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Dallas Cowboys scouting report: Dissecting the Detroit Lions offense

Let’s take a look at the tape and see how the Cowboys will have to defend the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

NFL: Detroit Lions at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The 1-2 Dallas Cowboys will meet up with the 1-2 Detroit Lions this Sunday in Arlington as the Cowboys will try and get back to .500 on the young season. Today we will take a look at the All-22 tape, to see how the Cowboys defense should defend the Matthew Stafford led offense.

The Lions finally have a rushing attack... kinda

For years, all the weight has been on Matthew Stafford, Calvin Johnson, or the Lions defense’s shoulders. While that is still somewhat the case (minus Johnson), the Lions finally have a running back on their roster that can scare opposing defenses. The Lions drafted that player in the second round of the 2018 draft out of Auburn. If you aren’t familiar with Kerryon Johnson, do yourself a favor and become so, he will be one of the young rising stars as this season progresses. Johnson is a bigger back at 6-foot, 215-lbs, and shows off his impressive size and explosiveness in between the tackles, as well as when he bounces it outside. Johnson is an excellent runner that possesses great vision, balance through contact, and can do damage as a pass catcher as well out of the backfield. The Cowboys faced Saquon Barkley in week two, and struggled bringing him down on first contact, they may have similar issues on Sunday dealing with Kerryon Johnson if they don’t rally to the football, and tackle with the right technique.

Play 1 - Kerryon Johnson showing off his vision, shiftiness, and balance through contact

Jim Bob Cooter will get creative

For years, Detroit Lions fans have complained about their play-caller in a similar way that Cowboys Nation has about Scott Linehan. This season, Lions OC Jim Bob Cooter has shown a few more wrinkles than most Lions fans are used to seeing. With Cooter as the coordinator you’ll see the Lions work a heavy play-action offense, with a lot of bunch formations, and receivers in motion.

Play 1 - Lions offense tries the fleaflicker against the Patriots

Here you’ll see the Lions motion the receiver at the top of the screen, hand the ball off to Blount for an ol’ fashioned fleaflicker. The play resulted in an incompletion, and the Patriots played this perfectly, but it has been relatively common to see a trick play or two by the Lions offense in these first three weeks.

Lions running backs can and will catch the football

Through three weeks, Theo Riddick has more receptions than any receiver on the Cowboys roster, and it’s really not even all that close. The Lions running backs (Johnson, Riddick, and Blount) have combined for 30 receptions, for 164 yards. You will see a lot of Riddick in the two-minute drill, and on obvious passing situations, and he can be a real problem for the Cowboys defense.

Play 1 - Great route from Riddick leads to huge 1st down

When Stafford see’s his receiving back lined up in man coverage, he almost always goes to him, and why wouldn’t he when Riddick can run a crisp route, create some separation, and gain almost 15 yards after the catch. Riddick is a real dangerous player for the Lions, it’ll be interesting to see how the Cowboys defend him. Maybe this is a role for first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch? Or maybe the Cowboys will matchup him up as if he’s a receiver and use a cornerback or a safety, that is the route I would go, especially on third downs.

The Lions will play-action you to death

When you turn on the Lions tape, you’ll notice how much play-action they use throughout the game. For most teams, they will use the running game to set up play-action, but for the Lions, they use play-action to set up the running game. Three of Matthew Stafford’s six touchdowns have come off of play-action, and almost anytime the Lion get across the 50 yard line, the first play on that side of the field is play-action. The Cowboys cornerbacks, linebackers, and safeties will have to play with a great discipline and not get caught biting downhill.

Play 1 - Play-action gets Kenny Golladay WIDE open

Talk about fooling a defense. Eight of the 11 defensive players for the 49ers come running down hill to defend the run on this play-action. Not only does the quarterback, running back, and offensive line do a great job here, but notice the run-block fake that Kenny Golladay gives the cornerback to sell that the play is going to be a run play. The only thing left after that, is making sure he stays on his feet and gets behind the secondary and stays in bounds for six points.

Play 2 - Play-action can still be effective, even when you don’t make the defense look silly

Here’s a little bit different view of a play-action touchdown from Matthew Stafford to Marvin Jones. The Patriots do a really nice job of defending the play-fake here, the only issue is, Marvin Jones is just too good of WR to leave in 1-on-1 coverage, when you give Matthew Stafford this much time. Jones does an excellent job of sticking his foot in the ground, giving a brief eye/head fake to the outside, before breaking back in towards the pylon. The burst that Marvin Jones shows out of his cut here is very impressive. Like Theo Riddick, Marvin Jones is going to be a very tough matchup on Sunday for the Cowboys’ cornerbacks. There aren’t many receivers in the league that possess his size, athleticism, and ability to make plays vertically down the field with the amount of consistency Jones does.

Cowboys DL will have chance for sacks

The Detroit Lions have a very solid offensive line. They do a nice job of pass blocking, and have been doing great as a unit opening up running lanes for Johnson and Blount. With that being said, DeMarcus Lawrence still can have a big day lining up across from Rick Wagner. Wagner struggles playing with good technique consistently, and doesn't have the athletic ability to keep up with DeMarcus Lawrence’s strength and speed. On the interior of their OL, Frank Ragnow is a first-round pick out of Arkansas who is starting at left guard. I was big fan of Ragnow coming out of Arkansas, but he has had a similar start to his rookie season as Cowboys left guard, Connor Williams. Unfortunately for the Cowboys, they are pretty beat up on the interior with Datone Jones on IR, Antwaun Woods questionable, and Maliek Collins OUT with a sprained MCL.

Play 1 - Wagner, Ragnow get beat for meeting at the QB

It’s always a win for the defense when three guys are touching the quarterback at the time of the sack. Both Ragnow and Wagner get beat extremely badly to give up the sack. Wagner gets caught over-extending and with too much weight on his inside foot to recover, while Ragnow gets knocked off balance off the snap and is never able to recover due to poor positioning and lack of strength. It would be wise for the Cowboys to allow Lawrence to work his magic against Wagner 1-on-1, but send a variety of looks at rookie guard Frank Ragnow. Look for blitz, twists, and other exotic packages to be thrown at the rookie lineman for the Lions early and often.

Stafford should throw you one, or two throughout the game

Matthew Stafford has struggled taking care of the ball so far this season. Through three weeks, Stafford has thrown five interceptions and most of those came from Stafford struggling to read the defense. The Cowboys have yet to show a lot of zone coverage looks on defense, but this may be the week to do so with Stafford’s struggles seeing the whole field.

Play 1 - Stafford throws right into the zone coverage for an easy interception

Marvin Jones, Golden Tate, and Kenny Golladay are going to be tough to defend on Sunday, the Cowboys can help their chances be mixing up their coverages showing both zone, press-zone, man, and press-man looks throughout the game. Stafford has a cannon for an arm and sometimes trusts his arm more than he trusts his eyes. Giving Stafford multiple looks on defense will force him to be more careful before taking shots which will allow your pass rush to get home, or force him to get the ball out before he would like. Both of those things, are positive for a Cowboys defense that has yet to record and interception in 2018.

The Cowboys defense is looking to bounce back on Sunday after having a few miscommunication and coverage breakdowns against the Seahawks last weekend. In order to win this football game, the Cowboys defense is going to have to hold the Lions offense under 20 points. If they do the Cowboys should win, if the don’t the team will likely fall to 1-3 heading into week five.

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