In 2017, it was evident just how much the Dallas Cowboys were hurt by their lack of linebacker depth. When Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens were injured, especially Lee, the defense struggled. Look to the games against the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams and it's easy to see just how ineffective the defense was without their top two linebackers.
With more and more teams employing RPO and read-option concepts, more is expected of linebackers as they read the quarterback.
With teams like the Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans all on the 2018 schedule, the Dallas Cowboys' linebacker corp is going to have their hands full each and every week defending quarterbacks who are really good at utilizing these concepts.
While the edge defenders are instrumental in containing the run concepts in the read-option and RPO, the linebackers are the next line of defense against the run and their discipline in the run-pass action is monumental to defending the passing concept of the RPO.
Jeff Ratcliffe from Pro Football Focus broke down who the best and worst teams using RPOs were in 2017 by quarterback yards per attempt and quarterback yards per carry.
The Philadelphia Eagles ran the most RPOs and, as Ratcliffe described in his article, "For Doug Pederson, no run concept could not have an RPO attached to it."
The Kansas City Chiefs were second in the NFL in the amount of RPOs utilized with quarterback Alex Smith, now with the Washington Redskins, under center. Speaking of the Redskins, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they accrued the highest yards per attempt of any team in the NFL when throwing out of an RPO.
So, if you do the math, you can bet that the Washington Redskins will utilize a lot of RPO and read-option concepts in their offensive game plan.
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, the Cowboys' week one opponent, ran RPOs the fourth most of any team in the NFL and had 5.5 yards per carry when Cam Newton kept the ball himself. Cam is one of the best running quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Newton is the only quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to rush for double-digit rushing touchdowns twice in his career. Before he did it in 2011, no quarterback had accomplished the feat since Daunte Culpepper in 2002. The Dallas Cowboys and their front seven will have their hands full containing Newton in week one.
Also according to PFF's Ratcliffe, the New York Giants were the fifth best team in 2017 when the quarterback decided to keep the ball and run as they averaged 5.5 yards per carry out of RPOs. That has to be the most shocking element of his post. When you think of Eli Manning, you don't think of a running quarterback.
That just shows you how effective the RPO and read-option can be in the NFL.
With the speed of the game light years faster than it was 20 or 30 years ago, teams are having to use more and more misdirection to gain an edge in the run and pass game.
Another team on the Dallas Cowboys schedule was very effective throwing out of RPOs: the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the AFC Championship Game, they made a lot of headway against the New England Patriots using this concept.
Will be interesting to see how the Pats gameplan for the Eagles RPOs. Jaguars shredded them with same RPO 4 times in first half last week https://t.co/gYJWIPYIjj
In 2017, the Jaguars averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, the fifth best number in the NFL, just 0.3 yards per attempt behind the Philadelphia Eagles, who were fourth in the league when throwing out of RPOs.
This note from Jeff, I found particularly interesting:
"When the quarterback did pull, league-wide last year, the average yards per attempt was 6.52 and there was a 78.8 completion percentage. Once again, easy money."
Jeff Ratcliffe - Pro Football Focus
Most of the NFL is beginning to employ more and more RPO and read-option concepts into their offensive game plans, making the defense's job a lot more challenging. Especially at the linebacker level.
No longer can the linebacker just simply read run or pass based on the way the quarterback drops or turns to hand off, but they have to determine:
- Is the quarterback giving the ball to the runner?
- If the quarterback kept it, is he looking to run?
- If he's going to pass, where's the ball going?
All of that has to be decided within one to two seconds of the play. A linebacker is taught to read and react to the play as quickly as possible, which can create a significant advantage for the offense if the linebacker reads wrong.
The whole point of the read-option and the RPO is to create a lose-lose situation for the defense.
No matter what they do, it's a wrong choice.
If they read pass and drop into coverage, the ball carrier gets an advantage as he begins to go downhill. If the linebacker reads run and begins to attack the line of scrimmage, the QB pulls it and throws it to the spot vacated by the linebacker.
Having linebackers with elite athleticism, range, and coverage ability, like the Dallas Cowboys do in Sean Lee and potentially Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, will help them minimize the damage potential as they face increasing RPO usage.
Even if we talk about standard run and pass play calls, the defense was a much better unit when Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens were in the game. Points per game, rushing yards per game, and passing yards per game were all lower when those two were available. When the team had to rely on Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson as their top two linebackers, they were lit up like a pinball machine.
The Cowboys hope Jaylon Smith can return to the All-American type of player he was with Notre Dame, but if he doesn't, Vander Esch is a good insurance policy for 2019.
The Boise State product is good in the run game, but he excels in the passing game when he drops into coverage.
Having three linebackers that can play the run and pass like these three potentially can will be a huge key to the Dallas Cowboys success on defense in 2018. They will make life a lot easier for the rest of the defense if they are able to maintain play discipline against the read-option and the run-pass option.
