are tired?
In other words, Marinelli has his work cut out for Week 2 and beyond. They have interesting parts, but they appear to be a few short of a solid defense at the moment.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Decoding Linehan - Week 1 - Missed Opportunities

http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-cowboys/cowboys/2016/09/13/sturms-decoding-linehan-taking-shots-connecting-enough


On Tuesdays, we examine the offense from as many perspectives as possible and make sure, like the coaching staff, that we "look at the tape" to see what jumps out at us about the Scott Linehan/Jason Garrett offense.
We want to examine what worked and what didn't to see how this offense is coming along. There were some very good things for the Cowboys -- 75 snaps is pretty great and nearly 37 minutes would be considered fantastic. Twenty-four first downs is excellent and 10 third-down conversions is off the charts.
On the bad ledger: 75 snaps and one touchdown. Seventy-five snaps and just one explosive play (plays of 20 yards or more) -- a 21-yard catch by Geoff Swaim, of all people. And why are you also in 17 third-down situations? That also is off the charts. And just 19 points.
This is the 33rd regular season game for Scott Linehan calling plays and this game ranked 30th on the yards-per-play list, as the team snapped the ball 75 times for just 328 yards, which comes out to 4.37 yards per play. Way too low.
30.            9/11/16            New York Giants            4.37 ypp
31.            11/15/15            Tampa Bay                        4.30 ypp
32.            11/1/15            Seattle                                    3.85 ypp
33.            11/26/15            Carolina                             3.75 ypp
It was truly a rough November last season.
Regardless, when you look at all of these numbers, you conclude that the biggest problem on Sunday was that there were no explosive plays -- yards in big chunks -- which we never imagined would be a real issue.
What happened? Many of you have claimed that Scott Linehan was way too conservative with Dak Prescott making his debut. There is no question that they did not ask him to make all sorts of big throws, but I will respectfully disagree with the idea that the offense was really dialed back. I thought they took several shots. In fact, here is Dak Prescott's throw chart (thanks to my guy, John Daigle for his fine work again this year). The spots are where the ball lands and with this many throws past 20 yards, I don't think you can make the claim that they ran the Brandon Weeden game plan. That was wildly conservative, but I think the Cowboys were opportunistic to throw the ball downfield on Sunday.
They just didn't connect enough.


This shows six passes of 20 yards or longer, but only one was a blue dot -- 1-6 on these throws is something that you want to improve. You also will want to get some YAC, which the Cowboys didn't have much of. There is no reason some of these shorter passes shouldn't be able to break into the open field. Especially with the Giants crowding the line to stop the run.

DEZ BRYANT: 1 catch, 8 yards

Here are the balls to Dez Bryant:
Here was his lone catch. Second play of the game, a comeback to the sideline.
Deep shot to Dez from the slot. This one was close for sure. We have seen No. 88 come down with this in the past. It just didn't connect this time against Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
Here is another look at how close that was.
Next, this is Janoris Jenkins taking a face-mask penalty against Dez as the ball is sent in that direction.
The above play changes your entire perception of Sunday's performance. If Dez catches this, everything is different. The Cowboys likely win. Dak Prescott is a hero. But, Bryant did not secure the ball and the review got them (again). Dez doesn't let this happen much, but even he will admit he has to win this ball.
Next, another play-action shot to Dez where Prescott is trying to hold the safety and then make a safe throw downfield. This is the one where you would like a better throw, but he was erring on the side of caution and threw it out of bounds.
Down one, 2nd-and-10, 5:33 left in the game. This one hurts. This ball is there and this ball is catchable although DRC does a nice job getting an arm in there to increase the degree of difficulty. Dez has position on Rodgers-Cromartie and this should help get them in position to win the game. Instead, the sun wins. Maddening! But, the throw is there.  
So there are all of the shots they took to Dez. I think it is important to see all of these shots before we act like they didn't try to get Bryant involved more. This many deep shots indicate that maybe they need more short throws to get him involved, but at least four times they gave him a real chance to affect the outcome with these throws.
They were searching for explosives. They just have to connect.

