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The Cowboys Defense Is Close, And We Should Be Excited

Kevin Brady

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Cowboys en Español: Construyendo una Defensiva de Campeonato en Dallas

The second half of the 2017 season has left much of Cowboys Nation questioning just how good this roster actually is. Fans are now wondering very loudly if Dak Prescott really is the quarterback of the future, if Scott Linehan deserves to still be employed, and if there is enough talent in the receiving corps to threaten opposing defenses.

And, for the most part, rightfully so.

The Cowboys faltered weekly offensively during Ezekiel Elliott's suspension, and things didn't get better when he did return against Seattle. While I still sit firmly on the Dak Prescott bandwagon, 2018 remains a "prove-it" year for much of the offensive personnel and coaching staff.

But for the first time in a long time, we enter a new season with hope on the other side of the ball. For years, it has been the defense which has "failed" great Cowboys offenses. During the 8-8 years we often saw heroics from Tony Romo and the offense, only for the opposing team to have one last possession to win the game.

For far too long the Cowboys secondary has been average at best, their linebackers have been inconsistent (besides Sean Lee), and their pass rush has been nearly nonexistent. But while the offense faltered at the end of 2017, the defense shined.

And this defense, with the right development and decisions, is very close to being at the top of the league.

Of course there is the pass rush. Led by DeMarcus Lawrence the Cowboys defensive line was able to cause disruption all throughout the 2017 season, and with David Irving returning healthy and available things should be the same this season. Taco Charlton has another year of work under his belt as well, and if Randy Gregory can get reinstated this defensive line is suddenly a scary unit for opposing offenses.

In the back end the Cowboys have completely revamped their roster, and now look to begin to take their final form. By hiring former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard, the Cowboys are beginning to fit their players to their coaches to create a long and athletic secondary group.

Sunday Morning Wishlist: DAL Cowboys @ NY Giants 1

Dallas Cowboys CB Chidobe Awuzie

Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones could play the roles of 2013 Seattle cornerbacks in a movie about their Super Bowl run, and hopefully they can emulate their play style on the actual field as well. Jourdan Lewis possesses the versatility to play in the slot and on the outside, Xavier Woods has a chance to be this team's future free safety, and both Jeff Heath and Kavon Frazier made strides in 2017.

While the Cowboys were shoring up the two most important position groups on a defense over the past few years, they've also made an attempt to turnover their linebacker group as well. Sean Lee remains the glue that holds the unit together, but the Cowboys have made an effort to improve their linebackers this offseason.

Of course, they drafted Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall in the 2018 draft, but Jaylon Smith's development will be vital to their success as well. Both of these players are fast, athletic, and rangy when at their best, giving the Cowboys some flexibility in their front seven.

The Cowboys made smart, cost-efficient moves to improve their offense this offseason, and I am certainly hopeful in the development of quarterback Dak Prescott.

But for the first time in a long time, when Cowboys fans look for a reason to be excited about the upcoming season, they may want to look at their defense first. Because the front office is in the middle of building a monster unit.



Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and have been with ITS since 2016.

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4 Comments
  • Travis Diggs

    While i am excited to see this defense Im still concerned about Jeff Heath being a starting safety for this team. While he is serviceable at times i do believe he only starts for the cowboys, he wouldn’t start on any other team in this league. I believe once Richard sees Tyree Robinson or one of these other UDFA’s in action, Jeff Heath will become a back up where he should be

    • Tommy Davis

      I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Diggs on Jeff Heath, he has been a sore spot on the Cowboys defense for way too long, it’s like I’ve been saying, Dallas has a problem with playing the most talented. There is no way Heath should have been playing ahead of Xavier Woods who has better cover and tackling skills than Heath. The cornerbacks are left on an island alone because Heath can’t get over to help, heck he can’t even cover the middle of the field.

  • Chuck Wright

    I see the biggest needs in the 2019 draft as LB, FS, 1 Tech and WR.

    Yes WR, Cole and T Will at the end of their run, Hurns will be on the last year of his deal.

    But this D on the verge of being special. Need to find Lee’s replacement, a top flight FS to round out the secondary and a legit 1 Tech which remains the most glaring hole on the D.

