The Dallas Cowboys are looking to get back on track coming off their bye week with a 2-3 record. They face the San Francisco 49ers this Sunday and have a new wrinkle to deal with after rookie C.J. Beathard was named their new starting quarterback yesterday.
Beathard, a third-round pick last year out of Iowa, came in for veteran Brian Hoyer near the end of the second half of the 49ers' 26-24 loss to Washington. Hoyer had completed just 4-of-11 passes to that point and the Niners were down 14-0. Beathard's first drive quickly ended with a punt, but then he led an 11-play drive to score a touchdown before halftime.
On San Francisco's final drive of the game, trailing by just two points, Beathard was unable to get them into field goal range. He ended the day with an interception on a desperate 4th-and-20 throw. He finished the game with 245 passing yards and one touchdown on 53% passing.
So, obviously the big question is, will this QB switch for the 49ers help or hurt the Cowboys?
If you go just based on yesterday's game, C.J. Beathard appeared more capable of making plays than Brian Hoyer did. This was also against a Washington defense that has keep opposing QBs to an average of an 81.8 passer rating. Comparatively, Dallas's defense has allowed quarterbacks to rate at an average of 100.7, which is clearly near the worst in the league.
The 49ers' decision to change quarterbacks had a lot to do with being 0-5 and not wanting to waste game experience on a veteran. Prior to yesterday, Hoyer was starting to heat up with 919 yards and four touchdowns over the last three weeks. That Frisco pulled the trigger so quickly on bringing Beathard says they were ready to make the swap all along, likely wanting to see what their third-round pick had now that the season was basically over.
Dallas may actually be happy to see Hoyer out of the lineup. Last year, while he was starting for the Chicago Bears, the veteran had 317 yards and two touchdowns in a road loss to the Cowboys. It could very well be that Beathard, a rookie in his first start, is the lesser of evils.
Of course, it could easily go the other way. Beathard brings some mystery and perhaps a spark to the 49ers offense that Hoyer couldn't. The Cowboys will have less film to work with than the five weeks of Hoyer, which is certainly a disadvantage.
In truth, if the Cowboys play up to their potential on both side of the ball than it really shouldn't matter who's playing quarterback for the 49ers. Dallas is just a couple of plays away from being 4-1 rather than 2-3, while the Niners are every bit of an 0-6 team. I know what Bill Parcells said about what your record says, but healthy a rested Cowboys team should be far better, even on the road, than what the 49ers are working with this year.
We'll find out on Sunday if this QB change in San Francisco worked in our favor.
Takeaway Tuesday: Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player
It was a dramatic win for the Dallas Cowboys but a win nonetheless. The Philadelphia Eagles gave the Cowboys one hell of a fight at AT&T Stadium in a great rivalry game. It was undoubtedly one of the most exciting games this season has seen as it ended with a walk-off touchdown that gave the home team the victory.
Here is this week's Takeaway Tuesday on what we learned from such a thrilling match!
Amari Cooper Trade Shouldn't Even Be a Discussion
Once a complicated debate, the Amari Cooper trade has a clear winner. It's simple, really. If it wasn't for Amari Cooper, the Cowboys would not be 8-5 en route to the NFC East title. Cooper has literally saved the 2018 season for the once 3-5 Cowboys team.
Since becoming a part of the Cowboys, the former Oakland Raider has accounted for 40 catches, 642 yards and six touchdowns. Last Sunday alone, he was responsible for 217 yards and three scores. Not to mention the amount of times he's moved the chains for this offense. The 24-year old can seriously play football. Despite struggles, this offense is very promising with that caliber of a WR1 and an elite RB such as Ezekiel Elliott.
What was it again? A first rounder? Should've asked for more, Raiders.
Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player
Gregory's journey to be back on a football field was a difficult one. But it was worth it. Versus the Eagles, his presence was constantly felt by Carson Wentz. He was able to get in five pressures, one of which resulted in a sack.
The last couple of games, Gregory has drawn a few costly flags, but his play is still amazing. He's one of the fastest defensive ends in the league and he continues to improve in bending around the corner. He has five sacks in the last eight games. If you weren't convinced #94 should be our starting right defensive end, you should be by now.
