And just like that, our enthusiasm has deflated. On September 10, 2017, the Cowboys hosted the New York Giants—one of only two teams to beat them in meaningful games last season—and won in convincing fashion. But that defense we all cheered on as they held the Giants to just a field goal hasn’t held another team back since.
Now that the bye week has arrived, you may be licking your wounds from two games the Cowboys should have won, against the Rams and Packers. Other Cowboys fans may instead dive into football betting sites this week, alleviated of favorite team bias.
I dreaded Sunday’s loss to Green Bay. Not necessarily because it’s a loss, though that hurts too, but because the conversations around Cowboys Nation these next two weeks are bound to be insufferable, to put it mildly. That already started with ridiculous tweets about how Dak Prescott should’ve knelt at the one-yard line with just over a minute left to play, instead of scoring the touchdown.
We’ve got to get this straight. You score when you can score.
That was Dak’s mentality, just as it was the play before when he tossed the ball to Dez Bryant in one-on-one coverage. You score the points as they become available and do your best to make sure those points are enough.
Unfortunately, the defense wasn’t up to the latter task.
But enough of the Green Bay Packers game. Instead, I’d like to take a look at some things I feel should be on the list of issues addressed during the bye.
1. Defense – Just as I wrote last week, before the Packers game, defense is a crucial element in closing out games. It is exceedingly rare for an offense to be able to win a lot of games in shootouts. At some point, the defense must protect a lead.
Tackling has been a major concern and not just in 2017 either.
Injuries and suspensions have also factored heavily into the defense’s lack of production, as we’re seeing now with Sean Lee sitting the last two games out. David Irving came back Sunday and recorded two sacks, but we can’t get those four games without him back.
This young secondary is still being forced to play a scheme they may not be best suited for, and it shows on the field.
Overall, the defense has had some great moments this season, but have failed to secure their top priority: stop the other guys from reaching the end zone.
2. Special Teams – We have the league’s most accurate kicker in Dan Bailey. He’s automatic and a huge asset for this team. We also have Chris Jones, who consistently pins teams back inside their own 20—or better. He is also a great asset for this team.
But what else has the special teams unit done lately?
The truth is, since Dwayne Harris left, special teams haven’t done much by way of scoring or advancing our field position. And even less without Lucky Whitehead fielding kicks. Ryan Switzer has been safe. He rarely takes the ball and runs and in the last two weeks, he’s lost a fumble on a muffed punt and lost yards fielding what was clearly a fair catch punt.
Special teams are often unsung heroes of a team, outside of the kickers of course, but in the case of the 2017 Dallas Cowboys, they aren’t even that.
We need more plays from the special teams unit. They don’t have to score, but they need to gain more yards. Hell, any yards would help at this point. Scores are ideal but field position is always welcome.
3. Game Management – This year, the Cowboys have given Dak Prescott much more freedom. A prime example of this is that second down throw to Dez in the final minutes against the Packers. It was a run-pass option and Dak saw a favorable matchup on the outside for one of the biggest end zone threats in the league.
It was a high-percentage throw that he simply botched. It happens.
The situation at the time was the Cowboys were knocking on the door to the end zone, but still had over a minute left to play. I, myself, was on my couch hollering at my TV for another run by Ezekiel Elliott.
One minute is more than enough time for the Packers to march down the field and score, and that’s true almost regardless what team they’re playing. With the Cowboys defense giving up yards the way they were, that’s especially true.
I wanted to keep the clock running as much as possible, and that second-down incompletion stopped the clock.
That stung even more when the Packers’ scoring snap came with 11 seconds to go in the game.
Dak did what he was taught to do; he identified a weakness in the coverage and took a shot. I can’t fault him for that. He missed, but the call was right from his perspective. The fault I find--in that case and others before it this season--is in Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan’s trust of this sophomore quarterback to make that decision on so many plays.
At some point, the play caller (Linehan) needs to see the situation on the field and issue a play, rather than passing the buck to his quarterback. That was all fine and well when the QB was Tony Romo, but Dak Prescott doesn't have the experience that made Romo so good.
