The 2016 Dallas Cowboys are on a mission to re-create their winning ways of 2014. Led by their offensive line that season, DeMarco Murray led the league with 1,845 rushing yards.
Murray's dominance made things easy for Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, as he called his number to carry the football about 24 times a game on average (24.5).
When Murray wasn't churning out yards on the ground, a healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant feasted on defenses through the air as a result of Murray's production. This Dallas offense was good enough to win the NFC East at 12-4, and march down the field when it mattered the most at the end of the Wild Card Playoffs to defeat the Lions and send the Cowboys to Green Bay.
In the Divisional Playoffs, the offense should have again had their signature moment, as Romo and Bryant channeled their inner Aikman and Irvin on a late fourth-quarter, fourth down attempt that was wrongly reversed from a goal-line reception to an incomplete pass.
This ended the 2014 season, and sent the Cowboys into a tailspin that few saw coming in 2015. Suffering through the bulk of their 16 game season without Tony Romo or Dez Bryant, Darren McFadden became the team's best weapon week in and week out.
This was far from the expectation fans set entering the season, as the departure of Murray left Linehan with Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar. Jerry Jones would come out and say before the season that he felt the offense, at the running back position, was better off than it was with Murray - since the combination of all three backs brought more to the table.
Almost unfairly, we would never get to see how Linehan planned on utilizing these three to emulate the 2014 running game, as the only back that survived the season was McFadden. DMC was force fed the ball with the likes of "Matt Cassel and Kellen Moore starting at QB, and was able to have some success once the Cowboys shifted their entire running game philosophy away from the zone blocking scheme.
The blessing in disguise from this season ended up being Ezekiel Elliott, who was in a prime position to be grabbed by the Cowboys with their 4th overall pick. Elliott has a chance to be Linehan's new Swiss army knife in the backfield, as the entirety of the Cowboys staff agreed that adding one solidified player on offense like Elliott - who can run the ball in the zone scheme, catch the ball out of the backfield, and block in the passing game - could have huge implications for the entire squad.
Scott Linehan will certainly be putting Elliott to the test right away, as the Cowboys have little time to waste if they want to build a Super Bowl contending team with Romo as the starting QB.
The danger of trying to do this simply through turning the clock back to 2014 is that the word is out on exactly what the Dallas Cowboys did to be so successful. While the offensive line is still in place, opposing defensive coordinators are going to be diving into the film to try to exploit any weaknesses they may see.
To counter this, it will be up to Linehan to creatively use all of his weapons in place. Elliott, Bryant, and Romo will get the bulk of the attention, but players like Brice Butler, Lucky Whitehead, Darius Jackson, and Cole Beasley will be just as important in keeping this offense fresh and creative for Linehan.
If Scott Linehan can adjust to make Darren McFadden the fourth best rusher in the league, behind the same offensive line that Zeke Elliott will run behind, there should be no excuses for his offense to put up very many clunkers this season.
The 2014 Cowboys were a joy to watch, and Cowboys Nation is eager to see that same type of team take the field in 2016 after what we witnessed in 2015. The key for this to happen?
Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan.
SEA 24, DAL 13: Cowboys Offensive Woes Continue
Inefficient passing and turnovers cost the Dallas Cowboys today, leading to a 24-13 loss to the previously winless Seahawks in Seattle.
Dallas's offense produced just a single field goal by halftime, with Dak Prescott only completing two of his first nine passes for just four yards. He got better as the game went on, but still finished with just 168 passing yards and a single touchdown.
The box score will say Prescott threw two interceptions, but one was a bobbled catch by Michael Gallup. The other was not a good throw, trying to find Blake Jarwin in traffic. Seahawks LB Bobby Wagner went up and caused a tipped ball.
Both picks ended up in the hands, and ankle, of Seattle safety Earl Thomas. He drew a taunting penalty for bowing at the Dallas sideline on his second INT, almost as if mocking the team for not giving up enough to trade for him.
Ezekiel Elliott did have a big day on the ground; 127 yards on just 16 carries. It's his first 100-yard game of 2018. But the fact Dallas couldn't capitalize on Zeke's production was just further indication of their offensive dysfunction.
Hurry home, Travis Frederick. Who knew you were our Offensive MVP?
- While Zeke did have a strong rushing performance, two critical errors were big parts of the Cowboys' loss. An early TD catch was called back because Zeke stepped out of bounds before making the reception. Also, Elliott's fumble in the 4th quarter squandered a strong drive that could have started Dallas' comeback attempt sooner.
- Dallas' defense looked good early but clearly wore down over time. Seattle RB Chris Carson ground out 102 rushing yards on 32 carries. Russell Wilson took advantage of some miscues in the secondary for two touchdown passes and 192 passing yards.
- Tyrone Crawford got called for another bogus "roughing the passer" penalty after a clean hit on Wilson early in the game. The NFL has to get this figured out, because it's becoming a bigger eyesore for the league than any amount of kneeling ever did.
- Tavon Austin got his second touchdown catch this year, the only Cowboy to record a receiving TD so far this year. Tight end Geoff Swaim had five catches for 47 yards, reminding the world that Dallas actually has TEs on their roster.
- Speaking of which, as Troy Aikman commented on during the game, Rico Gathers was not used in redzone passing situations. Why is Gathers dressing for games and not being utilized in the one situation where he's not a liability?
