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5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule

Sean Martin

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5 Points: Thoughts on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule 1
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Every year around this time, sports fans everywhere are reminded of just how dominant the National Football League is. The NFL schedule release is literally just the sharing of a calendar that has little meaning until after next week's NFL Draft, but still dominates headlines both before and after the event.

If the Dallas Cowboys are going to return to the playoffs in 2018, we now know the path they will take -- beginning on September 9th in Carolina against the Panthers.

Here are five of my initial thoughts on this team's schedule.

1. "Early" Bye Week Still Later Than Recent Seasons

The Cowboys' bye week falls in week eight this season, which is certainly nothing new. This team is used to having their bye earlier in the season, but week eight is actually the latest it's been over the last three seasons.

In Dak Prescott's rookie season, the Cowboys rolled to six straight wins following their bye week - all part of a longer 11 game win streak. In 2017, the Cowboys played their final three games with Ezekiel Elliott after the bye, improving to 5-3 and inspiring hope for a salvageable season before further injuries piled up.

This season, the Cowboys will come out of their bye week to host Monday Night Football at AT&T Stadium against the Tennessee Titans.

5 Points: Thoughts on the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule

2. AFC South to Play A Huge Factor

Speaking of the Titans, it is the NFC East's year to face off against the AFC South. This has been an unpredictable division as of late, with the Jacksonville Jaguars emerging as early favorites following their improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.

Unlike the NFC East, the AFC South has been decided by who maintains stability at quarterback. The Colts are hoping to contend with Andrew Luck back on the field in 2018, as are the Texans with second-year QB Deshaun Watson.

The Titans overhauled their coaching staff in hopes of progressing QB Marcus Mariota further to make a run at the playoffs once again.

For the Cowboys, their meetings with the AFC South will carry extra weight - as all but one of them precedes a divisional game in some sense. Following back to back games at the Texans and home against the Jaguars, the Cowboys will visit the Redskins in week seven.

The first shot Dallas will get at the defending Super Bowl champions will be November 11th in Philadelphia, two weeks removed from their bye after facing the Titans.

Coming out of two games in 12 days through weeks 12 (Thanksgiving) and 13, the Cowboys will have little chance to come up for air against the Eagles in week 14. Their chance to regroup may come the following week, with a favorable December road game in Indianapolis against the Colts.

3. Revenge Against the Falcons

The Cowboys' week 10 game a year ago in Atlanta is truly where the 2017 season was lost. Playing without Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys looked lost on offense thanks to the added absence of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith.

The Cowboys' fight to carry on at 5-4 was buried into the Falcons' new turf, as was Dak Prescott that afternoon, sacked eight times.

Only a week removed on the calendar from meeting the Falcons on the same date, the Cowboys will again play at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in week 11 this season. The chance for revenge against the Falcons will also mark the only pair of consecutive road games this 2018 Dallas Cowboys team will play.

Cowboys en Español: 3

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

4. Running Through December

The national media may not want you to know that the Cowboys are a combined 6-2 in December over the last two seasons, as this team's fabled late season collapses remain a topic of conversation.

This point also stands as a great example of why breaking down team schedules in April is often a pointless exercise, but not obsessing over every twist and turn of the NFL as a yearly hobby is no fun. According to me.

It is no secret that the Cowboys will be relying heavily on Ezekiel Elliott in 2018, expecting their star running back to suit up for 16 games and carry the offense. If you believe that Prescott and Elliott paired together full-time again is enough reason for optimism about the Cowboys, their December schedule becomes even more favorable.

Aside from playing three of the four games indoors and away from the elements, the Cowboys will face three of the worst rushing defenses in yards per game allowed from last season in December. With the Eagles being the glaring exception (leading the league in this category), the Cowboys should have their way on the ground with the Colts, Buccaneers, and Giants over their final three games.

5. Thanksgiving Tradition

For the second time in three seasons, the Dallas Cowboys will host the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving. The Cowboys were victorious on Thanksgiving in 2016 over the Redskins, 31-26.

The Cowboys have only lost to the Redskins once on Thanksgiving, facing them a total of eight times and dropping a 2012 bout with Washington 38-31 (Robert Griffin III's rookie season with the Redskins).

Riding a four game winning streak against the Redskins, the Cowboys get to face an Alex Smith led Washington team on Thanksgiving to wrap up their first series against the NFC East. Following week 12, the Cowboys will still have meetings with the Eagles and New York Giants.

Some may look at this year's division as a two-team race, but counting absolutely any team out of an NFC East race is foolish - even more so in April.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

By this time next week, the Dallas Cowboys have a chance to look entirely different - adding as many as ten players at the 2018 NFL Draft. Only then will we have a better feel for how they stack up against this 2018 schedule.

