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Dallas Cowboys Positional Outlook: Offensive Line and Safety

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Cowboys Blog - Tony Romo: Over-hyped or Unappreciated? 2

Starting every Wednesday, we at Dallas Cowboys Nation are going to take a look at how each positional group did this past season. Additionally,  we will also take a look at who is available to help this team moving forward. If you want a specific group discussed, you just need to contact Dallas Cowboys Nation or myself on twitter (@CowboysNation or @PatSportsGuy).


 

Without further ado I will start with the safety and offensive line this week, which was the request of a faithful follower Brian Fortenberry. There was no group on the field that performed any worse than the offensive line. Tyron Smith was by far the best of the group; it is hard to get a gauge on the center position with Ryan Cook and Phil Costa splitting time this past season.

The guard tandem of Mackenzie Bernadeau and Nate Livings were liabilities when it comes to protecting Tony Romo. As far as the run game, they were brought in to open holes and push the defense back. Both seemed to fail in that regard. Of course the worst on the line was Doug Free. He led the league in pre-snap penalties and holding calls. His play has many fans questioning the four year $32 million deal that Jerry Jones gave him.

My rankings for the 2012 offensive line look like this (best to worst): Smith, Cook/Costa, Livings, Bernadeau and Free. With no money under the cap I do not foresee that changing much. Pro Football Focus recently came out with their offensive line grades, showing us how the Cowboys stack up against the rest of the league individually.

Grades:

Cook: 13/35
Livings: 24/71
Smith: 53/69
Bernadeau: 68/71
Free: 64/69

With the current situation for America’s team, could help be on the way? There are moves that should be made in order to give this team a competitive chance coming into next season. Free should be removed from this team, as he has issues with pre-snap penalties, footwork and leverage. By cutting Free, it would free up $7 million in cap space (pun intended). This could allow Jerry and company to take a look at Donald Thomas, formerly of the New England Patriots. Thomas not only has the ability to start but his contract demands are much less than that of Free. As most will see, Thomas plays guard and not the tackle position.


Jason Garrett could slide Bernadeau over to the center position to open up room for Thomas, creating a need at the tackle position. I would address that need in the upcoming NFL Draft. The Cowboys are unlikely to draft a player like Eric Fisher of Central Michigan or Luke Joekel of Texas A&M, however they may very well land a player the likes of Lane Johnson of Oklahoma or D.J. Fluker of Alabama. When it comes to building for the future at the guard position, Larry Warford of Kentucky should be available when the Cowboys step to the podium in the second round. This draft is very deep at the offensive line position.

295353-dallas-cowboysThe second worst position group in my estimation is the safety position. The Cowboys took an early season hit with the loss of Barry Church to an Achilles injury, which meant they would need to special team specialist Danny McCray. McCray wasn’t even a starter during his time at LSU, which most fans now know why. In passing situations McCray was either played close to the line much like a linebacker or was replaced by a list of cornerbacks. If McCray wasn’t such a big part of special teams, I would imagine he would have received his walking papers alongside Gerald Sensabaugh.

Sensabaugh did perform better than McCray and wasn’t as much of a liability in coverage. Not to say that he was good, he played decently. However with no elite speed or the ability to be that center fielder for this defense, he became a salary cap casualty as the Cowboys needed to cut $20 million by Tuesday at 3 p.m. CST. During his four year tenure in Dallas, he had a total of eight interceptions none of which happened this past season. What didn’t help his case was only having three forced fumbles during that same time, one coming this past season but no recoveries. For a team that had trouble creating turnovers it made the decision easier, not to mention Monte Kiffin may have felt he didn’t fit his scheme.

One good quality of the upcoming draft is that safety is another deep position. The biggest name that has been thrown around is University of Texas product Kenny Vaccaro. He is the most complete safety product and a player that most Cowboys’ fans are very aware of. He is great at coming up to stop the run and defending the pass. He will take bad angles occasionally but this is very coachable. If the Cowboys don’t select offensive line in the first round expect Vaccaro’s name to be thrown about the war room.

