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Cowboys Defense Isn’t What We Thought They Were

John Williams

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In Houston, Dallas Cowboys Defense Reveals a Problem

Coming into the 2018 NFL season, I looked at the Dallas Cowboys and saw them as a team that would fairly easily win 10 games and make the playoffs. Questions centered around Dak Prescott and the offense, but I like many, thought the defense was going to be elite.

Well, after five games, it's safe to say that the defense is not elite.

The Dallas Cowboys' defense wasn't the entire problem on Sunday night in their 19-16 loss to the Houston Texans, but to say that they didn't have their own struggles on Sunday would be an understatement.

We've seen what this defense is, and what they are is not good enough.

As a unit, they haven't been bad, but they aren't a unit that is capable of carrying an offense as bad as the Dallas Cowboys offense is. And I can't kid myself anymore, this Cowboys offense is a bad offense.

The Texans moved the ball at will on the Dallas Cowboys. They hit the Cowboys for big gains in both the passing game and running game. The Cowboys allowed 462 yards of total offense. Houston Texans Quarterback Deshaun Watson throwing for 375 and running for another 40.

The Cowboys defense pressured him 17 times, but were only able to come away with one sack. This against the team that had given up the second most sacks in the NFL coming into week five.

Running Back Alfred Blue rushed for 46 yards on the day, but had 47 yards after contact. Though Blue only ran for 2.3 yards per carry, he was able to do enough to keep the Texans in favorable down and distances on Sunday night.

The Dallas Cowboys were able to force the Texans to kick field goals inside the five yard line three times. The Texans also failed to convert on fourth and goal from inside the five yard line at the end of the second half. Imagine what the score would be like if the Texans were able to score on even half of their inside the five yard line attempts. Were they lucky or were they good in their ability to limit the Texans to field goals from inside the five? Sometimes it's better to be lucky than good and I think the Cowboys were more lucky. They were lucky to hold the Texans to 19. They could have easily given up 30 or more if not for the play of the Linebacker Jaylon Smith.

Other than the red zone defense, which was stingier than a Dave and Buster's claw machine, the Dallas Cowboys couldn't do anything to stop Houston. Deshaun Watson was slinging the ball around like an in his prime Drew Brees and the Cowboys had no answer for it on the defensive side of the football.

When the Texans got the ball in overtime, I didn't have a good feeling about their ability to prevent Houston from kicking the game winning field goal. There had been too much evidence in the previous 60 minutes -- 3 games -- of play that Dallas is struggling on defense.

The Cowboys defense has now struggled three weeks in a row after starting the season strong against the Carolina Panthers and New York Giants. They've now allowed an average of 22.33 points per game over the last three weeks and the pass defense has seen their passing yards against increase each of the last three weeks. In their last two weeks, they've allowed 318 passing yards per game to Matthew Stafford and Deshaun Watson, who are good passing quarterbacks, but aren't the best quarterbacks in the NFL.

Kris Richard, Rod Marinelli, and the defensive coaching staff attempted to make a personnel adjustment in the middle of the game by going with Anthony Brown at left corner back and inserting Jourdan Lewis into the lineup as the slot corner. The results were better in the second half compared to the first half, but they were still giving up a lot of yards to the Texans.

Someone on the defensive line has to start turning pressures into sacks. DeMarcus Lawrence as good as he is, can't do it all, and week after week, he's going to be asked to try to beat multiple blockers when rushing the quarterback. Very few players in the NFL can play against double teams on every snap and win consistently. So, someone along the defensive line is going to have to give opposing quarterbacks something to think about. Whether it's Taco Charlton, Randy Gregory, or the returning David Irving, someone has to help Lawrence out.

I hate to say it, but the 2018 season is heading to an unfortunate place. The Dallas Cowboys are looking down the barrel of a sub-.500 season because this defense isn't good enough to carry the offense.

At this point, we know what this team is and on both sides of the football, they aren't very good.



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. tony

    October 9, 2018 at 8:18 am

    I didnt think at all that this defense was going to be elite! I thought they would be decent could the secondary would not be as good. Also they would have a problem with pressure up the middle. If the offense was better it could make the defense better but that’s not going to happen.

  2. Sean Leonard

    October 9, 2018 at 8:51 am

    This defense has been a pleasant surprise. Its not at full strength yet and is without its field general(Lee). I did feel that the play-calling was tentative. It felt like Marinelli reclaimed the play-calling. When Dallas finally sent blitzes, it caused Watson to throw a pick. Vanderesch is ahead of the learning curve and Jaylon is becoming a star. The safeties are the weak point but Heath played much better. Xavier is looking like JJ Wilcox with the poor angles. Its tragic Cowboys couldnt get the Earl Thomas deal done,but Jerry hasnt gotten a good deal done since signing “primetime “.

