It's been a season of ups and downs that saw the 2018 Dallas Cowboys start the season by alternating wins and losses through the first six games before dropping to 3-5 after the eight game mark. Now having won three in a row and leading the NFC East, I think we can all rest assured that these Dallas Cowboys.
Over the last three weeks, the Dallas Cowboys have answered questions that hadn't previously been answered.
Prior to the three game winning streak, they hadn't won a game on the road. Well, now they've done that twice.
They hadn't played a really good offense. Well they outscored the defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles and the Super Bowl 51 runner-up Atlanta Falcons on the road.
In 2017, the Cowboys weren't able to overcome the injuries and suspensions to their star players Sean Lee, Tyron Smith, David Irving, and Ezekiel Elliott. Well in 2018, they've weathered the storm and played really good without Tyron Smith, David Irving, Sean Lee, and several other key contributors.
The time has come for us to believe in the Dallas Cowboys again.
I know that's difficult to do as the Cowboys have let us down so many times over the last couple of decades, but for the 2018 Cowboys, things are trending in the right direction and they are playing their best football of the year at the most important time of the year.
Even with a formidable game coming this Thursday night against the 10-1 New Orleans Saints, the Dallas Cowboys give us reason to believe that they could actually come away with a win this week to extend the streak to four. Just a few games ago, I don't think anyone would have thought a W was possible this Thursday.
But that's where we are now and for good reason.
The Dallas Cowboys offense is starting to look dangerous on the ground and through the air.
Over the last three games, Quarterback Dak Prescott has averaged 255.7 yards per game, completed 70.1% of his passes, is averaging 7.75 yards per attempt and 8.35 air yards per attempt. He's thrown three touchdowns and ran for three touchdowns while not turning the ball over; basically two touchdowns per game. Prescott's quarterback rating over the three game winning streak was 100.3. Dak's been sacked 3.3 times per game. That includes being sacked four times in the first half against the Washington Redskins, but not being sacked at all in the second half. All of this occurring while Connor Williams sat out and against the Washington Redskins without Tyron Smith.
Over the first eight games of the season, prior to the three game winning streak, Prescott averaged 207.5 passing yards per game, threw 10 touchdowns and five interceptions, averaged seven yards per attempt and only 6.90 air yards per attempt. During the 3-5 start, Prescott averaged 1.5 total touchdowns per game. His passer rating was 88.9.
There are several things to factor into to the improved play of the offense, but the two biggest reasons are the two big moves they made over the bye week. First, trading for WR Amari Cooper. Then removing Paul Alexander as offensive line coach and replacing him with Marc Colombo.
It’s hard to quantify just how much of an impact Cooper and Colombo have made on the Cowboys since the bye week, but there’s certainly a difference in both the way they run the ball and throw the ball.
Not only has Dak Prescott seen a midseason resurgence to his play, but Ezekiel Elliott and the running game have as well. Elliott has run for 120 yards or more with a touchdown in three straight games. It's the second time in his career that he's had such a stretch. This while playing against two really good defensive fronts in the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins. The Redskins held Elliott to 33 yards on 15 carries in the week seven loss in Washington.
The Amari Cooper trade has added an element to the offense that's been missing this season. Someone who can create separation with his excellent route running ability, but also has the speed to break away from defenders after the catch. As we all saw on Thursday. You can tell when watching that Prescott has a high level of comfort with Cooper and is willing to throw the ball his way often. In fact, since coming over from the Oakland Raiders prior to the Tennessee Titans game, Cooper has led the Cowboys in targets in three out of the four games he's been with the team. He helps everyone on the offense. In only four games, Cooper's already second on the team in receiving yards and first on the Cowboys in receiving touchdowns.
He gets open, which helps Dak, which in turn helps the offensive line. He requires attention from the secondary, which is going to help the rest of the wide receivers in their routes, as well as Elliott. Like we saw on Thursday, he's a threat to score from anywhere on the field. When a team can get one or two big plays a game like that, it provides a huge boost to the entire football team.
The offense's improvement over the last three games shouldn't overshadow what the defense has done. They continue to play really good as a unit.
They've held the Philadelphia Eagles, the Atlanta Falcons, and the Washington Redskins to an average of 20.67 points per game. The Atlanta Falcons were held to one touchdown at home, where they had averaged 30+ points on the road coming into the game.
