Let's face it, seeing former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo as a leading voice for all things NFL is still taking some getting used to. The CBS Sports color commentator made headlines a few weeks back when he chose the Green Bay Packers as early favorites for the 2018 season. Now, Romo was back on NFL Network yesterday to discuss the Cowboys biggest offseason topic -- their turnover on offense leaving them with no clear number one wide receiver.
— NFL Total Access (@NFLTotalAccess) July 11, 2018
Romo, who notes that in his own career he turned Miles Austin into a 1,000 yard receiver twice, is expecting the Cowboys to stay true to their running game while looking for a top target to emerge.
"They just need guys to get into their spots" - Tony Romo
Where Austin was the Cowboys replacement to Terrell Owens, joined only by Terry Glenn and Dez Bryant as 1,000 yard receivers since 2006 for Dallas, the Cowboys are hoping that Allen Hurns can ease the loss of Bryant.
The Cowboys offseason transition to a dynamic offense has put more emphasis than ever on spreading the ball around, relying on receivers to hit their spots while playing fast. This style of play may not describe Hurns all too well, but he is a proven receiver in a room full of uncertainty for the Cowboys.
Romo is more than qualified to talk about uncertainty around him on offense, and seems to be on board with Prescott taking another leap forward in 2018. The Cowboys quarterback's second year was a constant battle through injuries as a tale of two seasons unfolded for Prescott, struggling to stay upright once Tyron Smith was lost.
"They drafted a young kid I know they like" - Tony Romo
This quote from Romo is actually referring to Cowboys Left Guard Connor Williams, and not either of their rookie wide receivers. Expectations should still be set high for Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson, but Williams helps the Cowboys get even better at what they do best.
Establishing a running game that surged in 2014, Dez Bryant's last dominant season, Romo and the Cowboys both know how important Ezekiel Elliott will be to this offense.
Be it Elliott, Gallup, Wilson, Hurns, or Tavon Austin, Cole Beasley, and Terrance Williams, the Cowboys surrounding their franchise quarterback with new talent each year is nothing new. It wasn't to Romo, and is becoming normal to Prescott even with a largely different coaching staff in place.
Just as Romo asks how a number one receiver is even defined in the beginning of this interview clip, Cowboys Nation is asking the same. It won't be long until the Cowboys arrive in Oxnard with all 90 of their players in the spotlight.
"Expect the Cowboys to keep the game simple as long as they're running the ball" - Tony Romo
The twelve receivers, six running backs, and five tight ends tasked to catch passes for the Cowboys this season won't all be fighting for one spot, although the Cowboys will need to find who their opportune play makers are quickly this season.
In Swaim’s Absence And Among Witten Rumors, Jarwin And Schultz Shine
"Starting tight end for the Dallas Cowboys" has been about as stable a position as there is in sports over the last decade. It's been Jason Witten. End of story.
Beginning in 2018, however, that stability went out the window with Witten's retirement. The starting role was left in the hands of Geoff Swaim, with even younger and more inexperienced players filling out the depth chart behind him. There was clearly reason for concern, and once Swaim went down during the Cowboys' win in Atlanta, those concerns only grew.
Swaim's absence has brought with it rumors of a Jason Witten return, with reports last weekend even suggesting that Jason Garrett reached out to Witten to see if he's looking to end his retirement and rejoin the Cowboys.
His absence has also brought about the emergence of two young tight ends, however, who are each succeeding in their own ways and showcasing why the Cowboys felt confident in allowing them to take the bulk of the tight end snaps while Swaim is injured. Those tight ends, of course, are Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz.
Last Sunday during the Cowboys big overtime victory over the Philadelphia Eagles, both Jarwin and Schultz had impressive days. Blake Jarwin has become one of the go-to third down options for quarterback Dak Prescott, extending drives and getting open over the middle of the field. Jarwin had a career best 7 catches for 56 yards on Sunday, including a spectacular third down grab to make up for Prescott's poor ball placement on his crossing route.
Blake Jarwin looks like the big, athletic, middle of the field threat that many fans wished Rico Gathers could be. The next step in unlocking his potential would be to get him more involved in the red zone. Dallas is struggling to convert and-goal situations into touchdowns, and logic would say a big target like Jarwin should be able to help in those moments.
