Tale of the tape: Breaking down the Cowboys 31-6 win over the Miami Dolphins in week three

Miami Dolphins v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Let’s turn to the tape to see how the Cowboys fared in week three.

Another week, another win for the 2019 Dallas Cowboys.

Before you turn to the “they haven’t played anyone yet” argument, let’s try to remind ourselves that in the past the Cowboys have played down to their competition. Not only are the Cowboys 3-0, but they have also dominated their opponent in all three of their wins, something not all 3-0 teams can say heading into week four. With the All-22 dropping late Monday night, let’s take a look at some of the plays in this game that helped push the Cowboys to their third victory, and some of the plays they will need to cleanup as we approach the tougher portion of the schedule.

The Cowboys have to be thrilled to death with what they’ve gotten out of Kerry Hyder in the first three weeks of the season. Hyder has lined up at left defensive end, right defensive end, 1-technique, and 3-technique in the first three weeks of the season, and has shown up on tape at all four positions. Here he creates chaos in the backfield, by long-arming the center back into the running backs running lane. By blowing the center off the ball, Leighton Vander Esch has a clean run at Kenyan Drake to bring him down for no gain on first down. Hyder had multiple other splash plays in this game, and has been a nice rotational piece for Rod Marinelli’s defense early on.

One issue early on for Dallas’ defense has been their lack of pass rush outside of DeMarcus Lawrence. Robert Quinn eased those concerns on Sunday with a dominant performance against his former team. Quinn finished the game with a sack, three tackles, and a QB hurry in 45 snaps. Quinn was inches away from a multiple sack game, and harassed Josh Rosen throughout the entire game. Quinn wins using his speed, and his famous cross chop to beat left tackles around the edge on a consistent basis. We saw later in the game how Quinn’s speed pushed Rosen out of the pocket, which resulted in a Tank Lawrence sack. With DeMarcus Lawrence on the left end, and Robert Quinn off the right end, the Cowboys now have two great pass rushers screaming off the edge.

Kellen Moore is off to a fantastic start to the 2019 season, but his players are certainly making this easy on the young play-caller. Unlike what we’ve seen in the past under Scott Linehan, Kellen Moore is putting his skill players in the best positions to succeed getting them out in space, against man coverage, and allowing them to use their route running abilities to create easy completions. The Cowboys open up in 12 personnel with Jamize Olawale and Ezekiel Elliott in “I-formation”, a heavy formation used on running plays. Moore dials up play-action, with Cooper running a “speed-cut” after threatening the middle of the field with his eyes and body language. Cooper is such a nuanced route runner that can change directions with ease and get in-and-out of his breaks with elite quickness.

The addition of Amari Cooper to this offense has brought tremendous success, but one thing he needs to clean up is his drops, Through three weeks, I have Amari Cooper responsible for four drops. While his consistent production has outweighed the drop issues early in the season, this is something he will need to clean up as the season progresses, especially as the team gets into the tough part of the schedule. Nonetheless, this another great play call from Kellen Moore, backed up by an excellent ball from Dak Prescott, Cooper just has to finish, and he knows it.

There’s been a lot of talk so far about the slow start Dak Prescott had against the Dolphins. While Dak wasn’t perfect like he was in week one, and did throw a terrible pick, Prescott still had a solid start to the game that was limited due to two drops by his receivers (Cooper and Jarwin), and a few deep shots that just missed. This 3rd and 20 pickup, was an excellent play from Prescott and Witten who came up big on a down and distance that Cowboys fans are used to seeing a draw play, or running back screen. Moore’s ability to keep the playbook open, and his players ability to perform in these tough situations is what can make this team so dangerous on third downs.

Another great Kellen Moore wrinkle that leaves defenses with their hands on their hips, and gasping for air. The offense comes out in a pistol-formation with Randall Cobb coming across the formation in jet-motion. Cobb fakes the handoffs (I’d bet in a few weeks he’ll get the ball here), Dak reads the strong-side defensive end (whose caught in-between attacking Cobb and/or Dak), and Ezekiel Elliott is off to the races for one of the easiest 13-yard gains of his career. The strongside defensive end actually makes the right read here given the numbers that could beat him, but with the left side of the line dominating their blocking assignments, there’s nothing the Miami defense can do on this play due to the treat of Cobb’s motion and Dak’s legs.

