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There’s a Lot at Stake for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018

John Williams

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Doug Pederson's Success Will Make Jason Garrett's Seat Hotter 1
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The NFL Draft is almost two weeks away, which means the best part of the offseason is so close, we can taste it. We are at that point in the offseason where what gets said by the Dallas Cowboys and other teams needs to be taken with a grain of salt as front offices turn into politicians delivering misinformation to the masses.

The Dallas Cowboys, as much as any team in the league, have a lot at stake. Not only in the upcoming NFL Draft, where one wrong evaluation at a premium pick can set you back -- looking at you Randy Gregory and Jaylon Smith -- but also the 2018 season as a whole.

From the front office to the coaching staff to the quarterback, success is almost necessary at this point.

Dallas Cowboys Hold 28th Overall Pick in 2017 NFL Draft 1

Jason Garrett, Charlotte Anderson, Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones of the Dallas Cowboys (James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys)

The Front Office

Things have been changing in the Cowboys front office during the Jason Garrett era. Where the team used to hold onto players a year longer than they should, it now appears they are willing to part with players before they really hit the rock bottom of their decline. Even popular players like Dez Bryant.

Stephen Jones and Will McClay have begun to take on a lot of the decision-making process throughout the organization, and the NFL Draft has become one of the team's strengths in the last several years. The 2016 and 2017 drafts were both very strong for the team and nothing suggests they won't continue to find really good players in the 2018 NFL Draft.

That being said, the decision makers in the front office really went out on a limb with Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones in the Dez Bryant decision.

As we sit here in the middle of April, there's no way to know if it was the right decision.

If Dez Bryant goes to another team and puts up a good year, Jerry Jones will likely take back some of the reigns that he's been slowly handing over to his lieutenants these last eight years.

A favorite of Jerry's who had a hard time being convinced would probably feel like he made a mistake not listening to his gut and going with the voices around him. He's made a life of following his instincts and if his instincts told him to keep Dez but he allowed others to convince him otherwise, that could bring back late 90's and early 2000's Jerry Jones.

And we begged for that Jerry Jones to give away some of his power.

If the Dez decision bites them, he could seize it back, and there could be some turnover in the front office.

As good as they've been in the draft, they can't afford a miss in the first three rounds of the draft this year. Hopefully, 2017 was an indication that they're done gambling their second-round picks.

The Coaching Staff

This very much seems like a win or go home scenario for Jason Garrett and the coaching staff, on offense in particular.

At the start of the 2017 season, things were going fairly well. Though they were only 5-3 in the first half of the season, they'd suffered a couple of losses where they scored 30 points (Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Rams).

The second half of the season was a completely different story.

The wake of the Tyron Smith injury, primarily Dak Prescott getting destroyed in Atlanta, left many to wonder where the coaching adjustments were.

From the Atlanta game on, the offense was a wreck. The team that was scoring 20-30 points per game on a regular basis was struggling to hit double digits.

Rumors are that the offensive staff is working to revamp the offensive system to better suit Dak Prescott's strengths. One of the weaknesses being they weren't getting creative enough in scheming their pass catchers open.

If there is any kind of carry over of the 2017 debacle into the 2018 season, the calls for changes to the coaching staff will be loud and consistent. Even the strongest of Jason Garrett supporters, me included, would have to admit the time has come for a change.

And like the front office, Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan have a lot riding on Dez Bryant's production in 2018. While they won't publicly say it, and maybe in their hearts they hope he has success, in the subconscious part of their mind they have to be hoping for Dez's demise.

The offensive coaches are out on the same limb as Stephen Jones, the difference being Jerry Jones isn't going to fire Stephen. But the Dez Bryant decision really put the coaching staff on the hot seat. Only hindsight will tell us if they were right.

On the defensive side of the ball, the transition from Rod Marinelli to the next defensive coordinator appears to be underway with the hiring of Kris Richard, the former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator.

Marinelli may not be the coach beyond this year, but his heir is already on the staff, and Richard could even be a head coaching candidate if a change has to be made.

I've argued that, with a little luck in the health department, particularly with Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, the Dallas Cowboys defense is championship material. They have two elite pass rushers and several solid to good ones as well. They have an ascending secondary. The only weakness is the health of their top two linebackers, but as we saw in 2017, when Sean Lee plays, this defense can be elite.

While the defense seems ready to play in 2018, the offensive coaches and the head coach have a lot to prove to retain their standing within the organization.

Dak Prescott Should Be In The MVP Conversation

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)

The Quarterback

Eight games do not make a career, but the final eight games of the 2017 season left a lot to be desired from the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys.

Dak Prescott, who through 24 starts was showing that he was franchise quarterback material, really struggled after his left tackle went down. He wasn't the same player after that unlucky night in Atlanta.

