Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs -- a win away from the Super Bowl -- ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.
Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.
On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.
It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team's offense, but Rod Marinelli's unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan's at times through this 9-7 campaign.
This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.
For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.
The Cowboys' bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.
With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they'll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.
As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.
Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it's with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.
A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.
The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there's hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.
With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.
Tyrone Crawford wasn't the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.
Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton -- having the physical traits to play at the next level -- was never a question out of Michigan.
He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn't have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.
This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.
Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.
Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.
Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.
Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.
A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.
The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel's staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.
With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?
Should the Dallas Cowboys Trade for These 2 Oakland Raiders?
The trade deadline on October 30th will be here faster than we know. It's the final opportunity that NFL teams will have an opportunity to make a significant upgrade to their roster. And if you're a frequent reader of the Dallas Cowboys, then you know that the Dallas Cowboys could use some help, especially on the offensive side of the football.
On Thursday, Marcus Mosher from The Raiders Wire on USA Today posed a hypothetical trade involving the Dallas Cowboys. In his scenario, he has the Dallas Cowboys trading for Wide Receiver Amari Cooper and thinks that Cooper could net the Raiders a top 75 draft selection.
Amari Cooper is a good wide receiver, but he's not a receiver I would trade a top-75 pick for. Cooper is a player that has a lot of talent, but has struggled with drops and inconsistency. Even now, with the Raiders he's having a hard time getting consistent opportunities.
Cooper's second on the team in targets, but third on the team in receptions behind a tight end and a running back. Cooper's also third on the team in yardage behind the two guys that I'd be way more interested in trading for; Tight End Jared Cook and Wide Receiver Jordy Nelson.
Yes, these guys are on the wrong side of 30, but they are guys that have been around a long time and can help your offense this season. Both would be upgrades at the position, even at their advanced NFL age.
Jared Cook - Tight End
You've heard the adage, "if you can't beat em, join em." Well, this is the reverse of that. "If he always beats you, acquire him."
That's what Oakland Raiders Tight End Jared Cook is to the Dallas Cowboys. Point of evidence.
Uploaded by Kafin Walker on 2017-01-16.
That remarkable catch by Jared Cook still haunts me and many of you in Cowboys Nation. It was a perfectly thrown ball by Aaron Rodgers and Cook made an incredible catch along the sidelines that led to Mason Crosby's game-winning field goal at the end of regulation.
Jared Cook's Oakland Raiders team isn't going anywhere this season. They're already four games back of the AFC West leading Kansas City Chiefs and the AFC is looking deeper than it has in recent years. The Raiders and the Indianapolis Colts are the only teams in the NFC with less than two losses. That means there are 14 teams with better records than Jon Gruden's Oakland squad. This week the Raiders face a Seattle Seahawks team that beat the Dallas Cowboys and lost by only a couple of points to the undefeated Los Angeles Rams.
Cook has been one of the better tight ends in the NFL this season and would be a veteran presence that the Dallas Cowboys could add if they felt like they could make a run at the playoffs.
At 31, Cook is averaging six catches and 78 yards receiving per game. He'd give the Dallas Cowboys someone they could run on post, corner, and seam routes to challenge safeties deep. Something that they're lacking from the tight end position at the moment. Cook is leading the Oakland Raiders in targets, receptions, yards, and is second on the Raiders in touchdowns in 2018.
No offense to Geoff Swaim, who's been surprisingly good this year, but Jared Cook makes this offense better. He allows you to make Rico Gathers your TE3, which would allow Rico to continue learning the game without the responsibility of being a primary target on certain pass plays.
Jared Cook is in the last season of his deal, so you wouldn't have to be committed to him beyond 2018. The perfect rental who could step in and play pretty quickly.
Jordy Nelson - Wide Receiver
I know this team is allergic to adding veteran players, especially veterans over 30, but Jordy Nelson is another name that they should take a long look at.
At 33 years of age, Nelson leads the Raiders in receiving touchdowns and is second on the team with 15.9 yards per reception. He's also third in receptions and second in yards.
His numbers -- 20 receptions for 317 yards and three touchdowns -- would lead the Dallas Cowboys in all receiving categories.
Nelson's still got some juice left and he's always been a good route runner with good hands.
Here are some highlights from Jordy's week three performance against the Miami Dolphins.
Check out Jordy Nelson highlights, racking up 173 yards receiving! The Oakland Raiders take on the Miami Dolphins during Week 3 of the 2018 NFL season. Subscribe to NFL: http://j.mp/1L0bVBu Check out our other channels: NFL Vault http://www.youtube.com/nflvault NFL Network http://www.youtube.com/nflnetwork NFL Films http://www.youtube.com/nflfilms NFL Rush http://www.youtube.com/nflrush #NFL #Raiders #JordyNelson
Nelson doesn't have any guarantees left on the deal he signed this past offseason so if you cut him in the 2019 offseason, you'd get zero dead money added to your 2019 salary cap, but would get $7.2 million in savings.
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Because of their age and the fact that they'd likely be one-year rentals, I don't imagine that you'd have to give up much more than a fifth round pick for either of these guys. And while I don't think the Dallas Cowboys would take a look at trading for either veteran, it's something they should do if they have aspirations of making the playoffs in 2018.
