Back by popular demand (popular demand being defined as, at least, one person asking me to do this), I will now attempt to predict how the Cowboy's can stop the otherwise vaunted run attack of the Giants and their potentially dangerous aerial game.
But the first thing we have to do as a collective fan base, is brain dump everything we thought we learned from this unit against Tampa Bay, for three reasons: 1. It was the first game. The players adrenaline is higher than normal, the pressure to prove ones value is higher, it's the first game the starters play a full 4 quarters, and the coaches have very little film to game plan against the opposing team (I'm sure there are the factors, but those are the major ones). 2. I honestly believe the Bucs are better than what they are getting credit for. Admittedly, they could use a different QB. But Antonio Bryant, Michael Clayton, Kellen Winslow, Jerramy Stevens, Cadillac Williams and Derek Ward are not pedestrian weapons; they have all been considered dominant players at their perspective positions at some point in their careers, if not as early as last year (Bryant, Ward, Stevens). Furthermore, that OL played an outstanding game, in my opinion. 3. For the first time in a long time, despite the win, the defensive players are not satified with their performance and are committed to correcting what many have agreed are correctable issues.
Feel better? Okay, let's move on.
First, our starters:
Jay Ratliff (6'4" 303): This analysis is going to be long; we all know who Ratliff is. Next.
Marcus Spears (6'4" 309): Like many players returning from last year's squad, he committed to improving his game over the offseason. Be that due to personal pride or the fact that he is entering a contract year, I think we can expect him to be solid throughout the year; against the Giant's, though, we will need more.
Igor Olshansky (6'6" 315): For the time being, I have to give Igor an incomplete on his grade. The trouble is, in the 3-4, defensive lineman effectiveness is very hard to evaluate because their job vastly differ's from a 4-3 lineman. But, if Demarcus isn't getting his sacks, that's should be a good indication that Igor is not doing his primary job: keep Ware in one on one blocking situations.
Jason Hatcher (6'6" 305): Of all the back ups, Jason seem's to have the most potential to eventualyl unseat a current incumbent. He get's good penetration, and can push the pocket on even starting quality offensive lineman.
Junior Siavii (6'5" 318): Thus far, he has been invisible. On the defensive line, that's probably the most significant criticism you can offer.
Stephen Bowen (6'5" 306): He comes in at a close second, behind Jason Hatcher as a back up. He has good size and a decent motor.
Demarcus Ware (6'4" 262): Listening to an interview following the Bucs game, he admitted he was never quite right after that first hit that sidelined him while they assessed the severity of what was later revealed to be a concussion. My understanding of league rules is that he should not have played from the point forward, but there is little trainers can do when a player like Ware makes his mind up that he is going to pass every test they throw at him to determine rather or not he is good to go. Beyond ability, let this serve as a reminder to his committment to this team and his awareness of how important it is he is standing on the field as a factor in the game or not.
Keith Brooking (6'2" 241): This quote says everything: "We've got to go in with a mentality that we're not going to allow them to run the ball on us, period. No matter what happens, no matter what we call, no matter what they run, it's on us to be where we're suppose to be. And when we get there, get there with bad intentions!" To that, all I can say in reference to his position is, 'Zach who?'. For those of you who contend that talk is cheap, he has the career stat sheet to back his talk up!
Bradie James (6'2" 247): Following the ugly Bengals game last year, players seemed content to squeak out a win against a lesser opponent. Flash forward to this week and from the vast majority of the defense from the Head Coach down the mantra is the same, "We have to play better," Bradie James admitted. "We know that." Nuff said.
