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Reflecting on Cowboys’ Weaknesses with Super Bowl LI Stage Now Set

Bryson Treece

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Mason Crosby, Packers

The Dallas Cowboys had something of a Midas touch for the NFL this season. Ratings rose when the Cowboys played, their Divisional game against the Green Bay Packers topping all, and Super Bowl ticket sales fell when they exited the playoffs.

The NFC/AFC Championship games were all-out snooze-fests. About the most exciting part of them was more about stats. Tom Brady, arguably the best NFL quarterback ever, got a bright addition to his asterisks-filled career by earning a record-setting seventh Super Bowl appearance. And Matt Ryan, who had one hell of a year, managed to do what the Cowboys haven't been able to; beat the Packers in the playoffs.

So yeah, the Falcons knocked off the anointed one (Aaron Rodgers), and the Patriots bested "Big" Ben Roethlisberger, but it wasn't fun to watch. The only real entertainment was seeing Rodgers frustrated, but watching Aaron Rodgers suffer is probably something I found more enjoyable than most; I can't stand that guy.

Ryan and Brady were both over 350 yards with 70% or better completion rates. Combined they threw for seven touchdowns on Sunday and their passer ratings were over 127 each. Super Bowl LI has the makings of an absolute shootout, and I can't wait to see it.

But in the back of my mind, I'm looking at the games last weekend and thinking, "where's the pass rush?"

There were two sacks in the Championship round of the playoffs this year, and both were Pittsburgh sacking Tom Brady. Two! How the hell do we have Super Bowl teams coming off zero-sack games? What ever happened to "defense wins championships?"

Indeed, 2016 has been a season of offense. The Patriots have it, as do the Falcons, and the net result is a trip to the Super Bowl.

Why didn't the Cowboys get that chance?

In spite of how the Championship games went, defense is still important, and the Cowboys are missing a critical piece of D: pass rush.

The Cowboys were top-five in scoring this season at 26.3 points per game (ATL 33.8, NE 27.6), but they gave up 19.1 points per game on defense (ATL 25.4, NE 15.6). Sure, they were better than the Falcons but as I said before, Matt Ryan (and Julio Jones) had a hell of a year. When you're scoring an average of 33 points a game, you can afford to give up a little on defense.

And that applies to the Cowboys as well. They gave up less than 20 points a game, which is good. And they also scored more than 20 points a game, so they won, a lot.

But for me, the lack of interceptions is a problem. The Falcons and Patriots had 12 and 13 interceptions, respectively, while the Cowboys only had nine. Sure, Dallas had a couple more fumbles recovered than the other two teams, but this is a passing league right now, snatching those balls out of the air is crucial.

How many times did we see Byron Jones go after a ball only to have it fall incomplete? I said it all year, they need to make Jones catch 30 balls in pre-game warm-ups -- or tar his hands -- just so he could capitalize on being in position. He's good at getting in position.

But here's another passing related stat from the year:

  • Atlanta Falcons - 99 (ranked 5th in the NFL)
  • New England Patriots - 84 (ranked 17th in the NFL)
  • Dallas Cowboys - 73 (ranked 27th in the NFL)

Any guesses what those numbers are? No? Alright, they're the number of passes defended by each team during the 2016 regular season, according to NFL.com statistics.

A lot of us were quick to say how well Morris Claiborne was finally playing, or that young Anthony Brown was really showing something, but looking at the numbers for the year, our passing defense was down. How you factor that into the outcome of the season, the effectiveness of the defense, is a matter of opinion. I prefer to attribute it to the pass rush.

It is a passing league after all, so getting pressure on the quarterback is essential to success. The Cowboys knew that and did their best, but always seemed to gain any much-needed pressure by sacrificing coverage. An extra man in the box, cornerback blitz', etc..

You can't bring a linebacker to the line without leaving a hole on the field somewhere, you just scheme properly for that hole and move on.

The Cowboys gave up an average of 260 yards per game through the air, which amounts to 226 passes gaining a first down, or 53% of all passes thrown against them. Teams like the Giants and Packers had success against us by taking advantage underneath, dinking and dunking their way down the field more than others.

Opposing quarterbacks were comfortable, they had time to find the open the receiver, and they completed short passes for positive yards. That resulted in fewer interceptions but more fumbles (during the Run After Catch).

