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?
7 Free Agents the Cowboys Should Target
The Dallas Cowboys' focus after losing in the second round of the playoffs is likely going to be contract extensions, sealing up their best players now before getting ready for the draft. They're likely to lose a few free agents but their priority will be their big name free agent, DeMarcus Lawrence, and extending contracts of Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and probably Byron Jones, in a year where they’ll see more cap room than they have in a long time.
Free agency, to Dallas, has been really almost entirely about re-signing their own and not dipping into the free agency pool like Jerry Jones used to do. However, in today’s NFL, a bit of the old Jerry may need to come back.
If we look at the success of Philadelphia, the L.A. Rams, Kansas City, Cleveland or Chicago, all these teams re-signed their own and drafted well, but also went out of their way to either trade for or sign other players. Free agency helped refuel all these teams and all saw success in the same capacity as the draft did.
The Cowboys don’t need to break the bank but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider some players who will be available. This team has nowhere to go but up, so take that next step. The more help, the better.
A bit of an underrated name, Anthony Sherman was another Pro Bowl player this season for Kansas City. Being brought back on a one-year "prove it" deal, he more than outplayed his contract.
The Cowboys' current fullback, Jamize Olawale, did play as well as people had hoped. He played well on special teams, but as a blocker for Ezekiel Elliott and a receiver out of the backfield (see the Colts game). Olawale was a very valuable player to Oakland but he wasn’t able to replicate the same success in Dallas.
Sherman might want to come back to Kansas City but not only do the Cowboys have more cap room in 2019 but the possibility of playing with arguably the best running back in football might be too big to pass up. Just imagine the next Daryl Johnston and Emmitt Smith.
See how many quarterbacks there are in the NFL and then which teams gave them a plethora of weapons: Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan, Baker Mayfield, Deshaun Watson, etc.
Amari Cooper appears to have re-established himself among the NFL’s elite receivers, Tavon Austin looks like a cheap re-sign who could be used in rotation both in the slot and outside, and Michael Gallup in the last four games of the season finally meshed with Dak Prescott and looks like a great number two receiver. Throw in Blake Jarwin and a likely second-round pick to be a tight end, and the Cowboys look like they’ve got plenty of weapons.
We need to consider now the other receivers Dallas has. Cole Beasley is hitting free agency and it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to keep him, Terrance Williams’ future is up in the air, Allen Hurns is coming back from a devastating injury, and Noah Brown is much more of an H-Back/sub-tight end option. Ideally, Dak Prescott’s next receiver will have good hands, run routes well and have plenty of speed.
Randall Cobb is not likely to return to Green Bay, and according to spotrac.com, his estimated value is currently a little under $8 million a year. Whether that’s too rich for the Cowboys’ taste or not, they should consider this. Cobb is only 28 years old and still can be productive on the right team, and given the right quarterback, one of the better slot receivers in the game.
The Legion of Boom is dead and, with it, the remnants of Seattle’s Super Bowl defense. K.J. Wright might not be on the same level as Bobby Wagner but he might be just what the Cowboys need in the linebacker rotation.
It looks like Sean Lee might have played his last down as a Cowboy. He’s never completed a full 16-game season, and with rising stars Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch back there, Lee is a likely cap casualty. Damien Wilson is a solid linebacker and often played up to the level that both Smith and Vander Esch played at but Wright might be an upgrade.
He’s 29 years old but won’t command a high price in the open market. His familiarity with Kris Richard also makes this an intriguing option. Knowing his success with Richard, it would make sense that Wright wants to finish his career in a system that he can thrive in and possibly make it back to the Super Bowl.
Depth was seriously tested on the offensive line in 2018. Travis Frederick missed all season with Guillain-Barré syndrome, Zack Martin missed time with knee issues, and Tyron Smith as well, for his neck.
Connor Williams looks like the future at right guard but Xavier Su'a-Filo filled in for most of the season. Going forward, the Cowboys need better, more veteran depth.
Matt Slauson has played for four different teams, playing in 114 games and starting in 111 of them. While he’s probably not the player he once was, Dallas really needs him for quality depth across the interior offensive line and veteran leadership.
He only cost the Colts $3 million last season, and that would be worth the price to bring him in. Depending on the health of the offensive line, any sort of upgrade on the second team is worth it.
It’s always good to have a full backfield. You need your lead dog, a solid number two and a speed receiver option to come out of the backfield. The Cowboys lacked the last one, and they could really use it.
