The Dallas Cowboys have their backs to the wall in hostile territory on Sunday night, in need of their first road win at the Eagles just to improve to 4-5 through nine games. There are countless reasons why these 2018 Cowboys have underwhelmed so far. When stacked against tonight's opponent, the defending Super Bowl champions, the Cowboys come out looking even worse - despite Philadelphia being only .500 at 4-4.
Forget about the Dak Prescott vs. Carson Wentz perspective, as well as the conservative Jason Garrett vs. trendy Doug Pederson, and focus solely on what's made the Cowboys a successful team in recent years.
An offensive line once regarded as far-and-away the best in the league has clearly regressed, compounded by Dak Prescott's tendency to hold onto the football too long while struggling to sense pressure.
Tyron Smith has shown signs of mortality this season after missing four games last year. Without Smith, the Cowboys didn't stand a chance up front, and alarmingly the same can be said about too many snaps with #77 in the lineup this year.
Rookie Left Guard Connor Williams, who might as well have been floating through AT&T Stadium after hearing his name called by the home team on draft day, has certainly not experienced the dream he hoped of playing between Smith and Travis Frederick.
Accompanying teammates aside, Williams has been inconsistent in his transition from tackle to guard, and is far from the only weak point that opposing defenses attack this Cowboys offense at. The long-term outlook for Williams at LG is still high, but on a team with short-term goals left to capture, his level of play has been a disappointment.
Center Joe Looney has filled in admirably for Travis Frederick. Lacking the leadership ability that Frederick possessed as the anchor to the Cowboys OL, Looney can be asked to do little more than block the man across from him, something he's doing at a high level.
Just how much the Cowboys want to put their offensive struggles on the drop in performance between Looney and Frederick will say a lot about the direction of this team after 2018.
Right Guard Zack Martin has been his usual self, the best guard in football blocking his way through what could be another wasted season as early as Monday morning. Next to him, in his second year at right tackle, La'el Collins has not taken another step forward.
As the opposite bookend to Smith, Collins has allowed far too many rushers to collapse the pocket, giving Prescott nowhere to go.
There is blame to go around from the very top all the way down for the way the Cowboys have played. One thing this organization is on the same page about is the commitment to offensive line play though, and without it there's no hiding the flaws that have sent the Cowboys to two straight losses.
The Cowboys have looked so inept compared to other teams at times that it's easy to lose sight of the weaknesses for any opponent, especially the Eagles. Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett, Chris Long, Derek Barnett, and Brandon Graham make up the best defensive line this battered Cowboys front will deal with all season.
Perhaps the Cowboys will be a week late in coming out as a desperate team with a season to save, faltering at home under the same mentality off the bye to the Titans. Should another week with Marc Colombo as their coach help this unit improve though, the Cowboys can take advantage of the Eagles back seven.
Cowboys OC Scott Linehan: "Everything we're about is ownership and accountability this week. I fully own that we haven't been good enough offensively. It starts with me.
Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan said this week that the Cowboys poor play on offense "starts with him". To his defense, scheming an offense that doesn't protect the QB or get to the second level in the run game is difficult. Linehan is surely feeling pressure to come into Sunday night with a game plan to attack this aggressive Eagles defense.
Starting cornerbacks Sidney Jones and Jalen Mills are both out for this contest, leaving Ronald Darby and Rasul Douglas to deal with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and (if the Cowboys remember he's on their side) Cole Beasley.
Getting to a battered Eagles secondary will take an epic performance from the Cowboys offensive line in their "last stand". It's been years since writing about the Cowboys OL as a concern coming into a divisional game was a legitimate query.
To be more precise, it's been three years since the Cowboys have earned less than three wins by week ten, in a forgettable 2015 season quarterbacked primarily by Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden. Dak Prescott deserves a chance to prove he can still be the guy in Dallas, but with a trip to Atlanta following tonight's game, another loss could put Prescott on the fast track to being as big a bust as 2015's passers.
There are too many battle-tested linemen blocking for Prescott to allow this to be the case. As the Cowboys offensive line responds to adversity tonight, so to will the team, and this starting five must give the Cowboys a chance to get the ball downfield.
Takeaway Tuesday: Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player
It was a dramatic win for the Dallas Cowboys but a win nonetheless. The Philadelphia Eagles gave the Cowboys one hell of a fight at AT&T Stadium in a great rivalry game. It was undoubtedly one of the most exciting games this season has seen as it ended with a walk-off touchdown that gave the home team the victory.
Here is this week's Takeaway Tuesday on what we learned from such a thrilling match!
Amari Cooper Trade Shouldn't Even Be a Discussion
Once a complicated debate, the Amari Cooper trade has a clear winner. It's simple, really. If it wasn't for Amari Cooper, the Cowboys would not be 8-5 en route to the NFC East title. Cooper has literally saved the 2018 season for the once 3-5 Cowboys team.
Since becoming a part of the Cowboys, the former Oakland Raider has accounted for 40 catches, 642 yards and six touchdowns. Last Sunday alone, he was responsible for 217 yards and three scores. Not to mention the amount of times he's moved the chains for this offense. The 24-year old can seriously play football. Despite struggles, this offense is very promising with that caliber of a WR1 and an elite RB such as Ezekiel Elliott.
