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QB Controversy Is Not Dallas Cowboys Biggest Problem

Jess Haynie

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DeMarcus Lawrence, #90

The Dallas Cowboys come out of their bye week with a lot of "good problems to have." For example:

  • Deciding between Dak Prescott and Tony Romo.
  • Finding a role or trade partner for Darren McFadden.
  • Not wanting to take CB Anthony Brown off the field.
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

At 5-1 and with arguably the most momentum of any team in the NFC, the Cowboys don't have much to complain about. However, there is one large problem that could stand in the way of championship aspirations. Unfortunately, it's also a very familiar one.

The Cowboys defense is still one of the worst at rushing the passer. As our last trip to the playoffs proved, this can be a fatal flaw.

Many point to the bad call on Dez Bryant's near-touchdown catch as what cost Dallas their 2014 playoff game in Green Bay. However, the defense's inability to get to Aaron Rodgers was the far larger culprit. Rodgers had clean pockets to work from and carved up the Dallas secondary throughout the game, despite playing with a lower leg injury.

Two weeks ago, the Cowboys again faced Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field. The same lack of pressure was there, but they got away with it as Rodgers was having a bad day in an atypically rough season.

It is unlikely that the Cowboys can survive three or four playoff games without pressuring quarterbacks. If they meet Rodgers again, or the likes of Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan, those quarterbacks can make plays and counter Dallas' ball-control offense with quick answers and matching touchdowns.

Is 10 games enough time for Dallas to find a solution before the playoffs?

demarcus-ware-tackle-rgiii

You have to go back to 2011, with Rob Ryan and the 3-4 defense, for a time that Dallas wasn't in the bottom half of the NFL in sacks. DeMarcus Ware had 19.5 that year and was helped by Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher.

Since then, the Cowboys have ranked 20th or worse in sacks every season. The transition from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3 has had mixed reviews, but the glaring negative has been less ability to attack quarterbacks.

Right now the Cowboys have just 11 sacks, a little less than two per game. They are allowing opposing quarterbacks to have an average passer rating of 95.0, another bottom-half number in the NFL. It's especially bad when you consider that Aaron Rodgers is the above-average QB that they've faced so far this season.

These problems are especially frustrating given the many failures in personnel moves. You can't say Dallas hasn't invested in the pass rush. The problem is that they've been risky investments.

The signing of Greg Hardy was the Cowboys' single biggest, and most risky, attempt find improve. Hardy debuted with a bang but quickly went silent, and his personal problems and poor character did far more to hurt the organization than help. He was gone after one year.

Cowboys Blog - Dallas Cowboys Defensive End Randy Gregory Suspended 4 Games

The Cowboys likely won't get help from Randy Gregory this season

Dallas spent their 2014 and 2015 second-round picks on defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Lawrence just recently returned from a PED suspension and Gregory is out until Week 15 for repeated drug violations. Neither is a lost cause, but so far the returns have not been good.

Dallas has even been pass-rush focused with their defensive tackles. They gave Tyrone Crawford a long-term deal on the faith that he would blossom as a disruptive DT under Rod Marinelli. Crawford has yet to be a consistent force and now has one of the worst contracts on the team.

Thought not on the same scale of investment, the Cowboys recently gave Benson Mayowa a solid contract paying roughly $3 million per year despite his limited opportunities with the Oakland Raiders. They thought he could emerge with a larger role, but Mayowa has yet to do so.

The Cowboys' best hope is that DeMarcus Lawrence will come out of the bye week ready to live up to the hype. Lawrence had seven sacks over the final eight games of 2015, but that was with Greg Hardy drawing attention. Lawrence has to emerge as the catalyst now for his teammates.

Dallas' Week 5 win over the Cincinnati Bengals gives some hope for this. Despite not having a sack himself, Lawrence's presence seemed to open things up and allowed the Cowboys to get four sacks on Andy Dalton.

Cowboys Headlines - Who Could Be Interested In Trading For Darren McFadden?

Could Darren McFadden help the Cowboys as a trade option?

Another possibility for help is a trade. The deadline is next Tuesday and the Cowboys have a piece in Darren McFadden that some RB-needy teams could be interested in. They also could look at moving tight end Gavin Escobar, another former second-round pick, if there's a team that still remembers him fondly from the 2013 draft.

Even if teams don't want these players, future draft picks could also be moved. The Cowboys could look to bring in a quality, veteran pass rusher from a struggling team for a 2017 pick. With championship potential now very much in the conversation, the Cowboys wouldn't be foolish for pulling from these future assets.

The worst thing the team could do is get complacent about their pass rushing issues because of current success. The 2014 Dallas Cowboys were 12-4 and went into the playoffs with plenty of hope and confidence, only to get tossed out two weeks later.