Would that particular second down have gone any differently if Dak had a script to follow? Who knows. The only thing that's certain right now is that Prescott is young and still learning so much. I would like to see more responsibility on Linehan’s part, leaving Dak to run the play.
4. Dez Bryant isn't playing elite – There are a lot of things Dez does well, and he hasn’t been doing many of them this year. Sure, he has to be thrown the ball in order to make a play, but elite wide receivers never have problems getting targets, do they?
Elite wide receivers also don’t have the same high-caliber cast around them either. It’s a mixed bag. Don’t get me wrong, I still think Dez is a great wide receiver. He can be invaluable to this team. He just isn’t used right, in my opinion.
He’s not a burner. Dez is not super fast. He’s a tough, physical receiver who can win matchups based on being physical rather than blowing by coverage. Has he blown by coverage before? Of course, but not consistently.
Over the middle is where a player like Dez is typically most valuable. It’s a more dangerous area to work in, but possession receivers just seem to work better across the middle of the field. Bryant’s greatest strength lends itself so well to tight, heavily contested throws.
Bringing him across the hashes is also a better use of such a respected receiver, instead of using him to consume coverage so other guys can get open. Elite receivers are more than just decoys and placeholders, they find ways to get open and players like Dez need less of an opening to ensure the gain.
5. Jeff Heath is not the answer – I feel like I’ve been watching J.J. Wilcox at safety these last few weeks. Bad angles and blown coverage. I don’t know if Chidobe Awuzie is the answer, or Kavon Frazier, or Xavier Woods, but it certainly isn’t Jeff Heath.
We haven’t had a truly impactful safety in over a decade and it’s no wonder why, considering the Cowboys haven’t tried to bring in a player for that. Barry Church wasn’t flashy or perfect but he was at least reliable, and that’s more than we can say about Jeff Heath after five games. The Cowboys made a change Sunday, but with Awuzie’s hamstring still a bother, we ended up with Heath more and more as the game progressed.
Orlando Scandrick is Orlando Scandrick. He’s steady and at least average on most any play. Anthony Brown isn’t what he was in 2016, often playing tentatively and lacking confidence, but he’s still not bad yet. And Jourdan Lewis is making a name for himself with some well defended balls. And they get better or worse depending on who’s helping over the top.
Byron Jones was good in 2016, far better than he’s been in 2017, and I put that on Heath.
It’s no different from the offensive line being out of sync with two new players in the mix; the guy beside you has a huge impact on your own game. Maybe Byron just regressed, but maybe that’s unlikely. Maybe it’s the guy we all see making bad plays who is forcing him to try to pick up slack, leaving him a jack of all trades and master of none.
Whatever the case, the scheme and personnel aren’t meshing well right now. So how long will Rod Marinelli let it continue? Or does Monte Kiffin have to come back to show him how to manage his defense again, like he did in 2013...
✭ ✭ ✭
If anyone has answers to what’s afflicting the Cowboys this season, I assume it will be the coaches running things at The Star in Frisco. But maybe these five things, which I think are incredibly obvious after five games, are on the agenda.
And one more thing too, halftime adjustments. For the past few years, I’ve marveled at the way this team could come out of halftime on fire and ready to take what the other team gives them. I haven’t seen that at all this year, but these last two weeks have been particularly bad. Especially on defense. Got to give credit where credit is due though. The Rams and Packers did a great job adjusting at the half.
Anyway, here’s hoping week seven comes fast and ends with the 49ers defeated. Until then.
3 Things We Learned About The Dallas Cowboys In 2018
Coming into the 2018 season, loads of questions surrounded the Dallas Cowboys and the future of their roster.
Could their defense stay intact when the annual Sean Lee injury occurred? Was Kris Richard going to lead the Cowboys young secondary to places we thought they could be? And would Dak Prescott earn a contact extension and become the official franchise quarterback of America's Team.
Of course, there are tons of other questions that may have gone unanswered, but these three critical areas seem to find clarity in 2018.
