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...
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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.
Tony Romo Documentary in the Works
If you've missed seeing Tony Romo on the field, an upcoming documentary may be the cure. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback is reportedly the subject of a film chronicling his football career going all the way back to high school.
"Now or Never" will tell Romo's incredible story, going from undrafted to one of the top passers in the history of the Cowboys' storied franchise. It's being produced by a Texas-based company run by Christian Hanna (no known relation to James).
According to an article from MyRacineCounty.com, Romo's hometown newspaper, the tale of Tony's football career will be told going back to his days at Burlington High School in Wisconsin. It will follow him to Eastern Illinois University, the same QB hotbed that more recently produced Jimmy Garoppolo.
But what most of us will want to relive is Tony's amazing NFL career, which stands out among the most unexpected rises to stardom of any player in league history.
Romo, who was an undrafted free agent signed by the Cowboys in 2003, didn't play in a game for three seasons. He rose the QB depth chart through practice and preseason play, eventually becoming the backup and earning the respect of then-coach Bill Parcells.
In Week 7 of 2006, Parcells pulled struggling starter Drew Bledsoe at halftime and went with his intriguing young prospect. Tony's first pass in the NFL was one to forget; an interception.
About a decade later, Romo would retire as the Cowboys' all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He currently ranks fourth all-time in NFL history for passer rating.
Tony's career never saw the playoff and Super Bowl success of predecessors Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, but he remains a beloved figure in team history. The controversial end to his football career, losing his job to rookie phenom Dak Prescott in 2016, created a major rift among Cowboys fans.
While no longer playing, Romo remains one of the hottest names in football. His charisma and football acumen have him in a featured role with CBS Broadcasting.
From obscurity to "anointing oil" to one of the most discussed names in sports, Tony Romo's story is fascinating. This documentary crew picked a great subject, and we look forward to enjoying their work and revisiting the Romo Era once the film is released.
Prescott VS Wentz Rivalry is Just Beginning
No one expected Carson Wentz and Dak Prescott to become such an interesting rivalry, but that's precisely what the 2016's second and 135th draft picks have turnt out to be since the day they entered the NFL. The two came into the NFC East with very different expectations. Dak wasn't even supposed to be a starter, but circumstance is what helped this rivalry emerge.
Prescott seemed to lead the race after their rookie seasons were over, having led the Dallas Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the #1 seed in the NFC, but Carson Wentz made a huge statement in 2017. Before he went down injured playing versus the LA Rams last December, the Philadelphia Eagles quarterback was playing astonishingly well.
Leading the MVP race before tearing his ACL, Carson Wentz had thrown for 3,296 yards and 33 touchdowns through 13 games. Had he not gone down, it's more likely than not he would've been named the MVP instead of Tom Brady.
Despite having won the passing yards race, Dak Prescott's 2017 was rougher than his rival's. His interceptions count went from 4 in 2016 to 13 last season. He threw for only 22 touchdowns, falling eight short of the 30 TDs mark. His completion percentage also went down, from over 67% to almost 63%.
As we all know, it wasn't a good year for the Dallas Cowboys. Suspensions, injuries and poor play led them to a disappointing 9-7 season that didn't feel like a winning season at all, even though that's how it will go down in the books.
To make things worse, the Eagles went into January with QB Nick Foles starting, and overcoming adversity and doubters, won their first Super Bowl in franchise history. Although it was Foles and not Wentz the one who played Philadelphia's postseason, the former second overall pick is one of the main reasons for the team's success.
His sophomore year was way better than Dak's.
But as impressive as Wentz's year was, the rivalry between the two signal-callers is just beginning. There is still a lot of history to write in this duel of two young and hard-working players. Two leader of men in one of the most intense rivalries in the NFL.
Through two years of football, here's how their numbers look like:
Wentz: 29 games, 1,047 attempts, 644 completions (61.5%), 7,078 yards, 49 TDs, 2 rushing TDs
Prescott: 32 games, 949 attempts, 619 completions (65.2%), 6,991 yards, 45 TDs, 12 rushing TDs
There's not a ton of difference between their numbers, but in the NFL, it's about more than stats. Prescott had the better 2016, Wentz the better 2017.