Having these three linebackers and their dual-threat ability in the run and pass game will help the Dallas Cowboys be in far less lose-lose situations than they might otherwise be. And for the Dallas Cowboys to achieve the goals the hope to achieve, namely a sixth Lombardi Trophy, these three will be the key to that success.
Cowboys en Español: Sí, Amari Cooper Lo Valió
Cuando los Dallas Cowboys sorprendieron a la NFL mandando una selección de primera ronda por el receptor Amari Cooper de los Oakland Raiders, la respuesta fue muy dividida. Al final de cuentas, Cooper estaba pasando por una temporada bastante mala junto a su equipo. Sus números iban en decline y muchos habían perdido la fe en la ex-estrella de la universidad de Alabama y cuarta selección global en el NFL Draft del 2015.
Pero sorpresa, sorpresa. Desde que se unió a las filas de los Dallas Cowboys, Amari Cooper ha demostrado que la decisión que tomaron los Jones fue una muy buena.
En esta liga, es muy complicado justificar el deshacerse de un pick de primera ronda.
Estamos hablando de la oportunidad de tomar a un novato joven con muchísimo potencial para convertirse en un jugador calibre All-Pro en algún punto de su carrera. No es fácil renunciar a una posibilidad así en esta liga. Sin embargo, Amari Cooper no ha hecho más que justificar el trade por parte de los Cowboys. Si continúa así, al final de la temporada podríamos estar hablando de que Dallas pagó de menos por él.
Es importante recalcar que Amari Cooper tiene 24 años de edad. Para el NFL Draft del 2019, los mejores prospectos en esta posición tienen a lo mucho cuatro años menos. A.J. Brown de Ole Miss tendrá 21 años cuando pise el emparrillado por primera vez en la NFL.
Y no, ninguno de estos receptores está cerca del nivel de talento con el que cuenta Cooper.
¿Qué tan grande ha sido el impacto de Amari Cooper?
Desde la semana 9, cuando los Cowboys consiguieron a Cooper, este ha tenido 30 recepciones. 23 de las cuales han resultado en un primer down o en un touchdown. Es el receptor con más atrapadas en tercera oportunidad. Podríamos hablar de las grandes estadísticas que el wide receiver ha conseguido vistiendo la estrella individualmente. Pero realmente, ha tenido un impacto en la ofensiva entera.
Desde su llegada, los Cowboys son el tercer mejor equipo en porcentaje de pases completos, el segundo en yardas después de la recepción y el tercero a la hora de convertir terceras oportunidades y mover las cadenas.
Simple y sencillamente, ha tenido un impacto que ningún otro novato del 2019 hubiera tenido en este equipo. Si, los Cowboys tendrán que pagarle una extensión cara en el futuro, pero cuando este sea el caso, lo habrá valido.
Amari Cooper es el ejemplo perfecto de porque la NFL es un deporte de equipo. Con los Raiders, todos lo tachaban como un jugador que ya no era bueno e iba para abajo. Pero bajo los Dallas Cowboys, se ve como un jugador que promete mucho para esta joven franquicia que necesitaba un verdadero #1 en la posición de wide receiver.
La ofensiva de los Cowboys tiene mucho talento. Es cuestión de mejorar en zona roja para que Dallas sea una amenaza bastante considerable en los playoffs de la NFL.
Why is Jerry Jones “keeping a very close eye” on the Kareem Hunt Case?
As owner of the Dallas Cowboys, Jerry Jones has been pretty open-minded when it comes to giving talented players second and even third chances. So, it should come to no surprise he is "keeping a very close eye" on the NFL's newest troubled player, Kareem Hunt, according to a statement he made recently on 105.3 The Fan.
"Yes, keeping a very close eye, and have a very keen interest in how this plays out. It's a challenging area about what we're about…everyone has zero tolerance for domestic abuse," said Jones.
Leave it to Jerry Jones to say something so vague that can be misconstrued on several different levels. There is really no way of knowing exactly why he is so interested in the Kareem Hunt case, which is why I thought I would attempt to crawl inside his head to decipher what he could possibly be thinking.
The Kareem Hunt case is interesting though on so many different levels. There is actual video evidence of the altercation thanks to TMZ, unlike the hearsay with Ezekiel Elliott that ended up looking more and more like a witch hunt by the NFL and Roger Goodell. You can bet that could be one of the reasons why Jerry Jones' interest has been piqued, but I can guarantee he's not the only one watching closely to see how this plays out.
Before I get too off-topic, let me get back to the elephant in the room. Why is Jerry Jones "keeping a very close eye" on the Kareem Hunt case? Let's jump into his thought process to determine what he could possibly be thinking…
Considering an Ezekiel Elliott/Kareem Hunt Tandem?
Since Jerry Jones isn't shy about adding "troubled" players to the Dallas Cowboys roster, there have already been quite a few people who believe Kareem Hunt will eventually end up with the organization. I highly doubt it happens, but a Ezekiel Elliott/Hunt tandem in the Cowboys backfield would be something dreams are made of, not to mention really fun to watch.
