Through the first three games of the 2019 season, it seemed like the Dallas Cowboys offense had turned the corner, adapting their offense to modernize through the passing game. As the Cowboys had become frustratingly run-heavy and predictable, Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore was brought in to evolve Jason Garrett's version of the Air Coryell offense with Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup as the three-pronged centerpiece to take the Cowboys into the next generation of football.
Then the Dallas Cowboys went to New Orleans, admittedly a very difficult place to play, and the offense took a turn for the conservative. In their 12-10 loss to the New Orleans Saints, the Cowboys offensive coaches remained committed to the run, though Ezekiel Elliott had only two carries for five yards or more. In the game, Elliott saw 18 carries despite 10 of those carries going for two yards or fewer.
In the Green Bay game, the Dallas Cowboys didn't really get a chance to settle into their offense as the defense was gashed regularly by Aaron Jones and the Packers running game. However, of Elliott's 12 carries only five of them went for five yards or more. Another five went for two or fewer yards.
Facing the New York Jets and needing a win, the Dallas Cowboys gave the ball to Ezekiel Elliott 28 times. On 11 occasions, his runs went for two yards or less while 10 of his carries went for five yards or more.
This even holds up over the course of Ezekiel Elliott's career.
It applies even when you look at the career numbers. Ezekiel Elliott, 2016-present Gains of 2 yards or less-406 Gains of 5 yards or more-351 https://t.co/7VeDWEQZYE
Before you read this as an "Ezekiel Elliott is bad at football" or a "running backs don't matter" take, know that this is more about the emphasis the Dallas Cowboys offensive staff places on the running game vs the passing game. The running game just doesn't have the same level of effectiveness as the passing game does.
On Tuesday, fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer Matthew Lenix argued that the Dallas Cowboys need to make Ezekiel Elliott the focal point of their offense moving forward. It's a really good read and he makes some really good arguments. Elliott's an excellent player, but the running game isn't the most efficient and often puts them behind the chains making life a lot more difficult for the Dallas Cowboys.
Nine times, the Dallas Cowboys faced 2nd and 8+ after a run vs the New York Jets. They were forced to punt twice, kick a 50-yard field goal once, and were able to convert the other six times. Of Elliott's 18 second-half carries, six of those went for one yard or less. Another four went for just three yards. So 10 of his 18 carries in the second half went for three yards or less. Sure, Ezekiel Elliott is a good and maybe great player, but the running game hasn't been very efficient in 2019.
Over the course of the 2019 season, the Dallas Cowboys are equally successful running the football as they are throwing the football. They have a 55% success rate through the air and a 54% success rate on the ground. The big difference being, Dak Prescott is averaging 8.9 yards per attempt and the running game is averaging just 4.8 yards per attempt. The Cowboys pick up nearly twice as much yardage when they throw the ball at an equal amount of success as when they run the ball and we're still wondering which should be the focal point of the offense.
In the first three games -- yes, against lesser opponents -- the Dallas Cowboys used the passing game to establish a lead and then used the running game to salt away the win. Over the last three weeks with the team concerned about the environment, the opponent, and their own injuries, they went back to the "establish the run" approach to keep the game close with the hope they could win the game in the fourth quarter. The problem was their defense let the game get out of hand in each of the last two weeks and the offense couldn't catch up.
Against the Saints, their insistence on establishing the run kept them behind the chains throughout the game and the passing game struggled to get a rhythm going. Throwing out of second and third and long situations isn't an effective way to help your passing game, even if you are trying to establish the run.
Even without Amari Cooper and their two starting tackles, the Cowboys can get off to a better start if they put the game in Dak's hands early on. Forcing your quarterback, who is playing the best football of his career, to overcome 2nd and 3rd and 7+ several times a drive is unreasonable and unsustainable, even with the best quarterback.
The Dallas Cowboys have the fourth-worst average starting position in the NFL and haven't started a drive in their opponents' territory all season.
