The dust is starting to settle, and the Dallas Cowboys roster for 2018 and starting to become clearer and clearer as we approach training camp and the upcoming NFL season. After all of the drama from free agency surrounding Dez Bryant, to the retirement of Jason Witten and the NFL Draft, Cowboys Nation is getting closer to seeing a brand new team.
A big question at this juncture, however, is did the Cowboys really improve from 2017? They added new pieces, got some new toys in a few trades and now can see a tiny glimpse into the future of the squad. But did they improve?
People everywhere who follow the Cowboys knew what they needed to address the most after the 2017 season: Wide receiver, defensive tackle, guard, linebacker, safety, and eventually tight end was pushed as a bigger priority with the subsequent retirements of James Hanna and Jason Witten. As far as if the team improved, we'll have to break it down.
There's no question that Dak Prescott is the starter and the presumed quarterback of the future. Cooper Rush came in as an undrafted free agent from Central Michigan and outplayed Kellen Moore in the preseason, eventually becoming the new backup quarterback.
In a surprising move, the Cowboys used a fifth round pick on Western Kentucky quarterback, Mike White. White was a name that rose up draft boards as a solid developmental project. In his final two seasons as a starter, he was able to throw for 8,540 yards, 63 touchdowns and complete 66.5% of his passes.
The player, himself, isn't bad. In fact, some draft analysts had Mike White as a third round prospect, and Dallas got a two-round value out of it. What it does bring into question, however, is if Cooper Rush's job is in jeopardy?
Is this move strictly for competition? Will the team decide to keep all three? Did the Cowboys waste a pick?
In terms of skill, all of these players are quality quarterbacks, but using a draft pick on a quarterback, after Cooper Rush seemed to have earned the job, only raises more questions instead of answers. The team will have time to answer but for right now, this doesn't seem like a smart move.
The Cowboys backfield is the team's car, and they only really needed some gas. What they got instead was an Xzibit-style pimped out makeover.
Ezekiel Elliott is one of the game's young superstars and is firmly sitting in the driver's seat. After serving his 6-game suspension last year, Elliott looks ready to get back into the game.
Rod Smith offered not only some solid backup effort, but position flexibility and special teams play. Smith was all over the team last season; at tailback, full back, slot receiver, kick returner.
It seemed the team would add a 3rd down back, which they did by trading with the Rams. In exchange for a sixth round pick, the Cowboys got for former first-rounder Tavon Austin, and then followed it up with announcing intentions to play him exclusively at running back, adding speed and hands that the backfield needed.
Thought they were done? Nope.
In the 7th round, the Cowboys added one of college footballs most punishing runners, Bo Scarborough from Alabama. A physical back who should be looking forward to running between his new center and right guard. The backfield already looked set, but adding this beast is just overkill in the best way.
The last brick has been lain and the Great Wall of Dallas is complete. Not only does the team have their starters, but they have a great collection of backups who can step in and play well for the squad.
Left guard was a big need for the team. Johnathan Cooper did a solid job last season, but not so well that the team was giving him an extension. Instead, they looked 201 miles South to University of Texas Offensive Lineman Connor Williams.
An All-American tackle, he looks set to step inside next to Tyron Smith and solidify arguably the best offensive line in football.
Another question was the swing tackle, the tackle who backs up both La'el Collins and Tyron Smith on both sides. Last season, the job was split between Chaz Green and Byron Bell, with undesirable results.
The Cowboys improved in that department by signing Cameron Fleming, a player some thought would get starter money, but instead went to Dallas at an affordable rate. In New England, he started 20 games in four seasons, and only allowed 7 sacks during that time. Adding Fleming gives the Cowboys and their fans some relief and relaxation in the event one of the tackles is hurt.
I'm not sure how losing your number one and two tight ends in the same off-season can possibly make you think the position has improved. Full disclosure.
Jason Witten, one of the game's greatest tight ends who will be in the hall of fame one day, and James Hanna occupied the tight end one and two spots for a number of years. Witten was a reliable receiver and both were good blockers throughout their time.
Remaining on the depth chart are a bunch of question marks.
Geoff Swaim has largely been a blocking tight end and only has nine career receptions going into 2018. Rico Gathers has shown a lot of promise and talent during his time in the preseason, but hasn't yet been able to see the field. Blake Jarwin has plenty of skill, but is still very raw. Finally, the Cowboys 4th round selection, Dalton Schultz, from Stanford, is not a very polished receiver but is an excellent blocker. It wouldn't surprise me to see him be one of the starters in 2018.
I would expect a rotation of all four tight ends in 2018 to find the next starting pair. James Hanna can be replaced but no one will ever be able to replace Jason Witten. All-time greats don't grow on trees. All the team can hope for is that the position doesn't suffer too much as a result.