What was it again? A first rounder? Should've asked for more, Raiders.
Randy Gregory is a Big Time Player
Gregory's journey to be back on a football field was a difficult one. But it was worth it. Versus the Eagles, his presence was constantly felt by Carson Wentz. He was able to get in five pressures, one of which resulted in a sack.
The last couple of games, Gregory has drawn a few costly flags, but his play is still amazing. He's one of the fastest defensive ends in the league and he continues to improve in bending around the corner. He has five sacks in the last eight games. If you weren't convinced #94 should be our starting right defensive end, you should be by now.
Tight Ends Rise
The lack of a tight end did not stand out this past Sunday. But Dalton Schultz and Blake Jarwin did. With Geoff Swaim out with an injury, this couple of young rotational players had their best games of their careers. Both were targeted in key moments of the game. Blake Jarwin had 56 yards in seven catches and a big third down conversion and Dalton Schultz finished the night with 37 yards.
A promising sign for the Cowboys moving forward. The offense is clicking at wide receiver with Amari Cooper, having a tight end (or a couple) stand up will only make this unit better.
Garrett Deserves a Round of Applause
Whether or not you think Jason Garrett is a good head coach, the guy deserves an applause. I get why you might not like him. In fact, I still question if he should be in Dallas in 2019 if the Cowboys fail to have success in the playoffs. But the way this team has come back from such a terrible start can't be ignored.
The players on this team fight for this guy. The Dallas Cowboys went from a team everyone had written off from playoff contention to legit Super Bowl contenders since they fired Paul Alexander and got Amari Cooper.
Dak Prescott is One of the Best Facing Adversity
Dak Prescott's career continues to cause a great debate among Cowboys' fans. You see, in the NFL, things are not white or black. When judging a player, there are a lot of gray areas. Take last night's performance from Dak Prescott. He threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball once and pretty much played bad football for three quarters. But his night ended with 455 yards and three touchdowns and a 78% completion percentage in 54 attempts.
In the NFL, not any quarterback comes back from turning the ball three times. With the help of his tremendous defense, Dak did. In the fourth quarter, he completed 17 out of 20 passes for 243 yards and three touchdowns. His performance was clutch.
This isn't a one thing either. Since 2016, Dak is tied for the most game-winning drives in the NFL. Prescott might be inconsistent and can have some pretty bad plays. But he's one resilient quarterback. As T.O. would've said: "that's my quarterback."
In Swaim’s Absence And Among Witten Rumors, Jarwin And Schultz Shine
"Starting tight end for the Dallas Cowboys" has been about as stable a position as there is in sports over the last decade. It's been Jason Witten. End of story.
Beginning in 2018, however, that stability went out the window with Witten's retirement. The starting role was left in the hands of Geoff Swaim, with even younger and more inexperienced players filling out the depth chart behind him. There was clearly reason for concern, and once Swaim went down during the Cowboys' win in Atlanta, those concerns only grew.
Swaim's absence has brought with it rumors of a Jason Witten return, with reports last weekend even suggesting that Jason Garrett reached out to Witten to see if he's looking to end his retirement and rejoin the Cowboys.
His absence has also brought about the emergence of two young tight ends, however, who are each succeeding in their own ways and showcasing why the Cowboys felt confident in allowing them to take the bulk of the tight end snaps while Swaim is injured. Those tight ends, of course, are Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz.
Last Sunday during the Cowboys big overtime victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, both Jarwin and Schultz had impressive days. Blake Jarwin has become one of the go-to third down options for quarterback Dak Prescott, extending drives and getting open over the middle of the field. Jarwin had a career best 7 catches for 56 yards on Sunday, including a spectacular third down grab to make up for Prescott's poor ball placement on his crossing route.
Blake Jarwin looks like the big, athletic, middle of the field threat that many fans wished Rico Gathers could be. The next step in unlocking his potential would be to get him more involved in the red zone. Dallas is struggling to convert and-goal situations into touchdowns, and logic would say a big target like Jarwin should be able to help in those moments.
Fourth round rookie Dalton Schultz had a good day as well, catching 3 balls for 37 yards including a 16 yard reception down the seam. Where Schultz really shines, however, is with his run blocking, as he did at Stanford. The move to more of a zone blocking scheme has benefited Schultz as a run blocker, just as it has the entire Cowboys rushing offense.
Schultz looks to be improving as a pass catcher by the week, and a year in a professional offseason program should do him wonders in terms of play strength, in turn helping him as a run blocker. He may not ever turn into a top 5 or 10 tight end in football the way Witten once was, but he is clearly already a functional and valuable player on this roster.
The Cowboys are insanely young throughout most of their roster, and tight end is one of those young spots. Tight end is also a spot you typically don't want (or need) to address within the first round of the NFL Draft. Dallas is secretly in a good spot moving forward at tight end, with Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz emerging as solid players.
This doesn't mean the Cowboys shouldn't look around in the offseason to see what's available, but they should also feel comfortable with what's on their roster at the moment.