Anthony Spencer (6'3" 255): Throughout his career, thus far, he's been inconsistent. He has all the physical tools and speed, but he tends to revert to his college day MO of trying to outrun the tackle/TE by going around the block to get to the QB/ball carrier. In the NFL, in the 3-4, it is imperative, regardless if it involves being taken out of the play by a blocker, that he own his gaps of responsibility. The 3-4 can be a very effective defense (as the Steelers and Baltimore's chart topping defenses should suggest), but it requires unselfish players at every level, who obey their assignments. If he doesn't take the blocker in his gap, the blocker will have the opportunity to pick up someone in the secondary and that typically mean's a long run, if not TD, by the ball carrier. For an example of what to do, take a look at what Demarcus Ware has become excellent at. He takes on the block and while using one arm to disengage the blocker, he uses his other arm to bring down the carrier or corral him towards other manned gaps. It requires Demarcus trusting that his teammates will be where they are supposed to be, but again, that is absolutely crucial for the 3-4 to be effective.
Bobbie Carpenter (6'2" 249): Bust. We've establish this much. But I do believe he is, at least, a servicable replacement for Kevin Burnett. And if you think about it, had we drafted Bobbie in the 3rd round, like Burnett, instead of the 1st, the criticism of Bobbie wouldn't be nearly as bad; and that was Parcells fault. At any rate, the one thing the Cowboy's are doing with Bobbie that I ardently oppose is him being a member of the goalline defense. His instincts, size, and frame do not matchup well to most NFL team's goalline offense. And I really just cannot envision him getting in the air meeting a RB trying to dive over the pile.
Terence Newman (5'11" 195): When healthy, he's clutch. If health had not been an issue in 2007 and 2008, I might even say he's pretty close to being a shut down corner.
Orlando Scandrick (5'10" 192): Thus far, I'd say he has proven he should be the 2nd starting corner over Mike Jenkins. A true student of the game, we can expect him to be well prepared for the Giants.
Mike Jenkins (5'10" 198): He has the tools and the frame defenses like for their corner. It's the mental side of his game that typically get's in the way. Rather it is over-thinking or a lack of thinking, the jury is still out. But, I will say, I like him starting over Anthony Henry, Pacman Jones, and Alan Ball. And if I'm not mistaken, the guys at football outsiders actually think pretty highly of him, as well.
Alan Ball (6'1" 188): He proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the best corner behind the above 3 in training camp and in preseason. But with his only competition being the likes of Courtney Brown, Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith and Julian Hawkins, that really isn't saying much.
Gerald Sensabaugh (6'0" 210): We've seen good and we've seen bad. He's certainly a better coverage guy than Roy Williams, Keith Davis and Patrick Watkins, but he has not been as good as advertised against the run. Thus far, preseason included, team's have not had opportunities deep, but he sure has been called for quite a few penalities; most notably the defensive holding call that nullified a Mike Jenkins interception against the Bucs this past Sunday. I have a theory: As much as Wade Phillips gushed about what Sensabaugh, in particular, add's to his defensive scheme's, I can't help but wonder if he is over-thinking and committing these stupid penalties to live up to the hype. Honestly, I think that little bit of phsychology may have also been an issue for quite a few of the Cowboy's players in 2008. Regardless of his excuse for mental error's, it's unacceptable and against the Giant's the Cowboys will need every part of his focus.
Ken Hamlin (6'2" 209): Much has been made about those two infamous missed tackles at the end of the game against Baltimore, closing the door forever on Texas Stadium. But for the most part, considering the injuries that created a turnstile at various positions in the Secondary, I honestly believe Ken Hamlin did the best he could with what he had. As the Quarterback of the defense, it is his job to ensure that all of those rookies and bottom of the roster feeders forced to play due to the suspension or injuries, are lined up correctly. Ultimately, it comes down to his ability to trust the other guys lining up back in the secondary, to do their job. He could not do that last year. In his trying to compensate for poor play by those other positions, his position suffered. But that's just my opinion. Either way, Hamlin has been known to throw everything he has into hit's and he will be primed to hurt people when the Giants are in town.