Dak and Carson have really only played two match-ups in their two years playing in the league. Sitting at an even 1-1 record, 2018 will feature two great games between both of their teams. The defending Super Bowl Champions against the underestimated Dallas Cowboys.
The sport is about winning games and championships, but rivalries like this one make the NFL even more special. Even with Wentz being the MVP front-runner for most of last season, Dak Prescott still has a lot of time to turn things around.
If both turn out to be as successful and important as their franchise wish them to be, then this rivalry will be around for a lot of years.
If Reinstated, Is Randy Gregory A Lock for Cowboys 53-Man Roster?
The Dallas Cowboys will enter training camp in Oxnard with arguably their deepest and most talented defensive line in years. Cowboys Nation continues to hope for the best possible news on suspended Defensive End Randy Gregory, to potentially take this defensive front to the next level. Should Gregory be reinstated, the Cowboys would have another option at right defensive end. This is a position they've bolstered with the signing of Kony Ealy and drafting of Dorance Armstrong, both moves coming behind would-be starter Tyrone Crawford.
This logjam at DE begs the question, amidst optimism for Gregory's situation, is the 2015 second round pick even a lock to make this roster?
Who Does Randy Gregory Need to Outplay?
Going through some form of the Cowboys depth chart at Gregory's position above does little to sort out how Gregory can justify a starting position. Having true starters on the defensive line is not DC Rod Marinelli's way, meaning a possible rotation of Crawford, Gregory, and Armstrong could coexist.
Even with insufficient depth at defensive tackle, the Cowboys seem committed to keeping Crawford on the edge. As he's done with each position change within the Cowboys defense, Crawford is slowly developing into a respectable right end that's great against the run.
This sounds like just the type of player to compliment a speedy rusher like Gregory, but Randy won't be alone in this role should he return to the team. Along with FA addition Kony Ealy, the Cowboys will look to bring Charles Tapper back from an offseason concussion, and also have second-year rusher Taco Charlton in need of a true position.
It's fair to say that Gregory has been anything but reliable since the Cowboys took a gamble on him, but turning his life around to see out this reinstatement would go a long way in beating out the often-injured Tapper.
Given Ealy's ability to play both on the edge and inside, at his best if receiving limited snaps, I believe that Gregory will only have to surpass Tapper in reaching a favorable spot on the Cowboys depth chart at DE.
Comparing Randy Gregory and Dorance Armstrong
Of course, making the roster and making an impact on defense are two vastly different realities for Gregory in 2018. Another player that could stunt his opportunities to hunt down quarterbacks is rookie fourth round pick Dorance Armstrong.
The Cowboys would love to see Armstrong begin his career with a strong showing in Oxnard, owning all of the traits needed to be an effective right end at the next level.
Lacking the true cornering speed that Gregory has flashed in short spurts, Armstrong did produce a ten sack season for Kansas in 2016. This production matches the traits that kept Armstrong a priority for the Cowboys at the draft, despite only seeing him get home 1.5 times in 2017.
Rewind to last year's draft, and the Cowboys spent their first round pick on a defensive end they looked to make a right end, all while knowing his ideal spot is at LDE. This makes the difference between drafting Charlton and Armstrong an important one, as the Cowboys are clearly searching for high-value options to complete their pass rush.
Again, assuming Tapper becomes the odd man out in the Cowboys carrying Gregory, Ealy, and Armstrong as right ends, the work is cut out for Gregory to regain the trust of his coaches and bring what only he can to this defense.
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It goes without saying that Randy Gregory will carry plenty of attention with him if present in Oxnard. This is a player capable of transforming a young Cowboys defense into one of the league's most feared.
While the Cowboys would do well to quickly sort out who plays the 3T-DT position alongside DeMarcus Lawrence, and the 1T inside for that matter too, sticking Gregory on the opposite edge could be the easiest decision they make to see immediate improvements in their pass rush.
Should Ealy or Armstrong have more to say about this lineup for the Cowboys defensive line, the depth of this unit will live up to the hype.
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