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Grading The Game: Eagles 33, Cowboys 27

Tommy Simon

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Cowboys Blog - Grading The Game: Eagles 33, Cowboys 27

Heartbreaking. It seems like I have said something like this before. It seems really familiar. Too familiar. This feeling in my gut seems too familiar for my liking. As I sit here, I feel helpless, lost, and empty. I just do not know how I can shake it. Close, but never quite there.

What is a fan to do?

You live and die with your team. But it's hard not to transpose the disappointment with anger. The sadness to outrage. How can they let this happen? How can they do this to me!

Know the feeling? I am sure you do. It is hard not to succumb to resentment. But let’s let reason take hold and try to look at the game objectively. I watched for a second time (I still expected them to win in overtime the second time), I have looked at various plays, and I have read what the pundits have to say. I have heard Broaddus talk about how close the Cowboys rushers were and Garrett point out that the Boys continue to fight. So should I be optimistic after six losses? Should I really believe we are one player away?

Before I get into the grades, here are some general thoughts.

I do not care what excuses the pundits will use, the Cowboys pass rush just is not good. They are averaging 1.8 sacks a game. That is the same as last year. Over the last 3 games, they are getting a sack on 3.23% of plays, one of the lowest percentages in the NFL. Now I am not a genius, and I am not claiming I understand the minds of the Jones’, but I imagine they cannot be happy that they spent a wheel barrel full of money on a DE with major off the field baggage, another tractor full for an “elite” three technique, and used the last two second round draft picks on young “pass rushing” DEs (one which you gave up picks for), all to average the same amount of sacks per game as they did last year. So let’s not sugar coat it or talk about how close we were to getting to the QB, or spit out stats like how many QB hurries the defense had; the Boys are simply not getting to the QB or stripping the ball.

That is the real reason the Boys lost on Sunday night. Period.

And when your line is not getting to the QB, blitz. If your LBs can’t blitz (and McClain looks like he cannot), then get a LB who can. You have to generate a pass rush to win. Simple as that.

Can we get a turnover? I have never seen a stretch like this. .5 turnovers per game. Wow. I wonder what the record is. Has to be close to it. If the lack of pass rush lost the game, the lack of turnovers is losing the season. The Boys have to find a way to make a play. I really thought Jones would bring that dynamic, but even as well as he is playing, he has not come up with a single turnover (nor has Claiborne, nor Carr, nor Church).

The DL and LBs have to help too. But if you can’t get to a QB, you can’t strip the ball. If you need an example of how to do it, look at how Graham made the Boys All-Pro tackle (Smith) look silly and cause two strip sacks. Hopefully the Boys will study that tape and learn a few things.

What do the Cowboys do for conditioning exercises?

Why are they so tired in the fourth quarter?

This is the difference in losing the last six or going 3 and 3. I have never seen a team that regularly is so exhausted in the fourth quarter. If I am the Cowboys coaches, I have the team running sprint drills until they puke. Conditioning wins more games than most fans realize. This lack of conditioning is directly on the coaches and the Jones’. This country club culture will attract players, but it will lose you games as well.

The biggest thing the Boys miss on offense is Romo’s ability to spread the ball and hit 8 or 9 receivers. This game the only options were Dez, Witten, and Beasley (finally), with a couple of throws to Williams or Whitehead. The Boys have to find a way to get more people involved in the game.

Anytime Dez is working one-on-one throw him the ball. Don’t waste time looking at anyone else. Just go to him. Every time.

Now with that said, let's get to the grades.

 

Offense

Quarterbacks: Grade C+

I would have given Cassel a solid B, but the pick six was a killer. Although the terrible route by McFadden had as much to do with it as anything. But Cassel misread it and stared it down.

He made the biggest mistake a QB can make. He made up his mind who he was going to before he ever left the huddle. Should have had a better pre-read.

He was actually very lucky on the pass to Lucky too. You know the one. The one Dez saved him by out leaping everyone for the score. Yeah, that pass was ill advised but well executed. Dez saved him and gave the Boys a chance.