Matt McBriar (6'1" 220): Prior to his injury early last year, he was on pace to be a Pro Bowl selection. He has a boot that can put the ball 60 yards from scrimmage, but from what I understand, DeCammalis has wisely requested he adjust his kicks to not out-punt the coverage. Thus far, this adjustment has paid off.
Nick Folk (6'1" 222): The dynamic of a defense changes when backed against it's own endzone. The Cowboy's may rely on Nick quite a bit to ensure we don't leave points on the field.
David Buehler (6'2" 228): He will likely end the season as the Touchback king of the league, which is huge, but that's not the only place he will contribute. He also helps on punt coverage and for a guy who beat out all of the highly touted linebackers drafted from USC this year in the combine at the 40 and on the bench, he is not to be taken lightly as an open field tackler.
Of all the defensive player's above, Special Teams will likely be where the Cowboy's win this game. The Giants, barring turnovers, should have a long field to traverse each time they start a drive. This will be huge in the wanning moments of the game, particularly considering that of all the attributes their receivers can offer, burning our defense for a quick score likely won't be one of them.
Now here's the motley crew the Giant's will be throwing at the Cowboys:
For any NFL team, anything done offensively begins in the trenches. Partly because I'm lazy, but mostly because it's unnecessary, I'm going to skip the individual breakdown of the Offense Line. When you think of the Giant's OL, most Cowboy fans can't name one player from the offensive side of the ball with a hand on the ground, anyway. And for the Giant's, that's a good thing. Why you ask? Because that mean's they are a cohesive unit that get's recognized for their cumulative efforts and not just that one dominant presence; example: Joe Thomas of the Browns. But, if you consider the 5 sacks the Cowboy's were able to compile the last time these two team's met, you know they are not without their flaws. Granted, the Giant's didn't have Brandon Jacobs in that game, so that should change Wade's approach a bit. But keep in mind, despite his TE like frame, Jacobs is actually notoriously horrible at pass blocking, which is why we won't see him catching to many balls Sunday night (unless it's on the chin, figuratively speaking; I'm sorry, I had to). In for sure passing situations, we will likely see Ahmad Bradshaw manning the RB position.
Brandon Jacobs (6'4" 264): To be honest, he doesn't scare me. Personally, I believe if you took away his stellar offensive line and committee of RB's around him, he would be considered an average RB, at best. With a full head of steam, he is extremely difficult to bring down. But if the Cowboys can slow his initial acceleration, by simply hitting him (notice I didn't say they have to tackle him at this point) before or shortly after he crosses the line of scrimmage, his overall production will be marginal. I will admit, however, if the Giant's are within 3 yard's of the Goalline, because of his presence, and, of course, that offensive line, it's an automatic 6 in my opinion. By the way, if you didn't quite get the clowning I was delivering at BJ's expense in paranthesis at the end of my assessment of the Offensive Line, in other word's, I'm predicting he's going to suck against the Cowboys.
Ahmad Bradshaw (5'9" 198): I wouldn't say he scare's me, but he does draw more concern from me than BJ. First, he is the RB they will rely on the most in pass protecting, now that Derrick Ward is gone, meaning that he is the guy most likely to catch are defense with their pant's down expecting the pass. Furthermore, he is in the mold of those RB's from last Sunday the Cowboys played against, though I've forgotten their names adhering to my own advise. Last year, Ahmad only compiled 60 yard's, but with those 12 attempt's, he averaged 5 yards per carry. In 2008, he had 355 yard's on 67 attempt's for an average of 5.3 yard's. And in 2007, he averaged 8.3 yards per carry, with 190 yards on 23 attempts. If anything, you can say he consistently put's the Giants in 3rd and relatively short.
Danny Ware (6'0" 234): Statistically speaking, we don't know much. In 2008 he had 2 carries for 15 yard's, averaging 7.5 per carry, but that could hardly be considered a trend. Judging from what I've read, he likely could be described as a cross between BJ and Bradshaw, not only in size, but in style, as well. Last year, he was the preseason team MVP amassing 180 yard's on opposing team leftovers and bubble-riders. What that says about him and how he will fare against the Cowboys, if he even see's the field, is beyond me.
