The first half of the season has come to a close and your Dallas Cowboys sit at 3-5 on the season with an uphill battle to contend for a playoff spot. Things look bleak after the America's Team suffered a let down at the hands of the Tennessee Titans on Monday Night Football. The reality is, however, they are only two games back of the Washington Redskins for the NFC East lead and the Philadelphia Eagles haven't looked like the best version of themselves through the first eight games either. The NFC East remains there for the taking. The next six games looks rough, but if the Dallas Cowboys can pull out a victory on Sunday Night Football, they'll have a chance to keep pace in the division and make the playoffs.
Yes, I'm talking about playoffs!!!
Before moving further into the season, let's look back and hand out some awards to the best -- and worst -- Cowboys of the first half of the 2018 season.
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back
Things haven't been as good as they were in 2016 for Ezekiel Elliott in terms of production, but the guy still has a huge impact on the way opposing defenses play the Dallas Cowboys. If the offense was able to get better protection out of the offensive line and production out of the quarterback, then teams would be forced to back off of the line of scrimmage.
As things stand now, teams don't respect the Cowboys passing game and that puts all the focus on Elliott and the run game.
Just imagine where the Cowboys would be without Elliott as a threat on the ground. Despite teams stacking the box against Ezekiel Elliott, he's still averaging 4.6 yards per carry, 85 yards rushing per game, and is eighth in the NFL in yards from scrimmage with 906. He's averaging 113 total yards per game, which is down from his 128 average over the first two years of his career, but with how ineffective the offense has been, it's incredible he's gotten that kind of production.
Michael Gallup, Wide Receiver
After a rocky and slow start to the season, rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup has really came on strong in the last three games. In week six he made two nice catches -- though one didn't count -- against All-Pro Jaguars Corner Back A.J. Bouye. He then broke out in a big way in the week seven loss to the Washington Redskins taking three receptions for 83 yards including a long touchdown reception on a nice double move. Again in week nine, he brought in three catches for 51 yards on six targets (a couple of those targets were off-target throws). Gallup is seeing targets all over the field including in the red zone.
Even with the addition of Amari Cooper to the wide receiver group, Michael Gallup still saw the second most snaps at the wide receiver position and has begun to show a nice rapport with Quarterback Dak Prescott.
Over the last three games, Gallup's caught seven passes for 159 yards and a touchdown while averaging 22 yards per reception. His route running is looking really nice and he's getting a lot of separation from opposing defensive backs.
He had a bad drop against Tennessee on a target deep over the middle that he should have caught, but otherwise, the rookie is really beginning to show why he was worthy of the 81st overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
The Dallas Cowboys made a mistake not paying Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence this past offseason, because he's about to bank. If not with the Cowboys than with someone else.
Despite his sack totals not being where they were at this time last year, Lawrence is still the best defender on the team -- and maybe in the NFL outside Aaron Donald -- and is playing at an elite level.
Through eight games in 2017, Lawrence had 11 sacks. In 2018, he only has seven sacks. He's on pace for 14 sacks all the while being the focal point for every offensive coordinator when they begin game planning for the Dallas Cowboys. Those seven sacks rank 10th in the NFL among EDGE rushers, according to Pro Football Focus.
Not only has he been elite as a pass rusher, he's been elite in the run game as well. Again, among EDGE players (4-3 DEs and 3-4 OLBs), he ranks second in run stop percentage (15%) among players who have played at least 117 snaps. He's third in total run stops behind only Calais Cambell and T.J. Watt.
The Dallas Cowboys will probably have to put the franchise tag on him again this offseason to prevent a team from money whipping him away from The Star. This past offseason, they probably could have gotten a deal done with him for around $16 million per year over five years. Now they'll likely have to pay him upwards of $20 million per year.
That's a huge difference in terms of the salary cap. For DeMarcus Lawrence, the gamble paid off.
Byron Jones, Corner Back
We've talked a lot about Byron Jones and his transition back to corner back this season, but we're going to keep highlighting him. He's doing everything you'd want from your top corner.
Among corner back in 2018, Jones has allowed the fourth fewest receiving yards on the season, the fourth fewest receptions, the seventh lowest passer rating, fourth lowest yards per snap, eighth best snaps per target rate, and the fourth best snaps per reception rate in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus.
Teams are figuring out that going against Jones is a losing proposition, so they are looking elsewhere to get their passing game going.
Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver
He's only been with the team for one game, but you can already see that he's a really good player. He's got elite route running that makes corner backs look silly. He sets up his cuts really well and displayed nice hands in the loss to the Titans on Monday night. Cooper had five catches for 58 yards and a touchdown, including a long of 19. He brings Cole Beasley route running with Brice Butler speed.
As he practices and plays more with Dak Prescott, this will become a really nice combination in the passing game for the Dallas Cowboys. Will that lead to more wins in 2018? Who knows, but I think the trade for Cooper is going to reap rewards for several years after this one. For Cooper in Dallas, this is only the beginning.
Scott Linehan, Offensive Coordinator
The offense hasn't been good this season and a lot of that falls on the players, but a lot of the blame has to rest on the shoulders of Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan as well.
I've chronicled it several times over the last two games, but I think his personnel deployment has been atrocious. On 4th and 10 on Monday Night Football he called for a personnel grouping that didn't include Cole Beasley or Michael Gallup. Instead, they put Rico Gathers and Blake Jarwin on the field with Allen Hurns and Amari Cooper.
That's inexcusable to me.
When your team is staring at defeat and about to drop to 3-5, you need to have your best and most explosive playmakers on the field at the same time. It truly boggles the mind that the Dallas Cowboys can't come up with a formation that includes Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, and Allen Hurns on the field at the same time.
Scott Linehan doesn't seem to know what an offense without a tight end looks like and the further this season goes down the road, the more irritating it gets.
As egregious as that is, I also don't understand why he uses Jourdan Lewis as the jet sweep option instead of Deonte Thompson, who is, you know, a wide receiver. Since Linehan has been utilizing this as a part of the offensive arsenal, it's always been done by a receiver who was also the kick returner, as Deonte Thompson is. He has the ability to read blocks in space and has the speed to break big gains.
Even more egregious may be the involvement, or should I say lack thereof, of Cole Beasley. In the last two games, Beasley didn't really get involved until the final drive of the game, which is a problem that is hopefully rectified by the presence of Amari Cooper moving forward. As Dak Prescott continues to win by going down the field to Cooper and Gallup, Beasley should have more opportunities underneath. Linehan, however, needs to get Beasley involved early to get teams thinking about him so Dak has more room to work down the field.
With as bad as the offense has been for the last 16 games I'm nearly certain that Linehan is out the door in the offseason. The head coach may be joining him, but I'm not so sure. That brings me to my next zero...
Jason Garrett, Head Coach
I'll never shy away from admitting that I think that Jason Garrett can be a good head coach in the NFL, because I think he's an excellent motivator and gets great effort out his players, even when there's nothing to play for. See 2015.
Despite the "clapper" narrative that follows him around, there are real issues that we can point to and offer criticism. The most glaring is that he's unwilling to assert more influence over the direction of the offense.
I don't know if it's out of loyalty to Scott Linehan that Garrett remains hands off with his offensive coordinator or that Garrett doesn't have any ideas on how to fix the offense. Either way, that's a problem. Whatever the case may be, Garrett has been reluctant to take control of the side of the ball that he's most familiar with and that may be his downfall.
The offense hasn't looked the same since the Atlanta game last year. Some of that is on the players and some of that is on the coaching. What's frustrating is that the coaches came into training camp talking about a bunch of new wrinkles to the offense and the pieces being good enough to be a contender. That has not been the case and the failure to truly see the offense for what it is, is a microcosm of the 2018 NFL season for the Dallas Cowboys.
I don't know what to believe about Jason Garrett and his future with the Dallas Cowboys, but one thing I know is that if he doesn't begin to assert some influence on the offense, then this season is going to get much worse before it gets better.
The bread and butter, the leaders on the team, the identity of the Dallas Cowboys since the 2014 season has been their offensive line. And they have fallen flat through the first eight games of the 2018 season.
It's possible that Paul Alexander's technique and style of offensive line play just didn't suit this group of players and that is why they haven't been very good. Or, it could be that their's been a decline in play by Tyron Smith and La'el Collins in particular. Obviously, missing Travis Frederick is a big factor, but Smith and Collins haven't played like their capable of. And with Joe Looney starting in place of Frederick and Connor Williams trying to figure out life on the inside of the offensive line, you can see why the offensive line is struggling.
They have to be better moving forward and as a unit will have to be against a Philadelphia Eagles defense featuring one of the best interior players in the NFL in Fletcher Cox.
Chidobe Awuzie, Corner Back
I really don't know what to say about Chidobe Awuzie accept, I expected better from him. In 2017, his rookie season, he flashed some ball skills and a swagger that I though was going to translate very well into Kris Richard's aggressive press coverage scheme. Instead, he's being beat a lot.