Everything is connected on an NFL defense. Every assignment, every read affects the other 10 players on the field. When you're unable to get to the QB with a defensive lineman, you give up yards in other areas of the field, and that catches up with you when you're going up against an experienced quarterback who isn't afraid to take what he's given.

I may not like Aaron Rodgers or Eli Manning, but they both understand the value of the short game, and they use it to their advantage.

That's why I'm watching ITS Staff Writers Sean Martin and Kevin Brady right now. They're reviewing EDGE rushers for the upcoming 2017 draft on our parent site, Slant Sports.

The Dallas Cowboys have devoted a lot of resources to build the NFL's greatest, most talented offense. They lucked out with Dak Prescott, but made very carefully calculated moves signing Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Ezekiel Elliott in recent years.

With a stout offensive line, and great running back, quarterback, and wide receiver corp (not to mention Jason Witten's contributions), the Cowboys have the ability to outscore any team they face.

But why leave it to the offense to have to outscore opposing teams?

What we're missing in Dallas is a pass rusher. We need a guy who can make quarterbacks nervous. We haven't had that guy since DeMarcus Ware left.

Most of us were heartbroken over the loss to Green Bay, but we've bounced back because we know how special this team is, and all the new pieces give us hope like we haven't seen in a very long time. This year is our year; we can just feel it. But if the Cowboys' front office doesn't address the defensive line in a major way, whether via the NFL Draft or free agency, I believe we're destined for more heartbreak next January.

What's the biggest single position of need right now?

Let me know in the comments below.



Nothing gives me greater joy than the experience of being a Dallas Cowboys fan come time to check another victory on the schedule every Sunday. I live Inside the Star everyday and blog on it occasionally, as well. Follow us on Twitter - @InsideTheStarDC

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Star Blog

Dallas Cowboys: 3 Schedule Predictions Ahead Of Wednesday’s Release

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC

Wednesday night the official 2019 NFL schedule will be released, and we will know the exact times and dates of each of the Cowboys' upcoming games.

We already know the opponents, however, and we know how the NFL typically likes to schedule games week to week. Based on both prior history and future opponents, here are 3 predictions for tonight's schedule release.

1. Cowboys Open Up With The Giants

I didn't say the predictions would be bold, did I?

The NFL loves to have the Cowboys open up against the New York Giants, and I see that being the case here again. Dallas/New York will always bring about solid ratings, but scheduling this game before the Giants (likely) fall out of contention is a smart move as well.

This game will be in Dallas at 4:25 eastern time, occupying that "America's Game of the Week" slot during the opening weekend. Because as much as everyone says they hate watching these NFC East games, the numbers bear out a different story.

2. Cowboys Play @ Saints Thursday After Thanksgiving

We know the Cowboys will play in an extra Thursday or Saturday night game this season. They always do.

Lately the league has liked to schedule them as the Thursday night game following Thanksgiving, and I don't see them breaking  that trend this season. Dallas has played the Vikings, Redskins, and Saints in this game the last three years, with the Cowboys/Saints game being one of the best of last year's Thursday slate.

Why not run it back at the Superdome this November?

3. Cowboys Close The Season With A Brutal December

This is broad prediction, so let's narrow it down a bit. I think the Cowboys will play three critical NFC games in December, at the very least. These games will include NFC East battles with the Washington Redskins (week 17) and Philadelphia Eagles, as well as a game at Chicago to face the Bears.

It's likely the Cowboys, Bears, and Eagles will be fighting for playoff positioning (or playoff births) down the stretch in December. Plus, anytime a combination of these three teams play, ratings will be drawn. I think they'll have Prescott battle Mitchell Trubisky and Carson Wentz this December, as he and the Cowboys look to clinch a consecutive playoff birth.



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Cowboys en Español: Lawrence Extendido, ¿Sigue Prescott?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Warts And All, Dak Prescott Shows Why It's Not So Easy To Move On

La saga más importante en este offseason de los Dallas Cowboys llegó a su fin la semana pasada cuando DeMarcus Lawrence por fin firmó su extensión. Tras semanas de estar en un "punto muerto" en las negociaciones, se reportó que ambas partes habían retomado las pláticas el viernes pasado y el mismo día se anunció el trato.

El ala defensiva de 27 años consiguió un contrato de cinco años y 105 millones de dólares. Esto convierte a Lawrence en el tercer defensivo mejor pagado de la liga en promedio por año, detrás solo de Khalil Mack y Aaron Donald. Con 21 millones anuales, muchos no están de acuerdo con pagarle esta cantidad de dinero a un defensivo como D-Law.

