The bye week for the Dallas Cowboys couldn't have possibly come at a better time. This is the perfect opportunity to sit back and reflect on what has worked in the past and what isn't working in the present. That is exactly what I've been doing, and I've come to the conclusion that the biggest strength of the 2016 Cowboys team has now become their weakness.
I'm a huge believer that we can learn things from the past and help better prepare ourselves for the future. That is why I think as a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, we should all take a much closer look at how they were so successful a season ago and what has changed in a short amount of time.
To put the 2016 season for the Dallas Cowboys in perspective, we have to remember the 2015 season nearly all of us would rather forget. After a disastrous season, the Cowboys finished with a 4-12 record and were dead last in the NFC East division. Because of this, not many of us had very high expectations heading into 2016.
Well, despite not expecting very much from the Dallas Cowboys in 2016, they still managed to exceed anything anyone could have possibly predicted. They finished first in the NFC East division with a 13-3 record and were able to accomplish that impressive feat led by a rookie quarterback who wasn't drafted until the fourth round.
Everything was just able to fall in place for the Dallas Cowboys in 2016, which is why they ended up having one of the best seasons in the history of the organization. But, if someone were to ask you why they were so successful that season, what would you say?
I know everyone's answers will vary, but what if I were to tell you that you are all likely wrong?
I know some of you would say that the offense was simply outstanding and were able to outscore their opponents. Others of course would say that the defense was the bigger reason they were successful. The rest of you would likely say it was a combination of the two. But, I think it's none of the above.
I think the sole reason the Dallas Cowboys were so successful in 2016 was because of their ability to win close games. Yes, it's as simple as that and something that this 2017 team has yet to accomplish.
In 2016, the Dallas Cowboys had a total of 10 games decided by a touchdown or less, including the playoffs. Unfortunately, three of those games were losses. They lost both games to the New York Giants in the regular season and once to the Green Bay Packers in the playoffs. But, all of those losses were decided by a field goal or less.
If you're keeping up and are doing the math, then you already know the Dallas Cowboys won seven of those games that were decided by a touchdown or less. Fortunately, the Cowboys came out on top in all of these contests, but it could've gone the other way in any one.
Being able to win those seven games was huge for the Dallas Cowboys last year. They could've easily been right back where they were in 2015 and only won a handful of games. I think that's important to remember as the season progresses.
Unfortunately, this 2017 Dallas Cowboys team hasn't been able to come out on the winning side of these close games. The Cowboys lost both of their last two games to the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers by less than a touchdown. These losses hurt still, but probably wouldn't have happened a year ago.
As you can see now, I think the biggest strength that made the 2016 Dallas Cowboys so successful has now become their weakness. Luckily, this year's team can still turn things around, but they're going to have to do a much better job across the board.
The best way to to get back on track is to be the team that comes out on top in these close games. That was what they were able to do in 2016, and what they must do so once again as the season progresses this year.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys can win close games?
Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?
Despite their insistence that upgrading the safety position was a top offseason priority, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really done much to improve the backend of their secondary. They did sign former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals Safety George Iloka as a free agent and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth-round in this year's NFL Draft, but neither player looks like a clear-cut upgrade at this point. Fortunately, there's still time to find Xavier Woods' counterpart for 2019.
Xavier Woods is the only clear-cut starter at safety currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who starts opposite him this season. With that in mind, the Cowboys should be keeping all of their options open, including acquiring players who get released or even making a trade for someone they like. The latter is what I want to talk about today.
A potential safety who could be put on the trade block that I'm kind of intrigued with is Josh Jones, who has reportedly requested a trade from the Green Bay Packers.
Packers safety Josh Jones is skipping the voluntary OTAs and working out in Florida because he's hoping to be traded, a source told ESPN. The source said the 2017 second-round pick believes it would be best for both parties if they parted ways. Story coming on ESPN shortly.
Josh Jones clearly sees where he stands with the Green Bay Packers after they signed Adrian Amos in free agency and drafted Darnell Savage Jr. 21st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, thus his absence from OTA's and trade request. He understands the business and knows he's not going to see the field much behind those two, meaning his best chance for playing time would be in a different uniform.
It's not all that shocking Jones has requested a trade. Even before the Packers added Amos and Savage he wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. He's just never seemed to fit into what Green Bay was trying to do on the backend of their defense. It may be in the best interest of both parties to mutually part ways. This is where the Dallas Cowboys come in.
I believe Josh Jones is exactly the type of safety Kris Richard would like to pair Xavier Woods with on the backend of the Cowboys defense. He fits the criteria Richard likes in his defensive backs as far as size, length, and speed are concerned. And, he also has the kind of skill set/mindset to become that Kam Chancellor "enforcer" type of strong safety.
Josh Jones is at his best when he can play around the line of scrimmage, much like Chancellor was during his time with the Seahawks. But, Jones also has the ability to be a factor in coverage as well. The only real question here is whether or not he's an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Heath, George Iloka, and maybe even rookie Donovan Wilson?
In all honesty, I don't have the answer to that question. Josh Jones really hasn't received a fair opportunity to prove himself in his first two years in the NFL. I believe the skill set is there to start in the league, but there's not much there to back up that belief.
