When the calendar hits New Year's Eve and the beginning of a new year approaches, the anticipation and hope of starting fresh gets everyone excited. The same can be said for the start of a new NFL season. Sadly, though the hope of the 2018 Dallas Cowboys season has faded quickly after five weeks of the season. The hope that Dak Prescott could return to the player he was in his first 24 games is cratering with each poor performance and each Dallas Cowboys loss.
I know we all want to look for the reasons why Dak Prescott and the offense is struggling. We point to the wide receivers, the offensive line, the quarterback, the play calling, the coaching, and to be honest, it's probably a bit of all of this.
Dak Prescott definitely carries some of the blame for what has gone on with the Dallas Cowboys offense early this season. Looking at Pro Football Focus' Premium Stats, you can find stats that show that Dak Prescott has had time in the pocket.
Here are Dak Prescott's NFL ranks in the following categories per Pro Football Focus.
- Time in the Pocket: 3.04 seconds (3rd)
- Time to Attempt: 2.81 seconds (3rd)
- Time to Sack: 3.61 seconds (9th)
- Time to Run/Scramble: 6.31 seconds (1st)
- Quarterback Rating when he throws in less than 2.5 seconds: 102.9 (13th)
- Quarterback Rating when he throws in more than 2.5 seconds: 63.7 (27th)
These numbers don't completely tell the story of Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, but we can certainly make some observations.
I think the offensive line is giving Dak Prescott enough time to make plays. The offensive line hasn't been perfect, but they've also faced some really good pass rushers in the first five games of the season. He's been sacked 16 times through five games; an average of 3.2 sacks per game. That's the seventh highest number in the NFL.
As you can see from the Pro Football Focus numbers above, Dak has been holding the ball nearly as long as anyone in the NFL. He's better when he gets rid of the ball in under 2.5 seconds. There's nearly a 40 point decrease in his passer rating when he holds the ball longer than 2.5 seconds.
Sure he's been getting sacked more than he did in the first 24 games of his career and there are plays where the protection hasn't been great. So then the question becomes, is it the quarterback or the scheme.
Dak Prescott just doesn't look like the same quarterback that he was in the first 24 games of his career. He doesn't look to be as confident or comfortable in the pocket despite having as much time as anyone in the NFL.
The Cowboys coaching staff either hasn't gotten him in the right positions to do the things that make him comfortable, or Dak is broken.
Over the last 13 games of his career -- since the Atlanta Falcons game -- Dak Prescott has thrown for an average of 189.8 yards per game, 0.8 touchdowns, one interception, while completing only 63% of passes, with a 76.8 passer rating. In the first 24 games of his career he averaged 228.5 passing yards, 1.6 touchdowns, 0.3 interceptions, completed 66 percent of his passes with a 102.4 passer rating, per Pro Football Reference.
That's a drastic statistical difference.
Toward the end of the 2017 NFL season, some joked that Chaz Green ruined Dak Prescott. Well, it doesn't look so funny now since Dak Prescott hasn't looked the same in the 13 games since the Atlanta game.
Dak Prescott's ranks in 2016 per @PFF Dak Prescott's NFL Ranks in: Time in the Pocket: 4th (2.89) Time to Attempt: 5th (2.71) Time to Sack: 4th (3.83) Time to Run/Scramble: 12th (5.15) QB Rating att < 2.5 sec: 4th (108) QB Rating att > 2.5 sec: 3rd (103.4) #CowboysNation
In his rookie of the year season, as you can see above, he didn't have near the drop off in passer rating when he released the ball after 2.5 seconds. So, as he held the ball past that 2.5 second mark, he was still really good and really efficient, because he was still comfortable in the pocket.
Dak Prescott just doesn't seem to be willing to let the ball fly like he was early in his career. He was making decisions quicker and getting the ball out of his hands faster. When under pressure in 2016, his passer rating was 75.8, which was ninth in the NFL that season. In 2018, he's down to 15th in the NFL with a passer rating under pressure of 68.5.
How Can the Coaches Help Dak?
There is a lot of time still to turn this around, but some things will have to change to make it happen. In particular, the offensive staff needs to adjust some things to put Dak Prescott in situations that work to his strengths. Such as running play action.
Some eye-popping numbers from QBs on PLAY ACTION snaps this season... #Seahawks #GoSaints #DaBears #FightForEachOther #LARams #Skol #DallasCowboys #Jets #GoBills #GoPats
Dak Prescott is one of the better quarterbacks in the NFL when running play action. As you can see from the above stat, Dak Prescott ranks seventh in the NFL when using play actions passes. When he doesn't run play action, his passer rating drops 56 points to 66.8 and sees a yards per attempt decrease of 3.6, per Pro Football Focus.