Through 6 games, the Cowboys remain the only team that has not started a single drive in the opponent's territory. The other 31 teams have started an average of 5.9 drives inside the opponent's territory, and four teams have started at least 10.
If the Dallas Cowboys hope to get off to a better start this week against the Philadelphia Eagles, then they'll need to get aggressive through the air from the outset. Because they have to play from deep in their own end on every drive, the offensive coaching staff needs to do a better job getting them in a rhythm early because it's really hard to score on 75+ yard drives every time you touch the ball, especially if you're trying to do so three to four yards at a time through the run game.
Though the running game can still be an effective tool for the Dallas Cowboys, with this current personnel, it will never have the same level of importance as the passing game. The Cowboys need to put the game in Dak Prescott's hands and keep it there from the opening whistle. Ezekiel Elliott is a great running back, but there is far more to be gained by letting your quarterback and the passing game take the lead. If the Cowboys have any hopes of turning their season around, letting Dak lead has to be the focus from here on out.
Cowboys 2019 Playoff Scenarios: Week 11 Impact Games
With all NFL teams now having just six or seven games left in their 2019 schedules, this seems a fine time to start looking at the potential playoff seeding. The Dallas Cowboys are barely hanging on to a winning record and control of the NFC East right now, adding plenty of intrigue to the happenings around the conference and likely through the end of the regular season.
If the season ended today, these would be your NFC playoff standings:
- San Francisco 49ers (8-1)
- Green Bay Packers (8-2)
- New Orleans Saints (7-2)
- Dallas Cowboys (5-4)
- Seattle Seahawks (8-2)
- Minnesota Vikings (7-3)
- Los Angeles Rams (5-4)
- Philadelphia Eagles (5-4)
- Carolina Panthers (5-4)
- The Cowboys currently hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Eagles. They play again Week 16 in Philadelphia.
- The Rams (3-3) are ahead of the Eagles (3-4) and Panthers (2-4) based on a superior record against NFC opponents.
- The Eagles are ahead of the Panthers based on a superior record against NFC opponents.
This weekly feature will focus on teams with winning records or those who are clear contenders in division or wild card races. So while a team like the Chicago Bears may be 4-5 and still capable of going on a run, we won't worry about them until they start to rise in the standings.
Here are this week's games involving the current NFC playoff contenders. The Packers and Seahawks are on bye.
Dallas Cowboys @ Detroit Lions
The Cowboys badly need this win for all sorts of reasons. Creating some distance with the Eagles, picking up a win against an NFC opponent, and just general morale boosting after an ugly loss to Minnesota; this is a must-win game on many levels.
Detroit isn't a contender in their own right and that may actually serve Dallas will this week. Matthew Stafford missed last week's game with a back injury and was held out of practice yesterday. If the Lions don't believe they can be a factor in the 2019 postseason, they may get extra conservative with their franchise QB and sit him again against the Cowboys.
New England Patriots @ Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles' remaining schedule is more favorable than the Cowboys so this is a critical game for Philly to lose. Really, there is no scenario the rest of the way where an Eagles win could help Dallas.
Obviously, winning the NFC East is the best road for Dallas to take into the playoffs as it provides home field advantage in the first round. And realistically, given their overall record and head-to-head losses to the Packers, Saints, and Vikings already this year, the Cowboys would have hard time getting a Wild Card spot. They just need to take the division and then hope to get hot in January, and every Eagles loss helps toward that goal.
Denver Broncos @ Minnesota Vikings
Still in striking distance of Green Bay in the NFC North and two wins ahead of the Wild Card outsiders, Minnesota has a solid playoff position right now. They just need to keep handling their business throughout the season, which certainly included a home win against the lowly Broncos, to control their destiny and make the tournament.
New Orleans Saints @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Saints just suffered a shocking loss to Atlanta and fell out of one of the top two spots in the NFC playoffs. They are about to hit Tampa like a hurricane, and the 3-6 Bucs may not be able to put up much of a fight. New Orleans should pick up another win here and pull even again with Green Bay.