OFFENSIVE LINE ISSUES

Now, there is no question we are going to hold the offensive line to a very high standard. Very high. They are called the best line in the National Football League. They have three All-Pro players and have invested high draft picks and now massive contracts on this line. They have built everything around this line and some of you have called them one of the greatest lines in history.
It all looks great on paper.
But, 30 runs for 101 yards is just not what we were looking for. I chose to focus on Dak-to-Dez this week, but we will break down the offensive line all season from a running game perspective.
Today, though, I did want to spend a few minutes on the Giants front vs. Dallas. You know that all of the division rivals have gone heavy on D-line because they know they have to deal with the Dallas O-line. They know that this could likely determine success or failure, playoffs or not, and coaching/GM job security or the owner will go find someone else who can beat Dallas.
So the Giants went and spent. They signed Olivier Vernon from Miami and Damon Harrison from the Jets. They kept Jason Pierre-Paul and bet that those three and Johnathan Hankins could upset the Cowboys' run game and affect the passer. They then stacked the box to make running very difficult.
The Giants had zero sacks and zero takeaways on Sunday, yet it seemed like they won the line of scrimmage against the Cowboys on the final scorecard.
In fact, the Cowboys only did not score on four drives. And one of those was the final drive where they had some clock issues. But, the two drives in the fourth quarter where they let the game get away were both sabotaged by killer offensive holding penalties on La'el Collins. Do you know a bad combination? First-and-20, and then no explosive plays to get it all back.
First play of the drive where the Cowboys had a 19-13 lead and the ball with 12:00 left in the game. If they march this ball, they might win with ease. Instead, on the first snap, La'el tackles Vernon. Just tackles him. And the drive died with a three-and-out.
Next drive. Now, down 20-19 -- 4:57 left and 1st-and-10 at the Cowboys' 36. They need to score on this drive. Instead, on first down (again!) La'el Collins holds Vernon. Again. And again, three plays later, here comes the punt team.
I want to keep stats this season on how many drives are killed by holding penalties. They are absolute drive killers. And the Cowboys had two killers in the fourth quarter. This wasn't play calling.
Then, Jason Pierre-Paul vs. Doug Free happened. In the box score, JPP didn't upset the game or anything. But, we know this Cowboys-killer played quite a role. Let's watch a few of his better moments:
Gets Doug Free on an island.
Versus empty, Free now sets too far outside and JPP blows by inside.
Finally, late in the game, he almost gets home again.  
I would say the Giants feel pretty good about this strong performance against the best O-line in football.





Clearly, the YPP and the red zone execution are major components. And then just the one explosive play. There were some really good things on Sunday in terms of moving the chains and getting decent QB play, but obviously, they left a lot on the field.
PERSONNEL GROUPINGS PRODUCTION 



This is an interesting study when Tony Romo is the QB and the Cowboys vary their personnel groupings on nearly every play. But, as you can see, I think with Prescott, they are going to stay in 11 personnel almost all of the time and usually keep him in that familiar spot of shotgun where he can get the zone read going a bit more as he gets comfortable.


The official stats say 75 plays, but we don't keep the knees or the clocked plays in our charting, because really, what is the point of calling those run plays or pass plays?

CONCLUSIONS AND TAKEAWAYS

This needs to be a "big play" offense and on Sunday with Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott, we saw no big plays to speak of. The only one was to the third tight end and another near-explosive to the fourth WR in Brice Butler.  
But, they took shots, they got good production from their QB -- let's not have him throw 45 times again soon, OK -- and they took care of the ball. They cannot deal with penalties on the O-line and the reviews were mixed in the blocking game and pass protection.
All things considered, scoring five times should be enough, but 19 points will hardly ever suffice in the NFL.
Some good things, but not enough to win. They need much better starting Sunday in Washington.
It is possible the game would have ended differently with one more kick. But, the enduring memory of losing to the Giants in Week 1 might come down to wondering if Dan Bailey can make a 63-yarder if this play ends differently.
We will never know.