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Defense Wins Championships, Prescott Not to Blame

Bryson Treece

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Don't Blame

The Dallas Cowboys have already seen their share of struggles in this still young 2017 season, and that increasingly means blaming QB Dak Prescott for any shortcomings. An errant pass here and a high throw there are seen as more than just a receiver not being on the same page as his QB and Dak throwing under pressure. It’s seen as losing the game, on a few passes.

The truth is, the issue is so much bigger than just Dak Prescott.

Even though NFL football lines have the Cowboys favored by 2.5, that’s low for the home team. The reality is that many analysts and fans alike have the Green Bay Packers beating the Dallas Cowboys this week. Some don’t even have the ‘Boys close.

Dak Prescott may be the QB, and the defacto leader of this team, but I think we need to tap the breaks a little before stringing him up for a few bad passes. Prescott was never a super accurate passer, though he has the accuracy for most any throw asked of him, because his game is bigger than just the pass.

It includes read options that he is gifted enough to turn into a fresh set of downs, without throwing the ball.

Last week, against the Los Angeles Rams, Prescott led the way to 30 points and did so with only a slightly below average completion percentage. He also had three touchdowns, one interception, and was sacked twice for a total loss of one yard.

You have to consider the conditions the QB faced during the game, and in that game he was under pressure with tight coverage on his receivers. A lot of quarterbacks would have a 55.6% completion rate under those conditions. But like I said, it’s far bigger than just Dak.

The defense gave up 35 points to the Rams. You’re gonna be hard-pressed to win games when your defense is consistently allowing opposing teams to score more than 20 points a game.

Currently, through four games, the Cowboys defense has given up an average of 24.25 points per game. Maybe you’ve heard this before, or not, but there’s a reason that they say “defense wins championships”.

To demonstrate, let’s look at the seasons of the last four Super Bowl winners and their defense’s average points per game during the regular season:

  • 2016 Patriots defense – 15.6 points per game
  • 2015 Broncos defense – 18.5 points per game
  • 2014 Patriots defense – 19.5 points per game
  • 2013 Seahawks defense – 14.4 points per game

And you’ll find similar results to that no matter how far back you go.

The fact of life in the NFL is that you’re not likely to win as much if your defense can’t hold opposing teams to under 20 points consistently.

Prescott is certainly no Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, but he doesn’t have to be either. Not with this team, because the Cowboys currently average 23.5 points per game on offense.

Care to see the offensive scoring totals for the same teams/seasons above?

  • 2016 Patriots offense – 26.9 points per game
  • 2015 Broncos offense – 22.1 points per game
  • 2014 Patriots offense – 29.2 points per game
  • 2013 Seahawks offense – 26.0 points per game

Nothing outlandish there, just more points than their opposition. And that’s all it takes.

If the defense is giving up more than 20 points per game, the offense has to score more, on average, to win out. Three touchdowns a game should be enough in this league, but our defense is simply not up to the challenge.

The bottom line is this, don’t put the failure to stop teams from scoring on Dak’s shoulders. All he can do is lead scoring drives.

He cannot go out and defend passes or sack the other team’s QB. He’s young, and still learning so much about this game and this team and his own abilities, so don’t make matters worse by deafening Frisco, TX with moans and decries about a new quarterback.

Instead, look at the defense. They’re the ones keeping us at .500 right now. Back the QB.



Nothing gives me greater joy than the experience of being a Dallas Cowboys fan come time to check another victory on the schedule every Sunday. I live Inside the Star everyday and blog on it occasionally, as well. Follow us on Twitter - @InsideTheStarDC

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Star Blog

Dallas Cowboys: The Case For Regression In 2019

Kevin Brady

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Predicting Dallas Cowboys Roster Locks, Pre-Training Camp Edition
Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

It's been a few years since things around the Dallas Cowboys felt this good prior to a season. Coming off a 10-6 year in which Dallas won both the NFC East and a home playoff game before losing a one possession road game to the future NFC champions, Cowboys Nation is expecting some big things in 2019.

After all, the Cowboys went out and improved their roster in multiple ways this offseason and brought in some new blood on their offensive coaching staff. Spirits are high among Cowboys Nation, and just about everyone is anticipating a two team race for the NFC East.

But some numbers indicate we should be thinking "not so fast."

The details of the 2018 season are not as pretty as the total picture. Rarely are they ever, of course, but these particular details point towards possible regression for the Cowboys in 2019.

Basically, their point differential a year ago spells out impending doom. (That was dramatic, but let's discuss).

The Cowboys were +15 in 2018, and by pythagorean wins expectation, they were about as strong as an 8-8 team (8.53 wins to be exact). This means they won nearly 2 more games (1.47) than would be expected, fourth most in the entire NFL.