  • Tommy Davis

    Byron Jones could not cover the tight ends well, he certainly won’t be able to cover wide receivers, that experiment failed in his rookie year. Awuzie is the Cowboys most physical corner but his coverage skills are suspect. He tries to make of for his lack of coverage skills by attempting to dislodge the ball after the catch, a tactic that does not often work in the NFL. The best cover corner on the team is Jourdan Lewis by far, coach Richard says Lewis is a fantastic corner. Good QB’s will take advantage of the lack of cover skills of Brown, Jones, and Awuzie. You can get by with Awuzie if you employ a safety with excellent coverage ability. As far as the offense, read the latest bleacher report article on Dak Prescott. He ranks better by far than Brees, Favre ,Manning, and all of Dallas’s quarterbacks during their first 2 years in the league. His stats only suffered during the final 8 game span when several key components were missing, left guard, left tackle, resulting in 14 sacks and countless hurries from pressure coming from the left side of the line. Add playing without Zeke and the inability of the wide receivers to create space results in the offense struggling. No QB, Aaron Rogers or Tom Brady included would look good under those circumstances.

Game Notes

Remembering the Cowboys NFC East Clinching Win Vs. Colts, 4 Years Later

Sean Martin

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Remembering the Cowboys NFC East Clinching Win Vs. Colts, 4 Years Later 1

The 2014 Dallas Cowboys season still feels like a landmark in the rich history of this team. Going deeper into Cowboys annuls is nothing more than a hopeless drift through wasted time that all of us are guilty of, though looking ahead at the 2018 team also leaves just distant memories of 2014.

Perhaps it was the memorable and painful way this season ended, with Dez Bryant's catch in the divisional playoffs at the Packers being played on loop ever since. This clip has surely overshadowed the way Dallas clinched the NFC East in 2014, with a 42-7 win over the Indianapolis Colts at AT&T Stadium.

The Cowboys find themselves in a similar position Sunday, beginning a stretch of three straight "win and you're in" games. The NFC East will belong to the once 3-5 Cowboys with a win over the Colts, Buccaneers, or Giants.

In that 42-7 drubbing of the Colts four years ago, Tony Romo threw three first half touchdowns to three different targets. At halftime, the Cowboys were on their way with a 28-0 lead, jumping out to a 42-0 advantage before Matt Hasselbeck would throw a garbage time touchdown (yeah, I feel old writing that too).

Just like in this match up, the Cowboys are fresh off a win over the Eagles, as they were in 2014 before rolling to the division title. Four starters from Jason Garrett's first NFC East clincher remain on his roster, though only two will play, speaking to the strides Garrett has made to salvage his reputation this year.

Left Tackle Tyrone Smith and Defensive End Tyrone Crawford will both be in the Cowboys lineup, with Travis Frederick and Zack Martin both ruled out.

The 2014 Cowboys established themselves as the run-first team that's very much still in tact thanks to Ezekiel Elliott. Only Giants rookie Saquon Barkey has more rushing yards over the last five weeks than Elliott. While Barkley continues to impress for a team that will not make the playoffs, Elliott is carrying the Cowboys closer to the postseason with every carry.

Unlike 2014, the path out of the Cowboys backfield to the top of the division hasn't been as straight. The '14 Cowboys featured a veteran lineup on both sides of the ball, focused on weekly improvements yielding a 12-4 record.

The only time the Cowboys have won more games under Garrett was in 2016, where the Cowboys altered the future of the franchise again with a new-look team that went 13-3 before losing in the divisional round to Green Bay again.

Neither 12 or 13 wins is attainable this year for the Cowboys, but the best of both recent divisional championship seasons is. Wins over the Saints and Eagles have brought back the miraculous 2016 feel Quarterback Dak Prescott's rookie season brought to Dallas. For going through both that season together, as well as a nine win campaign in 2017 that serves as Prescott's "down year", the Cowboys staffers that remember 2014 should be nostalgic at kickoff Sunday.

With the NFL being such a week-by-week, day-by-day, and even minute-by-minute experience, taking the chance to add perspective whenever possible is refreshing. The Cowboys arrival as perennial contenders in 2014 can come full circle with a new cast of players and familiar coaching staff here in week 15.

