With the bye week upon us, the Dallas Cowboys are getting their respite from gameplay with a 3-4 record and sit a game and a half back of the Washington Redskins in the NFC East. The Redskins took the lead in the division with a 20-17 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.
The season hasn't gone like many of us thought it could with the team alternating wins and losses through seven games. They've not won a road game this season, which is shocking given that the team has generally been better on the road than at home in the Jason Garrett era.
The Dallas Cowboys aren't out of it; yet. They have nine more games to make something happen in 2018 and with no team really taking control of the NFC East, there's still a shot that they can win the division and make the playoffs.
All is not lost.
For the Dallas Cowboys to get back to their winning ways though, they're going to need several players to play better in the next nine games than they did in the first seven. Here are three.
Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback
After his rookie season in the NFL, there were high hopes and expectations that Chidobe Awuzie's play, aggressiveness, and swagger would make him a good to great corner moving forward. Most thought Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard would take what Awuzie showed in his first season and help him take a step forward in 2018.
It's been Byron Jones, on the other side of the field however, who's been the standout.
Meanwhile, Awuzie's become the target of opposing passing games and he's not given them much reason not to focus on him. Among players who've played at least 162 coverage snaps this season, Chidobe Awuzie has allowed the ninth highest passer rating in the NFL (128.7), per Pro Football Focus.
Awuzie's been in the right spot a lot, but he's not been able to make plays on the football even though he's been providing some nice coverage. He's allowing a reception every 6.6 snaps according to Pro Football Focus. That's the second worst rate in the NFL. Compare that to Byron Jones who's allowing a reception every 19.6 coverage snaps and Anthony Brown who's allowing a reception every 17.4 snaps.
He has the attitude, athleticism, and ability to be a really good cover corner in the NFL, but he has to start making some plays on the football. He has to show the play-making he showed in college and in his rookie season.
The Dallas Cowboys defense has been really good in the first half of the season, but if they can get an improved effort from Awuzie in the second half, they'll be at an elite level for the last nine games.
Connor Williams, Guard
Yes, Connor Williams is a rookie. Yes, he's playing a new position. Yes, he's got to be better. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams has allowed 15 total pressures -- 11 hurries, two quarterback hits, two sacks -- and has been called for three holding penalties. Those numbers are among the 15 worse numbers for guards in the NFL per Pro Football Focus.
He has had some struggles against some really good interior players, but the expectations for Williams are sky-high. He was supposed to be the missing piece to a team that got up and down offensive line play in 2017.
The first seven games do not write the career for a rookie player and he's had some good moments so far in 2018, especially in the run game. However, for Dak Prescott and the offense to take a step forward over the final nine games, Williams is going to have to be better against interior pressure.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
"It was the best of times. It was the worst of times." The opening line from Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities fully encapsulates the first seven games of the season for Quarterback Dak Prescott.
He's been good in his city and not so good in the away cities. Dak Prescott's home and away splits through seven games are staggering.
Dak's been good at home this season going 50 for 79 for 598 yards passing with five touchdowns and no interceptions. At home he's averaging 7.57 yards per attempt, has a 107.5 quarterback rating, and has only been sacked six times. On the road Dak's completed 78 passes on 127 attempts (61.42% completion percentage) for 819 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions. Prescott's averaging 6.45 yards per attempt, has a quarterback rating of 74.9, and has been sacked 17 times.
There are many reasons why Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys haven't been as good on the road as they've been at home. Probably, the biggest reason is who they've played on the road. They've played some good defenses on in the Carolina Panthers, Seattle Seahawks, Houston Texans, and Washington Redskins. All four of those teams rank in the top 10 in the NFL in scoring defense.
In their final nine games, they play four games against teams that are in the top 10 in scoring defense. They have the Tennessee Titans in week nine in Arlington, two games against the Philadelphia Eagles, and a rematch with the Washington Redskins at home. There other five opponents, the New York Giants, Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers rank in the bottom ten in scoring defense. The Falcons, Giants, and Colts games are on the road.
Whether it's the quality of team they've played on the road or the difficulty in communicating in hostile atmospheres, there's a huge disparity in his home and road performance. Dak Prescott is going to have to win some games on the road if the Dallas Cowboys have hopes of making the playoffs in 2018..
He's good enough to lead them to victories, but he has to be better when playing away from AT&T Stadium.
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With the Dallas Cowboys needing to go 6-3 over the final nine games to have a winning season for the third year in a row, and more importantly have hopes of making the playoffs, they'll need to get better performances from these three Cowboys.
Who else, in your opinion, needs to step up for the Dallas Cowboys the rest of the way?
Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off their most impressive win of the season, keeping playoff hopes alive on the road with a 27-20 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles. Entering the hostile home of the defending Super Bowl champions with three previous road losses already on their record, the Cowboys performance on Sunday night was truly about getting back to their roots. In their second week with Marc Colombo as the Offensive Line Coach, the Cowboys rushed for 171 yards and protected Dak Prescott very well. It was revealed after the game that Frederick was on a coaches headset with Colombo and his new assistant Hudson Houck.