As previously stated the Cowboys have no cap room, so the recent list of possible safety targets isn’t going to be an option. What remains to be seen is the possibility of the Free release and the Romo extension to give this team some leeway. Either way you look at it, Jerry will need to do some maneuvering as they only have $175,000. Which isn’t even enough to sign their upcoming draft picks or undrafted free agents; it just might be time to part with some cornerstones and build this team for the future.


Patrick Conn is the founder and creator of Valley Ranch Outsiders. His work has been seen on SI.com, FanSided, Yahoo and Blue Star Times. He is an avid Cowboys fan and NFL Draft analyst. He currently hosts a podcast about the Dallas Cowboys.

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Game Notes

The Brady Report: Cowboys Defense Run Over In Primetime Loss

Kevin Brady

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The Brady Report: Cowboys Defense Run Over In Primetime Loss

Sunday's loss to the Minnesota Vikings was a tough one to take for the Dallas Cowboys. They could easily be sitting here today at 7-2 or 6-3, comfortably ahead of the Eagles for first place in the division and fighting for a first round bye in the postseason.

Instead, they are barely over .500 on the season and face de facto must win games each week from here on out. Obviously they let this one slip away, but there's a whole seven games to go before we know the fate of the 2019 Dallas Cowboys.


Let's discuss what went wrong (and right) last week during the Cowboys 28-24 loss.

  • What more can we say about Dak Prescott? The Cowboys franchise quarterback was incredible yet again on Sunday night, having arguably his best game to date even in defeat. Prescott was in complete control of the offense, and showcased his mastery by bailing the Cowboys out with some big third down throws. Prescott finished with 397 yards and 3 touchdowns, and continues to force the hand of the Jones family to break out the checkbook this offseason.
  • Much like Dak Prescott, I'm running out of adjectives to describe the play of wide receiver Amari Cooper. Cooper has been a God-send for this Cowboys offense over the last calendar year, looking like one of the best wide outs in the league week in and week out. Cooper went for 147 yards and a touchdown on 11 catches, and should have been given a chance to win the game on the team's final drive.
  • Alright, that's enough praise in defeat. Let's talk about the negatives. The defensive tackles were flat-out awful. No matter who it was - Antwaun Woods, Maliek Collins, Christian Covington, Kerry Hyder - anyone who was asked to defend the run at the 1 or 3 technique position had some very low moments against the Vikings. Minnesota bullied the Cowboys upfront on both the sides of the ball, en route to over 150 yards on the ground for this Vikings offense. Dalvin Cook and the Vikings offensive line won this game, and the Cowboys interior defensive line needs to be better if they hope to actually compete against good teams.
  • The defensive tackles were bad against the run Sunday night, but let's not let the linebackers off the hook. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are each immensely talented, but neither has been as consistent as a run defender as they need to be going forward. Smith looked flat-out dis-engaged at times during this one, and both linebackers were run over by interior offensive linemen getting to the second level. I've often praised Smith for his versatility and what it does to unleash this defense, but he was plain bad last week.
  • Of course, we can't let the coaching staff off the hook for this loss either. Head coach Jason Garrett made several questionable fourth down calls down the stretch of the game, and offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was determined to pound the ball on first down despite achieving next to no success. On the defensive end, Kris Richard's defensive backs were toasted. Chidobe Awuzie continues to look like a liability opposite Byron Jones, and the safety spot next to Xavier Woods has been a massive hole all season. And, while both Jones and Woods have been mostly good this year, neither was particularly impressive either during this loss. It was a total and complete defensive failure. This team needs to get better fast, and it all starts at the top with the coaching staff.


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Loss to Minnesota Could be the Final Nail in Jason Garrett’s Coffin

Brian Martin

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Vikings Loss Could be the Final Nail in Jason Garrett's Coffin

The 2019 NFL season kind of seemed like a do or die situation for the Dallas Cowboys current Head Coach Jason Garrett. He is currently in the last year of his contract and his future with the Cowboys organization could be hanging in the balance, especially after the devastating loss to the Minnesota Vikings.