That said, Cassel finally realized that Beasley is the Boys number two receiver. Hopefully, he remembers next week against Tampa Bay. Overall, Cassel was able to get the ball down field most of the game, and he did his part to give the Cowboys a chance to win, so he gets a C+.

Running Back: Grade B

McFadden was good. The reason for giving him a B grade rather than an A was two blown blocking assignments and the terrible route on the pick six. On that route, McFadden has to drive the LB back into a back pedal before making his cut. That is fundamental football. As good as he was at running the ball, that play is the one that probably cost the Boys the game. It certainly was a big contributor to the loss.

McFadden's running was solid. He got tough yards, fell forward, was elusive at times, and made positive yards when he could have been tackled for a loss. Hard to ask for more than that.

Offensive Line: Grade C+

The O-line is hard to grade. If you grade on the run game, they probably deserve an A. But in the pass game they allowed 4 sacks and many hurries, so I would give them a D. If the Boys had won then I probably would give them a B-, but since they lost, I give them a C+.

I thought Smith struggled against Graham. It just wasn’t that he gave up the two strip sacks, but Graham had multiple plays where he disrupted the run game as well. Now Smith struggling is still pretty good. He certainly moved his side of the line on many positive runs.

I thought the rookie La'el Collins held his own against a pretty tough matchup. He did allow some penetration and missed a couple of stunts, but overall he was solid.

Free had a pretty good day. He looks to be getting healthier. He was a force in the run game both at the point of attack and on backside cutoffs. He has been the weak link a good portion of the year, but he seems to be getting back into form.

Frederick and Martin were consistent. For most of the night, they got movement on an interior line that is among the best in the league. They did lose some battles, but I would say they got the best of their matchups for most of the night.

Receivers: Grade B+

Dez isn’t back yet, you can tell he is not at 100%. He certainly is not in shape. But even saying all that, he is the best player on the field when he is on. It is good to have him back. When teams have to double him, they can’t double Witten, or play 9 in the box, or have an all-out blitz. He is a game changer just by being on the field.

It was good to finally have a QB who looks for Beasley. He can be a nightmare when teamed with Dez. Beasley is the Boys number two receiver (third if you count Witten as two) and he deserves more focus in the game plan.

I would give the receivers an A, but William’s hands are still a liability. He could have made a big play on the Cowboys second drive, but dropped a relatively easy, though contested, deep ball. If he catches that pass, the Boys probably get a field goal at the minimum. You just cannot trust a receiver who has to jump into the air and use his body rather than just reach up and catch with his hands. They did use him on a slant and a dig which is how to effectively use him. But his lack of hands really hurt the Boys.

I probably would have scored the receivers higher, but the Boys still have no imagination in how to use Whitehead. He is a weapon that is being poorly used. No reverse, no jet sweep, no screen, no drag, no toss sweep, no using him at RB and sending him on option routes, no imagination at all.

Tight End: Grade B

The blocking was really good. I said it last week, but it bears repeating. The run game got better when Hanna got healthy. Witten is just consistent and a leader.

This is a solid group, even with Escobar not being a factor. Speaking of Escobar, he is not giving enough effort on blocking. On one play there was a run to the left. Escobar was on the right and he exploded (I say that loosely) up and hit his man and just stopped. Meanwhile, McFadden was cutting back and would have had a nice hole, but Escobar’s man came over and met McFadden in the hole. Escobar was there, he just quit on the block. Had he continued with his block it might have been a big gain.

This was not a skill issue, it is an effort issue (or lack thereof).

 

Defense

Defensive Ends: Grade F

What can you say? It is one thing not to have a pass rush but entirely another to give up the edge too. Lawrence gave up the edge multiple times and he was ineffective as a pass rusher. He is getting caught inside way too much. He tries to jump inside the block and then back out before the runner gets there. On a couple of times this year, he has made big plays doing this. But unfortunately, the other 15 times have been big runs to the outside. You have to set an edge.

I really think Lawrence is a right end. I think he would be better there. He seemed quicker last year. I would recommend that that they try to switch Hardy and Lawrence. I think it would make them better against the run and probably would help improve the rush as well.