Steve Smith (5'11" 195): With 6 passes for 80 yards against the Redskins, Smith was Eli's favorite target. His longest reception of the day was 26 yard's, so if the Giants do try to test our Safeties, it will likely be with him.
Domenik Dixon (6'2" 182): Last year, he owned the slot, amassing 596 yards on 43 receptions. He is also dangerous after the catch. Scandrick will have his hand's full, but with our selection of cover Safeties, Scandrick shouldnt' have to many problems keeping Dixon in check.
Sinorice Moss (5'8" 185): The younger brother of self-proclaimed Cowboy-killer Santana Moss, he never has lived up to the Giants expectations. He has shown flashes, but thus far has failed to be consistent, particularly at catching the ball.
Mario Manningham (5'11" 183): He scored a 6 on the Wunderlich and was considered as too slow to play receiver in the NFL. Most team's had scratched him off of their draft boards. But the Giant's saw something in him and if the Washington game is any kind of indication, with one year under his belt, they are beginning to reap the rewards.
Ramses Barden (6'6" 227): Though he likely will never be Plaxico Burress, his size affords him the ability to be that type of weapon in the readzone. His performance for a 3rd round pick was impressive in preseason, but he has yet to catch a ball in the regular season. If the Giants are within 10 yards of scoring, I would not be suprised if the Giant's don't, at least, put him on the field to give the defense something more to think about.
Hakeem Nicks (6'0" 215): The Giant's 1st round pick was touted as being the most NFL ready receiver available; Jeremy Maclin perhaps being the lone exception. Early in training camp and preseason, though, Ramses Barden was earning the vast majority of the buzz. The light's seemed to come on late, but again, it was preseason. Against the Redskins, he collected two passes for 18 yards, 11 yards being his long. If anything, you can say he catches what is thrown at him; Darrius Heyward-Bey, the top receiver drafted, unfortunately, cannot make that claim.
Kevin Boss (6'6" 253): Jeremy Shockey was the Giant's T.O.. And Kevin Boss is the Giant's Roy Williams. Kevin may not have the amount of talent Shockey possesses, but the Giants, with the baggage Shockey added brought to the team, are better off with out him. Parallel aside, Boss would still be the 3rd TE on the Cowboy's depth chart.
Travis Beckum (6'3" 239): Drafted in the 3rd round, behind Ramses, Travis topped quite a few list for TE's available this year, making him a steal in the 3rd. However, he has not been targeted in the regular season, and only caught two passes for 37 yards throughout preseason. It may take a year or two to see him reach is potential.
Darcy Johnson (6'5" 252): If he does see time, he is mostly considered a blocking tight end. In 3 years with the Giant's he has only caught 4 passes for 46 yards.
Like the Cowboys, having jettisoned Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer in the offseason, the Giants have an offense that flourishes by spreading the ball around and keeping opposing defenses off balance by pounding the run, using a few different types of ball carriers. The Cowboys defense likely won't dominate the Giants. That may be asking a little much. What I am counting on is that the Cowboys will win the field position battle through special Special Teams and the Cowboys offense will ultimately outscore the opposition. The key for the Cowboy's defense is to keep the pressure on Eli, even if it doesn't result in Sacks, and ensure that their running game cannot be relied on to extend drives and dominate the time of possession ratio throughout the game.
5 Biggest X-Factors for 2019 Dallas Cowboys
As the Dallas Cowboys have put together this 2019 team, they have a mix of constants and variables that will hopefully produce a winner. Today, we're going to look at those x-factors; the players or other circumstances who have a wide range for potential impact. How could these potentially swing the results for this season?
Constants are guys like Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Ezekiel Elliott. If they're on the field then they're some of the best at what they do. I also believe that we'll continue to get Pro Bowl play from the likes of Dak Prescott, Byron Jones, Leighton Vander Esch, and other studs from last season.
