Every team, on their way to greatness, runs into what the Dallas Cowboys did on Sunday afternoon against the Denver Broncos; an absolute beat down. Let's not forget the thumping that the New England Patriots dynasty took in week one to the Kansas City Chiefs. One game does not a season make. There are 14 more to go.
With the team riding high after an emphatic week one win over the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys played about as poorly as a team could play. The Denver Broncos thoroughly manhandled your hometown heroes to the tune of 42-17.
This team is still a good team. They just got walloped by a good team, on the road, in a stadium that is very difficult to play in.
There’s no other way to look at this one. They were whooped.
You're going to hear over the next few days all the things that went wrong. This site and others are going to be littered with how poorly this team played. If you look really hard, though, there are some positives to take away from this game.
Since I'm an eternal optimist, I'm going to dig those out for you.
It Can’t Get Much Worse.
I can’t imagine a scenario the rest of the season where the Dallas Cowboys can play any worse than they did on Sunday. That includes future matchups with the Oakland Raiders, Green Bay Packers, and Atlanta Falcons. This was their low point in the season. Better it come in week two than in round two of the playoffs.
The defense was torched, even before losing two of their top three corners.
Players missed tackles all over the place.
They made Trevor Siemian look like an upper-tier quarterback; which he looked like in a week one win against the Los Angeles Chargers.
The offense couldn’t ever sustain a rhythm.
Quarterback Dak Prescott was inaccurate.
The offensive line was manhandled -- not something I ever expected myself to write.
The play calling and the game plan were questionable.
Even when the game was close, it seemed like Ezekiel Elliott was an afterthought.
There were drops, one through the hands of Dez Bryant which led to a Chris Harris interception.
Brice Butler had his patented drop of the game.
It was just a horrible game through and through. But again, it can’t get much worse.
The G.O.A.T. gonna G.O.A.T.
For all the talk about Jason Witten's age and possible retirement after the 2017 season (guilty, sorry Witt), Jason Witten continues to be one of the most important players on this team. His 10 catches for 97 yards and a touchdown show that he still has what it takes to be an elite tight end in the NFL.
During the game Jason Witten tied Marvin Harrison for fourth all-time in receptions. That is a pretty impressive feat.
Witten is on pace to catch 136 passes this season, which would be a career best for him. I find it unlikely he keeps his 8.5 receptions per game pace, but if teams continue to leave him open, he'll continue to feast.
He did have a bad drop and a false start that hurt a drive, but he's still a great player. As the season goes along, teams are going to have to work harder to take him away. Hopefully his play will open things up more for Dez Bryant on the outside.
I think it's safe to say that DeMarcus Lawrence has finally arrived. No longer injured or facing a suspension, Lawrence had an offseason to get healthy, to get in shape, and to work on his game.
And it's showing.
DeMarcus Lawrence built off of his strong week one showing to perform well again versus the Denver Broncos. Now with four sacks on the season, Lawrence is certainly working his way toward a big pay day.
For a guy who has had as much adversity as Tank has, it's exciting to watch the former second rounder come into his own.
His early season production is really important for the defensive line as a whole. It will only open things up more.
Cowboys Kicking Game is the best in the NFL
Between Dan "Split 'em" Bailey and "The Puntisher" Chris Jones, the Dallas Cowboys kicking game is the best kicker/punter combination in the NFL. And it’s probably not close.
Dan Bailey matched a career long with his 56-yard field goal at the end of the second half. At the time, it was a huge make, which made it an 11-point game going into halftime.
Punter Chris Jones continues to boom the ball and pin teams deep in their end of the field. After having a tremendous week putting the Giants inside their own 10 week one, he did so again in week two. Two of his five punts led to the Broncos starting drives inside their 20, with one at the 6.
No Offensive Injuries
While the defensive unit lost Nolan Carroll (concussion) and Chidobe Awuzie (hamstring) to injuries, the Dallas Cowboys offense didn’t lose anyone.
Most importantly it didn’t lose its most important player; Dak Prescott.
There were several times during the game that Dak Prescott got hit and got hit hard. That he made it through the game relatively unscathed is a positive. Now he can rest and set his sights on Arizona.
Out of Conference Matchup
Every game matters and if it comes down to one game at the end of the season, they’ll wish they played better on Sunday. That being said, it has less of an impact than a division game or a conference game when it comes to tie breakers.
We can only hope that Denver puts a beat down on the rest of its NFC opponents so that the “common opponent” tiebreaker is a wash.
And a little Bonus Optimism for the Cowboys
- Jaylon Smith played his second game, even though like the rest of the team, he played it poorly.
- Orlando Scandrick is another week closer to being back.
- Jourdan Lewis made his debut and had an interception. Let's not speak about the rest of his debut...
- Chaz Green made it through the game uninjured.
- Dez Bryant and Dak Prescott seemed to work well against a tough secondary.
- Terrance Williams was solid, if unspectacular catching four of his five targets. So far with a catch rate of 83% on the season.
It's only week two. In 2016, we were at this same point after two games. 1-1.
We all remember what happened next.
Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.
We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.
- TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
- G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
- DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
- WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
- OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
- DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.
Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving. Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.
Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.
Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.
While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.
- G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
- LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
- S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
- WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
- TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
- S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable
The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.
Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.
Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.
Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.
Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line depth will be tested as they play for a chance to clinch the NFC East on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Suffering a knee injury last week against the Eagles, Right Guard Zack Martin will not be able to play. In missing his first career start, rookie Connor Williams rightfully returns to the starting lineup as Martin's replacement.
The 50th overall pick from this year's AT&T Stadium hosted Draft has started eight games this season at left guard. Williams' last start happens to be in the last game Dallas lost, a week nine defeat to the Tennessee Titans. This opened the door for Xavier Su'a-Filo to become something of a sensation for Cowboys Nation as the starting left guard throughout the team's current five game win streak.
Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained knee. Rookie Connor Williams will start in his place.
Zack Martin being unavailable is hardly how Marc Colombo wants to prepare for the Cowboys first road game since week 11. Having both Su'a-Filo and Williams in the lineup will be valuable for the Cowboys moving forward though, as Williams could earn his job at left guard back from the right side.
While he won't nearly be expected to play at the level of Martin, Williams looked poised coming off the bench against the Eagles and helping the Cowboys offense score their final three touchdowns. Williams was on the field for all three of Amari Cooper's scores, as Dallas rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries with him in the game.
Williams flashed some of the traits that made him a top left tackle prospect out of college, flowing to the second level with ease and creating movement with quick feet at the point of attack. The Cowboys have forced him to remain game ready despite losing his starting position by finding a few emergency snaps for him in recent weeks, as well as special teams looks. The team has every reason to believe Williams is an ascending young player still.
The same cannot be said of Su'a-Filo, who simply has to focus on continuing to hold up at left guard again this week. With each passing win, Su'a-Filo's LG spot has become more of a liability in a Cowboys offense in need of a jump-start late in this 2018 season.
Consistent offensive line play is one of the few things that's clearly hurting the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC behind a stellar defense and game breaking wide receiver.
The Cowboys won't be at full strength against the eighth best rushing defense and 15th ranked passing defense in yards per game. With three separate chances to clinch the NFC East starting at the Colts and extending until the end of the regular season, the Cowboys stand to learn all they need to know about the offensive line that will start in the playoffs.
Martin, who's elevated his game to a new level this season despite this lingering knee injury, should be on track to return when the Cowboys come home to play the Buccaneers in week 16.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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