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The Light at the End of the Tunnel

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Cowboys Blog - The Light at the End of the Tunnel

In this week’s addition of The Less Than Stellar Side of Sunday, I discredited to a degree the Cowboys wins so far this year.  My prevailing point was based on the fact that the oppositions' collective win / loss ratio thus far amounts to 3 wins and 8 losses.  Given the mediocre returns the Cowboys have had over the last 3 years, we should somewhat expect the Cowboys to beat teams with losing records.

Granted, many of the national and local media personalities have indicated their expectations were much worse, citing the Cowboys' lack of ability to address the defense with talent due to cap restraints and being beaten to the punch on draft day, the defensive coordinator switch, and the loss of Jason Hatcher and DeMarcus Ware to free agency and Sean Lee to injury over the off-season.

Be that as it may, while the defense has not been dominant by any stretch of the imagination, they have been opportunistic with the way they are attacking the ball and they have managed to slow opposing offenses down when stops have been critical.

Transversely, the offense has dominated every aspect of the game, both in the trenches, on the ground and in the air, maintaining extended drives, which has allowed the defense to continuously play at their best even if their best is considered average.  It hasn’t all been pretty; Romo did have a slow start that had me questioning whether or not Father Time had finally caught up to him.

All in all, though, the Cowboys faithful do have several reasons to be hopeful a fourth of the way into the season, even if I still contend we should do so cautiously.

Ground and Pound

Garrett and Linehan continuously preached it throughout this past off-season – they were going to be more balanced and so far they have delivered.  The issue early on for many fans is this speech was nothing new.  Garrett has said something similar every year and every year until this season that balance never seemed to materialize.  Opposing defenses were able to dictate the offense by simply stacking the box, which forced Romo into his familiar refrain:  “Kill, kill, kill,” only to see that same defense drop back in coverage.

This season, be it due to Garrett having more confidence in the offensive line or Scott Linehan’s magical touch calling plays, the 'Boys are force-feeding the run even when teams are stacking 9 in the box to stop it.  As the season has progressed, we have seen Romo resist the temptation to attack defenses early, leaving the play action kill shots for critical moments, as opposed to becoming predictable with his sight adjustments pre-snap.

There are questions still floating around this team, for certain, but the offensive line is not one of them.  Not only are they using their combination of physicality and athleticism to impose their wills on defenses, but they are doing so with excellent technique and timing on their pulls.  Given the average age of 25 – offset quite a bit by Doug Free at 30 – the Cowboys are looking set up front for the next 5 years.

Finally, there is DeMarco Murray; presently leading the league in rushing yards with 534, a difference of 156 yards from the running back 2nd on the list.  Say what you will about his durability, considering his injury history, there is no denying his ability.  He is a violent runner, who also can be elusive when the situation demands – a very rare quality to have in a running back with his size and strength.

Romdini

Against the Rams and Saints, there were only two plays that come to mind that reminded me of the Romo of old; in the two weeks prior against the Titans and 49ers it looked as though that act had made its final disappearance.  Whether the decline in Romdini appearances is due to the lack of necessity given the offensive line or his lack of ability owing to his back issues, it is still nice to see every now and then.

But the true beauty and reason for hope for this season is the fact that Romo doesn’t necessarily have to be the same Romo for this team to have success; the onus is no longer on him to will this team to victory.   In years previous, Romo dropped back with the understanding that he only had an average of 2 to 3 seconds to release the ball or create time with his signature spin move.   Thus far, Romo has not needed to force the issue hoping his receivers can make the play; he has been granted the ability to sit back and pick his spots.

DeMarco Murray and the tight ends deserve praise, as well.  The blitz pick up is clearly an underrated attribute to their game and they have done so with surprising effectiveness thus far this season.  The most important undertaking for this team is keeping Romo healthy and yet, unfortunately, it is the most thankless of jobs in the NFL.  But if Romo is still standing after week 17, playoffs or not, a big thank you from the Cowboys fandom needs to be expressed to the big uglies - running backs and tight ends - for their contribution to that objective.

The Firepower

The most celebrated of any football team are the skill players on the offensive side of the ball.  Yet another unquestionable strength of this team is obviously the trio of Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and DeMarco Murray.  For many defensive coordinators, that list of names alone would yield sleepless nights.  Slowly and quietly, Terrance Williams is proving he is not a receiver that can be consistently covered by one man.  He runs crisp routes and he catches the ball through adversity.  He is not the fastest guy on the field and he is not a threat to score from anywhere he touches the ball, but he will go get that football, which is all Romo needs to make defenses pay for trying to shut down Dez/Witten/Murray.

