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Dallas Cowboys Offensive Play Calling Takes a Conservative Turn

John Williams

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Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott Should be rid of all Rust

It was a disappointing loss for the Dallas Cowboys in New Orleans on Sunday night. In the 12-10 loss to the Saints, the Cowboys offense looked like a shell of itself, generating only two scoring drives. As disappointing as it was, it was an equally confusing performance for a team that had been creative and explosive through the first three weeks of the season under new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore.

This offense, led by Kellen Moore looked more like the offenses that grew frustrating to watch over the last several years under Scott Linehan.

On the night, the Dallas Cowboys only managed 257 yards of total offense and were just 4-11 converting on third down. The Cowboys led the NFL in third-down conversion rate at 58.1% through three weeks. Coming into week four, the Cowboys had averaged 7.6 yards per play, which was second in the NFL to only the Kansas City Chiefs. Last night, the Cowboys accumulated only 4.8 yards per play.

Those numbers are just the objective evidence of what was a poor offensive showing for a team that had aspirations of being a Super Bowl contender in 2019.  This offense looked nothing like the club that was scoring almost at will the first three weeks of the season.

Sure, the New Orleans Saints defense did a good job and New Orleans is a tough place to play, but the game plan and the play-calling didn't do enough to get the Cowboys in opportunistic looks against a Saints defense that had been fairly easy to score on through three weeks. The gameplan seemed eerily reminiscent of older Scott Linehan gameplans. It lacked any creativity or a focus to attack the defense, instead playing conservative and hoping the offense could do just enough to win the game. Unfortunately, they couldn't muster enough offense to take advantage of an excellent defensive performance.

A team that was using play-action on nearly 40% of their play calls through the first three weeks rarely used play-action on Sunday night, and I can't recall a play call that involved a read-option or a run-pass option.

Per Pro Football Focus, the Cowboys used play action on just seven of their drop backs. On those plays, Dak Prescott was 6/7 for 65 yards. That’s just 20% of their drop backs.


The Cowboys offense had a really hard time finding much success 10 or more yards down the field as well, completing few passes in the intermediate part of the field. Prescott and the passing game completed only seven of 33 attempts beyond ten yards and only two passes greater than 20 yards down the field. One of which was in the final minute with the Saints defense playing prevent defense.

A team that attacked down the field throughout the first three games of the season, looked reluctant to take shots downfield, and instead settled for dump-off passes to Ezekiel Elliott, which were largely ineffective. As an offense, they still seem committed to running the ball even when the run game isn't effective. Elliott carried the ball 18 times and only gained 35 yards rushing. On first down, the Ezekiel Elliott ran the ball 10 times for only 23 yards. One of those was a three-yard carry when the Cowboys were looking at first and 20 with under two minutes to go in the first half. That carry didn't really get them anywhere and they eventually punted. That drive was symptomatic of a very different approach in week four than what we'd seen the previous three weeks.

When the Dallas Cowboys faced first and long situations the previous three weeks, they didn't go into their shell and get conservative. They hadn't let getting behind the chains to change their offensive approach, but their offensive approach was completely different throughout.

One of the concerns from the offseason coaching change from Linehan to Kellen Moore appeared to rear its ugly head against the Saints. That regardless of this team's offensive coordinator, that a Jason Garrett team would still resort to being a conservative ball-control, run-first type of football team. Because that's exactly what they were on Sunday night, and that's a concern.

We've seen what this offense is capable when they're an attacking group. In the third quarter when they got the ball, they went on the offensive to finally get some points on the board. It was the only time of the night where they looked like an offense in rhythm.

Kellen Moore just received a valuable lesson in coaching and you hope that he learnable from this experience and becomes a better play caller moving forward. In a hostile environment, the Cowboys needed to play with more aggression than they did. They allowed the Saints to take them out of their identity on Sunday night. With a tough Green Bay opponent coming to town, Kellen Moore and the Dallas Cowboys offense needs to rediscover itself faster than the main character in an 80’s movie montage.

It’s still early in the season and these kinds of losses happen, you just hope they propel you to something big down the road. As smart and as good as Kellen Moore is at his job, this will be a learning opportunity that helps the Dallas Cowboys’ Offense improve.

Ep 13: Reviewing the Dallas Cowboys Loss to the New Orleans Saints with Kevin Turner of 105.3 The Fan by Inside The Cowboys

On this episode of Inside The Cowboys, John is joined by 105.3 The Fan's Kevin Turner to review the Dallas Cowboys loss to the New Orleans Saints and give a way too early preview of the 2020 NFL Draft.


