As many of those of you who read my articles will know, I believe the Cowboys (and us fans) have overestimated the strengths of the team and that the “stars” have underplayed their capabilities. However, I believe the most damaging thing in this six-game losing streak has been their struggle to make adjustments in personnel, game plans, and fundamental approach.
While this is especially true of in-game adjustments, there has also been a lack of innovation and imagination in using the personnel in the best way.
There is a rigidity within the coaching staff that causes them to want to show that their way will work just fine. In normal circumstances, this stubbornness makes sense. But when you are in a losing streak like this, you have to have flexibility and creativity to put players in their best position, regardless of egos, consequences, or perceptions. With this in mind, I want to make a suggestions on how the Boys could tweak the personnel for the Bucs game.
But before we get into the adjustments that the Cowboys could make, let’s take a quick look at why the adjustments are necessary and how the ‘Boys should attack the Bucs. Once we understand these two things, then we can determine what personnel should play and why.
Why Things Must Change Right Now
In business, one of the hardest things I have found to manage is the need to adjust to new things without losing your focus or wasting time on every new opportunity. In any business, possessing laser focus is the key. You have to stay on point, never wavering from your key strengths and services. You probably have heard it before: “Be who you are and be excellent at what you do.” You can't do that when you begin to chase every new shiny idea or fad.
The quickest way to fail is to get distracted. You will waste time, energy, and generally get bad results.
But on the other hand, you have to listen to what the market wants. When the market changes, so should you. You have to be flexible and make adjustments as opportunities materialize. In every company I owned, I have started in one direction but by the time we sold, we were doing something else (similar, but not the same). So you have to grab opportunities and look for new ideas to help you grow quickly. In essence you have to be willing to change.
So how do you balance adjusting to the market and staying on point with your process and message? How can you be adaptive and flexible and still be focused? It's the toughest question you can face in business. You have to get it right to succeed. This is the difficulty that the Boys face.
JG has a process, a plan, and he does not deviate. This is great when positive progress is being made. But what about when things are not going well. Do you stay on point and make your way through? Generally I would say yes, that is exactly what is needed. But by doing this, you tend to stick too long with personnel/players and strategies that are not performing. This unyielding focus can make you great in the long run, but it can also make you bad at adjusting in the short term.
For any coach or business owner out there, you know the main key to your success is having great players/staff, who buy into the objective/goal, who understand their role, and are put into the best position for them to influence the outcome.
Sounds so simple, yet it is so difficult. You have to constantly ask if you have the right person in the right seat, and if you're giving them the tools to succeed. Sometimes you have to admit that you didn't put the right person in a seat. Sometimes you have to switch people to new roles to better utilize their strengths. To optimize the company’s performance, you must play to the teams - and individual players - strengths rather than try to coach them to overcome weaknesses.
The Cowboys are in the same position. You don’t need to wait for a bye week or injury to make changes. Just because you gave someone the start doesn’t mean you need to continue starting them. It also means that the coaches may need to admit that they have tried putting players in roles that they are not succeeding in. Unfortunately, that is why some of these changes are needed. The coaching staff put some players in positions that they appeared well suited for, but the players are not living up to that expectation.
Now, before we get into the adjustments, let’s look at how we need to attack the Bucs.
Strategy In Week 10
The Bucs will play a cover 2 defense and try to create turnovers. Much like the Cowboys, they want to be conservative on defense, rushing four and keeping two deep safeties. Until the offense is successful with the run game and short passes forcing them out of their cover 2 zone. So when Tampa is in their Tampa 2, the Cowboys will need to run effectively.
They cannot let the Bucs get away with playing two deep safeties. Once the strong safety has to play in the box, and assuming the Bucs will roll a safety to the Dez side, it should also open up the short middle of the field, inside out routes and fly routes opposite Dez’s side. So specific routes that will be effective against the Bucs are slants to the weak side, drags from strong side to weak, TE seams, RB flats (working inside out), and double TEs with one TE on a seam and the second dragging underneath the seam. A 15-yard hook/drag underneath a deep flag is also a good route combination. You just need to make sure to force the safety deep. If the corners are playing off coverage, receiver screens are effective as well because the corners are deeper.
