The Dallas Cowboys came out of their week 3 "dress rehearsal" preseason game feeling as confident as ever, as they throttled the Houston Texans 34-0 to improve to 2-1 on the preseason.
Of course, there were some standouts from the Cowboys big win, as position battles are starting to come to a close and the regular season is quickly approaching.
Let's get into my game notes from the Cowboys' victory.
- Michael Gallup continues to impress and show signs of a big leap in year two. The sophomore wide receiver caught an excellent touchdown on a beautiful ball from Dak Prescott in the first quarter, battling through tough man coverage to snag the reception. Later in the first half Gallup caught a ball from Cooper Rush and racked up some yards after catch to score what should have been his second touchdown of the night, if not for a weak holding call on Connor Williams. Gallup is stepping into Amari Cooper's shoes nicely while the WR1 is out with a heel injury.
- Jordan Chunn is making a strong case to be the Cowboys' third running back come the regular season. Chunn had 7 carries for 25 yards, but he also racked up 2 catches for 23 yards through the air. Chunn can be a nice weapon as a receiver out of the backfield, and has proven to be a valuable special teams contributor as well. Tony Pollard also continued to impress this preseason, as he has some wondering out loud what this offense could look like without Ezekiel Elliott early on in the season. I still think a deal will get done, but Pollard will make it sting much less if Elliott does not sign.
- Devin Smith really might make this team. He had 6 catches for 79 yards on Saturday night, as he was once again one of the better deep-roster receivers for Dallas. Smith has separated himself from the Jon'Vea Johnsons of this roster, and is now expected to join Cedrick Wilson as WR5 and WR6 on the final cut.
- How about the blocked punt touchdown from linebacker Joe Thomas? The Cowboys special teams units have been sort of shaky in recent years, but with the depth this team has on both sides of the ball that will hopefully change in 2019.
- Cooper Rush is your backup quarterback. He was once again strong on Saturday night, and has been miles ahead of Mike White all preseason. At this point, it's not even close.
- Tight end Marcus Lucas is almost certainly going to be cut, as he is not practice squad eligible and the tight end depth chart seems set. But, he's made the most of his chances with the Cowboys this preseason. Lucas has looked pretty solid overall, and does a nice job working in the flats off play action. He's a decent tight end that another team may take a chance on during waivers.
- Taco Charlton has had possibly the best two-to-three weeks of his career this preseason. Charlton had a big night on Saturday, with 2 sacks, a pass deflection, and a forced fumble and fumble recovery. He was dominating the Texans' offensive tackles, and has gone from a potential final cut to nearly a roster lock when you look at the different projections being published. And, with the way he's played, he deserves to stick around.
- Donovan Wilson and CJ Goodwin have almost made themselves locks for the final roster as well. Both came away with impressive interceptions on Saturday, but both have also kept up consistently strong play throughout training camp and the preseason. The Cowboys are deep in the secondary, no doubt, but letting these players go would be a tough call. I'd say Wilson is much closer to a lock than Goodwin, but I'd do my best to keep both around. Each can play special teams too, by the way.
Lions QB Matthew Stafford’s Status Still Unknown for Cowboys Game
The Dallas Cowboys are headed to Detroit this Sunday for a Week 11 meeting with the Lions. As Dallas tries to get back to winning games, they may get a boost from the absence of Lions' Quarterback Matthew Stafford. After missing last week's game with a back injury, Stafford's status for this week remains unclear.
Stafford was a limited participant in practices all of Week 10 for Detroit and went into their game with the Chicago Bears as a game-time decision. He was ultimately ruled out due to fractures in his back; the first start Stafford's missed for the Lions since the 2010 season.
Jeff Driskel got the start as the Lions fell in Chicago. He is 1-5 as an NFL starter overall, going 1-4 in games for the Cincinnati Bengals in 2018.
The Lions are now 3-5-1 on the year and at the bottom of the NFC North. They are also far behind in the Wild Card race, which leads to speculation that they could shut Stafford down for the season to preserve his long-term health. Based on Matthew's contract, the earliest Detroit can easily get out from his contract is after the 2020 season.
For his part, Matthew Stafford has said he has no plans on staying out this season as long he's medically cleared to play. He certainly would love to be active this Sunday against the Cowboys, the team of his youth, after playing his high school football in Dallas.
Even if Stafford plays, Dallas has done solidly overall against opposing quarterbacks in 2019. They are sixth in passing yards allowed per game and 14th in opponent passer rating.
Detroit is fourth in passing offense right now in the NFL but that was based on eight games with Stafford at QB. Jeff Driskel will not perform at that same level, and the Lions' rushing attack has been very weak since Kerryon Johnson went on injured reserve.
