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Game Notes

Cowboys-Bears Monday Night Preview

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It's 925 miles from Dallas, full arsenal of players, a 7-5 record, it'll be dark and they'll be wearing white.

Hit it.

cowboys-vs-bears-week-14The Cowboys head into their lone Monday Night appearance of the season (8:30, ESPN) against the reeling Chicago Bears (6-6) winners of their past two games. The wins didn't come easy, but they have filled the team with confidence heading into the dreaded month of December, typically considered a death trap for Dallas.

Following their 24-21 triumph over the New York Giants after their bye week, the Cowboys enjoyed a victory in a short week, defeating the Oakland Raiders in their annual Thanksgiving tilt. While the 1st half was enough to make many Cowboys fans puke up their Turkey Day appetizers, trailing by as much as 21-7, the Cowboys scored 24 unanswered points en route to a 31-24 victory. The Cowboys broke several jinxes in their valiant Thanksgiving effort, as not only did they pull off a win in their unlucky blue jerseys (making an extremely rare showing in Texas) but Tony Romo didn't let either the Sports Illustrated cover jinx or a stomach virus affect his play. While most of the offensive load was picked up by RB's DeMarco Murray (3 rushing touchdowns) and Lance Dunbar (a career high 82 yards before suffering a season ending knee injury), Romo did his part, going 23-32 (including 12-12 in the 2nd half) for 225 and a touchdown to Dez Bryant that tied the game. CB Brandon Carr, picked on earlier in the game by the Oakland offense, sealed the game with an interception in the Dallas end zone. Following Philadelphia's snowy win over Detroit on Sunday, the Cowboys trial the Eagles by half a game in the race for the NFC East title, albeit with tonight's game in hand.

Unlike the Cowboys, the Bears were helped by the Eagles' win on Sunday. With a win tonight, the Bears would be tied with the Lions for first place in the NFC North, leaving the two of them a half game ahead of the Green Bay Packers, who the Cowboys face at AT&T Stadium next Sunday. Since their last Monday Night appearance, a 27-20 win over Green Bay on November 4, the Bear have 3 of their last 4 games. They return to Solider Field this week after a particularly rough loss to the Minnesota Vikings on the road last Sunday, allowing a 12 play, 79 yard drive at the end of regulation that culminated in K Blair Walsh's 30 yard field goal that sent it to overtime. In the extra period, Chicago's kicker Robbie Gould missed a potential game winner, leaving the honors to Walsh, who kicked a 34 yarder to win it. The Bears have one more divisional game this season in their season finale against the Packers.

The key to tonight's game for the Cowboys will be to not underestimate Chicago's lesser known weapons. After a fantastic performance last week, WR Alshon Jeffery (12 receptions, 249 yards, 2 touchdowns), has overtaken perennial All-Pro WR Brandon Marshall for Chicago's top receiver. In addition, Chicago will be missing QB Jay Cutler, who has not played since a November 10, when he aggravated an ankle injury he suffered in an October 20 loss to Washington. Despite Cutler's absence, QB Josh McCown has performed amicably in his place. The 11 year journeyman, now on his 5th NFL team, has accumulated a career high 103.6 passer rating since taking over for Cutler, despite a career rating of 75.8. Nonetheless, it's on Dallas defense to handle Chicago's breakout stars. While the defense was putrid in the 1st half of the Oakland game, allowing a trio of QB Matt McGloin, and WR's Andre Holmes and Rod Streater to get the best of them, they clamped down in the 2nd half, allowing no points until a field goal late in the 4th quarter. The Cowboys will welcome back LB Sean Lee, who sat out the New York and Oakland wins with a hamstring injury, with open arms. Lee is one of the NFL's top tacklers and currently leads the team with four interceptions.

