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Dallas Cowboys: Top 3 Threats to an NFC Title Run

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Headlines - NY Giants Offense Built to

While the same few teams have dominated the AFC since about 2000, the NFC has been a revolving door at the top over the same time span.

Most recently, it was the Atlanta Falcons which rose to the top and won the conference, defeating the Green Bay Packers in impressive fashion during the NFC Championship Game.

Since we consider the Dallas Cowboys to be legitimate contenders in the conference, and to challenge for a Super Bowl, it's important to know your "enemies" around the league. The Cowboys will see all of these teams during the regular season, giving them a chance to get acquainted before playoff time.

So, here are the top 3 threats to a Cowboys NFC Title run.

Atlanta Falcons

Matt Ryan, Falcons

The defending NFC champions who held a 25 point lead in the Super Bowl, Atlanta only improved their roster during the offseason. Adding former Cowboys defensive lineman Jack Crawford was nice, but signing former Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe was the icing on the cake.

Their already impressive young defense got younger and more dynamic through the draft as well, selecting UCLA EDGE Takkarist McKinley in round one and LSU LB Duke Riley in round three.

But, what we all know the Falcons for is their incredibly high powered offense. Last year's MVP Matt Ryan is still at the helm, with Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Devonta Freeman, and Tevin Coleman ready to take the league by storm once again.

The Cowboys face the Falcons in Atlanta this year on November 12th.

Green Bay Packers

Aaron Rodgers, Packers

While the Falcons have become an offensive juggernaut over the last couple of years, these next two teams have been eternal thorns in the Cowboys' side. Ending both the Cowboys' 2014 and 2016 seasons in dramatic fashion, Aaron Rodgers and company are nearly locks to be back in the postseason once again.


Similar to Atlanta, the Packers showcase a prolific offense led by a top-tier quarterback. Unlike Atlanta, the Packers don't have the weapons around their quarterback or the horses on defense to truly be considered better than the Cowboys at this point.

In my opinion, at least.

For once, however, the Cowboys won't have to go to Lambeau field this year! It's about damn time the Packers come to Dallas for a regular season game, as they will on October 8th. Hopefully Dallas can set the tone for the rest of their season, and potential playoff re-match on that day.

New York Giants

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys at Giants: Previewing New York With Giants Beat Writer James Kratch 2

New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham (13) runs onto the field before a preseason week 1 NFL football game against the Miami Dolphins on August 12, 2016 in East Rutherford, NJ. (Evan Pinkus via AP)

You knew it was coming, didn't you?

Sweeping the Cowboys in 2016, and giving Dallas their only 2 legitimate regular season losses, the Giants will be back and ready to challenge for the NFC East crown in 2017.

Adding wide receiver Brandon Marshall and Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram to their already impressive passing weaponry, quarterback Eli Manning should be able to shred defenses week in and week out.

That is, of course, if they can somehow muster up a running game, and get Manning some protection. Neither of which is guaranteed at all, for what it's worth.

Defensively, the Giants gave the Cowboys fits last season. Hopefully with another year of preparation under their belts, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and quarterback Dak Prescott can whip up something to beat the Giants next season.

It's highly likely that the Cowboys/Giants meeting on December 10th will be for the inside track to an NFC East title, making the season opener between the two just as important.


Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and have been with ITS since 2016.

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Dallas Cowboys’ Starters Don’t Need to Play in Preseason “Dress Rehearsal”

John Williams

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Do the Dallas Cowboys Have a Sean Lee Backup Plan?

The third game of the preseason has long been considered the "dress rehearsal" game for NFL teams. It's the game where teams generally played their starters for at least a half and sometimes into the second half so that coaches and players could practice communicating adjustments during half time. With the conversation about the future of the preseason focused on reducing the number of exhibition games teams play, it's time for the Dallas Cowboys to follow several other teams and sit their starters and principle role players for the third preseason game.

The Los Angeles Rams, among other teams, have made a conscious decision not to play their starters in the third preseason game for several years under Head Coach Sean McVay. And if you look back at how they've handled the preseason this offseason, Jared Goff and Todd Gurley, haven't played a single snap. They also haven't played Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, or Cooper Kupp. The Rams have been one of the best offensive teams in the NFL but haven't played their primary skill position players in the preseason in two years.

The Dallas Cowboys and every other team in the NFL can take a lesson. But based on a report from Todd Archer of ESPN, the Dallas Cowboys have different plans. Even planning to play the oft-injured Sean Lee this weekend.

