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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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3 Comments
  • Russ_Te

    It’s amazing how much more precise the coaching and execution is now in the passing game. QB’s going an entire year throwing just a few INT’s used to be unheard of, and that was on fewer passes. CB’s like Everson Walls would get 10 INT’s a season. Not anymore.

    Stat amalgamations can be misleading, but this chart generally bears it out >
    http://www.pro-football-reference.com/leaders/def_int_year_by_year.htm

    And the top rated QB’s of all time are all recent players >
    http://www.profootballhof.com/all-time-passer-rating-2014/

    To me it just says the offensive coaching – how to avoid the INT – has improved at all levels. That’s how a Dak can come right in and produce like Rodgers or Brady.

    That said, football fundamentals never change. If you can’t get pressure on the QB, you’re most likely losing.

    That’s why I’m hopeful that any move made at RT, is completed before draft day. If Free is to be changed out, I don’t want pressure to do so weighing on the top couple picks the Cowboys have.

    • https://InsideTheStar.com/ Bryson Treece

      Well, I think it’s also time we shift from the heavy offensive focus during the draft (prime picks) and get back to defense. The last time we really focused on D was under Parcells. Had some duds (Bobby Carpenter) and a great (DeMarcus Ware). We tried with Claiborne and Byron, but neither have panned out exactly like we hoped. Still time for Byron tho.

  • Michael Moy

    The Boys’ O was the perfect storm this year, let see what next year brings. Maybe it’s time to overhaul the whole D, including the DC.

Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: ¿Dónde Tiene Que Mejorar Dallas?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Jaguars

El mejor juego de los Dallas Cowboys en 2018 vino la semana pasada, cuando recibieron a los Jacksonville Jaguars y los vencieron 40-7. Un resultado que tomó a todos por sorpresa demostró la mejor cara en el año de este equipo que apenas tiene un récord de 3-3.

Por más dominantes que se vieron en el emparrillado el domingo pasado, esa actuación no termina de reflejar lo que realmente son los Cowboys. Son un equipo con potencial en la ofensiva y con una defensiva bastante fuerte, pero ¿pueden ganar constantemente como lo hicieron contra Jaguars?

De entrada, la respuesta a esta pregunta parece ser no. Aún en esa victoria, se vieron problemas evidentes en la ofensiva. Para empezar, la falta de ejecución en la segunda mitad en series ofensivas que incluso llegaron a iniciar en territorio enemigo. De gol de campo en gol de campo se juntan puntos, sin duda, pero en partidos cerrados eso termina costando victorias. Hace falta que Dak Prescott y compañía puedan mover el balón una vez en rango de gol de campo y convertir esas oportunidades a touchdowns.

Otra preocupación que no podemos subestimar es que el juego aéreo sigue sin funcionar apropiadamente. Cole Beasley dominó con nueve atrapadas para 101 yardas y dos touchdowns, pero el resto de los receptores se fueron sin  más de una recepción por cabeza. El único jugador que logró más de una fue el TE Geoff Swaim, quien se llevo dos en todo el juego.

Si bien Beasley tuvo uno de los mejores juegos en su carrera, más receptores tienen que involucrarse para llevar la ofensiva al siguiente nivel. La buena noticia es que en esta ocasión se enfrentaron contra una de las mejores secundarias en la NFL. Los números son malos, pero tienen la oportunidad de demostrar mucho más contra otras defensivas.

Los Dallas Cowboys tienen que repartir más la bola y seguir buscando maneras creativas de utilizar a su RB Ezekiel Elliott. Pases pantallas en tercera y largo no es ser creativo. Lo vemos funcionar dos o tres veces al año pero mandan esta jugada semanalmente. En cuanto a Dak Prescott, hay mucho donde mejorar. Deberíamos estar viendo pases más arriesgados, al centro del campo y mucho mejor posicionados.

Sean's Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory's Potential Impact on Cowboys Defense

Para la defensiva, las cosas se ven muy bien. Puede que veamos la mejor versión de esta unidad esta semana, cuando viajen a Washington. Maliek Collins, Sean Lee, David Irving, y Randy Gregory estarán jugando mucho más sanos y preparados. Este es un frente defensivo lleno de talento que intimidará constantemente a Alex Smith este domingo.

A pesar de que los Redskins no tienen una ofensiva muy explosiva, el área de oportunidad principal para la defensiva de Cowboys está en la profundidad defensiva. Tanto Jeff Heath como Xavier Woods han hecho un trabajo decente, pero tienen sus momentos en los que no logran asegurar una tackleada y permiten jugadas largas.

Hace unos meses no esperábamos que fuera la defensiva y no la ofensiva la que cargaría a este equipo a muchas victorias, pero ese ha sido el caso en las tres victorias de esta temporada. Y en las tres derrotas, la defensiva fue la que mantuvo a los Cowboys en el juego.

Sin duda alguna, lo que tiene que mejorar es la ofensiva. Los receptores tienen que desmarcarse, Prescott debe ser más preciso y tener una mejor conciencia en la bolsa de protección.

Pero sobre todo, es la inconsistencia del equipo. Esto se comienza a sentir como la temporada del año pasado, cuando los Cowboys se fueron 9-7 y nunca terminaron de establecerse como contendientes a los playoffs. Aún en una NFC East donde todos los equipos tienen récords similares y débiles, no pueden continuar perdiendo una semana y  ganando a la otra.

Ganarle a los Redskins sería la primera victoria de Dallas jugando de visita. También sería la primera vez en el año en la que tendrían victorias consecutivas. Por esto y muchas otras razones, incluyendo el potencial liderato de la división, este juego es de suma importancia.