The Dallas Cowboys defense, who has been pretty good at putting pressure on the passer and against the run, is starting to create turnovers.
They've created a turnover in four straight games, and forced Colt McCoy into three interceptions on Thursday. The Cowboys would have had another interception in the Atlanta game if not for Julio Jones ball-separating hit on Jeff Heath.
If the Dallas defense can continue to force turnovers in each game, it's going to make things a lot easier for the offense. The Cowboys are still in the bottom half of the league in turnovers, but are trending in the right direction with seven in the last four weeks. Against, Tennessee, they were unable to capitalize on the turnovers, but that shouldn't be as much of a problem moving forward.
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It's easy to look at the quality of opponent the Cowboys have played over the last three weeks and discount the three game winning streak, but each of those teams is still in the thick of the wild card race. The Cowboys were under pressure in must-win games and came away with big wins.
No matter what happens on Thursday night against the New Orleans Saints, this team is still one to put our confidence in. They're playing really good football now and I don't see that changing for the rest of the 2018 season. Whether they win this week or not, and I think there’s a good chance they do pull off the upset, this team is on a trajectory to win the NFC East. This is a dangerous team and one to believe in.
If Sean Lee’s the Cowboys Starting SAM LB, Who’s his Backup?
If you believe the talk around the water cooler, Sean Lee is going to be the Dallas Cowboys starting strong side (SAM) linebacker in 2019.
On paper this looks like a brilliant move. It puts the Cowboys best three linebackers (Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee) on the field the same time when they are in their base defense. It should also help "General Lee" healthwise since the SAM LB over the last three years (Damien Wilson) never played more than 30% of the defensive snaps.
But, we all know No. 50 has struggled to remain healthy for an entire season pretty much his whole career. What happens if he once again succumbs to the injury bug? Who do the Dallas Cowboys plan on making his backup?
I think second-year LB Chris Covington, not to be confused with DT Christian Covington, could get the first crack at becoming Lee's backup. At 6'2", 245 pounds, he has the size to play SAM, but he's unproven and will have to prove himself in training camp and preseason to become a serious consideration.
There may be a dark course candidate to become Sean Lee's primary backup.
Luke Gifford, an undrafted LB out of Nebraska, was supposedly pretty impressive in previous summer workouts. He's been spoken pretty highly of already, but like Covington needs to prove himself. Could he be another undrafted hidden gem?
Dallas Cowboys Staff Writer Bryan Broaddus seems to like what he's seen so far from Gifford.
"If there is a young linebacker to keep an eye on I have a sneaky feeling about Gifford. This kid has a nose for the ball. He plays well on the move and he's a finisher when he gets into position to make plays. Gifford can play both inside and out which gives him that flexibility coaches covet. Where Gifford is going to have to make his mark is in these padded practices and then in preseason games. I have already seen flashes of traits and instincts and range which makes me believe he could pull this off."
You can't help but like the way Broaddus talks about Luke Gifford. He sounds like the kind of depth player the Cowboys like due to his versatility and skill set, but he's going to have to continue to prove himself when the pads come on if he wants to stick around. That's the life of an undrafted free agent though.
It may seem a little odd to talk abbout backup players this early, but because of Sean Lee's inability to remain healthy it could be an important position battle to keep an eye on once training camp gets underway. I know I'm going to be keeping a close eye on Chris Covington (#59) and Luke Gifford (#57). What about you?
Who do you think will become Sean Lee's primary backup at SAM LB?
Trysten Hill Could Make the Interior Defensive Line Complete
Confusion. Probably the first word that came to minds of Dallas Cowboys fans worldwide when the 58th pick of the 2019 NFL Draft was announced, considering the glaring need at safety. Nonetheless, the team decided to buffer its defensive line by selecting Defensive Tackle Trysten Hill out of Central Florida.
Reports say there was a decision to be made between Hill and Virginia Safety Juan Thornhill at 58, with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and Defensive Backs Coach/Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard ultimately convincing everyone Hill was the guy. Looking back on the Cowboys playoff loss to the Rams, it isn't hard to understand why this particular decision was made. They were gashed for 273 rushing yards that night, after holding the league's top rushing attack under 80 yards between four ball carriers in their win against Seattle.
Trysten is excellent against the run, racking up 20 career tackles for loss, including an unreal 10.5 in 2018. Even though the NFL is more of a passing league now, stopping the run is a formula that will always work, you want to make teams one-dimensional.