As for the x-factors, the biggest every year, for every team, is health. One bad injury can take a 12-4 contender down to a 4-12 weakling, as the Cowboys experienced in 2015.
We're not talking about health issues or suspensions today. Assuming all of our projected players are present and playing, whose impact on the field could create the biggest swing from 2018 to this season?
Our list contains two new additions from free agency who could cause some big ripples. There are also two returning players whose continued development could work wonders. And then there's also a change in Dallas' coaching staff, which you likely have just guessed, that could have the biggest impact of all.
In fact, let's start there.
Kellen Moore, Offensive Coordinator
Will the Cowboys' change at OC lead to a more explosive, less predictable offense? They must think so, having handed the job to Moore despite his having only one year of experience in a coaching role.
Scott Linehan's run was far from bad. Over his five seasons the Cowboys won three division titles and two playoff games. The only losing season was when they lost Tony Romo in 2015 and didn't have a Dak Prescott to replace him.
But Linehan's tenure was also marked by an offense that every armchair coach in Cowboys Nation could predict. There was little razzle and even less dazzle; Dallas ground out wins on the strength of the run game and offensive line.
The old school approach works up to a point, as we've seen with four winning seasons out of the last five, but is it really the best way to go? The fact that all four teams in conference title games last year, Kansas City, Los Angeles, New England, and New Orleans, have more modern-styled offenses should tell you something.
It seemed to tell the Cowboys something, leading to the switch from Linehan to Moore. Will Kellen get more creative with the versatile skills that Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott offer? Will he actually throw some passes to a fullback with receiving ability like Jamize Olawale? What about gimmick players like Tavon Austin or rookie Tony Pollard?
If Moore is the real deal as an offensive guru, this Dallas offense could do some special stuff in 2019. It would be the biggest personnel change of the offseason, on or off the field.
DE Robert Quinn
It's been a long time since Dallas had two true studs at defensive end; DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer were the last pair that could consistently threaten from both sides. By signing veteran Robert Quinn to be DeMarcus Lawrence's new wingman, the Cowboys are hoping to restore that dynamic.
Still just 29 years old, Quinn should have plenty offer. He's been a double-digit sack man three times in his career and has averaged 7.5 sacks over the last two seasons.
Last year, Dallas got solid play from Tyrone Crawford and Randy Gregory at times but they weren't consistent enough. Quinn not only bring a greater track record for pass rushing, but he doesn't present any of the current problems that Crawford or Gregory have with legal issues and/or possible suspensions.
That said, Quinn does have plenty of NFL mileage at this point. He has shown some decline the last few years, and if that continues then he may not make the impact we're hoping for. In that case, Dallas pass rush may look the same as it has the last few years.
Lawrence has been great, but we saw the Cowboys' inability to get to Jared Goff in their playoff loss to the Rams. There were zero sacks that day for Dallas, and only one QB hit (Jaylon Smith) the entire game.
If the Cowboys want to get back to the NFC Title game then they need more. Hopefully Robert Quinn can bring it.
WR Randall Cobb
As I said before, Amari Cooper should be as good as ever now that he gets an offseason to work with the team. Michael Gallup's progress from a strong rookie season is already reportedly on point. That leaves Cobb, the free agent replacement for Cole Beasley, as a major x-factor on offense.
Losing Beasley has the potential to hurt this team far more than we want to admit. He was Dak Prescott's security blanket for three years; his favorite receiver when the going got tough. No player was more trusted to get open, make the catch, and fight for the needed yards.
That sort of pressure won't be put all on Randall Cobb's shoulders. Cooper and Gallup will be a better pair to work with than any Beasley ever had. They will help mitigate the risk that Cobb has lingering injury issues, or doesn't acclimate quickly to his new offense.