Stay posted right here to Inside The Star for draft coverage live from Dallas, as I will be at AT&T Stadium for all seven rounds of picks alongside Slant Sports Draft Analyst Nick Flaherty.

Tell us what you think about "5 Points: Analyzing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys Schedule" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

Game Notes

Cowboys Wishlist: Snap Julio Jones’ Hot Streak

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys Wishlist: Snap Julio Jones' Hot Streak

The Dallas Cowboys will try to get their second road win of the season against another inconsistent Atlanta Falcons team. As both try to get back to .500, this game will be filled with interesting matchups and implications. After upsetting the Philadelphia Eagles 27-20 last Sunday, the Cowboys need to get another upset win to keep being relevant in the league this year.

Here's this week's edition of Cowboys Wishlist! I hope you enjoy and I encourage you to let me know what your wishes are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!

Wish #1: Stop Julio Jones' 100-Yard Game Streak

With the Atlanta Falcons sitting at 4-5, many have overlooked Wide Receiver Julio Jones' hot streak. In each of his last four games, Jones has accounted for more than 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Totaling 476 yards in his last four games, Jones is ready to face Cowboys' Cornerback Byron Jones.

Byron has certainly been a pleasant surprise in 2018, playing at a great level right now. He has faced Odell Beckham and DeAndre Hopkins this year and made a good job of defending these "Tier 1" pass-catchers. It's worth noting the Cowboys are not making him "travel" with these players but rather keep him on a specific side of the field. That shouldn't change against the Falcons.

Wish #2: Contain WR Calvin Ridley

Back in April, Cowboys Nation eyed Calvin Ridley as a prospect who could end up wearing the Star on Sundays. However, Dallas passed on him and the Alabama product fell right unto the Falcons' lap. He's had a pretty good season and despite sharing the field with Julio Jones, he's done a great job as a rookie averaging 14 yards per reception.

The Cowboys need to contain him. While Dallas should feel comfortable with Byron doing his job, the truth is Chidobe Awuzie has struggled at times. Not that he's suddenly a bad player, but he needs to step up his game. Lining up against Ridley today will be a great test and one I wouldn't expect him to pass easily.

Takeaway Tuesday: CB Awuzie Hasn't Met Expectations in 2018

Wish #3: Score 28+ Points

The Cowboys have the huge advantage of going against a defense that ranks 29th in scoring defense. They did a nice job on Philadelphia last week and should continue to build on that success to do something they haven't done much this year: score a lot of points.

Scott Linehan's unit needs to do a better, more consistent, job. They've shown us they're capable of scoring, but they've also shown us their remarkable ability to seemingly forget how to do so. Blame it on play-calling, QB play, poor offensive line or whatever you prefer, it's a flawed unit.

They need to capitalize versus a poor defense like the Falcons' to find a steady rhythm.

Wish #4: Dak Makes This Falcons' Game a Turning Point

Last year, when Dak Prescott was sacked six times in Atlanta (five times by Adrian Clayborn) something changed for the Cowboys' young quarterback. Missing RB Ezekiel Elliott and LT Tyron Smith that day, Prescott had one of the worse days in his career. It was a turning point for him as a QB and the public eye.

Now he has a chance at redemption. A shot at putting the Cowboys at .500 and reviving playoff hopes, as unlikely as it sounds.

I wish that's the case for the Cowboys young passer in Atlanta. As flawed as he is, I'm a fan of his. The kid leaves it all on the field.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Wishlist: Snap Julio Jones’ Hot Streak" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Dallas Cowboys

Final Thoughts on Cowboys Matchup with the Atlanta Falcons

John Williams

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Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Offense, Coaches Have a Ways to Go Still

This week, like every week for the rest of the 2018 NFL season, is a must-win game for the Dallas Cowboys. Getting ready to face an Atlanta Falcons team that took the heart and soul of the Cowboys offense in last year's matchup, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have a lot to prove as they attempt to get back to the .500 mark for the fourth time this season.

It feels like the Philadelphia game was forever ago. Now that it's finally game day, here are some final thoughts on the Cowboys matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.

Amari Cooper Breaks Century Mark

Amari Cooper has proven his worth in his first two games since coming over to the Dallas Cowboys from the Oakland Raiders. He's had 11 catches in the first two weeks and has made an instant rapport with Quarterback Dak Prescott. I believe they take another step forward this week and Amari Cooper goes for 100 yards in just his third game with America's Team.

