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Heroes and Zeros Through Dallas Cowboys 3-5 Start

John Williams

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Cowboys Road Game in Houston a Chance for Perspective on QB Dak Prescott 1

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.

Heroes

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.

Zeros

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.

Offensive Line

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?



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Dallas Cowboys

3 Biggest Non-Divisional Games on the Dallas Cowboys 2019 Schedule

John Williams

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The Dallas Cowboys Are Legit Contenders

There hasn't been a repeat champion of the NFC East since the early 2000's when the Philadelphia Eagles won three in a row from 2002-2004. Unfortunately, history is already against the Dallas Cowboys repeating as division champions again in 2019. For the Cowboys to repeat as NFC East champs, they'll have to navigate a tough slate of opponents.

That's the reward of winning your division.

Though much can change in the next five months as the NFL prepares to play football games that matter in September, there are already key matchups for this young Dallas Cowboys team. We know the NFC East is always a difficult division to play in. The rivalries make for a lot of close games. The Cowboys have to play well in the division to have a shot at winning the division. But with the schedule they have, they'll have to win some contests that they probably shouldn't to stake their claim as Super Bowl contenders.

Divisional games are always important, but let's take a look at the three games outside the division that will have the greatest impact on the fortunes of the Dallas Cowboys 2019 season.

1. Week 4 - Dallas Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints

The Cowboys have an opportunity to get off to a hot start in the first quarter of the season with games at home against the New York Giants and Miami Dolphins, and a road game against the Washington Redskins. There's a legitimate chance for them to start the season 3-0.

Whatever momentum they do gain in the first three games of the season could all come to a screeching halt with a tough week four matchup in New Orleans.

New Orleans has been a tough place to play in the Sean Payton and Drew Brees eras. The Dallas Cowboys defense will have a tough test attempting to slow down the high scoring Saints offense two years in a row.

When the two teams met in 2018, the Dallas Cowboys defense completely dominated the Saints. On that day, they held the Saints to 176 total yards (111 passing and 65 rushing) and an amazing 3 for 11 on third downs. It was especially impressive because the Cowboys only had two sacks and one turnover in the game. The Saints just couldn't find a rhythm as the Cowboys came with a lot of energy and physicality. It was a defining moment for this young defense and gave us a picture of what they could possibly be.

If the Dallas Cowboys can find a way to win this game and potentially start the season 4-0, it would be huge for their playoff hopes.

On the flip side, if the Dallas Cowboys start the season 2-1, they could be going into New Orleans with the possibility of starting the season 2-2. The pressure would be incredible for the Cowboys the rest of the way with the slate of teams they have at the end of the season.

The Cowboys have to leave the first quarter of the season at worst 3-1 to have a shot at the playoffs in 2019.

2. Week 14 - Dallas Cowboys @ the Chicago Bears

The toughest part of the Dallas Cowboys schedule always comes around the Thanksgiving day game, and this season is no different. Starting with their week 12 game at the New England Patriots, the Cowboys will play three games in 12 days culminating with their week 14 game against the Chicago Bears.

The Bears, coming off an NFC North title in 2018, are similar to the Dallas Cowboys. They boast an incredible defense with one of the best pass rushers in the NFL and a young an improving offense.

Playing in Chicago is always a tough task, but doing so in December is a tall order. Doing so after going to New England, then playing at home, then going back on the road seems like an impossible task.

It's a game that will likely be a grind-it-out affair, as both teams want to run the ball and play defense. Depending on what happens in the previous two games, this could be a must-win to start the final quarter of the season.

3. Week 15 - Los Angeles Rams @ Dallas Cowboys

The rematch of the NFC Divisional round matchup is just another in a long line of important conference matchups for the Dallas Cowboys. It will be a very important game for the Cowboys because it will be a home game after their three games in 12 days stretch. They'll have to go to Foxboro and Chicago in a span of 12 days, which makes for tough travel.

Facing a Los Angeles Rams team that absolutely dominated the Dallas Cowboys defense is an opportunity for redemption, but will have huge implications on the playoff standings for the NFC.