But as the Cowboys hopefully shift to a more modern and innovative offense, Cobb brings valuable experience from his time with the Packers. He was part of six playoffs teams, and made many key plays to help Green Bay have sustained success during most of his time there.
If healthy, Cobb has the skills to replace Cole Beasley and perhaps even eclipse him. He was once a 1,200-yard receiver as the second option behind Jordy Nelson.
If he still has that gear in him, the combination of Cobb, Cooper and Gallup may give Dallas the most dangerous trio of receivers it's seen in decades.
CB Chidobe Awuzie
Switching Byron Jones back to CB last year proved a strong move, helping Dallas get to the playoffs and getting Jones to his first Pro Bowl. The Cowboys are hoping that Awuzie, entering his third season, will emerge as another standout performer at cornerback.
Awuzie, the Cowboys' second-round pick in 2017, had a slow start in his sophomore year but improved as the season went along. He should compete with Anthony Brown for the starting job, and at the least be Dallas' nickel CB this season.
With the Saints, Packers, Patriots, and Rams all on the 2019 schedule, plus two games with the Eagles, the Cowboys need a solid secondary. They need to make opposing QBs think twice about which side of the field they want to try and throw to.
Awuzie has flashed his potential these first two seasons, but now it's time to keep it on full display. Year Three is when most guys, and especially one taken in the second round, should be blossoming into the players they're going to be for the long haul.
If Chidobe takes that next big step forward then Dallas' defense could be the best in the league. The compound effect of improved coverage and a stronger pass rush would have exponential benefits.
TE Blake Jarwin
If Jarwin can do anything close to his Week 17 performance over the course of an entire year, he'd be one of the top tight ends in the game. That's the excitement level some have around the assumed 2019 starter.
Blake's not going to have those kind games often. The Giants were barely playing in that finale, likely already focused on how to screw up their draft. But it did give us our first full taste of Jarwin's receiving skills and athletic potential.
The Cowboys and Jason Witten swear that the returning legend is only here to support and help, and that the majority of snaps will still go to the young talent. If Jarwin can build on last year, and learn some things from one of the all-time greats, he could be a major new weapon in the 2019 offense.
Also helping could be the switch Kellen Moore as coordinator, who will hopefully find more creative ways to utilize all players. Perhaps we'll see Jarwin line up in spots that Scott Linehan never thought of, or was just never able to use while he still had Jason Witten in his twilight years.
Whether it's Jarwin or Dalton Schultz, Dallas will hopefully get some more firepower out of the TE position this year. As teams hopefully focus on stopping guys like Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, we could see huge plays by the tight ends if they're able to take advantage.
Kellen Moore on Jon Gruden’s QB Camp Reveals Offensive Philosophy
When Kellen Moore left Boise State for the NFL, he was the winningest quarterback in college football history with 50 wins in four seasons as the Broncos signal caller. Moore was a great college quarterback and was a part of an offense that took advantage of the things that he did really well; reading the defense and throwing with accuracy and anticipation.
Jon Gruden when he was with ESPN brought quarterbacks in from each draft class for a film session and to work out on the field.
Boise State Quarterback, Kellen Moore went on Jon Gruden's QB Camp show. Watch the full episode here.
Since Kellen Moore was promoted to offensive coordinator from quarterbacks coach, we've been trying to decipher what his philosophy might be. Moore himself gave us some insight when he talked about wanting to be "multiple" on offense. Basically, Moore wants to present similar concepts throughout the game plan but use formations and personnel groupings to provide variation and to keep defenses off balance.
If you have the time, go watch Moore's segment from Jon Gruden's Quarterback camp. It is pretty enlightening.
Here are a few highlights from the segment.
Multiple is a word we heard Kellen Moore use last week when asked to describe his offensive philosophy and he used it again in his interview with Jon Gruden.