We'll see in the coming days if Matthew Stafford is at practice for Detroit and to what extent. But even if he does practice some, as he did last week, it could once again be a last-minute decision for the Lions if Stafford actually plays on Sunday.
With the Cowboys desperate for a win, they'll take all the help they can get.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Turned Their Back on Prescott’s MVP Performance
The Dallas Cowboys have lost games to the Green Bay Packers, New Orleans Saints, New York Jets and the Minnesota Vikings. Last Sunday Night, the Cowboys hosted the Vikings on primetime and lost in a game that went down to the wire. It felt like the toughest loss of the season. Why? Let's dive in to this week's edition of Takeaway Tuesday.
Cowboys Turned Their Back on Dak Prescott's MVP Performance
Cowboys Nation was shocked with the Cowboys' play-calling late in the game and for good reason. After starting the drive backed up at their own five, Prescott completed six of seven passes for 79 yards. Then, on second down and two to go, the Cowboys ran the ball with Ezekiel Elliott for no gain. On a short yardage down, that was comprehensible. Maybe not ideal, but understandable. On third down, though, they handed it off again to Zeke.
In the game in which Dak Prescott was playing at an MVP level, with less than two minutes on the clock, the Cowboys took the ball away from him to put the game on the star running back who was having a rough day with less than 50 yards against a stout Vikings defense.
Now granted, the play on third down seemed to be an RPO concept with Jason Witten as the pass option. But why are you giving Dak one pass option when he's dominated all night? Why are you instead trusting Elliott in a game in which he failed to average three yards per carry? Prescott was unbelievably clutch, throwing for almost 400 yards, three touchdowns and a 100% conversion rate on 3rd & 7+.
This was by far the number one reason why the loss to the Vikings was so frustrating to watch. The Cowboys have a franchise quarterback. But they need to learn to trust him as such and put the games on his hands when needed. Not on their running back, regardless of how much they pay each.
Jason Garrett Must Be More Aggressive in Fourth Down Decisions
It's easy to say this in retrospective, but I believe the Cowboys didn't make the right decisions when facing fourth down last Sunday night. The first notorious decision came in the second quarter, when the Cowboys faced 4th & 4 with the ball on the Vikings' 40 yard-line. Being behind 14-0, they decided to punt.
It turned out fine for the Cowboys in the end, tying the game 14-14 later in the second. But the analytics trend in the NFL really has evidence to back up the fact that Dallas should've gone for it in such a critical spot.
In the fourth quarter, the Cowboys decided to kick the field goal being on their opponents' five. Down 21-28, Brett Maher went out to kick the field goal, which put the Cowboys behind by four points instead of seven. They still needed a touchdown to take the lead with ten minutes left on the game.
Kevin Brady took a deeper look at the Cowboys' win probabilities on this article for Inside The Star.
was working on a post for @InsideTheStarDC on this last night. here's the estimated WP for each scenario on that fourth and goal.
The Baltimore Ravens are taking the league by storm using analytics and making the right decisions in fourth down. Yet, some teams in the NFL are not catching up. The Cowboys are one of those teams.
Cowboys Defense Exposed Again
The main reason the Cowboys lost to the Vikings was coaching and that's clear. But defense earned the second place. Kirk Cousins played a good game versus Rod Marinelli's unit, despite the box score suggesting otherwise. He made a couple of impressive throws at AT&T Stadium while Kyle Rudolph finished night with two touchdown catches and a two point conversion.
Dalvin Cook, one of the toughest offensive weapons to face in this league totaled 183 yards last weekend. It's not easy to face Cook and limit him and the Cowboys failed to do so. The linebackers had a very rough day overall and there wasn't a single performance to point out as a positive.
Slow Starts Won't Stop
Every week. Every week we talk about how this Cowboys team started slow against any opponent. In six games, they haven't scored a TD in the first quarter. Not even at the beginning of the season, when they went 3-0 against poor teams did they start a game on the right foot. Who to blame? Both players and coaches, but I'd lean toward coaching first.
Bottom line, there's a huge problem with the way this football team prepares for gameday and the Cowboys need to figure it out fast. Their backs are against the wall and playing from behind every game costs games. At 5-4 and headed toward tough opponents in the second half of the season, it's time to put an end to such starts.
Though Comeback Bid Fell Short, Dak Prescott Proves He’s Elite
A loss is a loss. There are no moral victories in football, especially when your favorite team falls to 5-4 on the season and into a tie atop the NFC East (tiebreakers notwithstanding). Here we sit, however, in the middle of week 11 and the Dallas Cowboys will be fighting for their playoff lives every week from here till week 17. What could have been a one-game lead in the division was lost as the Dallas Cowboys allowed the Minnesota Vikings to come into AT&T Stadium Sunday night and steal a game on the road.