Leighton Vander Esch And Jaylon Smith Are Legit
The Dallas Cowboys caught a lot of flack for their selection both of these linebackers, each for different reasons.
When they snagged Jaylon Smith in the second round of the 2016 draft, it was still unknown to the public if Smith could ever even play football again. When they took Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall last April, fans questioned how valuable an off-ball linebacker would be on a defense that already had Sean Lee.
Well, after their first full season together, it's easy to say that both Vander Esch and Smith are the linebacker options of the future in Dallas. Named to the Pro Bowl during his rookie season, Vander Esch took the world by storm in 2018. When Lee went down, he was there to not only fill his shoes, but to outplay the veteran all year long.
What is fun to consider is that as good as Vander Esch was this season, Jaylon Smith might be even better. Both posses insane sideline to sideline pursuit ability, and are some of the surest tacklers in all of football.
Watching these two grow together will be a pleasure over the coming seasons.
Their Young Secondary Is Coming Together
Like their linebackers, the Dallas Cowboys secondary is a young group, who fans are excited to watch grow throughout the years. It seemed like more pressure sat on the shoulders of young cornerbacks Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie than of Smith and Vander Esch, however.
With Kris Richard joining the staff and making the decision to move Jones to cornerback full time, it was do-or-die for the former first round pick. Byron Jones answered all the doubters, earning not only a Pro Bowl selection but also First Team All Pro honors for his performance.
Opposite him, Awuzie had a rough start to his sophomore campaign. While typically right there in coverage, wide outs too often made contested catches over him. Over the final few weeks of the year, however, that changed and Awuzie played some of the best football yet.
Xavier Woods, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis (in much fewer snaps) all had fantastic seasons as well, giving the Cowboys great hope and confidence in their secondary moving forward. They may need to add another safety during the offseason, however, though Jeff Heath remains more than just a viable option.
Dak Prescott Is Here To Stay
Whether or not you think it's justified, Dak Prescott is the quarterback of the future in Dallas. And he earned that right the back-half of 2018 and during the postseason. After a shaky start to his 3rd season, Prescott turned things around nicely, leading the Cowboys to a 7-1 finish to the regular season.
Prescott played the best football of his young career down the stretch, and showed just how valuable he is both on the field and in the locker room. It seemed like every game he made 2-3 winning plays that put the Cowboys over the top that afternoon.
Dak is going to get a contract extension, and will be locked in as a Cowboy for the foreseeable future, and with the way he played the final 10 games of his season, I can't second guess this decision much at all.
Jason Garrett Can’t be Serious About Retaining Scott Linehan, Can He?
One of the few positives most of us were looking forward to after the Dallas Cowboys Divisional Round loss to the Los Angeles Rams was the fact that Scott Linehan would no longer be the offensive coordinator for America's Team. Everything was pointing to his dismissal, but that may not be the case according to Head Coach Jason Garrett.
Jason Garrett said on 105.3 The Fan that offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will return in 2019. "We don't anticipate any significant changes on our staff," Garrett said.
I can't say that I was happy upon learning Jason Garrett plans on retaining Scott Linehan as the Cowboys OC in 2019. In fact, my first thought was… Well, something better left unsaid. I'm sure many of you can kind of read my mind, because I'm pretty positive you had all that the same thoughts running through your head as well.
In all honesty, I didn't think there was a snowball chance in hell Scott Linehan would return to Dallas after the conclusion of the 2018 season. After all, the Cowboys nearly fired him during the bye week earlier this season, meaning his job security was already on thin ice. He didn't do anything to improve things in my opinion.
I know Jason Garrett has said Scott Linehan will return as the OC in 2019, but not for a second do I believe it. We are less than 72 hours hours removed from the Cowboys exit from the playoffs and I highly doubt any of Dallas' decision-makers has had the time to sit down and discuss who stays and who goes. In fact, I know they haven't.
Stephen Jones says they won't comment on anything with coaching staff but that they need to take a deep look at why they fell short. Says it a little early to speculate about players or coaches. They haven't had a meeting about it yet.
