Heading into Thursday night's game with the New Orleans Saints, the Dallas Cowboys offense has struggled in the red zone and in particular inside the 10 yard line. Last night against a very explosive offense, the Dallas Cowboys were doing a great job at moving the ball and playing keep away from the Saints offense, but once they got inside the red zone, found it difficult to come away with touchdowns.
It's an issue that has reared its ugly head all season, but would have been a huge talking point had the Cowboys lost on Thursday Night Football.
You see, the Cowboys had four drives that got them in the red zone against the Saints and were only able to come away with seven points one time. They kicked field goals on two of their other attempts (once when they had 1st and goal at the six), and Dak Prescott fumbled on their second to last drive when they were attempting to seal the game.
Obviously some credit goes to the New Orleans Saints defense, they contained what the Cowboys wanted to do in the scoring areas, but a lot of the blame falls on the play calling, the offensive line, and your quarterback.
On the Cowboys first drive of the game, they were moving the ball well and had just hit Michael Gallup for 40 yards to get them to the New Orleans Saints six yard line. They had first and goal from the six and from there netted -2 yards of offense. They handed the ball to Ezekiel Elliott for a gain of one and after an incompletion to Dalton Schultz -- don't get me started on their TE usage -- Dak Prescott was sacked for a loss of three yards forcing a Brett Maher field goal.
On the sack, Amari Cooper was doubled, which took away Dak's first look, but Scott Linehan had Cole Beasley running a short comeback. That's it? Cole Beasley's strength is in his lateral change of direction ability. At least run him on a route that’s going to allow him to beat his man with his quickness. Don’t ask Cole Beasley to box out his defender. Beasley may not have a lot of size, but he's an excellent red zone weapon because of his ability to get open in confined spaces.
Getting a lead is great, but when you kick field goals after getting first and goal from the six against an elite offense like the Saints, you're more than likely to lose. Field goals don't win you football games very often in the modern NFL.
On the Cowboys second venture into the red zone, they had first and 10 at the 20. After an Eli Apple defensive holding call, they had first and 10 at the 15. Rod Smith carried the ball for a loss of one and then on second down, Dak Prescott found Ezekiel Elliott on the screen for a 16 yard catch and run for a touchdown to give the Cowboys a 10 point lead.
I'm not a huge fan of Rod Smith the runner. I think he offers more as a receiver, because when he tries to run wide, it typically ends in a loss.
On the Cowboys next trip into the red zone, the Cowboys had third and seven from the Saints 17 and Prescott is sacked for a loss of seven and the Cowboys have to settle again for a field goal after an excellent drive that started at the Dallas Cowboys two yard line.
On the second to last drive, the Cowboys started with the ball at their own 20 yard line with 9:15 seconds left on the clock. They proceeded to go on a 15 play, 85 yard drive that took 6:33 off the clock before Dak Prescott was sacked and fumbled giving the Saints the ball at the New Orleans 15 yard line.
Again, on that drive, the Cowboys had the ball first and 10 at the 11 yard line. This is a situation at a time in the game where you have to come away with seven points to finish off what many people considered the best team in the NFL.
When they had it first and 10 at the 11, they only ran Elliott one time and then elected to throw it twice. The second down throw was a smart play. A quick little tunnel screen to Michael Gallup who picked up four yards to make it a more manageable third down.
Third down would have been a great time for an RPO or quick play action to make the defensive line hesitate even a bit before getting to completely focus on Dak Prescott. Instead, Prescott was sacked and fumbled the ball to again kill a red zone opportunity, but this time he fumbled and turned it over to the Saints.
Thursday night they only used play action six times. When they used it, Dak was perfect going 6/6 for 92 yards and a touchdown.
The Dallas Cowboys are on a trajectory to make the playoffs in 2018 and if they want to make some noise once they get there, they have to be a better red zone team. On the season they are sitting at 27th in the NFL in red zone percentage at 48.6%.
They just came off a huge win, which could have been better if they were able to capitalize in the red zone at a higher frequency. The Cowboys are now serious contenders in the NFC, but to get to the Super Bowl and bring home their sixth Lombardi Trophy, they have to be better in the red zone.
In the playoffs, field goals won’t cut it.
BREAKING: WR Terrance Williams Gets Dropped by Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys have ended their six-year relationship with Wide Receiver Terrance Williams. According to multiple sources, they have declined a team option on Williams' contract and he will now be an unrestricted free agent in 2019.
The move will reportedly save the Cowboys $2.25 million in salary space this year.
Williams was the team's third-round pick in 2013 and started 68 of the 83 games he played in. He developed into a solid number-two receiver by the end of his rookie deal in 2016 and was given a new four-year contract that offseason.
Terrance Williams career w/ the Cowboys is done. Sources say the club has declined the WR's option for 2019, making him a free agent. The move is no surprise. He caught just 2 passes for 18 yards last season. His departure frees up $2.25 million on the cap.
