After last week's win over the San Francisco 49ers, I said that the 2016 Dallas Cowboys are for real. The reaction to my statement was mixed, as some agreed that this year's team looked different than years past, and with rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott and a poised quarterback in Dak Prescott, the Cowboys have a real chance at doing some damage this season.
Others, however, told me to wait before making this bold statement. Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington were not worthy opponents for the Cowboys, and surely these next two games against perennial playoff teams would be more of a test.
Well, the Cowboys absolutely dominated the Cincinnati Bengals yesterday in all phases of the game, leaving no doubt during their 28-14 win in which the final score looks closer than it really was. Like I said, this team is for real, and this year is going to be a fun one for Cowboys fans.
But, yesterday was about more than just Zeke running wild or Dak taking another giant leap forward in his development. Yesterday, this defense played arguably their best game yet, holding a Bengals offense with a ton of weapons to just two garbage time touchdowns.
For a defense that has been ridiculed and looked over entirely, they are playing way above their heads, holding opponents to just about 18 points per game. So much is going right defensively, and while everyone is surprised, it might be time to start expecting performances like these.
A.J. Green finished with 4 catches for just 50 yards. To be honest, that should tell you just about all you need to know about how well this secondary played yesterday.
Another telling stat, Andy Dalton rushed 6 times for 34 yards while Jeremy Hill only saw 4 touches, and Giovani Bernarnd saw just 9. What does this mean? Well, the Cowboys secondary was doing such a great job in coverage, that Dalton was left with no other option than to try to run for whatever yards he could find.
Individually, certain players continued to shine this week. Morris Claiborne seems to make at least one big play every game. This week, he batted down two potential touchdown passes, one to Brandon Lafell and one to A.J. Green. These acrobatic pass breakups add to a phenomenal season for Claiborne, which I hope he can continue this week in Green Bay.
It's time to start appreciating Brandon Carr more. No, he is not the shutdown number one corner which the Cowboys hoped he'd be when they signed him in 2012, but he is a damn good player who is outplaying his current post-pay-cut contract.
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Lastly, these safeties are much improved. We all knew that Byron Jones was going to be a beast, and his pass breakup on A.J. Green in the third quarter proved that yesterday. But both Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are playing their best football to date, and it is great to see.
The two biggest problems with this defense through the first four games of the season were stopping the run and getting to the quarterback. In a way, both of those problems were solved this week, but I can't give all of the credit for this to the defense.
On the ground, the Bengals basically did what they wanted to early in the game. Bernard finished with just 50 yards rushing, but those yards came on only 9 carries. Too many times the Cowboys lost contain on the backside, or over pursued the play allowing Bernard easy cut back lanes.
Pass rush wise, the Cowboys looked better, sacking Andy Dalton 4 times and applying more pressure than they have all season. The increased reps for Ryan Davis, the return of DeMarcus Lawrence, and the improvement of players like Benson Mayowa certainly helped, but many of these sacks and pressures seem to come more as a result of great coverage down the field.
What helped the Cowboys control the run game and get after the passer the most was actually their offense. When the Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the 2016 NFL Draft despite needing so much defensive help, we all pointed to how ball control and building big leads could help this defense overcome whatever flaws they may have.
Yesterday, this was exactly the case.
Going up 14-0 in a blink of an eye, the Bengals were forced to abandon the run game early, putting themselves in obvious passing situations and allowing for the Cowboys defensive linemen to rush like they haven't rushed all season. Or in some cases, their whole careers.
Regardless of who to give the most "props" to, yesterday's win was important for a young Cowboys team, who is proving they win can against any opponent.
NFC East Showdown: Cowboys Offense Primed to Dominate Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are probably as confident as they have been all season as an offense after completely manhandling the Jacksonville Jaguars defense last week. They were able to put up 40 points on the Jaguar's top-ranked defense and now have to do the same against their division rival, the Washington Redskins.
I don't think there would be any argument if I were to say the Washington Redskins defense isn't nearly as talented as the Cowboys faced last week with the Jaguars. In fact, the Redskins are ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every defensive category, which should have Dallas' offensive players primed for this matchup.
As things stand right now, the Washington Redskins are giving up 21.2 points per game which ranks 24th in the NFL. They are also giving up 344 total yards (25th in the NFL) and 227.2 passing yards a game (24th). The lone bright spot of their defense is stopping the run, where they are currently ranked 12th in the NFL and are only allowing 116.8 rushing yards to opposing running backs.
Luckily, the Dallas Cowboys and Quarterback Dak Prescott looked to have found a groove with their passing game last week against the Jaguars top-ranked passing defense. With the Redskins ranked near the bottom of the league in passing defense, I think the Cowboys should and probably will build upon the success they had last week.
Now, I fully expect the Cowboys passing game to find success once again against the Redskins, but I also believe Running Back Ezekiel Elliott to dominate on the ground like he has in the past against Washington.
Zeke only played in one game against the Redskins last season, but absolutely dominated in that contest. He rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns a year ago and I wouldn't be surprised if he is close to that milestone this week as well, even if it is against the strength of Washington's defense.
I'm really hoping I'm not a being a little overconfident here, but I guess I'm just buying into the success the Cowboys had on the offensive side of the ball last week. The offense finally started to do the things that have made them successful in the past and I'm expecting that to carry over into this week.
I believe we will see Prescott using his mobility once again, although I don't know if he will rush for 83 yards. I'm also expecting to see Wide Receiver Cole Beasley heavily involved in the passing game again because Washington doesn't have a defensive back who can cover him. Of course, let's not forget Ezekiel Elliott. I'm expecting him have a big game as well.
