It feels like forever ago, but the Dallas Cowboys current 11 game winning streak started after a season-opening loss to this week's opponent - the New York Giants. Now with a remarkable chance to lock up the NFC East with a revenge win at the Giants, I sat down with NJ.com Giants Beat Writer James Kratch to get his insight on this match up from a New York perspective.
Q: So let's start with the big injury news coming into this game on the Giants side of things. Most notably, Jason Pierre-Paul was injured in that Steelers game - going to be out for some time including this game of course. Who are the Giants really looking at to step up in his absence?
He's historically always been consistently good, but he's had his best games against the Cowboys. So who are they looking at not only in the long-term as far as who can rush off that edge opposite of Olivier Vernon, but here against the Cowboys knowing you have Doug Free at right tackle - probably the only potential weak spot on the Cowboys offensive line - who are they trying to put over there to get the same pass rush that they've gotten out of Pierre-Paul?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): It's going to be tough. It's not going to be one person per say, it's going to be three main guys. Kerry Wynn, an undrafted free agent that's been in the league a couple of years. Really strong run defender. Not as much of a pass rusher - he's only got two sacks in his career. They also have two young guys, undrafted rookie Romeo Akwara - he's kind of emerged as the third end. Wynn maybe will start the game in the base package but you'll see Akwara in there on passing downs. He doesn't have a sack in his NFL career but he's flashed at times in the preseason, somewhat in the regular season. Then you have Owamagbe Odighizuwa, last year's third round pick. Basically missed his entire rookie season due to injuries. He had a good preseason but hasn't done a whole heck of a lot in the regular season -- and hasn't got a whole lot of opportunities. He missed last week's game against the Steelers with a knee injury. It looks like he should be able to play on Sunday but it's not 100% sure. He was kind of coming on strong before the knee injury, so they're going to look to those three key guys.
I think you'll also see SAM linebacker Devon Kennard also walk up a little bit in pass rush situations on the end. For the most part, it will be those three guys, and they readily admit that no one player will replace Pierre-Paul. It's really a devastating blow for this defense and this team, especially when you're going to go up against the Cowboys and that offensive line. They're kind of hoping that those three guys - and the sum of their parts - will be something equal to Pierre-Paul.
Q: Overall on this defense, how confident is this Giants team and defensive line as a whole that they can duplicate what they did in Week 1 against the Cowboys offensive line and against Ezekiel Elliott playing in his first game? They held Elliott to just 51 yards on 21 carries in this game and ever since we've all seen Elliott blossom into what we all expected him to be behind this Cowboys line when they drafted him at fourth overall. He's been great, Dak Prescott in the backfield as the other rookie has progressed as well. Obviously the Giants understand that they have a whole different test coming into this game facing those two, but how confident are they that what they did in Week 1 was something that can be duplicated here on Sunday night?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): They are very confident. They have the league's 5th ranked rush defense. Johnathan Hankins and Damon Harrison in the middle, Vernon on the edge, I would expect them to be confident as an 8-4 football team. They've had a really good defense and they've done it before, but from an outsiders perspective I just look at this Cowboys team and see a team that is drastically different from what they were in week 1 especially in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. I think the Giants will have their hands full on Sunday.
Q: Ben McAdoo has really been giving a lot of praise to this Cowboys offense, and he even pointed out a couple of defenders that are playing pretty well for Dallas right now. You think back to this rivalry between the Giants and the Cowboys when it was Tom Coughlin over on the sideline for the Giants - coming into a game like this you would always be worried as a Cowboys fan that the Giants were going to get this win or at least make it your toughest game of the season. Always incredibly competitive, he always knew how to rally his guys for any big game and especially these against Dallas. Now under McAdoo, he's trying to get this team bounced back after a loss, he's still trying to stay alive in this NFC East race and trying to not let the Cowboys clinch the division on their home field, what's been his message to the team this week and what has he been emphasizing when it comes to understanding that they beat this team once but they can't get too far ahead of themselves if they want to prevent the Cowboys from winning their 12th straight game?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): I really don't think they've spent much time externally projecting out on this game. I think their main focus is to take it week by week. With Pierre-Paul being out, the rally cry this week has been, "all hands on deck", and a whole bunch of players have been saying that. Clearly McAdoo is drumming that into their minds. He says they have to get better at getting better, this offense has struggled mightily recently and it's a major issue. Cruz isn't getting any targets, Shepard the week before struggled too.