Though matchups with the Bears are not exactly commonplace...Dallas leads the all time series 13-10, including postseason...the Cowboys have many reasons to be furiously pumped for Monday Night's tilt. Last season, the Bears came to AT&T Stadium and thoroughly humiliated them at home, using five Dallas turnovers to their advantage in a 34-18 victory. In addition, Chicago will be retiring Mike Ditka's jersey at halftime of tonight's game. While Ditka is probably best known for his Chicago connections, spending six prolific season as Chicago's tight end before spending 11 seasons as their head coach, Ditka spent four year productive year with the Cowboys, scoring a touchdown in Dallas's first Super Bowl victory over Miami in Super Bowl VI. While many may to be young to understand Ditka's Dallas ties...at this point most know him as either the head coach of Chicago's legendary 1985 team or as Will Ferrell's assistant in that kids' soccer movie...it'd be nice to see Dallas win on a night where they're honoring one of the guy who helped the team rise to prominence in the 70's. Probably most importantly, the Cowboys will face some former allies in the Windy City.  While DT Jay Ratliff, who made one tackle in his Chicago debut last week, has not said anything leading into Monday's game, but the same can't be said for former special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis. Now holding the same position with the Bears, DeCamillis saying it was "more like Hollywood" in Dallas, calling Chicago "tamer" by comparison. If all that isn't enough to pump up the Cowboys to a victory, maybe they don't belong in the playoff conversation.

Prediction: Cowboys 27, Bears 21



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1 Comment
  • Kenny Watkins

    Another well written article.

Game Notes

Byron Jones Has Been The Cowboys’ Best Player, And Here’s Why

Kevin Brady

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Byron Jones
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

For a former first round pick, Byron Jones has had to prove himself to the Cowboys fan base quite a few times.

As a rookie Jones was impressive, flashing just how high a ceiling he had. Jones split some time between cornerback and safety due to injury and inconsistencies of his secondary mates, but he excelled in both roles.

As his career continued, Byron Jones continued to do what he does best. Jones became the Cowboys' tight end eraser, matching up with some of the best in the league and downright shutting them down. Over time, however, the coaching staff began to misuse Jones a bit. Moving him to safety full time but still wanting him to use those tight end coverage skills, Dallas started to move Jones into the box more often.

That, especially in 2017, is where Byron Jones struggled the most. Being utilized as a box safety put Jones' weaknesses as a physical tackler on full display, and left him open for fans' criticism.

Luckily for both Jones and the Cowboys, new passing game coordinator Kris Richard values him as a cornerback, where he will spend the rest of his career in Dallas. And, thus far, the returns on that move have been fantastic.

PFF DAL Cowboys on Twitter

After 3 weeks, Byron Jones has the highest season defensive grade among CBs with a 91.0. Jones is tied for the 7th highest defense grade among all defensive players with at least 50 snaps. #CowboysNation Be a PFF ELITE member to check out stats and more: https://t.co/qEKU85c6bI

Pro Football Focus has graded Byron Jones out as the league's best cornerback through three games, and the 7th best defensive player overall. Against the Seahawks last week, Jones allowed just 3 catches for 10 yards when he was the primary defender. He also came away with two pass breakups against veteran wide out Brandon Marshall, and was one of the few positives from the horrible loss.

dalvssea2018 byron jones first

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On the Seahawks' opening drive they faced a third down and five deep in their own territory. Seattle has a bunch formation to the right with Marshall locked up in man coverage at the bottom of the screen.

The Cowboys bring a blitz, leaving Jones on an island against Marshall. Russell Wilson initially looks towards the bunch side of the formation, but quickly works back to Marshall on a shallow crosser. Byron stays sticky in coverage on his backside hip, and deflects the ball away at the catch point.

Even if Marshall were to catch this, Jones was right there to stop him short of the sticks.

dalvssea2018 byron jones

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Later in the game the Seahawks tried to allow Marshall to beat Jones with his size. Marshall tries to get physical with Jones here, and wants to body him on a back shoulder fade. Jones shows no backdown, trading blows with Marshall at the line of scrimmage and effecting his get-off.

Still, Marshall is bigger than Jones and is able to create some separation towards the sideline. Jones does a nice job of recovering from this physicality, however, and gets himself back into a position to make a play on the ball. Even though he was initially boxed out, Jones's awareness to get a hand on the ball shines through here.

This goes down as Jones' first of two pass breakups on the day.

dalvssea2018 byron jones 2

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Here's the second one, once again on a back shoulder fade. Byron Jones uses his length to jam Marshall off the line, and quickly turns his hips to keep up in coverage. Once he reads Marshall's eyes, Byron gets his head around and is able to deflect the pass away.

