After spending some time looking back at the 2016 season, I re-watched some of the Pittsburgh Steelers game. One thing that was clear was the lack of depth at cornerback. In that game the team was got killed by Eli Rogers and Jesse James in the middle of the field, and by Le'Veon Bell who split out wide several times.
If you'll remember, Bell caught the opening touchdown pass for Pittsburgh when he matched up with J.J. Wilcox on the outside. That's a mismatch any team will take, any day. Wilcox, for all his strengths, should never be relied upon to cover someone with Bell's receiving ability one-on-one.
With the way the NFL is now comprised, you need depth at the cornerback position. Looking at the composition of the 2017 Dallas Cowboys, they finally have that.
Between Nolan Carroll, Anthony Brown, Orlando Scandrick, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Marquez White, the Cowboys have six (SIX!!) guys who could contribute in 2017. Five of those guys could all start on the inside or the outside and Awuzie has the flexibility to play some safety.
On the Dallas Cowboys 2017 schedule, they will have to face some pretty impressive passing games.
The New York Giants look to have one of the most formidable receiving groups going, especially if Brandon Marshall returns to his 2015 form.
Philadelphia will be no slouch either.
Washington, while not lining up the big names that Philadelphia and New York do, has really good players in Terrelle Pryor and Jamison Crowder. Josh Doctson will be healthy this year and will make the Redskins passing game more lethal.
The Arizona Cardinals -- despite an aging Carson Palmer -- have several legitimate weapons in the passing game. Larry Fitzgerald has redefined himself as a slot machine as he operates primarily from in the middle of the field these days. In fact, he led the league in receptions from the slot in 2016. RB David Johnson is a dangerous receiving weapon as well.
The Atlanta Falcons use several players -- like Mohammed Sanu and Tevin Coleman -- who are effective from the slot, not to mention superstar Julio Jones.
Though he had a down year in 2016, Randall Cobb remains one of the more effective weapons in the middle of the field and don't sleep on Ty Montgomery either. He had several games with 10 receptions. Now converted to running back, Montgomery will be split out at times to keep defenses off-balance, and he remains a difficult cover out of the backfield. Davante Adams is emerging and Jordy Nelson will play forever.
The Los Angeles Chargers, Seattle Seahawks, Kansas City Chiefs and the Oakland Raiders have several players each that can be effective from the slot.
This doesn't even begin to cover the tight ends that Dallas has on the schedule.
Evan Engram, Jordan Reed, and Zach Ertz -- twice --, Jake Butt -- if healthy -- , Martellus Bennett -- yes, him --, Marcus Mosher's rookie favorite, George Kittle, Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry for the Chargers, Cowboys-killer Jared Cook, and the resurgent Jimmy Graham for Seattle.
The point is, Dallas is going to have to be really good against the pass this year for their defense to show the improvement we hope they will make. In 2017, they have the players to do it.
Starting with Orlando Scandrick, who has been the primary slot corner player over his time in Dallas, they have a strong veteran leader who can play with just about anybody in the middle of the field.
While, Scandrick was out in 2016, Anthony Brown -- then a rookie -- filled in nicely for several games before being called upon to fill in on the outside. Rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis are both viewed as players who can be effective inside or outside cornerbacks.
Nolan Carroll isn't a great player by any stretch, but he carries the reputation of being a solid contributor who can cover and make some plays.
Marquez White has some solid traits that could turn him into a fine cornerback in the league, but needs some time to develop.
We may look at the defensive line and their ability to get pressure as the most important key to the 2017 Cowboys season. With the question marks on the defensive line, I see it a bit differently.
What sustained some frustrating drives at times was the quick passing that teams used pretty effectively against the Cowboys in 2016.
A lot of the NFL is now using the quick passing game to get their team in a rhythm. It will be the Dallas cornerback's job to disrupt that rhythm. If the cornerback group can disrupt the wide receiver for even a half a second, it will help the defensive line get home with more frequency.
The passing games that the Dallas Cowboys will face in 2017 will be tough matchups, no doubt. For the Cowboys to reach their 2017 goals, which hopefully include a trip to the promised land, this cornerback group will have to be equally tough.