I don't think the Giants are worried about the Cowboys, I'm sure they want to beat them and they would prefer to not have the Cowboys clinch the East at MetLife Stadium, but I think the Giants are more focused on themselves. The division hasn't been on the table realistically for weeks now, this team has got to make a push for the Wild Card. You have Tampa Bay and Washington and teams below them that they've already lost to getting themselves back into the playoff picture. The Giants needs to focus on themselves and getting their offense right these last four games.
Q: Getting into the Giants offense, they had their six game winning streak snapped at the Steelers as Manning thew two interceptions in that game. The Cowboys defense has forced just two turnovers in their last five games overall. Looking at this Giants offense, knowing the names that are probably going to have a big game - we know Manning is going to bounce back, we know Beckham is going to get his targets and make the explosive plays that we've all seen - who else outside of those expected named do you really need to step up for the Giants offense to potentially stick with the Cowboys in what could be a shootout type of game?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): I think the running game has to step up. It remains to be seen if Shane Vereen will be active from IR for the game. If he is, they need him, Paul Perkins, and Rashad Jennings. I also think Will Tye is a guy that has proven he can make plays, they need to him to make plays consistently, and him and Jerell Adams need to block to help the run game. The Giants offense is juts not getting the job done 12 games in, and it's been a surprise given what they expected to be. They have to get this ship righted fast with four games left and a crowded NFC Wild Card mix. I think the Giants would be devastated if they started 8-3 and missed the playoffs, but I think that's very much on the table if they don't get their act together.
Q: Another sore spot for the Giants offensively not only in the Steelers game but ongoing is left tackle Ereck Flowers. This is an interesting match up talking about who Flowers is going to line up against defensively. The Cowboys have shuffled through some guys at that RDE position. They don't really have a true speed rusher. They've moved DeMarcus Lawrence back and forth a bit to try to get production from that spot. What do you see coming out of this match up if anything, can Flowers step up and help the Giants running game and really have his best game of the season to get himself right down the stretch or do you see any Cowboys defenders that can have their way against Flowers surprisingly?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): Flowers had a really bad game against the Packers earlier in the season, and he bounced back the next week pretty well. I would not go as far to say he'll have his best game of the season, but given the fact the Cowboys don't have a tremendously productive pass rush this could be a bounce back performance from Flowers. I definitely think that's one of the key things for the Giants giving them a shot to win on Sunday night, the Cowboys don't have a tremendous pass rush, their offensive line can adjust although they've been banged up.
Q: How closely are you personally expecting this game to resemble the week 1 match up between these two teams where it was kind of sloppy on both ends? On the Cowboys side of things you could tell that Prescott and Elliott weren't in their preseason form, they were a little bit uptight, allowing the Giants defense to make plays. Manning threw the game winning touchdown to hand the Cowboys their only loss so far this season.
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): I think this will be pretty much what we saw in week 1. There may be at least some snow on Sunday Night in East Rutherford. This will be a slug fest. The Giants offense isn't that great, and the Giants defense will have some success against the Cowboys. I don't think they'll have all the success they need to have to win the game but I do think they'll be able to get to Elliott and the run game and get to Dak to a point. I do think they'll generate some pass rush, and it will be a close game in the fourth quarter. I think Dallas will eventually wear the Giants down and pull away.
Q: In your opinion, is there a better team that is more fit to win a game that might be played in the snow on the road than the Cowboys with this offensive line traveling and their comfort with Ezekiel Elliott touching the ball like a workhorse back that nobody else really has?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): No. I think this Dallas team has it drawn up how you want it to be to win these games in December on the road. In terms of the best team in the NFL, I think the Cowboys have to be considered that now. I do wonder what will happen down the road if they play Seattle, New England, Kansas City, or Oakland. If those defenses force Dak to make all the plays to beat them it will be interesting. This team is built for December football which is unique because they play indoors, and they have most of their games down the stretch indoors. The Giants are built like a dome team that plays outdoors. The Cowboys have the edge if the elements are a factor on Sunday night.
Q: Janoris Jenkins, another big off-season acquisition, still getting a feel for how New York fans respond to having such a high paid player at defensive back going up against some of the top WRs that we have here in the NFC East and around the league. What are you hearing from Jenkins and his teammates coming into this game on his match up with Dez Bryant? A lot of Cowboys fans are certainly aware of Landon Collins coming into this game as the Giants secondary has played well, he can help out along with the pass rush effecting Prescott - but overall Jenkins against Bryant is a game within this game.