The 2016 Cowboys are on a similar trajectory; pushing for the postseason while overcoming a critical flaw. But even if it doesn't come until facing Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl, the lack of pass rush could easily prove fatal once again.

1476836441-stock_cowboys12aj_52661146

The Cowboys offensive stars can only do so much.

"Dak Prescott or Tony Romo" may be the team's biggest question right now, but either answer is a positive. Still, even if Romo comes back and plays at his MVP-level best, or if Prescott continues to grow and put together one of the great rookie seasons of all time, it could all be for nothing.

There's no question about it; Dallas has a big problem on defense. If they don't fix it, arguing about which QB could take us to the Super Bowl may be a moot point.


Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: LB Kyle Wilber

Jess Haynie

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Kyle Wilber

While not one of the glamour players for the Dallas Cowboys, linebacker Kyle Wilber has been a steady and reliable asset for six seasons. He is set to be a free agent this offseason, and his return to Dallas is hard to project.

A fourth-round pick in 2012, Wilber has only started 16 games but been active for nearly all of them. Even when not having a major part on defense, Kyle has been standout special teams player almost every season.

Dallas saw Wilber's value in 2016 and gave him a two-year extension after his rookie contract expired. Now, though, Kyle turns 29 in April and it may be time to give his roster spot to a younger option with more upside.

It's impressive that Kyle Wilber's lasted this long with the Cowboys. He was drafted to play outside linebacker in the team's 3-4 scheme at that time under Rob Ryan. When Monte Kiffin arrived in 2013 and the switch was made to the 4-3, Wilber was able to transition and stick around for five more seasons.

Cowboys Headlines - Is Kyle Wilber the Front Runner for OLB? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Kyle Wilber Greg Fiume/Getty Images)

Wilber's depth value and special teams play earned him $3.25 million over the last two years. Would the Cowboys offer him a similar deal to stick around for another couple of seasons, or is it time to move on?

One factor helping Kyle is that even though Special Teams Coordinator Rich Bisaccia left for the Oakland Raiders, the Cowboys promoted from within. Keith O'Quinn has been here since before Wilber's time and knows what he brings to the table. He could push to keep one of his veteran leaders around.

Another consideration is that Dallas isn't flush with linebacker talent at the moment. Anthony Hitchens is a free agent, and if he doesn't return then that only leaves Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Damien Wilson as the known entities.

The Cowboys haven't allowed age to stop them from doing business with Justin Durant the last few seasons. He was 31 when the team signed him last year for veteran depth and insurance.

Could Dallas offer Kyle Wilber a similar deal, one or two years max at a minimal salary, to stick around? It's very possible, and especially if they let him see what free agency has to offer for about a month.

Even if 2017 was the end of his Cowboys run, Wilber has been a success as a fourth-round pick. He's been there when needed and been a leader on special teams. Earning a second contract with your original teams is always an accomplishment.

We'll have to wait and see if he gets a third.


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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: OT Byron Bell

Jess Haynie

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Byron Bell

Offensive tackle became a problem position for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. One guy who helped the situation was veteran backup Byron Bell. He is now a free agent, but Dallas could may be interested in bringing him back next year.

Bell was signed last March to provide depth and insurance on the offensive line. He had experience at both guard and center, starting almost every game since entering the NFL in 2011. Byron had missed all of 2016 with an ankle injury while a member of the Tennessee Titans.

After spending the first part of the year at the bottom of the depth chart, Bell was called into duty after a disastrous performance by Chaz Green in the team's Week 10 game against the Atlanta Falcons. With starting left tackle Tyron Smith injured, Green got the start and was obliterated by Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn to the tune of six sacks.

Byron got the start the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles, and he was clearly better than Green. He would remain the team's swing tackle the rest of the season and got another start in the meaningless Week 17 finale.

Byron Bell, Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys OT Byron Bell (Aaron M. Sprecher via AP)

Now Byron Bell is a 29-year-old free agent. With Chaz Green seemingly a failed experiment, Dallas has to figure out what to do about their depth behind Tyron Smith and La'el Collins. Could they be in the market to re-sign Bell?

Given his vast starting experience and position flexibility, Byron may have some other suitors in free agency. Offensive linemen age slower than other positions, so 29 isn't the same mark of death that a running back or corner might deal with.

A likely scenario here is that Dallas, assuming they'd like to have Bell back at all, would let him test free agency and then hopefully re-sign him later in the offseason to a minimal contract. Like last year, he would make sense for insurance at the position and especially if the team is going to part ways with Green.

