The Dallas Cowboys have made a commitment to being much better on the defensive side of the ball in recent years. A unit that was once a liability during the Tony Romo/Dez Bryant era they've been one of the best against the run since 2016 finishing 8th, 1st and 5th respectively. In 2018, they were 13th against the pass as well as the Cowboys finished 10-6 and won the NFC East crown for the second time in three years. Players like Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Xavier Woods, Chidobe Awuzie and others have made this defense one that can be counted on. Even with a somewhat shaky start, this unit is still one of the better of it's kind in the NFL.
The season opener was a success as the Cowboys won 35-17 against the arch-rival New York Giants, however, the defense didn't exactly have a stellar all-around performance. Running Back Saquon Barkley broke a 59-yard run early in the first quarter that set up a touchdown giving the Giants a 7-0 lead. Fortunately for the Cowboys, they were able to hold him to only 61 yards for the rest of the game. The 120 yards by Barkley won't look good on the stat sheet for the Cowboys defense but holding a player of Barkley's talent to that low of a rushing total for the final three and half quarters was impressive, and the Cowboys offense running Giants out of the building didn't hurt either.
Eli Manning threw for 306 yards but his lone touchdown pass came halfway through the first quarter on the Giant's first possession. In total, they racked up 25 first downs 470 yards of offense. Not flattering statistics by any means but there were a few bright spots for the Cowboys defense in week one. They only allowed the Giants to convert 2 of 11 on third down, held them to 17 points and forced two turnovers. That's a winning formula any Sunday.
Week two saw the Cowboys hit the road to face the Washington Redskins. The defense was looking to bounce back after their week one showing, and they did just that. The Redskins were never able to gain a consistent rhythm on offense due to the Cowboys offense keeping them on the sidelines for over 33 minutes. The Cowboys held the Redskins to a minuscule 255 total yards for the game with only 47 yards on the ground, very reminiscent of the run defense we've seen since 2016. Once again they were excellent on third down as the Redskins only converted 2 of 9 attempts. A late touchdown made the final score of 31-21 much prettier than it actually was.
Star Linebacker Jaylon Smith didn't sugarcoat his feelings on the Cowboys defense so far after defeating the Redskins, communicating his displeasure with the lack of turnovers and sacks. “If we’re going to be great defense we have to get those,” Smith said.
He isn't alone in his thinking, though, as All-Pro Byron Jones had similar thoughts on the defensive unit so far in 2019. “The finish part needs to be a lot better,” Jones said. “Don’t let up at all, no matter what the score is. That’s the mental toughness part. You have to understand if you are a point in the game where you can step on someone’s throat. You have to not give that offense hope.”
The Cowboys definitely have room to improve on defense and it's early enough to make the necessary adjustments needed with 14 games left. Even though they only have 2 sacks and no interceptions they have been excellent on third down only allowing 4 conversions on 20 attempts. Also, they have only given up 38 points (19 per game). When you can get off the field on third down and you keep points at a premium you'll win a lot of ball games.
The next two weeks give the Cowboys defense an opportunity to really improve on what they've failed to do so far in 2019. The Miami Dolphins have only scored 10 points in two games and the New Orleans Saints will be without future Hall of Fame Quarterback Drew Brees for six weeks after suffering ligament damage to the thumb on his throwing hand this past Sunday against the Los Angeles Rams. All the signs point to the defense finding it's footing but the game of football isn't won on paper. We'll see if it starts to come full circle defensively this Sunday in Arlington.
Amari Cooper Continues to Feast on the Philadelphia Eagles
The 2018 trade that sent the Dallas Cowboys 2019 first-round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders has been genius since last year. But it'll never get old bringing it up after many panned the Cowboys for making the move when the Philadelphia Eagles sent a third-round pick, for now, New York Giants Wide Receiver Golden Tate.
The beauty of this deal for the Dallas Cowboys is that their trade for a wide receiver worked out tremendously and at the same time, their biggest rival's trade for a wide receiver fell flat. The other part that continues to make the deal for Amari Cooper a dream come true is the way he's played against the Philadelphia Eagles in some high-leverage games.
In week 10 of the 2018 season, Cooper's second game with the Dallas Cowboys, they found themselves facing an uphill battle for the NFC East as they sat at 3-5 in what would become the first must-win game of the season. After spending just two weeks with the Cowboys, Cooper put up a six reception, 75-yard effort in the Cowboys win that brought them to 4-5. That victory would propel them to win their next five games in a row and go 6-1 over their final seven games.
In their division-clinching win in week 14, Amari Cooper put up an all-time game when he caught 10 passes for 217 yards, and three touchdowns, including the game-winner in overtime.
Yet again, in a pivotal matchup for the NFC East between the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles, Cooper showed up yet again. He really likes playing against Philly. On the night he had five receptions on five targets for 106 yards. Cooper had receptions of 44 and 28 yards that helped set up scores to put the game out of reach.
In addition to those two big receptions, Amari picked up two other receptions for first downs, something that we've come to expect at this point. The Dak Prescott to Amari Cooper connection continues to be a treat to observe as the two are on just another level when it comes to their chemistry.
On the 44 yard bomb, the Cowboys put Cooper in motion, and though the man didn't travel with him, Dak knows he's got single coverage on the outside. Prescott uses a good shoulder faint to sell the slant to Cooper before he runs a sluggo route (a slant and go) and gets behind his man and away from the deep middle safety down the sideline. That reception helped set up the first of Brett Maher's two field goals in the final two minutes of the first half, which made it 24-7.
