Entering the 2018 season, there was a ton of excitement surrounding the Dallas Cowboys secondary. With the hiring of Kris Richard, and the promise of cornerbacks Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, and Jourdan Lewis, there was certainly reason to pay close attention to their defensive backfield.
Through the first two weeks, the excitement was justified (unless we're discussing Lewis). But over the past two games, specifically the victory over Detroit, this secondary has begun to allow more big plays in the passing game than they should be.
Yes, this has a lot to do with safety play, as Jeff Heath has struggled and injury has forced the coverage-challenged Kavon Frazier into some disadvantageous positions. This week, this secondary will be tested again, despite what the Houston Texans look like on paper due to their record.
Let's review some of the key players the Cowboys will have to focus on to beat the Texans on Sunday night.
I mean, duh, right?
DeAndre Hopkins has cemented himself as one of the best wide receivers in all of football, and is the best non-Beckham wide out the Cowboys have faced this season. Hopkins already has 443 yards and 2 touchdowns through 4 weeks, including a monster game last Sunday where he caught 10 balls for 169 yards and a score in the victory over the Colts.
Hopkins can be moved around by Houston a lot, though he is listed as the "left" wide receiver on the depth chart. Being the Cowboys best corner, you know that this coaching staff would rather have Byron Jones be over Hopkins on Sunday. But based on how teams have adjusted to Jones the past two weeks, I'd expect to see the Texans match Hopkins up with Chidobe Awuzie as often as possible.
Awuzie struggled by the numbers last Sunday, but anyone who watched the film knows how solid his coverage actually was. He'll need to be at his best this week to keep Hopkins in check.
The Complimentary Pieces
The rest of the Texans receivers aren't great, but each has big play ability if the defense isn't careful. Former first round pick Will Fuller hasn't lived up to his draft billing, but he is still a dangerous vertical threat who can catch the deep ball on any snap.
Fourth round rookie Keke Coutee had a break out game against the Colts last Sunday, going for 11 catches and 109 yards.
Despite his slow start to 2018, Deshaun Watson is far from having a "Sophomore Slump." Watson has picked it up and gotten better each week this season, and is looking more and more like his rookie year self.
Watson is a dangerous quarterback to face, as he poses that "dual threat" element which analysts often refer to when discussing him. He isn't the athlete someone like Cam Newton is, however, making him a little less of a threat on the ground than Dallas has already seen this season.
The Cowboys did struggle when Carolina used Newton as a runner, but Houston doesn't utilize Watson in those ways nearly as often. The more apt comparison for Watson is probably Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, though Watson and the Texans push the ball down the field much more frequently.
Deshaun Watson has a big arm, and looks to have found his feet after last year's debilitating injury. Dallas will need to focus its resources on slowing down him and the Texans passing game if they are to come away with their 3rd victory on Sunday.
The good news is that the Texans offensive line is weak, and the Cowboys pass rush should have a big day.
NFC East Showdown: Cowboys Offense Primed to Dominate Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are probably as confident as they have been all season as an offense after completely manhandling the Jacksonville Jaguars defense last week. They were able to put up 40 points on the Jaguar's top-ranked defense and now have to do the same against their division rival, the Washington Redskins.
I don't think there would be any argument if I were to say the Washington Redskins defense isn't nearly as talented as the Cowboys faced last week with the Jaguars. In fact, the Redskins are ranked near the bottom of the league in almost every defensive category, which should have Dallas' offensive players primed for this matchup.
As things stand right now, the Washington Redskins are giving up 21.2 points per game which ranks 24th in the NFL. They are also giving up 344 total yards (25th in the NFL) and 227.2 passing yards a game (24th). The lone bright spot of their defense is stopping the run, where they are currently ranked 12th in the NFL and are only allowing 116.8 rushing yards to opposing running backs.
Luckily, the Dallas Cowboys and Quarterback Dak Prescott looked to have found a groove with their passing game last week against the Jaguars top-ranked passing defense. With the Redskins ranked near the bottom of the league in passing defense, I think the Cowboys should and probably will build upon the success they had last week.
Now, I fully expect the Cowboys passing game to find success once again against the Redskins, but I also believe Running Back Ezekiel Elliott to dominate on the ground like he has in the past against Washington.
Zeke only played in one game against the Redskins last season, but absolutely dominated in that contest. He rushed for 150 yards and two touchdowns a year ago and I wouldn't be surprised if he is close to that milestone this week as well, even if it is against the strength of Washington's defense.
I'm really hoping I'm not a being a little overconfident here, but I guess I'm just buying into the success the Cowboys had on the offensive side of the ball last week. The offense finally started to do the things that have made them successful in the past and I'm expecting that to carry over into this week.
I believe we will see Prescott using his mobility once again, although I don't know if he will rush for 83 yards. I'm also expecting to see Wide Receiver Cole Beasley heavily involved in the passing game again because Washington doesn't have a defensive back who can cover him. Of course, let's not forget Ezekiel Elliott. I'm expecting him have a big game as well.
Overall, I really don't see the Washington Redskins defense giving the Dallas Cowboys any problems on the offensive side of the ball as long as they execute the way they did last week. I know when these two teams square off against one another it's usually a slobber knocker, but I think the Cowboys are the better team and is the one that comes away with the victory.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys offense will dominate the Redskins defense?
