For the first half of the 2018 season, the Dallas Cowboys offense struggled to keep up any semblance of consistency. The passing game couldn't find a rhythm and the offense as a whole struggled as the Cowboys started 3-4 and looked dead in the water.
Then the front office made a huge splash and traded for Amari Cooper and the season turned immediately. After the trade, the Dallas Cowboys went 7-2, won the NFC East, and advanced to the divisional round of the NFC Playoffs.
On the offensive side of the ball they were trending in the right direction, but in the playoffs against the Seattle Seahawks and the Los Angeles Rams, still had times where they struggled to move the ball and score points.
Heading into 2019, that won't be the case. Instead, the Dallas Cowboys offense will be a unit that teams will struggle to contain this season.
Here are three reasons why.
1. Dak Prescott gets a Full Offseason with Amari Cooper and Others
The chemistry that Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper were able to find in the middle of the 2018 season was really incredible. It can be difficult for a wide receiver and a quarterback to get on the same page quickly, but he and Prescott found a groove early and it carried throughout the rest of the season.
From week nine to through the end of the 2018 season, Amari Cooper was eighth in targets, receptions, and reception percentage (among players who saw at least 47 targets). Cooper was ninth in yards, fourth in touchdowns, and fourth in first downs.
Now, Dak and Amari will have a full offseason to work together, which should only help them moving forward.
Not only will Dak get a full offseason with Cooper, but with several others on the offense as well.
Heading into 2019, Michael Gallup isn't buried on the depth chart. He's the number two receiver behind Amari Cooper.
Gallup and Prescott had a difficult time connecting on deep balls throughout the 2018 season, but got better as the year went along. Having more time to work this offseason with Gallup solidified with the first unit will be key to the development of their rapport. It's one of the reasons that many are expecting a breakout season for the second year wide receiver.
In addition to Gallup and Cooper, the Cowboys will look to work Tight End Blake Jarwin in with the first team offense. Jarwin and Prescott found a connection in the second half of the year. That connection was never more clear than when Blake Jarwin exploded for seven catches, 119 yards, and three touchdowns in the week 17 finale against the New York Giants.
In that game, Jarwin displayed impressive athleticism and an ability to threaten down the seem. It was the game that showed why the front office has been so high on Jarwin despite limited playing time and college production.
If Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin can further develop their rapport with Dak Prescott, the passing game should go to another level in 2019.
2. Kellen Moore as the Offensive Coordinator
The move from long time Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to Kellen Moore should have every Cowboys fan excited. Sure, Moore is an unknown, but knowing what we know about Jason Garrett, he wouldn't have made the change at offensive coordinator if he didn't think Moore would bring new energy and ideas to a stagnant offense.
It's believed that Kellen Moore will use more pre-snap motion in his offense. Using pre-snap motion also allows the offense to dictate matchups and exploit any mismatches. Under Linehan the only motion we saw was a tight end moving across the formation or Ezekiel Elliott coming out of the backfield.
For years we've heard that Kellen Moore is a really smart football mind. If he's able to tailor an offense for the Dallas Cowboys elite talent, it should lead to a more consistent and more explosive offense. The Dallas Cowboys have the weapons on offense to be able to score a lot of points. We saw it in 2016 when they were top five in scoring. There's no reason this group shouldn't be able to score at will on their opponents.
3. Home Run Hitters
In 2018, unless the Dallas Cowboys hit on a pass play down the field to Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper, or Tavon Austin, the offense didn't get many explosive plays for touchdowns. And there were a lot of plays left on the table.
Yes, Ezekiel Elliott had some big gains, but his long run was for only 41 yards and his long reception went for only 38 yards. Compare that to his rookie season when he had a long carry of 60 yards and a long reception of 83 yards. The Cowboys didn't get many explosive plays for scores in the running game.
Though he didn’t need break as many long runs last season, Elliott is still a threat to go the distance every time he touches the football. In 2018, he led the NFL in runs of more than 10 yards. That number is down from his 2016 total, but still shows a player who is a threat to hit a big play every time he touches it. Opposing defenses are more focused on slowing down Ezekiel Elliot than ever before, but with the improvement in the passing game and upgrades on the offensive line, Elliott should find more success getting into the open field in 2019.
After Elliott though, the running game hasn't really been a threat to opposing defenses.
Well, the Dallas Cowboys went into the draft looking to add another explosive weapon to the offense and they did so in Memphis Running Back Tony Pollard. Over Pollard's last two seasons he averaged 7.7 and 7.1 yards per carry for the Tigers. In addition to that, he averaged 14.1 yards per reception as a sophomore and 11.7 yards per reception as a junior. He's not the runner that Elliott is, but his ability with the ball in his hands will put defenses on notice.