Per Pro Football Focus, Dak Prescott ranks 8th in the NFL in percentage of play action drop backs at 26.2%. For comparison, Jared Goff and the Los Angeles Rams are using play action on 39.2% of his drop backs and Philadelphia Eagles' Quarterbacks Nick Foles and Carson Wentz both rank in the top seven of quarterbacks who use play action the most.
You'd think that having the NFL's leading rusher would allow the Dallas Cowboys to run play action much more than they are and that they'd want to given their quarterback's skill in running play action.
So if you're looking for a legitimate thing they can do on offense to help their struggling quarterback, they can run more play action. With Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield, they really could run play action at the same rate as the Los Angeles Rams. The only time it seems that Scott Linehan wants to run play action is when he's using it to set up a screen or to use Dak Prescott on a bootleg roll out.
They can also help Prescott by getting the ball out of his hands faster by using more tunnel and bubble screens by using Tavon Austin more. He's by far their quickest and fastest player, so they need to figure out a way to use that speed and quickness to help Dak Prescott get the ball out of his hands faster.
They could also use more bunch formations to get Tavon Austin and Cole Beasley better releases off the line of scrimmage to get them open quicker. Opposing defenses would have a really difficult time containing both of these guys in the short area of the field because both Beasley and Austin have really good route running.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
I know there are a lot of people that are bailing on Dak Prescott as a potential future quarterback, and I don't blame you. He hasn't been good for much of the last 13 games dating back to last season. The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can help Dak Prescott get back into a groove and potentially save the 2018 season for the Dallas Cowboys. If they don't make any changes, we could see a 2019 with major changes to the offensive figure heads in Dak Prescott, Scott Linehan, and Jason Garrett.
What do you think they should do to get Dak Prescott back on track?
LB Justin Phillips Making a Case to Become a Roster Lock With Cowboys
In Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys arguably have the best linebacker duo in the entire NFL. They also have some pretty solid backups in Sean Lee and Joe Thomas, but the depth behind those four is completely up in the air. That is excellent news for an undrafted LB like Justin Phillips.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy LB signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent after the completion of the 2019 NFL Draft. To go from being an Oklahoma State Cowboy to a Dallas Cowboy must've been a dream come true, especially for a kid from Pearland, Texas who rooted for America's Team growing up. The dream probably won't be complete though unless a roster spot comes with it.
Surprisingly, Justin Phillips has put himself into contention to earn one of those coveted roster spots. The way he has played in the first two preseason games has caught the attention of quite a few people, which should make it extremely difficult for the Cowboys coaching staff when it comes to making roster cut decisions. Dallas Cowboys Staff Writer and former Scout Bryan Broaddus agrees…
"Justin Phillips is going to make it hard on this staff to put him on the street. Not only is his finish impressive, but the awareness he plays with in pass coverage is impressive. There is no way I thought he had a chance for that interception, especially with this initial step into the line, but his ability to turn and run to a spot saved him."
Here is the play/interception Broaddus is referring to:
The Dallas Cowboys have typically only carried six linebackers on their 53-man roster these past few years. With four spots already spoken for, Justin Phillips is doing his damnedest to lock down one of those final two up for grabs. That, of course, is easier said than done.
Phillips is likely competing with Justin March-Lillard, who led the team in tackles against the Los Angeles Rams last week and fellow undrafted rookie LB Luke Gifford. Gifford, of course, missed the game against the Rams with an ankle injury he sustained in Week 1 of the preseason against the 49ers. It was actually that injury that resulted in more playing time for Justin Phillips.
If you're doing the math here, that's three linebackers competing for two roster spots. March-Lillard probably has the upper hand right now over the two rookies, but I wouldn't say he's secured a job just yet. That leaves the door open for No. 44 (Phillips) and No. 57 (Gifford).
As much as I like Luke Gifford, and I do, I think the stars could be aligning for Justin Phillips to make it through roster cuts. He's playing really well right now, while all Gifford can do is watch from the sideline until he can get back on the field. Regardless though, it's a position battle worth keeping an eye on.
Do you think LB Justin Phillips has done enough to secure a roster spot?
How Kris Richard May Help CB Michael Jackson Make Cowboys Roster
Cornerback Michael Jackson, one of the Dallas Cowboys' 5th-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, has not been standing out so far in training camp or preseason. But despite the slow start, the influence of Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard could help keep Jackson on the 53-man roster this year.
