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Week 16 Game Recap: Detroit Lions 21, Dallas Cowboys 42


What you need to know

Detroit Lions

The Detroit Lions traveled to 'Jerry World' on Monday night to take on a Dallas team playing for nothing as they've locked up the No. 1 seed in the NFC. The Lions offense looked very good for just over a quarter but the Cowboys defense was fantastic in the last three quarters as they made Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford uncomfortable via pressure. They also made it very difficult for Stafford to diagnose the defense as Dallas deployed unique looks to confuse him and then brought pressure from many different spots which made Stafford force some throws that weren't there. In the end, the Cowboys thrashed the Lions up front and dominated this game and ran away in the end, winning 42-21.

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys were involved in a shootout against the Lions, but as Detroit’s offense stumbled in the third quarter, Dallas kept their foot on the gas and kept scoring touchdowns. Dallas’ offensive line was solid, but not spectacular as Prescott ran the offense to perfection at the line of scrimmage. As stated by Dallas brass throughout the week, the Cowboys stars all played significant snaps until the game was well out of reach with Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott logging five touchdowns between them. As Dallas had nothing to play for this week (and next), they emerged relatively unscathed on the injury front with Tyron Smith tweaking his knee but remaining standing on the sideline with ice after exiting the game.

Detroit Lions

QB Matthew Stafford, 71 offensive snaps, Pass: 26 - 46 - 260 - 0 TD / 1 INT, Rush: 1 - 1 - 1
Stafford and the Lions passing offense came out of the gate strong and were bolstered by a surprisingly strong rushing attack that kept the Cowboys defense off balance. However, it was a tale of two halves for Stafford and the passing offense as Stafford was able to pick apart the Cowboys for about 1-1/2 quarters. At that point the Lions abandoned the running game and things devolved from there. Stafford came out and was accurate early in the game as he was accurate on nine of his first 10 throws with the sole inaccurate pass being a relative throwaway. He hit mostly short throws that generated yards after the catch but was effective in getting the Lions into the end zone three times in the first half. Stafford's best throw in the first half came on a back shoulder to wide receiver Marvin Jones in the red zone that went out at the one-yard line. This pass went for 16 yards and helped to set up Stafford's one-yard plunge that tied the game at 14. Stafford used his mobility to climb the ladder and escape the pocket right and left and this allowed him to hit open receivers working back to him to create positive gains. Stafford threw 21 passes in the first half but two were thrown away so only 19 passes ended up as being graded. He was accurate on 15-on-19 throws in the first half. The second half saw the Lions abandon the running game which allowed the Cowboys pass rushers to pin their ears back and generate pressure on Stafford an a pretty consistent basis. Stafford was hit a lot in the second half and he became far too aggressive as the game wore on and as the Lions fell behind. He still distributed the ball to all parts of the field and did an admirable job playing through the physical pressure he was under. He went to tight end Eric Ebron a lot in the second half (7 targets) but was hurried consistently and he made very bad choices with the ball at times. While rolling left to avoid pressure, he threw a laser to receiver T.J. Jones but he was completely covered and Cowboys cornerback Brandon Carr knocked the ball into the air and safety J.J. Wilcox came down with the interception. The Lions receivers didn't help Stafford as multiple balls were dropped that could/should have been caught. In summary, the Cowboys defense created pressure which put Stafford into the weakness of his game as he doesn't deal with pressure well at all. Also, the Cowboys scheme confused Stafford as they brought blitzers to the line of scrimmage which forced Stafford to read the alignment a specific way pre-snap. The Cowboys would back out players post-snap and bring blitzers from different spots which caused problems in the spacing/timing of the offense and it wreaked havoc on the passing attack. Accuracy wise, Stafford was 18-of-24 on throws that were graded in the second half. Overall, he was 33-of-43 in the game for an adjusted-accuracy rate of 76.7 percent.

RB Zach Zenner, 54 offensive snaps, Rush: 12 - 67 - 2, Rec: 2 - 25 - 0 (3 targets)
Zenner was incredibly effective on Monday night as he showed great vision and patience throughout the game as a runner and a receiver. Interestingly, Zenner had 12 total carries in the game but 10 came in the first half. Zenner tallied 64 yards on his 10 first-half carries and scored twice in the first half. He also caught both of his targets and totaled 25 yards receiving in the first half. Zenner had 3 yards on his two carries in the second half and was targeted once in the screen game but the ball was batted down at the line of scrimmage. Zenner's first carry went for 20 yards and he displayed great patience and vision, and he was helped by a solid scheme and good blocking as the Lions trapped the defensive end who came too far up the field as Zenner ran between him and the guard into space. Zenner runs with very good pad level and power and when the Lions allowed him to get through a hole without contact he gave the Cowboys fits as he was tough to bring down and always fell forward gaining that extra little bit of yardage on every play. Zenner scored on a seven-yard touchdown on another play that allowed the defensive end (Randy Gregory) to aggressively come up the field. Zenner ran into that opening and showed great vision to cut the ball outside and he ran untouched into the end zone. Zenner continued to show great patience and vision in the first half and scored on another run, this one coming from five yards out. Zenner got through the right side of the line of scrimmage untouched and fell forwards near the goal line and got just enough the score the touchdown. Zenner isn't an electric runner and looks like a plodder but he gets the job done and played a very good game in Dallas on Monday night.