This is textbook coverage of the back shoulder fade, and Jones' athletic traits and length aid him greatly in covering the larger Marshall on this route.

dalvssea2018 byron jones odell

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You may be thinking to yourself, "sure, Byron Jones was great against Brandon Marshall, but what about an elite receiver like Odell Beckham?" Well do I have some news for you.

Jones did an excellent job against Beckham during their week two match-up, as did the entire Cowboys secondary. On this play, Jones is locked up in man coverage with Beckham at the top of the screen. He allows Beckham to get a clean outside release, but trusts his hips and speed to recover in coverage with inside leverage.

Jones shows off just how fluid an athlete he is running stride for stride with Beckham down the sideline. Eli Manning puts the ball on Beckham's shoulder, giving him a shot at the 50/50 ball. Jones uses his length and ball skills to get up and deflect the pass away, even against the talented Beckham.

Byron Jones has done a nice job covering this route, using the sideline as an extra defender and minimizing the available area for the receiver. His arm length also help him shrink the catch point in the air.

dalvssea2018 byron jones odell 2

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Here we see Byron Jones in man coverage with Beckham again, this time at the bottom of the screen. The Giants are looking to utilize play action to take a deep shot to Beckham, anticipating he will defeat Jones' coverage and find a soft spot over Awuzie's head.

Instead, Jones runs step for step with Beckham across the middle, and stays sticky to his backside hip. Manning is forced to hold the ball longer than he expected to due to Jones's coverage, and ends up taking a sack for a big loss.

There's no question that Byron Jones has been a bit of a controversial figure among Cowboys Nation throughout his young career. But, since moving to cornerback full time this season, he has been flat-out awesome.

Byron Jones looks like the shutdown corner the Cowboys have been looking for since trading up for Morris Claiborne back in 2012.



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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Coaches Should Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Doug Pederson's Success Will Make Jason Garrett's Seat Hotter 1
Bill Streicher / USA TODAY Sports

A loss in week in week 3 is subject to overreactions from NFL fans everywhere, something we should always be careful with. But as the Dallas Cowboys head to work after another terrible offensive performance, it's tough to imagine the conversation going on in Cowboys Nation is an overreaction. I imagine I'm not alone in wishing that's what it was. But it isn't.

The Dallas Cowboys have opened their 2018 NFL season with a 1-2 record, and even though other teams (such as the New England Patriots) unexpectedly have the same record, or that other crazy stuff is going on around the league, the Jason Garrett-led Cowboys haven't given us much reason to believe they can turn the offense around.

Without further ado, let's get to another Takeaway Tuesday. As always, feel free to share your takeaways from last Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!

Coaches Must Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat

OK, it's high time we have this conversation. Dak Prescott and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys' offense has been struggling. Although the defense has been playing surprisingly well, there are simply no excuses for the way Scott Linehan's unit has been playing.

There has been trouble at every single aspect of the offensive side of the ball, which was supposed to be this team's strength heading into the season. As much as the future at the quarterback position is uncertain, the biggest problem is coaching. Sure, Prescott isn't living up to the expectations so far, having terrible stats in the first three weeks of the season but the coaches could definitely be putting him in better positions to succeed.

Playing to his strengths. Prescott is at his best when the team runs play-action plays or lets him throw on the run or use his legs to hurt opposing defenses on the ground as well. Prescott could thrive on RPOs and read option runs, but that's not how they're utilizing him.

Jake Kemp on Twitter

per @PFF, Dak Prescott play action percentages by week. week 1 - 17.9% week 2 - 44.0% week 3 - 12.5%

As much as it pains me to say it, it honestly feels like the Cowboys are stuck with Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett at the wheel. Although there aren't big names in the pass-catchers positions, the offense is talented enough to keep the ball moving. Even still, they aren't.

Right now, it's not even about the offense not being the best unit for the team, but a unit that is costing them games and will continue to do so unless some drastic changes are made.

Not that the coaches are the only ones that should be accountable, just about every player should be, including QB Dak Prescott, who might be playing for his job the rest of the year. But if this mediocre performances continue into week 8, for instance, it might just be time to move on from the current coaching staff. What will change in the next seasons that can makes us believe Garrett and Linehan are the answer for the franchise's future?