  3. Wayne Young

    October 9, 2018 at 10:52 am

    The defense has been a lot better than expected. Who thought they would be elite??? If anything, they were a major concern coming into the season. And say what you want, if it wasn’t for the defense they would be winless right now. Because they’re not an elite defense you can’t expect them to carry and win every game for them with the offense playing as poorly as they are. The defense isn’t their issue. Their offense and coaching are. Period.

  4. dallas1966

    October 10, 2018 at 8:02 am

    First things first, the no earl thomas trade didn’t do any justice, heath, needs help. I’m not sold on woods, despite the interception.
    What has surprise me, is the regression of dak prescott. I’m very disappointed in his career development, especially, with his propensity to be inconsistent, especially, with accuracy and anticipation. If, the Cowboys scouts knew he had these issues while in college, why waste a draft selection ? It appears that dak’s rookie season is becoming more like RG3’s rookie season, an aberration.
    With a new HC and offensive coordinator, it wouldn’t surprise me, If the Cowboys keep dak to complete his 2019 contract, but draft a quarterback in the 2020 draft. Just my two cents worth.

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Dallas Cowboys

Terrance Williams Was OK, But Cowboys Need More From Michael Gallup

Jess Haynie

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Can WR Michael Gallup Eclipse 1,000 Receiving Yards as a Rookie?

Just yesterday, the Dallas Cowboys declined an option on Wide Receiver Terrance Williams' contract and ended his six-year tenure with the team. One reason the veteran was no longer in their plans was the presence of Michael Gallup, who the team has high hopes for entering just his second NFL season.

It's interesting to compare Gallup and Williams on several levels. Just as Terrance's time ends, having only made a few appearance last year in just three games, Michael was a fast learner as a rookie and emerged as the team's number-two receiver by the playoffs.

Both were third-round picks, with Williams (74th) being selected just seven spots higher overall in 2013 than Gallup (81st) was in 2018.

Terrance came to Dallas when Dez Bryant was firmly entrenched as the team's primary receiver. Michael was drafted less than a month after Dez was released, but Amari Cooper soon established himself as the number-one WR midway through the year.

In both cases, the Cowboys hoped that their third-round selection would yield a player who could at least play a complimentary role as a solid roleplayer, if not regular starter.

For all his warts Terrance Williams was ultimately a solid draft pick. He started in about 75% of the games he played in and was a proficient run blocker, helping both DeMarco Murray and Ezekiel Elliott have big years. He also made some highlight reel catches in his time.

Did Terrance Williams' Big Game Quiet His Doubters?

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrance Williams

But with those big plays came some big blunders. Terrance often had a bad drop for every good catch he made. A huge mental error may have cost Dallas the 2016 season opener against the Giants. And if the team wasn't already starting to turn on him, his 2018 arrest for public intoxication seemed to push them over the edge.

That said, the biggest issue with Williams was his inability to produce without other plays drawing attention. He didn't rise to the occasion when Dez Bryant was injured. He rarely even made defenses pay for giving Dez too much attention.

At his best, Terrance was a solid number-two receiver. Plenty of teams who've spent first-round picks on receivers wish they could they'd gotten as much in return. Nobody should be disappointed with how that 2013 third-round pick turned out.

But when it comes to Michael Gallup, Dallas should hope that Williams' career is the floor for Gallup's potential. As teams key on Amari Cooper going forward, can Gallup do damage in ways that Terrance rarely could?

Even more importantly, if Cooper were to ever get injured, could Michael step up and take on a larger role? Can Dallas finally have a number-two receiver with the capacity for occasionally taking the lead?

#DALvsWAS: Michael Gallup Will Play, Value Extends Beyond Passing Game 1

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

That may be putting too much pressure on young Mr. Gallup but it's really not an unfair expectation. Recent drafts have produced highly productive third-round receivers such as Keenan Allen, Cooper Kupp, Kenny Golladay, and Tyler Lockett.

Even more pressure comes if Cole Beasley leaves the team in free agency. While his role lessened toward the end of 2018, Cole remained one of Dak Prescott's favorite options in clutch situations. He was almost impossible to stop with just one man covering him, and that gave defenses a real dilemma once Amari Cooper arrived.

Can Gallup fill those shoes? Can he become a reliable target when the game is on the line?

In the end, all Michael has to do is be a solid starter to provide a great value for his draft selection. The Williams standard isn't a bad measure.