Cole Beasley has not had as many touches as I would have guessed, but, nevertheless, his reputation precedes him.   A receivers reputation is a significant attribute to how an offense installs their game plan.  Because he excels with slants and out routes, Beasley is now serving as a clear-out tool to open up passing lanes.  Because Beasley is a mismatch for linebackers you will often see a safety climb up into the flats or into the box to try to break on Beasley’s route.  Doing so places the outside receivers in one-on-one coverage.  Should Romo get his deep ball back, as the season progresses, this attribute alone could be a significant reason the Cowboys are able to put teams away in the later stages of games.

Strength in Numbers

The Cowboys defensive line is devoid of household names.  Not one player in particular has stood out through four games, and yet the results have been undeniable.  This defense is doing just enough in every category a defense is measured by to ensure success.  The key for Marinelli has been to ensure the defensive line stays fresh and strong throughout the game and has done so by continuously rotating players in and out of the lineup.  The advantage in having no-names and simply a group of players that are willing to go to work every down is that opposing offensive coordinators cannot key on any one player to focus on as they did with the likes of DeMarcus Ware throughout his career and Jason Hatcher to a limited extent in 2013.

If you were to ask Marinelli one improvement he would like to see in the stat sheet going forward, it would be an increase of sacks.  In this regard, the Cowboys have struggled ranking 23rd in the league with 5 on the year as a team.  They are not exactly stingy with yards allowed either ranking 25th with an average of 379.8 yards per game.   Truth be told, of all stats that can be misleading, sacks and yards allowed top the list.

The two stats that are critical to a defense are turnovers (ranked 16th in turnover differential) and points allowed (10th allowing an average of 21.5 per game).  With the offense presently ranked 4th in the league in average points per game (28.8), the two aforementioned stats have been the key to the Cowboys defensive success.  If they can continue to be at least average in points allowed and remain positive in turnover differential and the offense continues their current trend, these Cowboys will be in the playoffs, regardless of their ability to get to the QB and offensive yards surrendered.

Where fandom can derive some hope for the remainder of the season is the fact that help is on the way.  Anthony Spencer returned to the field this past Sunday in limited fashion and his impact should gradually increase as he gets his football legs back.  DeMarcus Lawrence – the Cowboys highly regarded 2nd round pick this year – will be returning in the 2nd half of the season, though given his time away from practice and the missed training camp, we can expect some growing pains.  Amobi Okoye and Josh Brent are also potential mid-season additions and could add valuable time to the defensive line rotation.

The Great Wall

The single most contributing factor to all of the above is the offensive line; every aspect of the Cowboys play that has been improved starts up front with the big uglies playing strong and smart on a consistent basis.  Why has the run game been so ridiculously successful?  It starts up front.  Why has the pass steadily improved over four games?  It starts up front.  Why has the defense been able to play with intensity for four quarters?  It starts up front.  And that is why the Cowboys started four years ago focusing on fixing the offensive line.  With the addition of Zach Martin, the Cowboys are finally seeing that commitment yield spectacular results and also why the Cowboys fandom can have hope not just for this season but for many seasons to come.



I am 35, married and a father of 2 boys. I have been a Cowboys fan since Jimmy Johnson took over; not because I had anything against Tom Landry, but because it just so happens I was old enough to start following and understanding football right as that new era began. Since then, I haven't missed games if I could help it.

Star Blog

Cowboys Defense is Ready to Win Now, Time for Offense to Prove the Same

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Defense is Ready to Win Now, Time for Offense to Prove the Same
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

The Dallas Cowboys lead the NFC East at 1-1, and have a favorable schedule ahead of them. With such an inexperienced roster, early season growing pains were expected, and likely should be still as the team comes off their first win to play in Seattle on Sunday.

Through a season opening clunker in Carolina and hard-earned divisional win against the Giants, the Cowboys have exceeded already high expectations on defense.

With the currently 0-2 Seahawks, Lions, and Texans awaiting Dallas, the time is now for Scott Linehan's offense to hit their stride. It will take more than a five week assessment to determine if the Cowboys are truly playoff contenders for 2018, but it could take even less than that for Cowboys Nation to realize this team is fighting an uphill battle at QB and WR.

