While the game didn’t matter in terms of playoff seeding, the Dallas Cowboys’ (10-6) 36-35 victory over the New York Giants (5-11) was one of the more exciting wins of the season.
While the Cowboys made some key substitutions throughout the game, they did not play scared, as they did their best — within reason — to bring home the victory. Key contributors such as Byron Jones, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper played most of the game.
While it could have come back to bite Dallas if any of those key contributors got injured, the decision to go for the win could end up working out for the best. Prescott’s game-winning drive and the defense’s ability to close out the game will boost the team’s confidence entering the playoffs.
With that being said, let’s take a look at a few things gleaned from the Cowboys’ thrilling victory:
Jarwin, Schultz developing into impressive TE duo
After a slow start to the season, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz have developed into quite the tight end duo for the Cowboys. With Geoff Swaim on injured reserve and out since mid-November, Dallas needed the two tight ends to kick their development into overdrive, which is exactly what’s happened.
Their development was on full display against New York, as each thrived in their individual roles on Sunday.
Blake Jarwin is Dallas’ stretch tight end who is moved all over the formation and makes his biggest impact as a receiver. Schultz, on the other hand, is more of the classic in-line tight end who does a lot of his best work in the run game — though he is an important check down option for Prescott at times.
On Sunday, Jarwin went “Super Saiyan” against the Giants defense, finishing with seven catches for 119 yards and three touchdowns. Previously with zero touchdowns in his NFL career, Jarwin took full advantage of New York’s suspect defense in between the numbers.
On his first touchdown, Jarwin, who is lined up on the far hash mark, did an excellent job of bending his seam route to the near-side hash against New York’s Tampa 2 coverage, allowing him to find the open space necessary for Prescott to find him in the end zone.
This showed fantastic awareness and mental processing ability from the second-year tight end. Against a defense with split-safeties when running a seam route, Jarwin would typically split the hash with his seam route in an attempt to run into the hole in the zones between the split safeties.
However, New York is running Tampa 2 coverage from a split safety alignment, where the “Mike” linebacker drops to the deep middle, making it essentially a three-deep coverage. If Jarwin runs his route in between the hashes, Giants linebacker Nathan Stupar (No. 57) would be in perfect position to eliminate the throwing window.
Yet, pay attention to Jarwin’s eyes as he streaks downfield — he identifies the linebacker dropping into the deep middle, which informs his decision to bend his route past the near hash, allowing him to sit down in between the linebacker and safety for the touchdown.
On his second touchdown, Jarwin was able to once again beat New York’s Tampa 2 defense, though this one was more by play design. Here, the Cowboys have 0-2 personnel (zero running backs, two tight ends, three wide receivers) on the field and align in an empty formation with Schultz in the slot and Jarwin in a reduced split toward the bottom of the screen.
Schultz is running a curl route in an effort to hold the attention of the deep middle defender so that Jarwin can get open behind him for the touchdown, which is exactly what happens. From there, Jarwin does his best Jimmy Graham impression, as he makes the leaping touchdown grab.
Jarwin’s last touchdown was a result of impressive improvisational skills, great ball skills and abysmal tackling from the New York secondary (looking at you Curtis Riley — No. 35). Still, it was nice to see Jarwin show off his yards-after-catch ability, as he possesses the requisite athleticism to thrive in that area.
While Jarwin will get most of the attention (and rightfully so), Schultz also showed off the skills that make him valuable to the Dallas offense.
His stat line is easy to overlook, as Schultz finished with just one catch for 17 yards — but he made numerous contributions in areas that don’t show up in the box score. For example, Schultz’s curl route was the reason Jarwin was able to get open for his second touchdown.
Schultz’s best work came as a blocker. Rod Smith’s fourth-quarter touchdown run was a great example:
Here, Schultz (No. 86) is lined up as an in-line tight end sandwiched between Cam Fleming (No. 75) and Rico Gathers (No. 80). Once the ball is snapped, Schultz fires out with the proper pad level and footwork, which put him in position to latch and drive Giants safety Michael Thomas inside.
This opens up a gaping hole for Rod Smith, who is able to follow Jamize Olawale into the hole Schultz created for the touchdown.
This shouldn’t surprise anyone who has been paying attention to the rookie tight end in recent weeks, as Schultz has been, by far, Dallas’ best blocking tight end in the last month.
Jarwin and Schultz’s recent development bodes well for the Cowboys offense in the playoffs. If Jarwin can prove to be a consistent and reliable threat up the seam while Schultz continues to be a high-level blocker, the Cowboys offense has the potential to be more dangerous in the playoffs than it was in the regular season.
Jones showing some kinks in his armor
Don’t get it twisted, Byron Jones is still a fantastic cornerback who is playing at a high level. However, he has shown some slight regression in recent weeks.
In his previous six games, Jones has been called for four penalties. In the 10 games before that, Jones had just two penalties. On top of that, Jones allowed over 100 yards receiving for the first time all season against Tampa Bay.
And against New York on Sunday, Jones gave up his first deep touchdown (his second touchdown allowed all season) to Giants receiver Cody Latimer.
Jones actually does a good job in coverage, as he did a good job staying glued to Latimer’s hip while squeezing the Giants receiver to the boundary.
Nonetheless, Jones ruins his tight coverage with questionable technique at the catch point. Instead of leaning inside and playing through the catch, Jones leans toward the sideline in an effort to reach with his right hand.
However, because Jones leans outside, he loses his sight line to the catch point, leaving him unable to adjust to the ball as it drops in Latimer’s left hand for the touchdown.
Throughout the season, Jones’ biggest (and at most times, only) weakness is his ball skills (zero interceptions) and ability to defend the catch points, which makes sense given that most of Jones’ time in the NFL has been spent at safety.
This is why after largely not looking his way most of the season, quarterbacks are starting to target Jones even when he’s in tight coverage, as they trust their wide receivers to get the better of Jones at the catch point.
It’s going to be interesting to monitor in the playoffs, especially as Chidobe Awuzie continues to show improvement in coverage.
Again, Jones is still an excellent cornerback who deserves All-Pro consideration this season, but he has shown some kinks in his armor as of late.
‘Late-Game Dak’ is a real thing, will
be a valuable weapon in playoffs
Dak Prescott may not be an elite quarterback and may have some maddening inconsistencies in his game, but still, there are not many quarterbacks who are better during late-game drives than Dallas’ third-year quarterback.
Coming into the game, Prescott was tied for third in the NFL with four game-winning drives this season — behind just Drew Brees (seven) and Deshaun Watson (five).
During a time when many were wondering why he was still on the field, Prescott was able to lead the offense to its fifth game-winning drive of the season, as Dallas went 75 yards on nine plays to secure the touchdown before converting on the two-point conversion to take the lead.
Prescott tends to play his best when the pressure is at a fever pitch, which was demonstrated on fourth-and-15 with just 1:19 left in the game with the Cowboys down seven:
Here, Prescott does his best Tony Romo impersonation as he’s able to spin away from Olivier Vernon, who beat Cam Fleming bad. After breaking the pocket, Prescott does well to keep his eyes downfield, which allows him to locate Cole Beasley getting open in the back of the end zone.
From there, Prescott uncorks a beautiful throw on the run, putting the ball in an area where only Cole Beasley can bring down the catch.
In the playoffs, Prescott’s late-game heroics will be incredibly valuable to the Cowboys. If they are able to keep it close, the Cowboys have to feel good about their chances to come away with the victory.
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