Todd Archer on Twitter

Linebacker Sean Lee has practiced the last three days, and anticipates he will play Saturday at least some against the Houston Texans. Lee suffered a slightly sprained medial collateral ligament in the first padded practice while in Oxnard, California,... https://t.co/zZ4KNvWdua

Why?

There's very little reason at this point to play your starters and risk injuries that could derail what the Dallas Cowboys hope is a Super Bowl run. Jason Garrett's an old school coach from an older way of thinking that believes it's important to get those reps against live competition. To an extent, it is important to work on things against a team that doesn't know you as well as your own players. On the other hand, does the benefit outweigh the risk?

Last night, with the Carolina Panthers facing the New England Patriots in their third preseason game, Cam Newton took several big hits that led to him having to leave the game with a foot or ankle injury. Now, for Carolina's sake, they better hope it's a minor thing that will heal with some rest, because if Cam Newton has to miss an extended period of time, they can go ahead and write off the 2019 season, especially in the NFC South.


With as effective as the first-team offense has looked in the first two preseason games, does it make sense to risk Dak Prescott or one of the other starters on offense to injury in order to get them more live competition?

The offensive line is already ailing a bit with Tyron Smith missing last week's matchup with the Los Angeles Rams due to yet another back issue. Zack Martin sat out the game in Hawaii as well with a bulging disc in his back that has held him out of practice as well. It's unlikely that either of these guys will play Saturday night along with any of the other players dealing with injuries right now. However, what's the point of playing the guys who aren't injured.

Sure, this game could give Dak Prescott and Michael Gallup some more reps to work on their chemistry or snaps for Travis Frederick and Jason Witten to get in game shape after a year layoff. However, there's so much more to be lost than gained if one of the starters or primary role-players is injured in this game. Prescott and Gallup have looked great in practice. Frederick and Witten will work into game shape.

You can't play football worried about players getting hurt, but you can save your risk-taking for a time when the games actually matter to your win-loss ledger. Let the back half of your 90 man roster get all the snaps they can get in this game and the next. Perhaps those extra snaps help the coaching staff separate those players on the bubble for the 53-man roster.

Though we will watch the game Saturday night to see what those Dallas Cowboys who do play are able to accomplish against the Houston Texans, we will be watching with bated breath. Hoping that the Dallas Cowboys don't suffer an injury that could derail their chances of contending for a Super Bowl.


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Cowboys en Español: Extensión de Jaylon, Pronóstico Para Elliott

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Jaylon Smith Isn't Worried About Future Contract Extension

Los Dallas Cowboys han sido uno de los equipos más importantes a seguir este offseason. ¿El motivo? Tres super estrellas en espera de extensiones de contrato. Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott y Amari Cooper han sido el enfoque para medios y aficionados cuando se trata del equipo de Jerry Jones. Sin embargo, ninguno de ellos fue el primero en llegar un acuerdo con el equipo. El linebacker Jaylon Smith consiguió llevarse la primera rebanada del pastel.

Jaylon Smith se ha perfilado como uno de los mejores linebackers en toda la NFL después de una excelente temporada en 2018. Al recordar su historia, es increíble ver hasta donde ha llegado. Fue en 2016 cuando, jugando su último partido de football universitario con Notre Dame, el linebacker sufrió una lesión de rodilla lo suficientemente seria para poner en duda si volvería a jugar en su vida. Quien hubiera sido probablemente una de las primeras cinco selecciones en su respectivo NFL Draft, terminó cayendo hasta la segunda ronda, donde los Cowboys terminaron su desliz y lo llamaron a Dallas sabiendo que podría tardar hasta más de un año en regresar al campo.

Sean's Scout: Jaylon Smith Returns Cowboys to NFC East Prominence in Win Over Bucs

Después de perderse la campaña del 2016, en 2017 fue apresurado al emparrillado y a pesar de verse prometedor, no brilló tanto como lo hizo el año pasado. Estando completamente sano, Smith se lució como el linebacker central de la defensiva de los Cowboys que sorprendió a toda la liga. Realmente vimos a la fuerza que todos esperaban ver de su parte cuando era un prospecto de Notre Dame.

Ahora, firma una extensión de contrato que realmente es amigable con el equipo. Después de un offseason en el que Bobby Wagner (Seahawks) recibió 18 millones de dólares en promedio al año y C.J. Mosley 17, el valor de Smith pudo haber estado alrededor de los 15. Sin embargo, el promedio de la extensión de 5 años de Jaylon es de 12.8.

