The 6-1 Dallas Cowboys will be in Cleveland on Sunday, traveling to play the win-less Browns for the first time since 2008 on the road. America's Team always draws a great crowd - as Browns fans will try to recover from watching their Cleveland Indians lose Game 7 of the World Series, wanting nothing more than their first win of the season.
I also believe that Cowboys Nation will be well represented in the stands, including my own presence for the first time! I'll be taking in my first ever Cowboys game, and feel pretty good about it ending up as Dallas' seventh straight win.
Q: The Browns missed a great chance to get their first win of the season last week at home against the Jets. I'm sure plenty of fans are also pretty upset the Indians couldn't pull out Game 7 in the World Series. What is the mood around this Browns team and their fans right now with the NFC leading Cowboys in town?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): The good news for the Browns is they've been flying under the radar, which is rare for this team. The bad news is the Indians are done and interest in the NBA won't pick up for a while, so their 0-8 record (and, let's be honest, soon to be 0-9) is front and center.
Fans were expecting a long, losing season, but the frustration is starting to grow. They see the plan being put together -- acquire draft picks and start over from scratch -- and the team has fought and been in most games, but I'm not sure how fans would stomach 0-16 or 1-15.
Q: The Browns could start Josh McCown at quarterback in his second straight game, or go back to rookie Cody Kessler. We know they will also welcome back first-round pick WR Corey Coleman. Obviously, Cleveland needs to find a way to put up point in this game, where do you see them having an advantage against Rod Marinelli's defense?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): It could be Cody Kessler at quarterback as he's cleared the concussion protocol and will be active. Hue Jackson will make his announcement on Friday. Regardless, the best shot the Browns have is to take advantage of the wounded Dallas secondary with their big target in Terrelle Pryor and the speed of Coleman who will line up in multiple spots -- both outside and in the slot.
Q: If McCown does start against Dallas, what does he have to do to secure his spot as the starter moving forward for Hue Jackson, throwing against a Dallas secondary that will be without Barry Church and Morris Claiborne?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): McCown's biggest strength is his arm, but the key is taking care of the football. He can be turnover prone. He also needs to get rid of the ball quickly. With a shaky offensive line, his penchant for holding onto the football could get him hurt again.
If Cody Kessler starts, he needs to show he can get the ball down the field. It's the biggest question mark for him along with his durability. There should be some opportunities, especially with Coleman back, and he has to take advantage of them.
Ultimately, this has to be Kessler's job, though. The Browns have to see what he's capable of and judge his ceiling.
Q: The Browns added LB Jamie Collins this week ahead of this game, what role do you expect to see him in for his first game this Sunday?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): It appears they are going to use him at outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, but he does have the ability to play inside should they choose to move him inside. I'm guessing that at some point he will be on the field in the nickel, as well, as opposed to Demario Davis, one of their inside linebackers. His coverage skills will be a welcome addition, as the Browns have had all kinds of problems with tight ends. It will help them to have another player that defenses need to pay attention to and will be interesting to see if it will open up some opportunities for a young pass rusher like Emmanuel Ogbah on the other side.
Q: The Cowboys and Browns are tied in sacks at 14 on the season. What does the Browns pass rush need to do to make Dak Prescott uncomfortable, coming off of a game where he looked flustered against the Eagles?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): The Browns best pass rusher is rookie Carl Nassib. He's quick off the ball and bats down a lot of passes -- he got three of Ryan Fitzpatrick's in the first half last week. He's also fast enough to chase quarterbacks down and smart enough to read screens and designed quarterback runs. They need him and Ogbah, who lines up at outside linebacker and defensive end, to bring as much heat as they can, because the inside rushers, who haven't created a lot of quarterback pressure, will be tied up trying to deal with the interior of that Cowboys line. It's also why I expect Collins to step in and play a fair amount. They need pressure from their outside linebackers.