Si ganan, podría ser el momento en el que los Cowboys terminen de darle la vuelta a la página y si pierden, podría ser un indicador de que esta temporada será igual que la del 2017.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: ¿Dónde Tiene Que Mejorar Dallas?" 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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Time to get FB Jamize Olawale More Involved Offensively?

Brian Martin

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Time to get FB Jamize Olawale More Involved Offensively?

The Dallas Cowboys are coming off arguably their best and most complete offensive performance of the season after playing the Jacksonville Jaguars last week, but there is still quite a bit of improvement that can be made. The need to get more playmakers involved is apparent, which is why I think it's time to utilize Fullback Jamize Olawale's unique skill set.

I know many of you will argue that getting Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup going is a higher priority, and you wouldn't be wrong, but Jamize Olawale's playmaking ability could be a huge asset for Quarterback Dak Prescott and the offense. I know it sounds a little strange, but hang in there with me for little bit.

As things stand right now, Olawale has only played 38 offensive snaps (10%) in 2018. That's the exact amount of offensive plays Wide Receiver Terrance Williams has played this year and he's missed the majority of the season. It's not exactly the kind of production I was expecting when the Cowboys decided to bring him aboard via trade with the Oakland Raiders earlier this offseason.

I don't know about you, but I was expecting Olawale to be more involved in the offensive game plan. He is an excellent receiver out of the backfield and isn't too shabby as a runner either. But, we haven't seen him utilized in either fashion this season and I think that's an injustice that needs to be corrected.

Now, I fully understand there are other offensive weapons ahead of him in the pecking order who need to see more targets, but I also really think he can make a difference maker, especially in the passing game. That is where his strengths lie, not as a lead blocking fullback.

Jamize Olawale

Dallas Cowboys FB Jamize Olawale

Olawale was a bit of a Swiss Army knife during his time with the Oakland Raiders. He played a little running back, fullback, tight end, and even a little slot receiver. I really thought the Cowboys would take advantage of his versatility in the passing game, but as of yet they have failed to do so.

I'd like to see the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan utilize Jamize Olawale's unique playmaking ability a little bit more on offense. I think they should try to utilize him like the San Francisco 49ers use their fullback, Kyle Juszczyk. He's much more involved and has played a total of 263 offensive snaps (63.68%) this year.

Juszczyk is a better lead blocking FB then Olawale, but that's not where he makes the most difference in the 49ers offense. He does it as a receiver and has already caught 17 passes for 227 yards and one touchdown. That's some pretty solid production from a position that is being phased out in the NFL.

Now, just imagine the Cowboys offense getting similar production from Olawale and how that would help open up things for everybody else. It's not out of the realm of possibility because the 49ers offense and the Cowboys isn't all that dissimilar.

Unfortunately, I think Jamize Olawale is pretty much an afterthought in the Cowboys offense right now. It's truly unfortunate because I think he can be a difference maker if given the opportunity. And with a division foe like the Washington Redskins next on the schedule, what better time to unleash a new and unseen element of the offense?

Do you think Jamize Olawale needs to be more involved offensively?



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Cole Beasley Key to Cowboys Passing Game Productivity?

Brian Martin

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The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Jaguars 1

What most of us already knew was confirmed last Sunday afternoon against the Jacksonville Jaguars. Wide Receiver Cole Beasley is the Dallas Cowboys best receiver and is the key to the passing game productivity. He is not only the most productive, but the most consistent.

Cole Beasley isn't the tallest or the fastest and definitely doesn't look like a prototypical NFL receiver, but he showed last week against the Jaguars why opposing defenses have to account for him on every single play. He torched Jacksonville's top-ranked passing defense for 101 yards on nine catches and added two touchdowns, and it's that production that could help open up the entire passing game for the Cowboys.

It's painfully obvious Cole Beasley has been Dak Prescott's favorite target in the passing game since he took over the starting duties in 2016. Once opposing defenses figured that out they started to make things extremely difficult by bracketing Beasley in coverage and the passing game hasn't been the same since. But, that could be changing if the Jaguars game was an indication of what we might see moving forward.

Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan did a much better job of moving Beasley around to create favorable matchups against the Jaguars. I think we will see much more of that moving forward, but that likely means opposing defenses will once again try to take away Prescott's favorite target. That actually could end up helping the Cowboys passing game though.

Dak Prescott, Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys WR Michael Gallup

If opposing defenses indeed try to contain Cole Beasley like they've done in the past, it should help provide more opportunities for Dallas' other pass catchers. Spreading the ball around to several different receivers would not only help Prescott and the passing game, but also open up the entire offense.

We haven't really seen much of Allen Hurns or Michael Gallup this season, but both are more than capable of being more productive if they are seeing single coverage more often. That's what's likely to happen if defenses bracket Beasley in coverage once again. Both WRs need to be more involved anyway and Beasley's recent spike in production could help do just that.

Now, if defenses decide to try and cover Beasley one-on-one like the Jaguars did quite a bit of last Sunday, the Cowboys would be wise to take advantage of that mismatch. He simply can't be covered by a single defensive back because of his precise route running ability. He is that good.

Regardless of how opposing defenses try to handle/contain Cole Beasley, he is without a doubt key to the Dallas Cowboys passing game productivity. Just the threat of him on the field changes a defenses approach, which is why he is Dallas' #1  WR in my book. He absolutely has to be more involved moving forward, even if it is as a decoy.

Do you think Cole Beasley is the key to the Cowboys passing game productivity?



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