Jaylon Smith al parecer le dio un descuento al equipo que creyó en el cuando su carrera era un signo de interrogación. Los Cowboys aseguran un gran talento para el futuro, y otro defensivo en torno a quien pueden construir una defensiva para el largo plazo. Tanto la directiva como el jugador se merecen un fuerte aplauso por esta noticia.


There's no Need to Panic About Ezekiel Elliott's Holdout

Mientras tanto, rumores sobre la situación de Ezekiel Elliott continúan. La historia, por el momento, sigue siendo la misma. Zeke no se ha reportado con el equipo y está de vuelta en Cabo después de haber viajado (e ilusionado a muchos fans en el proceso) a Dallas hace unos días.

Muchos se han dado a la tarea de entrar en pánico, pero yo los invito a que tomen un fuerte respiro. Sí, la temporada regular está muy cerca. Sin duda, Elliott estará en forma pero el no haber trabajado con el equipo en training camp podría resultar en el corredor super estrella tardando un poco en adaptarse.

Habiendo dicho eso, me sorprendería mucho si Zeke se pierde un segundo de temporada regular. Jeff Darlington, reportero de ESPN, comentó al aire que su predicción era que Elliott se reportará para la semana 1 y no podría estar más de acuerdo con él.

Se ha sabido que ambas partes siguen trabajando para acordar una extensión y que los Cowboys lo quieren para el futuro, incluso ofreciendo un contrato que lo convertiría en el segundo mejor pagado en su posición de la NFL.

Este equipo de los Dallas Cowboys realmente es un contendiente al Super Bowl y tanto la directiva como Elliott lo saben. Pueden estar pensando en Le'Veon Bell, pero no olviden lo diferente que estas situaciones son. Mi pronóstico coincide con el de Darlington y el de muchos otros: Zeke no se perderá ni un segundo de temporada regular.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Extensión de Jaylon, Pronóstico Para Elliott" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


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How The Cowboys Can “Modernize” Their Offense

Kevin Brady

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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp: Top 5 Storylines to Follow
Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News

If there's one thing the national football world seemed to agree on last season, it's that Scott Linehan's offense had grown "stale."

After starting the Dak Prescott/Scott Linehan era off fast, with one of the league's best offenses in 2016 leading them to a 13-3 record, Dallas quickly fell down those offensive leaderboards. As pieces on the offensive line were forced to shuffle due to free agency, injury, or illness and Ezekiel Elliott faced suspension, the Cowboys offense sputtered during '17 and '18.

Though the Amari Cooper trade gave the unit a quick boost of energy en route to a division title a year ago, the Cowboys offense still seemed behind the curve when compared to the rest of the league.

Jerry Jones decided to fire offensive coordinator Scott Linehan this offseason, moving on from that "stale" offensive system. The man hired to replace Linehan? First year OC, and former backup quarterback in Dallas, Kellen Moore.

Much has been made about the hiring of Kellen Moore. Some believe he will be the one to bring much needed modern elements to the Cowboys offense, helping them compete with the loads of firepower around the NFC. Others see this as more of the same, as Jason Garrett is still the one ultimately in charge at The Star.

I decided to take a closer look at the Cowboys offensive efficiency numbers over the last three seasons to pinpoint exactly where they can improve. I also watched a bit of Kellen Moore from his quarterback days at Boise State, to see what aspects of that elite college offense he may look to incorporate with his new professional offense. The results were far from surprising, though they were certainly enlightening as we head into this 2019 campaign.

Play Action Passing

If you're on NFL Twitter as much as I am, you're probably sick of reading about play action passing. Analysts have been using the term as a sort of quick-fix for a struggling passing offense, pointing to the efficiency numbers of teams that do it well, such as the Los Angeles Rams.

The bottom line is, you need to have an efficient passing game to win in the NFL. And it's hard to be more efficient through the air than the Cowboys have been in their play action passing game.

Let's start back. In 2016, Dak Prescott dazzled all year long to earn himself Rookie of the Year honors. His best full season to date, Prescott immediately put himself into the conversation with top two picks Jared Goff and Carson Wentz for who will be the best young quarterback in that 2016 class. But, then, in 2017 things went a bit sour for Prescott, and stayed that way until Amari Cooper joined the Cowboys midway through the 2018 season.

While injuries, suspensions, and regression can all explain what has happened to the Cowboys passing offense since that miraculous rookie year, play action passing rate might do a better job than any of them. In 2016 the Cowboys finished with a 24% play action rate, placing them 3rd in the NFL in terms of usage. They averaged 9 yards per play on play action passes, with a DVOA of 45.8%. They were really good at it, and compared to the rest of the league, they did it a lot.

