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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

3 Comments

  1. Russ_Te

    January 25, 2017 at 9:30 pm

    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.

    • Bryson Treece

      January 26, 2017 at 7:39 am

      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.

  2. Michael Moy

    February 7, 2017 at 7:28 am

    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.

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Star Blog

2018 In Review: CB Anthony Brown Bounces Back

Kevin Brady

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Anthony Brown's Resurgence A Great Sign for Cowboys Defense
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

To say it's been an up-and-down start to the career of young cornerback Anthony Brown would be an understatement.

As a sixth round pick in 2016, everything Brown contributed during his rookie season was a plus. Due to injury he was asked to step into a greater role as the season went on, and he performed well enough to make the front office comfortable allowing multiple veterans to walk for nothing in free agency the following Spring. Brown looked like a legitimate starting cornerback in the league, and when Dallas brought in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis during the next draft, the young secondary seemed set.

Then 2017 happened. And Anthony Brown struggled. Really struggled.

These struggles, coupled with the emergence of both Lewis and Awuzie during their own rookie seasons, made Brown's status heading into 2018 rather uncertain. Some wondered if they would trade him for a day three pick, others thought Brown could even end up being cut. Jourdan Lewis and Anthony Brown were slated to compete for the nickel cornerback job in training camp, and as it turned out, all Brown needed was that one extra chance to compete.

Brown won the job outright during the preseason, and began 2018 as the starting nickel. A fan favorite, most thought Lewis would reclaim his rightful spot on the depth chart sooner or later, but Anthony Brown's play (and Kris Richard's preferences) kept Lewis on the bench for much of the season.

Simply put, Anthony Brown balled in 2018, and was the Cowboys' second best corner for most of the year. By the end of the season Chidobe Awuzie had regained form, but Brown and Byron Jones were the most consistently reliable corners on the roster all of 2018.

Brown tallied 44 tackles, 2 sacks, and an interception in 2018, and finished third on the team in pass breakups with 8. As the slot corner Brown had an excellent season, especially for a former sixth round pick.

Now he enters a contract year, and with the Cowboys having so many guys to pay over the next two offseasons, he could find himself as an unrestricted free agent in 2020. And if he can keep up his play from last year moving forward, he could be in for a nice payday that Spring.



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Star Blog

How The Tables Have Turned for 2019 Dallas Cowboys

Mauricio Rodriguez

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How The Tables Have Turned for 2019 Dallas Cowboys

The 2018 season was a two-part tale for the Dallas Cowboys. The first is the story of a mediocre 3-5 team that couldn't get it going offensively. The second part is about a football team that turned its season around, made the playoffs, got a win in the postseason and ultimately lost to the team that ended up representing the NFC in Super Bowl LIII, the Los Angeles Rams.

Surely, 2018 didn't go as planned. The storylines leading to last season are actually very different from the ones we're hearing today. Let's take a look at a few examples of how the tables have turned for the Dallas Cowboys.

The need for a true WR1

Last season, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys preached the philosophy of not needing a #1 wide receiver. While that could've sound encouraging at the time, once the season began the team was proven wrong. They did need a WR1. Fortunately, this season we won't have to worry about it. This year, Dez Bryant shouldn't be a discussion topic among Cowboys' fans.

Amari Cooper is in the house. And he's been pretty good since he started playing with a Star on his helmet. If we have conversations about the WR position, they will not be about who's the #1 guy. With Michael Gallup showing up late in the season, it probably won't be about who is #2 either.

How Cowboys Set up High-Stakes Division Meeting with Eagles at Home

Back on top of the NFC East

Last year, the Dallas Cowboys were not really the favorites to win the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles had just made history by winning their first Super Bowl ever and it seemed like the Cowboys would have to get a wildcard spot to play in January. Now it's the Cowboys back on top after sweeping the Eagles and turning their once 3-5 season around.

That of course, means a tougher schedule next season. However, it's nice to be back on top of the division. These two teams will surely have an intense race for the division title next season. Maybe we even see them both in the playoffs for the second consecutive year.

Sean Lee's uncertain future

I'm pretty sure no one expected Sean Lee to be considered a potential cap casualty for the 2019 season. Even if he was, it would've probably been anticipating an injury or something like that. No one would've imagined that Leighton Vander Esch would be so good to take Sean Lee's job.