So to summarize, the Cowboys need to play a patient game of short routes, screens and running the ball. If, or hopefully when, the Bucs drop a safety into the box, you have to take your shots downfield. Usually a fly route, with a post on the backside to keep the single-high safety in the middle of the field.
The Cowboys must make big plays against these corners when given the opportunity. Matt Cassel must see the safety in the box and audible to the deep route.
On defense, the Boys will need to put pressure on the rookie by any means necessary. He will throw picks when rattled. He will try to fit throws into tight quarters. This should give the ‘Boys opportunities to make plays. So the Cowboys should play exactly how the Bucs will play. They should have two deep safeties with corners playing up tight to the line. Take out the short passes and screens. Physical man coverage is the key. This is especially true out of the slot where you will need a physical and quick slot corner. If the Cowboys are able to keep two safeties back, they will get picks.
Jamison will take chances with his throws. But to stay back they will need to stop the run first, then get pressure from their front four. Not a complex game plan at all. It just needs to be implemented effectively.
So with these factors in mind, let’s look at some personnel changes that could help.
1) Hardy & Gregory to left DE, Lawrence & Mincey to right DE.
Lawrence has shown no pass rush ability from the left side and he is giving up the edge too often on run plays. On the left side, you need a strong run defender because the One is inside in the 1 gap. By switching sides, Lawrence will have help on the strong side on run downs. Also, he showed more rush ability for the right side last year than he has all year on the left side. This will also allow Mincey to play on the right side too, and he can play on early downs and help set the edge against the run.
Meanwhile, Hardy has the strength to play the left side and he has the speed to still rush against the bigger offensive right tackles. This will allow Gregory to match his speed more with the bigger right tackles as well. By switching sides, Hardy & Gregory will have more pass rush success, Lawrence should have more success, and the run game should be better on both sides with Hardy and Mincey playing the first downs.
2) Mincey to play more three technique, Crawford to play more one technique.
Mincey should be used on the right DE on first downs (Lawrence plays second and third) and should play the three technique on pass downs. Mincey has the strength to play the run but he has a quick burst that should allow him to be effective in the three technique. Likewise, Crawford has the strength to play the one technique on second and third down & long situations. This will give Hayden more plays off to keep him from being exhausted in the fourth quarter. This should also improve the inside pass rush on longer downs.
3) Rotate Gachkar in with McClain.
One of the problems the Cowboys had in the Eagles game (and the Giants, Saints and Falcons) was the defense was exhausted in the fourth quarter and overtime. McClain was just gassed. To help keep him fresh, I think the Boys could play Gachkar in the middle for McClain 15 to 20 plays. This should help to have McClain fresh in the fourth if they need him to come up with a big stop.
4) Play Damien Wilson as LB in Nickel and Dime packages.
There are two reasons for this. First, he is the quickest LB the Boys have with Lee out. The Boys are struggling to cover the RBs coming out of the backfield. Wilson is probably the best equipped to accomplish this. Yes, he had a blown coverage in the Saints game, but that was on a play where he was running in and confused. He should be better prepared now.
The second reason for him playing is that he is perhaps the best edge rusher of all the LBs. The Cowboys have to get four or five sacks in this game, and he could provide one or even two with well-timed blitzes.
5) Byron Jones to free safety.
JJ Wilcox is not giving the Boys anything. He is not good in coverage, he is not helping on deep balls, he is terrible at taking angles. He is a non-factor. A negative factor in fact. By playing Jones at free safety you could get a playmaker that could possibly help get some turnovers. Jones would also be better at being the last line of defense and he can cover more ground.
