The bedrock of the Dallas Cowboys' offense, if not their entire team, the last several years has been its stalwart offensive line. Dallas has invested a lot of draft capital and salary cap dollars to have one of the league's best units, but are we starting to see signs that the wall they've built is slowly crumbling?
It would be easy to overreact after what happened last Sunday in New Orleans, where Ezekiel Elliott was held to just 1.9 yards-per-carry despite 18 rushing attempts. But this isn't about one game; increasing missed games by the starters and decreasing run-game dominance have been trending since 2016.
The Cowboys' greatest adversaries in the coming years may be the realities of Father Time and NFL mileage, more than the Eagles or any other team.
It may sound strange to talk about age since Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin are all still just 28 years old. But that's where mileage comes into play; all of these guys have been full-time starters since the moment they entered the NFL.
2019 marks Smith's ninth season in the pros. This is Year 7 for Frederick and Year 6 for Martin. They have all started in every game they've played since being first-round draft picks. And unfortunately, that wear-and-tear is starting to show.
Tyron has missed three games in each of the last three seasons. He is expected to be out this Sunday against the Packers, though for an acute ankle injury and not the more chronic neck,back, and shoulder issues.
Zack missed two games last year for the first time in his career. He has been struggling with back issues all year so far in 2019, having to leave one game already due to some brief complications.
Travis is different, having missed all of 2018 dealing with a neurological disease. He's made a fantastic return from what could have been a career-ending situation, but all observers agree that Frederick hasn't gotten back to his All-Pro form yet.
When you start talking about all of these things collectively, you can see why this isn't just some passing concern. The Cowboys have leaned on that offensive line for a while now, and the long-term extension they just gave to Elliott suggests that's their strategy going forward.
But in so doing, have we taken for granted that Smith, Frederick, and Martin are going to keep being the same Pro Bowl players?
Again, I'm trying not to overreact to the run game getting shut down by the Saints. After all, Zeke had two 100-yard games in the weeks leading up. Even Tony Pollard had one against Miami.
But the Dolphins and Redskins are pure trash this season. The first time Dallas played a team who actually had their stuff together, their run game was completely shut down.
Granted, sometimes you come up against a great defense. Those guys are also trying to win; you can't look great every week.
But the whole point of investing the first-round picks in these linemen, and then paying top dollar on the second contracts, was to build an offensive line that can't be outclassed. Coaches may be able to out-scheme, but Dallas should never be at a disadvantage when it comes to talent on talent.
Hopefully, the weeks to come will make us look back on the Saints game as a total aberration. Perhaps Kellen Moore just got outmaneuvered in only his fourth game as Offensive Coordinator and he didn't put guys in the best position to excel.
But again, this isn't just one game. We're seeing our All-Pro offensive linemen missing more games and looking less like themselves from time to time, getting beat in one-on-one blocking assignments more than we ever saw in the past.
Father Time is undefeated, and sometimes just the rigors of life in the NFL can make a guy old before his time. Tyron Smith may only be 28 but he was an exceptionally young rookie at 20 years old; his NFL age is older than the standard calendar.
Only time will tell if these concerns fade away or become more permanent issues. But the signs are there; this Cowboys offense line may not be as reliable anymore as we've been used to.
#DALvsPHI: It’s Make Or Break Time In Dallas This Sunday
The future of the Dallas Cowboys is hanging in the balance.
Despite three straight incredibly disappointing losses, the Cowboys can take early control of first place in the NFC East with a victory this Sunday. With a loss, though, it could all come apart.
The 2019 season. The Jason Garrett era. All of it.
This may sound dramatic for a week 7 game, but the facts are damning for this version of the Cowboys. Not only would a loss Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles be Dallas' fourth in a row, but it would also send them under .500 for the first time all season. And when you look at their schedule moving forward, it's hard to see how Dallas could battle back into true contention.
America's Team has looked wildly unprepared the last three weeks. Getting out played and out coached by the Saints and Packers is one thing, but being embarrassed by Adam Gase and the New York Jets is a whole different level of incompetence.
