After being one of the hottest teams in the NFL a year ago, the Dallas Cowboys have struggled quite a bit in 2017. Surprisingly, the problems have come from every aspect of the game, offense, defense and special teams.
However, the defense is the biggest issue for this football team. That is a fact.
It doesn't matter how much you argue whether Dak Prescott should've thrown that pass on second and one or not. Or if he should have slid at the one-yard line instead of scoring.
The truth remains that this is a defense that allowed Aaron Rodgers and his offense to drive the ball down the field to score a game-winning touchdown in less than a minute and a half.
And it isn't just about last week. The Cowboys haven't had a dominant defense for what feels like an eternity. Some blame the players, some blame the coaches.
For a long time, I've been reluctant to blame coaching. But now, I think it's high time we take a look at Rod Marinelli being the problem for this defense.
Cowboys Nation has always defended Marinelli saying that he "has done more with less", arguing this is a defense without talent from which Rod Marinelli has exceeded expectations every year.
To a point, this is fair. In 2014, the Cowboys were supposed to have the worst defense in NFL history and ended up being the 15th best in the league. The Cowboys finished their regular season 12-4 that year.
But to be honest, I think that we are underestimating the talent this defense has.
I understand that maybe the Cowboys don't have the talent necessary to become an elite defense, but they're not even decent. Rod Marinelli might be a great teacher, and we've seen it with a lot of projects he's had over the years. But when it comes to coaching the entire defense, he probably can't handle it.
Rod Marinelli uses the Tampa 2 defense a lot, which is a zone scheme. Players like Morris Claiborne, for instance, might've had better careers in Dallas if man-to-man coverage was used more often.
The Tampa 2 scheme also relies a lot on its defensive line to pressure the quarterback. This is why it seems like we never see a blitz by the Cowboys' defense.
Looking at this Cowboys defense, I can't help but wonder what the team can do with these players. Rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis would probably benefit from playing man-to-man coverage more than zone coverage.
Byron Jones, Xavier Woods are players that could be great at blitzing with the athleticism they both have. Once Jaylon Smith is 100% healthy, he could be used in a lot of different ways, too.
This defense might not be great today, but it does have a lot of talent ready to be exploited. Rod Marinelli's conservative approach to the game is not what they need.
I think however this season ends for the Cowboys, this will be Marinelli's last year in Dallas. This team is very young and its talent shouldn't be wasted.
There are a lot of directions this team can go if they decide to move on from their defensive coordinator. I think the most likely option will be giving linebackers coach Matt Eberflus the chance. He has done a great job with the linebackers and he could become a great defensive coordinator.
For now, let's hope this defense finds a way to do just enough to help the offense win football games. The future of the Cowboys this season is as uncertain as it could be. They could turn it around easily, or it could go south really fast.
Maybe Rod Marinelli won't be the only change we see in the coaching staff in 2018.
Is Kavon Frazier Fighting a Losing Battle With the Dallas Cowboys?
Dallas Cowboys Safety Kavon Frazier has one year remaining on his rookie contract, but may not see the end of it with the same team who drafted him. In fact, it really looks as if he is already fighting a losing battle in Dallas.
The Dallas Cowboys signed Free Agent George Iloka and drafted Donavan Wilson out of Texas A&M in the sixth-round of the 2019 NFL Draft in the hopes of upgrading the safety position. That doesn't bode well for Kavon Frazier, especially after seeing his defensive snaps take hit in 2018.
After the arrival of Defensive Backs Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, Frazier saw his playing time on defense go from 21.24% in 2017 to 18.07% in 2018. It's not a huge difference, but it's pretty obvious the Cowboys value his special-teams ability, not his defensive play.
The way I see things, Kavon Frazier is a longshot to make the Cowboys final 53-man roster this year. At best, I have him fifth or sixth on the depth chart right now. Since Dallas typically only carries four safeties on the roster, it's looking as if Frazier could inevitably be the odd man out.
I personally have Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, and George Iloka ahead of Kavon Frazier right now on the depth chart. That means he's competing with Darian Thompson, who is also playing on a one-year deal, and rookie Donovan Wilson for that fourth and final roster spot at the safety position. Unfortunately for Frazier, it looks as if the odds are against him.
Donovan Wilson has already had to step into Frazier's shoes while he was out in OTA's after having his knee scoped, and has been pretty impressive doing so. He has supposedly picked up the defensive scheme pretty quickly and is becoming a vocal leader on the backend. Being a younger, cheaper option, Wilson has a better chance of sticking around on the final 53-man roster over Frazier.
