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.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
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?
Cowboys OT Mitch Hyatt is an Undrafted Rookie to Watch
Going undrafted is hardly a death blow to a player's hopes of making it into the NFL. We've seen many examples of players who have lengthy careers despite humble beginnings, and plenty of them happened right here in Dallas. Could offensive tackle Mitch Hyatt be the next undrafted success story for the Cowboys?
Hyatt just finished his college career at Clemson as a four-year starter, two-time national champion, and two-time All-American. While not an elite draft prospect, many had Mitch rated as at least a 5th-7th round pick. His going undrafted was a surprise.
While he measures with good size at 6'5" and a little over 300 lbs., Hyatt lacks upper body strength. But he's overcome that deficiency through the years with work ethic, motor, and smarts.
For the Cowboys, it's a lot easier to help a guy gain strength than it is to try and improve motivation or intelligence.
Dallas was not the only team interested in Mitch Hyatt once he hit free agency. But from the rookie's own lips, he didn't have a hard decision to make.
“'I received a fair amount of calls. It was a pretty chaotic five to 10 minutes for me,'” Hyatt said. “'I had a whole bunch of people in my ear. But I knew what kind of team the Cowboys were, I knew what they were about.'”
Whether it was the reputation of the Cowboys organization, its vaunted offensive line, or the chance to work with Coach Marc Colombo, Hyatt was clearly drawn to Dallas. Another reason for that may have been the perceived opportunity to make the roster.
The Cowboys seem to already be preparing for life without La'el Collins in 2020, when Collins is set to hit free agency. They gave Cam Fleming a two-year deal which keeps him through next year, plus drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of the 2019 draft. It suggests Dallas isn't planning to pay La'l the significant money he should demand.
If Fleming gets promoted to the starting job at right tackle, that would leave a vacancy for swing tackle in 2020. Mitch Hyatt could be one of Dallas' options for that role.
Even if the Cowboys don't keep Hyatt on the 53-man roster in 2019, they will likely try to put him on the practice squad. Ideally, a year of physical development there will make him a much stronger candidate for the 2020 season.
Of course, the reason we know those undrafted success stories so well is because they aren't typical. The odds are against Mitch Hyatt having any NFL career, but his collegiate success and intangibles speak to a guy who's worth taking a chance on.
If it works out, credit the Cowboys for continuing the tradition of Tony Romo, Miles Austin, Jeff Heath, and other undrafted players who became significant contributors.
Could CB Michael Jackson Prove To Be Cowboys Best Value Pick?
Looking back to the third day of the 2019 NFL Draft for the Dallas Cowboys, running backs Tony Pollard and Mike Weber are the most discussed players among fans and analysts. The front office made some pretty promising selections in the late rounds that could have important roles on the team in the near future. While many thought the Cowboys would be quick to add a rookie safety, it wasn't until the fifth round that the team drafted a defensive back, and it wasn't even a safety. Kris Richard got his guy Michael Jackson, from the Miami Hurricanes.
A few weeks apart from training camp, the 6-1 cornerback has been overlooked by many fans. Although the team got plenty of quality players in the late rounds, Jackson might end up being the best value pick when we look back to this rookie class a year from now.
In college, Jackson started 23 games between 2017 and 2018 as he racked up four interceptions and 10 pass deflections. He seems just like the kind of guy we know DB Coach Kris Richard loves. A tall, long, press cornerback with pretty solid range. Jackson is far from a player ready to start in the NFL, but Richard will have a lot of raw potential to work with.
When the former Seahawks defensive coordinator joined the Cowboys, he let it be known that he saw a lot of potential on Byron Jones. The 2015 first round pick's career was turned around after last season, when the team finally stopped moving Jones around the defensive backfield. As a full-time corner, Jones went on to become a second-team All-Pro last year.
While it would be unfair to compare Jones and Jackson, both of them arrived to the NFL with very different expectations, I can't help but wonder how far can Richard take the Miami product. Although it wasn't discussed as much, cornerback was an important need for the team because of a lack of depth and the uncertainty surrounding Jones' future on the team.
After an impressive 2018 season, extending Jones will be a huge challenge for the Cowboys front office. After all, there's a lot of homegrown talent due for big paydays. Who knows if when the day comes, the team will have what it takes to keep Jones in Dallas. Not to mention, Anthony Brown is entering his contract year. A solid nickel corner for the Cowboys could be gone, leaving Kris Richard's unit with very little depth.
Fortunately for the Cowboys, Michael Jackson has the size and potential to play in any spot in the secondary, giving Richard the chance to develop him at the position he wishes. After all, Richard will be in no hurry to get Jackson on the field. It's tough to imagine Jackson getting an important role for the upcoming season, but he could certainly get a few snaps throughout the year. Having said that, it's in the long run that the All-ACC second-team CB can truly prove his worth.
In an ideal world, the Cowboys would keep their current CB but the cold, hard truth is NFL teams can't keep all of their players all the time. Jackson might have to eventually step up to an important spot on the defense. If Kris Richard develops him properly, Dallas won't be that concerned about a couple of their CBs potentially leaving. We'll see if Michael Jackson is ready when his name is called.