Pollard is an important addition to the offense, but there is no player that will have a bigger impact than Center Travis Frederick. Frederick's presence is going to offer more time in the front of the pocket for Dak Prescott and should provide cleaner pockets for Prescott to step into when pressured.
Seeing the extra size and strength that Connor Williams has added to his frame this offseason is impressive. If there's an area where he struggled -- and he got better as the year went along -- it was in his ability to handle power rushers. If Williams can show a marked improvement in that area, he and Frederick are going to allow Dak Prescott more time in the pocket to survey the defense.
Having more time will lead to bigger play potential. Players like Amari Cooper and Tavon Austin are threats to go the distance every time they touch the ball. Michael Gallup showed an impressive ability to get open deep in his rookie season and I expect that to be the case again heading into his second year.
The addition of Randall Cobb to the slot brings a player that has shown the ability to create big plays after the catch. In Cobb's eight year NFL career, he's averaged 6.1 yards after the catch per reception, according to Pro Football Focus. For Cole Beasley's career, he's only averaged 4.9 yards after the catch per reception. Cobb is a different kind of receiver than Beasley, but he's more dangerous once he gets the ball in his hands.
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With the running game, the group of receivers the Cowboys will use, the improvements along the offensive line, and hopefully an improved Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys have the makings of an offense that will put a lot of points on the board in 2019. For the Cowboys take a big step in 2019, the offense will have to lead the way. The defense is ready to contend, but in the high scoring NFC, the offense will have to be able to consistently put up points to keep pace.
Tony Pollard Should See More Work with Injuries at Wide Receiver
After making it through the preseason relatively unscathed on the injury front to the team's starters and primary role players, the Dallas Cowboys have caught a case of the injury bug in the last week. Already it's been announced that Xavier Woods is going to miss some time with an ankle sprain and Antwaun Woods is dealing with an MCL sprain. Injuries at any point in the season will test a team's depth and the Dallas Cowboys are about to be tested at the wide receiver position with Michael Gallup out for up to a month and Tavon Austin still in the concussion protocol.
Heading into the Cowboys week three matchup with the Miami Dolphins, the team currently only has four healthy wide receivers on the roster; Amari Cooper, Devin Smith, Randall Cobb, and Cedrick Wilson. It's certainly plausible that the team could look at a veteran player, perhaps even one that's been with the team in the past, or they could call up one of their practice squad players like a Jon'vea Johnson or Ventrell Bryant.
The player the Dallas Cowboys should look to incorporate into the passing game, either in week three or beyond, is Running Back Tony Pollard.
Tony Pollard came to the NFL with the reputation of being mostly a receiving threat. In three seasons at Memphis, he caught nearly as many passes (104) as he had rushing attempts (139). In 2018, he had 1,000 yards from scrimmage with nearly half of those yards coming in the passing game. As a pass catcher, Pollard averaged more than 12 yards per reception for his career at Memphis and could be a dynamic weapon for the Cowboys to deploy in the passing game.
We've already seen how Pollard can be an effective runner for the Dallas Cowboys. On Sunday he averaged 5.5 yards per carry on his four attempts and had a touchdown brought back due to a penalty.
The Cowboys love to use jet motion, throw bubble screens, and traditional screen passes, and Pollard can be an effective weapon in addition to his ability as a running back. Now it's not likely that the team will want to put a lot on his plate early in the season or give opposing teams film of how they might use Tony Pollard in the passing game, but if they need to get some snaps at the receiver position from a player they trust, Pollard's your guy.
They showed a lot of faith in Pollard during the preseason, running him exclusively with the first-team offense and giving him a vast majority of the workload. The team's raved about his ability to pick up the playbook and execute the things they're asking him to do. Unleashing his receiving skills will be a difference-maker for the Cowboys and could be huge while Michael Gallup and Tavon Austin are out of action.
The Dallas Cowboys have a weapon that the rest of the NFL is unfamiliar with and it's only a matter of time until Kellen Moore calls his number in a way we haven't seen yet. With only four healthy wide receivers on the roster currently and for the foreseeable future, Tony Pollard could find those opportunities rather soon. Despite the injuries to Gallup and Austin, the depth of playmakers the Cowboys have is very exciting. It's only a matter of time until Tony Pollard creates a little excitement of his own.
Report: Cowboys S Xavier Woods Could Only Miss One Game
The Dallas Cowboys might not be without their rising star at free safety as long as they originally thought. According to DallasCowboys.com's Bryan Broaddus, Xavier Woods could only miss this Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins.
