For the first few games of the 2017 season, the Dallas Cowboys running game hasn't looked like the world-beaters they were in 2016. They've had a hard time creating any consistency, even though they've had their moments of effectiveness.
If we take a look back at the early part of that 2016 season, it's easy to see that they didn't get off to a hot start there either.
As a team the Dallas Cowboys rushed for 100 and 101 yards to start the season against the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins, respectively.
Here at InsideTheStar.com two of our very own writers have joined the chorus of many expressing concern over our run game in this short season.
"Through three weeks, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the offensive line has been the worst position group on the team. Trust me, I can’t believe I’m saying that either."
Staff Writer, Kevin Brady's (@KevinBrady88) criticism is a bit more focused on this week's film review; he's stated that Chaz Green has sabotaged the running game. To me that's a bit strong, but when Kevin talks OL, you can bet I'm paying attention.
If you follow Twitter during the game, you can see Cowboys Nation self-destruct with each Ezekiel Elliott carry that goes nowhere. Here are a couple of reasons why you shouldn't be worried about the Dallas Cowboys running game after only three weeks.
It Takes Time to Develop Chemistry
The biggest basis for Connor's concerns is my number one reason why we shouldn't worry at this point in the season. It takes time playing together to develop the chemistry that is so vital to an elite offensive line.
After an offseason where the team was trying to figure out who would be the starting right tackle and left guard, the current starting five for the Dallas Cowboys didn't play together all that much.
Remember Jonathan Cooper and Chaz Green were battling it out for the entirety of training camp with several other names mixed in.
While competition is a good thing, aspects of offensive line play like chemistry and cohesiveness go underrated. Understanding what the guys on either side of you are going to do and being able to trust the player next to you to do their job are both things that take time.
Being only three games into real football with a new left guard and a new right tackle, it may take a some time to get everyone on the same page for a full 60 minutes.
Now with Chaz Green being hampered by injury, it's possible that it could take longer if he's forced to sit out.
Really Good Defenses
In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys have faced three tough defenses to start the season. The New York Giants, the Denver Broncos, and the Arizona Cardinals are pretty good on the defensive side of the football.
In 2016, we saw what the New York Giants were able to do to this Dallas Cowboys team and they started off strong yet again in week one. Dallas was able to run for 129 yards, Dak Prescott accounting for 29 of those on three carries.
Elliott ran for 104 on 24 carries. An average of 4.33 yards per carry. A pretty good day against a pretty good defense if you ask me. They tried to take the running game away, but the team was able to wear them down and win on the ground when it mattered most.
We all remember what Denver did to Dallas. That is one of the three best defenses in the NFL, if not the best. Sometimes good defenses like that are gonna take you out of your game plan. Denver certainly did that by getting ahead early and making Dallas a one-dimensional passing team. Denver is first in the NFL in rushing yards allowed this season.
Check out Kevin's film breakdown of what went wrong vs the Denver Broncos.
Against the Arizona Cardinals, a team that came into the game only allowing 2.8 yards per carry, the Dallas Cowboys got back on track.
Despite Chaz Green's struggles, the team was able to make enough happen on the ground to allow Prescott to be effective in the play action game.
It wasn't pretty in the first half, but Dallas didn't get the ball much. In the second half though, Dallas was able to grind away with the running game as Elliott ran for 49 of his 80 yards. His yards per carry wasn't great but at 3.63 yards per carry, it was nearly a yard better per carry than what Arizona was giving up through two games.
After Elliott's sub par weeks one and two in 2016, he went on to run for 1,497 yards over the last 13 games (Elliott didn't play in the last game of the 2016 season).
✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys have faced some really strong defenses to start the year. Now they get the Los Angeles Rams, who have given up 139 yards per game on the ground. I imagine that the game plan will feature Ezekiel Elliott early and often.
After Los Angeles, the Cowboys get the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, two teams that aren't doing a lot against the run themselves.