Fourth round rookie Dalton Schultz had a good day as well, catching 3 balls for 37 yards including a 16 yard reception down the seam. Where Schultz really shines, however, is with his run blocking, as he did at Stanford. The move to more of a zone blocking scheme has benefited Schultz as a run blocker, just as it has the entire Cowboys rushing offense.
Schultz looks to be improving as a pass catcher by the week, and a year in a professional offseason program should do him wonders in terms of play strength, in turn helping him as a run blocker. He may not ever turn into a top 5 or 10 tight end in football the way Witten once was, but he is clearly already a functional and valuable player on this roster.
The Cowboys are insanely young throughout most of their roster, and tight end is one of those young spots. Tight end is also a spot you typically don't want (or need) to address within the first round of the NFL Draft. Dallas is secretly in a good spot moving forward at tight end, with Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz emerging as solid players.
This doesn't mean the Cowboys shouldn't look around in the offseason to see what's available, but they should also feel comfortable with what's on their roster at the moment.
Sean’s Scout: Resilient Prescott Inches Cowboys Closer to NFC East Title
If an overtime win over the defending Super Bowl champions that ends their dreams of repeating while increasing your own playoff odds can be both ugly and beautiful, then the Dallas Cowboys 29-23 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles was certainly that - and a whole lot more.
Extending their winning streak to five didn't come without the Cowboys toying with a total collapse, as Quarterback Dak Prescott turned the ball over three times. Fresh off a win against the New Orleans Saints where the Cowboys managed just 13 points, the Eagles pushed this defense to the edge thanks to continued struggles on offense.
In overtime, Prescott made sure Carson Wentz and the Eagles would never see the ball, putting four indescribable quarters behind him to lead a game-winning touchdown drive. The Cowboys are a win away from claiming the NFC East. The full scope of how this season has turned on its head goes well beyond this most recent Cowboys win, at least back to their first win at the Eagles five weeks ago.
For now, my first attempt at sorting out what we saw at AT&T Stadium on Sunday will have to do, with another post game edition of Sean's Scout.
- With both Tight Ends Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz setting new career highs in receptions, I was waiting for the Cowboys patience on offense to pay off with a big play on the outside, finally provided twice by Wide Receiver Amari Cooper.
In the Cowboys previous win over the Eagles, their receivers had their way with a depleted Philadelphia secondary. Dealing with injuries at cornerback mid-game that are still effecting this group, the Eagles were in no position to line up against Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Cole Beasley.
The counter for the Cowboys offense this week was to use heavier formations, pound Ezekiel Elliott, and get their tight ends involved more than they've been all season. Perhaps the only normal thing to come out of this game was Elliott's 40 touches.
Despite it being a career high, there's no reason Elliott shouldn't be this involved in the Cowboys offense. The Cowboys patience with Elliott was eventually rewarded when Cooper scored from 28 yards out to break a 6-6 tie, and again from 75 yards to put Dallas ahead 23-16 in the fourth quarter.
If not for a few missed shots to Michael Gallup and a missed Brett Maher field goal, the Cowboys efforts on offense could have kept this game out of overtime, though their execution on the winning drive is hard to dispute.
- The Cowboys are last in the league at scoring touchdowns in the red zone over their last three wins, something that has to change quickly in preparation for the playoffs.
The Cowboys were 3 of 5 in the red zone in the win that started this streak in Philly, and 2 of 3 the following week at the Falcons. Their decline on offense has been a recent trend that must come back up over the last three weeks of the regular season.
Only six of Elliott's 40 touches came in the red zone, which feels inexcusable from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, considering also it was an adjusted play call by Cooper and Prescott that created their long touchdown to force overtime.
Perhaps the trust the Cowboys showed in Schultz and Jarwin will lead to more red zone opportunities for tight ends, of which the Cowboys have no true middle-of-field threat.
- There is no reason for Prescott to be falling away on his first interception in the end zone, targeting an open Cooper to the back corner.
Prescott never saw Rasul Douglas break off his man and end up under a throw to Cooper that was placed in a horrible spot. Cooper was open, but thrown into coverage on a ball he never really came close to.
