The Dallas Cowboys' biggest weakness on the offensive side of the football is most obviously the tight end group. The wide receiver group is second, but it's a distant second to the uncertainty and inexperience at the tight end position currently.
Even before Jason Witten up and retired, the Cowboys weren't in great shape -- mostly because of age-related decline -- but they had a reliable starter who could give them 50-60 snaps a game and could contribute on third downs and in the red zone.
The future Hall of Famer is gone to the Monday Night Football booth on ESPN, leaving an Armageddon-sized crater behind. Gone are 87 targets, 63 catches, 560 yards, and most importantly five touchdown receptions from 2017.
Trying to be the next man up to fill the void are Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz, and Rico Gathers. Combined, they have nine catches for 94 yards and zero touchdowns in the NFL (all from the Swaim Train).
As we try to project who might take the lead role among this tight end group, as opposed to looking for one guy to take 90% of the snaps at the position like Witten might, we should probably look at this as a rotational deployment.
Or a Tight End by Committee.
Let's look at how each guy could be deployed based on potential formations that the Dallas Cowboys like to use.
Geoff Swaim will be in the game when the Dallas Cowboys go with two and three tight end formations. He's got the most experience and Jason Garrett likes to use the guys he knows. Geoff Swaim will get the first shot at running with the first team as the veteran player of the group.
At the moment, Swaim is the most well-rounded of the bunch. A reliable tight end who has caught passes in meaningful games for the team, even if it isn't a lot of them. While experience isn't everything, it matters when looking at players who are going to get playing time.
Swaim might not have the highest upside in the group, but he's a trusted and reliable player.
The Dallas Cowboys signed Tight End Blake Jarwin to the practice squad as an undrafted free agent in 2017.
The Cowboys front office was so high on him that they activated him from the practice squad toward the end of the 2017 season to make sure he wasn't signed by the Philadelphia Eagles.
He's a player who could fill a "move tight end" role on the team, using him in 11 and 12 personnel packages as a big slot receiver in certain matchups. Dak Prescott has gone on record about the team wanting to utilize more "run-pass options" (or RPOs) this season, and Jarwin's size and receiving ability immediately make him a threat.
I could see them using Swaim as the in-line tight end and then splitting Jarwin out wide to take advantage of linebacker matchups the team likes.
He can be a threat down the seam and in the middle of the field that Witten hasn't been in a couple of years because of the aforementioned age-related decline.
The Cowboys have always done a good job finding and developing undrafted free agents and when Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com was asked who could be the next great undrafted free agent, he had Jarwin on his mind.
"The way that the coaching staff was using Blake Jarwin tells me that they’re expecting big things from him. He has been splitting snaps with Geoff Swaim throughout these practices for the starting tight end spot, so he’s going to have a chance to grow."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Dalton Schultz is probably the most intriguing of the prospects. He was an impact player for the Stanford Cardinal and running back Bryce Love as they racked up more than 2,000 yards rushing in 2017.
His opportunities as a pass catcher were limited, but he flashed some tools that show he has the ability to be a solid receiving tight end in the NFL.
At the moment, he's probably the second tight end in the game when the team goes to two and three tight end formations.
Typically, tight ends struggle to adapt to the NFL in their rookie seasons because they aren't often asked to block as much. Schultz already comes with a bit of that pedigree.
The challenges for him will be learning the nuances of an NFL playbook as well as his responsibilities in the passing game.
The most hyped of all the tight ends for the Dallas Cowboys is Tight End Rico Gathers.
In the 2017 preseason, he flashed a ton of potential in the passing game, showing off his hands and athleticism as he caught a couple of touchdown passes. After he suffered a concussion, he was placed on IR for most of the season and really didn't get another shot. He comes into camp with a lot to prove, mostly that he can be a reliable option for the team on the 53-man roster.
He's still super raw and has more to learn in the blocking aspect of the game, and the team is taking a tough love approach to Rico in hopes that they can motivate him to earn a larger role than what he's looking at right now.
While we are all intrigued by the prospect of Gathers in the passing game, he's on the outside looking in at the moment for a team that may not be able to keep four tight ends.
