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5 Bye Week Takeaways from the 2017 Dallas Cowboys

Bryson Treece



5 Takeaways from the Cowboys Through the Bye 1

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.

Nothing gives me greater joy than the experience of being a Dallas Cowboys fan come time to check another victory on the schedule every Sunday. I live Inside the Star everyday and blog on it occasionally, as well. Follow us on Twitter - @InsideTheStarDC

1 Comment
  • Hammer33

    Wow, putting s lot on heath. You truly are blaming one player for the demise of an entire defense? How far up your ass is your head?

    He’s struggled. But the press, who proves time and again just how much football they know blow it WAY out of proportion. Was at the game yesterday. Heath was not an issue. But he’s an easy target.

    Byron Jones I’d hsving an off year because of Hesth. You are truly unbelievable

Star Blog

Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?

Brian Martin



Should Cowboys Reunite Shea McClellin With Rod Marinelli?

Since becoming the defensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys, Rod Marinelli hasn't had too many of his former players follow him to Dallas. In fact, I can only think of one… Henry Melton, and we all know how that turned out.

I don't know about you, but I found that a little strange. It's pretty common for coaches to try to bring some of their players with them when they accept a new job. Familiarity goes a long way in the NFL and former players can also help make the transition easier for everyone.

Strangely enough, Rod Marinelli hasn't really been afforded that luxury, whether it was his doing or not. But, there is a free agent who played under Marinelli's tutelage in Chicago who might make sense for the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Shea McClellin.

Rod Marinelli was the defensive coordinator in Chicago when the Bears decided to draft Shea McClellin 19th overall in the 2012 NFL Draft. Marinelli likely had a big say in that decision, and if he still feels the same, a reunion could be in order.

Shea McClellin started his career in the NFL as a 4-3 left side defensive end playing opposite Julius Peppers, but was also viewed as a potential Brian Urlacher replacement. He showed flashes of becoming a solid defensive end his first few years in the league, but was eventually moved to linebacker, where he seemed to find a home for himself.

Shea McClellin

New England Patriots LB Shea McClellin

After his contract expired with the Bears, the New England Patriots decided to bring him aboard to help with their linebacker depth. He only ended up starting four games for them in 2016, but made some memorable plays to help the Patriots become the Super Bowl champions.

Unfortunately, the 2017 season wasn't very kind to him. His entire year was wiped out due to a concussion, which probably had a lot to do with why they recently released him.

This of course could be good news for the Dallas Cowboys. They currently need some depth at the linebacker position and Shea McClellin could provide that, if he's healthy. The healthy bit here is key, because he has had problems with concussions in the past.

If McClellin is indeed healthy, he could bring a versatile skill set to the Cowboys defense. His best spot is probably at strong side LB (SAM), but I think he could play middle linebacker (MIKE) as well. He also could provide depth at defensive end, the position he played to start his NFL career.

With the LB depth a concern, Shea McClellin makes quite a bit of sense for the Dallas Cowboys. Of course, his past history with concussions is a red flag, but it also drives down his asking price. I think he would definitely fall into that "bargain shopping" mentality the Cowboys have been using these last few offseasons.

He probably wouldn't be viewed as a very important signing, but you still need these types of players on your team in order to succeed in the NFL. Let's see if the Dallas Cowboys agree.

Do you think a Rod Marinelli and Shea McClellin reunion is in order?

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Star Blog

Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys

Jess Haynie



Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys

Now that he's signed with the Washington Redskins, cornerback Orlando Scandrick joins a lackluster list of former Cowboys players and coaches who have gone from Dallas to its historic rival. The history of these moves is ugly for Washington, going back over 40 years, and can't have their fans too excited anytime they sign an ex-Cowboy.

The most recent example was just last year with defensive tackle Terrell McClain. After a strong season as a 15-game starter in Dallas, McClain got a four-year, $21 million deal to join the Redskins. He missed four games with injuries and was only credited with two starts; hardly what the team wanted given the money they paid.

Before him it was Jason Hatcher, whose 11-sack season for the Cowboys in 2013 got him a four-year, $27.5 million deal from Washington. Hatcher would battle knee injuries for two season, getting only 7.5 sacks from 2014-2015. His early retirement in 2016 brought an abrupt end to a disappointing tenure.

Continuing the legacy of defensive linemen was Stephen Bowen, who Washington paid a shocking amount of money ($27.5 million over five years) to in 2011 to pick up in free agency. Bowen had a great first year for the Redskins with six sacks and 16 starts, but injuries would soon cost him 14 games from 2013-2014. He was eventually released after only one standout season in four with the team.

Going back even further, DT Brandon Noble joined Washington in 2003 after being a full-time starter for Dallas for over two seasons. He would miss all of 2003 with a knee injury, have an unimpressive year in 2004, and then missed all of 2005 with more health issues. He retired after being released by the Redskins in 2006.

Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys 1

Hall of Fame CB Deion Sanders

Orlando Scandrick won't be the first cornerback to go from Dallas to Washington, or the best. At age 32, Deion Sanders was released in 2000 by the Cowboys and then got a huge seven-year, $56 million deal from the Redskins. This came less than a year after Daniel Snyder bought the franchise and was desperate to get them relevant again.

The Sanders move backfired horribly. Even after a solid season by his lofty standards, Primetime was disgruntled with both the coaching staff and his increasing struggles as an aging player. He suddenly retired after just one season of the seven-year contract.

