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.
Cowboys 2018 Breakout Candidates: TE Geoff Swaim
For the 2018 Dallas Cowboys, the retirement of Tight End Jason Witten was one of the biggest developments of the offseason. It leaves a gaping hole in their offense, and no major free agent or high draft pick was added as a clear replacement. As such, fourth-year veteran Geoff Swaim may be in line for a breakout season.
A seventh-round pick in 2015, Swaim has stuck in Dallas with strong run-blocking and special teams play. His offensive production has been limited to just nine catches and 94 yards, thanks largely to the stranglehold that Witten kept on the TE position. Geoff has only been targeted 11 times in the passing game over three seasons.
But with Witten leaving, as well as veteran backup James Hanna, Swaim is now the elder statesman of the TE group. Even his limited playing time in the NFL thus far puts him way ahead of Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, or rookie Dalton Schultz.
Based on reports from the offseason practices and camps, Geoff is getting the first crack at becoming the new starter. It makes sense given his experience edge, but also his proficiency as a run blocker.
The Cowboys will likely lean on Ezekiel Elliott heavily this year, particularly early in the season. The passing game will need time to find itself with Witten and Dez Bryant gone. They'll want to ease Dak Prescott into heavier workloads as he and his new receiving options get acclimated.
Geoff Swaim will be one of those new options. And even though his reputation is for blocking, don't take that to mean he's not athletic.
We've seen Swaim on the move as a blocker and also in the passing game, and he's certainly got some wheels. That could make him a deceptive weapon on play-action and other passing plays out of running formations.
In some ways, losing Witten and Bryant makes the Cowboys' offense less predictable than in the past. Defenses will be less sure who to focus on, and that also creates opportunities for the new receivers.
Obviously, Swaim's breakout potential is dependent on Prescott looking his way. But unless Dak has undergone a major change in his playing style, a TE working in the short and middle parts of the field is someone he'll rely on plenty.
With training camp and preseason still to come, calling Geoff the starter right now is just an assumption. There is still time for one of the other prospects to impress and climb the ladder.
But right now, there's clearly no better candidate to claim the spot than Swaim. He has the most critical skill as a blocker, and his potential in the passing game is underrated. It's his job to lose.
The guy with only nine career catches could get that in a single game this year. Therefore, Geoff Swaim is clearly one of the major breakout candidates for the 2018 Cowboys.
Cowboys 2018 Breakout Candidates: LB Jaylon Smith
No single player on the Dallas Cowboys roster right now may be more primed for a breakout season than Linebacker Jaylon Smith. His ascension as a player isn't just a big gain for the Cowboys defense, but it may be vital to their success in 2018.
Smith joined the Cowboys as a high second-round pick (34th overall) in the 2016 NFL Draft. Potentially a top-five elite talent in that class, Jaylon's stock fell after a severe knee injury in his final college game. It was unknown if he could ever play football again, but Dallas took the risk based on Smith's incredible upside.
After Jaylon sat out his rookie year to fully rehab. In 2017, he was able to play all 16 games and started in six. That alone was a huge win for Smith and the Cowboys.
Jaylon's performance last year wasn't great, but understandably so after all the missed time. He also had to regain confidence in his knee, which is critical for a linebacker with all of the directional changes during plays.
Still, Smith got better as the season went. And even amidst the struggles, there were flashes of his instincts and potential.
This offseason, reports of Jaylon's improving health are fueling increased optimism. He is now playing without a knee brace and that means more confidence. If Smith fully trusts his body now, it will make him far more dangerous on the field.
With Anthony Hitchens leaving in free agency, Dallas needs Jaylon to be a bigger factor this year. If he doesn't take the next step, it could leave the Cowboys vulnerable at linebacker in 2018.
True, Dallas drafted Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of last April's draft. But it's always dangerous to ask a rookie to do heavy lifting, and especially one who is seen as a raw talent like Vander Esch.
Ideally, anything Dallas gets from Leighton this year will be gravy. Their goal is to rely on veteran Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, with Damien Wilson also available as a solid fallback option.
But when you mention Sean Lee, you have to mention health concerns. After two encouragingly healthy seasons in 2015 and 2016, Lee was back to having some issues last year and missed five games.
That is all the more reason why Dallas needs Jaylon to be ready for more this year. If Lee misses time again, Smith is the best suited to take over the roles that Sean leaves behind.
Thankfully, all signs point to big things for Jaylon Smith in 2018. His body appears healed and there's no questioning his work ethic and desire. If the mental aspect of football has also developed, he could be everything the Cowboys hoped when they drafted them.
Despite Late Push as Rookie, Will Taco Charlton Struggle to See Field in 2018?
It feels like ages ago that the Dallas Cowboys spent the 28th overall pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on Michigan Defensive End Taco Charlton. Perhaps this is a result of the constant distancing fans have made from this unpopular pick, or the corresponding moves the Cowboys have made at DE since drafting Charlton.
These moves include using the franchise tag on DeMarcus Lawrence after seeing him explode for 14.5 sacks, spending a fourth round pick this year on Kansas' Dorance Armstrong, and seeing Randy Gregory reinstated in time for training camp.
Across the entirety of the Cowboys roster, there will be plenty of "odd men out" that miss the cut down to 53 players. Defensive end remains one of the most cluttered spots on the current 90 man roster however.
Prior to establishing the depth the Cowboys now have up front on defense, they did Taco no favors by starting his career at right defensive end. While Gregory may still be a long way from earning the starting role here, similarly styled players like Armstrong have the edge here over Charlton.
This relegates Charlton to the strong side, where he always projected best out of college. By the time the Cowboys realized this a season ago, they also knew a franchise pass rusher was playing his way into the team's long-term plans.
Lawrence's stellar consistency off the edge reduced Charlton's role in the Cowboys rotation of pass rushers. An ideal spot for the rookie to develop with less pressure on him, Charlton's opportunities to continue playing left end may only be reduced this season.
The first-round pick is capable of kicking inside at defensive tackle, a position the Cowboys could certainly use help at. However, asking Charlton to go through another position shift would only halt the progress that took quite a bit of patience from Dallas to see.
It's far from unheard of for the Cowboys to do this with their young players, but for now Charlton remains a defensive end looking to make his impact. The Cowboys are in much better position now than they were at this time a year ago when it comes to setting expectations for him to do so.
Given everything he showed on tape at Michigan as well as in his pre-draft interviews, Charlton is a player that needs to succeed at the task at hand. When this plan is altered, the 6'6" pass rusher is much less effective -- without even considering any athletic struggles that Charlton has compared to other prototypes at defensive end.
As a unit, the Cowboys defensive line has all the pieces to be very effective this season. Taco Charlton is a piece to this puzzle, a backup left end that must find a way to flourish in this role.
For most former 28th overall picks, doing so would be considered a fall from grace. For the Cowboys, it's simply an example of strong roster building that's forced life to come at Charlton quickly. How he responds with a full season under his belt will make or break the hype this deep Cowboys defensive line has garnered, lead of course by the starter at Charlton's position in DeMarcus Lawrence.
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