Travis Frederick just told @BenRogers on @1053thefan that Marc Columbo has him on a coaches headset now helping him and Hudson Houck. That's a smart move from Columbo. Smartest guy on the line
The anchor of the Cowboys offensive line since being drafted in 2013, Frederick is regarded as the smartest linemen on the team. It's his mental edge that's made up for a slight lack of size at the position, regarded as one of the worst first round picks in his draft because of this oversight.
Not only is Frederick a welcome addition to the Cowboys brain trust at offensive line, but he did receive some great news on his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) that's kept him out this season. Frederick was placed on injured reserve on October 6th, announcing publicly his GBS diagnosis on August 22nd.
Frederick has a long way to go before he's playing football again, not eligible to do so until week 14 at home against the Eagles. Regaining feeling in his hands is about the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee getting as healthy as possible away from football. If a return to the Cowboys is possible through his recovery, the team would of course welcome Frederick.
Travis Frederick regains sensation in his hands: "There is some light at the end of the tunnel" https://t.co/wvQhB6KUQp
What Frederick has gained in upper body strength, he must remain patient for in the lower body. While pointing out that over 95% of patients make a full recovery from GBS, Frederick is still waiting to feel sensations in his feet.
The Cowboys have been optimistic that Frederick's condition was caught early enough for a full recovery to be probable.
Dallas' schedule doesn't get any easier following their uplifting win. Returning to the site of last year's demoralizing loss at the Falcons, Frederick likely wishes he could make a miraculous return just a bit more this week.
To make matters worse, Left Tackle Tyron Smith did not practice on Wednesday due to back spasms. It's unknown if rookie Connor Williams will reclaim his starting left guard spot on Sunday, or if Xavier Su'a-Filo has earned another opportunity.
Despite the patchwork nature of a Cowboys offensive line once regarded as the best in the league, and still vital to the entire team's success, Dallas has an abundance of hope that Sunday in Atlanta can be much better than 2017. This starts with Frederick's strength to fight GBS and attempt to rejoin his teammates, wisely given some added game day influence on them by Colombo.
If elevating their level of play up front was all it took for the Cowboys to play up to their potential and pull off an upset on prime time last week, the NFC East is certainly still within reach for a team that must now sustain the level of play on offense to match what this defense has given all season.
Cowboys Playoff Scenarios; Week 11 Impact Games
We've reached Week 11 and the playoff picture is continuing to be unveiled. Most of the NFC has seven games to go, and there's still a lot of ways each week can impact the overall landscape.
The Rams and Saints are the clear runaway teams in the conference this year. After them, though, a lot of up for grabs both in division races and the Wild Card spots.
We're not including Detroit and Tampa Bay, both 3-6, given the strong unlikelihood that they will turn things around. Detroit is the worst team in a stacked NFC North and will likely keep losing, and a head-to-head loss to the Cowboys will be tough to overcome. The Bucs can't decide on a quarterback right now and are going nowhere.
If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:
- Los Angeles Rams (9-1)
- New Orleans Saints (8-1)
- Chicago Bears (6-3)
- Washington Redskins (6-3)
- Carolina Panthers (6-3)
- Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1)
- Green Bay Packers (4-4-1)
- Atlanta Falcons (4-5)
- Seattle Seahawks (4-5)
- Dallas Cowboys (4-5)
- Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)
- The Bears are ahead of the Redskins thanks to a better record against NFC opponents.
- The Falcons are ahead of the Seahawks and Cowboys thanks to a superior record against NFC opponents.
- The Seahawks are ahead of the Cowboys thanks to a head-to-head victory.
- The Cowboys are ahead of the Eagles thanks to a head-to-head victory.
- The Eagles' tiebreaker loss to Dallas, because it occurs within the division, drops them below the other 4-5 NFC teams automatically. Their head-to-head win over the Falcons this year is invalidated.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how winning the NFC East would likely be Dallas only road to the playoffs. That is still the case; the Cowboys are three games behind the Panthers (they lose in a tie because of their head-to-head loss) and two games behind the Vikings for the Wild Card spots.
It will be much easier for Dallas to catch Washington, who are more lucky than good with their 6-3 record, than either Carolina or Minnesota. The Cowboys can still hang a loss on the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, plus Washington has both games with the Eagles left to play.
Those opportunities are further down the road, though. For now, let's see how the Week 11 schedule can help improve the Cowboys playoff positioning:
Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks
With a head-to-head loss to Seattle this year, Dallas needs the Seahawks to keep losing. Both teams are currently 4-5, and the Cowboys don't need that tiebreaker hanging over them at the end of the year.
But a Seattle loss means a Green Bay win, and that doesn't do much to help the Cowboys either. The Packers's tie gives them a slight edge on the 4-5 teams, and that advantage could keep them ahead of Dallas the rest of the way.
You could argue that the Packers are a team more likely to make a late-season push than the Seahawks, so a Green Bay loss here could ultimately benefit the Cowboys more than Seattle. It really comes down to which team, between the Packers and Seahawks, you have more faith in the rest of the way.