But if the Cowboys ever want to win more than just the occasional playoff game then they need another receiving threat who truly punishes opposing defenses. They need the next Alvin Harper, not the next Terrance Williams.

We can only hope, as the team does, that Michael Gallup is up to the task.



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Dallas Cowboys

Deep Dive into the Dallas Cowboys 2019 Salary Cap

John Williams

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check

The Dallas Cowboys are heading into free agency, which opens March 13th, in really good shape. The Cowboys will be able to be aggressive in the free agent market if they want to. They have the 10th most cap space in the NFL. It could make for a fun free agency period for the front office and Cowboys Nation, however, we know how this team has felt about spending on outside free agents since being burned by the Brandon Carr signing.

In years past, they’ve opted to bargain shop. Last year was a departure from the norm though, as they chased the mythical unicorn that is Sammy Watkins last offseason.

Sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make. 

They haven’t generally been a team that chased big-time free agents, though this could be the season that all changes with several free agent safeties that could be immediate upgrades.

We know they’re going to spend a lot of money on their own with Demarcus Lawrence coming free and Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dak Prescott looking for contract extensions, but they’re could Ben opportunities to bring in a star from another player to come where The Star.

I hope Jerry Jones has his signing hand ready, it’s going to be putting in a lot of work over the next couple of months.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve had people on Twitter, Reddit, Facebook, Google+, MySpace, AOL Chatrooms, and via USPS correspondence express concern about whether the Dallas Cowboys will be able to afford all their guys and chase free agents.

Not to worry Cowboys fan, with a little salary cap and contract gymnastics, the sky’s the limit.

Let’s take a look.

Current Cap Space

According to OverTheCap.com, the 2019 Salary Cap is estimated to be around $190 million. After the release of Terrance Williams, the Dallas Cowboys are expected to have nearly $48 million in cap space available to them when free agency opens on March 13th.

When you look at that number by itself, it doesn’t look like a lot with big money contracts coming to DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and Byron Jones. Remember, though, the salary cap may be a fixed number, but contracts are pliable, meaning the team can do several things to create cap space through releases, how they structure new contracts, and restructures.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the Dallas Cowboys will have the money they need to sign the players they want to sign.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Likely Releases

Sean Lee, Linebacker

Age and injury catch up to everyone and this is where we are with All-Pro Linebacker Sean Lee who will be turning 33 in July. Lee’s career has just been unlucky from the time he set foot in Dallas.

Since coming to the Cowboys in the 2010 draft, Lee has only played in 64% of the possible 149 games that the Dallas Cowboys have played in that time frame. Contrast that with a player like Zack Martin who has played in all but two games in his five-year career. That’s a 92% availability rate for his career.

The Dallas Cowboys don’t typically pay age. The difficult choice with Lee is that he’s long been a leader for the Dallas Cowboys. However, with the emergence of Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, it’s extremely difficult to justify a $7 million cap hit to a part-time player.

Allen Hurns, Wide Receiver

Allen Hurns was a roller coaster ride in 2018.

First, it appeared he was brought in to be an upgrade at the number two spot. Then when the Cowboys shocked the world and released Dez Bryant, he immediately moved up the wide receiver pecking order, but was generally ineffective. After the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper, Hurns became somewhat of an afterthought in the wide receiver snap distribution. Then he was lost in the win over the Seattle Seahawks with a gruesome ankle injury.

Allen Hurns is a fine player, but the Cowboys could get $5 million in cap relief by parting ways with the former 1,000 yard receiver.

A couple weeks ago, I outlined why I think Hurns could be a solution to the problem facing the Cowboys if Cole Beasley walked away. Hurns best attributes shine when deployed in the slot and asked to run over the middle of the field.

Coming off of the ankle injury, the Cowboys could easily move on and use that $5 million to extend one of their own or go after a big name in free agency.

Unlikely, but not Impossible Releases

The next few players are players that will most likely be on the squad in 2019. But as we saw with Dez Bryant, there can always be surprises.

Joe Looney, Center

The 2018 season seemed almost sunk when news came down that Center Travis Frederick was diagnosed with Guillen-Barre Syndrome during training camp. One of the stories of the 2018 season, was the play of Frederick’s backup Joe Looney. Looney may not have been the most valuable player, but you can’t understate how important he wasn’t to the success the Dallas Cowboys had in 2018.

We’ve seen what happens when backups who are incredibly inferior to the starter they play behind see action. Think back to Atlanta in 2017. If the Cowboys get better play from Chaz Green and Byron Bell, that game and perhaps the season turns out differently. Kind of like when Cameron Fleming filled in for Tyron Smith this season. It was a completely different result. Was Fleming perfect? No, but he wasn’t a disaster and the Cowboys were able to win games without their All-Pro left tackle.

