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.
What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?
Some consider June 1st to be a critical date on every year's NFL calendar; it's own new wave of free agency. But will the 2019 Dallas Cowboys add any talent to the pool, and could they be interested in any players who get released by their current teams?
As you likely know already, teams may choose to cut players after June 1st so that they can defer some of the dead money from their contracts to the following season. It allows them to maximize salary cap savings in the current year.
For over a decade now, the NFL has also allowed teams to release up to two players prior to June 1st but still give them that designation. The team doesn't get the cap relief until June, but the player gets a chance to find a new home during the primary free agency period.
There have been almost no early June-1st cuts so far this year by any NFL team. That may lead you to believe that there will be similar inactivity when we actually hit that date on the calendar. But that may not be a very good tell.
Because teams don't enjoy any benefit from the early June-1st designation, except whatever good feeling comes from doing right by a former player, we hardly see it in action. Teams would much rather carry a player until after the draft and see what their need levels truly is before releasing them. It's rendered the early provision almost meaningless.
For the 2019 Dallas Cowboys, the one player whose situation and contract speak to a possible June-1st move is Defensive Lineman Tyrone Crawford.
Crawford's deal runs thru 2020, which is key since you need at least two year's left on the contract to utilize the June-1st deferment. A player with only one year left, like WR Allen Hurns, has the same cap relief regardless of when you cut him.
Releasing Tyrone Crawford either after June 1st or with the early designation would push $1.1 million of his total $4.2 million in dead money to 2020. It would increase the total cap savings from $5.9 million to $7 million for the Cowboys' 2019 salary cap.
Now Crawford is one of those guys, a valued veteran and team captain, who you'd think a team would've cut earlier if that was their intention. But Tyrone's value to the Cowboys has been fluid throughout the offseason.
The value went up when we found out Randy Gregory was suspended again. It remained high while contract negotiations with DeMarcus Lawrence dragged until early April. Crawford's ability to play multiple spots on the line meant he could be back in a starting role at DE in 2019.
But then Dallas re-signed Lawrence, traded for veteran Robert Quinn, signed Kerry Hyder, and drafted Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks. Throw in Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong coming back and there are already plenty of players at DE, especially if Gregory manages to get reinstated.
But even if Crawford isn't needed at end, what about defensive tackle?
The Cowboys spent their earliest 2019 draft pick, 58th overall, on DT Trysten Hill. He projects to play the same "3-technique" position that Crawford normally would.
On top of Hill, Dallas is bringing back Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Daniel Ross form last season. They also signed Christian Covington, a fifth-year veteran from the Texans.
Again, the numbers are pretty tight and the positions are full of younger talent. The Cowboys could easily conclude that they have plenty of DL options at this point and would benefit more from salary cap relief than from Tyrone Crawford's continued services.
Plus, we haven't even gotten into the legal issues that could cause Crawford to get suspended for a few game in 2019.
As far as current talent goes, the June-1st conversation really begins and ends with Tyrone Crawford. Other veterans who may not make it to the final roster, such as Hurns, Jeff Heath, or Tavon Austin, only have one year left on their contracts. June 1st changes nothing for them.
There could be a few interesting names that come available when other teams make cuts. Again, they could have made these moves well before now. But NFL franchises are generally going to do what's best for them, and waiting for the dust to settle from the draft allows for more informed decision-making.
One name we've seen tossed around a lot is DT Gerald McCoy from Tampa Bay, who would be an immediate upgrade over any of Dallas' current tackles. But would losing Crawford to add McCoy really be that cost-effective?
The market to really keep an eye on is at running back. The current free agency pool had dwindled down to Jay Ajayi, who is unlikely to accept a minor role behind Ezekiel Elliott, and a bunch of retreads. Perhaps other teams' cuts could yield a few more desirable prospects to help our RB depth.
For 2019 at least, June 1st may not mean very much. And it may mean even less for the Dallas Cowboys, who already could field a competitive team this year without any additional moves. They may be focusing their cap dollars solely on new contracts for Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Zeke, and others the rest of this offseason.
Outside of potentially releasing or trading Tyrone Crawford, we may not see any major moves in Dallas until final cuts.
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
The draft is done, DeMarcus Lawrence is re-signed, and the bulk of free agency activity has passed. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys have more than enough talent to compete this season, but there is still one last move I'd wish they'd make. Veteran kicker Matt Bryant, still one of the NFL's best even at almost 44 years old, could be the final piece to this offseason puzzle.