They gave him a physical and didn't sign so that tells me a little something. Xavier Woods is not going to be out 4-6 weeks. Might miss one game... https://t.co/EFcpjlZnPH
Woods suffered a high ankle sprain this past Sunday against the Washington Redskins that was supposed to keep him out 4-6 weeks. If he is only out one game that would be amazing news for the Cowboys with the toughest part of their schedule coming up. Safety Darian Thompson is set to start this Sunday opposite Jeff Heath in place of Woods, with rookie Donovan Wilson and Kavon Frazier also their for insurance. Will Xavier Woods be back against the New Orleans Saints next week? Something to keep an eye on. More details to come.
Cowboys Have to Remain Focused the Next two Weeks, Avoid any Letdowns
It's been seen in the NFL too many times before and it'll be seen again. A superior team letting an inferior team catch them by surprise and the next thing you know an unforeseen loss occurs, and sometimes that can spark a downward spiral. Coming into the 2019 season the Dallas Cowboys knew they had two division games for starters, against teams they were better than on paper. That makes it easy for a letdown or an underwhelming performance to occur, however, the Cowboys showed they have a single-minded focus that needs to continue in the next two weeks.
The New York Giants came out on fire on their first possession week one that was sparked by a 59-yard run from Saquon Barkley that set up an early 7-0 lead, but almost simultaneously, the magic ended after the score. The Giants would score just 3 more points until a late garbage-time touchdown made the final score a little more respectable at 35-17.
Although the Giants had 25 first downs and almost 500 yards of offense they were only 2 of 11 on third down and failed to reach 20 points. Meanwhile, Quarterback Dak Prescott had arguably the best game of his career with 405 yards, 4 touchdowns, and a perfect 158.3 passer rating. They took the Giants best shot early and didn't flinch, just the kind of focus you like to see.
The Washington Redskins were up next in a big early-season NFC East road game. Just like the week before, the Cowboys offense started off slow in finding their groove and they fell behind 7-0 early in the second quarter, and then the flood gates opened. Dak Prescott once again was spectacular going 26 of 30 (ended the game with 18 straight completions, 14 of 14 in the second half) for 269 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The Cowboys scored on five consecutive possessions and at one time lead 31-14 before eventually winning 31-21. Falling behind on the road to a division opponent can be tough to overcome regardless if they are a good team or not. The Cowboys showed great poise and cut the head off the snake so to speak when they smelled blood and improved to 2-0.
This Sunday the Miami Dolphins come to town in your classic "Trap Game". On paper, this matchup isn't even close considering the Dolphins have been outscored 102-10 and have given up 391 rushing yards in the first two games. Smart money says the Cowboys should steamroll this team, but people shouldn't be so confident. Riding a wave of momentum like the Cowboys are currently on into a home game with an inferior opponent has all the ingredients of a letdown if they're not careful.
The defense needs to assert it's dominance this week. They have been excellent only allowing 19 points per game and stopping 16 out of 20 third-down situations. However, they have given up 44 first downs and allowed touchdowns on 5 of 7 red zone opportunities. Plenty of room for improvement and playing a bad offense should help the defense immensely. Offensively, keep riding the Dak-Zeke wave. Prescott is off to his best career start and Ezekiel Elliott is fresh off a 100-yard performance. The defense they are facing is allowing 51 points per game, attack early and often.
After that, the Cowboys travel to New Orleans to face the Saints in a game that was looked at as a premiere regular-season matchup when the schedule was released in April. Unfortunately, at least for the Saints, Drew Brees will miss the next six weeks with ligament damage to the thumb on his throwing hand. Also, the Saints defense is giving up 27.5 points per game so far in 2019.
What the Cowboys don't want is a bad performance in a game they should win on paper just like the Saints did last season, ironically against Dallas. The Saints were on a 10 game winning streak when they rolled into Arlington in week 13. Arguably the NFL's top offense was shut down as the Cowboys won a tough 13-10 battle. Let your defense pin it's ears back and make life miserable for backup Teddy Bridgewater, who while talented, can't operate the offense on the level of Drew Brees. Give Prescott, Elliott, and this high powered offense short fields all night and put points on the board early and quiet what should be a loud crowd down in Cajun Country.
The Cowboys have home games against the Packers and Eagles as well as a road game against the Giants in the month that follows the next few weeks. It's imperative for them to take care of business the next two games with the meat and potatoes of their schedule coming up. They will have to overcome the injury bug, though, as several players went down this past Sunday.
Wide Receiver Michael Gallup is out 2-4 weeks with a meniscus tear, Xavier Woods is out 4-6 weeks with a high ankle sprain, Antwaun Woods is day-to-day with an MCL sprain and Tyrone Crawford is being monitored as he deals with a hip issue. Nonetheless, the Cowboys still have more than enough to beat these two wounded dogs, but that's easier said than done. Will they keep their focus? Only time will tell.
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