The good news is that the main core from last season's dominant defensive line is back: DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Maliek Collins, Taco Charlton and Tyrone Crawford. Add the return of promising players such as Lewis Neal and Charles Tapper, the additions of Kony Ealy and Jihad Ward, as well as drafting Dorance Armstrong Jr. and the team looks as deep along the defensive line as it has looked in years.
However, a big hole that needed addressing this off-season was finding a permanent nose tackle. Brian Price is a solid rotation player, and Maliek Collins has shown to be much more effective at the three technique. Yet the didn't address the need.
I expect the team to add another defensive tackle at some point to better fill the hole. Some options have been a possible reunion with Terrell McClain, who played in Dallas from 2014-16, or possibly undrafted defensive tackle, DeQuinton Osborne, who was the only rookie acquisition at the position.
The defensive line was a huge strength for the Cowboys in 2017, and I expect it to be in 2018 as well. Despite the nose tackle spot still being in question, the Cowboys front four rotation looks like it could be one of the league's best.
The Cowboys linebacker group took a huge hit this off-season with the losses of Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber. This left the Cowboys with just Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson.
As a starting group, it's not a bad trio, but the Cowboys had no depth to spare. Even with the off-season addition of Joe Thomas from Green Bay, the team was in dire need of depth.
They addressed the need not once but twice in the NFL Draft.
They drafted Leighton Vander Esch from Boise State in the first round and Chris Covington in the 6th round. This group won't be able to be properly judged on if it has really improved or not until the team hits the field in the fall, but the depth looks fixed and the linebackers already look like they can be better than they were a year ago.
For the first time in a long time, the secondary looks like it will be a strength for the Cowboys and not a weakness.
New secondary coach, Kris Richard has come in from the Seattle Seahawks and is looking to revamp a very talented, young secondary. He was the key creator of Seattle's Legion of Boom, which caused terror for quarterbacks all around the league for years.
The move from safety to corner looks like a great move for Byron Jones. He'll be paired with second year players Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, on the opposite side and in the slot, respectively.
Xavier Woods is the Cowboys' most talented safety and is the most likely to play the free safety position. The other safety spot will either be occupied by an improved, hard-hitting Kavon Frazier or Jeff Heath (The G.O.A.T).
The secondary looks as solid and as talented as it has ever looked. With a great coach who can mold the secondary to a level we know they are capable of, all signs are pointing up for the Cowboys defensive backfield.
Finally, the position you probably have the most questions about. Sorry for making you wait. No position group has seen more changes this off-season than wide receiver. Let's recap.
Losses: Dez Bryant, Brice Butler, Ryan Switzer
Acquisitions: Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Tavon Austin (reported to be a RB)
In an effort to give the team more "Dak-friendly" receivers, the team parted ways with Dez Bryant, who seemed to have chemistry problems with Prescott. In response to that, the Cowboys have options in Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson and draft picks Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson.
None of them are the play-maker that Bryant was, but they all have the ability to run crisper routes, which Prescott relies on. You shouldn't be shocked if two or three of these players become main targets in the passing game.
A shocking move was the trade of Ryan Switzer after a solid rookie season. With the trade for Tavon Austin, and subsequent position change, Switzer became expendable. It wasn't a popular decision, but it made trimming the receiving core easier.
Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Noah Brown, Hurns, Thompson, Gallup and Wilson are the receivers on the team currently. However, Dallas usually only keeps maybe five or six on the team. Don't be surprised by anymore trades or cuts to come.
The receivers should have better chemistry with Dak Prescott than Dez Bryant had, but don't hold your breath on any big plays you hope can come from this group on day one.
Cowboys 2019 Playoff Scenarios: Week 11 Impact Games
With all NFL teams now having just six or seven games left in their 2019 schedules, this seems a fine time to start looking at the potential playoff seeding. The Dallas Cowboys are barely hanging on to a winning record and control of the NFC East right now, adding plenty of intrigue to the happenings around the conference and likely through the end of the regular season.
If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:
- San Francisco 49ers (8-1)
- Green Bay Packers (8-2)
- New Orleans Saints (7-2)
- Dallas Cowboys (5-4)
- Seattle Seahawks (8-2)
- Minnesota Vikings (7-3)
- Los Angeles Rams (5-4)
- Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)
- Carolina Panthers (5-4)
- The Cowboys currently hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Eagles. They play again Week 16 in Philadelphia.
- The Rams (3-3) are ahead of the Eagles (3-4) and Panthers (2-4) based on a superior record against NFC opponents.
- The Eagles are ahead of the Panthers based on a superior record against NFC opponents.
