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.
Dak Prescott: Calm Under Pressure
When the 2016 NFL Draft came around the Dallas Cowboys were in search of the heir apparent to Tony Romo. Unfortunately, coming off an injury-plagued 2015 season, Romo would find himself on the shelf again after suffering a broken bone in his back during a preseason game against the Seahawks. However, the Cowboys had an ace in the hole, in the form of Dak Prescott who they drafted in the fourth round.
The idea was the groom him for a few years before taking the keys to the car so to speak from Romo, but fate had another idea in mind. Prescott would be thrust into the starting lineup against one of the Cowboys most hated rivals to start the season, the New York Giants. Added to that, was the pressure of living up to Romo's stellar resume as the franchise's all-time leading passer. After struggling in a tough 20-19 loss, no surprise there for a rookie quarterback, Prescott began to take flight.
Over the next eleven games he wouldn't suffer a single loss as the Cowboys were sitting pretty at 11-1. What made this streak more impressive was the efficiency of Prescott. He threw 19 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions over that span. In the process, he set an NFL record for the most passing attempts to start a career without an interception with 176. This broke the previous record held by Tom Brady of 162. It didn't stop there, as he also set a rookie record for completion percentage (67.8), was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Cowboys would finish 13-3 and win the NFC East. With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the franchise only winning two postseason games in 21 years, Prescott was definitely under the microscope. After the offense struggled to produce points in the first half and fell behind 21-3, Prescott lead a furious comeback. Helping the team storm all the way back to tie the game at 28 and again at 31. He finished with 302 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first playoff start against future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. Even though the team lost 34-31, Prescott proved how much of a gamer he was as he basically went yard for yard and point for point with one of the NFL's elite signal-callers. It was clear the Cowboys were in good hands going forward.
2017 started off well as the Cowboys were 5-3 and firmly on pace for another playoff run. Unfortunately, All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott lost his fierce battle with the NFL over domestic violence allegations, and Dak along with the offense struggled. After a 9-7 season and falling one game short of a Wild Card berth, the pressure on Prescott heading into the next season was immense.
Once 2018 came about Prescott had more pressure than ever with Elliott back for a full season. After a slow 3-4 start the Cowboys traded for Pro-Bowl Wide Receiver Amari Cooper, providing the team with it's first true number one receiver since Dez Bryant. Putting even more expectations on Prescott to turn things around, and boy did he ever.
He would complete 71.6% of his passes in the final eight games of the season, and the Cowboys won seven to finish 10-6. Now, with another division title under his belt, came a playoff matchup with Super Bowl-winning Quarterback Russell Wilson.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were hanging on to a 17-14 lead. They faced a 3rd and 14 inside the redone with just over two minutes left. After dropping back a few steps, Prescott scrambled for 16 yards setting up a first and goal from the one-yard line. The team held on for a 24-22 victory but here's why that scramble was so important.
If the Cowboys don't convert that 3rd and long that would've set up a field goal attempt. Assuming it would have been successful, that would've only put them up 20-14. Giving Seattle a chance to more than likely win with a touchdown and an extra point or two-point conversion. Prescott essentially won the game with that 3rd down run. Proving once again there's no situation he can't handle.
He's set an NFL record for completion percentage in the first three years of a quarterbacks career at 66.1 percent. No quarterback has won more games than him since 2016 except Tom Brady. No one has more game-winning drives than him since he entered the league. His 13 primetime victories are tops in the NFL over the last three seasons. Simply put, Dak Prescott is a winner and doesn't fold under pressure, instead, he embraces it. There are no bigger lights in the NFL than the ones that shine in Dallas. With those lights come huge expectations and pressure, and it's clear this young man is made of the right stuff to handle it.
Cowboys en Español: ¿Qué Le Espera a Connor McGovern?
El pasado abril, los Dallas Cowboys nos sorprendieron más de una vez durante el NFL Draft 2019. Desde la segunda ronda, sus selecciones no fueron malas, pero nos dejaron con una ceja arriba. La más sorprendente tomó lugar en la tercera ronda, cuando se anunció el nombre de un guardia ofensivo proveniente de la universidad de Penn State, Connor McGovern.
La selección no fue sorprendente por el nivel del jugador. Durante su carrera colegial, McGovern demostró ser un muy buen liniero ofensivo interior y seguramente merecía salir dentro de las primeras tres rondas.
Sin embargo, la línea ofensiva era una unidad que el equipo no necesitaba atender tan pronto. Después de todo, los Cowboys son reconocidos por tener una de las mejores líneas ofensivas en toda la NFL. Hay algunas dudas debido a lesiones o ausencias con las que el equipo ha tenido que lidiar, pero los titulares son muy buenos. Liderados por Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick y Zack Martin, esta unidad no le pide nada a nadie.