Jalen Richard is a modest 5’8 200 lbs but has given the Raiders plenty of quality play, both as a change of pace back and especially at receiver. In fact, he had more receptions (68) than he did rushes (55) in 2018.
Since he’s likely to be mostly used as the Lance Dunbar-type of back that Jason Garrett misses, it's better that he catch passes than run the ball.
Richard shouldn’t cost very much and having him there would allow Elliott more rest, not having to force him out there on passing downs. Obviously Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best running backs in the game, at both running and catching, but quality depth with Jalen Richard might be what keeps him healthier, longer.
Health has been the biggest issue for Jason Verrett. His first two seasons looked like he was going to be a star in this league. However, in the last three seasons, he’s only played in five total games. It’s unlikely that he’ll be retained by the Chargers.
Jerry Jones has shown from time to time that he’ll give a player chances, despite off-field or injury issues (see Rolando McClain). A one-year "prove it" deal would make a lot of sense, especially if it improves the Cowboys' secondary depth.
Having played at TCU, Verrett is familiar with DFW and would probably be welcomed. There’s still plenty of time for Verrett to return his career back to where it once was. At a discount, the Cowboys might want to take advantage.
At last! We’ve come to THE name everyone has expected: Earl Thomas.
Leader of the Legion of Boom and future Hall-of-Famer, Earl Thomas broke the internet last season when he ran toward the Cowboys locker room, telling coach Jason Garrett to come and get him. Cowboys and Seahawks fans went crazy.
It was a move that was thought could happen before or during the draft, or possibly before the 2018 season started. But Seattle never budged.
Instead, Earl Thomas broke a bone in his leg, the game after he played the Cowboys and was placed on injured reserve. Now, Earl Thomas is a free agent, and Seattle is likely to lose him and get nothing back.
Earl Thomas has been to a pair of Super Bowls, winning one, and along with Kris Richard helped create one of the greatest secondaries in NFL history. This should be a no brainer. Earl Thomas could be the missing piece to the already elite Cowboys defense. Let’s make everyone’s wishes come true and make this happen Jerry Jones!
3 Reasons Why Kellen Moore Should Not Become Offensive Coordinator
The notion that current Quarterbacks Coach Kellen Moore will be promoted to Offensive Coordinator has divided many Cowboys fans. The idea is growing on some, but others remain very opposed. Is he really the right guy to help Dallas' offense get to the next level?
Yesterday, one of my fellow Inside The Star writers gave his reasons why Moore's promotion could be a positive for the Cowboys. I decided to play devil's advocate today and give three reasons why it would not be a good move.
For the record, I'm not opposed to the move. I don't want some retread like Todd Haley or Mike McCoy, who have been fired from more than one NFL team in their past. What innovation can they offer at this point?
But at the same time, do you really want a guy whose never held the job at any level before now? That leads us to my first reason for being against Kellen Moore.
Even Sean McVay spent three seasons as the Redskins' OC before he got his job in Los Angeles. Moore was playing QB just a year ago and has spent one season in a true coaching role. I know he was credited for being an assistant to the coaches during his playing career, but you'd still like a guy whose spent a little more time with a clipboard in hand.
Kellen could be a genius, and there are often reality checks that come whenever you step into a larger role. We often see something being done and think we understand, even thinking we could do it better, but then discover nuances and challenges that we didn't recognize before.
Most of the greatest QBs to ever play the game didn't have strong rookie seasons.
Of course, there's talk that Moore's role as OC would be supplemented by a lot of experienced assistants. Tight Ends Coach Doug Nussmeier has been a coordinator on the college level for high-profile programs like Alabama, Florida, and Michigan. We could even see Jason Garrett gets more hand-on with the offense again.
Perhaps Kellen would give a fresh approach and outlook that would push the Cowboys' offense forward in 2019. But you have to be concerned about his lack of experience, regardless of how highly you rate his potential.
2. Scott Linehan's Influence
If you didn't like Linehan's work with the Cowboys then you may be concerned that he's had a lot of influence on Kellen Moore's offensive philosophy. Between Dallas and Detroit, they have been together for all but one of Moore's seven years in the NFL.
Linehan was the Lions' OC when Moore signed with them following the 2012 draft. When Scott was fired by Detroit after the 2013 season, he came to Dallas while Kellen played one more year with the Lions. In 2015, Linehan played a key role in getting Moore signed by the Cowboys.
That said, we have no way of knowing how much Linehan has shaped Moore's ideas about football. It's only a hypothetical, but one that shouldn't be ignored.
