Now at 3-4 after suffering a heartbreaking road loss in Washington, the Cowboys and their fans are enduring this bye week with a lot of doom and gloom.
To many the season feels lost, and even if the Cowboys do turn things around and play better football, it's hard to imagine they can compete with the Rams and Saints of the conference. While I remain objective in my analysis of this team, we do want to find some reasons for optimism around the Dallas Cowboys this season.
Here are 3 reasons why you should stay optimistic about the season and the Cowboys' chances at clinching an NFC East crown.
This Defense Is Legit Good
Everyone realizes this, right? Outside of the safety position (which has looked improved the last couple of games) the Cowboys have a rather deep and talented defensive unit. Sure they are not without their flaws, but any defense which employs the likes of DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Sean Lee, Chidobe Awuzie, Leighton Vander Esch, and Jaylon Smith is a good one.
The Cowboys are currently 12th in team defense DVOA (defensive-adjusted value over average), specifically 3rd against the run. Dallas is also 4th in team defense (yards against) in the NFL, and 9th in expected points added defensively.
They're good! And if the formula works even halfway correctly on the offense, this defense will give the Cowboys a chance to win each and every game.
Dallas Still Has A Top 3 Skill Player In The Division
So I get it, the popular take nowadays is that running backs don't matter. And as a self-proclaimed "analytics" guy, I'm typically inclined to side with this take.
With all of that being said, Ezekiel Elliott is really good. And when the offensive line plays even close to their perceived ability, Elliott has the chance to take over and win games for the Cowboys. In fact, we've sort of seen this happen already this season when Elliott dominated the Detroit Lions both on the ground and in the passing game when it mattered most.
The Cowboys are built to run the football, play "ball control" offense, and win these low scoring games they seem to play every week. They haven't been winning them, and the offense has been failing the defense, but having a stud player like Elliott definitely helps their outlook.
The NFC East Is Still Wide Open, And The Schedule Is Favorable
For all the points we can make about individual players or units, this is probably the most important point. The NFC East is wide open, and though the Redskins sit atop the Cowboys and currently hold the head-to-head tie breaker, they still have to come to Dallas later in November.
And, I mean, do you trust Washington to sweep Dallas and take control of the division?
Tied with the Cowboys currently are the 3-4 Eagles who look like a shell of their 2017-selves. While still talented, they are a little worse than a year ago basically everywhere, and their weak secondary is coming back to bite them. Philly also plays the toughest schedule of the three competing teams in the East, still traveling to New Orleans and Los Angeles to play the Rams this season. Plus Dallas gets to play Philadelphia twice, giving them two chances to bury the Eagles. You might not trust them to do it, but they'll have the chance to do so regardless.
The Cowboys own schedule isn't too daunting either. Yes they do play a Falcons team that looks like they've gotten it together a bit and the dangerous Saints as well, but they also get to finish the season against the tanking Giants, lowly Colts, and inconsistent Bucs.
This doesn't guarantee a single thing, but it does make the Cowboys outlook that much better as we sit here during the bye week.
Dallas Cowboys: The Case For Regression In 2019
It's been a few years since things around the Dallas Cowboys felt this good prior to a season. Coming off a 10-6 year in which Dallas won both the NFC East and a home playoff game before losing a one possession road game to the future NFC champions, Cowboys Nation is expecting some big things in 2019.
After all, the Cowboys went out and improved their roster in multiple ways this offseason and brought in some new blood on their offensive coaching staff. Spirits are high among Cowboys Nation, and just about everyone is anticipating a two team race for the NFC East.
But some numbers indicate we should be thinking "not so fast."
The details of the 2018 season are not as pretty as the total picture. Rarely are they ever, of course, but these particular details point towards possible regression for the Cowboys in 2019.
Basically, their point differential a year ago spells out impending doom. (That was dramatic, but let's discuss).
The Cowboys were +15 in 2018, and by pythagorean wins expectation, they were about as strong as an 8-8 team (8.53 wins to be exact). This means they won nearly 2 more games (1.47) than would be expected, fourth most in the entire NFL.
This point is furthered when looking at their record in one possession games. Dallas went 8-2 when the game was decided by 7 points or less, winning close games at a rate that is simply not sustainable year to year.
These numbers make the Cowboys a prime candidate for regression in 2019, as they were in 2017.
Back in 2016, the Cowboys outperformed their pythagorean expectation by a whole 2 wins. The following season? Dallas finished the year 9-7. The model also indicated that the 7-9 Eagles performed 2 wins under expectations in 2016, meaning they would get back on track in 2017. As we know, they ended up winning 13 games and the Super Bowl the following season.