Cooper had 75 yards against the Eagles and 58 against the Titans. He's trending toward the 100 yard mark. If Prescott and Cooper could have connected on just one of the deep shots they missed on, Cooper goes for 100 last week. This week, Dak and Coop get another weak defense.

The Atlanta Falcons pass defense is one of the worst in the NFL. They have the sixth highest net yards per attempt number in the NFL and the sixth most yards allowed. They've also allowed the fourth most passing touchdowns; 21.

Since the Atlanta Falcons can score and move the ball with their passing attack, the Cowboys will have to throw to win this game.

Can Xavier Su'a Filo Continue to be an X-Factor

The Cowboys offensive line had their best game of the season on the ground on Sunday as they gashed the Philadelphia Eagles -- who were second in rushing heading into the game -- for 171 rushing yards. They did it by going right at the Eagles defense and were most successful when they used Su'a-Filo to get to the next level of the defense.

There's been a lot of talk about whether Su'a-Filo should continue to start when Connor Williams comes back and for me, it depends. Williams has had some problems with the strength that defensive tackles bring on the inside, but he's been getting better too.

If Su'a-Filo and the Cowboys offensive line plays well during this stretch that Williams is healing, then it would be a shock to see the rookie second round pick reinserted into the starting lineup.

Check out this week's film review on Xavier Su'a-Filo.

Dominant Defensive Duo

Jaylon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence has been exceptional this season. Jaylon Smith looks to be healthy and progressing to be what the NFL thought he would be coming out of college. A transcendant middle linebacker.

DeMarcus Lawrence sack numbers may not be as high as they were this time last season, but he continues to show that he's a dominant player on both pass and rushing downs.

Cowboys Stats & Graphics on Twitter

Cowboys playmaking EPA, now with snap counts! The most efficient playmakers have been Jaylon Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, Daniel Ross and Jourdan Lewis. "Playmaking EPA" = total EPA on failed plays forced through sacks, QB hits, turnovers, passes deflected, tackles, etc.

As you can see from our friend Daniel Houston, who manages Cowboys Stats and Graphics on Twitter points out, Smith and Lee have been the best playmakers on the team on a per snap basis. By just about every measure out there, those two have been worthy of Pro Bowl and perhaps All-Pro selections.

Playing for his Life

Chidobe Awuzie has been struggling this season. And that's stating it kindly to the second-year corner back. He's had decent positioning for much of the year, typically being right where he's supposed to be, but he's not making any plays of the football, which is something he was known for coming out of college.

There's something not quite right with his game this season as he's become the focal point for opposing passing attacks and for good reason. He can't stop anyone.

Well, this is the week to turn all of that around. The Dallas Cowboys need him to have a big week this week.

Ailing Interior

As humans, we know that when our interior isn't right, it doesn't matter what else we have going on on the outside, we don't function as well. The same is true for defense. If your interior isn't right, your defense isn't right. The Dallas Cowboys defensive interior is struggling with some health issues.

On the final injury report of the week, Defensive Tackles David Irving and Daniel Ross have already been ruled out,  Antwaun Woods is doubtful, and Maliek Collins is questionable. If for some reason Maliek Collins isn't able to go, then it's probable that the team will go into the game without a functional one-technique defensive tackle. Even with Collins in the lineup, being down Woods and Ross means the Cowboys have to run Collins at 1T and Tyrone Crawford is your primary 3T defensive tackle.

With Crawford having to play inside this week it means a three-man rotation at defensive end of DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Dorance Armstrong. They should be alright on the outside, but Crawford is one of their best run defending defensive ends. He's good on the inside, but you want to save him for your passing situations.

Prediction

This is one of those games that I'm having a difficult time getting a read on. The Cowboys haven't been good on the road this season until last week at Philadelphia, one of the more difficult places to play in the NFL. In that game, they finally got their offense clicking through the air and on the ground.

This week looks like an opportunity for the Cowboys to continue to prove themselves offensively against an average to below average opponent.

On the defensive side of the ball, they're going to have their hands full with an Atlanta Falcons offense that is averaging more than 30 points a game at home and has one of the best receivers in the NFL in Julio Jones.

I think this is going to be a close game where both teams get into 20's in point scored and it comes down to who plays better offensively at the end.

My heart leans Cowboys, but my gut leans Falcons. So it should be a 20-20 tie. Really though, I'm going with the...

Cowboys 24-20. 

Who you got?



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Game Notes

Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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Zack Martin

The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.

Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:

Dallas Cowboys

  • WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
  • DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
  • DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
  • DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
  • DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
  • G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
  • G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
  • DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
  • LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable

The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.

Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.

The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.

Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.

Atlanta Falcons

  • LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT

It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.

The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.

Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.

So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.



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