The goal is to make the offense look as confusing as possible to the defense. Of their offense at Boise, Moore said, "it's a lot of the same concepts, a lot of ways of doing the same thing." Meaning they might run the same concepts out of 12 personnel that they run out of 11 or 21 personnel. The play concepts don't get diverse or complicated, the formations and personnel groupings are what gets diverse and complicated. Regardless of the formation, the offense will look similar. All in the hopes of keeping the defense guessing.
"Anticipation is built Monday through Friday."
Jon Gruden highlighted a play where Kellen Moore through a shallow post to a wide receiver that wasn't yet on the screen yet. Moore saw from the defensive alignment that the player would be open and was able to get the ball to the spot where the wide receiver could run under it and get the ball.
If there's one thing that's been a bit of a knock against Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott is that he struggles with anticipation. More often than not, he has to see it open before he throws it. This is an area that Kellen Moore and even new Quarterbacks Coach Jon Kitna can help Dak.
If Dak can starting seeing receivers open before their open and throwing it before they come open it would be a huge step in his development as a quarterback. Moore's use of pre-snap motion and formation variation will help Dak to diagnose the defense and know where to go with the ball before the ball is snapped more often.
Use of Pre-snap Motion
During the playoff loss to the Los Angeles Rams, it looked like the Rams were using presnap motion on just about every play. With Moore on board, it looks like the Cowboys are going to be taking a similar approach, and for Moore and for offenses that use a lot of pre-snap motion, there's a purpose.
Moore described that each motion is designed for a specific purpose on each play. They used motion to try and gain an advantage. One way they could gain an advantage by using presnap motion is to force the defense to show a tell on the coverage they're in. Using pre-snap motion also helps them find more favorable matchups.
One thing that I found interesting is that then Boise State Head Coach Chris Peterson put the team through a shift and motion period at the beginning of each practice so that everyone would know their motions and the purposes behind them.
Another purpose in using presnap motion was as Gruden noted, "when there's communication, there's miscommunication." Sometimes players get the right checks when a player goes in motion, but sometimes the motion can leave a player wide open for a big play because of miscommunication.
Expect the Dallas Cowboys to use a lot of pre-snap motion with all of their personnel. The wide receivers and tight ends will be coming across the formation and you'll see the running backs motioning in and out of the backfield.
All in the hopes of finding a favorable look.
In the Red Zone
Gruden asked Kellen Moore, "How come at Boise State you have so many gadget plays in the red zone?" Moore responded to be "creative, open to different ideas, concepts" and they "do a great job of game planning."
If there's an area where the Dallas Cowboys struggled consistently throughout the 2018 season it was in the red zone. They were one of the worst teams in the NFL at scoring points inside the 20-yard line.
Getting creative with their play calling in the red zone can help keep teams off balance and not just honing in on Ezekiel Elliott and the running game. Trick plays or gadget plays can help open things up in the middle of the field for the running game by forcing teams to think about the boundary and the passing game.
One thing I noted from watching some Kellen Moore highlights recently was how many touchdowns they scored using play action. It wasn't every play, but it felt like it. With the run game that the Dallas Cowboys have, play action can be an incredible weapon if they were to open it up and use it more frequently.
In the red zone in particular, when teams are so concerned with Ezekiel Elliott, using play action to pass could lead to some easy scores.
If the Dallas Cowboys want to get back to the playoffs with hopes of making a run at the Super Bowl, they have to get much better in the red zone. You can't settle for field goals as frequently as they did in 2018 and expect to win a lot of games.
Other Interesting Notes
Gruden highlights it on the show, and I found it fascinating that Boise State would flex out their left tackle into the slot and sometimes out wide beyond the hash mark.
When asked about it, Moore said, "his job is to occupy space." What it does is create misdirection by getting the defense to think about what that left tackle is doing out there. On one play in particular, it led to an all-out blitz by the defense and Moore hit them for a touchdown on a vertical route.
