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Defense, Not Offense, Should Be Dallas Cowboys Offseason Focus

John Williams

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Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC

Last week our own Brian Martin asked whether offense or defense should be the priority for the Dallas Cowboys this offseason. We know that the team will look to make some additions on both sides of the football to help their team take the next step toward hopefully contending for a Lombardi Trophy in 2019.

Brian took the stance that the Cowboys front office brain trust of Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, and Will McClay along with Head Coach Jason Garrett should prioritize the offensive side of the football.

Here’s what he had to say:

Surprisingly enough, the Dallas Cowboys really don't have any glaring needs on the defensive side of the ball either. After finishing as one of the top defensive units in 2018, they will have nearly all of their starters returning for the 2019 season. But much like on the offensive side of the ball, there could be two starting spots up for grabs...

...If Cole Beasley does indeed leave via free agency, that's a big blow to the passing game. But, it's not just him. Other than their rushing attack, the Cowboys offense was ranked in the bottom half of the league in nearly every other category. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan now gone we can hope that improves, but that doesn't mean improving the offense shouldn't be the Cowboys main offseason focus though.

Brian Martin - Inside The Star

I get his reasoning, though I disagree with the first point being made. Yes, the defense has a lot of really good players that are developing, but I think there a couple obvious areas where upgrades can be made. First, at safety, where Jeff Heath continues to be a frustrating player, as evidenced by the final play against the Rams. Secondly, the defensive tackle spot could definitely use an infusion of talent.

I believe the priority needs to continue to build on a defense that was surprisingly good, and downright dominant in their win over the New Orleans Saints, in 2018. However, despite finishing sixth in the NFL in points allowed, seventh in yards allowed, and fifth in rushing yards allowed, they were middle of the pack against the pass and had the sixth worst third down conversion percentage allowed.

They were a defense that got away with being excellent against the run and excellent in the red zone, allowing a touchdown only 51% of the time their opponent reached the red zone. They allowed the sixth fewest touchdowns in the NFL, and yet when they got into the playoffs, they weren’t nearly as good.


Sure, they held the Seattle Seahawks top ranked rushing attack in check for the game, holding them to only 73 rushing yards. The Seahawks threw for only 226 yards, but there offensive staff was insistent on running the football even though Russell Wilson was playing pretty well in the second half. The Seahawks were hitting the Cowboys for big plays that allowed them to make the game closer than it should have been. Had they tilted the run-pass ratio a bit more to put the ball in Russell Wilson's hands earlier in the game, it's possible that the game has a different outcome.

Against the Rams, we saw the Dallas Cowboys interior get bullied while both CJ Anderson and Todd Gurley rushed for more than 100 yards. Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods were good for a lot of the year as the primary defensive tackles for the Dallas Cowboys, but with them ailing because of injury and illness, the Cowboys didn't have many answers for the Rams offensive interior. Their ineffectiveness in the divisional round led to Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee being generally ineffective as well.

While the Dallas Cowboys can feel pretty good about what the defense did last season, there's no way they can go into the 2019 season satisfied with what they'll be working with. In addition to playing the their NFC East opponents twice, with the Eagles and Giants able to score points and the Redskins typically a tough matchup, they'll play the New England Patriots, the Los Angeles Rams, the Green Bay Packers, the Minnesota Vikings, the New Orleans Saints, and the Detroit Lions. All of those teams are capable of scoring a lot of points if the defense isn't having its best day. Throw in teams like the New York Jets, Buffalo Bills, and Chicago Bears, and you have three young offenses that are growing and fully capable of scoring points as well.

The Dallas Cowboys front office has to go into the offseason ready to make upgrades to their defensive personnel. With the safeties that are available this offseason -- Earl Thomas, Landon Collins, Tre Boston, Tyrann Mathieu, and several other intriguing names -- the Cowboys will have an opportunity to upgrade the safety position. Between the draft and free agency, defensive tackle will be a high priority position for the Cowboys.

I know that many are looking at the offense and the steps that they need to make moving forward to be legit contenders, and they do have some improvements to make, but they look to be a unit that is trending in the right direction. Some better coaching for Dak Prescott and the offense should help them moving forward. A full offseason for Dak to work with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz should improve the chemistry between Prescott and his top receiving threats.

Yes, there are areas that need to be upgraded on offense and they may have to deal with filling the gap left by Cole Beasley if he does leave. The front office, however, can't go into the offseason satisfied with where they sit on the defensive side of the football. They are building something and are a couple of pieces away from having a truly elite defense. Finding those couple of pieces -- a safety and a pass rushing defensive tackle -- are of the utmost priority this offseason if the Dallas Cowboys want to head back to the postseason in 2019.


Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could. Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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Game Notes

This Defensive Drive Sealed the Game for the Dallas Cowboys

John Williams

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This Defensive Drive Sealed the Game for the Dallas Cowboys 3

Things couldn't have started off any better for a Dallas Cowboys team that was desperately in need of a fast start in this pivotal week seven matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles. In the midst of a three-game losing streak, tied atop the NFC East at 3-3 with the Eagles, and hosting their division rival on Sunday Night Football, the Cowboys needed to put their best foot forward early in this game.

After a couple of fumbles recovered by the Dallas defense, the Cowboys jumped out to a 14-0 lead by the midway point of the first quarter. In a two-score hole early in this contest, the Philadelphia Eagles came out guns blazing on their third offensive series of the game and marched right down the field in seven plays, aided by a couple of personal foul calls, and brought the game to within a score.

At 14-7, the Dallas Cowboys offense was then forced to punt on the ensuing drive setting the Philadelphia Eagles up with an opportunity to tie the game in the second quarter if they were able to put a drive together. Getting the score even in the first half after pretty much gifting the Cowboys with a two-touchdown lead early would be a huge momentum swing in the game and provide the Eagles with a ton of confidence.

The Dallas Cowboys defense, however, wouldn't allow that to happen.

With the Eagles pinned back on their own 10-yard line after a Chris Jones punt, the Dallas Cowboys defense went to work with some excellent team defense and individual open field tackling performances on three plays that led to a Philadelphia Eagles three and out.

On first and 10 from their own 10-yard line, the Eagles attempted to run Jordan Howard through the right side of the line. There was nowhere to go on the play as Maliek Collins got excellent penetration into the left "A gap" making first contact behind the line of scrimmage and getting an assist from DeMarcus Lawrence to finish off the run stop for just a one-yard gain.

This Defensive Drive Sealed the Game for the Dallas Cowboys 2With a failed first-down run, the Eagles were set up with a 2nd and 9 at their own 11-yard line for the first play of the second quarter. Here they run Jordan Howard off of left tackle on a shotgun sweep handoff and he's able to pick up a nice bit of yardage to set up 3rd and 4.


This Defensive Drive Sealed the Game for the Dallas Cowboys 1To me, this was a huge third-down play for the Dallas Cowboys defense. On their previous drive, they had just given up a touchdown and needed to find a way to get of the field. If the Eagles are able to pick this up, it continues to put pressure on the defense and Philadelphia has some momentum.

Needing just four yards for the first down, the Eagles had both run and pass options at their disposal. As the Eagles are in have a tight bunch on the left side, the Cowboys have seven into the box to face six blockers, including the tight end who has a wider than normal split from the left tackle. Jeff Heath is the seventh man and on the snap is able to remain untouched as Carson Wentz hands off to Miles Sanders and snakes his way through the mass of humanity to stop the running back just shy of the first down.

This Defensive Drive Sealed the Game for the Dallas CowboysThey had the play fairly well blocked, but nobody accounts for Heath who is able to stay clean and track down Miles Sanders before he's able to get to the first down marker.

In a game that had a ton of highlights, this was a play that may go unnoticed when people talk about the outcome of this game but was huge given the current game situation. The Dallas Cowboys needed to get a stop on defense.

The Philadelphia Eagles attempted to attack the Dallas Cowboys' defense on the ground on this drive, which has been an area of vulnerability for the Cowboys in 2019. Their attempt to ground and pound in order to gain some momentum and reassert themselves in the game didn't come to fruition because the Cowboys defenders rallied well to the football on three straight running plays. The Dallas Cowboys turned a weakness into a strength on this drive and did their part to help the offense put the game away early.

After forcing the three and out, something the Dallas Cowboys defense doesn't do a lot of this year, the offense was able to take the ball and go on a 12 play, 71-yard drive for a touchdown that took nearly seven minutes off the clock. The Cowboys were able to go up two touchdowns again on their division rival and pretty much put the game out of reach, but it wouldn't have been so had the defense not stepped up and forced the three and out on this early second-quarter drive.

The defense played arguably their best game of the season on Sunday Night Football on a night where they desperately needed to play their best game of the year. There are still nine games to go and have a pretty rough seven-game stretch coming out of the bye starting with another divisional matchup on the road against the New York Giants in week nine. If the Dallas Cowboys defense can show this kind of consistency against the run moving forward, they'll be very difficult to beat.


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Game Notes

The Brady Report: Cowboys’ Fast Start Dooms Eagles

Kevin Brady

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The Brady Report: Cowboys' Fast Start Dooms Eagles

It's been nothing but doom and gloom around the Dallas Cowboys in recent weeks. After a 3-0 start propelled them towards the top of the league's elite, three straight disappointing losses had fans wondering if it was time for a regime change at head coach.