The Dallas Cowboys offense could use a boost.
What's the most you'd be willing to offer for either Jordy Nelson or Jared Cook?
Cowboys’ Issues Are Deeper Than The Division Race
Yesterday, Inside The Star staff writer Jess Haynie posed an interesting question: "could the wide-open NFC East help Jason Garrett's job security?"
The Dallas Cowboys started off their season a disappointing 2-3, but despite this rough start, they are right in the thick of things in the NFC East. The defending champion Eagles, who most expected to run away with the division, are now just 3-3. The lowly New York Giants are probably done at 1-5, and the Washington Redskins looked pathetic on Monday night, dropping to 2-2.
This division looks average at best, though I still somewhat expect the Eagles' talent to take over at some point and allow them to make a run. Still the Cowboys are alive, and if they can pull off the upset at home this Sunday, they may even be in first place come Monday morning.
So, Jess fairly asks, could this help Jason Garrett and the Cowboys' coaching staff keep their jobs? After all, it's rare you see an owner change coaches after remaining competitive within the division throughout most of the prior season. And given Jason Garrett's relationship with Jerry Jones, it might take an awful season to see any real change occur.
Here's the thing: this team could win the division at 9-7, and it would still be time for changes. Incompetence of others does not mean that you are competent, even if you are competent in comparison to those others.
The Cowboys have players openly questioning play calls, alluding to lack of trust in the quarterback, and pretty consistent drama swirling around the locker room. Yes, some of that is the media created Cowboy drama we always see, but there is disfunction within the organization without a doubt.
As a franchise the Cowboys need new blood in the building. To be honest, they could use a general manager separate from the Jones family name, but that is very unlikely to ever happen. So we focus on the coaching staff, specifically on the offensive side of the ball where the Cowboys have struggled the most.
Dallas is 29th in passing yards, 28th in passing yards per attempt, and tied for 26th in passing touchdowns through five weeks. Plainly put, they're horrible, and bringing back an offensive minded head coach and/or offensive coordinator who oversaw this terrible passing offense is counterproductive.
Regardless of where the Cowboys stand within this average division, they need to look themselves in the mirror this offseason. They need to be seriously comparing themselves to teams like the Rams (and not by lying to themselves like Jerry Jones did), not the 1-5 Giants.
The Cowboys should be striving for more than just being the best of a group of average football teams, and if that means cutting ties with Jason Garrett, then so be it.
Opposition Outlook: Versatile T.J. Yeldon Too Much for Dallas Cowboys?
If you haven't heard the news yet, then let me be the first to tell you. Jacksonville Jaguars Running Back Leonard Fournette has been ruled out of this week's matchup between the Dallas Cowboys and the Jaguars. Don't let his absence fool you, though, T.J. Yeldon is a back that can hurt the Cowboys in many ways.
T.J. Yeldon was the Jaguars second round pick out of Alabama in the 2015 NFL Draft and was expected to be a featured back for them. That never really materialized and the Jaguars then went out and selected Fournette early in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Yeldon is now more of a passing game back for the AFC South contender, but with Fournette out, he's getting an opportunity in a full-time role. He's not at all the same back as Fournette, as Yeldon has much more ability in the passing game.
Already in 2018, Yeldon's caught 22 passes for 194 yards and three touchdowns, which is more than any Dallas Cowboys wide receiver this season. T.J. Yeldon's averaging 8.8 yards per reception to go along with his 4.4 yards per carry on the season.
He's averaging 90 total yards per game on 16 touches and a touchdown a game. Even when Fournette was active in weeks one and four, Yeldon still received 17 and 21 touches in those games.
He's not at all an afterthought in the Jaguars offense and shouldn't be as the Dallas Cowboys defense prepares to stop them in week five.
Here's how he ranks among running backs with at least 24 targets:
- Tied for second in receiving touchdowns.
- 11th in receiving yards.
- 14th in reception percentage.
- Eighth in targets
- 10th in receptions
- Fourth in yards per reception
- Seventh in yards after catch
- Fifth in yards after catch per receptions.
- Sixth in receptions that led to a first down.
- Second in drops.
- He has the 10th highest quarterback rating among running backs when targeted.
T.J. Yeldon isn't the best back in the NFL, but as a dual purpose back, he's really good. He's 15th in the NFL in total yards and for two of those games he was sharing the load with a former top five pick.
The Dallas Cowboys have been really good against the run this season. They've allowed the 11th fewest rushing yards and their 3.4 yards per carry allowed ranks tied for second in the NFL. Where they've struggled is with running backs in the passing game.
Through five weeks this season, they've allowed running backs to go for 47.6 yards per game. In weeks one, two, and five, they allowed 66 yards receiving to Christian McCaffrey, Saquon Barkley, and Alfred Blue.
If there's an area where the Jaguars can exploit the Dallas Cowboys defense, it will be in targeting T.J. Yeldon in the passing game. Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and (hopefully if he plays) Sean Lee will be enough to slow him down and make Blake Bortles take chances down the field.
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