Q: Which Cowboys defender in the front seven do you think scares Cleveland the most when it comes to trying to establish running backs Isiah Crowell and Duke Johnson?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): I'm going to be generic here, but really anyone who lines up in the middle is a problem. Cameron Erving has struggled at center to begin with and now he's popped up on the injury report with a shoulder. This offensive line has already had to shuffle, losing left guard Joel Bitonio, who was having a Pro Bowl-type season. Interior defenders have given them nightmares.
Q: Who should the Cowboys be the most worried about defensively overall for Cleveland?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): I mentioned Nassib, their third-round pick last April. He's been really good, even if he's faded in second halves of games. Joe Haden isn't the type of cornerback who will shut guys down, but he is one of the few players in the secondary who can force turnovers and he can make life difficult for a wide receiver. You can beat Haden, but he can also make plays on the football and create turnovers.
It looks like Dan sees the Browns defense doing their best to create pressure off the edge against Prescott, including with their newest addition Jamie Collins. Tyron Smith was absolutely dominant in week 8, but Doug Free will have to be ready for different looks at right tackle.
For the Browns offense, regardless of who starts at quarterback, it will be important for them not to turn the ball over, and find ways to get Coleman his touches. They will also have to find a way - with the interior of their offensive line struggling - to block the likes of Terrell McClain, rookie Maliek Collins, and even David Irving lining up in the middle of the Cowboys' defensive front.
In the end, he sees the Browns falling to 0-9 at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, who would improve to 7-1 on the season.
What are YOUR thoughts on the Cleveland Browns ahead of this weekend's Cowboys game? Let us know! Use the comment section below to start the conversation.
You can follow Dan on Twitter @Dan_Labbe, and read his work at Cleveland.com! I'll be on Twitter live from FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland @ShoreSportsNJ, and will be streaming live on Periscope at halftime.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
The Dallas Cowboys are not only breathing in playoff contention, but they're now the favorites to crown themselves as the NFC East champions in 2018. It's pretty impressive how the tables can turn so quickly in the NFL. Dallas played very well against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday and we learned quite a bit from them as they bounced back to .500. Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday! Enjoy it as much as you did Brett Maher's game winning field goal a couple of days ago.
Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
Despite taking steps in the right direction, it's impossible to compare this offense to units like the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. However, it's the Cowboys' defense that could be labeled as a championship unit. Facing an offense with such a strong WR core, allowing only one touchdown on the road is impressive.
The Cowboys sacked Matt Ryan three times and were constantly causing pressures. Byron Jones was great once again, allowing only two catches in passes thrown in his direction. And of course, the kid who's been impressing us all, Leighton Vander Esch continued to play out of his mind. He should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner at this point.
The Cowboys' defense is one of the best in the NFL right now, and any offense will have a tough time facing them. It'll be intriguing to see if they can take the next step and stop a high-powered unit like the Saints in a few days.
Offensive Line Woes Are Gone
The offense has improved a lot the last couple of games. Although there is still a lot to work on, they're not struggling as they were in the first half of the season. The offensive line is a huge part of this. With Marc Colombo at OL coach, things have looked very different in Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I feel great. I feel fast. I feel physical. I feel very comfortable with the running schemes. We just got to keep rolling. That's what's important. We just got to keep rolling.
Ezekiel Elliott has been on a roll the past two weeks and his comments regarding how he feels about the running schemes shouldn't go unnoticed. The offensive line wasn't playing as well as they are right now earlier in the year. Dak Prescott is noticeably more comfortable in the pocket.
It's intriguing to know what will happen at left guard for the Cowboys. With Connor Williams injured, Xavier Su'a-Filo has done a good job filling in for him. Williams has the upside, but should Dallas mess up the mojo this OL has lately?
Dak Prescott: Clutch QB
Dak Prescott continues to be criticized by fans while he keeps proving us why it's not that easy to move on from him. The guy is far from the perfect passer, yet he's been clutch time and time again. This time he did so on the road on an impressive two minute drill.
With 1:46 on the clock, Prescott marched his team down to the Falcons' 24 yard line. He managed to give his team another game winning drive in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' young quarterback needed a confidence boost and this is perfect for him. He needs to keep it up if the team is going to finish the season as the NFC East champions.