No offense to Rod Smith or any other running back on the Cowboys roster, but they don't really have someone who is capable enough in the eyes of the coaching staff to cut into Zeke's heavy workload. Pairing Hunt with Zeke would give Dallas a two headed monster and give them the best RB duo in the league. That would fit right into their run first mentality.
Hunt of course is looking at least a six-game suspension. Jerry Jones would have to be comfortable with the backlash he would receive by bringing him aboard, but we've seen him make such moves in the past. I definitely believe it's something that has crossed his mind. As a football movement makes sense, but it without a doubt hurts the Cowboys brand and their public image.
Kareem Hunt an Ezekiel Elliott Replacement?
We are getting to the point in Ezekiel Elliott's career the Dallas Cowboys have to start considering whether or not they want to sign him to a long-term extension. It could be as early as this upcoming offseason, or they could wait until after 2019. Adding a young, talented, and cost-effective RB like Kareem Hunt would be a shrewd/savvy move on the Cowboys part.
Like I mentioned earlier, Hunt is looking at least a six-game suspension and could quite possibly end up being for an entire season. That means he's not going to cost a lot when/if he's able to return to the NFL and is still young enough to make any contract he signs pay off. Sounds like a win-win for a team who is willing to bring him aboard.
About the time Hunt is able to return to the league just so happens kind of coincides with when the Cowboys have to make a decision about Elliott's long-term future with the organization. This is a no-brainer from a business standpoint, but we all know that there are other factors involved here. But again, I wouldn't be surprised if this is something that hasn't crossed the mind of Jerry Jones.
Seeing How the NFL and Roger Goodell Handle Things
I personally believe that this is the reason why Jerry Jones is going to keep a close eye on the Kareem Hunt case, although the other two reasons certainly make sense. I just think he still hasn't put the entire Ezekiel Elliott suspension drama behind him and really wants to see how Roger Goodell and the NFL handles things this time around.
We all know that Zeke's suspension was based on nothing more than hearsay. The NFL's lead investigator even recommended he shouldn't be suspended and that was after interviewing the accuser six times, something that hasn't happened once in Hunt's case. The entire investigation was poorly handled and drawn out, which made the verdict that much more hard to swallow.
I think Jerry Jones has kind of been waiting for another chance to voice his displeasure with the NFL's ability to investigate and punish players of wrongdoing on a consistent basis. This could be the exact kind of opportunity he's been waiting for and you can bet that he won't shy away from voicing his opinions on the matter. In fact, I'm a little surprised he hasn't done so already.
Why do you think Jerry Jones is watching the Kareem Hunt case closely?
Randy Gregory Is Looking Like We Always Thought He Could
Much of Cowboys Nation had the proverbial pitchforks out when Randy Gregory was penalized for roughing the kicker after a key third down stop last Thursday night. Those same fans were understandably upset when Gregory was then penalized again, this time for lining up in the neutral zone and negating a sack fumble.
It was frustrating to see, and as head coach Jason Garrett said after the game, those plays were essentially turnovers committed by Randy Gregory. Because of these frustrating penalties, combined with his bone-headed personal foul all the way back in Carolina and his history of suspensions, people around the league have called Gregory a "dumb" player, or have suggested the Cowboys are wrong for giving him so many chances.
People have been wondering when the Cowboys' patience for Randy Gregory will pay dividends on the field.
I'm here to tell you that they already are.
Since returning against the Eagles four games ago, Gregory has compiled 3 sacks and 4 quarterback hits. Only DeMarcus Lawrence has been consistently better than Gregory as a pass rusher since he got healthy, and the production difference between the two isn't as large as you'd expect.
Of course, Lawrence receives much more attention from pass protection schemes than Gregory does, but if Gregory can continue to pressure quarterbacks and win his 1-on-1 matchups, things may begin to open up a bit more for Lawrence.
Gregory's calling card heading into the 2015 draft was his pure pass rushing ability. He's the athletic weakside edge rusher fans have been clamoring for for years. And while it took a while for him to get here, he's finally showing signs of playing like the athletic freak and football player he can be.
Gregory's hands, burst, and bend are special, and it was unfair to expect him to put everything together so quickly after not being around actual football for basically two whole seasons. But now that he's healthy and appears to be comfortable in his role, we are seeing more and more productive rushes from Gregory each week.
While Tyrone Crawford has been solid overall, Gregory has become the unquestioned pass rushing RDE, getting healthy and productive while Taco Charlton was injured and inactive. As a pure pass rusher he's clearly the 2nd best defensive end on the roster, behind the All-Pro caliber Lawrence, and looks primed for a Pro Bowl season in 2019.
This Sunday Gregory will take on Jason Peters and the Eagles offensive line. While he hasn't played enough to really have trends against any opponent, if he does have one it is against Peters. In 2016 Gregory tallied 7 tackles and a sack against the Eagles, and he also sacked Carson Wentz just a few weeks ago.
So in those two matchups, we have seen Randy Gregory at his best. As the Cowboys hope to take another step towards wrapping up an NFC East title, they certainly hope Gregory can continue this trend on Sunday afternoon.
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