Coming into 2018, he has a lot to prove. And a lot might be an understatement.

He needs to show the Cowboys that he's shaken off the beating he took in the last half of last season. He needs to show that his first 24 games are more indicative of the player he can be than the last eight.

Dak Prescott has been one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the league and, with a little bit of protection, should still be able to move the team down the field with regularity. That being said, he needs to improve his deep-ball consistency so teams can't crowd the line of scrimmage and take away the short chain-moving throws to Beasley & Co. that were his bread and butter in 2016.

The Dallas Cowboys have Dak Prescott at a very reasonable rate over the next two years, but his 2018 season is going to go a long way toward deciding whether they are negotiating an extension in 2019 or looking for his replacement.

Dak Prescott literally has millions riding on his 2018 season.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

As I wrote the other day, I believe the Dallas Cowboys are contenders in the 2018 season. If they don't live up to my and a lot of people's expectations, a lot of changes could be forthcoming.



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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11 Comments
  • Zac H

    “Looking at you Randy Gregory and Jaylon Smith”!?!?

    He has been a solid contributor and is expected to continue to return to form. Randy Gregory I get…but don’t disrespect what Jaylon Smith has gone through by grouping him with Randy…

    • John Williams

      Yeah, you’re right. Lumping the two together was probably not the best idea.

      Jaylon and Randy could both still contribute, but, my major point was that they took major risks with a premium pick.

      Jaylon’s made some plays, but he was also a liability when given an extended run last year. He hasn’t developed enough health or confidence to be able to effectively play when he has to change directions.

      He was excellent as a Blitzer though and I’d love to see them use him on the weakside of the defensive line sometimes.

      • Matthew England

        He definitely shouldn’t have gotten the extended time he did last year. They knew he wasn’t going to be ready yet, but when injuries strike. Hopefully this year those 2 really pay off man. Their drafts have been solid the past 4 to 5 years.

        • John Williams

          Yeah, I’m hopeful that another year removed from the injury, another offseason to get stronger and more confident, and another year in the scheme will only help him.

          • Matthew England

            I am a huge nd fan and Jaylon is my favorite irish player ever. When we got him I was so worried though, he was the most instinctive player I have ever seen and so fast laterally. I was worried he would never be the same player. I really really hope his knee is getting better because he could be an all pro if he gets healthy again.

          • John Williams

            Has to get confidence in the knee holding up under the strain of cuts. If he can get stronger and more confident, the sky’s the limit.

        • John Williams

          It wasn’t Jaylon’s fault that they put him out there before he was physically ready to handle the workload, they just didn’t have any other options.

  • Matthew England

    I agree with zac about the jaylon comment, sure we could have taken something in the 2nd to contribute that year but he still could end up being a steal if his knee is truly regenerating

    • John Williams

      He could still and I hope he does, but to this point you’ve gotten next to nothing out of 2 second rounders. Where Chido was able to come in and play meaningful snaps from week one, you had to wait a year on Jaylon and we’re still waiting on Gregory.

      • Matthew England

        I guess I just don’t view 81 tackles, 2 forced fumbles, 1 sack and a pass deflection as next to nothing.

        • John Williams

          He had moments throughout the season that showed a guy who could be a productive player. But the Rams game and the Packers game pretty much were decided when those two offensive play callers decided to take advantage of his lack of lateral movement.

          As a run defender he was pretty good. But the NFL is a passing league now and with teams lining up in 11 personnel 70% of the time, he has to be able to run with backs and tight ends to be an effective linebacker in today’s NFL. Otherwise, it’s not a good pick.

          I still think he can be something, but it all depends on how much he can get out of his knee. That’s always been the question.

          Like they say, hope isn’t a strategy.

Game Notes

Kris Richard’s Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond the Defense in Seattle

Sean Martin

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Kris Richard's Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond Defense in Meeting at Seattle 1

Through just two games, the Dallas Cowboys addition of Kris Richard to their revamped coaching staff appears to be the team's best move of the offseason. Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli revealed that Richard is calling the team's plays on defense, which explains their attacking style of play so far.

It was the Cowboys blitzes that disrupted the Giants offense enough for Dallas to earn their first win a week ago. With the schedule set up favorably for the Cowboys to build off this win, Richard must lead his defense past his old team in Seattle for Sunday's week three match up.

On paper, the Cowboys defense should be able to limit the Seahawks thanks to their strong pass rush and lengthy secondary. Welcoming back Xavier Woods at safety, the Cowboys are getting even better in the back end against the Seahawks, allowing Richard to throw even more looks at Seattle with his front seven.

Starting wide receiver Doug Baldwin and guard Ethan Pocic will both miss this game for the Seahawks.

