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Debunking The NFL’s “Blueprint” To Beat The Dallas Cowboys

Sean Martin



It was the worst loss of the Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott era for the Dallas Cowboys.

On Sunday, the Denver Broncos bested the Cowboys 42-17 at home with a dominant showing from their elite defense and balanced offense. The Monday reactions from Cowboys Nation were naturally all over the place, as the blowout loss seemingly had some quickly forgetting that we are still just a year removed from this Cowboys' core winning 13 games and the NFC East in 2016.

There is one narrative going around worth addressing following this game, and it is that the Broncos exposed the Cowboys by providing a "blueprint" for how to beat this Dallas team. This of course comes after the team's first loss of this young 2017 season, failing to take into consideration that it was a week one loss to the formidable Giants last year that sparked an eleven game winning streak for the Cowboys.

Like the Broncos now, the Giants were seen as a team that had the Cowboys' number after beating them twice during Prescott and Elliott's rookie campaign. With a win against an equally tough New York defense already under their belts before this humbling defeat in Denver, it is ridiculous to begin assuming that teams around the league suddenly know how to stop one of the most well-built and dynamic offenses in the NFL.

Debunking The NFL's "Blueprint" To Beat The Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is sacked by DE Von Miller.

The Broncos' defense is good, very good. This unit deserves a ton of credit for what they did taking Ezekiel Elliott out of this game so early for the Cowboys on the ground, but this was also not entirely their doing. Drives extended by defensive penalties on Dallas, missed opportunities to force turnovers, and failure to gain any rhythm in the passing game allowed Denver's defense to do what they did to the Cowboys on Sunday by holding Elliott to a career low eight yards and forcing Dak Prescott to drop back a career high 50 times - resulting in two killer interceptions.

The Broncos made the Cowboys' offense look so uncomfortable in this game by simply doing what they've done best for a long time now, putting elite talent on the field at all three levels and matching up against the Cowboys in man coverage.

Look around the defensive depth charts for any other team in the NFL, and it becomes evident quickly that this hidden "secret" to beating the Cowboys is not a secret at all - instead a simple lack of adequate depth in the secondary to cover against Scott Linehan's passing offense while also committing the ridiculous numbers the Broncos did to the box in the running game.

Debunking The NFL's "Blueprint" To Beat The Dallas Cowboys 1

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

The Giants are likely the closest to proving they could match what the Broncos did this week, but currently sitting at 0-2 with a loss on the record against the Cowboys already, it is clear that this once-elite defense has regressed a fraction while the offense holds the Giants back even more. It was the Broncos balanced offense exploiting an absolutely depleted Rod Marinelli defense (playing with two healthy CBs) that ultimately put Sunday's game out of reach for the Cowboys.

The Cowboys and Giants won't meet again at Metlife Stadium until week 14. Before then, the Cowboys will see three teams in the bottom ten of the NFL from 2016 in Yards Per Play Differential - an all important stat when it comes to a Cowboys team that wants to regain control of games by hitting on big plays on the ground while protecting leads with their zone defense looks.

Just because none of this came to fruition against a Denver Broncos team under former defensive coordinator and now Head Coach Vance Joseph - who said himself that the Cowboys' offense was easy to scout but difficult to actually stop - does not mean that much better days are not ahead for Prescott and Elliott running this Cowboys offense.

Preparing to do so against defenses that won't be able to man up on the outside nor get the best of Dallas' league-best offensive line the way Denver did, order can be restored quickly to a Cowboys offense that should hope to never throw the ball 50 times and hand it off only 11 times again anytime soon.

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant

QB Dak Prescott, RB Ezekiel Elliott, and WR Dez Bryant. Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports.

The Cowboys' next opportunity to start a new winning streak following a loss will come in prime time on Monday night at the Cardinals. Arizona's defense is certainly tough, but the distance between their unit and that of the Broncos' playing at its absolute best is tangible - as should the difference in performance from week two to three for the Cowboys in all three phases.

It is not any easier to beat these 1-1 Cowboys than it was when they were 1-1 at this time last year, and for once Monday can't get here soon enough as the team will look to remain in first place and move to 2-1 on the 2017 season.

Whether or not they do so will have nothing to do with a blueprint that's out there for Cardinals' Head Coach Bruce Arians or any other team remaining on the Cowboys' schedule to use.

Tell us what you think about "Debunking The NFL’s “Blueprint” To Beat The Dallas Cowboys" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Pleasant NJ, no we're not how you think we are. Host of "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. You may @ me: @SeanMartinNFL.

