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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

Where In The World Is DE Taco Charlton?

Kevin Brady

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Sean's Scout: Defense Comes Alive In Loss At LA Rams 2
Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Over pretty much the last decade, the Dallas Cowboys have been rock solid with their first round picks. With selections of Ezekiel Elliott, Travis Frederick, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Leighton Vander Esch (just to name a handful), Dallas has rebuilt the core of their roster through the NFL Draft.

It's nearly impossible to bat .1000 in any round of the draft, however, and this appears to be the current case with the Cowboys' 2017 first round pick.

Defensive end Taco Charlton has not had the sophomore season that he, or anyone, had hoped for. A healthy scratch last Sunday, Charlton has only been active for 1 of the Cowboys' last 5 games, and has not recorded a sack or tackle since week 9.

Prior to disappearing with injuries and "attitude issues," Charlton had only recorded 1 sack on the season and was beginning to fall behind his Hot Boy-brethren. Defensive end Randy Gregory has reached his form over the last few weeks, Tyrone Crawford is having arguably a career year, and DeMarcus Lawrence is one of the best ends in all of football.

This doesn't leave much room for Charlton, who's now having issues even getting on the gameday roster. Rod Marinelli dodged questions about Taco Charlton earlier this week, vaguely saying they are "moving forward" and that he'd like to talk about other players on his defensive line who are performing.

Calvin Watkins on Twitter

Rod Marinelli on Taco Charlton's benching and being inactive last week: "We just keep moving along keep going forward. It's kinda been out there I'd leave it at that. I'd rather talk about our two tackles.

Charlton has not been quiet about his displeasure as of late, either. He's taken to Twitter to voice his frustrations, saying that not only is his shoulder fine but that the Dallas media is making up stories about his absence. He's also posted some cryptic tweets such as this one, with a picture of Allen Iverson and a caption reading "Every players needs that one coach to believe in them."

https://twitter.com/TheSupremeTaco/status/1072203745868554240

Maybe Taco is right. Maybe he just needs increased opportunity and a support system/coach that believes in him whole-heartedly. After all, Charlton has faced nothing but doubters and detractors since the second he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.

But in the NFL, the ultimate "what have you done for me lately" sport, it's hard to imagine he'll get that unwavering support anywhere in the league. He's going to have to "earn" his playing time, as head coach Jason Garrett spoke to earlier in the week. But with the plethora of talent the Cowboys are already putting out there on the defensive line, it's becoming difficult to see exactly where Taco Charlton can fit in on this defense.

It's possible, and fine, if it is simply not a fit between Charlton and the Cowboys at this point. But I'd also be wary of giving up on your first round pick in just his second NFL season. Another offseason with the team, working on his craft and getting fully healthy, should do Charlton wonders, and hopefully allow us to get a better read on his future with the Cowboys going forward.

Until then, we are all left to scratch out heads and wonder what in the world is going on with the Cowboys and Taco Charlton, and if the former first round pick will have a future in Dallas at all.



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Star Blog

Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC

2018 has seen the emergence of high-powered offenses in both NFL conferences. The Kansas City Chiefs sit atop the AFC and the NFC is spearheaded by the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. Through 14 weeks, these three teams are the top three offenses in the NFL, each averaging over 30 points per game. This year, for the first time in NFL history, two teams scored more than 50 in the same game.

Thanks to this consistent impressive offensive performances, you would think "offense" is the name of the game for the 2018 NFL season. Well, not so fast, my friend. Despite sitting atop the NFC, the Saints and the Rams have recently suffered losses that indicate hope is anything but lost for defensive teams in the league.

The Chicago Bears were able to bring down the Rams last Sunday Night 15-6. The same offense that averages 33 points per game was limited to six points. Sean McVay's remarkable offense went home with no touchdowns to talk about on the plane back home. Instead, they probably discussed Jared Goff's four interceptions.

Weeks earlier, the Dallas Cowboys shocked the world when they brought down the Saints. Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas simply couldn't move the ball against Leighton Vander Esch, DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones. 13 points were all the Cowboys needed to score to beat an offense that was averaging 37 per game heading into week 13 but was only able to put up 10 in Dallas.

The Cowboys are the #4 seed with the Bears slightly ahead of them as the #3 seed in the NFC. Together, these teams have defeated the top two in the conference. Now granted, playoffs will definitely be different.