Es entendible, dado que nunca es fácil hacer a un jugador uno de los mejores pagados en la liga. Sin embargo, DeMarcus Lawrence lo vale. Pidió dinero del calibre de Von Miller y otros defensivos elite porque ha producido a ese nivel.

DeMarcus Lawrence Has the Leverage in Cowboys Contract Talks

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

No sólo eso, sino que realmente se ha perfilado como el mejor en su posición contra el juego terrestre. El valor que aporta al equipo logra justificar lo que se le pagará. Además, la estructura del contrato realmente ata al equipo solo por tres años a Lawrence. Esto es una victoria para la administración de los Jones.

¿Quién Sigue? Dak Prescott.

Como bien sabemos, DeMarcus Lawrence no era el único jugador que necesitaba recibir una extensión. Pero ahora que está fuera de los quehaceres, Dak Prescott es el centro de atención en Dallas.

En sus primeros tres años en la NFL, los Cowboys han ganado dos veces el título de la NFC East. Ha demostrado ser un líder capaz de dirigir al equipo y ganar en los momentos importantes. De hecho, Prescott es el quarterback con más series ganadoras desde el 2016, cuando entró a la liga. Por si fuera poco, ningún mariscal de campo ha conseguido tantas series así en sus primeras tres temporadas.

NFL Research on Twitter

DallasCowboys QB Dak Prescott * Most game-winning drives (14) since 2016 * Most game-winning drives in first 3 seasons (14) of any QB since 1950 @dallascowboys @dak

Y no hay que confundirnos. La pregunta no es si lo van a extender o no. La pregunta es: ¿Cuánto le van a pagar al quarterback de 25 años? Sabemos que la administración confía plenamente en Dak para ser el futuro. Le van a pagar. Para darnos una idea, veamos los mejores pagados actualmente según Over The Cap (en promedio por año):

  • Aaron Rodgers - $33.5M
  • Matt Ryan - $30M
  • Kirk Cousins - $28M
  • Jimmy Garoppolo - $27.5M
  • Matt Stafford - $27M

Muchos ven a Dak como un jugador que merece menos de 25 millones al año, pero no es así como funciona el mercado. A mi parecer, el contrato no bajará de 25 y se acercará a los 30 al año. ¿Mucho? Quizá. Pero en esta liga, si te quieres quedar con un mariscal franquicia, tienes que pagarle bastante para evitar que llegue a la agencia libre.

Y sí, Prescott sigue bajo contrato en 2019 pero la extensión seguramente vendrá antes. El valor por un QB sube cada año al igual que todas las posiciones y con un jugador como Patrick Mahomes en la AFC, habrá un brinco considerable el próximo offseason.

Cuando Prescott firme una extensión, habrá mucha división entre los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys. Personalmente, veo a Dak como un jugador franquicia. Por ahora, estemos contentos porque Lawrence se queda en casa.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Lawrence Extendido, ¿Sigue Prescott?" 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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Cowboys Come Out In Full Force To Support Dirk Nowitzki In His Final Home Game

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys Come Out In Full Force To Support Dirk Nowitzki In His Final Game

Last night was a major one in the NBA, with two legends and future Hall of Famers playing in their last respective home games. Of course, the legend which means the most to Dallas-area sports fans is Dallas Mavericks great Dirk Nowitzki, who gave a teary-eyed farewell to the Dallas faithful on Tuesday night, finally admitting "it's time."

It's no secret that Nowitzki has been supportive of all DFW teams while apart of the Mavs organization, and last night the Cowboys returned the favor, showing up in full force to support Nowitzki in his final game.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Dallas Cowboys at tonight's Mavericks game: Jason Garrett, Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Zack Martin, Tyron Smith, Sean Lee, Connor Williams, Joe Looney, Jeff Heath, Travis Frederick, La'el Collins, Randall Cobb, Allen Hurns, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Tavon Austin https://t.co/546B30dqPY

A collection of players, including Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and Sean Lee joined head coach Jason Garrett in a luxury box to enjoy the game and show their support of the Mavs legend.

Dirk Nowitzki put up 30 points and 8 rebounds in the Mavericks 120-109 win, an excellent way for the future Hall of Famer and fan favorite to go out in front of his home fans.



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