Joe Looney is going to be with this team unless someone loses their center and wants to trade for him. In the event the Cowboys wanted to get some cap relief, they could save $1.5 million in 2019, with only $125 thousand in dead money on the cap.

I don’t see them making this move, but for those of you curious, there are the numbers.

Joe Thomas, Linebacker

Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch got all the glory at the linebacker position in 2018, and for good reason, but Joe Thomas was an important piece to the puzzle as well. He provided excellent depth and a lot of good snaps for the Cowboys in 2018, which is why I think he’s back next year.

He only saves you about $2 million on the cap, but if you didn’t want to pay a  backup linebacker $2 million, then you could part ways with him.

Jeff Heath, Safety

Jeff Heath is a solid player, but gets relied upon for a little more than he should. He’d probably be best served with being a rotational safety in the NFL. He has a penchant for making plays, but also has some maddening snaps as well, like the final play against the Rams where Jared Goff was able to scramble for a first down. Heath never saw the bootleg and was late getting to Goff to keep him from picking up the first down.

The Dallas Cowboys like him as a player and he’s likely to stay with the team. He helps on special teams and provides valuable depth.

If they were to move on, they could save $2.5 million.

La’el Collins, Tackle

It’s not often you hear people talk about releasing a starting tackle, and I’m certainly not here to advocate for that.

Collins has had some up and down games, but in his short two-year stint at right tackle he’s been pretty good. He’s stood tall against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

His contract will carry him through the 2019 season, but if the Dallas Cowboys wanted to part ways, again, not saying they should, they could save a whopping $8.5 million in the salary cap.

$8.5 million could be the cost of Earl a Thomas or a Tre Boston. That’s  pretty big chunk of change.

Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, offensive line

Dallas Cowboys offensive linemen Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Travis Frederick

Potential Restructures

When it comes to restructures, the Dallas Cowboys have been selective over recent years with who they choose to flip the switch on.

A restructure doesn’t change the money owed to the player, just changes when the pay out happens. When a team and a player agree to a restructure, the cap hit or base salary is lowered to a more manageable amount and the difference is paid out as a bonus. The bonus is then spread out evenly over the remaining years of the contract.

For example.

Player A has four years remaining on their deal with a cap hit of $16 million per year for the rest of the contract. The team and player A agree to restructure the contract to decrease this season’s base salary to $1 million dollars. The $15 million difference is then paid out as a bonus and then the cap hit is added to the final three years. So instead of the cap hit being $16 million per year for the remainder of the contract, it is now $21 million per year.

The problem with restructuring contracts is that you better hope that the players you restructure make it to the end of their contract otherwise you could end up with big dead money holds on your cap.

The Dallas Cowboys could restructure the following players:

Tyron Smith, Tackle

The Dallas Cowboys All-Pro Left Tackle may be the best draft pick they’ve made in the last 10 years. He’s been one of the best in the game at his position for nearly his entire NFL career and until recent seasons, had been incredibly reliable.

According to Over The Cap, if the Cowboys decided to restructure Smith’s contract, they could get $7.26 million added to the salary cap this season.

That’s a big number, which would help you get your hands on a top safety or defensive lineman in free agency. The reasons why you wouldn’t do it surround Tyron’s health.

He’s missed games each of the last three seasons because of back issues. He’s signed through the 2023 season, which is his age 33 season. It’s entirely possible that he continues to play at a high level through the end of the contract, but you’ll always be a bit concerned about his back.

Zack Martin, Guard

If Tyron was the best draft pick, Zack Martin is a close second. He’s been the definition of reliability as he’s provided elite guard play through the first five years of his career making the All-Pro team each of his first five seasons.

If I were managing the cap for the Dallas Cowboys, it would be a no brainer to restructure Martin who is signed through the 2024 season; his age 34 season. Offensive lineman can play at a high level well into their 30’s barring injury and Zack has the ability to be one of those guys. At his current pace, he could one day end up in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

By restructuring Martin, the Dallas Cowboys could save $7.36 million on the 2019 salary cap.

Travis Frederick, Center

Last summer was a scary situation for Travis Frederick and by all accounts his recovery is going well. It sounds like he should be ready to go by training camp, and if that’s the case, there’s no reason to believe that Frederick won’t be the player we’ve all come to expect and missed during the 2018 season.

He’s a leader on the offensive line. He’s an excellent communicator and really good at blocking other big humans.