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. Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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#DALvsPHI: It’s Make Or Break Time In Dallas This Sunday

Kevin Brady

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Jaylon Smith, Eagles

The future of the Dallas Cowboys is hanging in the balance.

Despite three straight incredibly disappointing losses, the Cowboys can take early control of first place in the NFC East with a victory this Sunday. With a loss, though, it could all come apart.

The 2019 season. The Jason Garrett era. All of it.

This may sound dramatic for a week 7 game, but the facts are damning for this version of the Cowboys. Not only would a loss Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles be Dallas' fourth in a row, but it would also send them under .500 for the first time all season. And when you look at their schedule moving forward, it's hard to see how Dallas could battle back into true contention.

America's Team has looked wildly unprepared the last three weeks. Getting out played and out coached by the Saints and Packers is one thing, but being embarrassed by Adam Gase and the New York Jets is a whole different level of incompetence.Takeaway Tuesday: Dak Prescott The Least of Cowboys Problems 1

Now enter the hated Eagles, swaggering behind the words of their head coach Doug Pederson who guaranteed victory over the Cowboys on Philadelphia sports radio to start the week. But, while the rhetoric around the two teams feels a little different, both Dallas and Philly are in similar situations heading into this game.


Both were considered to be Super Bowl contenders prior to the season, with the Eagles even being crowned as the best team in the NFC by most major media outlets.

Through six games though, each has been disappointing, and each sits at 3-3. The only likely avenue for either of these assumed-giants to make the postseason will be by winning their objectively bad division. A wild card run through this gauntlet of an NFC would be tough, especially as it'll likely take 10 wins to get there.

Sunday is a season changing type of game, and for the Cowboys, it's a potentially franchise changing type of game.

A loss would all but seal Jason Garrett's fait in the eyes of Cowboys Nation, barring a miraculous comeback in the second half of the season. It would also continue this talented group's tailspin back down to the state of mediocrity their doubters all predicted and hoped for.

So, for the sake of the 2019 Cowboys and Jason Garrett, they better show up on Sunday night.


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5 Cowboys with Big Opportunity as Tyrone Crawford Goes to IR

John Williams

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Dallas Cowboys with Opportunity in Wake of Tyrone Crawford Injury

Though his reputation outside of the locker room seemed to be in question by many in the Dallas Cowboys fanbase always in question, Tyrone Crawford has been one of the more valuable members of the Dallas Cowboys. Despite a salary cap hit that was often disproportionate to the production he provided, his leadership and versatility has always been tremendously valuable to the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line.

Crawford's ability to play both defensive end positions and the 3-technique defensive tackle spot has been immensely important for the Cowboys over the years. When the Cowboys struggled to stop the run, he'd give them a boost at right defensive end. When they needed some pass rush help in the middle, Crawford was the guy they'd turn to.

Crawford's battled hip injuries this year and his inability to get healthy has landed him on injured reserve for the 2019 season. He's always been a solid player for the Cowboys and now Dallas will need to figure out how to redistribute his 20-25 defensive snaps per game.

Though he's been primarily a role player, the opportunity exists for his role to be divided up between several players moving forward. Here are five players who stand to benefit most from Tyrone Crawford's injury.

Kerry Hyder, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle

The player with the best chance to fill Crawford's defensive end/defensive tackle role is Kerry Hyder. Hyder has a lot of experience at both positions and even played some nose tackle for the Detroit Lions last year before signing with the Dallas Cowboys in free agency. In 2016, Hyder showed some pass-rush ability from the defensive end spot as he racked up eight sacks. Though Hyder hasn't recorded a sack yet in 2019, he'll see an increase in his snap count moving forward.

Christian Covington, Defensive Tackle

One could argue that Christian Covington has been the Dallas Cowboys' most disruptive defensive tackle in the 2019 season. He has the highest run-stop percentage of any Cowboys defensive lineman, per Pro Football Focus and the highest run defense grade amongst the Cowboys defensive lineman.

Covington has the ability to play both defensive tackle positions and with Antwaun Woods back as the starting 1-technique defensive tackle, it could provide Covington some opportunities to play the 3-technique spot. Maliek Collins is the starter, but the Cowboys need someone to come in and keep him fresh. On early downs and obvious running situations, Covington might be the better choice for the Cowboys inside to get more production from their 3-technique. Maliek Collins has been an effective pass-rusher, but he's struggled in the run game. Covington could help there.

Joe Jackson, Defensive End

Another newcomer to the Dallas Cowboys with inside-outside positional flexibility that could see an uptick in defensive snaps is fifth-round draft pick, Joe Jackson.

