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, Colts Week 15 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.
We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.
- TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
- G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
- DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
- WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
- OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
- DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.
Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving. Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.
Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.
Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.
While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.
- G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
- LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
- S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
- WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
- TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
- S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable
The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.
Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.
Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.
Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.
Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line depth will be tested as they play for a chance to clinch the NFC East on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Suffering a knee injury last week against the Eagles, Right Guard Zack Martin will not be able to play. In missing his first career start, rookie Connor Williams rightfully returns to the starting lineup as Martin's replacement.
The 50th overall pick from this year's AT&T Stadium hosted Draft has started eight games this season at left guard. Williams' last start happens to be in the last game Dallas lost, a week nine defeat to the Tennessee Titans. This opened the door for Xavier Su'a-Filo to become something of a sensation for Cowboys Nation as the starting left guard throughout the team's current five game win streak.
Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained knee. Rookie Connor Williams will start in his place.
Zack Martin being unavailable is hardly how Marc Colombo wants to prepare for the Cowboys first road game since week 11. Having both Su'a-Filo and Williams in the lineup will be valuable for the Cowboys moving forward though, as Williams could earn his job at left guard back from the right side.
While he won't nearly be expected to play at the level of Martin, Williams looked poised coming off the bench against the Eagles and helping the Cowboys offense score their final three touchdowns. Williams was on the field for all three of Amari Cooper's scores, as Dallas rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries with him in the game.
Williams flashed some of the traits that made him a top left tackle prospect out of college, flowing to the second level with ease and creating movement with quick feet at the point of attack. The Cowboys have forced him to remain game ready despite losing his starting position by finding a few emergency snaps for him in recent weeks, as well as special teams looks. The team has every reason to believe Williams is an ascending young player still.
The same cannot be said of Su'a-Filo, who simply has to focus on continuing to hold up at left guard again this week. With each passing win, Su'a-Filo's LG spot has become more of a liability in a Cowboys offense in need of a jump-start late in this 2018 season.
Consistent offensive line play is one of the few things that's clearly hurting the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC behind a stellar defense and game breaking wide receiver.
The Cowboys won't be at full strength against the eighth best rushing defense and 15th ranked passing defense in yards per game. With three separate chances to clinch the NFC East starting at the Colts and extending until the end of the regular season, the Cowboys stand to learn all they need to know about the offensive line that will start in the playoffs.
Martin, who's elevated his game to a new level this season despite this lingering knee injury, should be on track to return when the Cowboys come home to play the Buccaneers in week 16.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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