When the Dallas Cowboys initially signed Allen Hurns, many in Cowboys Nation were cautiously optimistic excited or at least intrigued by the idea of Hurns playing opposite former Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Dez Bryant. When you looked at the signing, it seemed Hurns would be brought in to compete for snaps with Terrance Williams and whatever rookie they drafted in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Then the Dallas Cowboys front office made the decision to move on from Bryant, which pushed every one of the outside wide receivers up a notch. Terrance Williams got hurt and wasn't available much in the 2018 season and it left Allen Hurns in an unfamiliar role as the lead wide receiver on the outside. The wide receiver group was a disaster for the first half of the season.
Hurns, was by no means the best wide receiver in the NFL, but for what they signed him for (2 years $10 million), he was a pretty nice addition. With the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hurns posted a 1,000 yards season and caught 10 touchdown passes with Blake Bortles as his quarterback in 2015. Injuries and a decline in play for Bortles led to a decline in Hurns production in Jacksonville, leading him to the Dallas Cowboys where an inconsistent passing game -- and misuse of personnel, Hurns in particular -- led to Hurns posting the worst numbers of his career.
In 16 games this season, and seven starts, Hurns only posted 20 receptions on 35 targets for 295 yards and two touchdowns.
Even for the contract that Hurns signed in the 2018 offseason, that's an atrocious return. So why would I be suggesting that Hurns be the wide receiver to replace Cole Beasley if he were to depart in free agency? Because it's in the slot where Allen Hurns does his best work.
In that 2015 season where Hurns went for more than 1,000 yard receiving on just 65 receptions to go along with 10 touchdowns, Hurns caught 29 passes out of the slot and seven of his touchdowns. He can be a really effective player and has good route running ability when he's given more than just come back routes.
I went back through some game film to see what's been going wrong with a wide receiver that was really effective with the Jacksonville Jaguars, but is all of a sudden struggling to find his niche in the Dallas Cowboys offense. So I went and watched some All-22 film from one of his best games in 2017 and from several games with the Dallas Cowboys to try to find the problem.
Of Allen Hurns' tape, I watched the Carolina Panthers, New York Giants, and the Detroit Lions games from this season and the AFC Championship game and the Indianapolis game in week seven of 2017.
Here's what I came up with.
Scheming Ain't Easy
Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan takes a lot of flak for the -- at times -- failures of the Dallas Cowboys offense. When they struggle, he's the worst play caller in the world, but we're not giving him a ton of credit when the offense does well. Some of Allen Hurns struggles and lack of production are partly due to not being a great fit for Scott Linehan's offense. Or rather, Scott Linehan not tailoring his offense to fit the strengths of his players, which is part of the reason Linehan was shown the door.
At some point, certain guys just have to fit into the scheme. This is where I think some of the disconnect lies with Allen Hurns. If you watched much of Allen Hurns at Jacksonville, and when I turned on the tape, I noticed that the Jaguars ran Hurns on a lot of routes that allowed him to break quickly at an angle or to run horizontally. Routes like slants, posts, out and in breaking routes, and shallow drags, which allowed him to find room against zone coverage to give Bortles room to throw.
With the Dallas Cowboys, Hurns has been asked to run routes that are much more of the slower-developing and downfield type of routes. Go routes, 15 yards in-breaking routes, and a lot of deep comebacks to the sidelines. On occasion, he was asked to run a shallow crossing route like a drag or a slant route, but generally it was comebacks or deep outs.
Here's an example of what I'm talking about when I say, "slow developing."
Here it's 3rd and 11 and Hurns is lined up in a tight split so that he has some room to work the sideline in his route. He doesn't help himself by running right into the defender before making his cut. I can't tell if Hurns is supposed to run a 15 yard out and Dak just doesn't get the ball to him, or if he's supposed to run a comeback to the sideline and he just rounds his route off too much. Either way, it's not a route that Hurns is all that effective at running, but the Dallas Cowboys had him run it A LOT.
That isn't Allen Hurns' strength. Here's an example of what Hurns does really well.
Hurns is lined up in the slot here with New England showing cover two before moving into man-to-man across the secondary with the linebackers dropping into zone. You can see Hurns get just behind the linebackers in the middle of their zone and underneath the safety charged with covering him. It's a quick post route from play action and a big chunk play. Hurns shows nice hands and zone awareness to turn back to the ball.
Again, Hurns is lined up in the slot and New England again runs man-to-man. On a straight play action, Hurns works his man up the field and then runs a deep out as the outside receiver runs a skinny post clearing the sideline for Hurns to work. It's a quick cut that allows Hurns to separate from his man and make the big play. The design is nice because it clears a lot of room toward the sideline for Bortles to find Hurns for another big play.
And then here's an example from this year.
Hurns is on the outside to the right of the quarterback. Dallas runs a run-pass option (RPO), with Hurns running a slant route. You can see that it's an RPO because the offensive lineman on the left side of the line are run blocking. Hurns makes a quick move on the slant and Dak Prescott puts the ball right where it needs to be on the play. Hurns is very effective at running slant routes from the slot as you see above and something that the Cowboys asked Cole Beasley to do from the slot as well.