6) Patmon and White to slot
Since Tampa will not have a great TE playing in this game, you could play White on the bigger TE. White’s size will allow him to play the TE. He would still be able to blitz from the slot. Tampa plays a quick, smart slot receiver. This is a bad matchup for Jones, but a perfect fit for Patmon. Patmon can get up and play aggressively on the slot.
Overall, this is a much more effective line-up for the Boys.
7) Whitehead to third down running back
Since the Bucs will play two deep, the Boys will need to be patient but also get big plays from short passes. Think what Dunbar gave the Boys in the first couple of games. You need someone who can go one on one against the LBs and turn a 5-yard pass into a twenty-five-yard pass. Whitehead gives you this dynamic.
He can work on inside out routes from the backfield and beat LBs consistently. He can turn a small play into a large game. All the Boys will need is one or two of these to change field position and set up scores.
This is how I would tweak the lineup to try to get the right player in the right position to succeed. It is still up to the players to execute, but this should allow them the opportunity. It is time to adjust for the short term, but still keep the process in place for the long run.
Takeaway Tuesday: Amari Cooper Proving to be Worth It
Just when all hope was lost, the Dallas Cowboys went on the road and surprised fans with a 27-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Both on defense and offense, it was a game that showed us plenty of silver linings to be excited about. While a playoff run certainly remains pretty difficult to accomplish, at least the team isn't leaving without a fight.
The last Cowboys' victory came approximately a month ago, so it is with great pleasure that I share with you this week's edition of "Takeaway Tuesday!"
Vander Esch Among Best Cowboys' Players
Just before last game, I wrote about how Leighton Vander Esch could be in contention for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Playing on Sunday Night Football (on national TV), the rookie helped his case a lot with 13 solo tackles and an interception.
Little by little, he's making sure the Cowboys know they can move on from frequently injured Sean Lee down the road. Vander Esch can play. Forget about him being an impressive rookie, he's currently one of the best players on this roster.
Scott Linehan Shouldn't be Off the Hook
As any Cowboys fan, I loved the win. There were quite a few things to like about the offense on Sunday, but there's no denying play calling could've been way better. As much as the Dallas Cowboys are still in the hunt in a mediocre division, Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan should remain on the hot seat.
Ezekiel Elliott took the Cowboys to the 5-yard line by leaping over a human at full speed and right after the Cowboys stopped using him on that drive. Against the Titans, the offense found itself on third and 16 twice and ran a running back screen pass. In Philadelphia, they were on third and 16 once and they ran a RB screen once again.
Dallas has left a lot of points on the field this year and in big part thanks to play calling. Linehan shouldn't be safe right now.
Amari Cooper Proving to be Worth It
After two games wearing the Star, Cowboys Nation is feeling a lot better about trading a first rounder for Amari Cooper. On the field, he's proven to be an impact player. An impact that has been felt immediately, by the way. Out of 11 catches, Cooper has gotten the Cowboys' offense ten first downs.
Versus the Eagles, though, his impact is felt beyond his single stat line.
On Sunday Night, he accounted for six catches and 75 yards. He helped QB Dak Prescott get 270 yards through the air and most importantly, to spread the football.
7 different Cowboys have a reception of at least 13 yards tonight.
That stat above is an underrated one. No wide receiver in next year's Draft would have the kind of impact Amari Cooper is having on this football team. In the long run, lots of people could be eating their words after heavily criticizing the Cowboys' trade for the two-times Pro Bowler wide receiver. Hopefully, that's the case.
Dallas Cowboys Deserve Credit for Mid-Season Rebuild at Wide Receiver
The Dallas Cowboys offseason approach at wide receiver was doubted by just about everyone outside of The Star, forcing Cowboys fans to turn down outside noise and once again trust the direction this front office was going. Releasing Dez Bryant, signing Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson (who was released last week), and waiting until the third round to draft a receiver were all questionable moves for a team entering an all-important year three under Quarterback Dak Prescott.