Can Dak Prescott Continue His Washington Domination On Sunday?
There has been a lot of change within the Dallas Cowboys since 2016.
One thing hasn't changed these past two years, however, and that is the Cowboys beating the Washington Redskins. In fact, since Dak Prescott took over as the starting quarterback in Dallas the Cowboys are 4-0 against Washington. Even as the sky was falling in Dallas a year ago, and the Cowboys offense looked like the worst in football, they still found a way to dominate Washington 38-14 and snap their then-three game losing streak.
In his four career games against Washington, Dak Prescott has quarterback ratings of 103.7, 108.9, 82.2, and 93.4. To put this into context, Prescott's average quarterback rating this season is 85.5 and that is really driven by his outlier positive rating of 118.6 against the Detroit Lions. To be fair, however, his 54.5 rating against Seattle was also a heavy outlier.
Prescott isn't the only Cowboy who has exercised this dominance over Washington, though. As Staff Writer John Williams has pointed out, Jason Garrett is 11-4 against the Redskins since becoming the Cowboys head coach, and Dallas has won six of their last eight against Washington since 2014.
So heading into Sunday's rematch with their division foe, history says the Cowboys should be feeling rather confident, right?
Well there's another streak occurring the Cowboys will actually be looking to break on Sunday. That, of course, is their winless start on the road this season.
Ironically the Dak Prescott-led Cowboys have actually been a good road team until now, going a combined 12-4 the past two seasons. And, since the new stadium opened in 2009, the Cowboys have been historically better on the road than at home, making this year's 3-3 start even more bizarre.
To put it simply, "somethings gotta give" on Sunday. Either Dak Prescott and the Cowboys will continue to beat up on the Redskins and get a leg up in the NFC East, or this horrendous road start will continue for another week.
Either way, I'm sure the takes will be hot on Monday morning.
Cowboys Defense Getting Players Back at the Right Time
The Dallas Cowboys have played really well on defense this season allowing the seventh fewest rushing yards per game, the third lowest yards per carry, and the eighth fewest passing yards per game this season. They've done it for most of the 2018 season without Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins and David Irving, and Linebacker Sean Lee, who's missed the last three games with a strained hamstring.
This week the Cowboys play the NFC East leading Washington Redskins, making this a very important matchup for the Cowboys playoff chances. The Dallas Cowboys are 2-2 in the NFC in 2018, so a win against the Washington Redskins on Sunday carries much more importance. If the Cowboys have hopes of making the playoffs, they're going to have to improve their record against the NFC and they can on Sunday with their defense getting back to (nearly) full health.
Still awaiting word on Chidobe Awuzie's availability for this week.
Antwaun Woods, Tyrone Crawford, and David Ross have held up really well on the Cowboys defensive interior without Irving and Collins, which makes their return even more important. Better depth along the defensive interior is only going to help those guys have more productive snaps. Both Collins and Irving are explosive penetrating defensive tackles that give interior offensive lineman fits with their combination of strength and quickness. They play the run and pass with equal effectiveness and make life a lot easier for the linebackers and the defensive ends.
In their first game back in week six, Irving and Collins combined for two quarterback pressures, a quarterback hit (Irving) and a sack (Collins). Irving also drew a holding call on a punt.
Getting them back takes so much pressure off the defensive ends to generate pressure in passing situations. With better pressure from the interior of the defense, DeMarcus Lawrence and the other defensive ends will have better opportunities for sacks because opposing quarterbacks won't be able to step up in the pocket with as much ease as they have through the first five games of the season.
The linebacker duo of Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch have been one of the best position groups for the Cowboys this season. As good as they've been, Sean Lee is still one of the better linebackers in the NFL. Though he's leading the Cowboys in solo tackles with 43, Leighton Vander Esch probably sees a decrease in his snaps with Lee returning. They'll all play, however, and the Cowboys will look for ways to have them all on the field together.
Getting Lee, Irving, and Collins on the field at the same time with the defensive parts that the Cowboys already boast in Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Byron Jones is going to make playing offense nearly impossible.
How do you attack these guys?
The Washington Redskins rank in the bottom third in passing yards, yards per attempt, and are 18th in the NFL in passer rating. Washington ranks in the top half of the league in rushing yards per game, but rank 23rd in yards per attempt.
If there's an area where the Dallas Cowboys defense has been susceptible this season it's against the pass and having all of their best defensive players available for this week seven NFC East matchup is going to make all the difference. They'll be able to generate pressure with fewer blitzes because of the ability of Irving and Collins to generate pressure from the interior.
Though the Redskins have had some success on the ground in 2018, it's going to be tough sledding for Adrian Peterson and the Redskins run game. Lee, Vander Esch, and Smith all play the run extremely well and with the improved talent at defensive tackle, Peterson is going to find very few open lanes against the Dallas Cowboys defense.
The elite defense that we imagined this team could be may be right around the corner. Having everyone healthy and on the field together as the Dallas Cowboys get ready for the stretch run of the NFL season is huge.
Get ready NFL. Points are going to be really hard to come by.
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