The Dallas Cowboys shutout loss at the Indianapolis Colts was historic for all the wrong reasons, the first time this team's been blanked on the scoreboard since 2003 and a deflating end to a five game winning streak. The inability for the Cowboys to score culminated with Running Back Ezekiel Elliott carrying the ball just 18 times for 87 yards.
The Cowboys have won only two games this year when Elliott has less than 20 carries, though he was much more of a receiving threat in both outcomes over the Giants at home and Eagles on the road. Against the Colts, Elliott did catch seven passes, none of which went for a score of course - coupled with his fourth down stuff from the three yard line to negate an early Cowboys scoring attempt.
The impetus on the Cowboys scoring a point in their first of three chances at locking up the NFC East hardly falls on Elliott, but this doesn't make a statistic posted by his mother on Twitter any less amazing.
Ezekiel has been playing football since 2002 (ever since he was 7). It just occurred to me that Sunday was the first game, in his entire career, that the team he's played on didn't score.
The closest the Cowboys came to scoring on Sunday (blocked Brett Maher field goal attempt aside) at the Colts was the play before Elliott was tackled for a loss on fourth down. Fullback Jamize Olawale dropped a walk-in touchdown on a well designed play, putting the play in the books as nothing more than another that Elliott nor his Quarterback Dak Prescott could control.
The duo of Prescott and Elliott had accounted for a touchdown in all of their games together in Dallas, and you have to go back to September of 2015 to find the last collegiate game Elliott didn't score in. The third week of his final season at Ohio State, Elliott's Buckeyes managed to win 20-13 over Northern Illinois behind his 108 yards on 23 attempts.
Elliott not partaking in a shutout at any point in his football career before week 15 of his third professional season shows how maddening the Cowboys ebbs and flows on this side of the ball are. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan calling the plays, the Cowboys toe the line of overusing Elliott and forgetting about him at a rate that's already added pressure to their chance at winning the NFC East.
Linehan has fairly had to shoulder much of the blame for the Cowboys abysmal performance against Matt Eberflus' Colts defense, my own take on the matter summed up here:
"The talk of the league outside of "what happened to Dallas?" this week seems to be a much more global "what is going to happen in the NFC playoffs"? The Cowboys, Linehan included, would love to have something to say about both questions, yet have more than a large enough sample size of inept offense to see how things could go horribly wrong." - Matt Eberflus Exposed Cowboys Biggest Weakness for Playoff Run (12/19).
"OC responsible for keeping an Ezekiel Elliott offense scoreless for the first time ever," is hardly the latest revision Linehan wants to make to his resume considering the uncertainty of his job status at points earlier this season. Even listing such an "accomplishment" alongside another playoff appearance should have the Cowboys searching for an upgrade at Linehan's position this offseason.
The good news for the Cowboys is that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers come to town this weekend, their last place red zone scoring defense a potential remedy for whatever it was that happened at Indianapolis. Elliott has faced the Bucs once in his career, ripping off a career-high 159 yards and - yes, a touchdown.
The Cowboys path back to proving their most recent loss is an anomaly that won't slow their drive towards the postseason feels simple. Having total confidence in the Cowboys offense after last week would be reckless, but so too is expecting Ezekiel Elliott to do anything less than assure Dallas himself they won't be shutout again while restarting this personal streak.
Add in a potential return from Right Guard Zack Martin and Left Guard Xavier Su'a-Filo against Tampa Bay, and the time is now for the Cowboys to lock up the division with a week to spare behind a hungrier-than-ever Elliott.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott
Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.
In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.
During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...
...of his offensive lineman.
During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.
As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.
It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.
With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.
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