It's entirely possible that Kellen may have learned some good things by observing Linehan, too. "What not to do" can be valuable experience. Perhaps Moore was shaking his head at some of Scott's calls and decisions as much as the rest of us.
I take some confidence in the fact that Jason Garrett, who knows offense, would be willing to make this move. His job is on the line and the willingness to give Kellen Moore increased responsibility means Jason must see something he likes.
It also would mean he doesn't blame Kellen for our third reason.
3. QB Regression in 2018
This is the clearest and most concerning evidence against Moore's ascension on the coaching staff. In his one year as Quarterbacks Coach, there was no sign of development in Dak Prescott's performance from his rookie season. Also, Cooper Rush's play in the 2018 preseason was a clear regression from last year.
But only insiders know how much of this is about the coach as opposed to players and other factors around them. Was Kellen wanting to coach things that didn't align with Linehan's offensive strategy? Was Moore really getting to do things his way?
Most would agree that Prescott's play got better as the season went on, and perhaps that's a feather in Moore's cap. In fact, it could be a sign that Kellen also improved in his role over time.
As for Rush, we've seen plenty of one-hit wonders in sports. Guys can get hot and cool off, and perhaps what we saw last August was closer to reality than his 2017 play.
But as smart and savvy as Kellen Moore has been praised to be as an offensive mind, there's no denying that it didn't seem to rub off on the Cowboys quarterbacks this year. Communicating and teaching what you know to others is a separate skill.
~ ~ ~
Ultimately, we don't know what kind of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore could turn out to be. But there's evidence on both sides of the argument, and the Cowboys will be taking a serious gamble if they elect to promote such an inexperienced guy to such an important role.
But in this era when everyone is looking for the next creative and innovative offensive mind, maybe it's the exact move this team needs.
How Joe Looney Saved the Cowboys Season and Protected Their Future
I can't really express enough how important Center Joe Looney was to the Dallas Cowboys 2018 success. His play was kind of lost in the shuffle of all of the ups and downs that took place throughout the year, which is why I wanted to try to set the record straight today.
Joe Looney is better known around Cowboys Nation and the outside media as the guy who dressed up as a 6'3", 315 pound Ezekiel Elliott earlier in the offseason. You may have forgotten, but he wore Zeke's No. 21 jersey with his mid-drift showing while miming the "Feed Me" sign during practice. It's hard to imagine a jokester like that could be such an integral part to the Cowboys 2018 season, but he was.
Despite his jocularity, Joe Looney more than adequately replaced Travis Frederick in the middle of the Cowboys offensive line this past season. In fact, he was really the only consistent thing about the starting five, which in itself deserves more attention than it's actually received.
The Cowboys OL was a mess this season. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, Dallas' other Pro Bowl offensive lineman, battled injuries throughout the year and missed time because of it. Add that to the revolving door at left guard between Connor Williams and Xavier Su'a-Filo and La'el Collins up-and-down season, and Looney's play looks all that more impressive.
The fact that Joe Looney was pretty much an afterthought this past season really speaks volumes to the level of his play. One of the things that really made him so important to the Cowboys success though in 2018 was his availability.
It may surprise you to know, but Looney played every single offensive snap (1,076) in 2018. That's up from just 94 snaps in 2017 as the Cowboys backup guard/center. I don't know about you, but I find that really impressive. To go from basically not playing to starting every single game is a huge jump to make.
As impressive as it was for Joe Looney to play every single offensive snap in 2018 for the Cowboys, what he did with that opportunity is even more inspiring. If not for him, Dallas wouldn't have won the NFC East division or made the playoffs. But, he did more than save their season. He protected their future.
Just imagine for a second if Looney would've been a disaster taking over for Travis Frederick in the middle of the Cowboys OL. It shouldn't take too much imagination on your part, just think back to what happened in 2017 with Tyron Smith out of the lineup, forcing Chaz Green and Byron Bell to start at left tackle.
Quarterback Dak Prescott was forced to run for his life in 2017 with backups at LT, causing him to regress as a pocket passer and develop "happy feet". If not for Looney, it could've destroyed Prescott's confidence altogether. Instead, Prescott continued to improve throughout the 2018 season and looks to be the future at the position once again.
I don't know what you think about all of this, but for me Joe Looney was the Dallas Cowboys MVP in 2018. I believe it's time to give credit where credit is due, because he's definitely not receiving the kind of recognition he deserves.
Do you think Joe Looney saved the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season?
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