The Cowboys fell short in week one against the Panthers in what looked like week five of the preseason. Let’s take a look at the tape and see what they need to improve on in order to get back to 1-1 on the season in week two.
Dak Prescott with another rocky week one performance
Last Sunday, Dak Prescott played in his third-season opener of his young career. In each of those starts, Prescott has struggled to lead the offense. It was a similar story on Sunday for the third-year quarterback. Dak finished the game going 19/29, 170 yards, and a 81.1 quarterback rating. Prescott’s first half wasn’t all that bad given the down and distances he was put in due to penalties and sacks, but in the second half Prescott really struggled to find the open man. Even though the offense moved the ball best in the second half, I thought Prescott played his worst football in the second half. Prescott continued to “see ghosts” in the pocket and down the field on multiple occasions. When he had time to find an open receiver, he seemed to bail out of the pocket and look to run, or buy time that he already had in the pocket. Prescott did get sacked six times on Sunday, so it’s hard to blame a young quarterback to begin to drop his eyes and look to leave the pocket when you’re continuing to get hit. The second biggest-issue with Dak is he still is taking way too long to go through his progressions. Prescott does an excellent job of scanning the field, but he tends to take to much time reading one side of the field, before scanning to the opposite side. Prescott will need to improve in week two if the Cowboys want to get their first win of the season.
Dak has to progress the field better. Terrance Williams is open at the 45 yard line, but he's looking to exploit the matchups on the right side of the field. pic.twitter.com/X2hIw87ju5— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 11, 2018
Cowboys struggled to run the football on Sunday as Elliott is rusty
If you look at Ezekiel Elliott’s numbers from Sunday, they don’t look all that bad. Elliott finished the 16-8 loss getting 15 carries for 69 yards, and one touchdown. Elliott had a few nice runs in the second half, but he was a non-factor in the first half of the football game. At the end of the first half, Elliott had seven carries for 18 yards. In the second half, Elliott had a little more success getting things going. Elliott’s long run of the afternoon went for 17 yards, but when evaluating the whole sample size Elliott struggled, some due to the offensive line, and some due to him being a bit rusty. Elliott didn’t take a single carry in preseason and it showed. Elliott was brought down rather easily on a few tackles, and had an opportunity to pickup a big gain on a pass from Dak Prescott but was brought down by an arm tackle in the open field. Similar to the quarterback, Ezekiel Elliott has to be better this Sunday if the Cowboys want to win. Let’s hope the coaches scheme some things to get the ball in Elliott’s hands early and often, outside of them just smashing it up the middle.
Following up the big run here is some poor vision from Zeke. He presses the hole and hit a bend read to the backside. he should have made a bang read. Looney makes a ridiculous reach block, but Zeke's cut renders it ineffective. Should have ran it right off Looney's butt. pic.twitter.com/6txdz35dLj— John Owning (@JohnOwning) September 10, 2018
New-look receiving corps showed some nice things
When the quarterback struggles, the receivers normally struggle as well. While that seemed to be the case in the first half, that was not the case in the second half. The Cowboys receivers played well in the second half of the game. Cole Beasley was excellent all afternoon getting open, and catching everything thrown his way. Beasley solidified himself as the teams WR1 catching seven balls for 79 yards. He lined up both in the slot and on the boundary and had success getting open in both. Deonte Thompson showed some nice things as well. Thompson didn’t stuff the stat sheet, but he played pretty well in the opportunities he was given. Michael Gallup and Terrance Williams both caught a pass each, but both players did a nice job creating separation in all three levels of the field. Gallup did drop a ball on a crossing route that was thrown slightly behind him that had the potential to be a big gain. The tight ends had a decent afternoon as well getting open, and creating a little bit of separation down the field. There was no Greg Olsen lining up at tight end for the Cowboys, but Geoff Swaim and Blake Jarwin did a nice job getting open, and didn’t seem to have any huge misses when run blocking.
Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson all open here. Dak rolls out of the pocket and picks up the first down.— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 11, 2018
Tavon.. lol pic.twitter.com/4JMt8EEhLZ
Offensive line had its ups and downs, but struggled when it mattered most
Deploying a backup center and a rookie left guard getting his first start, there was plenty of reason to be worried about the Cowboys offensive line against the Panthers front seven. In the first half, the Cowboys offensive line struggled to create running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott, but things started to open up in the second half. Connor Williams gave up two sacks on the day, but had some good moments in his first start lining up against Kawann Short. Joe Looney played really well in place of Travis Frederick, according to PFF, Joe Looney did not allow a pressure all game, which is great news for a team that has no idea when their starting center will be back. La’el Collins and Tyron Smith struggled quite a bit on Sunday against the Panthers edge rushers. Both Tyron Smith and La’el Collins were called for two penalties a piece and didn’t have their best days in pass protection. Zack Martin gave up a sack in the second half, but he looked his regular self for a majority of the game. The Cowboys OL has another tough matchup this Sunday against a Giants front seven that employs Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Dalvin Tomlinson, and B.J. Hill.
The “Hot Boyz” brought the heat
If we want to point out positives from the Cowboys loss on Sunday, starting at the defensive line would be a wise decision. DeMarcus Lawrence is going to receive a gigantic payday this offseason and he deserves every penny of it. The interior defensive line played a very good game, which is something not many expected with David Irving suspended, and Maliek Collins missing most of the offseason. Daniel Ross, Antwaun Woods, Tyrone Crawford, and Maliek Collins all flashed against a banged up Carolina offensive line. Randy Gregory saw only a few snaps, and didn’t look bad in the reps he received. Taco Charlton had his best game as a member of the Cowboys and looked explosive rushing the passer, throwing his spin move, and bull rushing. If the Cowboys defensive line continues to play at the level they played at against the Panthers, the Cowboys defense is going to be one of the better units in the NFL.
Cowboys linebackers showed rust in first half
It was a rough first half for the Cowboys linebackers. Sean Lee struggled wrapping up, taking angles, and reading plays as the defensive captain. It’s not often we get to point the finger at Lee when placing blame, but he was really bad against the Panthers. Jaylon Smith made a few nice plays, but he also struggled taking good angles to the ball carrier. Damien Wilson reverted back to his normal, below-average form, after a really nice preseason. The Cowboys defense did a really nice job containing Christian McCaffrey, but that was more thanks to the defensive line, not the linebackers. They will not need to worry about the quarterback running the football this week against the Giants, so hopefully we’ll see them flow to the football, and play with the speed and aggressiveness we saw in the preseason.
Go home Sean Lee, you're drunk. pic.twitter.com/TV8KY1feW8— Connor Livesay (@ConnorNFLDraft) September 10, 2018
Defensive backs were the MVP of the game
The Kris Richard affect on this secondary is obvious. The Cowboys’ defensive backs were fantastic on Sunday defending Cam Newton. Newton finished the game with only 161 yards through the air on 26 passing attempts. Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Kavon Frazier, and Jeff Heath all played great football on Sunday both defending the run and playing in coverage. The Panthers leading receiver was their running back Christian McCaffrey, due to how tight the coverage was down the field. It was a bit surprising to see Jourdan Lewis not on the field once for the Cowboys defense. The Cowboys third-round pick in 2017 started seven games in his rookie year, but didn’t see a single snap on defense in the Cowboys season opener. With Xavier Woods returning soon, this secondary should only get better as the season progresses, and they had a fantastic start to the season as unit.