A lot has gone wrong for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys through the first five weeks of their season, as Dallas' early bye week now feels like it came at the perfect time. As the Cowboys look to regroup and get this young team on track sooner rather than later, they will need starters on both sides of the ball to live up to (or exceed) expectations.
Defensively, the Cowboys allowed 30 points in consecutive home losses for the first time since 2015 - doing so in two games without QB Tony Romo of course. This isn't to say that Dak Prescott's offense hasn't been held back by a few new faces in the starting lineup.
Before Dallas takes the field for a potential "get well" game at the 49ers on October 22nd, let's take a closer look at four players that I believe have unperformed to put the Cowboys in this spot.
S Jeff Heath
Growing pains are going to be an ongoing issue in the Cowboys secondary. Just as rookie CB Jourdan Lewis has emerged as solid starter on the outside, veteran S Jeff Heath has not adjusted well to his increased role at all. The word "rotation" is thrown around arbitrarily when discussing all three levels of Rod Marinelli's defense, and often times it simply means the starters the Cowboys have are not good enough.
A rotation at safety is needed for a defense that commits to playing in Nickel and Dime sets so often, and the truth through five weeks is that Jeff Heath needs to revert back to being this rotational piece. When asked to stick to his assignments in coverage on every down, Heath has been outperformed by rookie Xavier Woods - an encouraging sign for the sixth round pick.
Thanks to Woods and Chidobe Awuzie, the safety position could become a bright spot for the Cowboys on the other side of this bye week. Jeff Heath has already cost this team plenty of yards in the back end though, including late breaks on two consecutive plays, the second of which being the game winning score by Davante Adams (with Lewis covering).
DT Maliek Collins
Stop me if you've seen this before. With the Cowboys struggling to generate pressure off the edge for some time now, the hype for any interior rushers has often gone too far. First, it was Tyrone Crawford at the 3T position.
The reason Crawford now finds himself as a plug-and-play starter at every spot along the defensive line is because of Maliek Collins, who was the younger and cheaper option as a rookie in 2016.
With five sacks and a forced fumble in 2016, Maliek Collins thrived at the most important position in Rod Marinelli's scheme. After spending the summer furthering his game by working against - and beating - Zack Martin in training camp, Collins was due for a dominant season at DT.
There is no doubt that Maliek Collins can still be a difference maker this season, and start as a key contributor up front for the Cowboys for a long time, but he has not flown out of the gates as Cowboys Nation expected.
With a ton of issues at linebacker, the need for consistent play up front is even more urgent, and Collins can go a long way in improving both Dallas' run defense and pass rush efficiency.
DE Benson Mayowa
Sticking with the Cowboys defensive line, Benson Mayowa has struggled once again at the start of a season. His second with the Cowboys, Mayowa ended up leading the 2016 team in sacks after sitting out three games in the middle of the season due to his lack of production.
With zero sacks on the 2017 season though, Benson Mayowa is among the top under-performers on this team right now. Failing to play with good technique or utilize any rush moves on the weak side on frighteningly consistent basis, the Cowboys simply do not have a reliable player in Mayowa - who is getting the largest share of the work at RDE.
LG Jonathan Cooper
As mentioned, the Cowboys offense does not go unscathed here when it comes to players not performing at a needed level. The big plays have not been there in the running game for the Cowboys thus far, and much of this has to do with Jonathan Cooper taking over for Chaz Green at LG.
There was of course a time when La'el Collins was expected to get his job back at LG in place of FA departure Ronald Leary, but Collins has been a solid starter at RT while Cooper has failed to embrace the best opportunity of his career at guard next to Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.
Jonathan Cooper's issue has not been fitting the athletic profile for the linemen Dallas desires, instead struggling as he has throughout his difficult career with short-range power and block sustainability. Breakdowns on the second level for Cooper have not only caused some struggles from Frederick next to him at center, but have held back Ezekiel Elliott when looking to clear the linebackers and do his damage in the secondary.