The point of all this is that we need to relax about the running game for now. It hasn't been pretty, but aside from the Denver game, it's been effective. By Monday, we will all realize that panicking over the running game was a bit premature.
The Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle is Heating Up
Earning a spot on the Dallas Cowboys final 53-man roster is going to be a lot tougher in 2018 then it has been in years past. There is no shortage of position battles taking place right now to earn one of those coveted openings, but it's the battle taking place at receiver that's gaining steam and starting to heat up.
The ultimate unknown right now is how many wide receivers the Dallas Cowboys choose to carry on their 53-man roster this season. Last year they decided to carry six, but they have been known to carry just five. Unfortunately, this means they will have to release some talented players and risk losing them to another team.
As things stand right now there may just be one, possibly two, roster spots up for grabs. I think the only thing we know for sure right now is Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin are the only WRs who can feel secure their jobs are safe for 2018. Everybody else is playing a game of Survivor, just hoping their name isn't the one written down and their torch isn't snuffed out.
Terrance Williams' flame may be safe due to his current contract. The Dallas Cowboys can't save anything by releasing him, but it doesn't cost them that much either. It's unlikely he has a future with the team, so if someone were to prove themselves more worthy, his flame could be extinguished.
Last season I thought Noah Brown was ready to unseat Williams, but that never really materialized. Unfortunately, Brown hasn't really shown up as much as I thought he would this offseason, and missing the game against the San Francisco 49ers last week didn't do him any favors either. This doesn't bode well for him moving forward.
Deonte Thompson was signed as a free agent to provide some veteran experience and speed to the passing game, but that in no way means his job is secure. He needs to do something to show up a little more because his age and salary means a younger up-and-coming WR could make him expendable.
Second-year WR Lance Lenoir Jr. might just be the receiver who has stirred things up the most. He has not only created a buzz for himself in offseason practices, but he was able to carry it over into the preseason last week against the 49ers. His arrow trajectory is definitely pointing upwards.
I'd definitely hate to be the one to decide who stays and who goes when final cuts are made. It's not going to be an easy decision to make, because the outcome will definitely have an impact on the team's success this year.
All of these players were brought into help Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game reach new heights, so making the wrong move could be detrimental. The number of wide receivers and who the Dallas Cowboys decide to keep might be the most important decision they make before the season starts.
How would you predict the Dallas Cowboys WR position battle turning out?
Any Concern About Dan Bailey Not Playing Against 49ers?
With all the excitement of the Dallas Cowboys finally playing in a game last week against the San Francisco 49ers, it may have escaped your attention that Dan Bailey remained on the sideline the entire time. He didn't attempt one field goal or kick off once last Thursday, which in my opinion is a little concerning.
Dan Bailey joined Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee on the sideline as a healthy scratch last week. The decision to sit both Zeke and Sean Lee makes sense due to the physical demands of their positions, but sitting Bailey was a bit of a head scratcher. After all, it's not like he plays a physically demanding position like the other two.
I know. I know. Dan Bailey is an integral part for the Cowboys success moving forward. I'm not arguing that he's not, but after sitting out the majority of the 2017 season with a groin injury and lingering concerns about his health this year, not playing him at all against the 49ers is a bit confusing.
I don't believe there is any kind of kicking competition between Dan Bailey and Brett Maher, who handled all of the kicking duties against the 49ers last Thursday. Bailey will be the Cowboys kicker when the 2018 season gets underway in just a few short weeks. But, the question remains… Why didn't he receive any playing time?
Dan Bailey was never quite the same last season once he returned from his injury. Something was off and I don't know if it was more mental or physical, maybe a little of both. He just wasn't splitting the uprights like his normal self.
Unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thing happen in the past with one of the Cowboys kickers. Nick Folk went through a similar situation with an injury and never really bounced back. I'm just hoping history doesn't repeat itself.
Obviously, the Dallas Cowboys know more about what's going on with Dan Bailey than I do. But, you would think they'd have allowed him to attempt a field goal or at least an extra point in a game situation to build up his confidence once again. It's what I would have done.