The Cowboys and Rams could both be leading their divisions at this point in the season, which would make this game important for seeding. Or, they could be fighting for a wild card berth. Either way, a conference game this late in the season has huge consequences in the way the tie breakers shake out.

This one will carry an emotional importance as well.

The way the 2018 season ended for this club, especially on the defensive side of the ball, left a lot of players -- and fans -- with a bad taste in their mouths. It completely changed the way a lot of people view a defense that finished in the top 10 in most major defensive categories. The loss to the Rams was one of the worst defensive performances of the season and it came at the worst time of the season.

Not only was the defense bad, but the running game was terrible that day too. Ezekiel Elliott only managed 47 yards on 20 carries for one of the worst rushing performances of his career. It took a really good second half from Dak Prescott and the passing game to get the Cowboys within one score with a shot to get the ball back at the end of the game.

If the Cowboys can get revenge for that playoff loss, it would do a lot for the morale of this team heading into the final two weeks of the season.

These conference games will have huge implications for the Cowboys and their playoff hopes. Though the NFC East will have a bigger impact on their ability to win the division, how they fare in these three games will give us a better understanding of the legitimacy of their contender status. Each of these games is against the team that won the division the previous season. If they can go 2-1 against this quality of competition, then we'll know this is a team to be reckoned with heading into January.



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Schedule: Reaction and Analysis

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott/Carson Wentz Is No Rivalry, And There's Only One Side To Blame

The full NFL 2019 regular season schedule was released last night. Here is my reaction to the Dallas Cowboys' schedule and analysis of how what I think it means for them next season.

Of course, a schedule can have a very different feel come September-December than it does in April. The teams don't change, but their circumstances can be wildly altered by the time they actually have to take the field.

Just ask the Cowboys' opponents from the 2015 season. Nobody was looking forward to playing that Dallas team coming off its 12-4 playoff run the year before. But all it took was a Tony Romo injury in the preseason to suddenly make the Cowboys a cupcake.

But for now, we can only react to what we know. Before we dive in, here's a quick reminder of the complete 2019 regular season schedule for the Dallas Cowboys.

    • Week 1: New York Giants @ Cowboys
    • Week 2: Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
    • Week 3: Miami Dolphins @ Cowboys 
    • Week 4: Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints (SNF)
    • Week 5: Green Bay Packers @ Cowboys
    • Week 6: Cowboys @ New York Jets
    • Week 7: Philadelphia Eagles @ Cowboys (SNF)
    • Week 8: BYE
    • Week 9: Cowboys @ New York Giants  (SNF)
    • Week 10: Minnesota Vikings @ Cowboys (MNF)
    • Week 11: Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
    • Week 12: Cowboys @ New England Patriots
    • Week 13: Buffalo Bills @ Cowboys (T'giving)
    • Week 14: Cowboys @ Chicago Bears (TNF)
    • Week 15: Los Angeles Rams @ Cowboys
    • Week 16: Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
    • Week 17: Washington Redskins @ Cowboys

We already knew this wasn't going to be an easy slate. The Cowboys won the NFC East last year, meaning they were guaranteed to play against four division winners this season; Bears, Patriots, Rams, and Saints. They also get the regular two games against the Eagles, who were a Wild Card team last year.

Let's just talk about those six games for a minute. New England is still New England; Tom Brady and Bill Belichick will ensure that it's one of the toughest games of the year, and especially on the road. The Patriots have won 12-straight home games going back to 2017.

The Bears and Rams are both rising teams that shouldn't suffer any drop off next year. Chicago QB Mitch Trubisky is entering his third year and LA's Jared Goff will be in his fourth season, but only third in Sean McVay's offense. Both have starting QBs with rookie contacts, which means having the resources to load up on talent elsewhere on the roster.

Much like the Patriots, the Saints still have their franchise QB and coach and should remain a top team. They will also be out for blood after the Cowboys humiliated them last season, as will their fans, and that could make for a very tough road game in New Orleans.

Then, of course, there are the Eagles.

Eagles vs Redskins Tonight; What Outcome is Best for Cowboys?

Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

The NFC East appears to be a two-horse race in 2019. The Giants are arguably the worst team in the NFL right now and the Redskins are dealing with major QB problems. It should be Dallas and Philadelphia once again battling for the top spot.

