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Tale of the tape: Cowboys offense improves as defense continues to dominate

Let’s take a look at the tape to see what the Cowboys did well, and what they need to improve.

NFL: New York Giants at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Cowboys won their first game of the season last Sunday night when they beat the New York Giants 20-13 to get to 1-1 on the young season. After a review of the All-22 film, let’s see what the tape tells us.

Dak Prescott improved, but still needs to get better

There is no question that the big talking point headed into the Giants game was the play of Dak Prescott the week before. In the Cowboys week one loss to the Panthers, Dak looked very similar to the player we saw at the end of the 2017 season, instead of the play we saw in 2016. Prescott took a big step forward on Sunday night, as he improved on a few different things he struggled with the weekend before. First things first, we finally saw Prescott take some shots down field, and it didn’t take long for them connect for a touchdown. On the third play from scrimmage, Prescott took the snap, faked the hand-off, and uncorked a bomb to Tavon Austin for a 64-yard touchdown. The next two drives, we saw Prescott use his legs. He used them more in week two than he did in week one, and it proved to be the difference in the game when it was all said and done.

On their third series, he attempted the deep shot on consecutive plays.

On this play, the CB for the Giants has good inside leverage on Michael Gallup. When Dak releases this ball, the cornerback has the route won. Prescott puts this ball over his head/right shoulder, instead of leading Gallup more towards the middle of the field, where the DB would have a good chance of making a play on the ball. This is a very nicely thrown ball from Dak to a receiver that wasn’t necessarily open when he released the football.

Ezekiel Elliott took over when it mattered most

Ezekiel Elliott didn’t start this football game out on fire. In the first half, Elliott had nine carries for 40 yards, and 19 of those yards came on one carry. But in the fourth quarter, when the Cowboys needed to punch in the touchdown to seal the game, Elliott came through. On the final offensive drive of the game (minus the kneel-down drive), Elliott had five carries and muscled out 29 yards, including a six-yard touchdown that all but sealed the win for the Dallas Cowboys. We still have yet to see Zeke have one of his dominant 100 yard games, but that’s mainly due to the fact that he’s only received 32 carries in two games.

We have been waiting for an Ezekiel Elliott run to wow us, and we finally got it. Elliott takes this one in for six all by himself. If the Cowboys want to get back to competing for the NFC East title, Elliott is likely going to have to put this team on his back down in the redzone. He does just that here.

Dak Prescott completes passes to seven different receivers

This was yet another game where the ball was spread around throughout the entire game. Every single wide receiver on the Cowboys roster caught at least one ball on Sunday night against the Giants secondary. Deonte Thompson led the team in receptions with four, and Tavon Austin led the team in receiving yards with 79 (fun fact, this is the second time in two weeks, the Cowboys leading receiver has led the team with 79 yards). The Cowboys’ tight ends didn’t catch a single ball, but Rico Gathers led the tight ends in targets with two, one of which should have been a touchdown, but the ball was far out of reach for the 6-foot-8 receiver. The Cowboys wideouts are doing a better job than most expected creating separation at the top of their routes, this is a huge sign of the influence of Sanjay Lal.

This is an excellent route from Tavon Austin. Austin sells the double move using his eyes, the ability to sink his hips, and keep his arms pumping in his “first move”. At the top of his route, Austin keeps his shoulders open to the sideline, which allows him to plant his left foot, and create separation at the top of his route, without any wasted movements.

Offensive line is back to playing at the level we’re used to seeing

After a rough performance in week one from the offensive line, they completely bounced back in week two. Connor Williams was much better against the Giants keeping the front of the pocket clean, as well as getting out in space and run blocking. It is great to see the 2018 second-round pick make such big improvements in just one week. Joe Looney had another solid day at the office in place of Travis Frederick. The biggest difference was the play from the offensive tackles. Tyron Smith and La’el Collins both had better games against the Giants than they did the Panthers, and Zack Martin continues to play at an All Pro level. Dak Prescott went from getting sacked six times in one week, to barely seeing any pressure at all. While their are still some improvements to me made in the run blocking category, this was a much better performance from the group as a whole than what we saw in week one.