Jaguars Waive Barry Church; Could Cowboys Bring Him Back?
Veteran safety Barry Church was released today by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could he return home to the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent his first seven seasons?
Despite his leadership and consistency on defense, Dallas allowed Church to leave in free agency when Jacksonville gave him a lucrative deal. But if he clears waivers, could the Cowboys consider bring him back for depth and support during their likely playoff run?
Jane Slater of the NFL Network reported on this potential reunion:
Cowboys haven't reached out to S Barry Church but I'm told they are discussing the possibility of bringing him back to Dallas according to a source informed. Church, 30, was released by the Jags today and is familiar with the system having played there from 2010-2016.
The Cowboys have had solid play from their current starting safeties, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. Neither is a star, but the duo has not been a liability during the team's current five-game winning streak.
Church was a similar player, reliable if never exceptional, during his time in Dallas. He could be a nice insurance policy for the playoffs if something happened to one of the starters.
Barry knows the system. He never played for Kris Richard, but he was with Rod Marinelli for three seasons before leaving in free agency.
According to reports out of Jacksonville, Church is being released because the team wants to go with younger, cheaper players now that their season is over. There is no known injury keeping Barry from playing.
Of course, Dallas would have to make room on the roster to pick Church up. They could third-year prospect Darian Thompson, who is the current fourth man at safety.
Barry Church must now go through the 24-hour waiver process. A team may claim him, including the Cowboys. We'll see what the future holds.
How the Dallas Cowboys Can Win the NFC East This Week
It's only Week 15, but the Dallas Cowboys could become the 2018 NFC East Champions this week through a couple of scenarios. I thought we'd take a moment today to break down how the Boys can win their division and assure their spot in the playoffs.
With three weeks left in the regular season, most of the divisional games have already been played. The only two left to play are the Week 17 finales; Cowboys at Giants and Eagles at Redskins.
Here are the current standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 8-5 (4-1 in division)
- Philadelphia Eagles 6-7 (3-2 in division)
- Washington Redskins 6-7 (2-3 in division)
- New York Giants 5-8 (1-4 in division)
The Giants have been scrappy lately, winning four of their last five, but it's too late for them to try to win the division. Even if the Cowboys were to fall to 8-8, the best New York could do is tie them in overall record. They would have also split their head-to-head series, negating that tiebreaker.
At that point, it would come down to the record within the division. New York would improve to 2-4 with a win over Dallas in Week 17, but the Cowboys would still be 4-2 against the NFC East. Dallas would still be the division champion.
So, that knocks out New York. Technically, the Eagles and Redskins are still alive. But their margin is about as slim as it gets.
Both Philadelphia and Washington need the Cowboys to lose their last three games, and then to also win out themselves, to steal the NFC East crown.
For the Redskins, it's about their record against division opponents. The best they can finish is 3-3, assuming they'd win their last game against the Eagles. With the head-to-head series against Dallas split this year, they would have to finish 9-7 overall and have the Cowboys drop to 8-8 to become NFC East Champions.
The Eagles also need to finish one game ahead of Dallas, but for a different reason. Philadelphia lost both their games with the Cowboys this year, so Dallas has the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So that really makes thing simple for Dallas; win just one of your last three games and you're the division champion.
Not only that, but even if Dallas were to fall this week against the Indianapolis Colts, they could still clinch the division with losses by the Eagles (@ Rams) and Redskins (@ Jaguars).
It would certainly behoove the Cowboys to get the division locked up now. They could then use the last two weeks of the season to get ready for the playoffs.
Dallas would have the freedom rest banged up players like Ezekiel Elliott and Zack Martin. It would also allow them to work in returning players such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin and figure out their new rotations without pressure to win.
Beating the Colts on Sunday isn't a given; they're at home and desperate to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. They are the toughest opponent Dallas has left until January.
But despite that, with the Eagles facing a juggernaut team and Washington trying to play football without a quarterback, there's a great chance that the Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions by Sunday night.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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