Like Jarwin, as it stands now, Gathers' best role would be in passing situations in 11 personnel (one running back and three tight ends) or as a move tight end lined up in the slot to take advantage of linebacker or safety mismatches.
He has the athleticism to beat linebackers and the size to box out defensive backs, and as fans of the team, we should hope that he earns a role on this squad because they definitely could use his size and athleticism in the red zone. But I wouldn't hold my breath on it.
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According to reports, the tight ends that have been ahead of the pack in OTAs and minicamps have been Blake Jarwin and Geoff Swaim. Training camp is a whole different ball game, though, as the team will put pads on and the competition will heighten.
Over the next couple months we'll find out if one of these tight ends rises to the top, or if a committee approach is in store for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018.
NYJ 24, DAL 22: Cowboys Comeback Comes Up Short Again
The Cowboys are now 3-3 after creating another halftime deficit and not being able to overcome it. Their losing streak continued with a 24-22 loss to the previously winless New York Jets.
Dallas trailed 21-6 at halftime in one of the more embarrassing first halves of football we've seen this team play. It took an improbable 62-yard field goal from Brett Maher to give them some kind of positive feeling heading into the locker room.
The worse sequence came earlier in that quarter. Trailing just 7-3 at that point, the Cowboys marched over 50 yards to put themselves in scoring position. But a 4th-down try came up short, and then the Jets answered with a 92-yard touchdown pass from Sam Darnold to Robby Anderson.
That play seemed to knock the wind out of Dallas' sails, and they were still reeling on the Jets' next possession when New York scored another touchdown on a six-play, 65-yard drive.
The Cowboys struggled early on offense, and that had a lot to do with missing personnel. They went into the game without Randall Cobb, Tyron Smith, or La'el Collins suiting up. Then Amari Cooper had to exit early with a quad injury and didn't return.
The halftime adjustments were there. Dallas outscored New York 16-3 in the second half and pulled within two points on a late touchdown run by Dak Prescott. But the two-point conversion attempt failed when Dak got hit and tossed an errant ball to a blanketed Jason Witten.
Another week. Another loss. And now the Eagles are coming to town next Sunday night.
If the Cowboys don't start figuring out how to play well early, this season is only going to get uglier.
- Prescott put in an admirable effort given the amount of pressure that Gregg Williams' defense was applying. He completed 28-of-40 passes for 277 yards and had the rushing score, giving up no sacks or turnovers.
- Dak's rushing TD, the 20th of his career, tied Roger Staubach for the most in Cowboys QB history.
- Ezekiel Elliott had a big day with 105 yards on the ground and another 47 receiving, plus a rushing touchdown. One of his biggest plays won't show up in the stat sheet; he drew a defensive pass interference call on the Cowboys' final drive running a deep route as a receiver.
- Brett "Mixed Bag" Maher gave you the full range of his wows and woes today. That 62-yarder was truly special, putting him in rare company as just the third NFL kicker to ever hit multiple kicks of 60 or more. However, he also missed one from just 40 yards out. The Cowboys have now lost two games by just two points in which Maher missed an easy field goal.
- Chalk up two more sacks for Robert Quinn, who has five now in just four games. Outside of those plays, few Cowboys even breathed on Sam Darnold today.
- Jourdan Lewis got more playing time today with Anthony Brown getting hurt, and he did what he tends to do with a clutch interception. Lewis' picked off Darnold early in the third quarter after the Jets had driven down to the Dallas' 11. It helped keep New York off the scoreboard and was critical to the Cowboys' comeback efforts.
- Thankfully, this loss did not cost Dallas their shared NFC East lead with the Eagles. Philadelphia also fell today in their road game against the Vikings. Both teams are now 3-3 as they prepare for next week's rivalry game.
Cowboys Wishlist: Win In The Trenches, Limit Le’Veon Bell
My biggest wish of the day is for the Dallas Cowboys to win their football game. It's been more than two weeks since we've been able to enjoy a good victory. The New York Jets present us with a favorable matchup and what should be an easy game for the Cowboys. However, this is the NFL, and surprising things can happen any given Sunday. Dallas can't take this game for granted.
Let's get into this week's Cowboys Wishlist! Make sure to let me know yours in the comments section below or tweet them at me @MauNFL and let's talk football!