I doubt the Cowboys make a switch at LG coming off of the bye, but Jonathan Cooper will need to be a completely different player if this offensive line is going to totally resemble the dominant units that led two separate running backs to league rushing titles in 2014 and 2016.
Whether or not you believe that more players deserve a spot on this list, or that these four are in good position to turn things around, will determine which direction this Cowboys season ultimately goes.
At 2-3 chasing the 5-1 Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys have their work cut out for them to rapidly improve on defense and patch up a few holes offensively.
Could NY Giants Be a Surprise Threat in the NFC East?
The NFC East is a wild, wild division. Since 2004, the division that hosts some of the most popular franchises in the NFL hasn't seen the same team winning the NFC East title two years in a row. It's crazy! Who expected the Dallas Cowboys to become the #1 seed in the conference in 2016 after seeing Tony Romo go down during the preseason? Who was able to predict the Philadelphia Eagles' amazing run for the Super Bowl last year?
It's an unpredictable league, but the NFC East side of things can really amaze you on a yearly basis.
Heading into 2018, it all seems to be about the Eagles and the Cowboys. Being the last two teams to win the title, it's only logical to expect them to be the only teams in the division that have what it takes to own the NFC East crown.
But maybe, just maybe, we are overlooking the New York Giants.
Coming from a 3-13 record in 2017, the Giants have quite a bit to prove if they want to become a winning team once again and return to playoff contention. With Odell Beckham missing most of the season and with good ol' Ben McAdoo calling the shots, the team was never able to get a break.
Listen, we all know Eli Manning has been struggling lately. Many thought the Giants should've drafted a quarterback when they held the #2 overall pick back in April. But whether we like it or not, New York seems to have a plan: take advantage of Manning's last years on the field.
Instead of taking a young QB for the future, they drafted the best player available to take the load off Manning's shoulders. Saquon Barkley will probably be able to do what Ezekiel Elliott was able to do in 2016: lead the offense by running the football 20 times a game and have several 100-yard performances.
Not only that, but the front office did make an effort to re-build a disastrous offensive line by bringing in a talented left tackle in Nate Solder and by stealing the UTEP product, Will Hernandez in the second round of the draft. If the Giants are able to finally groom Ereck Flowers into a decent starter at right tackle, this could be a pretty solid offensive line.
Of course, Manning will not only be benefited from the running game, but his superstar wide receiver will be back on the field. Beckham is one of the NFL's best wide receivers and will surely be back at terrifying opposing secondaries week in and week out.
The Giants are bringing in Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher, who did a nice job for the Arizona Cardinals' defense over the last few years. With some talented defensive players, the team might not have the best squad in the league, but it doesn't seem like a defense that will struggle throughout the season.
Last but not least, the Giants will have a new head coach in form of Pat Shurmur. He's had some success in the league, lately as an offensive coordinator for a Minnesota Vikings team that managed to get to the NFC Championship with Case Keenum at QB. It was a good hire for the team, and I'm pretty sure it will be easy to do a better job than McAdoo's work with the Giants.
If I was to make a prediction, I'd say the Giants will have a handful of wins in 2018. However, I don't see them getting back into the postseason just yet. An 8-8 record sounds about right. Having said that, though, it really seems like a team that could surprise everyone and emerge as a surprise contender in the NFC East.
Do you think the New York Giants could be a surprise threat in 2018?
Where Cowboys CB Marquez White Fits In 2018
In the 2017 NFL Draft the Dallas Cowboys selected four new defensive backs, three of which saw significant playing time during their rookie season.
Those three, of course, are Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Xavier Woods. That fourth defensive back, however, should not be forgotten about as we enter the beginning stages of the 2018 season. That player is former Florida State cornerback Marquez White.
Rather than playing alongside his rookie counterparts in the secondary, White spent time on the Cowboys practice squad in 2017. The former sixth round pick was signed to a futures contract at the end of 2017, however, and now has a chance to compete in camp once again.