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): Dez had one catch for eight yards in the opener. I don't think the Giants are going to hold Dez to one catch again on Sunday night. Every time Jenkins has faced an elite receiver - Antonio Brown last week had a TD catch on a circus grab, AJ Green earlier in the year, Jenkins did relatively well against Pryor too - he's proven to be worth his money as a lock down corner against #1 wide receivers.
I do expect Dez to make plays on Sunday night, it would be pretty hard to keep him 0 for the season in two games. The Giants are going to try to make it so Dez doesn't wreck the game for them. Tight end has been a major issue for the Giants, so Jason Witten could wreck the game and he's a guy that you have to take care of. Cole Beasley has beat them up on third down at times out of the slot. Overall Jenkins has played well and the secondary is a bright spot for the Giants going up against the Cowboys, but I do expect Dez to do something on Sunday Night - I have a hard time thinking they'll shut him down for two games.
You can follow me on Twitter for more @ShoreSportsNJ, and feel free to use the comment section below to discuss your thoughts on the Giants and Cowboys!
Cowboys Sign Ryan Yurachek; Fullback Role Changing in New Offense?
The Dallas Cowboys signed free agent Fullback Ryan Yurachek yesterday, who spent last year on the Oakland Raiders' practice squad. It could an easy to move to ignore, but Yurachek's game speaks to how the fullback position may be changing as a whole in the Cowboys offense under Kellen Moore.
To stay under the 90-man offseason roster limit, Dallas waived linebacker Justin Phillips.
The Cowboys signed fullback Ryan Yurachek, who spent last season in Oakland's practice squad and was released in May following knee surgery. To make room for Yurachek, linebacker Justin Phillips was waived. The Cowboys now have two fullbacks on the 90-man roster with Jamize...
Yurachek was a prolific pass-catcher as a tight end at Marshall. He had 10 touchdowns his senior year, which was one short of the NCAA Division I leaders for tight ends in 2017. Ryan was also named the team's offensive captain as a senior. Over his four years with The Herd, Yuracheck had 143 catches for 1,354 yards and 26 touchdowns.
Listed at just 6'1", Yurachek converted to fullback to attempt an NFL career. He was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Green Bay Packers but was released later that month. The Raiders signed him and kept him on the practice squad through the 2018 season. Oakland released Ryan last month after his had to have his knee scoped.
It's Yuracheck's background as a TE, especially with those receiving numbers, which intrigues me. It makes me think, and hope, that the Cowboys are going to start looking for more creative ways to utilize their fullbacks.
Before he joined the Cowboys last year, Jamize Olawale had seasons in Oakland where he got around 30 touches. Last year, Olawale had zero carries and was targeted just four times for two catches in the passing game.
That usage is consistent with how former Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan saw fullbacks throughout his tenure in Dallas. We had Keith Smith as a pure blocker, and before him it was Tyler Clutts. From 2014-2019, Cowboys fullbacks have had just 12 total receptions and even fewer rushing attempts.
I know the FB is a dying breed in the modern NFL, but that's also what we thought about run-first offenses for a while. The Cowboys, Seahawks, and some other teams have proven that so-called "old school" approaches still work, and in no small part because modern defenses are more focused on stopping the pass.
The biggest complaint about Linehan's system was its predictability. We're all hoping that new OC Kellen Moore will bring a more dynamic style, and a big part of that could be better utilizing players with versatile skills.
Even if Ryan Yurachek is just here as a camp body to take some work off of the veteran Olawale, his arrival could be a sign that the Cowboys are looking to get more out of their fullbacks in the receiving game. Even if they remain a low-volume part of the offense, as they should, anything that keeps opposing linebackers and safeties guessing is a positive.
2019 Dallas Cowboys the Best Roster of the Jason Garrett Era
It's still very early in the evaluative process for the Dallas Cowboys' coaches and scouts, but all things point to this being the best roster during Jason Garrett's tenure as head coach. The 2014 and 2016 teams had the best finishes of the Garrett era, but on paper, this 2019 roster looks like a team that can contend for a Super Bowl with few glaring weaknesses on offense or defense.
It may be a stretch to suggest that this team is better than the 2014 Cowboys that went 12-4 or 2016 team that went 13-3. Both of those teams were a couple of plays away from heading to the NFC Championship. However, those team had holes and weren't nearly as deep as this 2019 squad appears to be. Neither team fielded a defense as good as the players the Cowboys will put on the field in week one.