Getting Frederick back for the 2019 season is as big of an upgrade as you could have on an offense. He changes everything. He helps set protections and call out stunts. He will make Conor Williams a better guard just by being present. The offense as a whole will be better by having Frederick available.

Like Smith and Martin, there’s no reason to believe that he won’t play out his current contract at a high level. Even if he’s only 75% of his previous self because of the illness, that’s still a really good football player who is worth every bit of the $10 million a year he’s getting paid.

Travis Frederick has five more years left on his contract. If the Cowboys were to restructure his deal, they could gain another $4.1 million in cap relief this offseason.

Tyrone Crawford, Defensive Line

If ever there was a player that was a victim of his contract it’s Tyrone Crawford. The Dallas Cowboys signed him to an extension thinking he would be the answer at the 3-technique defensive tackle spot. He was good on his rookie deal but his contract was more of a projection than a deal based on prior production.

Unfortunately, Crawford hasn’t lived up to his deal, but he’s been a reliable and versatile player for the Dallas Cowboys. His ability to play both at defensive end and defensive tackle has been huge over the years and he’s come up with some timely defensive plays.

Crawford has two years remaining on his contract that runs through the 2020 season and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Cowboys keep him around. He’s a leader on the defense and he gives you good quality snaps. As they continue to wait for Randy Gregory and/or Taco Charlton to take steps forward, Crawford is a guy that they like and will continue to find snaps for.

If the Cowboys restructured Crawford’s contract, they could get a little over $3 million in cap savings this year. $3 million may not sound like a lot, but in combination with the other moves they could make with the cap, it can help. Every bit helps when constructing a roster. That money could go to paying for the 2019 draft class.

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott

ARLINGTON, TX - DECEMBER 18: Dak Prescott #4 and Ezekiel Elliott of the Dallas Cowboys celebrate after scoring a touchdown during the second quarter against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at AT&T Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Grand Total

The Dallas Cowboys front office has a lot of decisions to make this offseason and several of them will be in the form of extensions for their own players. They’ll have to figure out a way to use the contracts to their advantage.

If they did everything that could be an option to them, they could create another $48.22 million in space in the salary cap. If they didn’t release any of the “unlikely releases,” they could still free up another $33.72 million by releasing Lee and Hurns and restructuring Smith, Martin, Frederick, and Crawford.

So, they’ll be going into the offseason with at least $48 million in cap space, but through a few moves could have as much as $81-$96.22 million in cap space when it’s all said and done.

None of this even accounts for the way the Cowboys could structure the contracts of Elliott, Dak, Cooper, Lawrence, and Byron Jones. With some smart salary structuring, they won’t necessarily have to eat much of their cap hits in year one of their new contracts.

Don’t worry Cowboys fans. The Cowboys will be able to create enough money to get the things done that they want to get done. If they don’t sign anyone of note in free agency or extend your favorite player, it won’t be because they couldn’t afford to.

It’ll be because they didn’t want to.



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Player News

Report: Free Agent DL David Irving Not in Dallas Cowboys’ 2019 Plans

Jess Haynie

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David Irving

The Dallas Cowboys and troubled Defensive Lineman David Irving appear to be at an impasse. According to a report from David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, the team has "no intention" of trying to re-sign Irving and will allow him to become an unrestricted free agent.

Irving started the 2018 season with a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy. He only appeared in two games after that, registering one sack and four tackles.

David Moore on Twitter

Source: Cowboys have no intention of keeping DT David Irving at this time https://t.co/vqMNZty6Aq via @sportsdaydfw

Despite reports of David's ongoing issues with an ankle injury, Dallas never placed him on injured reserve. Then came the reports that Irving was missing practices and team meetings while dealing with personal issues related to the custody of his daughter.

The team stayed pretty mum on the subject of Irving's status throughout the year, falling back on the ankle injury when pushed. But after months, it became clear that either David, the team, or both parties were disinterested in his return to football.

The Cowboys had high hopes after 2017, when Irving posted seven sacks in just eight games. They placed a second-round tender on him last offseason as a restricted free agent and were surely ready to give him a long-term deal if he'd built on that success.

But David's issues, physical or otherwise, have clearly done the opposite.

Dallas is known for working with troubled players, as we've recently seen with Randy Gregory. That they're closing the book on Irving suggests there's an issue with his desire towards football.

It's a sad loss for both. David's potential is enormous, as evidenced by his productivity when he actually does play. But he appears more likely to hit the Commissioner's exempt list in 2019 than the football field, given the reports of multiple failed drug tests over the last year.

Hopefully David Irving can turn things around one day and capitalize on his talent. But if it ever happens, it appears that it won't be with the Dallas Cowboys.



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