The Dallas Cowboys losing to the Jacksonville Jaguars is disappointing for a variety of reasons. First, it’s their second time blowing a two-score lead on the road before losing in overtime this season. Second, losing that game immensely reduces their chances of winning the NFC East title. Fortunately, they were able to secure a playoff spot with help from the New York Giants. Hopefully, this loss can serve as a learning experience for the team and today’s Film Find can serve as one last painful reminder before hosting the Philadelphia Eagles on Saturday.
Killing us Kellen
After the Dallas defense had forced and recovered a Trevor Lawrence fumble late in the fourth quarter, the game should have been over. Leading 34-31, all Dallas needed to do was get a single first down and run out the remainder of the clock.
Instead, what happened was a three and out that took up only 27 seconds and permitted Jacksonville to keep their last timeout. This sequence, if not this game, falls at the feet of Kellen Moore. The first play of the series is particularly irksome.
The Cowboys are out the Shotgun in 12 personnel with both tight ends (Peyton Hendershot and Dalton Schultz) on the line. Both receivers are lined up to the right and in this photo, Ezekiel Elliott is behind Dak Prescott in the pistol before going in motion to flank Dak Prescott.
The intention here is to pull your two best linemen, Tryon Smith and Zack Martin, on a counter play. Dalton Schultz will vacate his area and Zack Martin will have a trap block on Josh Allen, Tryon Smith will meet Foyesade Olokun in the hole to give Elliott a running lane. That’s how it was drawn up on paper. However, there’s one glaring problem, and that’s the backside.
Nobody accounts for the backside defender. Duwaune Smoot has a free run at Elliott and there was nobody assigned to him. Not a missed block or missed assignment. The play was designed to not block the defender at all. In trying to objective as possible, it’s difficult to ignore the things fundamentally wrong with this idea.
First, if you’re Kellen Moore, you must know your personnel. Ezekiel Elliott has never been one to have the fastest first step through the hole so putting Elliott in this position doesn’t make much sense. Second, if this was a run with no pass option, why have both receivers on the right side? Conceptually, you could have placed them on the other of the formation and maybe Smoot has to think about containment and Prescott keeping the ball as he did earlier in the game.
The play called was dead on arrival and it’s detrimental because once this play happened, the Cowboys had to show their hand. The next play was a run for a short gain and on 3rd down they went for the first down aggressively, which fell short. One could argue, the game was lost by this one play.
As they were holding a 17-point lead in the third quarter, the Cowboys losing this game felt almost unfathomable. The offense was hitting its stride and up until that point, the defense had done a great job of limiting the explosive play. If there was a turning point in the game, it was the 59-yard touchdown to Zay Jones with Kelvin Joseph in coverage.
To counter the Jaguars’ 11 personnel, (3WRs, 1RB, 1TE) the Cowboys are lined up in nickel defense with Donovan Wilson and Malik Hooker as the two deep safeties. As you’ll see, the Cowboys are in man coverage underneath.
By the design of this play, it was all or nothing for Jacksonville. The Jaguars motion the tight end Chris Manhertz to Dante Fowler’s side. Notice how wide Fowler is. Manhertz’s job will be to block Fowler down the line of scrimmage and allow Trevor Lawrence to roll back to his right. If Fowler stays up the field on his initial counter move he may impact Lawrence’s throw or make him look elsewhere.
This is a three-man route concept with max protection. Everybody underneath does a great job. Trevon Diggs and Daron Bland have their guys covered. Where all this goes wrong, is with Malik Hooker and Kelvin Joseph. Hooker has the deep half and should be there to support Joseph over the top to that side. Instead, Hooker has his eyes occupied with the underneath patterns and leaves Joseph all by himself.
Joseph is on the bottom of the screen lined up across from Jones and eight yards off. Backpedaling, Joseph has his sights on Lawrence in the backfield and Jones is closing his cushion. Joseph sees Jones start to throttle down, expecting a comeback, and intends to jump this route for an interception. His aggressiveness backfires as Zay Jones races past him. All Joseph can do is reach for air and start running the other way.
Undoubtedly ahead by a big lead, the Cowboys’ defense was trying to go in for the kill, and here’s where the Jaguars began to claw back. Further for Joseph, it didn’t get much better for him as he was benched later in the game. It remains to be seen whether he keeps his starting job at corner opposite Trevon Diggs.
While we had mentioned the play that may have lost the game, this is the one that definitively did. The purveying media narrative is that Dak Prescott threw a game-losing interception, and while that’s true, it bears to be analyzed further to see why that was.
The Cowboys are once again lined up in shotgun with trips to the right. Jacksonville has three down linemen with two linebackers standing up in the A-gap to show a pressure look. CeeDee Lamb will go in motion and the corner will carry him across the field, indicating a man defense.
The theme here is execution under pressure. The Cowboys failed to do that worst possible time. Very similar to the play earlier with Kelvin Joseph, one or two guys failing to do their jobs make all the difference in the world. Aside from the edge pressure, the offensive line did a great job of holding up against the rush.
Tyron Smith is a tick late to Josh Allen as he tries to first guide Davon Hamilton (#52) into Zack Martin, before working back to the outside. Allen’s upfield rush captures the edge as he dips his shoulder and is closing in on Prescott. Prescott feels the pressure and starts to move to his left.
In the route, the Cowboys have a pick play drawn up by way of a mesh concept. This one’s unique since it has two crossing patterns at similar depths coming from left to right. The reason for this is to force the defender on Noah Brown to have to navigate through several bodies to stay with him in coverage and keep him from the first down.
Prescott delivers a catchable ball in an ideal place. Unfortunately, Brown can’t make the catch and it’s popped up into the waiting arms of Rayshawn Jenkins for a pick-six.
Why does this fall on Kellen Moore? Once again, know your personnel. This play was schemed up with the sole purpose of making the defender chase the receiver through traffic and has the potential for a big gain after. Hindsight may be 20/20, but we can all see that CeeDee Lamb should have been the focus of this play.