- Sean Lee left the game after reaggravating the hamstring injury he suffered last week. It meant more playing time for first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch, who reminded you of Lee with how he was getting to the ball. Both finished the game credited with 11 tackles each.
- Rookie guard Connor Williams continues to struggle when up against powerful defensive tackles. It's not a surprise for a converted college tackle, but growing pains still cost you on game day. Dallas may have to consider starting Joe Looney at guard once Travis Frederick comes back.
- Kicker Brett Maher went 2/2 today on field goals, including a 50-yarder. He has hit four straight after missing his one attempt against Carolina in Week 1.
- The rest of the NFC East won their games today. That puts Philly and Washington at 2-1 and now evens up the Cowboys and Giants at 1-2.
- Dallas returns home next week to host the Detroit Lions, who are currently 0-2. They play the Patriots tonight.
Why The Seahawks Will Be Looking Into A Mirror Against The Cowboys Sunday
For the better part of the last decade one defense has reigned supreme over the NFC. One defense has continually put their offense and team in position to win big games, including a dominant Super Bowl win over one of the more productive offenses in recent memory.
That defense, of course, belonged to the Seattle Seahawks.
With a secondary deemed as the "Legion of Boom" and a defensive line which rotated through Pro Bowl level talent routinely, the Seahawks bolstered one of the best defenses the NFL has ever seen. A defense which perfectly complimented the physical, run first philosophy their offense lived by.
Players like Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Michael Bennett, and Bobby Wagner will arguably be Hall of Famers one day, and they wreaked havoc on the conference for a strong 3-5 year stretch.
Now, however, things are changing.
Gone are many of the elite players which once bolstered the Seattle defense to top-tier status, and while some big names remain, the talent level simply isn't the same. The Seahawks missed the postseason a year ago, and now sit at 0-2 before their home opener today against the Cowboys.
Their window looks to be closed, while their opponent today is looking to build their defense (and team) in the mold of what once was in Seattle.
Former Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard has come to Dallas and brought with him a more aggressive defensive philosophy, one which he deployed successfully with the Seahawks. Under Richard the Cowboys are blitzing more often on third down than they have in the past under Rod Marinelli, they're utilizing more single high safety looks, and they are allowing their long and talented corners to do what they do best in coverage.
The Seahawks once leaned on a deep pass rush and long, physical secondary. The 2018 Cowboys are looking to do the same thing.
The Seahawks once leaned on a mobile quarterback to make plays with his feet while relying on a strong running game and one of the league's best backs. The 2018 Cowboys are looking to do the same thing.
Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie look like they were molded in a 2013-Seahawks lab as cornerbacks, and DeMarcus Lawrence is as productive as any pass rusher those defenses had. Of course, we aren't able to say the Cowboys have the consistent front four depth that those Seattle teams did or that they have the single high safety of Earl Thomas' caliber, but the preliminary pieces are clearly in place.
Today the Cowboys look to improve to 2-1 with a conference road win. But, they also look to bury the Seahawks in the past and take another step towards cementing themselves as one of the elite defenses in the NFC.
It won't happen over night, but anyone can see that the potential is there.
Could Cowboys DT Datone Jones Earn Starting Role with Maliek Collins Out?
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins is out for Sunday's game at the Seahawks with a sprained knee, further opening the door for Datone Jones to earn his spot among the "Hot Boyz". The moniker given to the Cowboys front seven this season, the team's depth up front has been a strength in totaling nine sacks through two games.
Last season, Datone Jones was a part of this rotation late in the year. Coming on strong at the 3T position while Maliek Collins played at the 1T, Jones is the type of versatile defender with veteran experience that Rod Marinelli can get the most out of.
Returning from a knee injury himself, Jones may take some time to be the disruptive interior player we saw at the end of 2017. Through two games, the Cowboys had played Collins at his original position of 3T, with Antwaun Woods doing more than enough to continue playing at 1T.
This potentially makes Collins and Jones two players fighting for one spot. Collins followed up his performance at the Panthers with a sack of Cam Newton by constantly playing in the Giants' backfield last week.
Guessing that means no Irving, I'd say Tyrone Crawford then Antwaun Woods. I have high hopes for Datone Jones once he returns though. https://t.co/9frjFK2J9J
A player determined to not let his team's misuse slow down his progress, after an incredible rookie season at 3T, Collins is returning from his second broken foot in three years.
Through his five years in the NFL, Jones has only played a full 16 games once.
The most games Datone has started in a season is four. Maliek Collins should like his chances of playing over Jones once both are healthy, and the Cowboys should be equally thrilled with the opportunity to keep both fresh in rotation.
Following Sunday's game in Seattle and next week against the Lions, the Cowboys can return David Irving from suspension to play all over their defensive line - his best position also being at three technique.
Without the wealth of talent they now have at all four positions up front, the Cowboys have had too many bodies to fill similar roles in the past. Thanks to the addition of Kris Richard along with strong edge play from Taco Charlton and rookie Dorance Armstrong, the Cowboys defensive line can do no wrong in 2018, and using Jones in week three and beyond should only add to this.
The Cowboys biggest key to success against the Seahawks will be containing Russell Wilson. Pressuring him in his face to collapse the pocket gives Dallas a chance to really slow the Seahawks offense, something they'll be relying on Jones to help them do as DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory also work with favorable match ups at defensive end.
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