This weekly feature will focus on teams with winning records or those who are clear contenders in division or wild card races. So while a team like the Chicago Bears may be 4-5 and still capable of going on a run, we won't worry about them until they start to rise in the standings.
Here are this week's games involving the current NFC playoff contenders. The Packers and Seahawks are on bye.
Dallas Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
The Cowboys badly need this win for all sorts of reasons. Creating some distance with the Eagles, picking up a win against an NFC opponent, and just general morale boosting after an ugly loss to Minnesota; this is a must-win game on many levels.
Detroit isn't a contender in their own right and that may actually serve Dallas will this week. Matthew Stafford missed last week's game with a back injury and was held out of practice yesterday. If the Lions don't believe they can be a factor in the 2019 postseason, they may get extra conservative with their franchise QB and sit him again against the Cowboys.
New England Patriots @ Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles' remaining schedule is more favorable than the Cowboys so this is a critical game for Philly to lose. Really, there is no scenario the rest of the way where an Eagles win could help Dallas.
Obviously, winning the NFC East is the best road for Dallas to take into the playoffs as it provides home field advantage in the first round. And realistically, given their overall record and head-to-head losses to the Packers, Saints, and Vikings already this year, the Cowboys would have hard time getting a Wild Card spot. They just need to take the division and then hope to get hot in January, and every Eagles loss helps toward that goal.
Denver Broncos @ Minnesota Vikings
Still in striking distance of Green Bay in the NFC North and two wins ahead of the Wild Card outsiders, Minnesota has a solid playoff position right now. They just need to keep handling their business throughout the season, which certainly included a home win against the lowly Broncos, to control their destiny and make the tournament.
New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Saints just suffered a shocking loss to Atlanta and fell out of one of the top two spots in the NFC playoffs. They are about to hit Tampa like a hurricane, and the 3-6 Bucs may not be able to put up much of a fight. New Orleans should pick up another win here and pull even again with Green Bay.
Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers
The Falcons, despite being mostly out of the race, just upset the Saints and could be looking for another stunner over Carolina. The Panthers have remarkably hung on to their season despite losing Cam Newton,; can Kyle Allen keep them afloat to the point of claiming a Wild Card spot?
Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are going to be angry after their first loss of the year, making this a predictable one-sided affair against one of the league's worst teams. Crazy things can happen in division rivalry games, but this is setting up to be a major blowout as the 49ers keep building their lead over the conference.
Chicago Bears @ Los Angeles Rams
The Rams' 5-4 record this year may be an even bigger surprise/disappointment than the Cowboys'. They get a great chance to pick up a win, and another critical NFC victory, this week as they host the Bears.
While Chicago is still mathematically alive they feel like dead men walking. They have one of the worst QB situations in football and it won't get any better this year. However, their strong defense gives them the ability to play a spoiler any given week. Tacking another loss to the Rams here could help Dallas in any potential Wild Card scenario.
Lions’ Pass Catchers Will Provide Big Test for Cowboys’ Defense
The Dallas Cowboys week 11 opponent is reeling a bit after a 2-0-1 start with wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and the Philadelphia Eagles, the Detroit Lions have lost five of their last six and now sit in last place in the NFC North at 2-5-1. It's been a weird season for the Lions and now may play the Dallas Cowboys this week without Matthew Stafford who's been playing some of the best football of his career in 2019.
Though Stafford may not be available, the Lions have a plethora of targets for backup quarterback Jeff Driskell to throw to.
Wide Receivers Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Tight End T.J. Hockenson, and Running Back J.D. McKissic provide Detroit with a bounty of players who will challenge the Cowboys secondary in the passing game.
Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are one of the more underrated receiving tandems in the NFL. The Lions are just one of four teams that have two players with at least 600 receiving yards on the season.
Golladay and Jones have been excellent this season. Both have made big plays in the passing game and if you along with Hockenson, Amendola, and McKissic, the Lions have a deep group of pass catchers that could give the Cowboys fits this Sunday.
The Cowboys defense has been up and down this season in both the run and pass game. They've been hit for big plays on both sides of the field and by a variety of positional players through the first nine games of the season. The linebackers have struggled with play-action and in the screen game. Chidobe Awuzie has had difficulty finding the ball and giving up big plays. Byron Jones, who is generally one of the better cover corners in the NFL, but had difficulty with Stefon Diggs last week.
The fact that the Lions have so many good players to throw to means they can avoid throwing to Byron Jones' side of the field and target Awuzie, the Cowboys' biggest weakness in pass defense. The Lions will be able to mix and match their receiver alignments to put the Cowboys in difficult positions with their scheme. From front to back, everyone will have to stay disciplined in their man and zone coverages to not get beat for any big plays.