  • Matthew England

    Totally agree, Denver has unparalleled defensive talent that let them stack the box wont happen often

  • Travis Diggs

    The coaching staff needs to be put on notice that their play calling is starting to become easy to call Even people at home know the plays already. The in game adjustments will be the difference in a playoff team and a super bowl contender. Once you seen Zeke giving up, it was time for a change, and i dont mean Morris. Once you seen Brice Butler struggling, Its time for Switzer or Noah Brown, In Game adjustments??? I personally could predicts half of their plays the whole game, so i know somebody needs to look at personnel and play calling ??? I dont even wanna talk about the same defense we’ve had for over a decade now. Lets go Boys

    • E Deplorabus Unum

      we saw this with troy and emmitt days also. cowboys think they are so talented they run too vanilla and just outclass the defense. often works, but being able to beat them at chess in play calling as well as straight forward power would be nice….

    • Russ_Te

      My problem was that Garrett & Linehan knew Denver would load the box on Elliott. Knew they had the CB’s to allow that. You can’t just run into the teeth of that, in that stadium. Those zero-gains fired Denver up, because everyone knows this is a dominant run offense. Now Dak is suddenly in long downs against their pass rush & CB’s.

      If I don’t have speed at RB, different matter. But I do have it. I’m attacking the edges with pitches, stretches, then maybe a reverse to Butler or Dez.

Star Blog

Sean’s Scout: WR Deonte Thompson A Vertical Threat for Dallas Cowboys

Sean Martin



Sean's Scout: WR Deonte Thompson A Vertical Threat for Dallas Cowboys

Finally addressing their underwhelming cast of wide receivers, the Dallas Cowboys signed journeyman Deonte Thompson yesterday. The seventh-year pro spent 2017 with both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills, hauling in 38 passes for 555 yards and two touchdowns.

Thompson was undrafted in 2012 out of Florida, making both the Cowboys' free agent signings to date former UDFAs. The Cowboys added LB Joe Thomas earlier in the week, who you can learn more about in Sean's Scout as well.

In desperate need of speed and play making ability on the outside, here is a look at what WR Deonte Thompson can bring to the Dallas Cowboys.

WR Deonte Thompson: Strengths

Thompson1 - Streamable

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Deonte Thompson plays with a great understanding of his own frame, using his length to give defensive backs problems up the field. Not a true "burner", Thompson takes some time to accelerate down the field, but can separate vertically.

Thompson runs smooth routes, using his long strides to get on DBs in a hurry. Once in position to free himself at the stem of a route, Thompson showed the ability to consistently turn his hips and complete a number of underneath and deep routes at a high level.

Thompson2 - Streamable

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Deonte Thompson may not win on many throws "above the rim", but he is above average at the catch point securing passes with his strong hands.

Snagging the ball outside of his frame is not much of an issue for Thompson, who makes the most of his run-after-the-catch opportunities by effortlessly receiving the ball in stride.

At this stage of his career, Thompson may not be an every down player, but this is a player the Cowboys can absolutely find a way to get involved in their sputtering passing offense next season - at the very least replacing the role of FA WR Brice Butler.

WR Deonte Thompson: Weaknesses

Deonte Thompson should not be expected to go over the top on many defenses for the Cowboys in 2018. While the traits are there to flash as that sort of player, Thompson simply is not at his best trying to track down deep vertical passes.

When Thompson does not create separation on his initial burst up the field, there was a tendency for him to get shoved around at the catch point. Still coming up with his fair share of passes, the degree of difficulty on these catches was often increased by his inability to truly play through contact.

This is not a player with a powerful lower body, relying on upper body flex and foot speed to free himself and create plays in space. Overall balance is a strength for Thompson, but he rarely is able to break tackles or move defenders as a blocker in the running game.

WR Deonte Thompson: Summary

Thompson3 - Streamable

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The Cowboys should know what they are getting in Deonte Thompson, who has not had the benefit of great quarterback play in recent seasons. The hope in Dallas is that a number of receivers on the bottom of the depth chart can stand out this summer to make the team out of a crowded room.

This group of Ryan Switzer, Lance Lenoir, Noah Brown, and KD Cannon will now include Deonte Thompson - who should have the edge over most of these names.