After another decent year in 2017, things took a bad turn for Terrance last season. It started with an offseason arrest for public intoxication that eventually led to a three-game suspension, although Williams served that while on injured reserve.
The Cowboys already appeared to be giving Williams' spot away when they made several offseason acquisitions at WR; Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin all were brought in even before Terrance's arrest.
While Williams did start in two of Dallas' first three games in 2018, he only had three passes his thrown his way. The team finally put him on IR due to ongoing complications with a surgically-repaired foot.
While it didn't end well, Terrance Williams' time in Dallas was ultimately a solid return for a third-round pick. He made a few big plays and was a proficient run-blocker, good enough to start in almost 75% of the team's games since he was drafted.
The Cowboys now hope that another third-round pick, Michael Gallup in 2018, will do bigger and better things.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Offseason Preview: Wide Receiver
The Dallas Cowboys' year in 2018 was marked by big moves at wide receiver. Dez Bryant was released in April and then a first-round pick was traded in October to add Amari Cooper. Could this 2019 offseason offer anything close to that level of activity?
Unlike last season, Dallas should enjoy some stability in its starting lineup at receiver. Cooper returns at a much higher price, with the $13.9 million cap hit from his fifth-year option coming into player. Amari cost just $412k against the Cowboys' salary cap last year.
That huge jump in cap cost may hurt but Cooper backed it up with his Pro Bowl play in 2018. The top WR contracts average $15-$17 million per year, so even now Dallas is arguably getting Amari at a bargain.
The Cowboys didn't give up a first-round pick for a year-and-a-half rental, so we can expect them to seek a long-term extension with Cooper in the near future. With the contracts of DeMarcus Lawrence and Dak Prescott more immediate concerns, any new deal for Amari probably won't come until the middle of the season or in 2020.
Not only is WR1 set for next year but Michael Gallup appears locked in as the other starter. Of his 68 targets last year, 40 came in the second half of the year. It was a great season for a third-round rookie, and there are high hopes for Gallup's development in his first full offseason.
The stability up front is a blessing for the Cowboys, but it doesn't relieve them of big decisions at the WR position this offseason. They face a particularly critical choice when it comes to the free agency of Cole Beasley.
It's hard to believe Beasley's already been in Dallas for seven seasons. An undrafted gem, Cole has been one of the team's most reliable offensive players for some time. He led them in receiving in 2016 and has been one of the most efficient, QB-friendly options for the last several years.
Beasley's contract expiring this year is only one issue. He has become very vocal lately about wanting to be a bigger part of the offense. His targets dropped tremendously over the course of 2018, which was especially evident when Cole got just five total passes thrown his way in the two playoffs games.
If Beasley wants a larger role, does that also mean he wants more money? He was making a little over $3 million/season on his last deal.
With Gallup on a cheap rookie contract, Dallas could afford to pay raise Beasley's compensation a bit. But if they don't plan to use him more than they did last year, then perhaps the two parties just aren't a good fit at this point.
If Cole walks in free agency then the Cowboys will now have to find a new number-three receiver. The next best option would be Tavon Austin, but he is also a free agent. However, he could likely be re-signed for a fraction of what Beasley would want.
Austin has the physical skills to be an offensive weapon but he doesn't have the reliable hands that Beasley does. Even if Dallas wants Tavon back solely for his skills on punt returns, they may not be ready to make him a bigger part of the offense.
One option might be promoting Noah Brown, whose at times has reminded us of a young Dez Bryant with his physical playing style. His blocking ability would lend itself to the single-back formations Dallas likes to run out of, and he's flashed some good hands in limited opportunities.
In that scenario Amari Cooper would likely play out of the slot, which he's certainly capable of with his quickness. The same would be done if Dallas went with another internal solution, such as Allen Hurns or Terrance Williams.
That said, the Cowboys are unlikely to pick up the second-year option on Hurns' contract, not wanting to pay him over $6 million in 2019 after last year's low production. It also doesn't seem likely that they want to keep Williams after last year's issues.
Taking all of that into consideration, Dallas may very well be doing some WR shopping in free agency. Fortunately for them, it's a favorable market if you're looking for a slot receiver.
On top of Beasley and Austin already in the free agent pool, Golden Tate could at least match Cole's play if not potentially offer an upgrade. Baltimore's John Brown, Tampa's Adam Humphries, and Washington's Jamison Crowder are all other proven options. Emmanuel Sanders, while not currently a free agent, is a very possible cap casualty for the Broncos.
Guys like Humphries and Crowder are younger than Beasley and could provide better long-term value on their contract. That may be a more attractive option at this point for the Cowboys.
Dallas won't need to add a lot of bodies at WR thanks to a few young prospects. They still have Lance Lenoir and Cedrick Wilson under contract, plus signed 2015 second-round pick Devin Smith as a potential rehabilitation project.
But again, these guys are all just bodies right now. Lenoir has had his opportunities and not done much with them, though he does offer some value as a potential return man. Wilson spent his rookie season on injured reserve.