Hardy had one sack, so it is hard to complain about him. But he has not been dominant the last three weeks against makeshift lines. You would think he could have dominated the game against Lane Johnson, but it never materialized.

Mincey was a non-factor in the passing game, but he is strong against the run. Pretty much the same as all year.

There is nothing really to say; no rush, no edge, run lanes everywhere. Bad day all around. Calling out Lawrence. Be the player we all know you can be.

Defensive Tackles: Grade F

See comments above. No rush, run lanes up the gut, and the O-line dominated you in the fourth quarter. Called it tired, call it whatever, but the Eagles imposed their will on the D-line in the fourth quarter and overtime.

Linebackers: Grade D

The Boys LB play started off well. But it got worse as the game went on.

Lee got hurt. Next play big pass play on a swing and go. Picked on Hitchens until he left. Gachkar struggled against the pass but played the run well.

McClain had the worst game of the year. He seems to be fading not getting into shape. He was dead tired. He is one of the players if he is tired, you take out his heart. He wanted no part of the overtime. He had a chance to make a play on fourth and one, and he simply could not muster the energy to make a play. Really disappointed in the last couple of games from McClain. We can only hope he keeps his head in the game for the rest of the year. That and he gets into shape.

Overall, I could not give an F because they did make some plays, particularly in the first half.

Corners: Grade C

Who would have thought that the corners would be the stars of the defense? But they are the most consistent unit.

Claiborne’s holding penalty hurt, but I think the Eagles would have completed the pass but not for the tug. He has been the best corner for the Cowboys all year. He may not be a Neon Deon, but he is consistent and good. I just wish he could finish a play and get a pick.

Jones had a mixed day. He both played really well and made rookie mistakes by being overly aggressive. Overall, he is becoming a solid starter.

I thought Carr had a really good day in run support. His coverage skills have diminished, but he is a physical corner who can tackle when he needs to. Since DeMarcus Lawrence was giving up the edge all night, he needed to be.

Overall, not a bad day, not a good day, just steady.

Safeties: Grade F

Man was JJ bad. I mean he could not tackle anyone in the open field. On the long run on the Eagles first touchdown, JJ had the containment on the outside and completely whiffed on the play. He took a bad angle and never came close. The result was a long run that got a first and set up the touchdown. Same on the final touchdown. If he makes the stop the Cowboys may keep the Eagles to a field goal or maybe even come up with a big turnover. Instead, JJ takes a wrong angle and whiffs again. JJ is bad in coverage. He takes bad angles on deep balls. He takes bad angles when he is coming up to hit a receiver or runner in the open field. He is simply not a starting safety in this league. He is not making any impact plays or even positive plays and he's making a ton of negative ones. A change is needed.

After the game, JJ says he is going to work on taking the right angle so it does not happen again. Did he just realize in year three this was an issue? What about all the other times? Did he ignore them? Or did he learn from them too? Or is why didn’t he learn more accurate? He is a liability. I am not sure when the Boys will decide to make a change. Heath can at least tackle someone.

 

Special Teams

Cover Teams: Grade B

Good coverage all day

Return Teams: Grade A

Whitehead is a weapon. Hope the Boys will use him more.

Overall I would grade the offense as a B and the defense as a D. Most games, 27 points should be enough to win, but when you can’t rush the passer, have no turnovers, and you constantly give up the edge, you are not going to win many games.



Tommy Simon is an entrepreneur, writer, speaker and sports enthusiast. He is currently CEO of TechBAA, an investor and board member of TPC Technical and CommunitesFIrst, and acting CFO for ALS Communities. In addition to investing and advising companies, Tommy is also a Sales Management coach and is working with companies as a Fractional CMO/CSO. Tommy is a life long football player, coach and Cowboy fan. He currently coaches and sponsors several 7 on 7 teams. He manages/coaches an adult flag football team that is the top team in Florida one of the highest ranked teams in the country. Tommy's hobbies include international travel, fantasy football, reading, and engaging in intelligent political discourse. He is married to a wonderful women for 18 years; which is the best thing he has ever accomplished. He has a dog that is the best dog ever. He also has 9 siblings and roughly 30 nieces and nephews. For more information about tommy, or to request him to speak, please contact him at info@techbaa.com

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2 Comments
  • Patrick bailey

    Agree with lawrence playing on wrong side glad someone else is seeing it. He and gregory are essentially the same position which means we need a LDE whether its mincey, hardy, russell or a future draft pick.