It took a mid-season trade to free Amari Cooper from the Oakland Raiders for the Cowboys to establish any threat at wide receiver, but with Cooper realizing his first win in Dallas on Sunday night at the Eagles, the Cowboys deserve plenty of credit for this cast of pass catchers.
Cooper has been the key to unlocking rookie Michael Gallup as a second option for Prescott. Gallup attacks the football and runs routes like a number one target, but at this point just nine games into his career lacks the refinement to play at the 'X' position every snap.
Gallup will benefit the most from Cooper stepping into this role for the Cowboys offense. His 25-yard catch and run on a screen pass to set up the Cowboys score before the half was a fine example of how the Cowboys passing game should operate for the rest of the season.
With an emphasis on getting the ball out of Prescott's hands to his home run hitters on the outside, the Cowboys not only have their starters at WR but plenty of depth options below.
It's no secret this team has shied away from the top-tier of free agency in recent years, using the signing period much more for depth players. This should have been the expectation for Allen Hurns coming over from the Jaguars, elevated to starter status out of necessity during training camp.
Hurns has settled in to a rotational role behind both Gallup and Cooper. Like a change-of-pace running back, Hurns is a big and physical target the Cowboys have used to catch defenses off guard. On the same touchdown drive as Gallup's big gain, Hurns was on the receiving end of Prescott's best throw of the night.
Sliding in behind the Eagles coverage, Hurns caught a dime from Prescott and went down a yard short of the end zone, setting up Dak's rushing score on the very next play. In the fourth quarter, with the Cowboys driving for the winning touchdown, Hurns converted a third and long beating Rasul Douglas on a slant.
Douglas was easily beat across the face on a violent move from Hurns to the inside, squaring his front shoulder to Prescott who made a simple pitch for the 23-yard catch and run.
The one thing the Cowboys didn't improve on from their loss to the Titans before this week was getting Cole Beasley involved, as he was targeted just five times. Catching four of these attempts in the win, Beasley understands his role as a team player better than most, and knows his importance in the top three of the Cowboys new depth chart at WR.
The Cowboys trusted themselves enough to enter this season with uncertainty at wide receiver and come out winners in Philadelphia by week ten thanks to a drastically improved corps. Just how much trust the Cowboys deserve with ensuing decisions because of this is a slippery slope.
If recent history is any indicator, a patched leak at WR is only going to spring one in an unexpected place when the Cowboys next take the field.
The most pressing decision for the Cowboys coming up is on the future of Head Coach Jason Garrett and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Thanks to his play calling on Sunday night, Linehan earned high praise from Jerry Jones. The Cowboys GM even backtracked to dispute a report that Linehan's job was on the line through the Cowboys bye week.
Jerry Jones said on @1053thefan that it was "never a thought" to discuss possibly replacing offensive coordinator Scott Linehan during the bye week. "We've never even contemplated the idea of Scott not calling plays.
Whether or not such confidence will come back to burn the Cowboys as they return to the site of the "Burning of Atlanta" could be determined as early as Sunday. I believe another loss in Atlanta would have to come in embarrassing fashion for an immediate coaching change, but the Cowboys offense has shown more than enough to be evaluated from this point on.
The Cowboys played in the Georgia Dome with Alfred Morris, Terrance Williams, and Dez Bryant as starters in last year's beginning-of-the-end 27-7 loss. If Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup aren't upgrades enough for Dallas to earn a win against Atlanta, returning home off a loss in Cleveland, another look in the mirror may be needed for the Cowboys.
Gone are the days of Prescott throwing interceptions off the hands of Deonte Thompson or forcing red zone fades to Allen Hurns. With it, the expectation that the Cowboys should win arrived with Amari Cooper, whose been worth a first round draft pick in every way.
Cowboys Wide Receivers Now a Strength They Can Count On
The Dallas Cowboys (4-5) came away with a big win over the Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) on Sunday Night Football 27-20 and the wide receiver group had an excellent day. What once looked like a weakness for the Cowboys, now looks like a strength on \ offense. With Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Cole Beasley, and Allen Hurns, the Cowboys have four players that can hurt opposing defenses all over the field.