The Atlanta Falcons' longtime kicker, and franchise scoring leader, was not retained this year despite another standout season. He made 20-of-21 field goals, with a long of 57, in 2018.
Why Atlanta didn't keep Bryant hasn't been confirmed, but perhaps the team was just looking to avoid hanging on one year to late. But Matt, who ranks eight all-time in FG accuracy (86.2%), doesn't think he's done. He tweeted the following from his personal account in February:
"Over this past year I’ve been asked numerous times about retirement and how I feel. Well, I’m not retiring and I feel fine and plan on feeling even better with some changes to my offseason program!
As of now Matt Bryant remains a free agent, and I think the Dallas Cowboys should be very interested.
If you go up and down this Dallas roster, kicker is arguably its biggest liability. Brett Maher had some highlight moments in 2018, and won two Player of the Week awards, but he also was one of the league's worst kickers in overall FG accuracy.
The problem with Maher is that you can't teach his best skill; the accuracy from the high 50s and even low 60s is incredible. It's a true weapon that you have a hard time letting go of, which was evident last year when Dallas dumped Dan Bailey for Maher at final cuts.
But Matt Bryant might be the best of both worlds. He's been a 91% FG kicker overall this last three years and has made 18-of-22 attempts from 50 yards out or more.
Maher only made 80.6% of his kicks in 2018. He went from 6/7 from long range, but that tells you how shaky he was from closer in.
Those closer kicks are worth the same three points that the longer ones are, and how'd you like it if Dallas lost a critical game because their kicker couldn't make a 35-yarder?
I get the fear factor with an older guy like Matt Bryant. Heck, the Cowboys let Dan Bailey go when he was still just 30. But Bryant hasn't shown the red flags that Bailey did; he's still kicking as well as he ever has.
If nothing else, Dallas has the cap space and circumstances to bring in Bryant for a true competition with Maher. If Brett has improved his game and keeps his job, then that's awesome. But why not add some pressure now, though a position battle with one of the all-time greats, and see what Maher's really made of?
Seasons have been made, and shattered, by one kick. Unless the Cowboys have good reason for confidence in Brett Maher's development from last year, they could be carrying a significant liability into a year where they're trying to push for a Super Bowl.
If Matt Bryant could provide even a small amount of additional security, isn't he worth it?
Cowboys RB Mike Weber’s Injury Scare Continues Concerning Trend
Rookie RB Mike Weber had a brief scare earlier this week with a knee injury in practice, but thankfully the MRI came back with a good report. However, as he fights to have a future with the Dallas Cowboys, this health incident is a concerning reminder of Weber's recent history.
One reason that Weber fell to the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft was due to battling injuries during his last two years at Ohio State. He lost his starting job in 2017 due to ongoing hamstring issues and also had to miss time last year because of a foot strain.
Carrying the load for the Buckeyes is a far different workload than being second or third on the Cowboys' RB depth chart. But this latest scare happened in early May, just two weeks after Mike joined the team and well before the more strenuous activities of an NFL offseason.
A practice injury can cost you just as badly as one that happens in a game. And with Dallas already thin at RB, it could leave them severely shorthanded if it occurs during the regular season.
Many have projected that the Cowboys' RB group in 2019 would have Ezekiel Elliott as the obvious starter and then rookies Weber and Tony Pollard behind him. While Pollard was drafted three rounds ahead of Weber, he's not built to take a large number of carries if Zeke were to go out.
If Mike Weber does make the team, he would be expected to take a sizable role if something bad happen with Elliott.
The "injury prone" label is disastrous for any athlete, but especially a guy with no real claim to a roster spot. If Weber causes concern in the front office about his durability, they may go a different way at final cuts.
Remember, Mike's not just up against Pollard and Darius Jackson for a roster spot. There are still plenty of veteran free agent running backs out there that Dallas could turn to if they're not confident about their young prospects.
This isn't too say that one scary moment in May, which ultimately didn't amount to much, is reason to cut bait with Mike Weber. But when you stack it up with his injury history in college, it does make you wonder how he'll do over the course of an entire NFL season.
Hopefully, Weber bounces back from this and has a great summer. Former Buckeye RBs have treated Dallas well the last few years, and it'd be fantastic if Mike can provide the same solid solid depth that Rod Smith did.
But this latest news is just a reminder of why Dallas can't rest easy at running back just yet, and why they may still have another move to make to prepare for 2019.
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