With an offense still trying to find its footing though, Richard' profound impact on the Cowboys staff has extended past the defensive side of the ball this week. Perhaps the most criticized Cowboys coach this season, Offensive Coordiator Scott Linehan has sat down with Richard to study the Seahawks defense - coordinated by Richard against the Cowboys specifically.

Kate Hairopoulos on Twitter

Scott Linehan and Kris Richard have been spending a good chunk of time together this week dissecting Seattle's approach. Richard obviously knows Seahawks well. Linehan said Richard has great recall, taking him through each play of teams' previous games.

At 1-1, the Cowboys are still looking to put a complete game on the field and prove they deserve to sit atop the NFC East. The defense being their strongest unit through an ugly loss in Carolina and grind-it-out win against the Giants, Linehan's offense creating some explosive plays against the Seahawks could be all the Cowboys need to exit CenturyLink field as winners on Sunday.

Since Linehan officially took over as the Cowboys OC, he is 0-2 against Seahawks defenses coordinated by Richard. When Kris left Seattle, it was believed that he got out at the right time, with the Seahawks defense declining in talent ever since 2015 (his first year as DC).

The NFL's top scoring defense in 2015, the Seahawks were a full point per game worse in 2016, and nearly 2.5 points worse than that in 2017. So far this season, the Seahawks have allowed 27 points to Case Keenum's Broncos and 24 to the Mitch Trubisky lead Chicago Bears.

Kris Richard's Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond Defense in Meeting at Seattle

The Cowboys biggest problem against Richard's defenses had been finishing drives, something they improved on against the Giants last week. Both Cowboys losses coming at home, the Seahawks kept Dallas out of the end zone in both week eight of 2015 and week 17 a year ago.

Last year's loss to the Seahawks should still sting those at The Star who saw a desperate push for the playoffs hit a wall against Seattle's defense - holding the Cowboys to 282 yards in Ezekiel Elliott's return from suspension.

Not having to rely solely on motivation for revenge while sitting back and trusting Elliott to carry them, Richard could be the key to the Cowboys passing game finding some rhythm. After all, his official title beyond "offseason steal" is Passing Game Coordinator - a position occupied previously by Linehan himself back in 2014.

With a win, similarly to 2014 when the Cowboys came out of Seattle victorious, Dallas would go a long way in earning respect around the league.

This goes for both the offense, where the Cowboys will remain a work in progress regardless of result, and on defense where Dallas can expect Maliek Collins (knee) and David Irving (suspension) to return in the coming weeks.

Kris Richard's focus has been on bettering the Cowboys since they added him to the organization with a clear path up the ranks. Just how far Richard ascends, and how quickly, will depend on the Cowboys performance - expecting to be more than ready for the challenge ahead this week thanks to the coach responsible for building the "Legion of Boom".

The Cowboys kickoff in Seattle being FOX's game of the week, this team has never been one to back away from the spotlight, and winning under it with Richard on the sideline would give the Cowboys all the momentum they need returning home for week four.

Tell us what you think about "Kris Richard’s Impact for Cowboys Goes Beyond the Defense in Seattle" 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

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check
(Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports)

Coming into their week two match up against the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys knew they could control the game with -- for the first time in years against Eli Manning -- their pass rush and strong secondary. Exposing a weak Giants offensive line went well beyond the Cowboys front four in this win though.

The Cowboys put Manning on the turf six times, with Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard relentlessly dialing up pressure. With the depth at linebacker to match up with Saquon Barkley and Evan Engram, along with Byron Jones' efforts on Odell Beckham Jr., it's no secret how the Cowboys defense forced Manning to dump the ball to his running back for 14 receptions.

Barkley's longest catch going for ten yards, this was a nearly flawless game for Rod Marinelli's defense to even the Cowboys record at 1-1. Expecting much of the same from their front seven against a poor Seahawks OL, now is a good time to look back at some of the pressure packages the Cowboys used in week two.

With a core of versatile linebackers they can trust, the Cowboys deployed Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee, Damien Wilson, and Leighton Vander Esch all over the field to present the Giants with different looks. What made the Cowboys defensive play calling so successful was their LBs ability to cover ground quickly and create depth in coverage.

By doing so, the Giants could not take any chances down the field, their longest passing play going for 37 yards.

Blitz1

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On this play, even with the Giants looking to get the ball out quickly, the pressure from Smith and Wilson disrupt the timing. Sean Lee, the only Cowboys linebacker not sent after Manning on the play, ends up rallying from his starting WILL position to get in on the tackle. The Giants did not have the numbers up front to block Damien Wilson attacking from SAM, although more impressively, Smith was able to rip through a partial block from the right guard and get ahead of Wilson on their rush.