As play action rates around the league rose, however, the Cowboys stayed the same. They went from efficient and "smart" in 2016, their best offensive year with Dak Prescott, to outdated and stale. And they did so quickly.Neutral Perspective: Dak Prescott is NOT a 1-Man Army

In 2017 Dallas used play action just 22% of the time. While not a big dropoff from a season ago, they fell in the league rankings from 3rd to 19th. And while they remained a positive passing team in terms of DVOA overall, their passing efficiently rose 19.8% when using play action as compared to standard drop-back passing.

Then, in 2018, the Cowboys were once again in the middle of the pack in terms of play action rate at 25%. Despite their relatively low usage to the elite teams around the league, the Cowboys were 10th in play action passing DVOA. When they didn't use play action and decided to use the traditional drop-back passing, they were 27th in DVOA. In terms of DVOA differential, Dallas had the 5th biggest drop-off in the league, and were +37.7% when using play action.

In other words, the Cowboys were really good passing the ball after the play fake. Yet, for whatever reason, they didn't utilize it nearly enough last season.

If they are going to become "modern" or "cutting edge," they should be joining teams like the Rams, Eagles, and Patriots at the top of the play action rate leaderboards. Especially when the data suggests there are no diminishing returns with increased play action usage.

So, this would suggest the Cowboys have to pay Ezekiel Elliott, right?

Well, not exactly.


As discussed by Ben Baldwin in this Football Outsiders article, no relationship between rushing frequency or success and play action passing success has been found. Running the football does not set up more successful play action passes, despite what traditional football knowledge would suggest.

You can run and succeed at play action pass plays without running the football well, or much at all.

Pre-Snap Motion

Ah, another favorite term of NFL nerd Twitter, pre-snap motion. As a former college offensive lineman (yeah, division three, whatever) the infatuation with pre-snap motion at the NFL level is sort of funny to me.

At the high school and college levels, pre-snap motion is used all the time. I can't even count how many pre-snap flops or shifts, jet motions, sprint motions, fly motions/sweeps, etc. get used on a daily basis at practice. So how come the NFL is so far behind these lower levels of football?

Well, to be honest, they tend to be behind more often than not. But that's besides the point.

In 2018 the Cowboys used pre-snap motion 31% of the time, ranking 24th in the NFL according to Sports Info Solutions. New quarterbacks coach Jon Kitna, however, spoke to The Ringer about changing that in 2019.

“We want to spread it out and make the defense have to cover the full field,” Kitna says. “We’re going to try to use formations and shifts and movements to our advantage. I think a lot of people have that idea coming in, but we’re going to emphasize that.” - Jon Kitna

Incorporating more motions would be huge for the Cowboys offense. These motions can create that space Kitna is speaking to, especially considering how often opposing defenses will use man coverage against the Cowboys.

Everything you do as an offense should be done to put the defense in a bind. Make the defense choose between two bad options on every snap. Not only do motions indicate opposing coverages pre-snap, but when combined with stack and bunch formations and a variety of splits they also often force defenses to choose between two bad options.

Putting It Together

What would an offense like this look like? Let's take a look at Kellen Moore's college days for a couple examples.

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On this play above, the Broncos bring their tight end in motion across the formation. Kellen Moore snaps the ball as the tight end reaches the outside shoulder of the tackle. Then, they use both the play action fake and the motioned tight end to draw the defenders' eyes into the backfield/flats.

The hesitation from the linebackers and safeties gives Kellen the chance to take a deep shot down the field for a huge completion and a touchdown.

Streamable - free video publishing

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Here's another example of Kellen Moore executing a touchdown pass off play action. This time, it's a wide receiver who goes in motion across the formation until he gets outside the far hash. The defense is forced to indicate their coverage because of the motion, so Kellen Moore knows exactly what look they are giving pre-snap.

The play action fake draws the linebackers up further towards the line of scrimmage, and Moore drops it over there heads to the previously motioned receiver for a touchdown.

Honestly, the plays themselves shouldn't be all that different. It's about dressing the packaging up in unique ways while still running the same base type plays they've always run. Every team runs inside and outside zone. Some do it better than others, though, and a lot of that has to do with the packaging.

The Cowboys can still, if they must, "establish the run." They can just do so in ways that keep the defense guessing, rather than pounding their heads against the wall against unfavorable box counts.

It's not about trick plays or gadgets, it's about creativity and variety.


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