The Cowboys' first round rookie truly earned the starting role as the defense's weak linebacker and he should keep it. With Sean Lee set to return to the field, I'm sure we didn't expect him to be a backup by now. We'll have to wait and see if the Cowboys decide to part ways with him. As a fan, it would certainly be painful. But we can't deny it would be a move that makes sense.

✭✭✭

It's a crazy franchise on a crazy league. Who knows how things will go from now on, but the Dallas Cowboys certainly look like a promising team heading into the 2019 offseason. Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue to update you with the latest on your favorite NFL team.

Tell me what you think about "How The Tables Have Turned for 2019 Dallas Cowboys" 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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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Volviendo a la Idea de Earl Thomas

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Done Pursuing FS Earl Thomas? 1

El año pasado, Earl Thomas fue uno de los temas de conversación más frecuentes para los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys. Después de que los Seattle Seahawks no le dieran su deseada extensión de contrato, Thomas se convirtió en un candidato a ser intercambiado de su equipo. Entre los favoritos estaban los Cowboys, quienes tenían una necesidad en su defensiva secundaria. Ahora que la temporada 2018 llegó a su fin, la misma necesidad por un safety de calidad está presente en Dallas.

Sólo que en esta ocasión, Earl Thomas no está bajo contrato con ningún equipo. Su último momento con el uniforme de los Seahawks fue en un carro de lesiones, donde salía lesionado en dirección a su vestidor. Esto mientras se despedía de su equipo con el dedo de en medio extendido hacia sus entrenadores y compañeros. Así concluyó su temporada y su carrera en Seattle.

Ahora, listo para cumplir los 30 años en mayo, Earl Thomas probará la agencia libre cuando comience en marzo. Y sin lugar a dudas, uno de los equipos candidatos a firmarlo serán los Dallas Cowboys. Es un equipo que a pesar de tener una de las mejores defensivas la temporada pasada, se vería muy beneficiada con la llegada de un profundo del calibre de Thomas.

A pesar de su edad y las lesiones, Thomas continúa siendo uno de los mejores en la liga. Su talento es innegable y tendrá toda la disposición de demostrar lo que vale cuando tome el campo la próxima temporada. Cuando llegue el momento, podríamos ver una guerra de ofertas entre varios equipos de la NFL para llevarse al veterano a sus respectivas ciudades.

La pregunta es: ¿estarán los Dallas Cowboys en esa guerra de ofertas?

Los Cowboys tienen espacio en el tope salarial. Sin embargo, este no durará mucho considerando que DeMarcus Lawrence está esperando su merecida y cara extensión después de jugar bajo la etiqueta franquicia en 2018. Además, jugadores que aún están bajo contrato también estarán buscando ofertas este offseason.

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, y Byron Jones están en la lista de quehaceres de la administración. Eso sin mencionar a Cole Beasley, cuyo contrato ya expiró y podría llegar a la agencia libre en marzo.

A pesar de esta complicada situación, los Dallas Cowboys deberían buscar conseguir a Thomas. Siendo sinceros, la defensiva tiene mucho talento y podría mantener su nivel en 2019. Pero hace falta un jugador en la posición de safety para llevar a esta unidad a otro nivel. Un nivel realmente capaz de ganar en postemporada enfrentándose a cualquier tipo de ofensiva. Sin importar que tan explosiva sea. Y además de esto, un jugador que sea capaz de robar el balón y hacer jugadas de impacto constantemente.

Cuando los Cowboys se enfrentaron a Seahawks en temporada regular, Thomas dio un buen ejemplo de esto interceptando en dos ocasiones a la ofensiva de Dak Prescott.

A pasos de un equipo de campeonato, un movimiento agresivo para obtener a Earl Thomas sería algo genial para Dallas. Vimos como los Rams de Los Angeles fueron agresivos al construir su equipo y llegaron hasta el Super Bowl este febrero. Quizá es tiempo de que Jerry Jones y compañía sean igual de agresivos y vayan por ese safety elite que la afición lleva pidiendo desde el offseason del año pasado.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Volviendo a la Idea de Earl Thomas" 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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