Though it wasn’t exactly smooth sailing, the Dallas Cowboys were able to wrestle a 27-23 win late from the Houston Texans. In order to beat Houston, the Cowboys had to win at the line of scrimmage. In this week’s Film Finds, we take a deeper dive of the trench warfare between in-state rivals Dallas and Houston in a battle for Texas.
Vander Esch meets Pierce in the hole
Featured in the game ball article, Leighton Vander Esch was all over the field on Sunday against the Houston Texans. He was integral in slowing down the Houston running game, specifically, running back Dameon Pierce. Pierce was held to merely 3.5 yards a carry and plays like this demonstrate why.
The Texans are lined up in twins left with two tight ends, one on each side of the offensive tackles. To counter, Dallas has two down linemen, Carlos Watkins and Neville Gallimore. Meanwhile, Dorance Armstrong is slotted far outside of the left tackle Laremy Tunsil and OJ Howard, no doubt to set the edge on the left side.
The intent of this play is the work the Cowboys’ front to the left and establish a cutback lane off the right guard A.J. Cann. As expected, Armstrong does his job to set the edge. The right tackle Tytus Howard is also supposed to cut off Gallimore, but Gallimore’s quickness makes that a difficult task. Yet, the key to this play starts with Watkins.
The Texans are going to attempt to do a double-team block on Carlos Watkins with Kenyon Green and Scott Quesenberry. Green is supposed to get off his double-team block, and occupy Vander Esch, but Watkins doesn’t let it happen. With help from Watkins, Vander Esch fills the gap and is the first to the football, making the stop on Pierce one of several times in the afternoon.
Lawrence tanks Burkhead in the backfield
At this point, the Cowboys were trailing 23-20 and a score by Houston likely puts the game away. The play made here made by Demarcus Lawrence is so important because it came within the sequence that allowed the Cowboys to make a goal-line stand and subsequently go on a 98-yard game-winning drive.
This is strength on strength. Houston is in 14 personnel (one running back and four tight ends) with an extra lineman serving as a tight end. The Cowboys are in a goal-line package with six down linemen and three linebackers. Lawrence is lined up over the extra offensive lineman Charlie Heck.
At the snap of the ball, Tytus Howard blocks down on Neville Gallimore to let the right guard A.J. Cann pull to the outside and does a solid job. Where the play is blown up is on Charlie Heck. Heck is supposed to follow suit the same as Tytus Howard and take DeMarcus Lawrence out of the play.
Instead, he whiffs on his block and Lawrence knifes into the backfield for the 3-yard loss on Burkhead. Had Lawrence not made this tackle, it’s a Texans touchdown. Vander Esch loses his footing tangled with Teagan Quitoriano and Cann is about to meet Kearse one-yard deep into the end zone. A great individual effort by Lawrence to save the score.
Bully ball for the win
The Cowboys have marched the length of the field in the closing seconds after some clutch catches by Noah Brown and Dalton Schultz. The Texans have already spent their last time out and the Cowboys are knocking on the door ready to kick it down and the late go-ahead lead.
The Cowboys are in trips to the right with Dalton Schultz tight to the left of the formation. The Texans appear to be expecting a passing play. The safety Jalen Pitre is about eight yards deep in the end zone. Linebacker Christian Kirksey is shaded to the inside of CeeDee Lamb, indicating the Texans are likely playing a zone defense.
Once again, there’s nothing complicated about what the Cowboys do. They’ve caught the Texans in the wrong front at the right time. The cornerback Desmond King is far out of the play and Houston is very soft in the box. As you’ll see in a moment, the linebackers are too late to make an impact and Kirksey is in no position to impact the play.
The Cowboys simply blow the Texans’ interior defensive line off the ball. Zack Martin and Tyler Biadasz combine on a double-team block against Roy Lopez. The same goes for Connor McGovern and Tyler Smith matched up with Maliek Collins.
Both Lopez and Collins get their shoulders turned perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, creating a gap that Ezekiel Elliott powers through for the score. Also, Dalton Schultz who is often critiqued for his blocking, does a great job stopping Rasheem Green and preventing him from getting to Elliott in the backfield.