Washington also tried to tap into the Cowboys' glory days when they signed receiver Alvin Harper in 1997. Harper had left Dallas in 1995 and spent two years with Tampa Bay, but had not carried over the same success he enjoyed playing in the Dallas offense.

The Redskins hoped that reuniting him with Norv Turner, who had been Harper's offensive coordinator and was now their head coach, would help Alvin get back to form. But between ongoing injuries and the absence of Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith as teammates, Alvin Harper was never the same guy as when he won two Super Bowls in Dallas.

The failed poaching attempts go back many more decades, another one being running back Calvin Hill. The fourth-leading rusher in Cowboys history and a four-time Pro Bowler while in Dallas, Hill joined Washington in 1976. He served as a backup only, averaging only 3.8 yards-per-carry as he played behind the likes of Mike Thomas and John Riggins.

Redskins Have Not Had Success With Former Cowboys 2

Norv Turner also couldn't bring his Cowboys success to Washington. (Brian Bahr/Allsport)

The bad history doesn't stop with players. The aforementioned Norv Turner, who was one of the hottest assistant coaches in history after the Cowboys first two Super Bowl wins in the 90s, was hired as the Redskins' head coach in 1994.

Turner's run started with a whimper, drafting quarterback Heath Shuler third overall in that first year. Shuler would go down as one of the biggest QB busts in NFL history

Norv's Redskins never seemed to recover from that blunder. He only had two winning seasons and one playoff appearance from 1994-1999, and was fired midway through the 2000 season.

Far more recently, Cowboys offensive line coach Bill Callahan left the team in 2015 and took the same job in Washington. He didn't get to bring the offensive line or DeMarco Murray with him, though. As such, the Redskins have remained one of the league's worst rushing teams for the last three seasons. They fell to a new low of 28th in the NFL in 2017.

~ ~ ~

Of course, none of this means that Orlando Scandrick won't have success in Washington. But with the Redskins generally the most mismanaged team in the NFC East, all of the Dallas players and coaches who've gone there have not walked into good situations. For all that Cowboys fans love to complain about Jerry Jones, he handles the owner and GM roles better than any pair Washington's had in almost 30 years.

Given the nature of the rivalries, we naturally can't wish success for Scandrick or anyone else who leaves Dallas for a division opponent. With the track record we just discussed for Washington, it's not something I'll be losing any sleep over.

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Star Blog

Xavier Woods, the Real Reason Cowboys Didn’t Pursue Tyrann Mathieu?

Brian Martin



Cowboys Have Their Version of Tryann Mathieu in Xavier Woods?

It's not uncommon for Dallas Cowboys fans to zero in on certain free agents in hopes that they will bring their talents to America's Team. In fact, just about any "big name" player to hit the open market is often linked to the Cowboys in some way or another. That was the case when the Arizona Cardinals decided to move on from Tyrann Mathieu.

Once Tyrann Mathieu became available, Cowboys fans immediately wanted to see him with a star on his helmet. But, despite the fans petitioning, the Cowboys brass seemed to show almost zero interest in the former Cardinal.

The decision to not pursue Tyrann Mathieu certainly didn't sit well with a lot of Cowboys Nation, but I think it was the right decision.

Despite Mathieu's perceived talents and youth (he's just 25), the Cowboys weren't interested in paying the price to bring him to Dallas, especially since they already have a similar player on their roster.

Xavier Woods

Dallas Cowboys DB Xavier Woods

It may sound crazy, but I think the real reason the Dallas Cowboys didn't show much interest in Tyrann Mathieu is because of Xavier Woods.

I honestly believe Xavier Woods and Tyrann Mathieu have a similar skill set. Both players are little undersized to be a full-time safety in the NFL, but each of them have the versatility to play several different roles in the secondary.

Mathieu may have been listed as a safety on the Arizona Cardinals roster, and now the Houston Texans, but the truth is he played mostly out of the nickel/slot in his professional and collegiate career. That is where he is at his best, and the same can be said about Xavier Woods.

As a rookie, Xavier Woods showed his versatility with the Dallas Cowboys by playing a variety of different roles in the secondary. His versatility was one of the reasons the Cowboys decided to trade up in last year's draft to acquire his services.

His name might not carry the same kind of weight as Tyrann Mathieu right now around the league or amongst NFL fans, but I don't think Xavier Woods is that much of a drop off talent wise.

Xavier Woods

Dallas Cowboys DB Xavier Woods (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Personally, I believe Mathieu is starting to decline a little as a player. I think injuries are starting to take a toll on his play, although it may be minimal. I actually prefer Xavier Woods' upside, especially when you take into account the difference in salaries between the two.

Surprisingly enough, Xavier Woods might just have been more productive in 2017 then Mathieu. Woods started just four games and finished the season with 42 tackles, three passes defensed, and one interception. Mathieu on the other hand started all 16 games and accumulated 78 tackles, one quarterback sack, one forced fumble, and two interceptions.

As you can see, Xavier Woods was almost just as productive as Mathieu in nearly a third of the playing time. What's even more impressive about this is that Woods accomplish this as a rookie.

Of course, all of this is speculation, but I for one am not all that upset the Dallas Cowboys missed out on Tyrann Mathieu. I'm willing to bet on Xavier Woods being able to do everything Mathieu can and at a fraction of the cost.

Were the Cowboys right not to pursue Tyrann Mathieu?

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