The Cowboys may want to scheme some extra help to Chidobe Awuize's side of the field as he's struggled to find the ball in 50-50 situations, where Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones excel. The other key will be for Jourdan Lewis, who will likely end up in coverage against Amendola most of the time. He and the linebackers will need to tackle Amendola and McKissic better than they did Dalvin Cook in the open field as Driskell will likely be forced to dump it off quickly to avoid being affected by the pass rush.
11 of Driskel's 27 completions against the Chicago Bears were at or behind the line of scrimmage and 48% of his passing yardage came after the catch. For comparison, in week 10 against the Cowboys, Kirk Cousins completed eight of his 23 passes at or behind the line of scrimmage and an insane 65% of his yards came after the catch.
The Lions record hasn't been able to run the ball very effectively this year, even before Kerryon Johnson. They rank 20th in the NFL in total rushing, but fifth in the NFL in passing, so the Cowboys will have to be more disciplined in coverage and have to team tackle to get off the field.
It's a huge game for the Dallas Cowboys if they want to improve their chances of making the playoffs. They don't have the luxury of dropping a game like this to a team they should absolutely beat. In a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles atop the NFC East and with only seven games left of the season, pretty much every game from here on out is a must-win game.
Defensive Inconsistencies Hurting Cowboys Playoff Chances
The Dallas Cowboys have had an up and down season, to say the least. One minute they look like one of the best teams in the NFL, and the next, they look as if they just started playing football a week ago.
A lot of that can be attributed to the inconsistent play of their defense. The numbers say they have one of the best units of it's kind in the league. They rank 14th vs the run, sixth vs the pass, and seventh overall while only allowing 18.9 points per game. The problem is, their performance from game to game hasn't always matched these numbers.
In Week 5 when the Green Bay Packers came to town they had the difficult task of dealing with their biggest nemesis the last half-decade in Aaron Rodgers. His primary target Davante Adams was out because of a toe issue. The Cowboys were only allowing 14 points per game at the time, however, this game would see the scoreboard light up with regularity for the Packers.
Another Aaron would be the star of this game, Running Back Aaron Jones that is. He picked up nine of the Packers 24 first downs by himself on the ground and in the passing game. This helped the Packers control the clock for almost 37 minutes which kept the Cowboys playing a game of catch up.
He finished with 182 all-purpose yards and scored four rushing touchdowns, a record for a Cowboys opponent. What made this particular game a head-scratcher was the fact that the Packers were without their number one receiver and Rodgers failed to throw a single touchdown pass, and the Packers still scored 34 points. Not an ideal outing for the Cowboys defense.
In Week 6 the Cowboys visited Metlife Stadium to take on the New York Jets. At the time, they were 0-4 and arguably the worst team in the NFL. Also, Quarterback Sam Darnold was making his return after being out five weeks due to mononucleosis. All signs pointed to a dominant performance by the Cowboys defense. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.
If Darnold had any effects of his illness he didn't show it. He surgically dissected the Cowboys defense all game long to the tune of 338 yards (career-high) and two touchdowns. The Jets jumped out to a 21-3 lead and never looked back, holding on to win 24-22.
The most mind-blowing thing in this game was the fact that Running Back Le'Veon Bell was held to only 50 yards rushing. Even with the Jets being pretty much one dimensional all game they still managed to move the ball up and down the field. Inexcusable performance by a defense as talented as the Cowboys vs one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
Last Sunday's matchup vs the Minnesota Vikings presented a big challenge for the Cowboys defense. Not only did they have to deal with league-leading rusher Dalvin Cook but also Stefon Diggs who came into the game eighth in receiving yards.
Tight End Kyle Rudolph, who only had two touchdowns all year prior to this game, reached the end zone on back to back drives putting the Vikings up 14-0 entering the second quarter.
The star of this game, however, was the aforementioned Cook. The Cowboys had no answer for him as he gashed them continuously in the screen game as well as on the ground. Cook finished with 183 all-purpose yards (97 rushing, 86 receiving) and a touchdown on 33 touches. Yes, Cook is dynamic and the Vikings offense is formidable but the lack of discipline on assignments and poor tackling wasn't exactly a pleasant sight to see by this defense at home.
This is not to say that the Cowboys haven't had good performances defensively this season. In Week 4 they held the New Orleans Saints, albeit without Drew Brees, to just 12 points in a tough two-point loss. Three weeks ago, they held the Philadelphia Eagles to 283 yards of offense and forced four turnovers in a blowout 37-10 victory. Their second trip to Metlife Stadium was dominant as they registered five sacks and forced three turnovers in a 37-18 beat down of the New York Giants.
The inconsistency of this unit has been frustrating and downright confusing at times. There's too much talent on this defense to be so up and down. If this doesn't change, and quickly, this defense could be the reason the Cowboys find themselves on the outside looking in when the playoffs start.
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