Now enter the hated Eagles, swaggering behind the words of their head coach Doug Pederson who guaranteed victory over the Cowboys on Philadelphia sports radio to start the week. But, while the rhetoric around the two teams feels a little different, both Dallas and Philly are in similar situations heading into this game.
Both were considered to be Super Bowl contenders prior to the season, with the Eagles even being crowned as the best team in the NFC by most major media outlets.
Through six games though, each has been disappointing, and each sits at 3-3. The only likely avenue for either of these assumed-giants to make the postseason will be by winning their objectively bad division. A wild card run through this gauntlet of an NFC would be tough, especially as it'll likely take 10 wins to get there.
Sunday is a season changing type of game, and for the Cowboys, it's a potentially franchise changing type of game.
A loss would all but seal Jason Garrett's fait in the eyes of Cowboys Nation, barring a miraculous comeback in the second half of the season. It would also continue this talented group's tailspin back down to the state of mediocrity their doubters all predicted and hoped for.
So, for the sake of the 2019 Cowboys and Jason Garrett, they better show up on Sunday night.
5 Cowboys with Big Opportunity as Tyrone Crawford Goes to IR
Though his reputation outside of the locker room seemed to be in question by many in the Dallas Cowboys fanbase always in question, Tyrone Crawford has been one of the more valuable members of the Dallas Cowboys. Despite a salary cap hit that was often disproportionate to the production he provided, his leadership and versatility has always been tremendously valuable to the Dallas Cowboys' defensive line.
Crawford's ability to play both defensive end positions and the 3-technique defensive tackle spot has been immensely important for the Cowboys over the years. When the Cowboys struggled to stop the run, he'd give them a boost at right defensive end. When they needed some pass rush help in the middle, Crawford was the guy they'd turn to.
Crawford's battled hip injuries this year and his inability to get healthy has landed him on injured reserve for the 2019 season. He's always been a solid player for the Cowboys and now Dallas will need to figure out how to redistribute his 20-25 defensive snaps per game.
Though he's been primarily a role player, the opportunity exists for his role to be divided up between several players moving forward. Here are five players who stand to benefit most from Tyrone Crawford's injury.
Kerry Hyder, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle
The player with the best chance to fill Crawford's defensive end/defensive tackle role is Kerry Hyder. Hyder has a lot of experience at both positions and even played some nose tackle for the Detroit Lions last year before signing with the Dallas Cowboys in free agency. In 2016, Hyder showed some pass-rush ability from the defensive end spot as he racked up eight sacks. Though Hyder hasn't recorded a sack yet in 2019, he'll see an increase in his snap count moving forward.
Christian Covington, Defensive Tackle
One could argue that Christian Covington has been the Dallas Cowboys' most disruptive defensive tackle in the 2019 season. He has the highest run-stop percentage of any Cowboys defensive lineman, per Pro Football Focus and the highest run defense grade amongst the Cowboys defensive lineman.
Covington has the ability to play both defensive tackle positions and with Antwaun Woods back as the starting 1-technique defensive tackle, it could provide Covington some opportunities to play the 3-technique spot. Maliek Collins is the starter, but the Cowboys need someone to come in and keep him fresh. On early downs and obvious running situations, Covington might be the better choice for the Cowboys inside to get more production from their 3-technique. Maliek Collins has been an effective pass-rusher, but he's struggled in the run game. Covington could help there.
Joe Jackson, Defensive End
Another newcomer to the Dallas Cowboys with inside-outside positional flexibility that could see an uptick in defensive snaps is fifth-round draft pick, Joe Jackson.
Jackson was able to secure a roster spot out of training camp because of the same type of positional flexibility that Tyrone Crawford has shown throughout his career. Though Jackson's only played 51 snaps this season, he saw a decent amount of work in the first three games of the season, with a high of 26 snaps against the New York Giants in week one.
His snap counts have tailed off quite a bit since playing 12 snaps in week three, and he's been a healthy scratch each of the last two games. The potential exists for Jackson to get more work on the gameday roster in the weeks to come.