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder Stand Out in Cowboys Practices
With Left Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence rehabbing from offseason shoulder surgery, Defensive End Taco Charlton rehabbing a shoulder and foot injury, and Right Defensive End Randy Gregory currently suspended indefinitely, there have been plenty of snaps at defensive end for other players to make a name for themselves in the offseason training activities (OTAs) and this past week's minicamp. The two players that stood out above all others on the defense were defensive ends Dorance Armstrong and Kerry Hyder.
You might be asking yourself, "what does it matter? DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn are the starters. Why should we care about a couple of backups."
First, the backup defensive ends for the Dallas Cowboys will play. After DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford, the leaders in defensive end snaps in 2018, Randy Gregory got 44% of the snaps on defense and Taco Charlton saw 39%. Dorance Armstrong, who played sparingly as a rookie, saw 26% of the snaps. The defensive ends that make the 53-man roster are going to get playing time.
Secondly, there's no guarantee that DeMarcus Lawrence will be ready for week one. Tyrone Crawford, who was the starter at right defensive end in 2018, could miss week one if the NFL deems his offseason altercation is worthy of a suspension. That leaves a whole lot of potential snaps at the left defensive end spot if either of those two guys misses week one.
Dorance Armstrong, the Dallas Cowboys fourth-round pick from 2018, caught the eye of several observers from the media and finished his offseason with a strong minicamp.
"These coaches have to be happy with what they’ve seen from Dorance Armstrong during these practices. Armstrong has been mainly filling in for DeMarcus Lawrence on the left side, but on Wednesday he switched over to the right. There were several snaps where he was a handful for Cam Fleming to handle. Armstrong started off well last season before hitting the rookie wall. He physically looks bigger and is also now equipped with the knowledge of how he has to prepare to play at a high level the entire season. Keep an eye on Armstrong to make that jump from the first to second year."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Armstrong had a really nice training camp as a rookie and as Broaddus notes, tailed off during the regular season. Reports are that he's added size this offseason -- as most players do between their first and second year -- and if all the reports are correct, could be a breakout player in the making.
Kerry Hyder is another intriguing player and one of the more underrated offseason acquisitions by the Dallas Cowboys front office.
Coming from the Detroit Lions, where they used Hyder as a nose tackle in Matt Patricia's 3-4 alignment, he was played severely out of position. In 2016, playing primarily as a defensive end, Hyder recorded eight sacks for the Lions. In 2017, he suffered a torn achilles which kept him out all of that year.
Now with the Dallas Cowboys, he gets to return to his more natural defensive end position. And he's making some noise in these offseason practices.
D-Linemen never get any shine during OTAs, so today is for them. With Tyron Smith & La'el Collins sitting out today, Dorance Armstrong & Kerry Hyder absolutely wrecked practice. Murdered it. I legitimately don't think Dak would've gotten a single throw out if sacks were allowed.
Of course not playing against the starting tackles in Tyron Smith and La'el Collins will allow players to shine a bit more, but let's not forget that Cam Fleming started in the Super Bowl for the New England Patriots before signing with the Dallas Cowboys. Connor Williams, who has been getting snaps at tackle as well, is no slouch as a former All-American for the Texas Longhorns.
Here's what Bryan Broaddus had to say about Kerry Hyder in one of the previous OTAs his "Scout's Notebook" from May 22nd.
"I have to be careful with my love for veteran defensive linemen, but Kerry Hyder looks like a different man playing at end instead of head-up tackle. The coaching change in Detroit did him no favors last season. Having to play in a spot where he had to fight blocks all day to now working on the edge in space is a good thing for him. It appears that Hyder has his quickness back, but he also has some pass rush moves in his tool belt. I thought maybe they were going to use him as an under-tackle, but putting him back at end might be his best shot at making the roster."
Bryan Broaddus - Dallas Cowboys.com
The Cowboys found a really good player in Kerry Hyder. He's capable of playing some 3-technique defensive tackle if needed as well as on the edge. He has a good motor and is able to make plays in the running game.
With the emergence of Kerry Hyder and Dorance Armstrong this offseason, it puts Taco Charlton behind the eight ball as the team heads to Oxnard. If they continue to play well, it's a real possibility that Charlton could be a gameday inactive during the regular season, especially if Randy Gregory is reinstated.
However they end up being deployed, this group of defensive ends will cause fits for opposing offensive lines. They've been aiming for waves of pass rushers for Rod Marinelli's defense and for the first time since becoming defensive coordinator, he looks to have just that.
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
3 Dallas Cowboys Who Could Be Traded Before Week 1
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
5 Takeaways from Dallas Cowboys OTA’s
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Kasey Redfern, a Name Dallas Cowboys Fans Might Want to get to Know
Star Blog2 weeks ago
3 Reasons 2019 Will be Dak Prescott’s Best Season Yet
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Could Amari Cooper Threaten Cowboys Receiving Records in 2019?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Will DE Taco Charlton “Break Out” In 2019?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Post-OTA’s Dallas Cowboys 53-Man Roster Projection
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
Cowboys CB Donovan Olumba Should Compete for Roster Spot