Atlanta Falcons @ Carolina Panthers
The Falcons, despite being mostly out of the race, just upset the Saints and could be looking for another stunner over Carolina. The Panthers have remarkably hung on to their season despite losing Cam Newton,; can Kyle Allen keep them afloat to the point of claiming a Wild Card spot?
Arizona Cardinals @ San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers are going to be angry after their first loss of the year, making this a predictable one-sided affair against one of the league's worst teams. Crazy things can happen in division rivalry games, but this is setting up to be a major blowout as the 49ers keep building their lead over the conference.
Chicago Bears @ Los Angeles Rams
The Rams' 5-4 record this year may be an even bigger surprise/disappointment than the Cowboys'. They get a great chance to pick up a win, and another critical NFC victory, this week as they host the Bears.
While Chicago is still mathematically alive they feel like dead men walking. They have one of the worst QB situations in football and it won't get any better this year. However, their strong defense gives them the ability to play a spoiler any given week. Tacking another loss to the Rams here could help Dallas in any potential Wild Card scenario.
Lions’ Pass Catchers Will Provide Big Test for Cowboys’ Defense
The Dallas Cowboys week 11 opponent is reeling a bit after a 2-0-1 start with wins over the Los Angeles Chargers and the Philadelphia Eagles, the Detroit Lions have lost five of their last six and now sit in last place in the NFC North at 2-5-1. It's been a weird season for the Lions and now may play the Dallas Cowboys this week without Matthew Stafford who's been playing some of the best football of his career in 2019.
Though Stafford may not be available, the Lions have a plethora of targets for backup quarterback Jeff Driskell to throw to.
Wide Receivers Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones, Danny Amendola, Tight End T.J. Hockenson, and Running Back J.D. McKissic provide Detroit with a bounty of players who will challenge the Cowboys secondary in the passing game.
Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones are one of the more underrated receiving tandems in the NFL. The Lions are just one of four teams that have two players with at least 600 receiving yards on the season.
Golladay and Jones have been excellent this season. Both have made big plays in the passing game and if you along with Hockenson, Amendola, and McKissic, the Lions have a deep group of pass catchers that could give the Cowboys fits this Sunday.
The Cowboys defense has been up and down this season in both the run and pass game. They've been hit for big plays on both sides of the field and by a variety of positional players through the first nine games of the season. The linebackers have struggled with play-action and in the screen game. Chidobe Awuzie has had difficulty finding the ball and giving up big plays. Byron Jones, who is generally one of the better cover corners in the NFL, but had difficulty with Stefon Diggs last week.
The fact that the Lions have so many good players to throw to means they can avoid throwing to Byron Jones' side of the field and target Awuzie, the Cowboys' biggest weakness in pass defense. The Lions will be able to mix and match their receiver alignments to put the Cowboys in difficult positions with their scheme. From front to back, everyone will have to stay disciplined in their man and zone coverages to not get beat for any big plays.
The Cowboys may want to scheme some extra help to Chidobe Awuize's side of the field as he's struggled to find the ball in 50-50 situations, where Kenny Golladay and Marvin Jones excel. The other key will be for Jourdan Lewis, who will likely end up in coverage against Amendola most of the time. He and the linebackers will need to tackle Amendola and McKissic better than they did Dalvin Cook in the open field as Driskell will likely be forced to dump it off quickly to avoid being affected by the pass rush.
11 of Driskel's 27 completions against the Chicago Bears were at or behind the line of scrimmage and 48% of his passing yardage came after the catch. For comparison, in week 10 against the Cowboys, Kirk Cousins completed eight of his 23 passes at or behind the line of scrimmage and an insane 65% of his yards came after the catch.
The Lions record hasn't been able to run the ball very effectively this year, even before Kerryon Johnson. They rank 20th in the NFL in total rushing, but fifth in the NFL in passing, so the Cowboys will have to be more disciplined in coverage and have to team tackle to get off the field.