Since entering the NFL, Dak has 12 game winning drives. As frustrating as his play is at times, he will not be easy to replace if the Cowboys decide to move on from this guy down the road. Hopefully, they don't have to. I, for one, believe Dak can be way better with a proper coaching staff. But that's a discussion for another day.
Now, it's time to celebrate the Cowboys' victory and get ready for a short week as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
Ezekiel Elliott’s Excellence Elevates Cowboys in Road Win
For the first time this season the Dallas Cowboys have won back to back games moving to 5-5 on the year with a 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons in a game that they had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The defense was the story for most of the game, forcing the Atlanta Falcons to kick four field goals before allowing the game-tying touchdown with less than two minutes to play. The offense had trouble getting going until they leaned heavily on their star running back, Ezekiel Elliott.
Elliott, who went over the 200 total yard mark for the second time this season and the fourth time in his career was dominant in the second half, getting hard-fought yards en route to his fifth 100 yard game of the season.
Elliott averaged 5.3 yards per carry, on 23 carries, but was also the leading receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott on the day caught seven passes on eight targets for 79 yards as well.
The Cowboys first touchdown drive was reminiscent of who the Dallas Cowboys were in 2016. That season, and seemingly rarely since, the Cowboys would go on these long 10-15 play drives in the second half of games and take control of the game.
On Sunday in Atlanta, they did it again.
Trailing 6-3 in the second half with the defense playing an excellent game, the Cowboys went on a 14 play drive for 75 yards that took nearly eight minutes off the clock. It was a huge drive to give the Cowboys a lead and to give their defense a much deserved rest.
On that drive, Ezekiel Elliott saw the ball seven times and set the tone picking up several first downs that helped set up Dak Prescott's four yard touchdown run that took the lead. After Leighton Vander Esch's interception on the ensuing drive, Elliott once again made a huge impact taking the ball twice for 31 yards including the 28 yard touchdown run that put the Cowboys up 19-9 with a little more than 12 minutes to play in the game. And on the final drive of the game, Ezekiel Elliott caught a pass and picked up a first down just inside Falcons territory.
Over the last two weeks, you can see a big difference in the effectiveness of the run game. Elliott spoke about Amari Cooper being one reason they've had more success in the run game.
Ezekiel Elliott on Amari Cooper: "It's just one more guy they have to worry about. It seems like he kind of was the missing piece, just because when he got here this offense started rolling. It's great having him. He's a phenomenal player. He's going to have a great future here.
Amari Cooper's presence is a big reason for the offense and you can tell they've been a more complete offense the last two weeks. The addition of Cooper puts more stress on a defense in the passing game. Like Elliott said, he's a player that has to be accounted for, making his and the offensive line's jobs easier.
The play of the offensive line has also been really good the last two weeks since Marc Colombo took over as offensive line coach and coincidentally Xavier Su'a-Filo was inserted into the starting lineup for an injured Connor Williams.
Whatever the reason, Ezekiel Elliott seems to be on an upward trajectory.
Ezekiel Elliott is now averaging 129.4 total yards per game, which sits right at his career average heading into the 2018 season. He's on pace for 1,524 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 545 receiving yards, and 3 receiving touchdowns. The touchdown totals are down from his career pace, but he's still on pace for 2,000 total yards this season. If the last two weeks are any indications, that pace could see a huge bump in the second half of the season.
Since entering the NFL, Ezekiel Elliott has: * 17 games with 100+ rush yards * 24 games with 100+ scrimmage yards * 4 games with 200+ scrimmage yards * 3,567 rush yards The one similarity between these numbers? Elliott leads the NFL in each since 2016 #Cowboys
If you needed a singular note to tell you how great Elliott's been for the Dallas Cowboys, that's the one. It's amazing that Elliott leads the league in all of those categories including rushing yards considering he sat out six games last season and had a game where he rushed for only eight yards against the Denver Broncos in week two of 2017.
And then there’s this one.
@dallascowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott had 201 scrimmage yards and a TD in the team's Week 11 victory. Elliott (4,540 scrimmage yards & 32 TDs) became the third player in @NFL history with 4,500+ scrimmage yards & 30+ TDs in their first 35 career games.
The two other players to accomplish that feat were Eric Dickerson and Edgerin James. That’s some legendary company.
Ezekiel Elliott is a big-time player for the Dallas Cowboys and someone who they can lean on the rest of the season. If the Cowboys are going to make the playoffs it will be because the run game continued to play at a high level, which opened everything else up for the offense. While many people will tell you that running backs don't matter, Ezekiel Elliott certainly proved on Sunday that he matters.
And if you watch opposing defenses on Sunday's, they act like Elliott matters. Like Sunday, Ezekiel Elliott will continue to be a threat each week and big things are coming for him and the Dallas Cowboys.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Atlanta
It may not have been very pretty, but the Dallas Cowboys were able to keep their playoff hopes alive by defeating the Atlanta Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Sunday afternoon. It's a place that wasn't kind to them a season ago, but they were able to overcome their demons and secure a much-needed victory.
This is a game that ended up being a lot closer than it probably needed to be. Missed opportunities and mental mistakes once again plagued this Cowboys team, but they continued to scratch and claw their way in a hostile environment to put another "W" in the win column.
With the game still fresh in our minds, I thought it would be a good time to share with you what I believed was The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys yesterday against the Atlanta Falcons. As always, please feel free to share your own thoughts and opinions in the comment section located at the end of the article.
It should come to no surprise after the way he's played these last couple weeks, but I decided to go with Running Back Ezekiel Elliott for the good this week for the Dallas Cowboys. I could have easily gone with Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch because he was definitely deserving as well, but for me Zeke edged him out by a narrow margin.
Ezekiel Elliott put the team on his back Sunday afternoon and led them to a victory, just like he did a week ago against the Philadelphia Eagles. He pretty much was the Cowboys offense yesterday, accounting for more than 200 total yards by himself. He not only finished the game as the leading rusher with 122 yards on the ground and a touchdown, but the leading receiver as well with seven catches for 79 yards.
Zeke has been absolutely dominating here recently and hopefully he can keep it up with the division rival Washington Redskins coming to town on Thanksgiving. It's a game that will likely determine the outcome of the NFC East division.
He may have made the game-winning field goal, but Kicker Brett Maher's inconsistency here lately is the bad this week for the Dallas Cowboys in my opinion. His missed extra point attempt against the Falcons came very close to costing them the victory, and I wouldn't be surprised if we see a few kickers brought in Monday on a tryout basis.
Over the past several years we've kind of been spoiled by having Dan Bailey, one of the most accurate kickers to ever play the game. I believe the Cowboys made the right decision to move on from Bailey earlier this year, especially after seeing the way he's struggled with inconsistency himself in Minnesota. But, Maher's recent struggles is starting to become more and more of a concern.
We've seen too many instances this season where a missed or made field-goal impacts the outcome of the game one way or another. This week they were fortunate enough to come out on top, but just imagine how the NFC division race would look if Maher would've made the one in Washington instead of clanking it on the upright.
I could've easily went with the penalties or mental mistakes in this section this week for the Dallas Cowboys, but I ultimately decided the ugly against the Falcons was Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie being victimized once again. Opposing quarterbacks continue to throw his direction and unfortunately they're finding quite a bit of success.
I hear a lot of fans around Cowboys Nation wanting to see Jourdan Lewis get a shot at starting on the outside over Awuzie, but I don't think that's the right move at this time. I still think Awuzie is playing at a high level, but unfortunately he's just been the victim of some really good catches by receivers he's covering at the time.
Both this week against the Falcons and last week against the Eagles we saw Awuzie with tight coverage on Julio Jones and Alshon Jeffrey, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to prevent the completion from happening. That's just been the way things have gone for him this season. If he can learn to get his head around and locate the ball, he would find much more success and not be targeted as much.
What is your Good, Bad, and Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the Falcons?
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