As you can see, Kavon Frazier is fighting an uphill battle with the Dallas Cowboys. It of course is nothing new for him. He's had to fight his way onto the roster ever since he joined the Cowboys, but this year just seems a little different in my opinion. It just looks as if the odds are more against him this time around.
I have no doubts Frazier will continue to fight with every ounce of his being, but if I'm being completely honest I think he's fighting a losing battle. It's going to be really interesting to see how this roster battle at the safety position plays out in training camp and preseason.
Do you think Kavon Frazier is fighting a losing battle with the Dallas Cowboys?
Dallas Cowboys: The Case For Regression In 2019
It's been a few years since things around the Dallas Cowboys felt this good prior to a season. Coming off a 10-6 year in which Dallas won both the NFC East and a home playoff game before losing a one possession road game to the future NFC champions, Cowboys Nation is expecting some big things in 2019.
After all, the Cowboys went out and improved their roster in multiple ways this offseason and brought in some new blood on their offensive coaching staff. Spirits are high among Cowboys Nation, and just about everyone is anticipating a two team race for the NFC East.
But some numbers indicate we should be thinking "not so fast."
The details of the 2018 season are not as pretty as the total picture. Rarely are they ever, of course, but these particular details point towards possible regression for the Cowboys in 2019.
Basically, their point differential a year ago spells out impending doom. (That was dramatic, but let's discuss).
The Cowboys were +15 in 2018, and by pythagorean wins expectation, they were about as strong as an 8-8 team (8.53 wins to be exact). This means they won nearly 2 more games (1.47) than would be expected, fourth most in the entire NFL.
This point is furthered when looking at their record in one possession games. Dallas went 8-2 when the game was decided by 7 points or less, winning close games at a rate that is simply not sustainable year to year.
These numbers make the Cowboys a prime candidate for regression in 2019, as they were in 2017.
Back in 2016, the Cowboys outperformed their pythagorean expectation by a whole 2 wins. The following season? Dallas finished the year 9-7. The model also indicated that the 7-9 Eagles performed 2 wins under expectations in 2016, meaning they would get back on track in 2017. As we know, they ended up winning 13 games and the Super Bowl the following season.
Of course, this isn't set-in-stone, and the Cowboys very well could outperform these expectations and avoid regression. This would mainly hinge on their coaching staff and quarterback performing at an elite level, carrying them through close games and winning more games by greater than one possession.
Newly Acquired DE Robert Quinn Brings High Expectations
Winning games in the NFL typically comes down to accomplishing two goals. One, being successful when passing on offense. And, two, stopping the opposing team's passing game.
The Cowboys set out to accomplish that second goal this offseason, re-signing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and trading for veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn. Quinn, who tallied 6.5 sacks last season for the Miami Dolphins, is one of the leagues more feared rushers when at his best. The former All Pro has multiple 10+ sack seasons under his belt, including a whopping 19 in 2013.
And, as expected, the Cowboys coaching staff is ecstatic to have such a respected pass rushing specialist on their roster.
“He’s got that first step. He’s an established pass rusher in this league, so he’s going to bring some good stuff for us.” - Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
The Cowboys acquired Robert Quinn for a 2020 6th round pick, which could end up being the steal of the offseason. Quinn has played with some top-notch pass rushers in the past, and each time they have brought out the best in his own game.
Back with the Rams in 2017, when Aaron Donald was on the same defensive line, Quinn got to the quarterback 8.5 times. And, last season, he remained consistent in his sack totals playing alongside Cameron Wake. Now he joins a DeMarcus Lawrence who has 25 sacks over the last 2 seasons.
"I think it was kind of one of those where I get to have fun, pin my ears back and just disrupt the backfield, which is what they want us to do." - Robert Quinn told NFL.com.
Quinn and the always dominant Lawrence will form an impressive defensive end duo on passing downs, with the potential to be one of the best in all of football. Dallas is also hoping to add Randy Gregory into this mix, a piece which could prove vital late in football games if he is able to return from his current indefinite suspension.
Whether or not Gregory finds his way back onto the field, though, this defensive front will be in good hands. The edge combo of Quinn and Lawrence, combined with a plethora of skilled interior rushers such as Maliek Collins, gives the Cowboys a fearsome defensive line which should keep quarterbacks uncomfortable every Sunday.
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