Another excellent play-call, that was executed perfectly by the players on the field. Moore shows a 3x1 bunch formation at the bottom of the screen that leaves Amari Cooper and Xavien Howard on an island with no help over the top or inside. Cooper runs a perfect “pivot route” that sells the inside slant, before flipping his hips and breaking back towards the pylon for easy separation, Howard’s only hope at this point is to grab-and-hold Cooper (which he does), and hope that Prescott is late with the football. Prescott is on time, Cooper is a wide open, and six points are on the board because of the formation and execution of the offense.

With Xavier Woods out nursing a high ankle sprain, journeyman safety Darian Thompson had himself a nice game as the starting free safety. Thompson finished the game with three tackles, none being bigger than this third-down fill. Thompson does an excellent job of beating DeVante Parker to the hole, and tackles with perfect technique to stop Kalen Ballage short of the goal line and forcing a Miami field goal. Miami ran a trap-play on this running play, getting Trystel Hill up the field to vacate his gap. If Thompson isn’t on time, or doesn’t read this play it’s likely an easy six points for Miami, unless Vander Esch pulls out some magic.

It hasn’t been the kindest of starts to the season for Jaylon Smith. Smith has solid numbers, but has struggled on the field more than his numbers would suggest. Smith is struggling with over pursuing, changing directions, and has been getting lost in zone-coverage in the first three weeks. After watching the All-22, he had a really rough first half before forcing the big fumble before halftime. After the half, Smith did a much better job at staying disciplined, changing directions, and finishing plays. Let’s hope this carries over into Sunday Night Football, we’re he’ll have his hands full with Alvin Kamara out in space.

The Cowboys biggest play of the game was called back due to a questionable holding call on Connor Williams. This is another great play from Dak Prescott who stands in the pocket, taking a big time shot, while delivering a perfect ball to Randall Cobb who then takes matters into his own hands. Prescott and Cobb seem to have a very nice connection early on, and Cobb has shown the ability to be dynamic after the catch with the football in his hands. Their connection will continue to be of importance while Michael Gallup is out recovering from his knee scope.

Another player stepping up in Michael Gallup’s absence is Devin Smith. Smith didn’t light up the Dolphins defense like he did the Redskins in week two, but he did have another solid outing, making a pair of clutch catches in the game. Smith’s speed has been evident over the last two weeks, and he could be in for a big night against the Saints where he will be lined up across from Eli Apple for a majority of the game.

Another great play call down in the red-zone sets the offense up for success. The double post combination from Jason Witten and Amari Cooper gives the cover one safety a tough matchup to defend. With only having a single-high safety, the Miami corners play outside leverage, funneling both Witten and Cooper to the middle of the field, where the safety will be able to help, there’s only one issue. With Witten and Cooper running the same route, just at different levels, the safety has to decide on which route to bite on, and due to Prescott’s eyes, he takes the bait with Witten. This is a win-win for the Cowboys, because no matter the read the safety makes, Prescott has an open receiver for an easy six points. This leads us back to a common theme in this column:

Great play call + great execution = great results.

One common knock on Dak Prescott so far in his young career is his lack of anticipation as a passer. Many analysts would often say that Prescott struggled to throw receivers open, or that he would have to see receivers open before letting the ball go. Like many other factors to his game, Prescott seems to have improved on his anticipation quite a bit in 2019. Here, Cooper runs a simple comeback route with the DB playing five yards off giving him a free release off the line of scrimmage. Cooper does a great job of selling vertical with his chest over his knees, arms pumping, and flips his hips tightly for easy separation back to the quarterback. The intriguing thing about this play is Prescott has let this ball loose before Cooper even gets to the top of his route, which doesn’t allow the CB or dropping LB a play on the football. These are strides Prescott has taken so far in 2019, that has him near the top of the league as a passer through three weeks.

Couldn’t not give Tony Pollard some love. Pollard had a tremendous day running the football, and notched his first NFL touchdown with an impressive run late in the fourth quarter. Pollard finished the day with 13 carries, for 103 yards (7.9 YPC), a TD, and added three catches for 25 yards as well. Pollard showcased impressive vision, contact balance, power in the second level, and showed his strengths as a receiver as well. Pollard has a chance to be a very nice complement to Ezekiel Elliott in this offense, and may even etch himself a bigger role as well if he keeps this up.


The Cowboys head to New Orleans this week to take on the 2-1 Saints. We will break it all down next week as well as the Cowboys look to get to 4-0 and separate themselves from the rest of the NFC East opponents.