The Dallas Cowboys are coming of one of their worst performances that I have personally witnessed. There is no need to sugarcoat things, the Denver Broncos simply made the Cowboys look like they were the Cleveland Browns. Fortunately, I think we will see a bounce back performance this week against the Arizona Cardinals and I believe offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will have a lot to do with that.
Arguably the most surprising thing last week for the Cowboys was how god-awful the offense performed against the Denver Broncos. It didn't matter if they were trying to run or pass the ball, the Broncos seemed to have the answer for everything. This is simply unacceptable, especially with all the firepower the Cowboys have on offense.
I personally believe the playcalling needs to improve and that's where Scott Linehan comes in. Linehan has far too many weapons at his disposal for any defense in the NFL to shut them down the way the Broncos did last week. Luckily, I believe there are 3 ways he can get the Cowboys offense back on track this week.
Help Dak Prescott Settle In Early
It's no secret that QB Dak Prescott has been uncharacteristically inaccurate in the first two weeks of the 2017 season. It's really nothing to be too alarmed about considering the Dallas Cowboys have played two really good defenses who have Pro Bowl caliber cornerbacks, but it still seems as if his confidence is just a little bit off. Fortunately, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan should be able to help with that.
Dak Prescott seems to struggle the most with his accuracy early in the game, at least these first two games anyway. It seems take him a little while to settle down, so I think Linehan would be wise to help him settle in early. Linehan can do that by designing some easy completions early on to build Prescott's confidence. This is not a new concept/idea, but it means the playcalling needs to improve or the execution, possibly both.
With all of the weapons the Dallas Cowboys currently have on the roster this shouldn't be a problem. It could be a simple dump off pass to Ezekiel Elliott or even a high percentage throw on an intermediate pass to Cole Beasley. Then again, Jason Witten has been the most consistent so far this season and could be the beneficiary. My point is there are endless possibilities, but Scott Linehan definitely needs to do a better job in order to help Prescott get going early.
Find Mismatches For Dez Bryant
This may surprise a lot of you since there are those among you who believe Dez Bryant isn't the player he once was, but I assure you that's inaccurate. I've been hearing far too often that the Dallas Cowboys need to trade or cut Bryant because he's not worth the money he is making. But, OC Scott Linehan has been doing him a disservice with his playcalling.
The way that Dez Bryant has been utilized in these first two games of 2017 season really plays right into the hands of the opposing defenses. He has had to go up against Pro Bowl caliber CBs against both the Giants and Broncos, and has been at a disadvantage from the get-go. Linehan has been lining him up out wide where the CB can get their hands on #88 and be physical/handsy before he can even get into his route.
Dez Bryant would be much better utilized on the move or out of the slot where he can actually use his own physicality to his advantage. If Linehan were able to get the ball to Bryant on the move on crossing routes, it would be a huge advantage to the entire offense. Instead we are seeing a lot of 50/50 contested passes thrown his way or back shoulder fades. There just needs to be more passes thrown his way that have a higher chance of being completed.
Create More Opportunities For Ezekiel Elliott
We heard all off-season that the Dallas Cowboys were planning to use Ezekiel Elliott more in both the running and passing game, but that has yet to come to fruition. Now, I understand the Cowboys have gone up against two pretty good defenses, but there have been missed opportunities for Elliott, especially in the passing game.
Personally, I was shocked that Scott Linehan didn't try to get Elliot the ball out in space against the Broncos last week. The Broncos defense completely sold out to shut down the running game for the Cowboys, and it worked. But, with all of the Broncos defenders focusing on the run, there were still opportunities to get Elliott the ball in the passing game.
There were several instances where there was just one defender covering Elliot in the passing game. I don't know about you, but I like the odds of Elliott beating that one defender and picking up a good chunk of yards. They were just simple dump off/swing passes, but it would've helped Elliott get more involved and put the Broncos defense on their heels a little bit more.
Can Scott Linehan turn things around for the Cowboys offense?
5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule
Every year around this time, sports fans everywhere are reminded of just how dominant the National Football League is. The NFL schedule release is literally just the sharing of a calendar that has little meaning until after next week's NFL Draft, but still dominates headlines both before and after the event.
