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What A Possible Tavon Austin Return Means for Cowboys Offense

Sean Martin

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Cowboys WR Tavon Austin Skipping Surgery, May Return in 2018

With four players listed as questionable for week 16 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Dallas Cowboys are getting healthy at the right time. Needing just one more win, or a Philadelphia Eagles loss, to clinch the NFC East, the Cowboys are in position to welcome back a player that hasn't taken the field since week six.

That would be Wide Receiver Tavon Austin, whose inched closer to a return in recent weeks from a groin injury.

In a game of "what have you done for me lately?", the Cowboys offense falls on its face answering this call with a shutout loss squandering last week's chance to win the division at the Colts. For Austin, this answer is also bleak, but the sixth year pro did turn in one of the most electric plays of the season in the Cowboys first win over the Giants.

Still in a pre-Amari Cooper period for the Cowboys receivers, Austin's 64-yard touchdown on the third play from scrimmage was almost unthinkable for any of Quarterback Dak Prescott's other pass catchers at the time.

Cowboys Nation would love nothing more than to bury the nightmarish start to this year on offense, but should welcome Austin back as a dual threat.

Amari Cooper has made touchdowns of 90, 75, 40, and 28 yards look routine since his arrival from Oakland, and could be in line for even more game-breaking plays if lined up with Austin. Cooper and rookie Michael Gallup have formed a successful duo for the present and future in Dallas, with Austin hoping to factor into this rotation with his own speed element.

In Austin's absence, Cornerback Jourdan Lewis has carried the ball twice on jet sweeps that went for gains of seven and five. In a small sample size of six carries, Austin was averaging just over nine yards a carry before his injury.

This disparity in "hidden yards" that the Cowboys are currently desperate for are also evident on special teams, where Dallas is 18th in average punt return yards. Cole Beasley has averaged 4.67 yards, below Austin's previous mark of 5.8 yards.

There's also Austin's 21 career fumbles through 75 games, a warning sign that expecting too much out of the Cowboys gadget under the tree (kettle?) is precisely how the Cowboys ended up with their initial lack of skill at WR.

Those days are gone, and thankfully with it are the expectations for Austin to carry any significant portion of the Cowboys offense or special teams. What Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan has in a healthy Austin is a card up his sleeve for everyone fairly doubting his play calling ability after the Cowboys were blanked by Indy.

Linehan's offense has put out some of their best outputs following lethargic performances, including a 2016 win over this week's opponent on the heels of a loss at the Giants, 10-7. With another win over the Bucs, the Cowboys can make this year's road trip to the Giants meaningless for division implications, a feat that still seems miraculous given this team's 3-5 record through nine weeks.

If the Cowboys do clinch on Sunday, don't rule out Austin being tasked with running back duties in a committee approach that allows the team to rest Ezekiel Elliott in week 17. Practice squad Running Back Darius Jackson was activated this week when Tight End Geoff Swaim was placed on IR.

Tavon Austin or not, the Cowboys were hardly a playoff caliber team with him on the field in the first six games, but are in the mix of NFC contenders with all-important room to further improve this season's biggest weakness on offense.

Along with Austin, Right Guard Zack Martin, Cornerback Anthony Brown, and Linebacker Sean Lee are the other Cowboys listed as questionable for this game. Brown and Lee suited up for the Cowboys defense last week, while Martin missed his first ever start and Austin was out for the eight straight game.

Tell us what you think about "What A Possible Tavon Austin Return Means for Cowboys Offense" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick

Jess Haynie

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Devin Smith

The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.

Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.

Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:

Jason Bernstein on Twitter

Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh

Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.

Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.

The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.

For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!



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DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class

Kevin Brady

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Breaking Down DeMarcus Lawrence's League High 5.5 Sacks Through Week 4

Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.

Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.

One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.

ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.

ig: josinaanderson on Twitter

ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t

DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.

Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.

Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.



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When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott

John Williams

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All-22 Notes: Connor Williams Stands Out in Wild Card Win

Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.

In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.

According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.

During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...

...of his offensive lineman.

During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.

As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.

It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.

With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.



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