They went into Sunday night's game with the Eagles needing a win to salvage hope at earning a playoff spot, and boy did they answer the bell. The Cowboys dominated the Philadelphia Eagles from the opening snap, routing their hated rivals 37-10 and improving to 4-3 on the season.


Let's get into my game notes from this overwhelmingly positive performance.

  • Let's start with the quarterback. Dak Prescott was tremendous yet again on Sunday night, and we're getting to the point where his sample size of positive play is too large to ignore. Prescott was 21 of 27 for 239 yards and a touchdown (and an interception as well), but he also had a rushing touchdown to add to his totals. Prescott has complete control of the offense, and even checked out of a negative box count to exploit the Eagles blitz look down in the red zone. He leads the league in QBR this season, and he is the unquestioned franchise quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys. As he should be.
  • Sticking with praise on offense, Ezekiel Elliott looked like Zeke on Sunday night. From his very first carry you could tell Elliott was running with a different burst and energy than we'd seen in recent weeks, and he later ran right over Malcolm Jenkins to set up the team's second score of the game. Elliott was impossible to bring down all night, to the tune of 111 yards and a touchdown on 5 yards per carry.
  • La'el Collins has been incredible this season, and Sunday was no different. The Cowboys recently extended right tackle shut Brandon Graham down for basically the entire night, and kept Prescott upright and comfortable in the pocket. Tyron Smith was clearly not healthy or himself on the other side, but the rest of this offensive line picked up the slack and had their best performance since the season opener.
  • Connor Williams deserves a shoutout as well. He was getting off double teams to the second level and cutting linebackers off to clear rushing lanes for Zeke all night long.
  • Defensively, the Cowboys had their best performance of 2019. They hadn't been able to force turnovers all season, but they came away with four in this week's win. Xavier Woods' interception of Wentz might've spoken the loudest, as it proved how good this defense can be when the game script is working in their favor. When things go according to plan early for this team, they have the talent to take total control and dominate.
  • Jourdan Lewis was inserted into the starting lineup due to injury, and he was awesome from the opening snap. Lewis came away with a big sack on Caron Wentz and had 4 tackles overall as well. Byron Jones returned from the injury he suffered a week ago, and was back to his old shutdown ways. Jones is clearly the best cornerback on this team, and is one of the better corners in all of football. When he's healthy and playing as he did during Sunday's win, few have an argument over him.
  • DeMarcus Lawrence also had his best game of 2019, creating consistent pressure on Wentz throughout the night. His biggest play, of course, was his sack fumble which set the Cowboys up for a 14-0 lead just two possessions into the game. Lawrence has been taking a lot of heat from the fanbase in recent weeks, but he responded in a big way on Sunday.
  • Those are the linebackers I remember from 2018. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch were all over the field during this game, and Sean Lee had a pretty nice game as well once Vander Esch went down. Lee and Smith each finished with 7 tackles, and Smith forced the Eagles' first fumble of the night on their opening drive. Lee made a nice play on the ball on a late fourth down throw that easily could've been an interception as well.


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Player News

Cowboys K Brett Maher’s 63-Yard Field Goal Sets New NFL Record

Jess Haynie

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Brett Maher

After hitting a 63-yard field goal last night in the Dallas Cowboys' win over the Philadelphia Eagles, Kicker Brett Maher now owns the NFL record for most field goal made at 60 yards or longer. It was the third 60-plus FG of his career and second so far this season.

Maher hit a 62-yarder last week in Dallas' loss to the New York Jets. That kick tied him with Sebastian Janikowski and Greg Zuerlein for having two career field goals of 60 or more.

Now Brett stands alone in that category. Last night's kick also was just one yard shy of Matt Prater's record for the NFL's longest field goal; Maher hit from 64 yards in 2013.

If Brett Maher ever gets a chance to kick in Denver, he may have a great shot at breaking Prater's record as well. According to NBC's data from last night, Maher's kick would have been good from 66 yards out.

It was a good night overall for the Cowboys kicker. Maher had two other makes from 26 and 29 yards.


Despite his heroics at times, Brett Maher has been one of the least accurate kickers in the NFL the last two years. Even after last night Brett is hitting just 71.4% of his field goals so far in 2019; that ties him for 25th in the league.

The most puzzling aspect of all with Maher is how much he struggles with shorter range kicks. You almost have more confidence in him kicking from 60 yards out than attempting an extra point.

Few kickers could survive that kind of performance and uncertainty, but few can do what Maher can with his long range ability. It's a risk/reward situation that the Cowboys are continuing to work with.

For today, at least, Maher and his team are basking in the glory of a great game. Let's hope both can keep up the positive momentum.


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