RB Dwayne Washington, 16 offensive snaps, Rush: 7 - 22 - 0, Rec: 1 - 4 - 0 (2 targets)
Washington wasn't utilized early in the game but he was put on the field when the Lions went to their hurry up look in the second half, and that's when he got the majority of his work. He did have a red zone carry in the first half and he missed a very big cutback lane as he could have easily had a rushing score from the Dallas one-yard line. He took the carry and ran it into a pile of bodies and was tackled for no gain. Washington is big and explosive, but at times he will drop his eyes and miss holes and that leaves yards on the field. He ran with great effort again in this game but the Lions made little attempt to get him to the edges as most of his carries went into the middle of the line. He did have a nice run in the second half that went for nine yards on a stretch run to the left side of the line. Washington had seven carries that went for 22 yards total and he was targeted twice, both in the screen game. He dropped one pass that would have gone nowhere and caught the other late in the game that went for four yards.

WR Golden Tate, 63 offensive snaps, Rec: 6 - 58 - 0 (6 targets)
Tate was not targeted as heavily in this game as he has been recently, but he was efficient as he converted six targets into six catches that went for 58 yards. Tate was targeted early in the game in the red zone as he ran a crosser with tight end Ebron clearing out space for him. He gained eight yards on a first-and-goal from the 15-yard line. Tate was utilized on slant routes into the middle of the field as he caught slant passes of 14, 16 and seven yards. He was targeted in the red zone late in the game on a fourth down and caught a six-yard pass when the Lions needed three yards to move the chains. Tate was only targeted once in the screen game and that came late on a bubble screen that went for six yards.

WR Anquan Boldin, 50 offensive snaps, Rec: 5 - 33 - 0 (7 targets)
Boldin continues to work in the middle of the field, lining up out of the slot on either side. He works in the dirty areas of the field and continues to help the Lions generate first downs. Boldin caught a pass working out of the left slot on the Lions first offensive snap of the game that went for nine yards. He caught a screen pass working towards the sideline and finished the play gaining five yards, but they were tough yards as he worked into traffic with the ball. Boldin's next two catches went for first down as he caught a six-yard pass needing two on third down and another that went for eight when the Lions needed seven yards. That's the strength of his game as he helps the Lions move the chains and stay in rhythm, and that helps to keep the offense on the field and the defense off of it.

WR Marvin Jones, 56 offensive snaps, Rec: 1 - 16 - 0 (7 targets)
Jones had another quiet game Monday as physical play at the line of scrimmage and down the field proved to be too much for him. He is struggling to get off of press coverage and he had a tough time with contested catches in this game. He was targeted seven times but only caught one pass that went for 16 yards. The 16-yard completion came in the red zone as Stafford placed a perfectly thrown back shoulder pass to Jones who caught the ball while going to the ground. This set up the eventual Stafford rushing touchdown. The rest of Jones' targets went down the field, but interestingly he was targeted three times in the red zone in this game. Jones struggled to come down with the ball when it was contested as the physicality the Cowboys defenders played with proved to be too great for Jones.

TE Eric Ebron, 61 offensive snaps, Rec: 8 - 93 - 0 (12 targets)
Ebron was targeted in the short and intermediate parts of the field on Monday and presented big challenges for the Cowboys defense in coverage. At times, Ebron would sit into an opening around five yards down the field as the Cowboys coverage allowed the Lions to complete these short passing plays. The Lions lined up Ebron closer to the tackle than they normally do, and it gave Ebron a little more room to run in the secondary. Ebron was very effective in the intermediate areas of the field, but his size and short area quickness gave the Cowboys fits all over the field on Monday. Ebron caught a pass about four yards down the field and beat Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee to the corner and took it for a 21-yard gain. He had two catches of 12 yards that both went for first down while lined up tight to the tackle. Stafford looked for Ebron throughout the game and Ebron continued to work the middle of the field. Ebron did a really nice job working to get open for Stafford as pressure forced Stafford from the pocket. He worked inside, and then quickly out to the sideline as Stafford flushed to his left and hit Ebron near the sideline. Ebron took the pass for a 16-yard gain and finished the play very physically, punishing the defender and putting him on his back. Ebron did drop a pass early in the game on a slant route and the Cowboys broke up a few passes that might have been caught, but the balls weren't perfectly placed and the defenders did a nice job of getting physical with Ebron to jar the balls free. Ebron was a bright spot for the Lions in this game.