The Cowboys and Eagles should both get some cushy wins against their fellow division opponents. It could come down to their games against each other, and so far Dallas has dominated Philly when Carson Wentz is playing QB. With Nick Foles gone, how will that impact the Eagles going forward?

As for the rest of the schedule, the only other game that seems easy on paper is against the Miami Dolphins. Teams like the Bills, Jets, and Lions could go either way. The Packers and Vikings should both be tough opponents.

The teams aside, the general layout of the schedule isn't bad. The Week 8 bye is nice for a break right in the middle of the season. Dallas only has to play back-to-back road games one time, Weeks 11 and 12 against the Lions and Patriots.

The first three games against the Giants, Redskins, and Dolphins give Dallas a great opportunity to start the year right and build momentum. They will definitely need to go into December with some cushion, because that stretch against the Bears, Rams, and Eagles could be very difficult.

Overall it's a solid schedule. It's got some tough spots because of the Cowboys' performance last year, but that means they were a good team then and they stand to be even better now. There's nothing here that prevents Dallas from building on the success of 2018 and making then an ever better season.



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BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys 2019 Regular Season Schedule Announced

Mauricio Rodriguez

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys against Philadelphia

Although we're still months away from the 2019 NFL season, we finally know how the Dallas Cowboys' games will line up this year. The entire league schedule was just released. I know just how much you want to know who the Cowboys will be playing each week so don't let me keep you.

Here's the full 2019 Dallas Cowboys schedule and a few notes at the end. Enjoy!

  • Week 1: New York Giants @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Sep 8th, 3:25p
  • Week 2: Cowboys @ Washington Redskins
    • Sun, Sep 15th, 12:00p
  • Week 3: Miami Dolphins @ Cowboys 
    • Sun, Sep 22nd, 12:00p
  • Week 4: Cowboys @ New Orleans Saints
    • Sunday Night Football
    • Sep, 29th, 7:20p
  • Week 5: Green Bay Packers @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Oct 6th, 3:25p
  • Week 6: Cowboys @ New York Jets
    • Sun, Oct 13th, 3:25p
  • Week 7: Philadelphia Eagles @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Oct 20th, 7:20p
  • Week 8: Bye
  • Week 9: Cowboys @ New York Giants 
    • Monday Night Football
    • Mon, Nov 4th, 7:15p
  • Week 10: Minnesota Vikings @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Nov 10th, 7:20p
  • Week 11: Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
    • Sun, Nov 17th, 12:00p
  • Week 12: Cowboys @ New England Patriots
    • Sun, Nov 24th, 3:25p
  • Week 13: Buffalo Bills @ Cowboys
    • Thanksgiving Day
    • Thu, Nov 28th, 3:30p
  • Week 14: Cowboys @ Chicago Bears
    • Thursday Night Football
    • Thu, Dec 4th, 7:20p
  • Week 15: Los Angeles Rams @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Dec 15th, 3:25p
  • Week 16: Cowboys @ Philadelphia Eagles
    • Sun, Dec 22nd, 3:25p
  • Week 17: Washington Redskins @ Cowboys
    • Sun, Dec 29th, 12:00p

A few notes and thoughts...

  • It feels like the Cowboys play the Giants on week 1 just about every year. In 2018 it was the Carolina Panthers, but now we're back to watching this divisional matchup early on.
  • I love that the Cowboys and Saints will matchup against each other on primetime on week 3. Last season's Thursday Night game between the two was one of the best games of the season.
  • Having a bye week right in the middle of the season is pretty ideal, and the Cowboys have been lucky in this regard lately. This time they'll rest on the eight week of the season.
  • Overall, this seems like a tougher calendar than last year's. This only makes sense given that the Cowboys are the current NFC East champions and are bound to face tougher opponents.
  • A particularly tough stretch might take place from week 12 to week 17. The Patriots, Bears and Rams will be on the list as well as two divisional rivals in the Eagles and Redskins.

Tell me what you think about "BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys 2019 Regular Season Schedule Announced" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL 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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