I don't imagine we're going to be seeing Tyron Smith lined up in the slot, but it's a sign of the potential creativity that comes with Kellen Moore. Even Gruden admitted he'd never seen that formation before.
One of the other notes that I found particularly interesting was the way they used silent counts. Often we see quarterbacks use their leg to signal to the center that they're ready for the ball. Sometimes, it's the center turning his head that indicates the snap is coming. At Boise State, they used leg kicks, one hand, two hands, and the center head bob to keep the defensive line from guessing the snap count.
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It remains to be seen if Kellen Moore is going to be a good offensive play caller in the NFL, but from what we know about him to this point, it's going to be exciting and fun to find out. The goals of his offense appear to be to find mismatches, create confusion, use misdirection, and be able to anticipate where to go with the football.
Moore's greatest strengths as a quarterback were his football I.Q., his preparation, his ability to communicate with the offensive coordinator and the rest of the offense, and their ability to make in-game adjustments. If he's able to help Dak Prescott see the game better, anticipate where to go with the ball better, make quicker decisions, and help the offense be better in the red zone, the Dallas Cowboys could have an unstoppable offense in 2019.
We don't know if they'll be able to do those things, but after hearing Moore talk about offensive football, I'm ready for the Dallas Cowboys to line up in September so we can find out.
How Does DT Christian Covington Factor in Cowboys 2019 Plans?
In what's become an almost forgotten move from this offseason, the Dallas Cowboys signed free agent Christian Covington in March to add depth at defensive tackle. After four years with Houston, Covington joins the Cowboys as they work to find consistency and increased solidity in the middle of the line. Can Christian help them do that in 2019?
Dallas gave Covington just a one-year, $1.5 million contract as 2019 free agency began. He is being asked to convert to a 4-3 DT after playing DE in the Texans' 3-4 defense.
In four years as a backup, Covington amassed 7.5 sacks and 65 tackles. He's coming off a career-high 3.5 sacks in 2018 in just 12 games. That's solid production for a 3-4 DE, and especially one whose job is to help set up guys like J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney to get to the quarterback.
The Cowboys have seen the transition work before. In 2013, Jason Hatcher had a breakout year with 11 sacks after converting to a 4-3 DT. That was Rod Marinelli's first year coaching in Dallas.
Marinelli must think he can do something with Covington as well. Dallas signed Christian just one day after free agency opened, clearly having targeted him ahead of time.
No, I don't think Covington is going to break out the way Hatcher did. And the Cowboys clearly felt they needed more help when they drafted DT Trysten Hill in April.
But the Covington addition shouldn't be ignored as we project who makes Dallas' 53-man roster this season.
Right now Dallas has Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Daniel Ross returning from last year's team. They've added Covington and Hill this offseason, and also still have Tyrone Crawford who can play on the inside.
Basic roster math offers little chance that all six of these players make the team. So who's most in danger?
Crawford has the bad contract and the potential for a suspension with his current legal issue. But he's also valuable for veteran leadership, as a previous team captain, and his versatility as a DE option.
Maliek Collins is entering the final year of his rookie deal, and the drafting of Trysten Hill suggests that he probably doesn't return in 2020. Dallas can save about $2 million by trading or releasing Maliek this year.
Dallas brought back Daniel Ross because it was easy; an Exclusive Rights Free Agent with a minimal contract. That said, he has flashed some ability and is more than just a camp body.
The only locks are the rookie Hill and Antwaun Woods, who was looking like the team's best DT by the end of last season. The rest of the depth chart will be some combination of Collins, Covington, Crawford, or Ross, and that's if undrafted rookie Daniel Wise doesn't also push for a roster spot.
It'd be easy dismiss Covington given his minor contract and lack of time in the system. But Dallas signed him for a reason, and they made it their very first move when free agency began.
If I had to put money on who does and doesn't make the team in 2019, I'd bet on Christian Covington before Maliek Collins or Tyrone Crawford. All three could make it, but I'm less confident in the other two.
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