I think once the Cowboys brass sits down and reevaluates the 2018 season, they will come to the conclusion they can do better than Scott Linehan as their offensive coordinator. There were just too many times throughout the season where the playcalling was a problem just. It's just time to move on, despite the vote of confidence by Jason Garrett.
Of course, this could just be me trying to read between the lines hoping and praying Scott Linehan is finally fired. Like many of you, I've grown way too tired of his predictable and dated playcalling. It's time to move on and find someone more innovative who can maximize the talent the Dallas Cowboys have on the roster, much like Kris Richard did with the defense.
You can either choose to believe Jason Garrett or not. I for one have a hard time seeing the Dallas Cowboys staying status quo with their coaching staff, especially their offensive coordinator. But, only time will tell.
Do you think it's time for the Dallas Cowboys to fire Scott Linehan?
Cowboys Rammed Out of Playoffs but 2019 is Bright
If you were to have clicked over to Sportsbook Review, you could have seen what all the premier online sportsbooks were dealing on the Cowboys/Rams game before kickoff. Sites like Bovada, which incidentally you can read a Bovada Review at Sportsbook Review as well, had the Rams favored in every quarter, in both halves, and installed LA as seven-point favorites over Dallas. As is often the case, the number was nearly spot on as the Rams bounced our 'Boys out of the postseason 30-22. It was a heart-wrenching loss for Dallas fans everywhere but for those who put their money where their mouths were, it was particularly painful in what turned out to be a one-point difference between losing and pushing.
Let’s look on the bright side, though. The Cowboys not only copped the division crown but the draft picks from April bore fruit this season. Linebacker and No. 19 overall pick Leighton Vander Esch is a certified stud while third-round pick Michael Gallup proved he is a bona fide NFL receiver. Second-round offensive lineman Connor Williams had difficulties at left guard, but at the very least, has a season under his belt at the next level and could turn into a legitimate bodyguard for Prescott in 2019.
And let’s not forget about the trade for Amari Cooper, which turned Dallas from a squad struggling to find its identity to an NFC East champ in winning seven of its last nine games since Cooper arrived. This year’s edition also bested a tough Seahawks team in the first-round of the playoffs.
Let’s face it, folks, no one expected the Cowboys to win a Super Bowl this season and what we got was about as much as we could have hoped with the current roster as it is presently constructed.
Dak Prescott has one more year on his rookie contract and will be looking to score a big payday at the end of next season, if not sooner. The Cowboys could enter negotiations and lock Prescott up for the foreseeable future, but it might be best for both parties to see what 2019 brings and go from there. Either way, Dallas will pay beaucoup bucks to keep Prescott in a Cowboys uniform so watching and waiting will most likely be the tact management takes with their star quarterback, with a franchise tag in 2020 as an option as well.
In the team’s immediate future will be signing their second-round pick in 2014, DeMarcus Lawrence. The talented defensive end provided the Cowboys with the edge rusher they needed for parts of this season and his combined 25 sacks over the last two seasons would be nearly impossible to replace. Dallas franchised him this season but will most likely put together a long-term deal for Lawrence in the offseason.
Ezekiel Elliott has also reportedly been hinting at his own contract extension even though he is contractually committed to the Cowboys for next season with a team option in '20.
Ironically, one of the strengths of the Dallas Cowboys in recent years was a relatively weak link this season. The offensive line was decimated by injuries and Pro Bowler Travis Frederick missed the entire season. But those wounds will heal for next season and the old gang will be back together again.
The Cowboys have loads of cap space but are without a first-round pick due to the trade for Amari Cooper. Nevertheless, the young blood on the team looks poised to contribute for many years and there will be money available to woo free agents to a club now viewed as a legitimate contender.
If you want to look at next season’s odds, make sure to educate yourself on which online sportsbooks are the most reputable, trusted, and reliable. Read the Bovada Review over at SBR and see what customers are saying about one of the industry’s top sportsbooks. Then, when the lines come out on next season’s division, conference, and Super Bowl winners, you can be informed and maybe throw a few bucks on the 'Boys from Dallas!
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