Following Dak Prescott's 64-yard touchdown pass to Tavon Austin against the Giants, the Cowboys punted on four of their remaining seven drives. The Cowboys did a better job mixing up their early down play calling to remain ahead of the chains for most of the night, but even still their execution was lacking. Finishing three of ten on third downs, the Cowboys didn't sustain the type of originality on offense that earned them an early cushion.

Thankfully, the Cowboys turning back the clock to 2016 on a clinching touchdown drive of 14 plays would be all the defense needed. Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott would both convert a pair of first downs on the ground. The Cowboys took a 20-3 lead, and more importantly the game clock down to 5:45 with an eight minute and 23 second march.

As such, the Cowboys offense is an enigma. With the return of Brice Butler, the team is currently carrying seven wide receivers and four tight ends.

On defense, the Cowboys are expecting reinforcements in Xavier Woods, Randy Gregory, and David Irving to further bolster this aggressive, blitzing unit in the coming weeks. For the offense, Dallas must make the most out of the unknown depth they have, without any drastic change in style around the corner.

The Cowboys record under Prescott proves they're at their best when Dak is efficient. The ceiling for a new-look Cowboys offense built for Dak is not as high for this reason. Through just two weeks, it's clear that the Cowboys offense will be as good as the sum of its parts - instead of relying on any individual talents.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Cowboys' record when Dak Prescott ... Doesn't throw an interception: 20-4 Records at least a 100.0 passer rating: 15-1 Commits no turnovers: 18-1

After a strong preseason from rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup, the third-round pick has played less than half his team's offensive snaps through two games. Cole Beasley has seemed to regain his connection with Prescott, snagging a team high nine catches so far. Terrance Williams has been a non-factor, and the same is surprisingly said about FA acquisition Allen Hurns.

Regardless of what the Cowboys do over the coming weeks, a few narratives and lingering questions about the team feel evident. With the defense set to tee off against the Seahawks sub par OL this week, Rod Marinelli's unit will still likely not receive the credit it deserves heading into week four.

With the task at hand being maintaining their standing atop the division, the Cowboys must also be out to prove they can sustain success without a consistent passing game.

All of this to effectively say, the Cowboys are going to Seattle expecting to control the game on defense. To finish off Russell Wilson in his home opener (already at 0-2), it will take a sharper performance for a full four quarters on offense too.

A win at the Seahawks might not mean as much as it has in past seasons, but in improving the Cowboys record to 2-1 on the way back to AT&T Stadium, it could be all the confidence they need to understand the NFC East is theirs for the taking while continuing to truly find their identity.

2014 NFL: Week 6 Cowboys vs. Seahawks highlights

Week 6 Own by nfl

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys Defense is Ready to Win Now, Time for Offense to Prove the Same" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Cowboys Defense So Far So Good as Seahawks Up Next

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Cowboys Defense So Far So Good as Seahawks Up Next

Dallas may only be 1-1 on the season, but the Cowboys are officially tied for first-place in the NFC East, and fresh off a workmanlike victory over divisional rivals, the New York Giants. It was a game they should have won, and did win, but the takeaways so early in the season are that, although the offense has not clicked on all cylinders, the defense is getting high praise.

The Cowboys sacked New York’s Eli Manning six times and limited the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 draft, Saquon Barkley, to a mere 28 yards rushing. It was also a night in which Dak Prescott not only out-gained Barkley by 17 yards on the ground, but torched the Giants’ secondary on a 64-yard touchdown strike to Tavon Austin which proved New York’s Safety Landon Collins wrong when leading up to this game he remarked that the key to a Giants’ victory would be getting Prescott to throw. When Prescott was made aware of the comment in a midweek interview he replied, "…challenge accepted," and the third-year veteran made good on his word leading to the 20-13 victory.

However, Prescott ended the night with just 160 yards passing yet the ankle injury he sustained in Week 1 showed no signs of rearing its head as Prescott moved seamlessly in the pocket and ran the ball well.

As we move ahead to the Cowboys meeting in Seattle, we take a quick check over to one of the most reputable online sportsbooks in the industry - Intertops according to the reviews - where we can monitor the line on this pivotal NFC clash as the week progresses.