Entering their sophomore seasons the starting secondary already appears to be taking shape. Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones are just about locked in to the outside cornerback jobs, Xavier Woods is expected to start at safety beside Jeff Heath, and Jourdan Lewis is battling with now third year player Anthony Brown for the slot corner role.
So where does Marquez White fit into all of this?
Well, the aforementioned players are locks to make the 53-man roster, but Marquez White should be the favorite to win the 5th cornerback spot going forward. White's raw talent is undeniable, and he has the ability to play under both man and zone responsibilities.
The main reason we should be optimistic about Marquez White's chances to land on the final roster, however, is his athletic profile. At 6'0" tall, just under 200 pounds, and long arms White fits the mold for what new secondary coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard tends to look for in his cornerbacks.
And, for better or for worse, Richard clearly values these measureables highly. This is evident in how second year corner Jourdan Lewis has been used thus far in mini camp and offseason activities; being relegated to second team and the slot rather than allowed to compete for an outside cornerback job with Awuzie and Jones.
So with the arrival of Kris Richard, the departure of Orlando Scandrick, the underwhelming play of Anthony Brown, and the raw talent he already possesses, Marquez White has a very strong chance of making the final 53-man roster in Dallas.
Can Jaylon Smith Challenge Vander Esch For Starting MIKE Role?
When the Dallas Cowboys selected Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with their first round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the whole world basically assumed he would be the starting MIKE linebacker week one of the upcoming season.
After all, the Cowboys lost Anthony Hitchens to free agency and none of the injury replacements had much success during the 2017 season.
Now just a couple of months shy of that week one match up with the Carolina Panthers, a battle for that middle linebacker spot appears to be occurring.
Former 2016 second round pick Jaylon Smith has seemed to find his health, and his movement skills and agility look like they did back when he was at Notre Dame. Whether or not these offseason hype videos will actually mean anything on the field remains to be seen, but just the fact that Smith is working out and playing without the knee brace is obviously a good sign.
Unlike Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith did play for the Dallas Cowboys a year ago. Sure Smith had his share of growing pains, but he seemed to find his groove late in the season. It probably isn't a coincidence, though, that Smith's best games came when coming off the bench in a limited role and when playing beside veteran Sean Lee.
During the offseason activity thus far Jaylon Smith has gotten the majority of snaps at middle linebacker, but Vander Esch has also been sidelined with an injured ankle. Leighton Vander Esch clearly fits the mold of a MIKE both physically and athletically, but at his best Jaylon Smith does as well.
Despite the resurgence of Jaylon Smith and the injury to Leighton Vander Esch, I still do expect Vander Esch to snag that MIKE role moving forward. While showing glimpses of productive play, Smith did not impress enough to earn him the unquestioned starting job last season, and may best fit as a SAM backer and situational pass rusher/blitzer in the current scheme.
Allowing Jaylon Smith to conserve his energy and provide a boost off the bench is the best way for the Cowboys to structure their defense. Of course, this is only true as long as Vander Esch becomes the player they expect him to be, though.
If Jaylon Smith does return to the player he was at Notre Dame prior to his horrific injury, the Cowboys will possess three incredibly rangy, athletic, and talented linebackers on their roster.
Of course, that if is a very big if at this point, however.
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Should Cowboys DT Jihad Ward Be Getting More Attention?
Star Blog3 days ago
ESPN Proposes Trade Offer To Bring Earl Thomas To Dallas
Star Blog6 days ago
Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?
Star Blog5 days ago
Tavon Austin, the Cowboys Best Playmaker Not Named Ezekiel Elliott?
Dallas Cowboys2 days ago
5 Winners from Dallas Cowboys OTAs and Minicamp
Star Blog1 week ago
Should Cowboys Add Another Safety Before Training Camp?
Player News2 weeks ago
Report: Cowboys Sign OL Zack Martin To 6 Year Deal
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
4 Reasons Terrance Williams Won’t Be a Cowboy