  • Patrick Bailey

    Agree with lawrence been saying it he and gregory are same position. Need new LDE more stout like hardy, mincey, maybe russell or irving or draft one.

Game Notes

Film Room: WR Ryan Switzer Showed Flashes Vs. Eagles

Kevin Brady

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Film Room: WR Ryan Switzer Showed Flashes Vs. Eagles
Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

There's no doubt the Dallas Cowboys passing game faltered in 2017. Though never expected to throw for many yards, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys failed to maximize their attempts down the stretch. The passing game was simply inefficient and ineffective.

One reason the passing game took a step back was the disappearance of slot receiver Cole Beasley. Whether you blame defenses adjusting their coverages on third downs towards Beasley, Beasley growing another year older, or quarterback Dak Prescott, Beasley simply didn't look like the same player in 2017.

In the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected a wide out who many anticipate could replace Beasley, in time. Rookie wide receiver Ryan Switzer rarely got chances to make an impact on offense this season, designated as the return man for much of the year. With Cole Beasley out for the season finale, however, Switzer got his chance to make a name for himself.

While the numbers were far from gaudy, Ryan Switzer showed some things we should be excited about for the future.

dalvsphi2018 switzer - Streamable

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Ryan Switzer's first target came on a third down -- something Cowboys Nation should get used to heading into 2018. Switzer is lined up inside in trips on the near-side of the formation. The Eagles show man coverage pre-snap, and with just one safety over top and the other rotated down on top of Jason Witten, it is clear to Dak Prescott they plan to bring some pressure.

As soon as Prescott gets the snap, his eyes go to Ryan Switzer.

The cornerback plays Switzer with inside leverage, refusing to be beat with a hot slant route. Switzer instead keeps the defender on his back hip and creates separation with an out-breaking route.

Prescott delivers the ball towards the sideline where the defender can't catch up to it, and Switzer comes away with the first down.

dalvsphi2018 switzer 2 - Streamable

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Later in the game, we once again see Ryan Switzer targeted from this inside-alignment.

Switzer is a pretty prototypical slot receiver, and if used correctly he should win in man coverage situations often. The cornerback attempts to maintain inside leverage on Switzer and get physical at the top of his route. Ryan Switzer does a nice job of fighting through that physicality and crossing the defender's face over the middle. He flashes open pretty quickly, and Prescott delivers a strike for the completion.

If Switzer can create this type of separation often, I see no reason why he shouldn't be a focus of the offense in 2018.

dalvsphi2018 switzer 3 - Streamable

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Switzer's third target is actually an incompletion, but it is worth studying, regardless. Switzer is in the slot on the far side and the Cowboys once again are in trips alignment. The cornerback over Switzer is in man coverage, but gives him room to breathe at the line of scrimmage.

Switzer exploits the cornerback -- who is cheating to the inside -- with his footwork and route running. He gets to the sticks, breaks to the outside, and creates enough separation for a first-down completion. Prescott delivers the ball a bit late and behind Switzer, causing an incompletion instead.

I'd still like to see Switzer adjust to the ball and make this catch, but I put more of the blame for this play on Prescott.

With a full offseason to work within the offensive system, as well as to develop chemistry with quarterback Dak Prescott, Ryan Switzer will prove to be an important piece to the 2018 Dallas Cowboys.



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Game Notes

Takeaway Tuesday: Datone Jones Should Be Back, Switzer’s Good Game

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: Datone Jones Should Be Back, Switzer's Good Game 1
AP Photo / Michael Ainsworth

The Dallas Cowboys put an end to a long, long season last Sunday after they defeated the Eagles in Philadelphia in a game that had absolutely no meaning for either team. Surprisingly, the Cowboys played with their healthy starters most of the game, but were barely able to put six points on the board, which were enough to take the win home.