Sean’s Scout: Resilient Prescott Inches Cowboys Closer to NFC East Title
If an overtime win over the defending Super Bowl champions that ends their dreams of repeating while increasing your own playoff odds can be both ugly and beautiful, then the Dallas Cowboys 29-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles was certainly that - and a whole lot more.
Extending their winning streak to five didn't come without the Cowboys toying with a total collapse, as Quarterback Dak Prescott turned the ball over three times. Fresh off a win against the New Orleans Saints where the Cowboys managed just 13 points, the Eagles pushed this defense to the edge thanks to continued struggles on offense.
In overtime, Prescott made sure Carson Wentz and the Eagles would never see the ball, putting four indescribable quarters behind him to lead a game-winning touchdown drive. The Cowboys are a win away from claiming the NFC East. The full scope of how this season has turned on its head goes well beyond this most recent Cowboys win, at least back to their first win at the Eagles five weeks ago.
For now, my first attempt at sorting out what we saw at AT&T Stadium on Sunday will have to do, with another post game edition of Sean's Scout.
- With both Tight Ends Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz setting new career highs in receptions, I was waiting for the Cowboys patience on offense to pay off with a big play on the outside, finally provided twice by Wide Receiver Amari Cooper.
In the Cowboys previous win over the Eagles, their receivers had their way with a depleted Philadelphia secondary. Dealing with injuries at cornerback mid-game that are still effecting this group, the Eagles were in no position to line up against Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Cole Beasley.
The counter for the Cowboys offense this week was to use heavier formations, pound Ezekiel Elliott, and get their tight ends involved more than they've been all season. Perhaps the only normal thing to come out of this game was Elliott's 40 touches.
Despite it being a career high, there's no reason Elliott shouldn't be this involved in the Cowboys offense. The Cowboys patience with Elliott was eventually rewarded when Cooper scored from 28 yards out to break a 6-6 tie, and again from 75 yards to put Dallas ahead 23-16 in the fourth quarter.
If not for a few missed shots to Michael Gallup and a missed Brett Maher field goal, the Cowboys efforts on offense could have kept this game out of overtime, though their execution on the winning drive is hard to dispute.
- The Cowboys are last in the league at scoring touchdowns in the red zone over their last three wins, something that has to change quickly in preparation for the playoffs.
The Cowboys were 3 of 5 in the red zone in the win that started this streak in Philly, and 2 of 3 the following week at the Falcons. Their decline on offense has been a recent trend that must come back up over the last three weeks of the regular season.
Only six of Elliott's 40 touches came in the red zone, which feels inexcusable from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, considering also it was an adjusted play call by Cooper and Prescott that created their long touchdown to force overtime.
Perhaps the trust the Cowboys showed in Schultz and Jarwin will lead to more red zone opportunities for tight ends, of which the Cowboys have no true middle-of-field threat.
- There is no reason for Prescott to be falling away on his first interception in the end zone, targeting an open Cooper to the back corner.
Prescott never saw Rasul Douglas break off his man and end up under a throw to Cooper that was placed in a horrible spot. Cooper was open, but thrown into coverage on a ball he never really came close to.
After another look at the play, it's even more disturbing to see Prescott's mechanics. Sliding in a clean pocket, Prescott was falling away slightly when he released the ball. The Cowboys defense would bail out Prescott after probably his most egregious turnover, forcing a three and out.
This was not the case after Prescott's second interception that turned into the Eagles first touchdown, or fumble that lead to a tying field goal.
- For as good a pass rushing duo as DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are, Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins and Tyrone Crawford don't get enough credit for their all-around game.
Before kickoff, I wrote about the Cowboys not needing David Irving, who missed his sixth straight game. This is a compliment to not only Collins and Crawford, but Antwaun Woods as well. All three played their part in keeping the Eagles offense in check once again.
Crawford may be playing the best football of his seven-year career. No longer struggling to fit in as either a defensive end or tackle, Crawford is simply a leader by example for the Cowboys defense wherever he lines up.
Carson Wentz is a quarterback you have to make reset his feet defensively, and Crawford was able to force this a number of times. His speed rush ability paired with the power of Collins and Woods on the inside is incredibly disruptive for Dallas.
Following Maher's missed field goal, Crawford turned in one of the hustle plays of the season for the Cowboys to strip Wentz. Beating the left guard off the snap, Crawford dipped Jason Peters at left tackle on his way to a forced fumble that produced another field goal before the half.
This game was that close to having a first half all about the Cowboys taking advantage of Eagles mistakes, instead leaving points on the field and letting the Eagles punish second half mistakes on the way to overtime.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
With a win at the Colts, vs. the Buccaneers, or at the Giants the Cowboys will have gone from 3-5 to NFC East champions for 2018. The merits of just how good this division is will be worth discussing prior to the playoffs, but with two wins over the Eagles and one over the Redskins within an ongoing five game win streak, the Cowboys are objectively one of the hottest teams in the league right now.
Amari Cooper has probably made six or seven plays "better" than his miraculous overtime touchdown, proving his worth more and more each week, though his winning score will surely be a lasting moment from the Cowboys week 14 win.
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