Thompson won't be the difference in the Cowboys' offense having a bounce back season in 2018, but his raw athleticism and effortless ability to serve as a deep threat could surely make an impact in Dak Prescott's progression.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: WR Deonte Thompson A Vertical Threat for Dallas Cowboys" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Star Blog

Using Win Probabilities To Evaluate Decision Making: Cowboys Kick Vs. Raiders

Kevin Brady



Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys' Defense Silently Shined, Jeff Heath Saved The Season 1
Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia Eagles have surpassed the Dallas Cowboys in more ways than one, but on Super Bowl Sunday, their willingness to "be aggressive" and "take chances" shined through the most. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was congratulated by the masses for not coaching scared, and instead going for it on key fourth downs and even attempting trick plays.

When you really evaluate those decisions, however, they shouldn't even be thought of as "risky." If anything, they were simply the obvious call.

Over the last few months I have been working with win probability models, looking to validate and refine those available to the public. I can't share too much about the work as of yet (there will hopefully be a published article in the future), but the work is certainly promising.

What I can say is this. Dennis Lock and Dan Nettleton worked to utilize random forests to estimate win probabilities before each play in an NFL game. These "forests" are similar to decision tree machine learning, cycling through random trees of past data to predict future outcomes.

Brian Burke has been utilizing his model for a while now, and Pro Football Reference has a simple, yet effective model as well. For my project, I have been working to find the "best" ways to estimate those win probabilities in order to inform decision making by head coaches and coordinators.

If you aren't utilizing analytics correctly in today's NFL, you're falling behind. And if you aren't willing to take calculated risks based off of what these numbers say and mean, you are really falling behind.

How does this all relate to the Cowboys?

Well, Cowboys Nation has been pretty consistent in their main criticism of head coach Jason Garrett: he's too conservative. They say he coaches scared, and they believe he punts the ball away too often between the 40's. Numbers accumulated by writers such as Bob Sturm and Marcus Mosher back up these claims, but I wanted to examine Garrett's decision making through the win probability lens.

I took to Twitter to ask the fan base for specific scenarios in which they felt Garrett was too conservative. Then, I ran these situations through the win probability model to determine how these decisions affected the outcomes.

Over a series of posts I will detail what the model says about the Cowboys' decision making in these key moments. First, we go back to December of last season where the Cowboys had their season on the line in Oakland.

Cowboys at Raiders, 2017

One instance which was consistently brought up was ironically from a Cowboys win. Yes, a win!

The Raiders had played the Cowboys close all game long, and with their season on the line Dallas was in position to put those pesky Raiders away. Tied at 17 they entered a fourth and goal situation at the Raiders' 1 yard line. The Cowboys decided to kick the field goal and grab a 20-17 lead. While Dallas did hang on to win, this was only because of a miraculous play by Jeff Heath which resulted in a fumble and a touchback.

Many of the fans who tweeted at me seem to think the Cowboys should have went for the touchdown on fourth down, rather than take their three points. But what does the model say?

Prior to the fourth down play, the Cowboys had about an 85% chance to win the game. After kicking the field goal and kicking the ball away to Oakland, that probability went down to just above 80%. Had the Cowboys gone for it and been stuffed at the Raiders' 1 yard line, that probability would have dropped all the way to just over 57%.

But the model does believe that Garrett made the right decision. Of course, had Dallas scored a touchdown, the game would've virtually been over, but the variance in probabilities suggests that kicking the field goal and taking the sure points was a good move.

Next week, I explain where Jason Garrett and company may have gone wrong during a key 4th down decision against the Los Angeles Rams. If you have any suggestions for plays/situations you'd like evaluated, please comment below!

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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Nuevas Contrataciones, ¿Podría Ser Allen Hurns la Siguiente?

Mauricio Rodriguez



Cowboys en Español: Nuevas Contrataciones, ¿Podría Ser Allen Hurns la Siguiente?

La agencia libre de los Dallas Cowboys comenzó un poco tarde, siendo el último equipo en toda la liga de la NFL en realizar una contratación este offseason. Ahora, con algunas caras nuevas en el equipo, comienzan las preguntas inevitables. ¿Qué jugadores tendrán un impacto y qué jugadores serán una contratación irrelevante?

Sólo el tiempo lo dirá. Las piezas que añadieron los Cowboys no son agentes libres de gran renombre pero podrían llegar a tener algún impacto en el 2018. Sin embargo, no todas las adquisiciones de Dallas han sido por medio de la agencia libre.