If the Dallas Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs in 2018, we now know the path they will take -- beginning on September 9th in Carolina against the Panthers.
Here are five of my initial thoughts on this team's schedule.
1. "Early" Bye Week Still Later Than Recent Seasons
The Cowboys' bye week falls in week eight this season, which is certainly nothing new. This team is used to having their bye earlier in the season, but week eight is actually the latest it's been over the last three seasons.
In Dak Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys rolled to six straight wins following their bye week - all part of a longer 11 game win streak. In 2017, the Cowboys played their final three games with Ezekiel Elliott after the bye, improving to 5-3 and inspiring hope for a salvageable season before further injuries piled up.
This season, the Cowboys will come out of their bye week to host Monday Night Football at AT&T Stadium against the Tennessee Titans.
2. AFC South to Play A Huge Factor
Speaking of the Titans, it is the NFC East's year to face off against the AFC South. This has been an unpredictable division as of late, with the Jacksonville Jaguars emerging as early favorites following their improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.
Unlike the NFC East, the AFC South has been decided by who maintains stability at quarterback. The Colts are hoping to contend with Andrew Luck back on the field in 2018, as are the Texans with second-year QB Deshaun Watson.
The Titans overhauled their coaching staff in hopes of progressing QB Marcus Mariota further to make a run at the playoffs once again.
For the Cowboys, their meetings with the AFC South will carry extra weight - as all but one of them precedes a divisional game in some sense. Following back to back games at the Texans and home against the Jaguars, the Cowboys will visit the Redskins in week seven.
The first shot Dallas will get at the defending Super Bowl champions will be November 11th in Philadelphia, two weeks removed from their bye after facing the Titans.
Coming out of two games in 12 days through weeks 12 (Thanksgiving) and 13, the Cowboys will have little chance to come up for air against the Eagles in week 14. Their chance to regroup may come the following week, with a favorable December road game in Indianapolis against the Colts.
3. Revenge Against the Falcons
The Cowboys' week 10 game a year ago in Atlanta is truly where the 2017 season was lost. Playing without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys looked lost on offense thanks to the added absence of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith.
The Cowboys' fight to carry on at 5-4 was buried into the Falcons' new turf, as was Dak Prescott that afternoon, sacked eight times.
Only a week removed on the calendar from meeting the Falcons on the same date, the Cowboys will again play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week 11 this season. The chance for revenge against the Falcons will also mark the only pair of consecutive road games this 2018 Dallas Cowboys team will play.
4. Running Through December
The national media may not want you to know that the Cowboys are a combined 6-2 in December over the last two seasons, as this team's fabled late season collapses remain a topic of conversation.
This point also stands as a great example of why breaking down team schedules in April is often a pointless exercise, but not obsessing over every twist and turn of the NFL as a yearly hobby is no fun. According to me.
It is no secret that the Cowboys will be relying heavily on Ezekiel Elliott in 2018, expecting their star running back to suit up for 16 games and carry the offense. If you believe that Prescott and Elliott paired together full-time again is enough reason for optimism about the Cowboys, their December schedule becomes even more favorable.
Aside from playing three of the four games indoors and away from the elements, the Cowboys will face three of the worst rushing defenses in yards per game allowed from last season in December. With the Eagles being the glaring exception (leading the league in this category), the Cowboys should have their way on the ground with the Colts, Buccaneers, and Giants over their final three games.
5. Thanksgiving Tradition
For the second time in three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys were victorious on Thanksgiving in 2016 over the Redskins, 31-26.
The Cowboys have only lost to the Redskins once on Thanksgiving, facing them a total of eight times and dropping a 2012 bout with Washington 38-31 (Robert Griffin III's rookie season with the Redskins).
Riding a four game winning streak against the Redskins, the Cowboys get to face an Alex Smith led Washington team on Thanksgiving to wrap up their first series against the NFC East. Following week 12, the Cowboys will still have meetings with the Eagles and New York Giants.