This point is furthered when looking at their record in one possession games. Dallas went 8-2 when the game was decided by 7 points or less, winning close games at a rate that is simply not sustainable year to year.

These numbers make the Cowboys a prime candidate for regression in 2019, as they were in 2017.

Why The Numbers Expect Regression, But Success For Cowboys In 2017

Back in 2016, the Cowboys outperformed their pythagorean expectation by a whole 2 wins. The following season? Dallas finished the year 9-7. The model also indicated that the 7-9 Eagles performed 2 wins under expectations in 2016, meaning they would get back on track in 2017. As we know, they ended up winning 13 games and the Super Bowl the following season.

Of course, this isn't set-in-stone, and the Cowboys very well could outperform these expectations and avoid regression. This would mainly hinge on their coaching staff and quarterback performing at an elite level, carrying them through close games and winning more games by greater than one possession.



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Newly Acquired DE Robert Quinn Brings High Expectations

Kevin Brady

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Robert Quinn
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Winning games in the NFL typically comes down to accomplishing two goals. One, being successful when passing on offense. And, two, stopping the opposing team's passing game.

The Cowboys set out to accomplish that second goal this offseason, re-signing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and trading for veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn. Quinn, who tallied 6.5 sacks last season for the Miami Dolphins, is one of the leagues more feared rushers when at his best. The former All Pro has multiple 10+ sack seasons under his belt, including a whopping 19 in 2013.

And, as expected, the Cowboys coaching staff is ecstatic to have such a respected pass rushing specialist on their roster.

“He’s got that first step. He’s an established pass rusher in this league, so he’s going to bring some good stuff for us.” - Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.

The Cowboys acquired Robert Quinn for a 2020 6th round pick, which could end up being the steal of the offseason. Quinn has played with some top-notch pass rushers in the past, and each time they have brought out the best in his own game.

Back with the Rams in 2017, when Aaron Donald was on the same defensive line, Quinn got to the quarterback 8.5 times. And, last season, he remained consistent in his sack totals playing alongside Cameron Wake. Now he joins a DeMarcus Lawrence who has 25 sacks over the last 2 seasons.

"I think it was kind of one of those where I get to have fun, pin my ears back and just disrupt the backfield, which is what they want us to do." - Robert Quinn told NFL.com. 

Quinn and the always dominant Lawrence will form an impressive defensive end duo on passing downs, with the potential to be one of the best in all of football. Dallas is also hoping to add Randy Gregory into this mix, a piece which could prove vital late in football games if he is able to return from his current indefinite suspension.

Whether or not Gregory finds his way back onto the field, though, this defensive front will be in good hands. The edge combo of Quinn and Lawrence, combined with a plethora of skilled interior rushers such as Maliek Collins, gives the Cowboys a fearsome defensive line which should keep quarterbacks uncomfortable every Sunday.



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Can Rookie OL Connor McGovern Compete For A Starting Spot?

Kevin Brady

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Connor McGovern

Raising eyebrows in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Cowboys added Penn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern to their already deep OL depth chart.

McGovern, who played guard for the Nittany Lions, was reportedly by-far the best player remaining on the Cowboys draft board when they came on the clock in round three. Still, with seemingly more pressing needs yet to be addressed, Dallas' selection of McGovern was certainly a surprise.

When you watch the tape, though, you immediately see what the Cowboys loved about Connor McGovern.

A "plug-and-play" type guard, Connor McGovern is the type of rookie you'd expect to contribute in year one. On many teams he may be a candidate to start at guard or center from the beginning of his rookie season, but here in Dallas, his role for the 2019 season is somewhat in question.

Clearly, being a day two pick, there's no doubt that McGovern will make the Cowboys roster. But can he compete for a starting job?

During OTA's McGovern took reps at both guard and center, pointing towards the possibility of him being the first interior offensive lineman off the bench if one of the starters were to go down with an injury. Fellow interior linemen Joe Looney and Xavier Su'a-Filo each contributed in big ways during the 2018 season, however, and will be tough to beat out during camp.

Obviously McGovern won't be starting over All-Pros Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, but could he dethrone Connor Williams from his left guard position?

While possible, I would still say it's unlikely. The Cowboys selection of McGovern seems to be more about 2020 and beyond than it is about the 2019 season. With right tackle La'el Collins coming up on a contract year, Dallas might elect to let him walk in free agency, move Williams back to his college position of tackle, and slide McGovern into the left guard slot.

This seems fool-proof in theory, but this many moving parts across the offensive line could spell trouble early on in 2020. Regardless, Connor McGovern's arrival gives Dallas the flexibility to consider all options on their offensive line.

In reality, McGovern strengthened a strength for Dallas, and may be needed to prove himself as early as this Fall if injury issues arise.



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