What's more, Byron has increased value after a year in the Cowboys system. Also, in 2017 he was coming off an entirely missed season with the ankle injury. He's a more attractive asset in 2018.

That increased value could be seen by other teams, too. While Bell has had his ups and downs, he's accomplished enough that his name will be noticed among other free agents. A team with major needs on the offensive line might even consider him to compete for a starting job.

We don't know what the Cowboys' interest level is in bringing Byron Bell back, but they may have competition for his services. Given the role he filled to finish 2017, he could wind up an underrated free agent departure this offseason.


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4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster

Sean Martin

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4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster 2

Maneuvering through the NFL offseason is a funny task for committed football fans, especially those of Cowboys Nation. Prior to the start of each new season bringing hope for all 32 clubs to reach the Super Bowl, every NFL roster enters a tumultuous state. Talent will be added through free agency and the Draft, while promising players will also be shuffled around through practice squads and training camp releases.

All of that to say, despite criticism for appearing stagnant so far this offseason on the heels of a 9-7 campaign, nobody knows what the Dallas Cowboys will actually look like in 2018. This is why I've decided to feature four under the radar players on the current Cowboys' roster below, all of which provide depth at positions of need.

4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster

Dallas Cowboys TE Blake Jarwin

TE Blake Jarwin

An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Blake Jarwin found his way onto the Cowboys' practice squad for 2017.

Jarwin showed enough promise early in his Cowboys career to earn fans on the coaching staff and throughout the organization, as he was promoted to the active roster in week eight. The Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly in position to snatch Jarwin from the Cowboys - who protected their versatile tight end.

The TE position remains unsettled for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond, with Jason Witten's production clearly declining. The Cowboys will also be on their third TE coach in three seasons this year, transitioning to Doug Nussmeier.

Nussmeier brings no previous experience as a TE coach specifically, meaning the team's overall philosophy on the position will still be determined heavily by Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Favoring tight ends that can block in the running game over those with higher upside as receiving threats, Jarwin is a name to keep in mind as a tenacious blocker that plays with sound technique.

4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster 1

Dallas Cowboys WR Lance Lenoir, QB Cooper Rush

WR Lance Lenoir

This past summer, I had the chance to interview Dallas Cowboys WR Lance Lenoir following his signing with the team out of Western Illinois. In that interview, Lenoir shows off the confidence he took into training camp as a receiver that would have a hard time making the team.

By the end of this long season, the Cowboys went from being perceived as deep and talented at WR to in need of new play makers on the outside.

Perhaps pressing a bit through the preseason, Lenoir did provide practice depth as a reliable pass catcher and punt returner, struggling on special teams in live action and ultimately spending the season on the practice squad.

The 2018 NFL Draft features a deep class of talented receivers, and the Cowboys would be wise to draft one with real potential that can push up the depth chart in a hurry. As far as current options on the roster to fill this position, WR Lance Lenoir can't be overlooked as an athletic target with NFL size and strength - entering his second season in Dallas.

DT Datone Jones

A mid-season acquisition from the Green Bay Packers, Datone Jones flashed as a defensive tackle in the limited opportunities he received. A five-year league veteran, Jones showed the ability to play with power and leverage at the 1T position - a spot the Cowboys are thin at right now.

Jones' versatility also suited him well, playing with impressive burst and disruptive ability as a pass-rushing 3T.

The addition of one more starting caliber DT could truly put this Dallas defensive front over the edge. With how much Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli believes in his DL rotation though, players like Datone Jones can prove immensely valuable.

DT Lewis Neal

Similarly to Jones, Lewis Neal is a fan-favorite defensive tackle for the Cowboys. Neal has absolutely earned the attention he's gotten, a UDFA out of LSU that plays the 1T position better than expected given his size.

The Cowboys have gotten by in recent years with smaller, more mobile players at this interior DT spot, with Neal being their latest post-draft steal to make an impact.

Lewis Neal appeared in seven games for the Cowboys this season, finding ways to help those around him by anchoring the line of scrimmage and disengaging with active hands and a quick base. This is a player that should be a valuable part of the team's depth on the defensive line.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The year-to-year nature of the NFL can be a wonderful thing (unfortunately, ask any Eagles fan right now). Part of this reality is understanding that none of the players listed above may actually stick with the Dallas Cowboys for 2018.

Next week's NFL Scouting Combine will kick "draft season" into full gear however, as the Cowboys will be working to better understand their teams needs and how they can be addressed.

Jarwin, Lenoir, Jones, and Neal all contributed or showed the promise to do so at positions the Cowboys must improve at this season - warranting a closer look through this dull portion of the offseason.

Tell us what you think about "4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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