Blitz2

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This next blitz shows off the Cowboys strong coverage downfield against the Giants. Cornerback Anthony Brown had his fingerprints all over this game in the back end for Dallas, but on this play comes out of the slot after Manning. Sensing the pressure at his feet, Manning steps up and actually puts himself in position to deliver a good ball, but is forced into yet another check down.

While linebacker blitzes are part of the "Richard effect" on the Cowboys defense, a well-timed slot blitz is a staple of Rod Marinelli's scheme. Using Brown a number of times in this role off the strong side, the Giants had no answers for the different pressures Dallas sent their way against Ereck Flowers at right tackle.

Blitz3

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Even when Smith was picked up, as he was in the above play, the Cowboys capitalized on missed blocking assignments to get home with their front four. Taco Charlton the benefactor at RDE here, watch as Barkley rushes to keep Lee from having a straight run at his QB - allowing Charlton to do the same off the edge. Running untouched on the play, Charlton does a nice job taking a sharp angle to Manning and chasing him to the ground.

Blitz4

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

As much as the Cowboys cornerbacks were a huge part of the team's confidence in sending pressure, their safeties also performed well in coverage. I wrote about the above play on Monday morning in my Sean's Scout that immediately follows every Cowboys game:

"That's a fantastic play by Jeff Heath to run across the field and tackle Evan Engram short of the line to gain on third down.

The Giants drive would continue with a fourth down conversion, but the Cowboys defense did eventually force a punt.

The Cowboys safeties were primarily called upon to play in run support in this game, a role Heath has struggled in previously. Showing off his strengths as an athletic and rangy defensive back on this play, Heath didn't get pushed up the field by Engram on his release, hunting him down after the catch in front of a fired up Dallas bench."

Heath picking up Engram is just one example of a Cowboys defender exceeding expectations in coverage. Smith was able to run with Beckham Jr., as was Charlton on separate plays later in the game.

Blitz6

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The only fitting way to conclude this film study is with a DeMarcus Lawrence sack. The Cowboys best individual defender, Lawrence had his way with Flowers as we all expected. Playing to another one of Tank's strengths here though, Lawrence rushes to the inside off a well-executed T/E stunt with Tyrone Crawford.

Also sending Brown at Manning again, the Giants pass pro leaves Lawrence unabated to the quarterback. Unlikely to escape the grasp of Lawrence on such a free rush, Manning does try to abort the pocket, but had Brown crashing down on him to collapse things.

Lawrence might not earn many easier sacks this season. None of the Cowboys starters on defense are more capable of using their own ability to get to the QB than Lawrence still, who is getting all the help he needs from Richard as his play caller.

Through just two games, the Cowboys commitment to forcing the issue on defense has potential to keep this team atop the NFC East as the offense comes into its own.

Depending on the development of their own passing game, this may have to be a defense that can win Dallas games. The only way to do so is with sacks and turnovers.

The latter is something Marinelli's defenses have always excelled at when at full strength (the Cowboys are expecting Randy Gregory back as early as this week and DT David Irving comes off suspension in week five). The former is something the Cowboys are creating with a deeply talented front seven, orchestrated by one of the best in the business.

The Cowboys will look to build on their nine sacks this season against the Seahawks on Sunday, a team that's allowed the most in the league at 12. Their timing to go after Russell Wilson will be tested more than it was against the Giants, with Richard also better positioned to aid the Cowboys against his former team.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Blitzes Keep Giants Play Makers in Check" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Player News

Cowboys WR Terrance Williams Facing Multi-Game Suspension

Jess Haynie

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Terrance Williams
Ric Tapia via AP

An arrest last May for public intoxication may finally result in a suspension for Dallas Cowboys Receiver Terrance Williams.

David Moore of the Dallas Morning News, who reported the pending suspension, outlined the details of Williams' case. Charges were ultimately dropped once Terrance completed an alcohol education course and paid damages to the city.

David Moore on Twitter

Sources: Cowboys WR Terrance Williams faces suspension stemming from May arrest for public intoxication https://t.co/3RmwQOllim via @sportsdaydfw

However, as Cowboys fans know too well, the NFL reserves the right to suspend players under the Personal Conduct Policy regardless of legal outcomes. The 2017 season was marred by the league's persecution of Ezekiel Elliott for domestic violence despite no arrests or charges coming from any legal or police entity.

In Williams' case, there's no dispute of his guilt. It is unlikely he will appeal any decision the NFL makes.

The potential that Terrance will be missing for 2-4 games helps explain the Cowboys' move earlier this week to bring back WR Brice Butler. With both currently active, Dallas has an unusually high seven receivers on their 53-man roster.

It's already Friday, so the suspension is doubtful to come for this week's game in Seattle. But Terrance could easily be one of the seven inactive players on game day, having received the fewest snaps of any Cowboys WR last week against the Giants.

We'll see soon enough, likely as soon as next week, just what the league has in store for Terrance Williams.



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