Personally, I'd be willing to part way with a late round pick if I were the Cowboys to acquire Josh Jones. I like the idea of bringing him in to work with Kris Richard and allowing him to compete for the starting job next to Xavier Woods. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward move Dallas likes to gamble on, and it could potentially pay off in a big way.
Where do you stand? Should the Cowboys consider trading for Josh Jones?
How Can The Cowboys Force More Turnovers In 2019?
2018 seemed like the beginning of a new era. A defensive era. For the first time in years the Cowboys were able to consistently lean on their defense during games, staying alive even as their offense sputtered and limped through stretches early in the season.
The defense was downright prolific some weeks. They carried the Cowboys to an inspiring home victory over the New Orleans Saints to put them in prime position to make the playoffs. They dominated the Wild Card game in key moments, making key stops and holding the Seahawks to just 22 points in the win. They featured one of the league's best individual pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, an All Pro cornerback in Byron Jones, and one of the league's most exciting young linebacker duos.
For all of this success, this defense still lacked one thing. Takeaways.
The Cowboys forced only 9 interceptions in 2018, ranking 26th across the league. In fact, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually tied with Xavier Woods for the team lead in interceptions with just 2. When it comes to total takeaways the Cowboys' defense was a little better off, though, finishing 16th in the NFL.
Part of the "problem" seems to be their philosophy. The Cowboys have finished 26th, 24th, 27th, and 31st in interceptions dating back to 2015. They've also finished 9th, 25th, 18th, and 19th in team defense DVOA over that same stretch. Clearly there was an improvement in total defense in 2018, but neither their team defense nor ability to take the ball away has been strong since 2015.
The bigger problem, really, is a lack of luck. While this sounds like a cop-out, takeaways often do come down to just that. Of course putting yourself in the right place at the right time to benefit from a batted pass or overthrown ball matters, but those bounces finding the right hands is usually a matter of luck.
Turnovers are incredibly volatile year to year, and as much as you'd like your players to "make their own luck," randomness does play a part here.
You can certainly argue the Cowboys have done their best this offseason to increase their chances at takeaways, however. By trading for defensive end Robert Quinn, re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence, and adding talented players to the middle of their defensive line as well, Dallas has put an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and corralling the opposing running game. Putting pressure on quarterbacks can force them into quick decision making or bad throws, which could in turn breed interceptions.
This is far from guaranteed, though. Plus the Cowboys play against some of the league's top quarterbacks this year, which hurts their chances of taking the ball away further.
In the end the Cowboys will need both the skill of their pass rushers and defensive backs to put them in good positions, and luck to smile down on them, if they'd like to turn around their takeaway numbers in 2019. And after all, this demoralizing trend has to reverse itself at some point, doesn't it?
Will It Be The Cowboys, Or Another Team, Who Pays Byron Jones After 2019?
After having his fifth year option exercised for the 2019 season, cornerback Byron Jones enters a contract year this Fall.
Jones inarguably had the best year of his career in 2018: earning not only his first Pro Bowl selection but also Second Team All Pro honors for his performance. Doing it all without an impressive stat sheet, Jones was able to let his film speak for itself throughout most of the year, and he became the number one cornerback we'd all hoped he could be when the Cowboys decided to take the freakishly athletic defensive back in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
This contract year is quite unique for Byron Jones, however. Next offseason the Cowboys will be forced to re-sign and extend just about all of their key contributors on both sides of the ball. DeMarcus Lawrence already got his contract, but Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and others still await their deals. Deals which the front office has all-but explicitly promised will come.
This leaves Jones, the former first round pick and now former All Pro, generally considered to be the odd man out. So while 2019 is a contract year for Byron Jones, he may be earning himself a contract from a completely different team.
Jones has had an interesting road to this contract season. One which would be a shame for the Cowboys to waste. Moving between cornerback and safety during the first three years of his career, Jones fell out of the coaches' good graces while playing out of his most natural position. Under Kris Richard's new regime, though, Jones had his best season to date. He looked to finally be comfortable in his role, and was now playing for a coach who believed he could be a special player.
Now that Byron Jones has found his place in the Cowboys defense, and has earned his way into conversations with the league's top cornerbacks, he's likely priced himself out of the Cowboys' future plans.
It's funny how that works out. Of course, Jones should go get paid, and I'd never fault a guy for maximizing his value on the market. But there's a good chance the Cowboys make the mistake of allowing a premier cornerback to walk out of their building next offseason. But if they want to retain players like Elliott and Cooper, they may not have any other choice.
Player News1 week ago
Leighton Vander Esch Graded Best Rookie Linebacker Since 2014
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
3 Reasons Why LB Leighton Vander Esch Will be Even Better in 2019
Player News2 weeks ago
RB Rod Smith Signs with Giants; Brother Jaylon Sends Farewell Message
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
Star Blog1 week ago
QB Dak Prescott Already Impressing New Offensive Coaches
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Way-too-early 2019 Dallas Cowboys 53-man Roster Projection
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Despite Perception, Dallas Cowboys had an Excellent Offseason