Seattle boasts a talented quarterback of their own in Russell Wilson but one who will find the sledding tough if the Dallas defense continues to shut down All-World wide outs like Odell Beckham Jr. and contain future rushing stars like Saquon Barkley. Outside of Wilson, Seattle is not loaded offensively, with their biggest target, Doug Baldwin, ailing with a knee injury and a backfield which consists of two young rushers in second-year man Chris Carson and a first-round rookie in Rashaad Penny who dealt with nagging injuries throughout the preseason and looked unsettled in Seattle’s 27-24 loss to the Broncos.

The Cowboys defense has already proven its worth in Carolina with Cam Newton under center and again last week against New York. The unit is surrendering an average of 14 ½ points per game and is incorporating more blitz packages than we’ve come to expect.

The difference this year is that the players they have on defense are capable of getting to the quarterback quick enough so that the coverage linebackers and secondary aren’t alone on an island for too long. The one concern is the status of Linebacker Sean Lee, who checked out of the game in the fourth quarter Sunday night and brought to mind his hamstring issues of a year ago, but apparently it was in fact cramping, and not straining, of the hammy which allowed Lee to return.

The bottom line in terms of the Cowboys' upcoming matchup on Sunday afternoon is that they will get the Seahawks coming off a short week, as Seattle played on Monday night and should be relatively healthy for the contest.

Dak Prescott may not have the formidable offensive line that he has had in the past, nor a top-tier arsenal of receivers, but he does have the elusive Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield and is capable of extricating himself from pressure situations when no target is available.

If the Dallas defense continues to play at the current level, it will not only be limiting the opposition on the scoreboard but putting its offense in good field position throughout. So check out Intertops, one of the most trusted and reputable online sportsbooks, to see where this line goes because a Dallas win and an ATS cover are just days away.



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Taco Tuesday: Cowboys DE Taco Charlton Starting to Dominate?

Brian Martin

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Taco Tuesday: DE Taco Charlton Starting to Dominate?
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

There has been quite a bit of talk about what a bad decision it was for the Dallas Cowboys to draft Taco Charlton with their first-round pick in the 2017 NFL Draft. Nearly everybody wanted someone different, not a player that needed time to develop.

Well, fast forward a year later and it looks as if the Cowboys made the right decision.

Don't look now, but Defensive End Taco Charlton is starting to live up to that first-round pedigree. In the first two weeks of the 2018 season, Charlton has already looked like a much improved player from what we saw a season ago. Imagine that, a little bit of time to develop and he's turning into a solid player.

I know I may be getting a little bit ahead of myself, especially suggesting that he is starting to dominate, but I can't help myself. I'm that excited about how much he has improved in one offseason. I may be alone here, but I have high hopes he could turn into something special.

In 2017, Taco Charlton failed to start a single game for the Dallas Cowboys as a rookie. That's not really what you want from your first-round draft pick. To makes matters worse, in 16 games he only registered 25 total tackles, four QB sacks, two passes defensed, and one forced fumble. As you can imagine, it didn't sit well with most Cowboys fans.

Luckily, it looks as if Charlton's offseason in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program has paid off. Already in 2018 he has accumulated six total tackles, one QB sack, one pass defensed, and recovered a fumble. If he keeps this pace up, we could be looking at #97 reaching double-digit sacks this year.

Taco Charlton

Dallas Cowboys DE Taco Charlton

Now, I wouldn't call what Taco Charlton has accomplished so far this season dominating, but he is proving to be a starting quality DE along the Cowboys defensive line. It's a unit that has looked really good in the first two weeks of the season and is expected to be even better once Randy Gregory and David Irving are able to return to the field.

In the meantime, the Dallas Cowboys are happy to get plays like this from Taco Charlton.

Taco Charlton Eli Manning sack

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

This is a play Charlton is expected to make. He was left unblocked, but we've seen players left unblocked before not make the play. So, it may not be as impressive as some QB sacks. But, I'll take the routine tackle any day over someone trying to make a splash play and failing.

If you're looking for an impressive play from Taco Charlton, take a look at what he was able to do against Odell Beckham Jr. in the passing game.

Taco Charlton covering Odell Beckham Jr

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

In case you're wondering, that's Taco Charlton in OBJ's hip pocket 15 yards down the field in pass coverage. It looks as if that's where Eli Manning was wanting to go with the ball, but tight coverage by the Cowboys, and Charlton, across the board ended up resulting in a QB sack.

If you don't find that impressive, I don't know what will. A 275 pound DE covering arguably the best and highest paid wide receiver down the field is almost unheard of. I would count that as impressive.

What do you think of Taco Charlton's play so far in 2018?



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