Y aún así en aquella ocasión, los Cowboys anotaron el nombre de Connor McGovern en la tarjeta que entregaron en la tercera ronda. Se dice que el equipo realmente ve mucho potencial en él y que era su mejor jugador disponible en ese momento. Todos los equipos en la liga tienen filosofías diferentes, pero si los Cowboys decidieron ir por el mejor jugador en vez de atender una necesidad, es una decisión más que válida.
Pero ahora la pregunta es, ¿cómo y cuándo se utilizará a McGovern? La posición queda más que clara. McGovern tomará el lugar de guardia izquierdo ya que el otro lado está más que cubierto por el mejor guardia derecho en la NFL, Zack Martin. La mejor pregunta es ¿cuándo?
Como sabrán, todo parece indicar que al comenzar la temporada del 2019, McGovern estará en la banca y no en la alineación titular. El pick de segunda ronda del año pasado es el favorito a ser el titular. Connor Williams no tuvo el mejor inicio a su carrera, pero fue mejorando conforme avanzó la temporada y se vio mucho mejor después del despido del ex-coach de línea ofensiva Paul Alexander.
De una manera u otra, la incertidumbre continúa dentro de la unidad. Muchos especulan sobre lo que podría pasar en el futuro. El tackle La'el Collins solo está bajo contrato por el 2019 y no ha demostrado lo suficiente para justificar un enorme contrato a largo plazo. No ha jugado mal, pero ¿cuánto pedirá para quedarse en Dallas?
Cuando llegue el momento, el equipo tendrá que tomar una decisión depende de la actuación de Collins en el emparrillado la próxima temporada. ¿Pagarle a Collins? ¿O hacer un movimiento fuerte en la línea ofensiva? Recordemos que este equipo tiene espacio en el tope salarial ahora, pero este se irá rápidamente con futuras extensiones a jugadores clave como Dak Prescott.
Sabemos que Connor Williams tiene lo necesario para jugar como tackle. Una opción será mover a Williams al extremo derecho y dejar que McGovern tomé su lugar en el interior de la línea ofensiva.
Quizá suene problemático mover tantas piezas, pero tendría sentido financieramente. McGovern y Williams seguirían en contratos de novato mientras que Collins pedirá una buena paga al terminar este año.
Pase lo que pase, el futuro próximo de Connor McGovern dependerá de muchos factores ajenos a él mismo. Su talento le da lo necesario para jugar desde su primer año en la liga, pero tendrá que recibir la oportunidad.
Tyron Smith Named Most “Underpaid Veteran” On Dallas Cowboys
Counting the pockets of Cowboys star players has become a favorite activity of the national media this offseason, as everyone tries to figure out how Dallas will structure the deals for their young players over the course of the next year.
While trying to figure out what the new deals will look like, it's worth reflecting on how well the team did on some of their past negotiations. The Ringer released an article this week naming the most underpaid veteran on each NFL roster, with Tyron Smith earning that honor for the Cowboys.
Smith, who signed his extension with the team back in 2014, is under the deal until the 2024 season. That 8 year extension was lucrative at the time for sure, but as the salary cap rises and other offensive tackles have gotten paid, it looks more like a bargain deal for Dallas by the second.
"A long contract is a bad deal for an elite player in a league in which revenue grows handily. The salary cap was $133 million in 2014, but it’s $188.2 million for 2019. So while the Cowboys have 41.5 percent more money to spend, Smith hasn’t had a raise in five seasons. The Cowboys essentially locked up one of the best tackles of his generation for his entire career."
When put like this, you can see just what a steal of a contract the Cowboys signed Tyron Smith for. Smith is inked for the entirety of the prime of his career, and has very little leverage for a holdout given how many years still remain on this deal.
On the field, Tyron Smith remains one of the best left tackles in all of football, even if back issues have forced him to miss some time over the last two seasons. Smith should remain a top contributor for the Cowboys for at least a few more years, all of which will come at a bargain for a Cowboys team looking to execute some salary cap gymnastics next offseason.
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
5 Cowboys Players Who Could Steal Someone’s Job in 2019
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Leighton Vander Esch: A Steal That Came Along at the Right Time
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
How Chidobe Awuzie Could Help Solidify the Cowboys Safety Position
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Jason Garrett: It’s Time for the Process to pay off
Player News2 weeks ago
3 Reasons Why Byron Jones May Not be in Dallas Cowboys Future
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dallas Cowboys 2019: Projecting Dak Prescott’s Production
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Kellen Moore has all the Ingredients for an Elite Offense
Star Blog7 days ago
Forget “Slump,” OL Connor Williams Looking To Make Sophomore Jump In 2019