Hace unos días, los Raiders y los Cowboys acordaron un trade por el fullback Jamize Olawale. Días después de perder a Keith Smith (quien fue contratado por... los Raiders), Dallas no quiso echarse todavía otra necesidad encima, así que solucionó rápidamente su hueco en la posición que le abrirá camino a Ezekiel Elliott.

Además de enviar a Olawale a los Cowboys, los Raiders consiguieron una selección de quinta ronda de parte de Dallas y ellos entregaron su sexta ronda. En otras palabras, los Cowboys sólo renunciaron 19 turnos en las rondas tardías del Draft por un fullback que será de ayuda constante para esta ofensiva.

A pesar de ser tres años más grande que Keith Smith, Olawale le brinda a los Cowboys potencial para participar en el juego aéreo así como en el terrestre.

Por la agencia libre, los Cowboys obtuvieron ayuda ofensiva y defensiva.

Dallas Cowboys Sign LB Joe Thomas to 2 Year Deal

Joe Thomas, (no, no el que todos conocemos como uno de los mejores tackles de la historia) el linebacker que viene de los Green Bay Packers, usará la estrella este 2018. Mi compañero y escritor de Staff Sean Martin escribió una excelente pieza analizando a detalle al nuevo defensivo. 

Thomas definitivamente no será un titular, pero sin duda ayudará a un grupo de equipos especiales que necesitan bastante apoyo esta temporada. Además, es un linebacker rápido y atlético que podrá brillar como un jugador de rotación en una defensiva que incluye a Sean Lee y a Jaylon Smith.

Esta contratación no hace que los Cowboys dejen de tener una gran necesidad por un LB, pero da una profundidad que urgía a la posición.

Questions Surround Cowboys WR Position After Deonte Thompson Signing

El último movimiento y quizá el más discutido por los aficionados de los Cowboys es la adquisición de Deonte Thompson. Un receptor abierto que ha batallado para conseguir una casa en la NFL llega a un equipo que cuenta con nombres como Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams y Cole Beasley, pero que aún necesita mucho más producción.

¿Acaso la adición de Thompson al roster hace que WR deje de ser una necesidad para el equipo de los Cowboys? Claro que no, pero añade un talento que quizá pueda ayudar al equipo en ciertos aspectos.

Thompson es un jugador muy rápido, lo cual es algo que esta ofensiva necesita para abrir el campo un poco más. Un corredor de rutas bastante sólido con manos seguras. Thompson viene probablemente a ser una versión mejorada de Brice Butler por $2.5M.

Quizá fue un error de parte de la administración garantizarle un millón de su contrato. ¿Por qué garantizarle dinero a un jugador que ni siquiera debería tener un lugar asegurado en el equipo? Sin embargo, Thompson parece ser un contribuidor a la ofensiva.

Pero no fue el WR en la agencia libre del que se ha hablado esta semana en el mundo de los Dallas Cowboys. De hecho, aún después de firmar su contrato, no es el más discutido entre los aficionados.

Allen Hurns, receptor que fue cortado de Jacksonville, es un jugador que podría llegar a hacer un impacto inmediato en la ofensiva de Dak Prescott y proveerle al QB un potencial mejor amigo. A pesar de que muchos esperarían que conseguir a Hurns significaría decirle adiós a Dez Bryant, la verdad es que no sería necesario.

Hurns podría tomar el rol que Terrance Williams posee ahora como receptor "Z" y llevar a esta ofensiva a otro nivel. Todd Archer de ESPN reportó que la reciente adquisición de Deonte Thompson no significa que la posibilidad de ver a Hurns usando la estrella ha acabado.

Todos queremos ver acción en la agencia libre, aunque a veces lo sensato sea ser conservadores. Así como muchos aficionados de los Cowboys se quejan de la falta de movimientos, muchos aficionados de los Steelers y los Patriots agradecen que sus equipos tengan esta filosofía de no gastar mucho en agencia libre.

La diferencia son los resultados en el campo.

Sin embargo, Allen Hurns definitivamente parece como una opción muy viable para los Cowboys, y una adición que simplemente tendría mucho sentido. Sólo queda esperar si lograrán firmarlo o si un equipo (como los Jets, quienes han mostrado mucho interés y tienen bastante espacio en el tope salarial) logra convencerlo de no regresar a Dallas.

Por ahora, esperamos. Quizá hasta que los Cowboys firmen a alguien más. O quizá hasta la llegada del NFL Draft.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Nuevas Contrataciones, ¿Podría Ser Allen Hurns la Siguiente?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 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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