Dallas Cowboys

QB Dak Prescott, 57 offensive snaps, Pass: 15 - 20 - 212 - 3 TD / 0 INT, Rush: 4 - 35 - 0
It was another low-volume but high-efficiency game for Prescott this week against Detroit. Prescott threw just 20 passes, his second-lowest total of the season, but had three highlight touchdown passes. Twice he identified Dez Bryant in single coverage, delivering accurate passes into contested windows for long touchdowns. Early in the game, Prescott kicked off the scoring with a seam throw to Brice Butler for another score. Prescott excelled with accuracy this week and had an opportunity for a fourth touchdown as Jason Witten was not looking for a seam pass in the red zone. Prescott was not needed in the fourth quarter as much of his production was centered in the first two and a half quarters, including 71 passing yards on the opening drive of the game alone. Prescott ran effectively, but did take multiple big hits as a runner, an unwelcome sight for a Dallas team with no incentive for wins in the final two weeks of the regular season.

RB Darren McFadden, 21 offensive snaps, Rush: 14 - 49 - 0 (1 targets)
McFadden saw sparse snaps as expected in the first half against Detroit. As Dallas gained a sizeable lead in the second half, McFadden expanded his role with Ezekiel Elliott resting. McFadden, in just his second game back from injury this season, ran well specifically on perimeter runs where his speed was on display. In the pass game, McFadden dropped his lone target as an accurate Dak Prescott pass uncharacteristically clanged off McFadden’s hands on a third down in the second quarter.

RB Ezekiel Elliott, 29 offensive snaps, Rush: 12 - 80 - 2, Rec: 1 - 12 - 0 (1 targets)
Elliott continued his touchdown rampage against Detroit, finding the end zone twice on his lowest volume of the season. It was a slow start for Elliott, rushing for just five yards on three carries during Dallas’ opening drive, but the rookie runner heated up quickly. Elliott amassed a significant share of his yardage (55) on a single long touchdown run, finding the backside alley and outrunning the defensive back to the corner of the end zone. Later in the red zone, Elliott bounced to the perimeter for an easy score. Elliott saw just a single target, breaking a tackle on the reception, his lowest passing volume since Week 9. Elliott has 16 touchdowns with one game to go, already No.5 in NFL history for rookie running backs. With another score in Week 17, Elliott would move to second.

WR Dez Bryant, 42 offensive snaps, Pass: 1 - 1 - 10 - 1 TD / 0 INT, Rec: 4 - 70 - 2 (5 targets)
Bryant had his most impressive performance in more than a month against Detroit. Not only did Bryant optimize his five targets in the pass game, he also threw for a touchdown. Bryant took an end-around to the perimeter, finding a wide open Jason Witten for a red zone touchdown. Through the air Bryant dominated with two highly contested deep passes, converting both for touchdowns. Also, Bryant drew a long defensive pass interference penalty beyond the box score. This marked Bryant best performance of the season on just five official targets, his second-lowest total of the season.

WR Cole Beasley, 27 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 25 - 0 (5 targets)
In what has been a common occurrence this season, Beasley logged another four receptions against the Lions. Beasley was the primary chain-mover on short routes for Dallas, highlighted by three key first downs. Beasley easily separated on out routes for two of the first downs, navigating through a Dez Bryant slot screen block on the other. While Beasley’s yardage is down from earlier in the season of late, his impact on key third downs remain for Dak Prescott and Dallas’ offense to stay on the field.

WR Terrance Williams, 38 offensive snaps, Rec: 4 - 61 - 0 (4 targets)
It was a low-volume game for Dallas’ efficient passing game, but Williams still performed well. Specifically, Williams logged three straight catches on a single third quarter drive. Williams made an outstanding high-point reception on a comeback route and deep corner route contested catch of the trio. Williams saw plenty of single coverage this week with Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott being the focal point of Detroit’s defensive game plan and Williams excelled with his opportunities.

TE Jason Witten, 56 offensive snaps, Rec: 2 - 33 - 1 (4 targets)
Targets were at a premium in Dallas’ pass game in the comfortable win over Detroit. Witten was wide open on both of his catches. The first came early in the game off a play-action look and Witten escaping out the backside for most of his yardage for the game (23). Witten caught Dez Bryant’s first NFL touchdown pass as the tight end was wide open in the end zone after the end-around action in the backfield. Witten had an opportunity for a second touchdown, coming open down the seam in the red zone, but he did not get his head around in time to locate the Dak Prescott pass.