A loss in week in week 3 is subject to overreactions from NFL fans everywhere, something we should always be careful with. But as the Dallas Cowboys head to work after another terrible offensive performance, it's tough to imagine the conversation going on in Cowboys Nation is an overreaction. I imagine I'm not alone in wishing that's what it was. But it isn't.
The Dallas Cowboys have opened their 2018 NFL season with a 1-2 record, and even though other teams (such as the New England Patriots) unexpectedly have the same record, or that other crazy stuff is going on around the league, the Jason Garrett-led Cowboys haven't given us much reason to believe they can turn the offense around.
Without further ado, let's get to another Takeaway Tuesday. As always, feel free to share your takeaways from last Sunday's loss to the Seattle Seahawks in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Coaches Must Be on Mid-Season Hot Seat
OK, it's high time we have this conversation. Dak Prescott and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys' offense has been struggling. Although the defense has been playing surprisingly well, there are simply no excuses for the way Scott Linehan's unit has been playing.
There has been trouble at every single aspect of the offensive side of the ball, which was supposed to be this team's strength heading into the season. As much as the future at the quarterback position is uncertain, the biggest problem is coaching. Sure, Prescott isn't living up to the expectations so far, having terrible stats in the first three weeks of the season but the coaches could definitely be putting him in better positions to succeed.
Playing to his strengths. Prescott is at his best when the team runs play-action plays or lets him throw on the run or use his legs to hurt opposing defenses on the ground as well. Prescott could thrive on RPOs and read option runs, but that's not how they're utilizing him.
per @PFF, Dak Prescott play action percentages by week. week 1 - 17.9% week 2 - 44.0% week 3 - 12.5%
As much as it pains me to say it, it honestly feels like the Cowboys are stuck with Scott Linehan and Jason Garrett at the wheel. Although there aren't big names in the pass-catchers positions, the offense is talented enough to keep the ball moving. Even still, they aren't.
Right now, it's not even about the offense not being the best unit for the team, but a unit that is costing them games and will continue to do so unless some drastic changes are made.
Not that the coaches are the only ones that should be accountable, just about every player should be, including QB Dak Prescott, who might be playing for his job the rest of the year. But if this mediocre performances continue into week 8, for instance, it might just be time to move on from the current coaching staff. What will change in the next seasons that can makes us believe Garrett and Linehan are the answer for the franchise's future?
And yet, no changes will be made as far as the Cowboys' play-caller is. Right now, it's tough to imagine where this season is headed. But two things might be for sure. 1) It won't be good. 2) We'll see some RB screens on third and long and three tight end sets on first downs.
Defense Might Just Be Fine With Vander Esch Filling in for Sean Lee
Sean Lee hurt his other hamstring playing in Seattle last Sunday, which usually would have us freaking out about the linebacker position. However, as we've discussed since the preseason, Jaylon Smith is looking pretty amazing and healthy. But now, it's not only Smith that's been showing off his football skills.
It's first round draft pick Leighton Vander Esch who's having a pretty nice start to his career. At least, it's been way better than what some expected (myself included) from his rookie season.
In just three weeks and limited snaps, Vander Esch has had 18 tackles and a tackle for loss. He's been around the football a lot, just like Lee when healthy. If the Boise State product continues to play this week, one has to wonder about Sean Lee's future in Dallas.
The Jury is Still Out on K Brett Maher
Kicker Brett Maher kicked a 50-yard field goal last Sunday as Cowboys' fans at home breathed a huge sigh of relief. After letting Dan Bailey go, it was time for something positive to say about the kicker position in Dallas.
Maher was pretty good on the field last week, but there's no denying his kicks were sort of scary and not perfect attempts right down the middle. Cowboys Nation should be more comfortable with the cut of Dan Bailey, but the jury should still be out on his replacement.
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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