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Dallas Cowboys: One Thing Fans Aren’t Understanding

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Cowboys Blog - Cowboys: One Thing Fans Aren't Understanding

It’s 3rd & 1 and the Dallas Cowboys need a short push to get a much-needed first down. Behind the best offensive line in football, this looks to be easy for Darren McFadden and the Cowboys. The ball is hiked to Matt Cassel, Cassel proceeds to hand the ball off to McFadden, and McFadden is stuffed at the line. The Cowboys are then forced to punt. How many times have you witnessed that happening this season?

Well, it’s actually happened a lot. According to 105.3 The Fan’s Shan Shariff, the Cowboys are 7-18 on 3rd & 1. For all of you math majors out there, that’s a 39% success rate. Yikes.

Behind All-Pros like Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin, as well as an up-and-coming player in La’el Collins, and a guy who isn’t so bad himself in Doug Free, the Cowboys should be converting easily, but really, the problems lie all on the coaching staff. On short-yardage plays, the Cowboys bring in jumbo personnel, meaning two more tight ends for extra blocking. In theory, this sounds like more blocking, but it attracts more defenders which means more clutter and less space for the offensive line to do what they’re best at. Here’s a picture of what I’m talking about:

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys: One Thing Fans Aren't Understanding 1

In this picture, because the Cowboys come out in their jumbo personnel, the Packers basically have all 11 of their guys within five yards of ball. Robert Turbin is seven yards from the ball. Once the ball is snapped, and it’s determined it’s a running play, it’s honestly easy to see why the Cowboys aren’t having success on short-yardage plays.

Let’s take a look at two plays where the offensive line opened up huge holes:

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys: One Thing Fans Aren't Understanding 2

On this play, notice how Free is sealing the edge, Martin is blowing out the “backup” man and how James Hanna is sealing the outside linebacker. This leads to a hole like this:

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys: One Thing Fans Aren't Understanding 3

This leads to a 50-yard gain for McFadden. Let’s take a look at another play:

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys: One Thing Fans Aren't Understanding 4

Notice on this pitch to McFadden how Jason Witten comes underneath to seal the defensive end, allowing Collins and Smith to use their athleticism get to the outside. The outside-man, Smith, blows the cornerback off the football.

Cowboys Blog - Cowboys: One Thing Fans Aren't Understanding 5

We then see an absolutely huge hole for McFadden. Shortly after this image, we see Collins absolutely destroy Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and then continue running another 30 yards to block another defender.

These two plays are prime examples why the narrative of ‘the Cowboys’ offensive line isn’t nearly as good as it was last year’ is simply a joke. The other bad one is ‘maybe DeMarco Murray helped the offensive line more than the offensive line helped him’. Dallas’ offensive line is still the best in football. Over the next few years, this unit will only continue to get better.

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An online sports writer for about three years now, Ryan is a die-hard Dallas Cowboys fan. He writes about his favorite team on Inside The Star. Ryan also writes for other publications like Roster Watch, Rant Sports, and Cuse Nation. Ryan is a freshman at Syracuse University majoring in Information Management and Technology. You can follow him on Twitter @RyanRattyNFL.

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6 Comments
  • Keith

    This year team the whole organization is horrible, does jerry jones want to win? First of all we need a good backup QB not a bargain also take a look a some of the DB'S. The Cowboys should be in a league with the Patriots you know they always make the playoffs, we made the playoffs two times in 20 yrs thats unheard of.Jerry wake up and make some decisions.

  • https://insidethestar.com Freddie Suave

    The coaching staff are just plain DUMB & STUPID. They will NEVER get it. Don't even know how to manage a game. Bring on Sean Peyton, at least he knows how to build a team and how to be UNPREDICTABLE. Garrett IS NOT a coach with any experience. Jerry Jones just likes to use Garrett as his scapegoat. As long as Jerry Jones controls him, they will NEVER win a Superbowl. CowboysNation continues to suffer for their STUPIDITY. THANK Jerry Jones & Family!!

  • http://google Ellen

    The play calling is so predictable that a high school defense could recognize the offense when you're at the goal line trying to score on a run play why not a sweep because Linehan! U see up the middle is gonna be jammed up. Common sense!!!!!

  • http://PigskinHub.com Zac Fields

    Thanks for a great article, Ryan!

    I think the idea that the Cowboys offensive line isn't very good is ridiculous. Do they have flaws that maybe we didn't know about (or chose to ignore) heading into the season? Sure. If the belief was that Joseph Randle was going to be a 1,500 yard back behind this offensive line, then surely you're disappointed right now.

    With that said, they are indeed one of the top 3 offensive lines in football, at least. They're young and they do have a pretty weak link in Doug Free, so they're not perfect but they're VERY GOOD.

    My main gripe about yesterday's game: McFadden's two stellar runs came on similar types of plays. Both pitch-out plays where McFadden was running outside trying to get the edge. Why did they only run that play twice? Zack Martin and La'ell Collins are SPECTACULAR running that play. The best blocks I've seen in several years have come this season on those exact plays where one of those guys pulls to the outside and functions as a lead blocker.

    I understand minimizing it because you can't have your offensive line running all over the field on every play, but only twice? When it yielded a 40+ yard gain both times? I really don't think we're giving enough credibility to the idea that maybe Scott Linehan just really isn't that good of an OC unless he's got perfect talent (like last year) at pretty much every position.

  • http://www.facebook.com/DallasCowboyBooksBlog Fred Goodwin

    Yes fans are so stupid. Thank God for so-called "experts" like Ryan to explain it all to us mindless dumb@$$es!

  • maxdallasfan

    Teams don't fear our passing game. Haven't since Romo went down.

Star Blog

Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

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.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

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.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

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.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

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?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Star Blog

Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?

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Months Later, it Seems Jaguars S Barry Church was Right

Kevin Brady

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Months Later, Jaguars Safety Barry Church Wa E

About five months ago, before the 2017 NFL season had even begun, former Cowboys safety Barry Church made comments which made Cowboys Nation scratch their heads. Now a Jacksonville Jaguar, Church said his current team was more talented than his former, the Dallas Cowboys.

At the time, many fans and writers alike laughed off his comments and chalked it up to typical preseason hype. Most people thought Church was crazy for suggesting a 13-3 team had less talent than the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team led by Blake Bortles.

Well, five months later, it’s become clear Barry Church was right.

Brian Chojnacki on Twitter

Jaguars safety Barry Church says he feels this Jags team has more talent than his #Cowboys squad last season. Dallas went 13-3. https://t.co/EcbxfUGsvy

This weekend the Jaguars went on the road to Pittsburgh, and came away with a wire-to-wire victory in January. The Jaguars were the more physical team from start to finish, and dominated from the opening kick off.

On the road.

Against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now the Jaguars are preparing to do something the Cowboys haven’t done in two decades: play in a conference championship game.

The Jaguars and Cowboys will be linked for the next decade or so due to decisions each made during the 2016 NFL Draft. And while it appeared the Cowboys pushed all the right buttons in 2016, it now looks as if the Jaguars are preparing to compete for AFC supremacy for years to come.

With their talented secondary, dominant defense, and physical rushing attack, the Jaguars have built their team in the mold of past champions.

The Cowboys have attempted to do some of the same, but it certainly looks as if Barry Church was correct in his preseason assessment of the two rosters.

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