The addition of Leighton Vander Esch and continued growth of Jaylon Smith eased the absence of Sean Lee. The Dallas Cowboys’ defense played decent overall but ultimately allowed too many explosive plays at critical moments.
The unit had a tough matchup in Matthew Stafford and his trio of good receivers, but if this team wants to compete for the division, they must get better fast. Here’s a look my notes from the All-22 film:
-Sean Lee out with hamstring injury. Leighton Vander Esch (LVE) started at LB.
-Opening play of the game was a lead-iso run to Kerryon Johnson from shotgun for 32 yards. Jaylon Smith aggressively met TE Willson at the point of attack but lost control of his gap on contact.
-Lions called a trap run on the third play of the game. They’ve dialed up this type of run steadily throughout the season. Tyrone Crawford knifed into the backfield before RG Lang could set his block.
Nice play by Tyrone Crawford. Doesn't get the tackle, but causes the TFL. pic.twitter.com/l90G3rNkyj— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) October 2, 2018
-On the first 3rd down of the game, Dallas played a 3-3 nickel defense.
-Lions utilized 12 and 21 personnel early, make a clear effort to establish their running game.
-Jaylon is more than willing to take blockers head on. He’s almost throwing his whole body into them.
-As written in my preview Xs and Os article, Matthew Stafford has targeted receivers outside the numbers early and often.
-LVE has been played well in coverage on play-action passes. Once he sees the QB keep the ball, he’s quick to look for receivers crossing behind him.
-Xavier Woods has played down in the box as frequently, if not more frequently than he has as the deep safety.
-Kenny Golladay 15 yards on 3rd-and-11 was a shallow cross underneath a dagger concept against Cover 3. He should’ve been stopped for a minimal gain but Anthony Brown took a bad angle from the flat.
-The Lions went back to the trap run twice since the first drive and blocked each run well. Both plays gained seven yards.
-Golden Tate 45-yard touchdown on 3rd-and-3 late first quarter came against Man-Free Robber coverage. Tate ran a switch-release comeback vs Jourdan Lewis, who tripped on the cut. Jeff Heath was the deep safety and gave Tate too much room along the sideline.
-Cowboys were ready for Detroit’s first use of a bunch formation with a wing TE. They frequently run a split zone with orbit motion from this look. Lawrence slanted inside to disrupt the play.
-Marvin Jones 34 yards on 2nd-and-22 of Detroit’s first drive of the second quarter was a slot fade route vs Man-Free Lurk. Chido Awuzie had good coverage but Stafford threw a near-perfect pass.
-For the most part, the Cowboys front seven has held up pretty well against the run. Outside of Kerryon’s 34-yarder and a couple of trap runs, Detroit has seen little room on the ground.
-Jamal Agnew 17 yards was a jet sweep to the field on 1st-and-10. Heath was the contain defender but lost his footing while engaging TE Willson.
-For those not familiar with the Cowboys’ defense, they’re a predominantly single-high unit. Most of their coverages are a form of Cover-3 zone or Man-Free (Cover-1). They’ll sometimes switch to Cover-2 or Tampa-2 on long distances.
-The majority of Stafford’s plays have been on passes outside the numbers (flats, outs, corners, fades, etc.).
-DeMarcus Lawrence’s sack in final minute before halftime was a T-E stunt. RG Lang read the stunt but Lawrence appeared to get a hand inside his jersey and pulled him off-balance. Defense was in Cover-3, Lawrence broke through right as Tate came open.
-Lawrence’s second sack that ended the Lions’ opening drive of the third quarter was aided by Jaylon’s delayed blitz. Lawrence chopped RT Wagner’s hand down and cornered behind Stafford, who couldn’t get off the pass due to Jaylon’s bull rush on C Glasgow. Jaylon was a little too quick with his fake drop.
2nd sack for #Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence. He uses the cross-chop to defeat the RT's hands before running the hoop for the sack. Interior pressure from Jaylon Smith gets the assist. Look at the power Jaylon creates on contact. pic.twitter.com/m0aRyb6RaE— John Owning (@JohnOwning) October 1, 2018
-Byron Jones wasn’t targeted a single time in this game. Lions never tested him, an indication of how well he’s played in 2018.
-Chido has had good coverage on the majority of his snaps, but he’s been the victim of better throws by Stafford.
-Golladay 22 yards was a back-shoulder fade to the boundary against Man-Free Lurk coverage. An example of Stafford’s skill, Golladay’s hands, and Chido’s misfortune throughout the game.
-LVE is an impressive open-field tackler. He rarely lets anyone through his grasp. A critical trait for any defender.
One thing I really enjoy about Leighton Vander Esch is that he's a fantastic tackler. This is a really nice play on Golden Tate in space. pic.twitter.com/MqAtwEVavj— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) October 1, 2018
-This tackle occurred at the end of the first half.
This was Leighton Vander Esch's best play of the game. Sifts through the blockers to make the tackle on the screen. pic.twitter.com/s1TPRBL7rf— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) October 1, 2018
-Another Golladay 22-yard catch three plays after the last one, this time on 3rd-and-3 from a clearout combination vs disguised Cover-3 to start the fourth quarter. Brown was the flat defender on that side and didn’t get enough depth because he was focused on Tate in the slot. Byron Jones had to pull off from his receiver to make the tackle.
-Next play, Kerryon’s eight-yard TD was off a variation of their split-zone orbit motion run. This time they used jet motion to draw the LBs away from the play.
-Lawrence’s third sack was another chop move of RT Wagner’s hands late in the fourth quarter when it was needed most.
-Unfortunately for Dallas, the next play was a Tate 35-yard catch against Cover-3. The chemistry and on-the-fly adjustment between Tate and Stafford beat Brown, who carried the receiver up the sideline from the flat.
-Two plays later, Brown was beaten by Tate again for a TD. He was the flat defender once again in a Cover-3 zone. This time, Detroit ran a post-wheel-type concept. Tate ran an out-and-up and Brown was caught peeking into the backfield. Chido was occupied by Golladay’s post and made a good throw in the void.
-Brown had a tough second half and lost awareness at a couple of critical moments. However, he played better than Lions’ highlights showed.
Dallas’s defense held up well without Sean Lee for the first time in a long time. Still, they did give up too many explosive plays even if they were facing an uber-talented QB and receiving corps.
With each play, Leighton Vander Esch is showing his worth as a first-round pick and Jaylon Smith continues to play with speed and physicality. Byron Jones didn’t see a single target, proving himself to be a top-level cornerback so far. And DeMarcus Lawrence is on track for a market-breaking contract in the off-season.
However, the defense still has holes. There were too many instances of bad angles in open space and coverage breakdowns in critical moments. The lack of interceptions after four games is also noticeable. On Sunday, the defense was fortunate that their teammates on the other side of the ball finally woke up. If they hadn’t, this team would be trapped in a 1-3 hole.
You can follow Allan on Twitter at @AllanUy22