Hopefully I'm just being a little paranoid and I'm reading more into this than there actually is. But, the fact I haven't heard any reasoning as to why Dan Bailey was held out last week is sitting a little uneasy with me. I'm just hoping it was precautionary in order to keep him as healthy as possible for the upcoming season.
Should we be concerned Dan Bailey was a healthy scratch last week?
Week 1 NFC East Predictions and Cowboys Season Outlook
Let me start this article with a strong opening statement: The Cowboys will be better in 2018 than they were in 2017. There's been a lot of talk about the lack of a true No. 1 receiver. But when we break it down, the current setup will most likely play out better for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.
The Dak Stats
Certain quarterbacks shine when they have that go-to playmaker. We're talking about guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Ocho Cinco, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Dez Bryant. But other QBs do better at reading the defense and quickly adapting to what is given. Dak Prescott is the latter breed of QB.
Let’s do a quick numbers exercise to prove this.
When Prescott is targeting 8 or more receivers throughout the game, his passer rating jumps from 86.1 (targeting less than 8) to 104.5. He passes for almost 50 yards more per game and his touchdown to interception ratio drastically improves from 21-13 to 24-4.
Most importantly, when he targets at least 8 different receivers, the Cowboys are 14-2. When he targets less than 8, the team is just .500 at 8-8.
Without a doubt, Prescott is much better at adjusting to what the defense is giving him. He just isn’t one of those guys who can successfully "force" the ball (like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees). Not feeling the pressure of having to get the ball into the hands of the star playmaker will give this offense a new kind of depth in 2018.
Yes, losing Jason Witten hurts, much more so in my opinion than not having Dez.
Questions Still Loom
This is still the Cowboys' biggest concern on offense. There is some great depth. We have Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, and the young stud out of Stanford, Dalton Schultz. But between the three who have any NFL experience, there are only 9 catches between them. I must say that Dalton, with his 4.75 40-yard dash, has a legitimate shot at seeing a lot of playing time in his rookie campaign and could become an impact player with his size (6’5”, 244-lbs) and speed.
But despite the battle for TE being wide open, and debates about whether or not the team needs a No. 1 receiver, the Cowboys are still expected to give the Eagles a run for their money in the NFC East. Here are the odds on the defending NFC East champions and how (although early) it is expected to shake out:
- Philadelphia Eagles -167
- Dallas Cowboys +350
- New York Giants +650
- Washington Redskins +750
NFC East Week 1 Predictions
The Cowboys open the season in a difficult road game against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have been listed as 2.5-point favorites (follow the Cowboys NFL Odds here all season long) which isn’t surprising considering they are a tough team playing at home. You might be thinking, "crap, we're opening up as underdogs?" Don’t worry too much; it actually bodes fairly well because the lines-makers generally give a 3-point advantage to the home team. This means that they actually handicap the Cowboys to be a half-point favorite on a neutral field and a 3.5-point favorite in Arlington.
The Redskins open their season in Arizona against the Cardinals. The line is set at a pick ‘em (meaning there is no point spread; it's anyone's game). But, looking at the 'Skins and Cardinals, I think Washington gets disappointed in Week 1 and starts their season with a loss.
The Giants get to test their new offensive line and see if they were right in continuing to place their faith in Eli Manning against the best defense in the league. The Jags are 3-point favorites at MetLife stadium. This means the Jags are actually 6-points better. I do think that the Giants will be vastly improved this season, but they are also going to open with a loss.
The Eagles don’t have it easy either, but they will probably pull out the win at home as 4-point favorites against the Dirty Birds on Thursday Night Football. Their defense is just too good. Atlanta's road offense scored just 21 points per game last year while Philly scores 28 on average at home. The Eagles' home defense has been downright nasty, only allowing 12 points per game in Philadelphia.
This will be a two-horse race for the division between the Eagles and Cowboys. And even if the Eagles win the East, the Cowboys will wildcard into the playoffs.
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