If Jason Garrett isn't extended beyond this season, this loss to Minnesota could possibly be where his career with the Dallas Cowboys started to circle the drain. There are still several games left on the Cowboys schedule this season, but this one loss could be the one that ends up knocking them out of the playoffs. If that's true, it's hard to believe JG will be retained.

Jerry Jones, and son Stephen, have both fully supported Jason Garrett since he became the Cowboys full-time head coach back in 2011 after serving as the interim HC for Wade Phillips in 2010. That's nearly a decade of the Jones' sticking by JG through all of the thick and thin over years. That unwavering support however could be coming to an end though.

The proof is in the pudding as they say. As a head coach Jason Garrett is slightly above average according to his all-time win/loss record. His regular-season record as the HC with the Cowboys is 82-62 (.569) and he's 2-3 (.400) in the postseason. Add all of that up and he's 84-65 (.564) in his career… slightly above average.


Jason Garrett

Dallas Cowboys HC Jason Garrett (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

If I know anything about the Jones', I know getting the Dallas Cowboys back to the promised land as one of the best teams in the NFL is at the top of their list. That's why we've seen them over the years take chances on players other teams wouldn't in order to put together the most competitive roster they possibly could. Now that attention might need to be shifted from the players to the head coach.

Much like the Jones', I've supported and stood by Jason Garrett over the years. That support is dwindling though after each and every loss this season, at least on my part. Personally, I'm ready to find some new blood and move on. What the Jones' end up doing though is completely up in the air.

I want to believe the Dallas Cowboys are ready to move on from JG, but I'm not completely convinced. The fact that his current contract is about to expire after the season suggests they're at least considering parting ways, but that's all it does. I think how the rest of season turns out after the devastating loss to the Vikings will end up determining his fate.

If JG somehow sneaks the Cowboys into the playoffs it could save his job. That unfortunately is no easy thing to do with the teams they have left to play this season. Because of that, the Week 10 loss to the Minnesota Vikings could end up being the final nail in Jason Garrett's coffin.

What do you think? Is it time to part ways with Jason Garrett?


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Game Notes

Lions QB Matthew Stafford’s Status Still Unknown for Cowboys Game

Jess Haynie

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Matthew Stafford, Lions

The Dallas Cowboys are headed to Detroit this Sunday for a Week 11 meeting with the Lions. As Dallas tries to get back to winning games, they may get a boost from the absence of Lions' Quarterback Matthew Stafford. After missing last week's game with a back injury, Stafford's status for this week remains unclear.

Stafford was a limited participant in practices all of Week 10 for Detroit and went into their game with the Chicago Bears as a game-time decision. He was ultimately ruled out due to fractures in his back; the first start Stafford's missed for the Lions since the 2010 season.

Jeff Driskel got the start as the Lions fell in Chicago. He is 1-5 as an NFL starter overall, going 1-4 in games for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018.

The Lions are now 3-5-1 on the year and at the bottom of the NFC North. They are also far behind in the Wild Card race, which leads to speculation that they could shut Stafford down for the season to preserve his long-term health. Based on Matthew's contract, the earliest Detroit can easily get out from his contract is after the 2020 season.

For his part, Matthew Stafford has said he has no plans on staying out this season as long he's medically cleared to play. He certainly would love to be active this Sunday against the Cowboys, the team of his youth, after playing his high school football in Dallas.


Even if Stafford plays, Dallas has done solidly overall against opposing quarterbacks in 2019. They are sixth in passing yards allowed per game and 14th in opponent passer rating.

Detroit is fourth in passing offense right now in the NFL but that was based on eight games with Stafford at QB. Jeff Driskel will not perform at that same level, and the Lions' rushing attack has been very weak since Kerryon Johnson went on injured reserve.

We'll see in the coming days if Matthew Stafford is at practice for Detroit and to what extent. But even if he does practice some, as he did last week, it could once again be a last-minute decision for the Lions if Stafford actually plays on Sunday.

With the Cowboys desperate for a win, they'll take all the help they can get.


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