Since the Amari Cooper trade two weeks ago, the Cowboys wide receiver group has been better positioned moving forward to help Dak Prescott and the Cowboys move the football. With Cooper, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, and Allen Hurns, the Cowboys have really nice depth.
On Sunday Night Football each of the Cowboys top four receivers had a reception that went for more than 20 yards. They accounted for 11 of the team's 14 passing first downs. Of Quarterback Dak Prescott's 270 yards passing, wide receivers accounted for 186 or more than two-thirds of the passing yards. Explosive plays from the wide receivers was something that was lacking for much of the season, but they seem to be turning it on at the right time.
On Sunday night, they all had their moments in the Cowboys win.
Per Pro Football Reference, Cooper was the leading receiver on the team with six receptions on 10 targets for 75 yards. Five of those receptions went for first downs and he averaged 12.5 yards per reception.
Michael Gallup led the wide receiver group in snaps on Sunday and logged another nice game as he continues to assert himself during his rookie season. It may not have been as explosive as the three receptions for 83 yards that he put up against the Washington Redskins a few weeks ago, but he had possibly one of the plays of the game.
With the Dallas Cowboys attempting to extend their lead with under two minutes to play in the first half, they faced a 3rd and 15 from their own 35 yard line with 0:58 seconds left on the clock. Scott Linehan dials up a tunnel screen to Gallup who goes for 25 yards helping to set up the touchdown just before half time. If Gallup doesn't make that play, with help from the blocking downfield, the Eagles get the ball back with enough time to tie the game or potentially take the lead. It was a huge play in the game to allow Dallas to go up by 10 at half time.
Cole Beasley's line wasn't flashy, but he was his typical efficient self, hauling in three receptions for first downs and making a play for 15 yards to get the Cowboys into the red zone after the Eagles had scored on the previous possession in the third quarter to make it 13-13. Beasley's catch helped the Cowboys answer the Eagles touchdown with a touchdown of their own to retake the lead 20-17 in the fourth quarter. Beasley finished the night with four receptions for 37 yards on five targets.
Down in the depth chart with limited snaps, but not at all forgotten is Allen Hurns. Hurns only had two catches (on two targets) for 40 yards on the night, but both catches set the Cowboys offense up with first and goal situations. With 0:40 seconds to play in the first half and the Cowboys looking at a second and nine, Dak Prescott hit Hurns on a deep out route for 17 yards to the Philadelphia Eagles' one yard line. Prescott hurried them to the line of scrimmage and then snuck the ball in for a touchdown to make it 13-3 at halftime. The second reception occurred with the Cowboys facing a third and eight on the game winning drive. Prescott found Hurns for a 23 yard catch and run that helped set up Ezekiel Elliott's game winning touchdown run.
They have four players that can hurt you at various levels of the defense. All four are good to great route runners who can create separation and find the soft spots in zone coverage. Their starters with Cooper, Beasley, and Gallup are a dynamic trio, but being able to bring a guy like Allen Hurns off the bench in sub packages is huge. He's had a thousand yard receiving season in the NFL and showed that he can still win his matchups when he's not required to be a team's WR1.
The move for Amari is proving to be an excellent trade for the Dallas Cowboys. Despite the struggles last week in Tennessee, the Dallas Cowboys were able to move the ball through the air as Cooper opens everything up for everyone else on the offense. If you saw some of the windows he provided Dak, you see that Cooper literally makes everything easier.
The Dallas Cowboys took advantage of a bad secondary on Sunday as the Philadelphia Eagles were missing three of their top defensive backs, but they also looked like a unit that is starting to find a groove offensively. For the Dallas Cowboys to continue their upward trajectory that hopefully ends with a playoff berth, the wide receivers are going to have to continue to make big plays down the field.If the last several weeks are any indication, more big plays are coming.
Get your popcorn ready.
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