Wish #1: No Turnovers
Last week's performance was a painful one to watch. While we can take a look at every single aspect of the game to find out why the Cowboys lost, it's actually pretty simple. Dak Prescott and the Dallas' offense turned the ball over three times. If you have a -3 turnover differential, you're losing that games nine times out of ten.
The Cowboys offense is better than given credit for, but if they keep handing the ball to opposing teams, no one will notice that. It's a simple wish, but an important one. Just stop turning the ball over.
Wish #2: Win in the Trenches, Limit Le'Veon Bell
As Aaron Jones plowed his way through the Cowboys' defense for 107 yards and four rushing touchdowns, the lack of quality defensive tackle play was very noticeable. The defense was pushed around in the trenches just about every play. Antwaun Woods has been injured recently, but not even with him coming back will the Cowboys solve their problems.
As the team's three-technique, Maliek Collins has also struggled to stop the run and bring pressure. This time, they're facing a Jets offense that's led by RB Le'Veon Bell. Could things go south versus a 0-4 New York squad? I doubt it, but if they do, I'd bet it's because of Bell. Hopefully, the Cowboys win the battle.
Wish #3: Blake Jarwin Plays More
I can't get over the fact that with the Cowboys trailing late in the game last Sunday, it was Jason Witten who was still on the field and not Blake Jarwin. I love Witten, but doesn't Jarwin have better deep-threat potential? I've been surprised by #82 and how well he's played since coming back, but I'm still a firm believer that Jarwin should get more playing time.
Through five weeks, Jarwin has played on 125 of the offensive snaps while Witten has been in for 240. I wish Jarwin gets more playing time today.
Wish #4: Cowboys Start Fast
What is wrong with the Cowboys when the games start? They have yet to have a good start this season. Even when they faced the Washington Redskins, New York Giants, and the Miami Dolphins they struggled to get it going. I don't know if it's an execution problem or bad play-scripting from the coaches but this will get the Cowboys in trouble if it isn't fixed.
It's a 60-minute game and if you start playing well late, you'll be beaten as the season goes on. The Cowboys need to figure this out, and the Jets are a fortunate opponent to get back on track.
Will Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence Finally Go Off Against Jets?
With only 2.5 sacks in five games thus far in 2019, DeMarcus Lawrence is currently on pace to have less than 10 sacks on the season. That would be a disappointment for all parties after the Cowboys defensive end just signed a massive contract extension this offseason, but today's game against the New York Jets may give him a chance to make up some ground.
The Jets have been abysmal at protecting their quarterbacks so far this year. Despite only playing four games, being one of the few NFL teams to already have its bye week, New York has given up a league-high 23 sacks already in 2019.
That's almost six sacks per game. Six!
Granted, some of that volume has come from having third-string QB Luke Falk playing the last three weeks. But even when Sam Darnold was playing in Week One he still got taken down four times.
The opportunities should be there for Lawrence to pad his stats. Even just a two-sack day would greatly boost his numbers, but there's potential for more with how bad the Jets have been at pass protection.
DeMarcus' slow start in 2019 has been due to a variety of factors. For one, he missed almost all of training camp and preseason practices by remaining on the PUP list until August 20th. Lawrence had offseason shoulder surgery and was recovering until just a few weeks before Week One.
Another reason is that, at least through the first four weeks of 2019, Tank was the most double-teamed edge rusher in the entire NFL.
That hasn't been all bad for the Cowboys. After all, the attention that Lawrence draws has helped Robert Quinn get off to a hot start since his Week 3 debut.
In fact, Quinn may be who prevents Tank from having a big day in New York. It will be interesting to see which guy gets to the QB first.
There's also a chance that, if this game winds up being a blowout, Dallas will limit Lawrence's playing time due to some nagging injuries. They want their franchise DE ready to chase down Carson Wentz next Sunday night.
Wins are bigger than stats, of course. DeMarcus Lawrence gets that and hopefully most fans do as well. His impact is bigger than just sacks; just his presence can positively impact games and create opportunities for other pass rushers and blitzers.
Still, we all love seeing our favorite Cowboys among the league leaders at season's end. Lawrence probably won't be catching Shaquil Barrett (9 sacks) this year, but hopefully today's game allows him to move up the board.
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