Overall, I really don't see the Washington Redskins defense giving the Dallas Cowboys any problems on the offensive side of the ball as long as they execute the way they did last week. I know when these two teams square off against one another it's usually a slobber knocker, but I think the Cowboys are the better team and is the one that comes away with the victory.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys offense will dominate the Redskins defense?
Can Dak Prescott Continue His Washington Domination On Sunday?
There has been a lot of change within the Dallas Cowboys since 2016.
One thing hasn't changed these past two years, however, and that is the Cowboys beating the Washington Redskins. In fact, since Dak Prescott took over as the starting quarterback in Dallas the Cowboys are 4-0 against Washington. Even as the sky was falling in Dallas a year ago, and the Cowboys offense looked like the worst in football, they still found a way to dominate Washington 38-14 and snap their then-three game losing streak.
In his four career games against Washington, Dak Prescott has quarterback ratings of 103.7, 108.9, 82.2, and 93.4. To put this into context, Prescott's average quarterback rating this season is 85.5 and that is really driven by his outlier positive rating of 118.6 against the Detroit Lions. To be fair, however, his 54.5 rating against Seattle was also a heavy outlier.
Prescott isn't the only Cowboy who has exercised this dominance over Washington, though. As Staff Writer John Williams has pointed out, Jason Garrett is 11-4 against the Redskins since becoming the Cowboys head coach, and Dallas has won six of their last eight against Washington since 2014.
So heading into Sunday's rematch with their division foe, history says the Cowboys should be feeling rather confident, right?
Well there's another streak occurring the Cowboys will actually be looking to break on Sunday. That, of course, is their winless start on the road this season.
Ironically the Dak Prescott-led Cowboys have actually been a good road team until now, going a combined 12-4 the past two seasons. And, since the new stadium opened in 2009, the Cowboys have been historically better on the road than at home, making this year's 3-3 start even more bizarre.
To put it simply, "somethings gotta give" on Sunday. Either Dak Prescott and the Cowboys will continue to beat up on the Redskins and get a leg up in the NFC East, or this horrendous road start will continue for another week.
Either way, I'm sure the takes will be hot on Monday morning.
Cowboys Defense Getting Players Back at the Right Time
The Dallas Cowboys have played really well on defense this season allowing the seventh fewest rushing yards per game, the third lowest yards per carry, and the eighth fewest passing yards per game this season. They've done it for most of the 2018 season without Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins and David Irving, and Linebacker Sean Lee, who's missed the last three games with a strained hamstring.
This week the Cowboys play the NFC East leading Washington Redskins, making this a very important matchup for the Cowboys playoff chances. The Dallas Cowboys are 2-2 in the NFC in 2018, so a win against the Washington Redskins on Sunday carries much more importance. If the Cowboys have hopes of making the playoffs, they're going to have to improve their record against the NFC and they can on Sunday with their defense getting back to (nearly) full health.
Still awaiting word on Chidobe Awuzie's availability for this week.
Antwaun Woods, Tyrone Crawford, and David Ross have held up really well on the Cowboys defensive interior without Irving and Collins, which makes their return even more important. Better depth along the defensive interior is only going to help those guys have more productive snaps. Both Collins and Irving are explosive penetrating defensive tackles that give interior offensive lineman fits with their combination of strength and quickness. They play the run and pass with equal effectiveness and make life a lot easier for the linebackers and the defensive ends.
In their first game back in week six, Irving and Collins combined for two quarterback pressures, a quarterback hit (Irving) and a sack (Collins). Irving also drew a holding call on a punt.
Getting them back takes so much pressure off the defensive ends to generate pressure in passing situations. With better pressure from the interior of the defense, DeMarcus Lawrence and the other defensive ends will have better opportunities for sacks because opposing quarterbacks won't be able to step up in the pocket with as much ease as they have through the first five games of the season.
The linebacker duo of Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch have been one of the best position groups for the Cowboys this season. As good as they've been, Sean Lee is still one of the better linebackers in the NFL. Though he's leading the Cowboys in solo tackles with 43, Leighton Vander Esch probably sees a decrease in his snaps with Lee returning. They'll all play, however, and the Cowboys will look for ways to have them all on the field together.
Getting Lee, Irving, and Collins on the field at the same time with the defensive parts that the Cowboys already boast in Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Byron Jones is going to make playing offense nearly impossible.
How do you attack these guys?
The Washington Redskins rank in the bottom third in passing yards, yards per attempt, and are 18th in the NFL in passer rating. Washington ranks in the top half of the league in rushing yards per game, but rank 23rd in yards per attempt.
If there's an area where the Dallas Cowboys defense has been susceptible this season it's against the pass and having all of their best defensive players available for this week seven NFC East matchup is going to make all the difference. They'll be able to generate pressure with fewer blitzes because of the ability of Irving and Collins to generate pressure from the interior.
Though the Redskins have had some success on the ground in 2018, it's going to be tough sledding for Adrian Peterson and the Redskins run game. Lee, Vander Esch, and Smith all play the run extremely well and with the improved talent at defensive tackle, Peterson is going to find very few open lanes against the Dallas Cowboys defense.
The elite defense that we imagined this team could be may be right around the corner. Having everyone healthy and on the field together as the Dallas Cowboys get ready for the stretch run of the NFL season is huge.
Get ready NFL. Points are going to be really hard to come by.
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