While no team likes parting with their drafted rookies, it certainly happens. That's especially true for Day 3 players, even 5th rounders, and particularly when a team is as deep with talent right now as the 2019 Cowboys.
The cornerback position is one of Dallas' most loaded. They go four-deep with starting talent in Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis, which leaves just one or two roster spots for the remaining prospects.
Michael Jackson is in competition with veteran C.J. Goodwin and the intriguing Donovan Olumba. Both were with the team last year; Goodwin was a special teams contributor and Olumba was a valuable developmental asset on the practice squad.
So far this preseason, we've seen Goodwin shining on special teams and Olumba making plays at cornerback. Jackson hasn't stood out, unless you count jokes about thin he looks on the field.
In contrast, fellow 5th-round rookie Joe Jackson has been showing up at defensive end. Even if there were no suspension concerns with Robert Quinn and Randy Gregory, Joe Jackson has made himself very difficult to cut.
But despite not having that same momentum or energy around him yet, Michael Jackson may still find his way onto the 53-man roster. And that may have something to do with his position coach.
Since arriving in Dallas during the 2018 offseason, Kris Richard has quickly gained prominence beyond just his official role as the Defensive Backs Coach. He was working as the defensive play-caller last year and is expected to take over fully in 2020, assuming Rod Marinelli retires and Richard doesn't leave for a head coaching opportunity.
When Dallas selected Michael Jackson in the last draft, Jackson became the first cornerback or safety drafted by the Cowboys since Richard arrived. Given that it happened this year, with Richard's influence clearly high on the defense, one would assume that Kris had a big say in the decision to draft Jackson.
No, Richard certainly can't veto any decision made by the Joneses, Will McClay, Jason Garrett, or even Marinelli when it comes to roster management. But if he has any bias towards Jackson as his first draft pick in Dallas, Kris may fight for the rookie more than someone else.
We're all human; agendas come into play. Kris Richard may be more passionate about seeing Michael Jackson succeeding for a variety of reasons. He may pound the table for the team to keep Jackson louder than anyone else in the room.
That doesn't necessarily mean keeping Jackson over some other cornerback, either. The argument could be to go long at CB at the expense of another position; maybe only keeing two quarterbacks or eight offensive linemen to free up a roster spot.
This is purely speculative, of course. For all we know, Richard could be the first one who loses faith and votes to let Jackson go.
But given the situation and all factors involved, it's more likely that Kris Richard will be invested in seeing Michael Jackson succeed and sticking with the Cowboys in 2019. Hopefully, it's in the best interest of the team overall.
DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win
Kerry Hyder joined the Cowboys this offseason on a one year deal, and while the four-year NFL veteran has put up some solid tape in his time around the league, it was hard to project just what he could bring to the Cowboys defense.
Listed at 6'2" 270 pounds, Hyder is a bit of a tweener on the defensive line. Though the answer to "will he play tackle or end" seems to be "both" to this point in the preseason.
As he fights for his life on this deep defensive line, Kerry Hyder had himself a day in the Cowboys 14-10 victory over the Rams last weekend.
Hyder made an excellent play defending a screen pass in the first quarter, reading the play perfectly and reacting quickly to running back Darrell Henderson coming out of the backfield. Hyder also created some pressure on the quarterback, and finished with 3 combined tackles in very limited playing time.
Hyder's versatility is working well for him as he looks to make the final roster. Like a Tyrone Crawford type player, Hyder will be able to move inside and out depending on the situation. This allows the Cowboys to be flexible in how they structure their depth chart on defense, and in how they decide to rush the passer on third down.
A pass rushing package involving Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge with the combination of Hyder and Maliek Collins on the inside could turn out to be a very dangerous one for opposing offenses to deal with.
Rod Marinelli spoke to this versatility a couple of months ago, showing just how much he values what Kerry Hyder can bring to this team.
"Maybe you adjust him sometime, once in a while – in a one-on-one pass rush situation, stick him over a guard and start to get a feel for it.” - Rod Marinelli
Earlier this offseason, I wrote that Kerry Hyder could end up being Rod Marinelli's next great under-the-radar find on the defensive line. And if he continues to play with the hustle and awareness that he had on Saturday, he's going to make Rod look very smart in his evaluation.
Kerry Hyder is making it very difficult for the front office to let him go. And, at the end of the preseason, I do expect Kerry Hyder to find himself on the Cowboys' active roster. Especially considering how Mike White is playing at quarterback, and how his release could open up an extra spot at a different position group.
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