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.
What Are Realistic Expectations for Cowboys LB Sean Lee?
For many years, Linebacker Sean Lee has been the face of the Dallas Cowboys defense. However, that's quickly changing. The young duo consisting of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have taken over the linebacker position by dominating the field from sideline to sideline with their explosive talent. As a rookie, Vander Esch filled in for Lee at the weak linebacker position when the veteran went down injured and never gave the job back.
Currently, uncertainty surrounds Sean Lee, who took a pay cut earlier in the year to stay with the franchise he's played for since the beginning of his professional career in 2010. What will his role be in a young fueled defense in the upcoming season?
As we've all been able to see throughout his career, Sean Lee is one of the best in the game when he's healthy. Unfortunately, that's not very often. His injury proneness led him to a position change years ago, when he was moved from the MIKE (middle linebacker) to the WILL (weak side linebacker) position. Now, those two spots are taken care of.
Where does this leaves Lee? The main question is whether or not he'll move to the strong side. Many question if this would be the correct call, given that he could be at even more risk of suffering yet another injury in a position that leads to more contact. The other option would be for him to be Vander Esch's backup at WILL.
Lately, it seems like the Cowboys will indeed move him to the strong-side. After all, it only makes sense to have your best three players on the field at the same time. On minicamp, the Cowboys have been playing the veteran at SAM, letting him get reps and grow comfortable in what seems to be his new job.
But even if Sean Lee starts lining up on the strong side, what can we expect from him next season? The way the NFL offenses operate now leads to teams sending their nickel packages to the field more often than not. For the Cowboys 4-3 defense, that means three cornerbacks, two linebackers. When that's the case, it will be Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith who we see out there, not Lee.
Damien Wilson was the team's "starter" on the strong side, and he only managed to get 286 snaps, according to Pro Football Reference. That represents 28% of the team's total snaps. Even if Sean Lee becomes the starting strong side linebacker, we likely won't be seeing him as much.
Even still, I'd expect Sean Lee's experience to play a big factor when the team needs Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch to catch their breath. Lee could jump in and play a few snaps at any LB spot and do a good job at it.
After all, we can't forget that despite his injuries, Lee is a remarkable player on defense. He should still be one of the smartest linebackers with extraordinary instincts. There's a reason why, before Vander Esch arrived to America's Team, the defense crumbled without him. Last year, despite losing the starting gig, Lee still had 118 tackles, 13 tackles for loss and an interception. The longtime veteran can still play.
It will be odd for Cowboys Nation to watch Lee on a completely new role. It's also hard to put the finger on what his production will look like at the end of the year. If there's one thing we know though, is that the veteran will work hard every practice trying to get the most playing time he can. We should be excited about the team's top three linebackers.
Dak Prescott Impresses, Draws Compliments All Minicamp Long
Dak Prescott stood before the media Thursday in a Stetson Cowboy hat, answering questions about his upcoming contract extension.
“I’ve got my cowboy hat on, so I’m a Cowboy, we’ll say that.”
Prescott has cemented himself as the franchise quarterback of America's Team, and now it's time for the franchise to pay him like it. Set to earn roughly $34 million per year (according to recent rumors/reports), Prescott is going to be a very rich and comfortable man in the near future.
But, for now, he still plays under his fourth round rookie contract. You wouldn't be able to tell by watching him on the field, however. Though it was just minicamp, Prescott was impressive as ever over the last couple weeks of practice, earning praise from all levels within the organization.
Veteran Jason Witten complimented both Prescott's anticipation and accuracy, saying his throws have been "off the charts" at minicamp. Prescott himself said that this is the best he's felt since he's entered the league, and it certainly makes sense for this to be the case.
"Is it three years under my belt or just seeing defenses a whole lot more clear, being quicker and faster in everything I want to do, having great teammates around me? Who really knows the answer, but I feel great. I feel confident, and my teammates do, as well.” - Prescott to DallasCowboys.com
If Prescott was ever going to be comfortable, hungry, and ready to go, this is likely the time that it would happen. He has three relatively successful seasons under his belt, and ended 2018 on the best stretch of his career. He is the unquestioned starting quarterback for this team, and has the backing of every key decision maker in the building.
Prescott now has an offensive coordinator who he has not only worked closely with (in some capacity) since he entered the league in 2016, but is also being lauded for his creativity as an offensive mastermind. His quarterbacks coach, Jon Kitna, has been receiving similar praise for how he can coach up Prescott and get his footwork consistent, to help him "throw it through a Fruit Loop."
The time is now for Dak Prescott, and it's encouraging to see how he is responding to this increased pressure and responsibility. Then again we should have no doubt that he will respond positively, as he as throughout his entire young career.
Whenever faced with adversity, Prescott has answered the bell. Now he has all the supporters he needs, and just needs to prove them right.
Does RB Ezekiel Elliott Have A Chance At NFL MVP?
Who is the Cowboys best player?
As a running back, it's quite possible that Elliott is both the best of that bunch and the least important to the team's overall success. NFL.com's Adam Schein disagrees with the latter statement, however, placing Ezekiel Elliott among his top ten contenders for 2019 NFL MVP.
"I think the Cowboys are going to challenge for the Super Bowl in 2019 -- and I think Zeke fuels this team. When Elliott runs for 95-plus yards, the Cowboys are 19-4; when he falls below that benchmark, they're 9-8." - Adam Schein
Schein's prediction will no doubt make Cowboys Nation swoon, but does Elliott really have the opportunity to compete for an MVP award?
For one, this would require the Cowboys be among the best teams in the league this season. It's quite possible, as they did win 10 regular season and 1 playoff game a year ago, but it will have to happen once again for Elliott to be considered.
Next, Ezekiel Elliott would have to put up incredible numbers. Well, it's safe to assume this will likely be the case if condition one is met. Elliott is going to get a lot of opportunities to touch the ball each game, and finding himself among the league's rushing leaders has never been an issue for the young running back. Especially if the team has a lead and is running the ball to kill clock.
Even if both these conditions prove true, though, Elliott will still have trouble getting himself in the real MVP discussion. These awards tend to go to certain positions, and running back is not among that list. If Dallas has such a successful 2019, and their offense is clicking, it's more likely Dak Prescott will be the one contending for that MVP honor.
I know to some it sounds crazy, but Prescott will likely need to be closer to MVP level than Elliott if the Cowboys are to contend in the way Adam Schein suggests in his article.
So, likely, Schein should have named Prescott among his top ten MVP contenders, not Elliott.
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
3 Dallas Cowboys Who Could Be Traded Before Week 1
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
5 Takeaways from Dallas Cowboys OTA’s
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Kasey Redfern, a Name Dallas Cowboys Fans Might Want to get to Know
Star Blog2 weeks ago
3 Reasons 2019 Will be Dak Prescott’s Best Season Yet
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Could Amari Cooper Threaten Cowboys Receiving Records in 2019?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Will DE Taco Charlton “Break Out” In 2019?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Post-OTA’s Dallas Cowboys 53-Man Roster Projection
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
Cowboys CB Donovan Olumba Should Compete for Roster Spot