Trysten Hill, Defensive Tackle
A player that could use a break is rookie Defensive Tackle Trysten Hill. Hill has been a healthy scratch for three of the Dallas Cowboys six games to start the 2019 season. It's been known that he's a bit of a work in progress, but he has a really good ability to get off the ball and penetrate. He needs to work on securing his base and holding his anchor when being double-teamed.
Hill will be a good player, though his biggest impact may not come in 2019, but 2020. With Crawford to IR, Hill may find himself on the active roster to take some of the snaps at 3-technique defensive tackle. The Cowboys could use him to get some interior pressure on the quarterback to take some of the pressure off of the defensive ends to get to the quarterback.
Daniel Wise, Defensive End/Defensive Tackle
Rookie undrafted free agent Defensive End/Tackle Daniel Wise has an excellent opportunity to be promoted to the 53-man roster this week if the Dallas Cowboys feel the need to add another defensive lineman as depth.
Wise had a really nice training camp and preseason that gave many the impression he could make the 53-man roster out of training camp. Depth at the position made it pretty difficult and he's spent the first six weeks of the season on the practice squad.
Because Wise and Crawford play similar positions with similar versatility, it would make sense for the Cowboys to add him to the 53 this week with their matchup with the Philadelphia Eagles looming.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys have several decisions to make this week as they attempt to get a win for the first time since beating the Miami Dolphins in week three. They need to figure out who will take Tyrone Crawford's snaps in the defensive end and defensive tackle rotation. They also need to decide who will take Crawford's spot on the game-day roster and the 53-man roster.
Jourdan Lewis, the Change the Dallas Cowboys Defense Needs
The Dallas Cowboys are a mess right now, especially on the defensive side of the ball. There's no sugar coating the way they've played these past few weeks. I think the third consecutive loss in a row pretty much speaks for itself. Something needs to change and fast, but what!?
Enter Cornerback Jourdan Lewis.
With both Byron Jones and Anthony Brown currently nursing injuries from last Sunday's game against the New York Jets, Jourdan Lewis should see quite an increase in playing time in Week 7 against the Philadelphia Eagles. I don't know about you, but this could be the change the Dallas Cowboys defense needs.
If you've read any of my previous articles on Jourdan Lewis, then you already know I've been pretty adamant he deserves to be on the field more often. I believe he is the Cowboys second best cornerback, behind only Byron Jones. Unfortunately, since the hiring of Kris Richard last season he hasn't seen the field much.
Kris Richard has a prototype he prefers in his cornerbacks and No. 27 doesn't quite fit the bill. Richard likes his CBs at least 6 foot tall with an arm length of approximately 32 inches. At 5'10", Jourdan Lewis falls a few inches under the height threshold Richard likes, but narrowly misses in the arm length with 31 5/8 inch arms.
It may be pretty obvious, but I personally don't agree with Richard's insistence on playing the CBs that fit his prototype. I think it's flawed, especially as it pertains to Jourdan Lewis. On just about any other team around the league Lewis would be starting, but with the Cowboys he currently sits fourth on the depth chart.
Due to the current injuries at the CB position though, Richard doesn't really have a choice but to play Jourdan Lewis more this week. He may even have to be relied upon as a starter and I believe that could be the change the Cowboys defense needs.
Don't get me wrong, I really like Byron Jones and Anthony Brown. But, neither CB is known for creating turnovers. No. 27 on the other hand has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to come away with an interception. In fact, only Anthony Brown (4) has more than interceptions since he joined the team and that's with far more playing time.
As a rookie, Lewis played 70% of the defensive snaps in 2017. His defensive snaps dropped dramatically in 2018 (18%) after the hiring of Kris Richard. So far this season his snap count has increased from a season ago to 30.17% and could rise even higher due to injuries and opportunity.
I don't expect Jourdan Lewis to fix all of the Dallas Cowboys problems on defense all by himself, but the Cowboys have to start somewhere. He could just be the spark they need to get back on track. At least that's what I'm hoping anyway.
What do you think? Is Jourdan Lewis the change the Cowboys defense needs?
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