THE COWBOYS REPORT

Cowboys win 4 in a row; Eagles up next

The Cowboys have won four in a row. Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys (7-5) won their fourth game in a row Thursday night when they defeated the New Orleans Saints (10-2) by the score of 13-10.  This is their third game in a row where they scored on their opening possession and never trailed the rest of the game.

Dallas held one of the best offenses in the league to only 10 points and now ESPN Stats & information give them an 80.2 % chance of reaching the playoffs.  They played great defense and held the Saints to nine possessions by controlling the ball. The Cowboys had the ball for 36 minutes and 53 seconds of game.

The Cowboys defense was swarming all game long.  They didn’t allow the Saints to pick up a first down until their third possession of the game.  Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith were the top two leading tacklers and combined for 19 total (both had 6 solo).  They kept constant pressure on Drew Brees and caused him to start a game 0-for-4 passing for the first time in his 18 year NFL career.  

With the Cowboys defense keeping the Saints from moving the ball, the offense was able to grind out first downs and keep the Saints offense off the field.  Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott touched the ball 29 times. He had 23 carries for 76 yards, 6 catches for 60 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Dak Prescott was very efficient and went 24 of 28 for 248 yards and one touchdown.  He also ran the ball five times for 22 yards. He connected with superstar receiver Amari Cooper 8 times for 75 yards and was also able to find rookie receiver Michael Gallup on a 40 yard pass.

The Cowboys play calling and execution on both sides of the ball was excellent all game long.  They had a great mix of run/pass plays and it seemed like they were running plays out of the Saints playbook.   If they keep this up they could have a chance to make a real run in the playoffs.

With the win, the Cowboys now have a 76.9 % chance of winning the NFC East according to ESPN Football Power Index.  Dallas can basically clinch the division with a win against the Eagles on Sunday.

Players to Watch

  1. Ezekiel Elliott (running back): After week 13 Zeke is the NFL’s second leading rusher.  He is 25 yards behind Todd Gurley.  He might have a hard time finding some running lanes as the Eagles are the 10th best rushing defense in the league.  The Cowboys night need to get creative and get him the ball on some screens and swing passes.  

  2. Michael Gallup (wide Receiver): Had his best game of the year last week and led the team with 76 receiving yards on 5 catches.  He looks to have good chemistry with Dak and had an opportunity to take advantage of Philadelphia’s 26th ranked pass defense.  

  3. Leighton Vander Esch (Linebacker): Dallas’ best defensive player is going to have to come up big and guard the middle of the field against Pro Bowl tight end Zach Ertz who torched them earlier this season for 145 yards and two touchdowns.

Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys (7-5) will be hosting their division rival Philadelphia (6-6) in which the winner will almost be guaranteed to win the NFC East division.  Kickoff is set for 3:35 pm CST at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX (AKA: Jerry’s World). Both teams are coming off wins this past week and the Cowboys are going to have to be prepared because games against the Eagles are always a struggle but if they keep playing the way they have been playing they should be able to win a fifth game in a row.

If you have any fantasy players, the only must start players are:

Cowboys:  Ezekiel Elliott (RB), Amari Cooper (WR), Dak Prescott (QB)

Eagles:  Carson Wentz (QB), Zach Ertz (TE)

For you gamblers out there, the Cowboys are -3.5 and the over/under is 43.  With the Cowboys defense playing so well recently, I would lean Dallas on this one but only if you can get -3 or less.  

 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF O'BRIEN'S COACHING

Not my job: Texans outmatched when it counts against Steelers

Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

Another game, another loss for the Texans. This time it was only a seven point loss to the Steelers as they fell 28-21 in Pittsburgh. This time around, Bill O'Brien looked to be on his game as far as decision-making was concerned. However, there is still room for improvement.

One thing that I did appreciate that O'Brien did was have trust in the offensive line. The Steelers pass rush could be problematic, but their defense overall is very stout. That's how they were able to nearly make the playoffs last year with a Duck at quarterback. While the Texans did give up five sacks, they weren't all due to poor offensive line play. The Texans lost 33 yards on those five sacks. Tytus Howard and Zach Fulton handled themselves fairly well after looking like turnstiles the first two games. O'Brien called longer developing pass plays and play action in spite of this and it paid off with Deshaun Watson and his receivers putting up 264 yards in the air.

There also wasn't an instance of Bumbling Bill this game. At the end of the first half, there was a minute and fourteen seconds left. The Texans were down 17-14 and had all three timeouts with the ball on their 25-yard line. Classic Bumbling Bill situation right? Wrong! Not only was the play-calling on point, but the players executed and the timeout situation was handled perfectly. First timeout was used after getting to midfield with 47 seconds left. Timeout number two was used after a 20 yard gain after the previous play. A 15 yard gain later to the Steeler 14-yard line and timeout number three was used with 28 seconds left. This set up perfectly for them to call a multitude of plays. They only needed one as Watson found Will Fuller in the end zone on a jump ball in which Fuller rose up and was physical enough to grab the ball over the defender. They went up 21-17 at the half.

Bill O'Brien's teams were 37-3 when leading at halftime. I say "were" because they lost this one after not scoring a single point in the second half. This was more on the defense not being able to fight its way out of a wet paper bag, and a lack of execution by the offense. Specifically, the run defense has been atrocious and Watson either needs quicker reads or to stop holding onto the ball so long by making quicker decisions. That's on coaching to put players in positions to succeed, but also the players to execute.

Ultimately, this was on O'Brien the general manager more than O'Brien the coach. This roster is woefully outmatched. The only time an outmatched roster can compete consistently is in college football with a wacky offense. It just doesn't happen in the NFL. Hey, at least Bumbling Bill didn't rear his butt chin today. Today's Culture Map play call menu was brought to you by Pour Behavior. I suggest getting over there and checking out their daily specials.

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