It’s pretty impressive how the landscape of a football team can dramatically change on a week-to-week basis. The Dallas Cowboys’ performance on offense through the first three games of the season had some fans already thinking about the 2019 NFL Draft. But even though the Detroit Lions are not among the NFL’s finest, the Cowboys’ second win of the season came with a huge sigh of relief by Cowboys Nation.
The offense was able to move the chains, the coaching was pretty decent and simply put, the team was able to execute. Not only that, but they did so against one of the league’s best passing defenses. Now granted, their play was far from perfect and there are still tons of aspects this team must improve to be a serious playoffs unit.
Let’s get to this week’s edition of “Takeaway Tuesday” as we discuss some of the things we learned in last Sunday’s victory over the Lions!
Dak Prescott was on fire against a top passing defense.
Yes, Dak Prescott has a lot to work on before the Cowboys decide whether or not he's the franchise quarterback they thought he was when handing him the starting job in 2016. However, as far as his performance against the Lions is concerned, there's not much to criticize. This was one of Prescott's best games, completing 17 passes for 255 yards in a game in which his team ran for 186 yards.
Prescott wasn't afraid to throw downfield (something we had seen very little of) and he did so against Darius Slay and the Lions' passing defense, which entered week 4 as the top one in the nation. He threw some pretty good passes and made very few mistakes. That pass to Ezekiel Elliott in the final drive was an absolute dime. He also put the ball in Tavon Austin's hands despite perfect coverage from Darius Slay, although Austin didn't keep the ball. Also worth nothing was Prescott's pass to Allen Hurns for a sideline catch which was really impressive. These were not the only good throws from Dak, but they show consistently on last game's tape.
Some in Cowboys Nation won't stop criticizing Dak, but man... that was one hell of a game from his part and he deserves a big part of the credit for this win.
Ezekiel Elliott should be used as a pass catcher.
Ezekiel Elliott hauled in a perfectly thrown 34-yard pass by Dak to end the football game. Before that a great screen play designed by Scott Linehan resulted in a 38 yard receiving touchdown for Zeke. Now, how many times have we talked about the coaches reluctance to use their top RB in the passing game just like the Rams have with Todd Gurley or the Steelers with Le'Veon Bell?
Now, I know these were only a couple of plays and we shouldn't overreact because of them, but these were game-changing plays. The Cowboys' offense would be more dangerous with him threatening the offense as a receiving RB as well.
Chidobe Awuzie hasn't met expectations.
Although one of the most discussed Cowboys' defensive backs is Jourdan Lewis and the reason he hasn't seen any playing time, I wonder if we should also be concerned about the other sophomore, Chidobe Awuzie. Byron Jones has stolen the show at CB, basically erasing his side of the field for opposing offenses, but the same hasn't been the case for #24.
According to Pro Football Focus, Awuzie allowed eight receptions in 11 targets for 138 yards and one touchdown. This stats don't tell the entire story, but he certainly needs to improve or Cowboys Nation will start having flashbacks of the 2017 version of Anthony Brown.
Geoff Swaim has emerged as Cowboys' TE1.
Tight ends have been a weakness for this 2018 Dallas Cowboys team, but one has emerged as the starter at the very uncertain position. Geoff Swaim caught three passes for 39 yards and his first career touchdown in last Sunday's game.
Out of four weeks, Swaim has led the tight ends in Dallas with over 90% of the snaps in each game. He's been able to stay on the field longer than any of the other guys who were also expected to earn a fair share of the TE snaps. Hopefully, Dak can develop some sort of chemistry with Swaim because this offense needs a tight end who can serve as a weapon in the passing game.
Cowboys, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report
Though it's still early in the 2018 season, the lead in the NFC East is up for grabs when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins meet this Sunday. Both teams would like their full roster available for the game, but the Week 7 injury reports indicate that won't be the case.
Here are the players either confirmed to be out of action tomorrow or are otherwise listed by Dallas and Washington:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - OUT
- CB Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) - Questionable
The Cowboys are getting healthier, with Sean Lee finally off the injury report and set to return to action. Not only will Dallas get their elite linebacker back, but it means a deeper rotation while the team remains without Joe Thomas.
Tavon Austin elected to skip season-ending surgery on his injured groin, but his should be out a few weeks. That will put Cole Beasley on punt returns and perhaps create more offensive opportunities for Deonte Thompson and Brice Butler.
Awuzie remains limited in practice but has played the last few weeks despite the ankle injury. There is no reason to think he won't suit up in Washington.
- WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) - OUT
- WR Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) - Doubtful
- S Troy Apke (hamstring) - Doubtful
- RB Adrian Peterson (ankle, shoulder) - Questionable
- RB Chris Thompson (rib, knee) - Questionable
- G Shawn Lauvao (calf) - Questionable
- CB Quinton Dunbar (shin) - Questionable
- CB Danny Johnson (forearm) - Questionable
It's a rough time for Washington's offensive weapons. They will definitely be without slot receiver Jamison Crowder and likely starter Paul Richardson, who current lead all WRs in receptions. Josh Doctson will put into a major role, as will veteran Brian Quick off the bench.
Peterson and Thompson both practiced this week and should play, but have nagging injuries that could slow them down. Washington is already missing Rob Kelley and rookie Derrius Guice, who are both on injured reserve.
Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao is also nursing a lower leg injury, but practiced in a limited capacity all week. His backup is undrafted rookie Casey Dunn out of Auburn.
In the defensive backfield, starting CB Quinton Dunbar was a Friday addition to the injury report with a shin injury. He did practice with it, though, so will likely play. Backup safety Troy Apke is doubtful with a hamstring issue.
Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.
Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.
Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.
Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.
Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.
The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.
Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.
Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.
Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.
Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.
He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.
If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.
Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.
Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.
That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.
#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance
It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.
But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.
According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.
Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.
What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.
For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.
As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.
Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.
Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).
Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.
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