Tight Ends Rise
The lack of a tight end did not stand out this past Sunday. But Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin did. With Geoff Swaim out with an injury, this couple of young rotational players had their best games of their careers. Both were targeted in key moments of the game. Blake Jarwin had 56 yards in seven catches and a big third down conversion and Dalton Schultz finished the night with 37 yards.
A promising sign for the Cowboys moving forward. The offense is clicking at wide receiver with Amari Cooper, having a tight end (or a couple) stand up will only make this unit better.
Garrett Deserves a Round of Applause
Whether or not you think Jason Garrett is a good head coach, the guy deserves an applause. I get why you might not like him. In fact, I still question if he should be in Dallas in 2019 if the Cowboys fail to have success in the playoffs. But the way this team has come back from such a terrible start can't be ignored.
The players on this team fight for this guy. The Dallas Cowboys went from a team everyone had written off from playoff contention to legit Super Bowl contenders since they fired Paul Alexander and got Amari Cooper.
Dak Prescott is One of the Best Facing Adversity
Dak Prescott's career continues to cause a great debate among Cowboys' fans. You see, in the NFL, things are not white or black. When judging a player, there are a lot of gray areas. Take last night's performance from Dak Prescott. He threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball once and pretty much played bad football for three quarters. But his night ended with 455 yards and three touchdowns and a 78% completion percentage in 54 attempts.
In the NFL, not any quarterback comes back from turning the ball three times. With the help of his tremendous defense, Dak did. In the fourth quarter, he completed 17 out of 20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. His performance was clutch.
This isn't a one thing either. Since 2016, Dak is tied for the most game-winning drives in the NFL. Prescott might be inconsistent and can have some pretty bad plays. But he's one resilient quarterback. As T.O. would've said: "that's my quarterback."
Dak Prescott Clutch in 4th Quarter & OT in Win Over Eagles
The Dallas Cowboys are now in first place in the NFC East with a commanding two-game lead in the division over the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. Having swept the Philadelphia Eagles this season, the Cowboys own the tie-breaker over the Eagles which essentially gives them a three-game lead with three games to go. Though it was a rough start to the game for Dak Prescott and the offense, they finished strong, and Dak in particular made some clutch throws in the second half and overtime to help the Cowboys come away with the win.
Before, I start, I recognize that Dak Prescott missed several throws down the field and his interceptions were egregious. His first one was a decent throw, but he was staring Cooper down through the route allowing Rasul Douglas to undercut the throw. The second interception was a bad overthrow of a wide open Michael Gallup on a crossing route that would have led to a huge first down.
The Philadelphia Eagles were able to score nine points from Dak's three turnovers (including the fumble), that kept them in the game in the first half when the Cowboys could have really run away with it. Sure he missed some throws deep in the second half, but quarterbacks aren't going to hit every throw when they're going deep. Obviously, this is an area that Dak can improve on.
But let's be real, Dak Prescott is a part of the reason they won this game. His connection with Amari Cooper in the second half was huge.
In the win, Prescott threw for 455 yards on 42/54 passing, three touchdowns, and two interceptions. He averaged 8.42 yards per attempt and finished with a quarterback rating of 104.9. the 455 yards are more than a hundred more than his previous career high he set last December against the New York Giants. Per Pro Football Focus, Prescott was 3 of 8 for 130 yards, two touchdowns, one interception and a quarterback rating of 84.5 on deep passing attempts. 14.8% of his attempts traveled further than 20 yards down field yesterday, which is up from the previous 12 game average of 9.9% deep attempts.
Again, Dak Prescott was under pressure a lot in this game. Though he only took three sacks against the Eagles, he was under pressure for 36.8% of his drop backs, per Pro Football Focus. Under pressure, Dak Prescott was 16 of 18 (one throw away) for 196 yards, 2 touchdowns, and had a Quarterback rating of 149.1.