And yet, no changes will be made as far as the Cowboys' play-caller is. Right now, it's tough to imagine where this season is headed. But two things might be for sure. 1) It won't be good. 2) We'll see some RB screens on third and long and three tight end sets on first downs.

Wish List for Dallas Cowboys 1st Preseason Game

Dallas Cowboys LBs Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee

Defense Might Just Be Fine With Vander Esch Filling in for Sean Lee

Sean Lee hurt his other hamstring playing in Seattle last Sunday, which usually would have us freaking out about the linebacker position. However, as we've discussed since the preseason, Jaylon Smith is looking pretty amazing and healthy. But now, it's not only Smith that's been showing off his football skills.

It's first round draft pick Leighton Vander Esch who's having a pretty nice start to his career. At least, it's been way better than what some expected (myself included) from his rookie season.

In just three weeks and limited snaps, Vander Esch has had 18 tackles and a tackle for loss. He's been around the football a lot, just like Lee when healthy. If the Boise State product continues to play this week, one has to wonder about Sean Lee's future in Dallas.

The Jury is Still Out on K Brett Maher

Kicker Brett Maher kicked a 50-yard field goal last Sunday as Cowboys' fans at home breathed a huge sigh of relief. After letting Dan Bailey go, it was time for something positive to say about the kicker position in Dallas.

Maher was pretty good on the field last week, but there's no denying his kicks were sort of scary and not perfect attempts right down the middle. Cowboys Nation should be more comfortable with the cut of Dan Bailey, but the jury should still be out on his replacement.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Coaches Should Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

LB Leighton Vander Esch Rare Bright Spot In Cowboys’ Disappointing Loss

Kevin Brady

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LB Leighton Vander Esch Rare Bright Spot In Cowboys Disappointing Loss

Sunday in Seattle didn't go nearly as well as anticipated for the Cowboys, as they fell to the Seahawks in embarrassing fashion, 24-13. While the final score looked close, the fact of the matter is that Dallas was dominated for much of the game.

Offensively they looked lost, unable to create any downfield passing threat or sustain scoring drives. Defensively they played okay, but not up to the standard they had established the first two games of the season. With the offense being as pedestrian as it has been, though, there is a ton of extra pressure placed upon the young defense's shoulders.

One of the youngest members of that young unit shouldered the pressure just fine on Sunday, however. Rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch had himself a heck of a day, leading the team in tackles with 11 including 9 solo ones and a tackle for loss. He flashed his speed, pursuit, tackling ability, and overall athleticism as he worked laterally to make plays and contain the Seahawks running game on the edge.

Wish List for Dallas Cowboys 1st Preseason Game

Dallas Cowboys LBs Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee

His performance built upon an impressive first two games, including a solid home opener against the New York Giants where he tallied 7 tackles in just 28 defensive snaps. Vander Esch hadn't seen the snaps that Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee saw prior to Sunday, but when Lee was forced to miss chunks of the game with injuries, Vander Esch shined.

A key knock placed on Vander Esch's game during the draft process was that he wasn't physical enough as a player. He tended to struggle when taking on blocks and wasn't as sure a tackler when things got muddied up as you'd like to see from a first round pick.

While these were legitimate concerns from his college tape, Leighton Vander Esch looked as comfortable and refined as you can expect from a rookie against the Seahawks. He was a top 3 player on the Cowboys' defense on Sunday, and the Cowboys should be ecstatic about his progress moving forward.

On Monday it was announced the the veteran Sean Lee is expected to miss a few weeks with yet another injury, allowing for Vander Esch to likely be the starter. Lee has been unreliable when it comes to his injury history, and you have to wonder if Vander Esch could supplant him as the full time starter earlier than anyone expected due to those injuries.

I, like many, questioned the Cowboys' selection of Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of last year's draft. The lack of comparative position value combined with the questions about Vander Esch's game made me value a pass rusher like Harold Landry much higher than Vander Esch at 19.

So far, though, Leighton Vander Esch is proving the Cowboys right in their selection, and looks to be the starting WILL and three-down backer of the future in Dallas. With Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch playing how they have with limited experience, that future looks very bright defensively.



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