Character concerns were one of the major sticking points against the selection of Hill. He went from a starter in 2017 to a rotation guy in 2018. Even though he played a lot of football, and played well, why was his role reduced? Head Coach Jason Garrett quickly dispelled any questions about Hill's character, after talking with former UCF Head Coach Scott Frost.
"The staff who was there before, Scott Frost and his group, we spent a lot of time with them, talked to them, and they endorsed him highly, both as a player and as a person. He did a good job in that environment. And even though he wasn't a starter this past year, he did play a lot of football for them and played a lot of football for them in critical times," Garret said.
Not only was he one of the 30 guys that came into the team's facility for pre-draft visits, but he also had a sit-down with the Cowboys at the combine in Indianapolis. To top it all off, he had a workout lead by his future Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli at UCF's pro day, where he received high praise.
With that praise came a "Work Ethic" contract signed by Hill between himself and Marinelli. Explaining what is expected of him day in and day out in terms of hard work, preparation and dedication. A very unique approach by Marinelli, and one that Hill is more than willing to honor.
"I can't put into words how important our relationship is with each other. He wants the best out of me and I want to give him everything I've got. Him really taking hold of me this whole process, and me being able to call him and chat with him and hear his voice was huge in this whole ordeal," Hill said.
If that doesn't give you goosebumps I don't know what will.
Antwaun Woods is the starter at the 1-technique defensive tackle position. He was a big reason the Cowboys finished fifth against the run last season. Hill will have to battle it out in camp with Maliek Collins to see who will put his name at the top of the depth chart as the team's starter at the 3-technique. Hill could edge out Collins, but being that he's in a contract year he definitely won't make it easy on the rookie. Throw in Tyrone Crawford, Daniel Ross, and Christian Covington this group can be productive where quarterbacks hate getting pressure from the most, straight up the middle.
He's young, raw and full of potential. A close bond has already been formed with Marinelli, which can only boost the confidence of a 21-year-old kid ready to take the NFL by storm. The lights shine the brightest in Big D, it's all there for him, now it's up to him to become "King of the Hill" so to speak.
The Ringer Names Byron Jones, La’el Collins As Potential Trade Bait
The Ringer's Robert Mays published a piece this week discussing the most realistic blockbuster type trades which could go down in the NFL this summer.
And, as tends to be the case, there were Dallas Cowboys all over his list.
Mays named both cornerback Byron Jones and right tackle La'el Collins as players which could potentially be on the move prior to the season starting.
The reasoning? (You've probably heard) the Cowboys have a lot of players to pay these next two offseasons, both Collins and Jones being on the list, and they have a good amount of talent at their position groups already.
"Dallas is slated to have about $75 million in cap space in 2020, according to Over The Cap, but that number is a bit misleading. A new contract for Dak Prescott is imminent, and even if the Cowboys manage to keep his cap figure relatively low in the deal’s first year, he will probably still cost at least $15 million against the cap next season. Combine that with the fact that Jones, Collins, and linebacker Jaylon Smith all have deals that expire this year, and Dallas’s robust cap space starts to shrink quickly."
The reasoning makes logical sense, though I don't see the trades actually happening. The Cowboys are going for it this year, looking to win their sixth Super Bowl and first in over two decades. Whether or not it'll happen is, of course, up in the air, but their roster is good enough to make you believe they have a real shot at contending. Trading away one, or two, of their returning starters would likely take them farther from their ultimate goal in 2019.
Robert Mays also put the Cowboys in discussions to trade with the Raiders again, this time for safety Karl Joseph.
"Dallas signed George Iloka this spring to bolster its safety depth, but the position remains the biggest weakness on an otherwise strong roster. Dallas has more than $19 million in cap space, so it would have no issue taking on Joseph’s relatively modest deal. Players selected by a departed GM are often excellent trade targets, and it seems like the Cowboys could land Joseph for the right price."
Now this is a deal I could get behind.
Dallas still likely has a hole at safety, though there is reason to be hopeful about the prospects for George Iloka in 2019. If by the middle of the season Dallas is still looking for a suitable starter and upgrade over Jeff Heath, maybe they'll toss a day two or three pick at the Raiders and see if they can snag Karl Joseph.
Trading with the Raiders in 2018 worked out pretty well, after all.
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