In the loss, the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff continued to play a familiar refrain as they "established the run" to the tune of 22 carries for 53 yards as a team, the longest run of the night coming from Tavon Austin on a reverse. The running game struggled the entire night as Mike Zimmer's defense beat the Dallas Cowboys offensive line and didn't allow Ezekiel Elliott any running room.
Because the running game was so bad, the Cowboys were forced to throw, and throw a lot. After getting down two touchdowns early in the game, Dak Prescott and the passing attack found their mojo and brought the game even before the Vikings scored on a last-second field goal to close the first half. In the second half, the teams traded leads before the Cowboys couldn't convert on 4th and 5 after having 2nd and 2 at the Vikings nine-yard line.
Though the game didn't end with another "W" being added to the win column, the Cowboys won a bit in another way. They saw their franchise quarterback thrive in a situation when the running game wasn't working.
On the night, Dak Prescott completed 28 of 46 passes for 397 yards, three touchdowns and an interception on the hail mary at the end of the game that was just out of Blake Jarwin's reach. He finished the game with a passer rating of 101.4. You remove the hail mary interception and Prescott's passer rating jumps to 112.9. Prescott had a passer rating of 87.5 on the night, which illustrates just how important he was to the Cowboys' offensive success.
Prescott averaged 8.63 yards per attempt and completed an insane 17 passes that traveled 10 yards or more. For comparison, Kirk Cousins only completed two passes on the night on balls thrown at least 10 yards or more. Dak was slinging it on Sunday Night Football.
Dak carried the Cowboys on a night when the defense struggled to get stops and the running game couldn't get anything going. Under pressure, Prescott was dynamite. Per Pro Football Focus, Dak was under pressure on 44.7% of his dropbacks, which was the fifth-highest number for week 10. While under pressure, Prescott completed 11 of 20 passes for 179 yards and three touchdowns for a passer rating of 104, the fourth-highest number from week 10.
When situations get tough, Dak Prescott generally finds a way to rise to the occasion. In long, down and distance situations, Dak's been money all season when facing second and third and long and he was again on Sunday Night Football.
This is nuts: Dak Prescott on 3rd & 6+ 7-9, 120 yards, 5 first downs, 1 TD, 155.8 Passer Rating When it was 7+ yards: 6-6, 95 yards, 4 first downs, 1 TD, 158.3 Passer Rating
Time after time the running game put the offense in a hole and Dak dug his way out of it. It was incredible to watch him and the passing game work on third downs. From the 10-minute mark of the second quarter on, with Dallas trailing by 14, Prescott put the Cowboys on his back and led them to score on four straight possessions.
On their second to last drive, the Cowboys started with the ball at their own six-yard line and from there, Prescott completed passes of 20, 10, 13, and 20 yards to get them inside the Minnesota Vikings 30-yard line with a little more than two minutes to go. After a 2nd and 6 pass to Jason Witten for a first down and an eight-yard slant to Amari Cooper, the Cowboys were at the Vikings' nine-yard line with 2nd and 2 and about a minute and a half remaining.
On 2nd and 2 and 3rd and two, the Cowboys ran a couple of run-pass options (RPOs) and the Vikings played them perfectly. Ezekiel Elliott had nowhere to go and the Cowboys ended up turning it over on downs. On those two RPOs, Dak Prescott made the correct read by giving the ball, however the offensive line just didn't provide any push, which had the coaches watched the previous 58 minutes of the game, they would have seen that the running game was struggling to get anywhere.
They had to settle for a hail mary attempt at the end that went just out of the reach of Blake Jarwin.
It was an incredibly frustrating sequence to end that drive with about a minute left. Your quarterback who had done all of the heavy lifting to get you back in the game and keep you in the game, deserved a shot to win the game there. A run should have never been an option. He was in a zone from the second quarter on that had you given him a shot to throw there on 2nd and 2 from the nine-yard line, you have a better shot at picking up at least another first down.
When nothing was working and the Dallas Cowboys needed Dak Prescott to be great, he came through for them. Unfortunately, Prescott's bid to bring the Cowboys all the way back fell short, but that shouldn't take away from what was an excellent night for Dak and the passing game. If there was any question about who drives the offense before that week 10 matchup, the questions should be answered now. Dak Prescott is this team's MVP.
Only two questions remain as it concerns Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. When is he going to get paid? And how much is he going to get paid? All season long, he's consistently proven that he's a quarterback worth investing in and as he continues to throw for big passing numbers, the Cowboys will be giving Dak Prescott a big-time contract.
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