Even though Awuzie is more often than not in the right space at the right time, he's not making plays on the football that prevent catches. Unlike Byron Jones, who is tied for 13th in the NFL with eight pass deflections.
Though he's not been good in coverage, he's held his own in the run game, ranking 11th among corner backs in run stop percentage. Problem is, that to play corner in this league at an effective level, you can't give up a reception once every 6.7 snaps, which is the worst in the NFL among players with at least 205 snaps.
Hero or Zero?
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
What can we say about Quarterback Dak Prescott? He's had some really good games, like the games against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions. He's had some bad games like the ones against the Seattle Seahawks and the Houston Texans. Then he's had some good moments and bad moments in the same game like he did against the Washington Redskins and the Tennessee Titans.
He's been a roller coaster of a player this season and hasn't recaptured the magic that was the first 24 games of his career. Dak Prescott is currently on pace for career lows in pretty much every passing category, including yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, passer rating, He has the lowest passer rating of his career at 88.9, the lowest completion percentage at 62% and is just a touch higher than his 2017 yards per attempt number of 6.8.
He's on pace to break his career high in rushing yards by nearly 150 yards, which seems odd since we'd like him to run even more.
He's struggled this year, but so has most, if not all, of the offense. Like I mentioned above with regard to Scott Linehan and the offensive line, Dak Prescott carries some of the blame as well. He's been inconsistent and unwilling to let the ball fly at times. He's held the ball too long or he's missed open receivers by not letting their routes develop. And other times, Prescott hasn't had the time or he's hit the open receiver and been let down by a drop.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dak Prescott has been pressured on 39% of his dropbacks, which is the third highest rate in the NFL. Only Deshaun Watson holds the ball longer than Dak Prescott. Part of the reason that Dak has had to hold the ball longer than almost anyone in the NFL is that his wide receivers haven't been able to separate even at a league average rate according to Next Gen Stats. Prior to Amari Cooper's arrival, no receiver on the Dallas Cowboys, aside from Geoff Swaim, averaged more than the league average of 2.7 yards per separation. Cole Beasley was the closest at 2.5.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
What is going on with the offense for the Dallas Cowboys isn't just a Dak problem. It isn't just an offensive line problem. It isn't just a receiver a coordinator problem. It's an everyone problem. It is essentially a "chicken and egg" debate. We could argue it round and round, trying to pinpoint or place blame on one person or unit, when the reality is, the entire offense needs to play better.
Who have been your Heroes and Zeros for the first half of the season?
Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off their most impressive win of the season, keeping playoff hopes alive on the road with a 27-20 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles. Entering the hostile home of the defending Super Bowl champions with three previous road losses already on their record, the Cowboys performance on Sunday night was truly about getting back to their roots. In their second week with Marc Colombo as the Offensive Line Coach, the Cowboys rushed for 171 yards and protected Dak Prescott very well. It was revealed after the game that Frederick was on a coaches headset with Colombo and his new assistant Hudson Houck.
Travis Frederick just told @BenRogers on @1053thefan that Marc Columbo has him on a coaches headset now helping him and Hudson Houck. That's a smart move from Columbo. Smartest guy on the line
The anchor of the Cowboys offensive line since being drafted in 2013, Frederick is regarded as the smartest linemen on the team. It's his mental edge that's made up for a slight lack of size at the position, regarded as one of the worst first round picks in his draft because of this oversight.
Not only is Frederick a welcome addition to the Cowboys brain trust at offensive line, but he did receive some great news on his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) that's kept him out this season. Frederick was placed on injured reserve on October 6th, announcing publicly his GBS diagnosis on August 22nd.
Frederick has a long way to go before he's playing football again, not eligible to do so until week 14 at home against the Eagles. Regaining feeling in his hands is about the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee getting as healthy as possible away from football. If a return to the Cowboys is possible through his recovery, the team would of course welcome Frederick.
Travis Frederick regains sensation in his hands: "There is some light at the end of the tunnel" https://t.co/wvQhB6KUQp
What Frederick has gained in upper body strength, he must remain patient for in the lower body. While pointing out that over 95% of patients make a full recovery from GBS, Frederick is still waiting to feel sensations in his feet.
The Cowboys have been optimistic that Frederick's condition was caught early enough for a full recovery to be probable.