It's a huge game for the Dallas Cowboys if they want to improve their chances of making the playoffs. They don't have the luxury of dropping a game like this to a team they should absolutely beat. In a tie with the Philadelphia Eagles atop the NFC East and with only seven games left of the season, pretty much every game from here on out is a must-win game.
Defensive Inconsistencies Hurting Cowboys Playoff Chances
The Dallas Cowboys have had an up and down season, to say the least. One minute they look like one of the best teams in the NFL, and the next, they look as if they just started playing football a week ago.
A lot of that can be attributed to the inconsistent play of their defense. The numbers say they have one of the best units of it's kind in the league. They rank 14th vs the run, sixth vs the pass, and seventh overall while only allowing 18.9 points per game. The problem is, their performance from game to game hasn't always matched these numbers.
In Week 5 when the Green Bay Packers came to town they had the difficult task of dealing with their biggest nemesis the last half-decade in Aaron Rodgers. His primary target Davante Adams was out because of a toe issue. The Cowboys were only allowing 14 points per game at the time, however, this game would see the scoreboard light up with regularity for the Packers.
Another Aaron would be the star of this game, Running Back Aaron Jones that is. He picked up nine of the Packers 24 first downs by himself on the ground and in the passing game. This helped the Packers control the clock for almost 37 minutes which kept the Cowboys playing a game of catch up.
He finished with 182 all-purpose yards and scored four rushing touchdowns, a record for a Cowboys opponent. What made this particular game a head-scratcher was the fact that the Packers were without their number one receiver and Rodgers failed to throw a single touchdown pass, and the Packers still scored 34 points. Not an ideal outing for the Cowboys defense.
In Week 6 the Cowboys visited Metlife Stadium to take on the New York Jets. At the time, they were 0-4 and arguably the worst team in the NFL. Also, Quarterback Sam Darnold was making his return after being out five weeks due to mononucleosis. All signs pointed to a dominant performance by the Cowboys defense. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.
If Darnold had any effects of his illness he didn't show it. He surgically dissected the Cowboys defense all game long to the tune of 338 yards (career-high) and two touchdowns. The Jets jumped out to a 21-3 lead and never looked back, holding on to win 24-22.
The most mind-blowing thing in this game was the fact that Running Back Le'Veon Bell was held to only 50 yards rushing. Even with the Jets being pretty much one dimensional all game they still managed to move the ball up and down the field. Inexcusable performance by a defense as talented as the Cowboys vs one of the worst offenses in the NFL.
Last Sunday's matchup vs the Minnesota Vikings presented a big challenge for the Cowboys defense. Not only did they have to deal with league-leading rusher Dalvin Cook but also Stefon Diggs who came into the game eighth in receiving yards.
Tight End Kyle Rudolph, who only had two touchdowns all year prior to this game, reached the end zone on back to back drives putting the Vikings up 14-0 entering the second quarter.
The star of this game, however, was the aforementioned Cook. The Cowboys had no answer for him as he gashed them continuously in the screen game as well as on the ground. Cook finished with 183 all-purpose yards (97 rushing, 86 receiving) and a touchdown on 33 touches. Yes, Cook is dynamic and the Vikings offense is formidable but the lack of discipline on assignments and poor tackling wasn't exactly a pleasant sight to see by this defense at home.
This is not to say that the Cowboys haven't had good performances defensively this season. In Week 4 they held the New Orleans Saints, albeit without Drew Brees, to just 12 points in a tough two-point loss. Three weeks ago, they held the Philadelphia Eagles to 283 yards of offense and forced four turnovers in a blowout 37-10 victory. Their second trip to Metlife Stadium was dominant as they registered five sacks and forced three turnovers in a 37-18 beat down of the New York Giants.
The inconsistency of this unit has been frustrating and downright confusing at times. There's too much talent on this defense to be so up and down. If this doesn't change, and quickly, this defense could be the reason the Cowboys find themselves on the outside looking in when the playoffs start.
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