Remember just how much this team has been through to reach this point the next time you call for sweeping changes to America's Team, and if you're feeling lucky, a prop bet on Garrett having blue Gatorade dumped on him before night's end could go a long way.

Remembering the Cowboys NFC East Clinching Win Vs. Colts, 4 Years Later

(AP Photo/Brandon Wade)

Tell us what you think about "Remembering the Cowboys NFC East Clinching Win Vs. Colts, 4 Years Later" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Game Notes

Cowboys Wishlist: Connor Williams Turns It Around

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Could Connor Williams Be Option at Tight End for Cowboys? 1

The Dallas Cowboys are on the road again as they travel to Indianapolis to face a hot 7-6 Colts team that's trying to sneak into the AFC Playoffs. It will be a tough challenge for a team that's struggled when playing out of AT&T Stadium but the Cowboys have changed a lot since they were a 3-5 unit. This time, they're one of the hottest teams in the NFL and are one win away from clinching the NFC East.

We surely are in for a great game. Without further ado, I hope you enjoy this week's edition of "Cowboys Wishlist."

Wish #1: Leighton Vander Esch Outplays Darius Leonard

As impressive as Leighton Vander Esch has been for the Dallas Cowboys, he's not alone in the Defensive Rookie of the Year race. On today's game, he'll meet his match in Colts LB Darius Leonard. A second rounder himself, Leonard leads the league in tackles with 135. He also is responsible for 11 tackles for loss, seven sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception.

Vander Esch, otherwise known as "Wolf Hunter" doesn't have such incredible stats, but playing time is a big reason why. His play has been pretty impressive, though. Ranked as the top rookie linebacker by PFF, hell be out there to prove who's the better player. I really wish he outplays Leonard en rout to the DROY award.

Dak Prescott Clutch in 4th Quarter & OT in Win Over Eagles 3

Wish #2: No Turnovers From Dak

455 yards, three touchdowns and another game-winning drive were more than impressive from Dak Prescott. I really have faith in him as the Cowboys' QB. But we can't ignore the three turnovers he was responsible for in such a close game versus the Philadelphia Eagles.

This game will be different. The Colts are a legit threat in the NFL right now and the Cowboys won't be the home team. Without Martin on the field, Prescott is likely to be pressured. If that's the case, he needs to watch out and avoid fumbles in the pocket.

It's really important the team takes care of the ball if they want the win versus Andrew Luck and company. I specifically wish Dak Prescott has a good game and does something he's done fairly well throughout his career:  take care of the ball.

Wish #3: Connor Williams Turns It Around

Expectations were sky-high for second round pick Connor Williams. A starter in week 1, injury and poor play sidelined him in favor of Xavier Su'a-Filo. With Zack Martin out for the game, Williams has another opportunity to shine. This time he'll be lining up as the team's right guard between C Joe Looney and RT La'el Collins.

It's very important to remember Williams is only a rookie. Just because we're used to offensive line rookies to have immediate success for Dallas doesn't mean every one the team brings in will be as great starting off. A rough start is not the end of the world for Williams. Also worth noting, the majority of his playing time came under now-fired OL coach Paul Alexander. I'm convinced he'll turn things around and will become an important player for the Cowboys soon.

For now, I wish he takes advantage of the opportunity to play and does a great job to be considered again for the LG spot once Martin returns.

Sean's Scout: Resilient Prescott Inches Cowboys Closer to NFC East Title

Dallas Cowboys WR Amari Cooper (Richard Rodriguez / Getty Images)

Wish #4: Amari Cooper Keeps It Up

The impact Amari Cooper has had on this team is quite frankly unbelievable. He should really be seen as this season's savior for the Cowboys. While the defense is winning games, without Cooper the offense would still be terrible and results wouldn't be the same. He has more than justified the first round pick the Jones traded away to get him.

In a big, road game like this one, I hope he keeps it up and has another huge performance. Whether it is multiple scores or a 100-yard game, I simply want to see him shine again.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Wishlist: Connor Williams Turns It Around" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report

Jess Haynie

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Less Is More For Sean Lee And Cowboys' LBs?

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.

Dallas Cowboys

  • 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.

Indianapolis Colts

  • 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.



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