After another look at the play, it's even more disturbing to see Prescott's mechanics. Sliding in a clean pocket, Prescott was falling away slightly when he released the ball. The Cowboys defense would bail out Prescott after probably his most egregious turnover, forcing a three and out.
This was not the case after Prescott's second interception that turned into the Eagles first touchdown, or fumble that lead to a tying field goal.
- For as good a pass rushing duo as DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are, Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins and Tyrone Crawford don't get enough credit for their all-around game.
Before kickoff, I wrote about the Cowboys not needing David Irving, who missed his sixth straight game. This is a compliment to not only Collins and Crawford, but Antwaun Woods as well. All three played their part in keeping the Eagles offense in check once again.
Crawford may be playing the best football of his seven-year career. No longer struggling to fit in as either a defensive end or tackle, Crawford is simply a leader by example for the Cowboys defense wherever he lines up.
Carson Wentz is a quarterback you have to make reset his feet defensively, and Crawford was able to force this a number of times. His speed rush ability paired with the power of Collins and Woods on the inside is incredibly disruptive for Dallas.
Following Maher's missed field goal, Crawford turned in one of the hustle plays of the season for the Cowboys to strip Wentz. Beating the left guard off the snap, Crawford dipped Jason Peters at left tackle on his way to a forced fumble that produced another field goal before the half.
This game was that close to having a first half all about the Cowboys taking advantage of Eagles mistakes, instead leaving points on the field and letting the Eagles punish second half mistakes on the way to overtime.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
With a win at the Colts, vs. the Buccaneers, or at the Giants the Cowboys will have gone from 3-5 to NFC East champions for 2018. The merits of just how good this division is will be worth discussing prior to the playoffs, but with two wins over the Eagles and one over the Redskins within an ongoing five game win streak, the Cowboys are objectively one of the hottest teams in the league right now.
Amari Cooper has probably made six or seven plays "better" than his miraculous overtime touchdown, proving his worth more and more each week, though his winning score will surely be a lasting moment from the Cowboys week 14 win.
#DALvsPHI: Evaluating Jason Garrett’s 4th Down OT Decision
It's no secret that Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett is the victim of much criticism among Cowboys Nation. Often called too conservative, or called out for "coaching scared," Garrett has gotten killed by the media throughout much of the 2018 season.
You could easily argue that Garrett cost the Cowboys the game against the Houston Texans, and even the first match up with Washington, but how this team has rallied over the last 5 weeks is a direct reflection of their head coach's character.
Last Sunday the Cowboys faced another one of those late game, fourth down decisions. It was fourth and 1 in overtime with just about 4 minutes left to play in the extra period. Dallas had driven the ball down the field for a potential field goal, but you know the fans wanted more.
The overtime rules state that if Dallas, who possessed the ball first, were to make a field goal, the Eagles would get the ball and a chance to score. This made the decision all-the-more interesting for Jason Garrett, who decided to pound the ball with Ezekiel Elliott for a first down. Elliott made a great individual effort on the play to dive forward for the conversion without much push from the offensive line.
Just a few plays later Dak Prescott would find Amari Cooper for the game winning touchdown, further vindicating Jason Garrett for his "gutsy" fourth down call.
Back when Garrett decided to punt in overtime against Houston, we all killed him, and I did so with my win probability numbers. But, with the decision going the other way against Philadelphia, let's examine what that same probability model says, and give Garrett credit where it is due.
Before any decision was made, with the Cowboys facing fourth and 1, the model had Dallas at a 72% chance of winning the game. Had they kicked the field goal, and made it, their win probability would have moved to just 73% (with decimal rounding). Basically, the kick, although it would put Dallas up 3 points, would have no change on their win probability.
If they had missed the fourth down conversion, their probability would have dropped down to 53%. Clearly this is a steep drop of nearly 20 percentage points, but they still wouldn't be in terrible position to win or tie the game. But, since they went for it and converted, their win probability jumped to 77%.
ESPN's win probability model was much more bullish on the Cowboys' chances, bringing their win probability to 95% after the fourth down conversion. Regardless of the model you use, converting that fourth down clearly made it very unlikely for Philadelphia to win the game.
So credit to Jason Garrett for making the call, and credit to Ezekiel Elliott for making good on the conversion.
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