The Dallas Cowboys’ offense was pitiful to open the season, scoring an uninspiring eight points. However, the defense held strong overall by limiting Carolina to 16, sacking Cam Newton three times and recovering a fumble.
I’ve combined my observations from coaches’ film with my thoughts from watching the game on live TV. My full notes on Dallas’s week one loss are below:
-Second play of game, 21 personnel with Tavon Austin and Deonte Thompson at receiver. Interesting speed + power package. Gained 9 yds on play-action tunnel screen but negated due to penalty.
-Next play, Kuechly showing why he’s one of the best defenders in the game. Great reaction speed, play speed, and range. Foiled a counter sweep that would’ve been a big gain.
-Tight end screen to Swaim for 11 yds on 2nd & 8, was not something Dallas could do regularly in recent years. Tight end group is more athletic than Witten but also has more uncertainty.
-Cowboys had three drive-killing penalties on their first two possessions. Forced them into distances of 2nd & 17 and 3rd & 26.
-Cowboys’ philosophy is predicated on winning on 1st down with the run game. Panthers front seven made that difficult early on. They were fast and disciplined in filling their gaps.
-A meaningful part of the team’s game plan was to rely on YAC (yds after catch) to convert longer distances.
-Beasley’s 8-yd tunnel screen on 3rd & 12 was an example of this.
-Cowboys with frequent use of multiple TE or RB personnel groupings and formations in the first half.
-Prescott sack by Shaq Thompson to open drive early 2nd qtr was a loss of seven. They fell behind schedule with a penalty or negative play on all but one of their 1st half drives.
-Pass on RB screen on 3rd & 10 to Rod Smith was one of a couple of new wrinkles they showed in the 1st half. Both had a chance to succeed but had failures in execution.
-Kawann Short sack midway 2nd qtr was a good swap and swim move against Connor Williams out of a fire zone defense (3-deep, 3-under zone coverage).
-Panthers played with discipline against Dallas’s bootleg passes. Backside defenders read and reacted well.
-Prescott missed a huge opportunity for a big play on 3rd & 7 late 1st half. He and Jarwin weren’t on same page. Either Dak severely underthrew him or Jarwin was supposed to sit his route vs the Panthers’ single high zone.
-A lot of the Cowboys’ power/counter runs involved two adjacent linemen pulling. For example, C and RG would pull as lead blockers as opposed to LG and RG.
-This can put extra stress on the down blocks if the two pulling linemen are coming from the back side.
-Panthers played mostly in a single high zone or single high matchup defense, meaning lots of Cover 3 and Cover 1 (Man-Free).
-Hurns 20 yds on the opening drive of the 3rd qtr was improvisation by Prescott on a 4-verticals concept vs Cover 2. He left the pocket, there was no pressure, found Hurns and threw across his body.
-Elliott 17 yds was a power sweep to the strong side of an over front. One of the few runs that was well-blocked across the board.
-Panthers mixed in more 2-high zone in the 2nd half.
-Cowboys utilized jet and orbit motion only four times by late 3rd qtr. That’s a lot less than I was expecting for a team that spoke so highly of Tavon Austin’s role.
-Scott Linehan hasn’t called many intermediate to deep crossing routes in this game, something I hoped he would change this year.
-Another missed opportunity on 3rd & 3. Cowboys in a 3×1 set with Beasley as the inside bunch receiver. Panthers drop into a zone exchange Cover 3. Beasley opens up on a delayed slant route but Prescott doesn’t see him.
-Zeke was rarely featured as a receiver despite off-season talk from the staff that he would be. Was more of a token piece in the passing game until later in the 2nd half.
-Beasley 11 yds to open their second drive of the half was one of their staple passing concepts. A shallow cross from the tight end pulls the LB out of the middle of the field and creates space for Beasley’s slant.
-On at least two occasions, Dallas tried to go no-huddle after a sizeable gain. Each time, Prescott left the pocket too soon on the subsequent play.
-Beasley remains Prescott’s go-to receiver. Almost all of his catches converted for a 1st down. His curl route vs Cover 4 at 5:31 in the 3rd qtr was the first 3rd down conversion of the game.
-Zeke 16 yds early 4th qtr was another power run with front side pullers. His best runs came from this type of blocking scheme.
-Zeke TD was speed option from the four yard line. Dak would convert the 2-pt conversion on a QB draw from an empty backfield.
-Horton sack before 2 minute warning was thanks to a Man-Free blitz by Kuechly.
-Kawann Short sack. He beat Connor Williams again, controlling the rookie’s hands to steer him out of the way. Williams initiated contact but his pad level was too high.
-I don’t have an issue with Garrett going for it on 4th & 10 with 2:18 remaining near midfield. Offense struggled all day, might’ve been their best chance to score at the time. It was a risk and it didn’t work out.
-Game-ending sack fumble another instance of Prescott trying to leave the pocket too soon. His protection was spotty the whole game but he must show better poise.
This was a multi-level loss due to a lack of scheme and execution. Linehan designed some “new” concepts but didn’t do enough to manipulate the defense with Tavon Austin. He also needed to feature Zeke in the passing game earlier than the he did. On the other hand, too many individual matchups were lost by the players on the field. The protection did him few favors, but Dak was off-target and out of sync. He had too many instances of appearing antsy in the pocket.
You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22