From his time with the Jaguars, Hurns had to run a variety of routes including posts from the slot, short to intermediate crossing routes, double moves, option routes, and they're putting him in combo routes out of bunch formations.
The Dallas Cowboys are asking him to try to use his speed to push the defensive backs downfield and run a lot of comeback routes. From what I can tell on the film, he's not nearly as comfortable running comeback routes as he is running slants, posts, and drags. Dallas needs to get him running routes, like the slant off of the RPO. Like I said before, you can't always accommodate every player in the offense, but there are ways to get him running things he's more comfortable with.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Allen Hurns still has a road to recovery from his gruesome broken ankle he suffered in the Dallas Cowboys wild card win over the Seattle Seahawks. If anything can be gained from a four word tweet, it looks like he's about a month away from getting back to the grind of preparing for the NFL's regular season. He'll have some rehab to do, but he should be ready for training camp if everything goes smoothly.
1 month out
As easily Hurns could be Beasley's replacement in 2019, he could also be out the door if the Dallas Cowboys want to save some money by releasing him.
Route running is a subtle art form and from what I could tell, he isn't the same player that he was in Jacksonville. He has a knack for getting open in the middle of the field and shows nice hands. Prior to the Amari Cooper trade, Hurns had his best games of the season against the Washington Redskins before taking a backseat to Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup.
With changes to the offensive coaching staff and potential opportunities at WR, Hurns could be the guy the Cowboys look to in 2019 to man the slot. He isn't Cole Beasley, but with Amari Cooper leading the way, you don't need him to be. You need a reliable receiver and in the slot, Hurns is very reliable.
How The Tables Have Turned for 2019 Dallas Cowboys
The 2018 season was a two-part tale for the Dallas Cowboys. The first is the story of a mediocre 3-5 team that couldn't get it going offensively. The second part is about a football team that turned its season around, made the playoffs, got a win in the postseason and ultimately lost to the team that ended up representing the NFC in Super Bowl LIII, the Los Angeles Rams.
Surely, 2018 didn't go as planned. The storylines leading to last season are actually very different from the ones we're hearing today. Let's take a look at a few examples of how the tables have turned for the Dallas Cowboys.
The need for a true WR1
Last season, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys preached the philosophy of not needing a #1 wide receiver. While that could've sound encouraging at the time, once the season began the team was proven wrong. They did need a WR1. Fortunately, this season we won't have to worry about it. This year, Dez Bryant shouldn't be a discussion topic among Cowboys' fans.
Amari Cooper is in the house. And he's been pretty good since he started playing with a Star on his helmet. If we have conversations about the WR position, they will not be about who's the #1 guy. With Michael Gallup showing up late in the season, it probably won't be about who is #2 either.
Back on top of the NFC East
Last year, the Dallas Cowboys were not really the favorites to win the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles had just made history by winning their first Super Bowl ever and it seemed like the Cowboys would have to get a wildcard spot to play in January. Now it's the Cowboys back on top after sweeping the Eagles and turning their once 3-5 season around.
That of course, means a tougher schedule next season. However, it's nice to be back on top of the division. These two teams will surely have an intense race for the division title next season. Maybe we even see them both in the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Sean Lee's uncertain future
I'm pretty sure no one expected Sean Lee to be considered a potential cap casualty for the 2019 season. Even if he was, it would've probably been anticipating an injury or something like that. No one would've imagined that Leighton Vander Esch would be so good to take Sean Lee's job.
The Cowboys' first round rookie truly earned the starting role as the defense's weak linebacker and he should keep it. With Sean Lee set to return to the field, I'm sure we didn't expect him to be a backup by now. We'll have to wait and see if the Cowboys decide to part ways with him. As a fan, it would certainly be painful. But we can't deny it would be a move that makes sense.
It's a crazy franchise on a crazy league. Who knows how things will go from now on, but the Dallas Cowboys certainly look like a promising team heading into the 2019 offseason. Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue to update you with the latest on your favorite NFL team.
Cowboys en Español: Volviendo a la Idea de Earl Thomas
El año pasado, Earl Thomas fue uno de los temas de conversación más frecuentes para los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys. Después de que los Seattle Seahawks no le dieran su deseada extensión de contrato, Thomas se convirtió en un candidato a ser intercambiado de su equipo. Entre los favoritos estaban los Cowboys, quienes tenían una necesidad en su defensiva secundaria. Ahora que la temporada 2018 llegó a su fin, la misma necesidad por un safety de calidad está presente en Dallas.
Sólo que en esta ocasión, Earl Thomas no está bajo contrato con ningún equipo. Su último momento con el uniforme de los Seahawks fue en un carro de lesiones, donde salía lesionado en dirección a su vestidor. Esto mientras se despedía de su equipo con el dedo de en medio extendido hacia sus entrenadores y compañeros. Así concluyó su temporada y su carrera en Seattle.