The Cowboys could still look at a receiver with one of their mid-round draft picks, but it's hard to get much production early there. Last year's play from Michael Gallup was a surprise for a third-rounder.
It's far more likely that Dallas will either work things out with Cole Beasley or pursue a veteran replacement in free agency.
So no, thankfully, we don't have to worry about any monumental changes at the top of the WR depth chart in 2019. But Beasley was more than just a third receiver, and keeping or replacing him will have a significant impact on the offense going forward.
If Dallas is truly ready to commit to Dak Prescott as the quarterback of the future then they can't take anything about his receiving options lightly. Therefore, wide receiver remains an important offseason focus for the Cowboys in 2019.
Defense, Not Offense, Should Be Dallas Cowboys Offseason Focus
Last week our own Brian Martin asked whether offense or defense should be the priority for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. We know that the team will look to make some additions on both sides of the football to help their team take the next step toward hopefully contending for a Lombardi Trophy in 2019.
Brian took the stance that the Cowboys front office brain trust of Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay along with Head Coach Jason Garrett should prioritize the offensive side of the football.
Here’s what he had to say:
Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys really don't have any glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball either. After finishing as one of the top defensive units in 2018, they will have nearly all of their starters returning for the 2019 season. But much like on the offensive side of the ball, there could be two starting spots up for grabs...
...If Cole Beasley does indeed leave via free agency, that's a big blow to the passing game. But, it's not just him. Other than their rushing attack, the Cowboys offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every other category. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan now gone we can hope that improves, but that doesn't mean improving the offense shouldn't be the Cowboys main offseason focus though.
Brian Martin - Inside The Star
I get his reasoning, though I disagree with the first point being made. Yes, the defense has a lot of really good players that are developing, but I think there a couple obvious areas where upgrades can be made. First, at safety, where Jeff Heath continues to be a frustrating player, as evidenced by the final play against the Rams. Secondly, the defensive tackle spot could definitely use an infusion of talent.
I believe the priority needs to continue to build on a defense that was surprisingly good, and downright dominant in their win over the New Orleans Saints, in 2018. However, despite finishing sixth in the NFL in points allowed, seventh in yards allowed, and fifth in rushing yards allowed, they were middle of the pack against the pass and had the sixth worst third down conversion percentage allowed.
They were a defense that got away with being excellent against the run and excellent in the red zone, allowing a touchdown only 51% of the time their opponent reached the red zone. They allowed the sixth fewest touchdowns in the NFL, and yet when they got into the playoffs, they weren’t nearly as good.
Sure, they held the Seattle Seahawks top ranked rushing attack in check for the game, holding them to only 73 rushing yards. The Seahawks threw for only 226 yards, but there offensive staff was insistent on running the football even though Russell Wilson was playing pretty well in the second half. The Seahawks were hitting the Cowboys for big plays that allowed them to make the game closer than it should have been. Had they tilted the run-pass ratio a bit more to put the ball in Russell Wilson's hands earlier in the game, it's possible that the game has a different outcome.
Against the Rams, we saw the Dallas Cowboys interior get bullied while both CJ Anderson and Todd Gurley rushed for more than 100 yards. Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods were good for a lot of the year as the primary defensive tackles for the Dallas Cowboys, but with them ailing because of injury and illness, the Cowboys didn't have many answers for the Rams offensive interior. Their ineffectiveness in the divisional round led to Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee being generally ineffective as well.
While the Dallas Cowboys can feel pretty good about what the defense did last season, there's no way they can go into the 2019 season satisfied with what they'll be working with. In addition to playing the their NFC East opponents twice, with the Eagles and Giants able to score points and the Redskins typically a tough matchup, they'll play the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Rams, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the New Orleans Saints, and the Detroit Lions. All of those teams are capable of scoring a lot of points if the defense isn't having its best day. Throw in teams like the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Chicago Bears, and you have three young offenses that are growing and fully capable of scoring points as well.
The Dallas Cowboys front office has to go into the offseason ready to make upgrades to their defensive personnel. With the safeties that are available this offseason -- Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, Tre Boston, Tyrann Mathieu, and several other intriguing names -- the Cowboys will have an opportunity to upgrade the safety position. Between the draft and free agency, defensive tackle will be a high priority position for the Cowboys.
I know that many are looking at the offense and the steps that they need to make moving forward to be legit contenders, and they do have some improvements to make, but they look to be a unit that is trending in the right direction. Some better coaching for Dak Prescott and the offense should help them moving forward. A full offseason for Dak to work with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz should improve the chemistry between Prescott and his top receiving threats.
Yes, there are areas that need to be upgraded on offense and they may have to deal with filling the gap left by Cole Beasley if he does leave. The front office, however, can't go into the offseason satisfied with where they sit on the defensive side of the football. They are building something and are a couple of pieces away from having a truly elite defense. Finding those couple of pieces -- a safety and a pass rushing defensive tackle -- are of the utmost priority this offseason if the Dallas Cowboys want to head back to the postseason in 2019.
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