Jackson was able to secure a roster spot out of training camp because of the same type of positional flexibility that Tyrone Crawford has shown throughout his career. Though Jackson's only played 51 snaps this season, he saw a decent amount of work in the first three games of the season, with a high of 26 snaps against the New York Giants in week one.


His snap counts have tailed off quite a bit since playing 12 snaps in week three, and he's been a healthy scratch each of the last two games. The potential exists for Jackson to get more work on the gameday roster in the weeks to come.

Trysten Hill, Defensive Tackle

A player that could use a break is rookie Defensive Tackle Trysten Hill. Hill has been a healthy scratch for three of the Dallas Cowboys six games to start the 2019 season. It's been known that he's a bit of a work in progress, but he has a really good ability to get off the ball and penetrate. He needs to work on securing his base and holding his anchor when being double-teamed.

Hill will be a good player, though his biggest impact may not come in 2019, but 2020. With Crawford to IR, Hill may find himself on the active roster to take some of the snaps at 3-technique defensive tackle. The Cowboys could use him to get some interior pressure on the quarterback to take some of the pressure off of the defensive ends to get to the quarterback.

Daniel Wise, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle

Rookie undrafted free agent Defensive End/Tackle Daniel Wise has an excellent opportunity to be promoted to the 53-man roster this week if the Dallas Cowboys feel the need to add another defensive lineman as depth.

Wise had a really nice training camp and preseason that gave many the impression he could make the 53-man roster out of training camp. Depth at the position made it pretty difficult and he's spent the first six weeks of the season on the practice squad.

Because Wise and Crawford play similar positions with similar versatility, it would make sense for the Cowboys to add him to the 53 this week with their matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles looming.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Dallas Cowboys have several decisions to make this week as they attempt to get a win for the first time since beating the Miami Dolphins in week three. They need to figure out who will take Tyrone Crawford's snaps in the defensive end and defensive tackle rotation. They also need to decide who will take Crawford's spot on the game-day roster and the 53-man roster.


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Jourdan Lewis, the Change the Dallas Cowboys Defense Needs

Brian Martin

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Jourdan Lewis, the Change the Dallas Cowboys Defense Needs?

The Dallas Cowboys are a mess right now, especially on the defensive side of the ball. There's no sugar coating the way they've played these past few weeks. I think the third consecutive loss in a row pretty much speaks for itself. Something needs to change and fast, but what!?

Enter Cornerback Jourdan Lewis.

With both Byron Jones and Anthony Brown currently nursing injuries from last Sunday's game against the New York Jets, Jourdan Lewis should see quite an increase in playing time in Week 7 against the Philadelphia Eagles. I don't know about you, but this could be the change the Dallas Cowboys defense needs.

If you've read any of my previous articles on Jourdan Lewis, then you already know I've been pretty adamant he deserves to be on the field more often. I believe he is the Cowboys second best cornerback, behind only Byron Jones. Unfortunately, since the hiring of Kris Richard last season he hasn't seen the field much.

Kris Richard has a prototype he prefers in his cornerbacks and No. 27 doesn't quite fit the bill. Richard likes his CBs at least 6 foot tall with an arm length of approximately 32 inches. At 5'10", Jourdan Lewis falls a few inches under the height threshold Richard likes, but narrowly misses in the arm length with 31 5/8 inch arms.


Jourdan Lewis

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis

It may be pretty obvious, but I personally don't agree with Richard's insistence on playing the CBs that fit his prototype. I think it's flawed, especially as it pertains to Jourdan Lewis. On just about any other team around the league Lewis would be starting, but with the Cowboys he currently sits fourth on the depth chart.

Due to the current injuries at the CB position though, Richard doesn't really have a choice but to play Jourdan Lewis more this week. He may even have to be relied upon as a starter and I believe that could be the change the Cowboys defense needs.

Don't get me wrong, I really like Byron Jones and Anthony Brown. But, neither CB is known for creating turnovers. No. 27 on the other hand has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to come away with an interception. In fact, only Anthony Brown (4) has more than interceptions since he joined the team and that's with far more playing time.

As a rookie, Lewis played 70% of the defensive snaps in 2017. His defensive snaps dropped dramatically in 2018 (18%) after the hiring of Kris Richard. So far this season his snap count has increased from a season ago to 30.17% and could rise even higher due to injuries and opportunity.

I don't expect Jourdan Lewis to fix all of the Dallas Cowboys problems on defense all by himself, but the Cowboys have to start somewhere. He could just be the spark they need to get back on track. At least that's what I'm hoping anyway.

What do you think? Is Jourdan Lewis the change the Cowboys defense needs?


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