Ahora, listo para cumplir los 30 años en mayo, Earl Thomas probará la agencia libre cuando comience en marzo. Y sin lugar a dudas, uno de los equipos candidatos a firmarlo serán los Dallas Cowboys. Es un equipo que a pesar de tener una de las mejores defensivas la temporada pasada, se vería muy beneficiada con la llegada de un profundo del calibre de Thomas.
A pesar de su edad y las lesiones, Thomas continúa siendo uno de los mejores en la liga. Su talento es innegable y tendrá toda la disposición de demostrar lo que vale cuando tome el campo la próxima temporada. Cuando llegue el momento, podríamos ver una guerra de ofertas entre varios equipos de la NFL para llevarse al veterano a sus respectivas ciudades.
La pregunta es: ¿estarán los Dallas Cowboys en esa guerra de ofertas?
Los Cowboys tienen espacio en el tope salarial. Sin embargo, este no durará mucho considerando que DeMarcus Lawrence está esperando su merecida y cara extensión después de jugar bajo la etiqueta franquicia en 2018. Además, jugadores que aún están bajo contrato también estarán buscando ofertas este offseason.
Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, y Byron Jones están en la lista de quehaceres de la administración. Eso sin mencionar a Cole Beasley, cuyo contrato ya expiró y podría llegar a la agencia libre en marzo.
A pesar de esta complicada situación, los Dallas Cowboys deberían buscar conseguir a Thomas. Siendo sinceros, la defensiva tiene mucho talento y podría mantener su nivel en 2019. Pero hace falta un jugador en la posición de safety para llevar a esta unidad a otro nivel. Un nivel realmente capaz de ganar en postemporada enfrentándose a cualquier tipo de ofensiva. Sin importar que tan explosiva sea. Y además de esto, un jugador que sea capaz de robar el balón y hacer jugadas de impacto constantemente.
Cuando los Cowboys se enfrentaron a Seahawks en temporada regular, Thomas dio un buen ejemplo de esto interceptando en dos ocasiones a la ofensiva de Dak Prescott.
A pasos de un equipo de campeonato, un movimiento agresivo para obtener a Earl Thomas sería algo genial para Dallas. Vimos como los Rams de Los Angeles fueron agresivos al construir su equipo y llegaron hasta el Super Bowl este febrero. Quizá es tiempo de que Jerry Jones y compañía sean igual de agresivos y vayan por ese safety elite que la afición lleva pidiendo desde el offseason del año pasado.
Slot Machine: Amari Cooper in the Slot Could be Even More Dangerous
Amari Cooper was a dangerous man with the Dallas Cowboys after he arrived via trade from the Oakland Raiders last season. He was one of the big reasons why they were able to turn around a season that looked as if it was circling the drain and I don't think anybody would argue the point. But, I think he could be even more dangerous in 2019, especially if Cole Beasley departs via free agency.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you pretty much know the topic of the Cowboys offseason so far has centered around Cole Beasley and his future with the organization. He has been invaluable in Dallas since arriving as an undrafted free agent in 2012, but it's looking more and more as if he could be taking his talents elsewhere in 2019.
With Beasley more than likely moving on, the Cowboys will need to find someone who can replace his production in the passing game, especially in the slot. Everybody assumes Dallas needs to go outside the organization to find that player, but I'm not so sure. I think they already have a wide receiver more than capable of stepping in, and he just so happens to be there first-round draft pick this year.
In case you haven't figured it out already, I'm talking about Wide Receiver Amari Cooper. He has mostly been used as an outside receiver in his professional career, but he does have the skill set and route running ability to be a really dangerous out of the slot. I'm not talking about a full-time move into the slot or anything, just a marginal increase in snaps.
According to Rotounderworld.com, only 12.6% of Amari Cooper's snaps in 2018 were out of the slot. For comparison sake, Cole Beasley's snaps in the slot was 85.9%, the highest of any receiver in the NFL last season. That's a huge difference, not one the Cowboys should try to match with Cooper or any other potential slot WR replacement.
Personally, I'd like to see Cooper's snaps playing out of the slot increased to around 20%. That would put him in Odell Beckham Jr. territory (19.9%), and we all know how difficult he is to cover all over the field. It would likely do the same for Amari Cooper.
I just really like the idea of him having the entire field to work with and the favorable matchup it creates with slot/nickel cornerbacks around the league. Can you imagine opposing defensive coordinators trying to figure out how to contain a player that has the kind of speed and route running ability that Amari Cooper has? They better stock up on Tylenol, because that is a surefire way to get a headache.
This is course is just speculation at this point, especially since we don't know what the Cowboys offense will look like with Kellen Moore taking over the playcalling duties. But if it was me, I'd be doing everything in my power to get the ball in the hands of my best WR, Amari Cooper, and that might mean increasing his snaps out of the slot.
What do you think about using Amari Cooper out of the slot more often in 2019?
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