The Cowboys might've lost more than what they actually won, and most of the fans were unhappy with the victory. Despite it being a pretty boring football game, we still learned a few things about the Dallas Cowboys.

The season's finally over. It wasn't easy, but we're still here. Here's to 2018. Let's hope it's a good one for our Cowboys. Here's this week's edition of Takeaway Tuesday!

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Coaching Staff Didn't Help Its Cause

It's more than fair to say that a lot of us want to see changes in Dallas. And specifically, changes in the coaching staff. After the Cowboys were eliminated from playoff contention, Jerry Jones said Jason Garrett's job was not an issue. Now, Jerry's even talking about Rod Marinelli and Scott Linehan being back in 2018. Who knows if it's true.

While I don't think we'll see a new head coach anytime soon, I'd dare say that after the horrible game versus Philadelphia the front office at least got to thinking.

Dak Prescott, Jason Garrett

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, HC Jason Garrett

Coming into this game, the team had a choice to make: play with the starters to win it, or let guys like Cooper Rush in the game and see what happens. A loss would've meant a better draft position for the Cowboys and a chance to see what rookies and other young players could bring to the table.

But they decided to manage the game like it was a "real action" game. Being conservative. Not going for it when there was nothing to lose. They did so after a team that, with the NFC's #1 seed secured, basically played with its B team. Not only that but for the Eagles, most of the game was played by a third string QB.

Despite all this, the Cowboys could hardly beat the Eagles 6-0. Poor execution and all, I can't help thinking about the coaches.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Cowboys Should Keep Datone Jones for 2018

In late November, the Dallas Cowboys signed Datone Jones after he was released by the San Francisco 49ers. The former Packers' first-round pick made an impact when he was given the chance. His play at DT was pretty solid and he showed very promising flashes.

DatoneJones - Streamable

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Jones will be under contract in 2018 and I'd be surprised if the Cowboys don't keep him another year. Per Over The Cap, he'll be paid $790,000 next year which isn't at all expensive for a 27-year-old player.

The Cowboys would add depth and even a potential starter at DT for next season.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Ryan Switzer Can Play as a Wide Receiver

With Cole Beasley missing the game because of an illness, we finally got to see Ryan Switzer at WR. We had already seen good things from him as a kick returner, but on offense, he hasn't been as involved as Cowboys Nation expected him to be.

Last Sunday though, Switzer was used for more than a jet sweep.

SwitzerWR - Streamable

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He still has a long way to go, but I was impressed by his ability to create separation. I really hope he's used more next season.

At the end of the day, he's a fourth-round pick. He should be playing more on offense, not just on "gadget plays" or special teams. Could Ryan Switzer be Dak Prescott's best friend in the future? Only time will tell. Right now, it's too optimistic to expect something like that.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Dan Bailey's Confidence is Shattered

Dallas Cowboys K Dan Bailey

Dan Bailey's 2017 season hasn't been easy at all. We've seen him miss kicks we never imagined he would, including extra points. One of the most painful moments of the Cowboys' season came late in the season finale when he lined up to kick a simple 20-yard field goal.

The ball went up, but failed to split the uprights. Dan Bailey stood in complete disbelief, with a blank look in his face. His confidence, shattered.

For kickers, it's all about confidence.

For years, we referred to Dan "Automatic" Bailey as the most accurate kicker in NFL history. Now we're not sure about calling him "Automatic" anymore. Bailey will have a lot of time to pick himself up though, and will probably be back at it next year.

Let's hope that's the case.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

For now, the only thing left to say is one of the most encouraging, yet sad phrases in sports... Maybe next year. We're on to the offseason.

Tell me what you think about "Takeaway Tuesday: Datone Jones Should Be Back, Switzer’s Good Game" 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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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Starters Uninspiring in Week 17 Win

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Starters Produce Uninspiring Week 17 Win

Playing more than enough of their starters in hopes of ending this 2017 season on a high note at the Eagles, the Cowboys produced a lackluster 6-0 win that will surely leave a bad taste in the mouths of Cowboys Nation - despite it being a victory.

