The Dallas Cowboys (9-6) are officially in the playoffs after a sloppy 27-20 loss over Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-10).
In a game in which Tampa Bay won Out Dallas for 151 yards and held the ball almost 10 minutes longer, it was Dallas' ability to take advantage of the goalscoring chances that led to the playoff victory.
The Cowboys' offense was much more difficult than it should have been against the Tampa Bay defense, ranked 29th in the ranking (DVOA), averaging only 4.6 yards per game and 3 goals in 9-3.
Ezekiel Elliott performed admirably, accumulating 85 yards on 18 cleats despite a noticeable limp, but for the second week in a row, the offense ignored Amari Cooper – who scored only four strokes for 20 yards. The offense suffered because of it.
After a tough week against the Indianapolis Colts, the Cowboys' defense intensified and made the necessary moves to take the team to victory. Yes, the defense allowed 20 points and 383 yards in total, but also forced two turnovers and forced Tampa Bay to go 4 to 13 in the third down. Forcing two turnovers and a 30% conversion rate in third place will be the job done most weeks in the NFL.
The Cowboys have managed to secure the win at home, ensuring that Dallas return to AT & T for at least one more game this season. Without further ado, let's discuss a few things collected from the Cowboys' 27-20 win over the Buccaneers:
Dak Prescott's feet and combinations of routes that break the trend reveal the offense of the Dallas red zone
What's the best antidote for a Cowboys offense that fights in the red zone? A Tampa Bay defense wrestling in the red zone. Entering Sunday's game, the Cowboys were 31st in the red zone's touchdown percentage (44.19), while the Buccaneers were 32nd in the red zone's touchdown percentage (78.43).
The Cowboys offense in the red zone was not perfect on Sunday as they were forced to settle for a field goal in the third quarter. But it was much improved by recording two touchdowns.
One of the biggest reasons for the frustration surrounding the Dallas offense in recent weeks was that she did not use Prescott's legs enough. That changed against Tampa Bay, as Prescott's legs scored on the first trip from Dallas to the red zone:
Here, the Cowboys are running a zone within read – the same game that Dallas used to score in the red zone against Jacksonville – with the defensive side of the Buccaneers' weak side, Jason Pierre-Paul, as the reading man. With Pierre-Paul hitting to stop Elliott in the inside, Prescott makes the right decision to keep the ball at the knit point.
From there, Michael Gallup is able to get just enough of the safety filler to allow Prescott to jump out and cut Blake
Dallas actually ran the reading zone again in the red zone, but Tampa Bay did a better job of sitting on Prescott's goalkeeper, forcing Elliott to run in a clogged environment. Still, it was good to see that Dallas had not forgotten Prescott's ability as a runner near the goal line.
Although not blessed with a ton of speed, Prescott is still an extremely talented runner with the ball in his hands – possessing impressive vision, balance
On the second touchdown of Dallas in the red zone of the game, it was not Prescott's legs that secured six points, as a clever combination of route allowed Gallup to open for an easy touchdown.
The piece was set up the previous way, where the Cowboys were in 11 people (one running behind, a tight end, three wide receivers) with Ezekiel Elliott in the slot. In that game, Dallas executed two-man route combinations, with the internal receiver traversing a flat route and the external receiver traveling a sloping route. The combination of flat and inclined routes is a great concept for overcoming men's coverage in short distance situations because the flat route creates a natural choice for the receiver who is running the inclined route.
Tampa Bay started to take advantage of this trend, and Dallas did a great job by breaking that trend of helping open the Gallup in the red zone of the touchdown:
The only difference between the lineup in this game and that on the previous drive mentioned above is that Blake Jarwin is slightly lined up wider and in a traditional catcher position.
Instead of executing combinations of mirrored oblique planes, the Cowboys execute a mirrored combination of flat route, in which Elliott runs into the flats, alerting Tampa Bay to a possible combination of flat route, while Gallup travels a descent route toward the pillar rear.
Gallup did a great job of selling a possible oblique route with its stem, using a jumping release while leaning in to open the space needed to open the fading route. As Tampa Bay cornerback Brent Grimes waited for the sloped route, Gallup managed to surprise him, making it easier for the newbie receiver to create the breakdown for the touchdown.
Randy Gregory rises as Robin for DeMarcus Lawrence's Batman
It was obvious from the moment Tampa Bay entered the field that it would not let DeMarcus Lawrence beat them.
The Buccaneers would not allow Lawrence to take advantage of Demar Dotson's good attack because Lawrence had to deal with a steady diet of chips and two teams against Tampa Bay. The fact that Lawrence was able to come out with three tackles and a bag, despite all the extra attention, is incredibly impressive and just shows how skillful he is with a player who is on the edge.
With Lawrence getting a ton of extra attention, the Cowboys needed another defensive striker to take a step forward and make big plays for the defense. Tyrone Crawford was the guy who did this a few times this season, but he left the game with a neck injury, paving the way for another Cowboys defensive end to make some shocking plays.
Fighting through more questionable penalties attributed to him, Gregory was the guy who was able to step up and make the necessary moves. Gregory had a big hand on both transfers from Tampa Bay, which led to 14 points from Cowboys.
In the first quarter, it was a serve from Gregory that led to the first defensive touchdown of the Dallas season:
Here, Gregory is trying to use a quick run to press James Winston; However, Donovan Smith does a great job of pushing Gregory out of pocket.
From there, Gregory shows his effort as he was able to go around in his pocket and beat Winston from behind to etch the bag and force the fumble. With the ball falling on the pitch, Smith is in perfect position to score and score.
In the third quarter, Gregory took advantage of a fumble from Bobo Wilson in a jet to put Dallas in a privileged position to climb by two points.
In a game in which Tampa Bay did everything to stop Lawrence from interrupting his offensive, it was Gregory who ended the Buccaneers' attack, which is incredible, considering what Gregory had to overcome in his short career.
After missing the better part of two seasons, Gregory recorded six sacks, proving to be a valued member of the Cowboys' defense, while showing steady improvement throughout the season.
The lack of turnovers is key for the Cowboys to win in the playoffs
With Sunday's win, the Cowboys rose to 7-0 this season in games where they did not turn the ball, which means they are 2-6 in games where they turn the ball at least once.
The Cowboys offensive fought powerfully for many stretches against Tampa Bay, but took care of the ball and did not turn the ball, which has proven enough for the Cowboys as currently built. As long as they are not hampered by having to constantly defend short courses, the Cowboys defense has proven to be able to keep the games closed even when the Cowboys offense is in trouble.
And this season, the Cowboys finished well in tight scoring games, going 4-2 in seven-point or fewer. In addition, Prescott came in third in the Sunday action rankings among the quarterbacks (4) this season.
Although there are many things that the Cowboys must do to succeed in the playoffs, the most important thing is to take care of the ball and eliminate opportunities for turnover to the opponent's defense. If they can do that, the team will be in a position to win in the playoffs, which is the most that can be done under the circumstances.
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