Dallas' schedule doesn't get any easier following their uplifting win. Returning to the site of last year's demoralizing loss at the Falcons, Frederick likely wishes he could make a miraculous return just a bit more this week.
To make matters worse, Left Tackle Tyron Smith did not practice on Wednesday due to back spasms. It's unknown if rookie Connor Williams will reclaim his starting left guard spot on Sunday, or if Xavier Su'a-Filo has earned another opportunity.
Despite the patchwork nature of a Cowboys offensive line once regarded as the best in the league, and still vital to the entire team's success, Dallas has an abundance of hope that Sunday in Atlanta can be much better than 2017. This starts with Frederick's strength to fight GBS and attempt to rejoin his teammates, wisely given some added game day influence on them by Colombo.
If elevating their level of play up front was all it took for the Cowboys to play up to their potential and pull off an upset on prime time last week, the NFC East is certainly still within reach for a team that must now sustain the level of play on offense to match what this defense has given all season.
Cowboys Playoff Scenarios; Week 11 Impact Games
We've reached Week 11 and the playoff picture is continuing to be unveiled. Most of the NFC has seven games to go, and there's still a lot of ways each week can impact the overall landscape.
The Rams and Saints are the clear runaway teams in the conference this year. After them, though, a lot of up for grabs both in division races and the Wild Card spots.
We're not including Detroit and Tampa Bay, both 3-6, given the strong unlikelihood that they will turn things around. Detroit is the worst team in a stacked NFC North and will likely keep losing, and a head-to-head loss to the Cowboys will be tough to overcome. The Bucs can't decide on a quarterback right now and are going nowhere.
If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:
- Los Angeles Rams (9-1)
- New Orleans Saints (8-1)
- Chicago Bears (6-3)
- Washington Redskins (6-3)
- Carolina Panthers (6-3)
- Minnesota Vikings (5-3-1)
- Green Bay Packers (4-4-1)
- Atlanta Falcons (4-5)
- Seattle Seahawks (4-5)
- Dallas Cowboys (4-5)
- Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)
- The Bears are ahead of the Redskins thanks to a better record against NFC opponents.
- The Falcons are ahead of the Seahawks and Cowboys thanks to a superior record against NFC opponents.
- The Seahawks are ahead of the Cowboys thanks to a head-to-head victory.
- The Cowboys are ahead of the Eagles thanks to a head-to-head victory.
- The Eagles' tiebreaker loss to Dallas, because it occurs within the division, drops them below the other 4-5 NFC teams automatically. Their head-to-head win over the Falcons this year is invalidated.
A few weeks ago, I wrote about how winning the NFC East would likely be Dallas only road to the playoffs. That is still the case; the Cowboys are three games behind the Panthers (they lose in a tie because of their head-to-head loss) and two games behind the Vikings for the Wild Card spots.
It will be much easier for Dallas to catch Washington, who are more lucky than good with their 6-3 record, than either Carolina or Minnesota. The Cowboys can still hang a loss on the Redskins on Thanksgiving Day, plus Washington has both games with the Eagles left to play.
Those opportunities are further down the road, though. For now, let's see how the Week 11 schedule can help improve the Cowboys playoff positioning:
Green Bay Packers @ Seattle Seahawks
With a head-to-head loss to Seattle this year, Dallas needs the Seahawks to keep losing. Both teams are currently 4-5, and the Cowboys don't need that tiebreaker hanging over them at the end of the year.
But a Seattle loss means a Green Bay win, and that doesn't do much to help the Cowboys either. The Packers's tie gives them a slight edge on the 4-5 teams, and that advantage could keep them ahead of Dallas the rest of the way.
You could argue that the Packers are a team more likely to make a late-season push than the Seahawks, so a Green Bay loss here could ultimately benefit the Cowboys more than Seattle. It really comes down to which team, between the Packers and Seahawks, you have more faith in the rest of the way.
Dallas Cowboys @ Atlanta Falcons
This is obviously a huge game for both teams. Both are 4-5 and trying to stay in the conversation, and a loss here could be a death knell for either. It would also create a head-to-head tiebreaker for the winner over the loser; essentially a two-game swing.
The Cowboys won their first road game all season last week in Philadelphia. They have some good vibes and momentum headed into Atlanta, who are coming off an ugly loss to the Browns.
Will Dallas ride their positive wave for another week, or will the Falcons be hungrier and enjoy returning home? The answer could be season-changing for both teams.