In 2014, the offense was one of the best in the NFL, scoring the fifth most points at 29.18 points per game. They were seventh in total yards. Tony Romo had the best season of his career while DeMarco Murray led the NFL in rushing. Dez Bryant was prime Dez Bryant catching 16 touchdowns and averaging 15 yards per reception. And Jason Witten was still a great player for the Cowboys averaging more than 10 yards per reception. In his most recent seasons of 2016 and 2017, Witten's seen that number dip below 10 yards per reception.
2014 was the first season we saw the combination of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin on the field together and it provided a glimpse of what an elite offensive line could look like. Doug Free at right tackle and Ronald Leary at left guard were no slouches either. Though they didn't get as much positive publicity as the rest of their offensive linemates, they were effective in their own right and were a big part of the reason why DeMarco Murray and Tony Romo were able to have the seasons they had.
At wide receiver, the Cowboys are better than they were in 2014 or 2016. In 2014, it was Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Dwayne Harris, and Devin Street. In 2016, the wide receiver group consisted of Bryant, Williams, Beasley, Lucky Whitehead, and Brice Butler. Heading into 2019, the Cowboys look to have one of the deeper wide receiver groups in the NFL featuring Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns, and Noah Brown. Three of the six wide receivers projected to make the roster have at least one 1,000 yard receiving season under their belt. Tavon Austin is as dynamic a player as you'll find if he can stay healthy and Michael Gallup and Noah Brown are young, but ascending players in the NFL.
In 2016, the NFL was taken over by the Dallas Cowboys rookies phenoms. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were the leaders on an offense that was led by Cole Beasley at wide receiver. Back in 2016, the Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott led Dallas Cowboys finished fifth in the NFL in points and yardage. Though Dez Bryant was one of the best wide receivers in the NFL in 2014, he was a shell of himself in 2016. Bryant dealt with injuries during the season and was missing during the Cowboys biggest regular season win at the Green Bay Packers. Neither group had the depth that the 2019 team takes to Oxnard.
As good as that offense was, the 2019 group is going to be better. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are going into their fourth year in the NFL and are better players now than when they were rookies. Not only are they better, but they have better skill position players than the 2016 team did, which should help take pressure off of Ezekiel Elliott and the running game and make it easier for Dak Prescott to find success.
With a fresh perspective from Kellen Moore and some fine tuning of Prescott's footwork, this offense should be just as good as the 2014 and 2016 offenses.
The offenses in 2014 and 2016 stole the show for the Dallas Cowboys. The defenses, on the other hand, got by without much in the way of talent.
In Rod Marinelli's first season as the defensive coordinator, the Cowboys largely got by with their bend don't break defense. They were a defense that was good enough and was largely carried by their offense throughout the season. 2016 wasn't much different.
The 2014 or 2016 Dallas Cowboys didn't have elite pass rushers like DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn bookending the defensive line. If you recall, Jeremy Mincey led the team with six sacks that season before DeMarcus Lawrence came on strong in the playoffs against Detroit and Green Bay. Henry Melton was second on the team with five sacks. In 2016, Benson Mayowa led the Dallas Cowboys with six sacks and second on the team was Maliek Collins with five sacks. For perspective, in 2018, Lawrence had 10.5 sacks and Randy Gregory had six sacks.
The 2019 Dallas Cowboys boast six players who've had at least five sacks in a season in Lawrence, Quinn, Gregory, Kerry Hyder, Tyrone Crawford, and Maliek Collins. The Cowboys go two-deep along the defensive line with legit pressure players at every position.
Rolando McClain and Anthony Hitchens were the leaders at the linebacker position for the Cowboys. McClain was excellent in the 13 games he played for Dallas. In 2016, Sean Lee had an outstanding season, which culminated in a First Team All-Pro selection and Anthony Hitchens was good. However, as a unit, neither 2014 or 2016 had as much talent as the 2019 Dallas Cowboys do at linebacker with Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee, and Joe Thomas. There isn't a better 4-3 linebacker group in the NFL than what the Dallas Cowboys are rolling out there in 2019.
At defensive back, the Cowboys were rolling out Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Brandon Carr, Orlando Scandrick, and Sterling Moore as their starting nickel group. I'd easily take Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, Xavier Woods, and Jeff Heath. Throw in Jourdan Lewis and the Cowboys probably have the best four-deep cornerback group in the NFL. Even if you aren't a big fan of Jeff Heath at strong safety, he's still a better option than J.J. Wilcox was in that 2014 season. George Iloka and Donovan Wilson provide significantly better depth than the 2014 or 2016 groups at defensive back.