He wasn't the only reason that the Cowboys won yesterday, but he was a big reason they were able to sweep the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles. Prescott obviously has a ton of confidence in Amari Cooper down the field, as well as Michael Gallup, because he's taking a lot of shots downfield and continually threatening the defense and it paid off on Sunday as they were able to hit some big plays that softened up the coverage underneath for the tight ends to have their best day as a group.
For all Prescott's mistakes, he was able to make the plays when they needed him to give the Dallas Cowboys a chance to win the football game, and make no mistake about it, that was a team win.
Dak Prescott's greatest attributes are the things you can't measure and each of them were on display on Sunday. His toughness, resiliency, leadership, and poise were important factors in the win. When other quarterbacks might have just tried to check the ball down after throwing a couple of interceptions, Prescott continued to let the ball fly. Though he missed on five of his deep attempts per Pro Football Focus, the ones he hit won the game for the Cowboys.
On the game-winning drive for the Dallas Cowboys, Prescott completed all five passes for 58 yards and a touchdown. He completed a pass to Cooper on third and nine to extend the drive and then hit cooper again on third and seven to win the game. That final drive took up eight of the 10 minutes allotted for overtime.
Dak Prescott isn't a great quarterback by any stretch (yet), but there are few great quarterbacks in the National Football League. Prescott is, however, a good to very good quarterback that is going to give you a chance to win football games every week. Dak's led 13 game-winning drives in his 45 game career, finishing in the top five of that category each of his first three seasons. What we saw on display on Sunday was a quarterback who you can count on when the game is on the line.
In Swaim’s Absence And Among Witten Rumors, Jarwin And Schultz Shine
"Starting tight end for the Dallas Cowboys" has been about as stable a position as there is in sports over the last decade. It's been Jason Witten. End of story.
Beginning in 2018, however, that stability went out the window with Witten's retirement. The starting role was left in the hands of Geoff Swaim, with even younger and more inexperienced players filling out the depth chart behind him. There was clearly reason for concern, and once Swaim went down during the Cowboys' win in Atlanta, those concerns only grew.
Swaim's absence has brought with it rumors of a Jason Witten return, with reports last weekend even suggesting that Jason Garrett reached out to Witten to see if he's looking to end his retirement and rejoin the Cowboys.
His absence has also brought about the emergence of two young tight ends, however, who are each succeeding in their own ways and showcasing why the Cowboys felt confident in allowing them to take the bulk of the tight end snaps while Swaim is injured. Those tight ends, of course, are Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz.
Last Sunday during the Cowboys big overtime victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, both Jarwin and Schultz had impressive days. Blake Jarwin has become one of the go-to third down options for quarterback Dak Prescott, extending drives and getting open over the middle of the field. Jarwin had a career best 7 catches for 56 yards on Sunday, including a spectacular third down grab to make up for Prescott's poor ball placement on his crossing route.
Blake Jarwin looks like the big, athletic, middle of the field threat that many fans wished Rico Gathers could be. The next step in unlocking his potential would be to get him more involved in the red zone. Dallas is struggling to convert and-goal situations into touchdowns, and logic would say a big target like Jarwin should be able to help in those moments.
Fourth round rookie Dalton Schultz had a good day as well, catching 3 balls for 37 yards including a 16 yard reception down the seam. Where Schultz really shines, however, is with his run blocking, as he did at Stanford. The move to more of a zone blocking scheme has benefited Schultz as a run blocker, just as it has the entire Cowboys rushing offense.
Schultz looks to be improving as a pass catcher by the week, and a year in a professional offseason program should do him wonders in terms of play strength, in turn helping him as a run blocker. He may not ever turn into a top 5 or 10 tight end in football the way Witten once was, but he is clearly already a functional and valuable player on this roster.
The Cowboys are insanely young throughout most of their roster, and tight end is one of those young spots. Tight end is also a spot you typically don't want (or need) to address within the first round of the NFL Draft. Dallas is secretly in a good spot moving forward at tight end, with Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz emerging as solid players.
This doesn't mean the Cowboys shouldn't look around in the offseason to see what's available, but they should also feel comfortable with what's on their roster at the moment.
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