Dallas Cowboys

5 takeaways from Cowboys coaches film against Falcons

Nov 12, 2017; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) attempts a pass against Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence (90) in the second quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports
Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Initially, the Dallas Cowboys looked like they were going to come into Atlanta and beat the defending NFC champions on their own turf.

The Cowboys offense was moving the ball and the defense looked like it was going put together a repeat performance from the week before, where Dallas shut down the potent Kansas City Chiefs offense. Yet after jumping out to a 7-0 lead in the first quarter, the Falcons rattled off 27 unanswered points and put a significant dent in the Cowboys playoff hopes.

It wasn’t pretty, but let’s take a look at some specific observations from the Cowboys’ disappointing loss.

Chaz Green had possibly the single worst individual performance in NFL this year

To say that Chaz Green was awful against the Falcons would be an understatement. Falcons pass rusher Adrian Clayborn entered the game with just two sacks this season but left the game with eight. Clayborn routinely abused Green throughout the game.

Here’s a good example:

Here, Green is tasked with blocking Clayborn, who is aligned with a wide-9 technique. After the snap, Green doesn’t get adequate depth with his pass set, causing him to turn his shoulders, lunge and miss with his hands. This resulted in him being off balance and unable to recover as Clayborn made his way to Dak Prescott for the sack.

The most disappointing aspect of Green’s performance was that he failed to adjust all game. He was unable to hit his landmarks in pass protection, ducked his head on contact and continually got his weight over his toes at the point of contact. He carried his hands too low, which often left to a late and inaccurate punch. Furthermore, he showed poor mental processing to adjust his technique for the given situation.

Yet, Green’s technique never changed despite his struggles. He was rightfully yanked from the field in the fourth quarter.

Altogether, Green allowed four sacks, a QB hit and two hurries against the Falcons — a truly dreadful performance. Moving forward, Dallas has to pray that Tyron Smith returns from his groin injury next week against the Eagles — a team whose pass rush is vastly superior to Atlanta’s.

DeMarcus Lawrence should be a front-runner for DPOY

Despite the defense’s poor performance, DeMarcus Lawrence continues to play at a high level with sublime technique. He added to his NFL-leading sack total (11.5) and was one of the few Cowboys defenders making plays against the run.

The main attraction for Lawrence Sunday was his hand technique and deep pass rush repertoire. Lawrence’s sack was even among his most impressive rushes of the day. Here’s one:

On this play, Lawrence expertly sets up Falcons right tackle Ryan Schraeder with a hard inside jab step. As Schraeder stepped down to close off his inside gap, Lawrence executed an explosive spin move to get free and pressure the QB. Unfortunately, Matt Ryan was able to get rid of the ball before Lawrence was able to arrive.

Knowing that Lawrence was going to be a problem, Atlanta decided to give Schraeder a lot of help by alignment and with chips. Even still, the Boise State product was able to generate pressure:

This play illustrates just how well Lawrence is playing right now. After the snap, Lawrence is unable to get a good jump because of the tight end’s chip block. Not to be deterred, Lawrence seamlessly transitions into a beautiful forklift move to beat Schraeder’s hands and pressure Ryan.

Lawrence is playing at an unbelievable level right now and definitely deserves consideration for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. The Cowboys have had a season full of up-and-downs, but there has been one player consistently playing at a high level all season — DeMarcus Lawrence.

Anthony Hitchens was fantastic

It wasn’t the case for many players, but Anthony Hitchens put together a winning effort against the Falcons, finishing with a team-high nine stops, per PFF.

He was quick with his reads, took good angles and played with high energy all game. After Sean Lee went out with a hamstring strain, Hitchens continued to play well.

His mental processing allowed him to play with proper gap integrity and secure the correct run fit:

Here, Hitchens is able to diagnose the run quickly, which allows him to get downhill to the line of scrimmage before Ryan even hands the ball off. From there, Hitchens penetrates his gap and flows laterally to the ball carrier for the tackle.

When a linebacker is seeing everything correctly and quickly diagnosing what the opposing offense is trying to do, it allows him to play fast, and boy did Hitchens play fast:

Here, Hitchens quickly reads the zone run and starts to flow play-side. Then, Hitchens identifies and hits the alley in the play-side A-gap. Hitchens arrives at the ball carrier with bad intentions, knocking Devonta Freeman out of the game.

Hitchens’ development this year had been one of the quietest pleasant surprises for Dallas. He looks more athletic and appears to have a better understanding of how to be an effective linebacker in the NFL.

Orlando Scandrick quietly played well

The Cowboys have a young secondary that is going through some growing pains right now; however, Orlando Scandrick hasn’t been a part of the problem.

Scandrick played one of his best games of the season from a coverage standpoint, as he supplied sticky coverage for most of the contest. Unfortunately for Scandrick, even when he had near perfect coverage, it still wasn’t good enough at times:

Here, Scandrick does a fantastic job of defending the split release from Atlanta, giving Ryan and Julio Jones the smallest of throwing windows. Jones somehow was able to reach out and pluck the ball out of the air despite Scandrick’s tight coverage.

Here’s another example:

More tight coverage and another reception for Jones, who may have the strongest hands in the entire NFL. In the fourth quarter, Scandrick’s tight coverage was finally rewarded:

Here, Scandrick shows fantastic mental processing to pass off the slot receiver and pick up the dig route from the outside receiver, allowing Scandrick to be in a position to break up the pass.

He wasn’t perfect, but the veteran DB was certainly the best cornerback on the Cowboys roster Sunday.

Anthony Brown is struggling

One of the most disappointing storylines of the season has been Anthony Brown’s struggles. After showing a ton of promise in his rookie year, Brown is currently in the midst of a sophomore slump.

Put rather simply, Brown’s struggles come down to poor technique and discipline, as he’s making life easy on opposing receivers with good route-running ability:

Yes, this play is against Julio Jones, who is one of the best WRs in the NFL, but Brown makes life way too easy for the All-Pro here. Brown has to do a better job of establishing contact with Jones early on in the route so that he can “feel” and anticipate Jones’ breaks. He doesn’t do that here and Jones is able to easily create separation on the stop route.

Later in the game, Brown’s struggles continued as he allowed a touchdown to Justin Hardy:

Here, Brown is initially in good position; however, he gets caught peeking at the QB as Hardy breaks inside, causing him to misplay the post route and give Ryan an easy throwing window to Hardy for the touchdown.

Ultimately, it’s time for the Cowboys to consider starting rookie Jourdan Lewis in place of Brown in their base defense moving forward, as the rookie has outplayed the second-year CB all season.

— Follow John on Twitter for more NFL opinions and analysis


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