For starters, if they are to advance to the divisional round, they'll be on the road. Chicago was surely benefited by playing in such a cold weather versus a Los Angeles team. As far as the Cowboys are concerned, few times has AT&T Stadium been as loud as when they beat the Saints.

Hopefully, we'll get to see both of these elite defenses advance to the Divisional Round to  square off against this couple of high-powered offenses again. We will not only be witnessing amazing football games, but a great discussion regarding the everlasting debate between offense and defense.

For years, "defense wins championships" has been a widely accepted statement in football. The Cowboys and Bears have made that same statement resound recently with their impressive wins.

Can they do it again in January football? Can they do it on the road?

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC" 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: Los Colts No Son Cualquier Rival

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Fantasy Football - Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings - Week 2 2
Andy Lyons / Getty Images

Al igual que el resto de la afición de los Dallas Cowboys, parte de mí se siente confiada respecto a este equipo visitando a Indianapolis Colts y resultando victoriosos. ¿El problema? Los Colts no son un rival sencillo de vencer. Si crees que la racha de los Cowboys los intimidará, piensa de nuevo. Los Houston Texans llevaban nueve victorias al hilo antes de enfrentarse a este equipo.

Siendo objetivos, este puede ser el partido que evite que los Cowboys cierren su temporada con ocho victorias al hilo para terminar el año con un récord de 11-5. Ni los Tampa Bay Buccaneers ni los New York Giants deberían presentar amenaza alguna contra Dallas. Lo mismo no se puede decir de Indianapolis.

Por primera vez en mucho tiempo, Andrew Luck está realmente de vuelta. Gracias a una reconstrucción de su línea ofensiva, su nivel de juego a regresado al nivel que conocíamos de él desde que llegó a la NFL. Afortunadamente para los Colts, Luck se ha mantenido sano toda la temporada y no se ve rastro alguno de sus lesiones anteriores en el emparrillado.

T.Y. Hilton está teniendo un muy buen año y sin duda alguna presentará un reto para Byron Jones y el resto de la secundaria de los Cowboys. Eric Ebron en la posición de tight end también será un dolor de cabeza para la defensiva.

Lo más interesante se dará en las trincheras. Los Cowboys han hecho un muy buen trabajo presionando quarterbacks opuestos en la temporada, pero si el centro de los Colts, Ryan Kelly está sano el domingo, se enfrentarán al mejor duo de centro-guardia en la liga actualmente. Con Quenton Nelson al lado, Luck estará muy bien protegido.

Sin embargo, Kelly no ha jugado debido a una lesión y aún está por verse si tomará el campo el domingo por la mañana. Los Cowboys hicieron un muy buen trabajo a la entonces ofensiva #1 de la liga, los New Orleans Saints, pero eso no significa que la ofensiva #8 que tienen los Colts no los retará.

Promediando 27 puntos por juego, la defensiva necesitará ayuda de Dak Prescott y compañía para ganar el partido. Dallas continúa moviendo el balón efectivamente, pero es tiempo de anotar touchdowns y no goles de campo.

Ezekiel Elliott será, una vez más, clave para la victoria. Enfrentándose a una defensiva Top 10 contra el juego terrestre, mover las cadenas con Zeke no será tan fácil. El novato Darius Leonard como linebacker ha sido algo espectacular otra temporada al igual que Leighton Vander Esch. Liderando a toda la NFL en tackleadas, estará listo para recibir a los Cowboys al Lucas Oil Stadium.

Lo más importante de este partido...

Por más impresionante que sea la racha de cinco victorias consecutivas, los Cowboys tienen que demostrar que pueden ganarle a un equipo fuerte estando de visita. Porque hay que admitirlo, Jason Garrett y su equipo no han tenido éxito fuera de casa. Claro, le ganaron a un equipo debilitado de Philadelphia Eagles y a unos Atlanta Falcons que va 4-9.

Este equipo "nuevo" de los Cowboys no ha ido contra un rival de calidad siendo el visitante. Es tiempo de demostrar que lo pueden hacer, ya que si quieren contender en postemporada, es justo lo que necesitarán... jugar bien de visita.

Sinceramente creo que los Cowboys ganan este partido. Principalmente gracias a su defensiva, pero también veo a la ofensiva dominar el tiempo de posesión en un juego de pocos puntos. Es tiempo de mantener esa racha.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Los Colts No Son Cualquier Rival" 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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