Dallas Cowboys @ Atlanta Falcons
This is obviously a huge game for both teams. Both are 4-5 and trying to stay in the conversation, and a loss here could be a death knell for either. It would also create a head-to-head tiebreaker for the winner over the loser; essentially a two-game swing.
The Cowboys won their first road game all season last week in Philadelphia. They have some good vibes and momentum headed into Atlanta, who are coming off an ugly loss to the Browns.
Will Dallas ride their positive wave for another week, or will the Falcons be hungrier and enjoy returning home? The answer could be season-changing for both teams.
Houston Texans @ Washington Redskins
The Texans have won six straight and the Cowboys hope they can keep it going. A Washington loss, coupled with a Dallas win in Atlanta, would narrow the gap between them to just one game. It would also make next week's Thanksgiving matchup in Dallas a chance for the Cowboys to pull even for the NFC East lead.
As I said before, the Redskins aren't as good as their 6-3 record indicates. They have only a +1 point differential in 2018, having scored just one point more than their opponents all year. Comparatively, the Cowboys are a +10 despite the losing record.
A few weeks ago, the Redskins got pounded 43-19 by the New Orleans Saints. The Texans are arguably the next-best team they've played this year. Hopefully, we'll see a similar result.
Carolina Panthers @ Detroit Lions
The Panthers' slipping would be nice for the Cowboys, though they'd have to fall hard the rest of the way for Dallas to catch up in the standings. With the Cowboys having a head-to-head win over the Lions, a Detroit win here wouldn't hurt us nearly as much as a Carolina loss helps.
Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints
New Orleans appears set on being one of the top two seeds in the NFC this year, which puts them well out of Dallas' range. As such, an Eagles loss is clearly better for the Cowboys in terms of our own playoff positioning.
Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears
The Packers and Vikings are both slightly easier to catch than the Bears. The best scenario for Dallas is for Chicago to keep winning and take the NFC North, hanging losses on their division rivals on the way and making things easier for the Cowboys in the Wild Card hunt.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Los Angeles Rams
This one is almost irrelevant from Dallas' perspective. The Rams will probably clinch their division soon and should have a first-round bye. But the Chiefs are in the other conference, so there's absolutely nothing to be gained by them losing.
#ATLvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
This week's gambling preview focuses on the Cowboys week 11 opponent, the Atlanta Falcons. Dallas beat the now 4-5 Eagles last Sunday to improve their own record to 4-5. Atlanta lost on the road to Cleveland last week to drop their record to 4-5 on the season.
It's an 8-8 league, isn't it?
Dallas returns to the scene of the 2017 crime this Sunday, traveling to Atlanta where Chaz Green and Dak Prescott were destroyed almost exactly one year ago. Let's take a look at the line and the quality of these teams to see which way it could go.
Cowboys +3, O/U 48 points.
Dallas saved their season on the road last Sunday night, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles and getting right back in the thick of things in the NFC East race. Still, we can't simply ignore what the other 8 games of data have told us about the Cowboys and their offensive quality.
The addition of Amari Cooper has clearly helped the offense, opening up the passing game a bit and allowing for Dak Prescott to have a reliable "number one" receiver. The team's results overall have been mixed the first two games of the Cooper-era, but he has been consistently good in both match-ups.
Defensively the Cowboys continued to impress last week, though "cornerback opposite of Byron Jones" is quickly becoming a potential need. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith stole the show last Sunday, and both the present and the future of the Cowboys' linebacking corps is strong. It could be argued the Cowboys have yet to see a passing attack like the one Atlanta brings, however, making Sunday a big test for them defensively.
Similar to the Cowboys, Atlanta has been very much up-and-down this season. In a way, though, they are just the opposite-day Cowboys, with their offense putting up insane numbers most weeks and their banged up defense often letting them down.
Though it looked like they were turning it around in recent weeks, Atlanta had probably their most disappointing loss in quite some time, losing at Cleveland to the young Browns. Still, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones lead a prolific passing attack which can strike fear in any defense.
Byron Jones and company will have their hands full with the Falcons' cast of skill players on Sunday, and as usual, stopping their passing attack will all begin up front with the pass rush. Hopefully Randy Gregory can build on his week 10 performance to produce even more results this week.
- Surprisingly, the score total has now hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- The Cowboys are 2-5 against the spread their last 7 games against the Falcons.
- The Cowboys are also 2-4 against the spread their last games at Atlanta.
- Dallas is just 1-4 straight up on the road this season.
- The score total has gone over 4 of Atlanta's last 5 home games.
- The Falcons are just 2-5 against the spread their last 7 games.
Who the hell knows, man.
This team is incredibly difficult to project week to week, probably about as volatile as they've been since all those 8-8 seasons. This line started at Cowboys +4.5 and has since moved down to just +3, meaning they are valued as a pick 'em on a neutral field.
Given how inconsistent, yet talented, both teams are this line feels exactly right. I'll take the Cowboys and the points because why not? I expect this to be a tight game throughout, and could come down to the kicking game in the fourth quarter.
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