Some may look at this year's division as a two-team race, but counting absolutely any team out of an NFC East race is foolish - even more so in April.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
By this time next week, the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to look entirely different - adding as many as ten players at the 2018 NFL Draft. Only then will we have a better feel for how they stack up against this 2018 schedule.
Stay posted right here to Inside The Star for draft coverage live from Dallas, as I will be at AT&T Stadium for all seven rounds of picks alongside Slant Sports Draft Analyst Nick Flaherty.
Cowboys TE James Hanna Retiring
In an unexpected bit of pre-draft news, Dallas Cowboys backup tight end James Hanna will be retiring after six seasons. He was drafted by the Cowboys in sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.
The news of Hanna's retirement was first reported by ESPN's Todd Archer:
The Cowboys will place James Hanna on the reserve/retired list as the tight end could not get over a serious knee condition that troubled him for most of the last two seasons, according to sources. Hanna was not involved in the early part of the team's... https://t.co/45BAZ2avSC
Hanna, who turns 29 in July, missed all of 2016 with that knee issue and has had two surgeries. He was active for all 16 games last season but wasn't used much on offense, only having four catches. James did catch his first and only NFL touchdown in the team's Week 4 loss to the Los Angeles Rams.
Many thought Hanna would be a salary cap casualty this offseason, but a retirement has the same effect on the cap. The Cowboys now save $2.75 million off his scheduled $3.5 mullion cap hit in 2018.
James Hanna has stuck around this long thanks to being a proficient blocker and one of the standout players on special teams. Geoff Swaim, entering the final year of his rookie deal, will likely be trusted to fill those roles.
That said, tight end was already a targeted position for the Cowboys in next week's draft. Losing Hanna only give the team more incentive to add more talent.
Optimistic Reports Emerge Around Randy Gregory
Good news are coming to Dallas just in time. Less than a week from now, the NFL Draft will be held in the Cowboys' home, the AT&T Stadium. But the team may count with a defensive talent many in Cowboys Nation have tried to forget for a while now. Randy Gregory's comeback may just happen.
There's a lot of positions in the roster that need more help than the defensive end one, but after finding the "War Daddy" Jerry Jones has always wanted in DeMarcus Lawrence, finding a RDE this offseason would be a dream scenario.
Sure, there's a lot of young talent in this football team and they'll be coming off a season that put a chip on their shoulders. Even so, they'll need all the help they can get.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, some help could come in form of a very talented pass rusher. Randy Gregory is reportedly applying for reinstatement very soon and according to Mike Fisher and Bobby Belt, there are positive reports around the situation.
Randy Gregory update: I'm told there is real momentum building. He is expected to apply for reinstatement in the week or two following next week's NFL Draft.
Cowboys Nation last saw the second round pick back in 2016, but his potential shouldn't be forgotten. Of course, the Cowboys shouldn't be considering Gregory for their 2018 plans, simply because there's risk of him not being available.
Even still, Dallas may get lucky at defensive end. After DeMarcus Lawrence has a breakout season in 2017, imagine the defensive line with Randy Gregory reinstated and rehabilitated to exploit his talent in the NFL.
UPDATE: We're told Randy Gregory camp is ready to present to NFL the fact the #Cowboys DE has passed a large number of drug tests, hasn't failed one since July 2016. https://t.co/Hjgu2CqRtC
Despite some TMZ "reports", it looks like Gregory has been clean for a while. It sure should make Cowboys' fans happy and not only form a football perspective. A comeback would definitely be something amazing. He has a chance to write a unique story for himself.
Everyone likes second-chance stories. Gregory is a guy who had his share of problems. By coming back to the NFL, he's showing players and fans that change is possible. This wouldn't just be epic for Dallas Cowboys fans but NFL fans in general.
If Dallas is fortunate enough to see Gregory reinstated by the NFL, their fight in the trenches might see a big upgrade next season. Randy still has a lot to work on and he might not even be a starter right away, but the potential is right there.
The Cowboys could become a team capable of dominating the line of scrimmage both on offense and on defense.
Hopefully, Gregory is able to come back and shine as a professional player. He, and NFL fans deserve a story like that.
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