Then at the start of the fourth quarter, with the Dallas Cowboys attempting to milk the clock and also ice the game, Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper come up with another big-time throw and catch. This time down the right sideline.
After Randall Cobb goes in motion, Prescott again knows he has Amari with single coverage at the top of the screen. Much like they did last year in the week 10 matchup where Cooper had more than 200 yards receiving, Prescott puts the ball out in front of Cooper and gives him an opportunity to run under it.
Amari Cooper's ability to use his speed and body positioning to go from out of position to make the play in an instant is an incredible thing to watch. Unlike Dez Bryant, he's not using a jumping ability to beat these defenders to the ball, Cooper's simply using his frame and speed to get into a better position to make these over these shoulder catches down the field.
In three games now against the Philadelphia Eagles, Amari Cooper's caught 21 passes for 398 yards and three touchdowns. More importantly, the Cowboys have recorded three huge wins against their NFC East rival in those games.
If and when the Dallas Cowboys extend Amari Cooper this season or in the offseason to a long-term extension, it should send shivers down the spine of the Philadelphia Eagles and their fan base. He's abused the Eagles over the last year and it's unlikely that they'll be better for the next meeting later in the season. At this point, Amari Cooper probably gets really excited to see the Eagles on the other side of the field from him, knowing that there isn't a defensive back that can hang with him in man coverage.
Jason Garrett Deserves Major Praise For Cowboys Week 7 Win
Jason Garrett's seat had never been hotter than it was entering Sunday night.
And that's saying a lot.
The much maligned head coach of the Dallas Cowboys has been fending off those who have called for his job since the very day he took the team over from Wade Phillips in 2010. Garrett has been called a yes-man, the "clapper," and flat-out a bad football coach by seemingly every national media outlet despite the success he's had as the coach in Dallas.
That's right, I said success.
Yes, there has been no championship level success under Garrett's regime, but there has been success. Since 2014, Garrett has led the Cowboys to 3 division titles in 5 years and has reached the Divisional round of the playoffs three times. He's 16-5 against the NFC East in the Dak Prescott era, and has the Cowboys in first place of the division through seven weeks once again.
So, there has been success. But certainly not enough of it to defend his every move.
Jason Garrett messed up in New Jersey. There's no way around it. Sloppy game management and poor control of the clock put his team in a tough situation against the Jets, and ultimately led to their disastrous week 6 loss. He was outcoached and out-prepared by a winless team, and suffered one of the worst losses in his era as the team's head coach.
Fans were calling for his job, and rightfully looking for answers as to why such a talented group of players was in the midst of a three game skid that no one had predicted after their fast start to the 2019 season. Dallas' backs were against the wall, and they had to answer against the Eagles in order to salvage a season which had such high hopes just weeks before.
And, as Jason Garrett's teams have done more often than not, the Dallas Cowboys answered. Garrett's Cowboys had been plagued by slow starts during their three game losing streak, but his team came out on fire on Sunday night. Dallas forced two quick fumbles, scored two easy touchdowns, and were up 14-0 before the Eagles had even blinked.
The game was over, and it had just started.
Jason Garrett is far from perfect as a head coach. He often deserves criticism, and he has some faults which are hard to look past as we project what the Cowboys will be down the stretch of the season. But he deserves major praise for this team's week 7 performance. It would've been easy for the Cowboys to once again come out slow on Sunday, get behind early, and fall into the shell they had found themselves in the previous two weeks.
But instead, they fought. They dominated. And they won.
Games like these are why it's so difficult for the Cowboys to move on from Jason Garrett as their head coach. These teams play hard for him, and they are rarely out of contention on any given Sunday, or during any given season.
Jason Garrett's seat is still hot. The Cowboys will need postseason success to ensure that it cools to a comfortable temperature for the coach this offseason. But kudos to him and the Cowboys for getting a massive win on Sunday night.
Brett Maher Named NFC Special Teams Player of Week 7, 2019
Brett Maher's 63-yard field goal last Sunday may have been a drop in the bucket on the scoreboard for the Dallas Cowboys. But the historical significance of that kick, and it's near record-breaking distance, helped Maher earn the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award for Week 7 of the 2019 season.
Maher went 3/3 on the day as the Cowboys routed the Philadelphia Eagles. But it was the 63-yard FG at the close of the first half which brought Brett this latest accolade. He became the first kicker in NFL history have three career field goals of 60 yards or more.
1st player in @NFL history to have three career FGs of 60 yds or more ✔️ @brett_maher is your NFC Special Teams Player of the Week! → https://t.co/MFiAnAScrY
Maher's kick was one yard short of tying the record, 64 yards, set by Matt Prater in 2013.
It was weeks like this one which helped Brett Maher keep the Cowboys' kicker job this year despite mixed results in 2018. He won two Player of the Week awards last season and showed off his rare long-range ability, but was one of the least accurate kickers overall from shorter distances.
That same mixed bag has been seen this year. Despite his work on Sunday, Maher is at just 71% accuracy on his total field goal attempts right now.
Hopefully, Brett's big day over the Eagles will spark a hot streak. His range is an incredible weapon for the Cowboys; can he consistently prove that he's more of an asset than a liability?
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