The win put the Cowboys at 9-7 on the season, and it is a shame they had nothing to play for in this regular season finale. Once again in week 17, it was the offense holding back another fantastic performance by Rod Marinelli's defense.

We'll discuss both units in this final 2017 Dallas Cowboys version of Sean's Scout.

  • You have to love the way Chidobe Awuzie was able to bring physicality to a young Cowboys secondary that had another solid game. 

There were times earlier in this season when it seemed the Cowboys' second-round pick would have a lost season due to multiple hamstring injuries, but Awuzie quickly tuned around his rookie campaign by coming in and playing with exceptional technique and awareness.

With enough length to turn and run, Awuzie thrived in this zone scheme by keeping everything in front of him, as he did on his interception of Nick Foles. With Dallas in Cover 2 on the play, Chidobe read Foles' eyes the whole time to the boundary and was in position to cut off the pass.

This is a topic we'll now have much more time to discuss, and it is a hollowing one considering it was truly the Cowboys offense that kept them from the playoffs this season. The need for new talent at WR is clear, but the need for a target that better suits Prescott's strengths going into year three is even more important.

His pass catchers, along with inconsistencies in pass protection, were the main reasons Prescott struggled in 2017, although in this game it seemed like the only time he was affected in the pocket was when forcing the ball late to Bryant.

Coming from a spread system in college, Prescott simply does not have experience throwing his receivers open -- relying on route combinations and separation ability to hit open targets. Dez Bryant hasn't been that type of player through his career, and certainly isn't now that he's lost a step.

  • 9 wins for a team unlike their usual selves up front offensively is still pretty impressive. 

The Cowboys got nearly no impact from any of their free agent signings this season, which is why the depth of the team held them back once again. Veteran Byron Bell was brought in as a backup swing tackle, but he is simply not a scheme fit at tackle here.

Dak Prescott should not have been playing with Bell as his LT, and eventually Joe Looney at LG after Jonathan Cooper went down.

Bell lacks the quick-twitch ability and athleticism needed to be successful on every down, and it showed as he was again beaten by both speed and power against the Eagles.

The Cowboys have proven their acumen drafting young OL talent that performs at a high level early and often. So, instead of relying on more free agents, like Bell and Looney, drafting talent up front to spark the running game and give Prescott adequate protection is likely the best answer.

  • Ryan Switzer's ability to separate late in the down really stood out, as he finally got his chance at WR without Cole Beasley

Growing calls for more of Ryan Switzer on offense will surely take root this offseason after he caught four passes for 32 yards in the absence of Cole Beasley yesterday. More of a one-speed player at North Carolina, Switzer's spacial awareness and smoothness in giving Prescott somewhere to throw the ball as plays developed was really impressive.

In order to be a great team at the NFL Draft, you have to accurately scout your own roster. It will be fascinating to see just how the Cowboys feel about their current pass catchers, with not only Ryan Switzer but the likes of Lance Lenoir and practice squad addition K.D. Cannon in the fold as well.

  • The Cowboys found themselves a valuable addition to their rotation at DT with Datone Jones. 

Jones was able to push the pocket throughout this game in Philadelphia, and has done so consistently since getting here, at both the 1T and 3T positions. Using his hands to generate power as a down-the-line player, Jones plays with great pad level. That allows him to shoot gaps when needed, or anchor the line of scrimmage.

The Cowboys have not prioritized adding premier talent at DT in recent years, and may forego it again this offseason as well. The Cowboys expect Maliek Collins to contribute further with another season at 1T and David Irving back at 3T.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

To everybody who made this 2017 season at Inside The Star as enjoyable as ever, I would like to thank the readers of Sean's Scout. All this aspiring scout can ask for is to enhance the fan experience through both wins and losses, and your feedback on this series helped me to confidently do just that.

As we prepare for an even better 2018, Sean's Scout won't be going anywhere! I'm shifting my full attention towards the NFL Draft, looking for prospects that could help the Dallas Cowboys reach the playoffs again next season.

Thank you for another roller-coaster ride we call football season, Cowboys Nation. Truly the best fans anywhere.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Starters Uninspiring in Week 17 Win" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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