Think about the roster as a whole. They have a perceived weakness at starting strong safety with Jeff Heath, but they were able to make the playoffs with Jeff Heath and the defense was one of the best in the NFL in 2018. The defense in 2019 should finish in the top five in scoring and yards against. They're going to be a disruptive group that constantly puts pressure on the quarterback and if they're able to create turnovers, they'll be the best unit in the NFL.
As much as we fight against it, this Dallas Cowboys roster heading into 2019, is the best they've had since 2011. The defense is definitely better going into 2019 than they were in 2014 or 2016 and the offense has a chance to be just as good as those two successful seasons.
On paper, they're a team ready to contend for a Super Bowl. After not making an NFC Championship game since 1996, the time has come for the Dallas Cowboys to turn all the hype into results. No matter how hard I try to manage expectations for the 2019 season, I can't help but think that this iteration of the Dallas Cowboys is on the verge of greatness.
Michael Gallup is Primed for Breakout Sophomore Season
Heading into the 2018 season the Dallas Cowboys had big questions at the wide receiver position with the departure of Dez Bryant. They elected not to go for the flashy names like Maryland's D.J. Moore or Alabama's Calvin Ridley, but instead took Colorado State Wide Receiver, Michael Gallup 81st overall.
Even without the hype of other bigger named receivers coming out of college, Gallup's resume was enough to impress Head Coach Jason Garrett. "There's a lot to like about him. He's big, he's athletic, he plays the game the right way. He's been a productive player for them, doing a lot of different kinds of things. We feel like he has real upside, too. A lot of qualities that you want in a young receiver, in a developmental receiver. But a lot of production, too. He had opportunities there and took advantage of them throughout his career," Garrett said.
Once the season started, however, it was apparent that it would take some time to build the chemistry and trust with Quarterback Dak Prescott. The lack of a true number one receiver wasn't doing the first talent any favors as he tried to figure out his role on the team. Gallup would be targeted just 15 times in the first 5 games, only registering 6 receptions. But fortunately for the newbie, help was on the way.
During the team's bye week in October, they acquired Amari Cooper from the Raiders in exchange for a first-round pick in the 2019 draft, and it worked wonders for Gallup and his development. Weeks 11 through 14 saw him targetted 27 times. This was significant considering the Cowboys were in the midst of a 5-game winning streak after a 3-5 start. Prescott's trust and belief in Gallup were starting to come together as the team made a run at the NFC East crown and a playoff berth.
He would finish with 33 receptions for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. Once the postseason rolled around Gallup had firmly established himself as the team's second option behind Amari Cooper.
Gallup would make his first playoff start in the divisional round against the Rams in Los Angeles. Although the Cowboys season wouldn't survive this contest, one of the positives was the play of the first year pass catcher. He finished with 6 receptions for 119 yards, and a tidal wave of momentum heading into 2019.
There's a major change coming to the Cowboys offensive philosophy this season, thanks to newly promoted Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore. The new puppet master of the offense has made it clear he's open to listening to suggestions from the players and staff on what they feel will take the offense into another orbit. "At the end of the day, work together with everyone. I think that includes the coaching staff, obviously coach Garrett and the rest of his staff. I think you also got to get some input from the players. It doesn't mean you have to go down those roads all the time, but I think it's important that when a player believes in something and they're pretty convinced on it, usually they find a way to make it work," Kellen Moore said.
With a season already under his belt with Prescott, and an open-minded first-year offensive coordinator willing to abandon the prehistoric ways of the Scott Linehan era, Gallup's development will only improve with each snap.
Unlike the beginning of his rookie season, Michael Gallup knows exactly what his role with the Cowboys is going forward. Amari Cooper is the main option, and with him drawing double teams regularly, the opportunities for Gallup to have a major impact in year two are endless. Not to mention, the added addition of Randall Cobb to the Cowboys passing game just made life even easier for him. Now teams not only have to roll coverage to Cooper, but the threat of Cobb in the slot creates a lot of one-on-ones on the outside for Gallup.
The size, speed, and athleticism are all there for this young man. Now, with a more innovative offensive scheme coming into play, and growing trust between himself and Dak Prescott, the 2019 season is shaping up to make Michael Gallup a household name.
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