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Cowboys vs. Lions — 1st Movement: Slugfest

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A football masterpiece in four movements. The first quarter featured two likely playoff teams going toe to toe and neither backing down.

Detroit Lions v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

I actually attended the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions on Monday night, so we'll do something a little different this time. I'll take you through my thoughts as I watched the game and the plays that stood out to me at the time for various reasons. They are not all the plays you would think. Neither Ezekiel Elliott’s 55-yard touchdown nor Dez Bryant’s first pass in the NFL to give Jason Witten his third touchdown of the year made it into these proceedings, though they were certainly extraordinary plays. But rather I wanted to give you the game from where I sat (in the same end zone where Dez caught his first TD) and try to capture the sense of being there with me.

In the first quarter of the game both teams came out on fire, scoring on their first two drives. It certainly looked like it would be a barn-burner at that point. Dallas received the kick and immediately went on the offensive.

"Either Witten or Butler is going to be open"

That was my comment to my seat neighbor when Dallas lined up five wide and Detroit answered with a Cover Two dime look. He responded that he thought it would be Brice Butler. Dallas loves to run the "four verticals" concept out of this look and Tony Romo did amazing amounts of damage with this set up over his career. The silver arrows are Jason Witten (in tight) and Brice Butler (in the slot). Safety Miles Killebrew is lined up on Witten but safety Don Carey appears to pull him off that assignment. He actually covers a short zone in the offensive left (small blue box). This requires Carey to come up and take Witten, and removes Killebrew entirely from the play. Safety Glover Quinn is now responsible for a huge area of the field (larger blue box) because the two silver routes along with Terrance Williams going deep at the far left basically leave two Lions covering three Cowboys, one of whom is Jason Witten.

There’s a lot happening here but notice that Quinn has two blue arrows assigned. That’s because he has to keep an eye on Dez Bryant going vertical at the bottom of your screen as well as what’s happening across the field because the other safety must come up on Witten. The silver rectangle shows where Butler can go that Quinn cannot reach in time and the Lions right CB cannot get leverage on because he also has to cover Terrance Williams at the top of the screen.

Dak Prescott delivers the ball on time and on target while Butler (silver circle) has tons of space around him. This timing is critical, however, as the NFL is a very fast place. When Joey Ickes talks about needing to throw with anticipation what he means is that Dak saw this in his mind before ever getting here. If Dak was waiting to see this scene before throwing instead of having the ball already out at this point, it would’ve been a very different outcome.

Even with all the space we showed, here is the view from the end zone as Butler leaves the ground to go get the ball. You can see the enormous room he has to make the play.

But by the time his feet return to the ground it looks like this.

If Prescott had waited another quarter second delivering that ball, Quinn likely gets his hands on it. His anticipation and timing made the play happen.

"I think that one’s on Church"

That’s what I told my father after Detroit’s first touchdown. I was sort of right, but not entirely. The Lions leave Randy Gregory unblocked coming off the end. Their left tackle, Taylor Decker, fires off the line and takes out Anthony Hitchens. Zach Zenner takes a handoff to the right but cuts it back over the left guard who, with the center, absolutely obliterates Jack Crawford (silver circle).

Jack Crawford gets doubled and beaten badly back. Sean Lee has to fill in the front side hole and, again, this leaves the left tackle alone to take out Hitchens. Gregory is turning in, but Eric Ebron is coming across the formation to get in his way. Meanwhile, Barry Church has a chance to fill in the hole and stop the bleeding.

Except Anquan Boldin will try to block Church. Zenner now has a clear cutback lane. But there’s still Orlando Scandrick and Brandon Carr with only Golden Tate to block the both of them.

Boldin pushes Church too far inside to make the play. Decker has taken Htichens out completely. Jack Crawford is on the ground. Maliek Collins is on his knees. Randy Gregory is around Ebron, but has gone way too wide to be a factor in the play. Carr and Scandrick engage Tate and are the only ones who can make this stop.

If anyone can explain to me why they appear to be blocking Golden Tate to clear a path for Zach Zenner, I would like to know. I literally have no idea what those two were trying to do, but both of them didn’t just run themselves out of the hole, they actually pushed Golden Tate in front of them while they did it. Touchdown Lions.

Randy Gregory got a lot of blame on Twitter and message boards for the running success the Lions had early, but he really didn’t have much to do with it. It was more atrocious gap discipline and just plain poor play on the part of the defense. They weren’t done with their poor play, but they actually started playing better much sooner than most people realized. But the offense was about to start struggling.

Stay tuned for Part 2.