This is a great pass protection rep from the five offensive lineman. Collins and Smith do an excellent job of taking their man completely out of the play. Martin and Looney handle the delayed blitzer well, and Williams does a fine job of looking for work, and punishing the linebacker.

The Hot Boyz are literally on fire

Three sacks in week one, six sacks in week two. This defense is legit folks, and it time to start paying attention. DeMarcus Lawrence is playing at an all time high, while getting double-, and sometimes triple-teamed on obvious pass rush downs. Taco Charlton is also playing some his best football and looks like a completely new player from 2017 to 2018. The most surprising factor on the defensive line is the play from the interior. On paper, Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford as the starting defensive tackles sounds like a disaster waiting to happen, but both of those guys each recorded a sack against the Giants and played the run very well. The Cowboys defense held Saquon Barkley to just 28 yards on 11 carries, that is a big thanks to the defensive line who plugged up any hole that Barkley had the opportunity to run through. From the top to the bottom, this unit is playing phenomenal football, and some reinforcements are on the way to make them even more dangerous.

Antwaun Woods can’t shed his block, but he reads where the ball carrier is going and gets upfield to disrupt Barkley’s running lane. Barkley see’s a little daylight and tried to burst through the “B gap”, he slips a bit, and Taco Charlton is right there to make the tackle.

Maybe Jaylon Smith is returning to his Notre Dame form?

After a rough start to the season, the Cowboys linebacking corps was excellent against the Giants. Jaylon Smith played phenomenal from start to finish both defending the run and the pass. Smith looks explosive, athletic, and strong when taking on blockers, and chasing down ball carriers in the open field. Damien Wilson was quite the surprise on Sunday night. Wilson finished the game with three tackles, a sack, forced fumble, and PBU. Wilson was one of the big reasons the Cowboys won this football game, and that’s something I didn’t expect to say much this year. Leighton Vander Esch played 28 snaps in his second game of the season and looked pretty solid. Vander Esch saw most of his work come in when the Cowboys were in prevent defense allowing the short completions underneath. The Cowboys 2018 first-round pick finished the game with seven tackles. Sean Lee had a better game in week two, than in week one, but he still doesn’t look quite himself. Lee left the game in the fourth quarter with a tight hamstring and did not see the field on defense for the rest of the night after leaving the field.

Read, react, burst, finish. This is an excellent play from Jaylon Smith who shows off his instincts, explosiveness, and closing speed on a 233-lb running back who ran 4.40 40 yard dash at the NFL Combine just a few months ago.

Cowboys secondary wins MVP with lockdown performance

Similar to the defensive line, the Cowboys secondary is making their way to elite status. After a dominant week one performance against Cam Newton and the Panthers receiver corps, the Cowboys secondary played even better against the explosive Giants pass catchers. The Giants offensive weapons that deploy two first-round picks (Beckham Jr, Engram), and a second-round pick (Shepard) combined for 14 receptions and just 142 yards, most of which came in garbage time, where the Cowboys were allowing the underneath passes. Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones were fantastic all night, locking down Beckham, Engram, and Shepard. The one guy we can’t leave without praising is Anthony Brown who has played excellent football so far in 2018. The Cowboys safeties, who no one has had any faith in since training camp, again played another excellent game in coverage. Every unit on defense needs to clean up their tackling, but we can’t as much more from this secondary than what they’re giving us through two weeks.

The caption here says it all. Awuzie can’t play this any better. If Awuzie and Jones continue to play at the levels they are currently playing at, the Cowboys may find both of their starting cornerbacks in the Pro Bowl when it’s all said and done.

The Cowboys take on the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday on the road. Check back next week as we break down the tape and see how the NFC East leaders play against the 0-2 Seattle Seahawks.

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