Houston Texans @ Washington Redskins
The Texans have won six straight and the Cowboys hope they can keep it going. A Washington loss, coupled with a Dallas win in Atlanta, would narrow the gap between them to just one game. It would also make next week's Thanksgiving matchup in Dallas a chance for the Cowboys to pull even for the NFC East lead.
As I said before, the Redskins aren't as good as their 6-3 record indicates. They have only a +1 point differential in 2018, having scored just one point more than their opponents all year. Comparatively, the Cowboys are a +10 despite the losing record.
A few weeks ago, the Redskins got pounded 43-19 by the New Orleans Saints. The Texans are arguably the next-best team they've played this year. Hopefully, we'll see a similar result.
Carolina Panthers @ Detroit Lions
The Panthers' slipping would be nice for the Cowboys, though they'd have to fall hard the rest of the way for Dallas to catch up in the standings. With the Cowboys having a head-to-head win over the Lions, a Detroit win here wouldn't hurt us nearly as much as a Carolina loss helps.
Philadelphia Eagles @ New Orleans Saints
New Orleans appears set on being one of the top two seeds in the NFC this year, which puts them well out of Dallas' range. As such, an Eagles loss is clearly better for the Cowboys in terms of our own playoff positioning.
Minnesota Vikings @ Chicago Bears
The Packers and Vikings are both slightly easier to catch than the Bears. The best scenario for Dallas is for Chicago to keep winning and take the NFC North, hanging losses on their division rivals on the way and making things easier for the Cowboys in the Wild Card hunt.
Kansas City Chiefs @ Los Angeles Rams
This one is almost irrelevant from Dallas' perspective. The Rams will probably clinch their division soon and should have a first-round bye. But the Chiefs are in the other conference, so there's absolutely nothing to be gained by them losing.
#ATLvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
This week's gambling preview focuses on the Cowboys week 11 opponent, the Atlanta Falcons. Dallas beat the now 4-5 Eagles last Sunday to improve their own record to 4-5. Atlanta lost on the road to Cleveland last week to drop their record to 4-5 on the season.
It's an 8-8 league, isn't it?
Dallas returns to the scene of the 2017 crime this Sunday, traveling to Atlanta where Chaz Green and Dak Prescott were destroyed almost exactly one year ago. Let's take a look at the line and the quality of these teams to see which way it could go.
Cowboys +3, O/U 48 points.
Dallas saved their season on the road last Sunday night, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles and getting right back in the thick of things in the NFC East race. Still, we can't simply ignore what the other 8 games of data have told us about the Cowboys and their offensive quality.
The addition of Amari Cooper has clearly helped the offense, opening up the passing game a bit and allowing for Dak Prescott to have a reliable "number one" receiver. The team's results overall have been mixed the first two games of the Cooper-era, but he has been consistently good in both match-ups.
Defensively the Cowboys continued to impress last week, though "cornerback opposite of Byron Jones" is quickly becoming a potential need. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith stole the show last Sunday, and both the present and the future of the Cowboys' linebacking corps is strong. It could be argued the Cowboys have yet to see a passing attack like the one Atlanta brings, however, making Sunday a big test for them defensively.
Similar to the Cowboys, Atlanta has been very much up-and-down this season. In a way, though, they are just the opposite-day Cowboys, with their offense putting up insane numbers most weeks and their banged up defense often letting them down.
Though it looked like they were turning it around in recent weeks, Atlanta had probably their most disappointing loss in quite some time, losing at Cleveland to the young Browns. Still, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones lead a prolific passing attack which can strike fear in any defense.
Byron Jones and company will have their hands full with the Falcons' cast of skill players on Sunday, and as usual, stopping their passing attack will all begin up front with the pass rush. Hopefully Randy Gregory can build on his week 10 performance to produce even more results this week.
- Surprisingly, the score total has now hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- The Cowboys are 2-5 against the spread their last 7 games against the Falcons.
- The Cowboys are also 2-4 against the spread their last games at Atlanta.
- Dallas is just 1-4 straight up on the road this season.
- The score total has gone over 4 of Atlanta's last 5 home games.
- The Falcons are just 2-5 against the spread their last 7 games.
Who the hell knows, man.
This team is incredibly difficult to project week to week, probably about as volatile as they've been since all those 8-8 seasons. This line started at Cowboys +4.5 and has since moved down to just +3, meaning they are valued as a pick 'em on a neutral field.
Given how inconsistent, yet talented, both teams are this line feels exactly right. I'll take the Cowboys and the points because why not? I expect this to be a tight game throughout, and could come down to the kicking game in the fourth quarter.
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