Of course, this isn't set-in-stone, and the Cowboys very well could outperform these expectations and avoid regression. This would mainly hinge on their coaching staff and quarterback performing at an elite level, carrying them through close games and winning more games by greater than one possession.
Newly Acquired DE Robert Quinn Brings High Expectations
Winning games in the NFL typically comes down to accomplishing two goals. One, being successful when passing on offense. And, two, stopping the opposing team's passing game.
The Cowboys set out to accomplish that second goal this offseason, re-signing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and trading for veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn. Quinn, who tallied 6.5 sacks last season for the Miami Dolphins, is one of the leagues more feared rushers when at his best. The former All Pro has multiple 10+ sack seasons under his belt, including a whopping 19 in 2013.
And, as expected, the Cowboys coaching staff is ecstatic to have such a respected pass rushing specialist on their roster.
“He’s got that first step. He’s an established pass rusher in this league, so he’s going to bring some good stuff for us.” - Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
The Cowboys acquired Robert Quinn for a 2020 6th round pick, which could end up being the steal of the offseason. Quinn has played with some top-notch pass rushers in the past, and each time they have brought out the best in his own game.
Back with the Rams in 2017, when Aaron Donald was on the same defensive line, Quinn got to the quarterback 8.5 times. And, last season, he remained consistent in his sack totals playing alongside Cameron Wake. Now he joins a DeMarcus Lawrence who has 25 sacks over the last 2 seasons.
"I think it was kind of one of those where I get to have fun, pin my ears back and just disrupt the backfield, which is what they want us to do." - Robert Quinn told NFL.com.
Quinn and the always dominant Lawrence will form an impressive defensive end duo on passing downs, with the potential to be one of the best in all of football. Dallas is also hoping to add Randy Gregory into this mix, a piece which could prove vital late in football games if he is able to return from his current indefinite suspension.
Whether or not Gregory finds his way back onto the field, though, this defensive front will be in good hands. The edge combo of Quinn and Lawrence, combined with a plethora of skilled interior rushers such as Maliek Collins, gives the Cowboys a fearsome defensive line which should keep quarterbacks uncomfortable every Sunday.
Can Rookie OL Connor McGovern Compete For A Starting Spot?
Raising eyebrows in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Cowboys added Penn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern to their already deep OL depth chart.
McGovern, who played guard for the Nittany Lions, was reportedly by-far the best player remaining on the Cowboys draft board when they came on the clock in round three. Still, with seemingly more pressing needs yet to be addressed, Dallas' selection of McGovern was certainly a surprise.
When you watch the tape, though, you immediately see what the Cowboys loved about Connor McGovern.
A "plug-and-play" type guard, Connor McGovern is the type of rookie you'd expect to contribute in year one. On many teams he may be a candidate to start at guard or center from the beginning of his rookie season, but here in Dallas, his role for the 2019 season is somewhat in question.
Clearly, being a day two pick, there's no doubt that McGovern will make the Cowboys roster. But can he compete for a starting job?
During OTA's McGovern took reps at both guard and center, pointing towards the possibility of him being the first interior offensive lineman off the bench if one of the starters were to go down with an injury. Fellow interior linemen Joe Looney and Xavier Su'a-Filo each contributed in big ways during the 2018 season, however, and will be tough to beat out during camp.
While possible, I would still say it's unlikely. The Cowboys selection of McGovern seems to be more about 2020 and beyond than it is about the 2019 season. With right tackle La'el Collins coming up on a contract year, Dallas might elect to let him walk in free agency, move Williams back to his college position of tackle, and slide McGovern into the left guard slot.
This seems fool-proof in theory, but this many moving parts across the offensive line could spell trouble early on in 2020. Regardless, Connor McGovern's arrival gives Dallas the flexibility to consider all options on their offensive line.
In reality, McGovern strengthened a strength for Dallas, and may be needed to prove himself as early as this Fall if injury issues arise.
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dallas Cowboys’ New-Look Offense “Challenging” Defense in Practices
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Tony Pollard One of Many Who Bring Speed to the Dallas Cowboys Offense
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Could Cowboys Have Another “Ezekiel Elliott vs. Jalen Ramsey” Debate?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Cowboys OT Mitch Hyatt is an Undrafted Rookie to Watch
Player News1 week ago
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder Stand Out in Cowboys Practices
Player News2 weeks ago
Cedrick Wilson: Cowboys WR Could Shine After a Year Off
Star Blog1 week ago
Dallas Cowboys Shouldn’t Add a Veteran Backup Quarterback