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.
Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches
Lamentablemente, la temporada 2018 de los Dallas Cowboys ha llegado a su fin. Lo hizo cuando el equipo visitó Los Angeles para intentar sorprender a los Rams en su propio campo en la Ronda Divisional de los playoffs. Ni siquiera con una invasión exitosa de la afición de Dallas pudieron ganarse un pase al Campeonato de Conferencia. En vez de eso, los Cowboys estarán viendo desde casa y la afición estará preguntándose: ¿qué sigue para los Dallas Cowboys?
Parece ya una tradición anual que no podemos dejar pasar. Este momento en el que comenzamos a cuestionar, una vez más, que entrenador es digno de quedarse en la franquicia y cual debe irse. En esta edición de "Cowboys en Español," hablaremos específicamente de los tres principales coaches en el equipo.
Coordinador Defensivo Rod Marinelli
El futuro del coordinador defensivo de los Dallas Cowboys no se puede tratar sin mencionar a Kris Richard. Fue la defensiva la que llevó al equipo hasta la postemporada y fue la unidad que cargó al equipo en muchas de sus victorias. Incluso con la llegada de Amari Cooper a Dallas, la defensiva fue siempre el pilar de la franquicia esta temporada.
Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch sorprendentemente se perfilaron como uno de los mejores duos de linebackers en toda la liga, la línea defensiva fue muy exitosa con Randy Gregory y DeMarcus Lawrence en los extremos y con la grata sorpresa que fue Antwaun Woods en el centro. La secundaria vio la mejor temporada en la controversial carrera de Byron Jones e hizo un excelente trabajo con un talento decente, pero no genial.
Todo esto, y el haber terminado como la sexta mejor defensiva en puntos permitidos (20.2) y la quinta mejor contra la corrida (94.6), hace a Rod Marinelli merecedor de una ronda de aplausos. Sin embargo, Richard probablemente merezca más aplausos.
Fue Richard quien revolucionó la defensiva de los Cowboys y la convirtió en un grupo mucho más agresivo. Fue él quien implementó jugadas de "blitz" en el equipo (algo no común con Marinelli) y quien en un punto de la temporada, comenzó a seleccionar las jugadas desde la banda.
En esta posición, me parece que los Dallas Cowboys tienen que enfrentar la dura decisión de decirle a Marinelli que es tiempo de dejarle el puesto a Kris Richard. Si bien no se llevó un trabajo de head coach, es muy probable que le llovieran ofertas a Richard si no se hace con el título de coordinador defensivo en Dallas.
Coordinador Ofensivo Scott Linehan
Con un equipo tan polémico como este, la afición de Dallas no concuerda en muchas cosas. Sin embargo, lo hacen al hablar del pésimo trabajo que Scott Linehan ha realizado mandando las jugadas en ofensiva. Realmente ha sido doloroso de ver y es en mi opinión, el mayor problema que tiene el equipo actualmente.
Semana tras semana, fuimos testigos de pésimas decisiones en la ofensiva de los Cowboys. Vimos como el equipo se aferraba a llenar la caja de defensivos antes de correr el balón con Ezekiel Elliott. Vimos incontables pases pantalla en tercera oportunidad y largo. Pero no solo es lo que vimos, sino lo que no vimos.
A pesar de la innegable habilidad para correr el balón de Dak Prescott, Linehan se rehusó a explotar esta versatilidad de su QB. Vimos pocos "QB sneaks," jugada donde el mariscal toma el balón bajo centro y consigue poco yardage detrás del empuje de su línea ofensiva.
Siendo honestos, los Cowboys llevan dos años sufriendo por este coordinador. Dejarlo volver en el 2019 sería una decisión ridícula. Los comentarios en la radio de Jason Garrett no lucen prometedores, pero realmente sería una sorpresa que fueran ciertos. Linehan no debe volver... punto.
Head Coach Jason Garrett
El futuro en esta posición será muy debatido durante los próximos meses, pero de los tres que hemos mencionado es sin lugar a dudas el más seguro de todos. Nos guste o no, Jason Garrett estará al frente del equipo la próxima temporada.
Garrett está lejos de ser un gran coach y aún le hace falta demostrar que puede cumplir las aspiraciones de los Cowboys de traer un sexto Trofeo Lombardi a casa. Pero siendo honesto, este equipo debería tener suficiente con Garrett y un par de buenos coordinadores. ¿El problema? No hay un par de buenos coordinadores en el equipo.
Sin embargo, Garrett ha demostrado que cuenta con el amor y apoyo de sus jugadores. Ha demostrado que efectivamente, puede ganar la división (lo ha hecho en tres de los últimos cinco años). Este año el equipo le dio la vuelta a la temporada después de comenzar 3-5.
Lo más preocupante en mi opinión, es la falta de urgencia para despedir a Linehan, por ejemplo. Quizá a puerta cerrada Garrett quiere un cambio en su staff, pero nunca lo sabremos.
Jason Garrett no es un coach excelente, pero podría ser suficiente para llevar a los Cowboys a un Super Bowl si tiene un equipo adecuado. Todo parece indicar que su trabajo está seguro (incluso más de lo que pensamos) así que es tiempo de esperar que se arreglen sus coordinadores.
2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch
As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.
It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.
Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.
No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.
This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.
There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.
Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.
Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.
What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?
Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.
Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.
They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?
Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.
Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.
Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.
Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.
Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.
This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.
The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.
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