The Cleveland Browns and the San Francisco 49ers. Those were the only two teams worse in red zone efficiency than the Dallas Cowboys in 2015.
Despite that great, powerful offensive line and the NFL's fourth leading rusher the Cowboys struggled mightily in red zone and short yardage situations. As a team the Cowboys fell from just about 65% in red zone efficiency in 2014 all the way down to 44.44% in 2015. Of course, the absence of Tony Romo put a huge dent into this number, but it could be argued that Dez Bryant's injury handcuffed this offense in the red zone even more than Romo's did at times.
Without Bryant, the Cowboys lacked any type of long receiving threat who could go up and get the ball at it's highest point and bring it down for a touchdown.
I don't want to overreact to one inter-squad scrimmage and a week of training camp, but so far, undrafted free agent wide receiver Andy Jones looks to be that missing threat.
While he is listed at 6'2", the former Jacksonville State receiver plays much longer than that on the field. Andy Jones has even already gained the trust of just about the most important player to the future of his career, quarterback Tony Romo. According to Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com, Romo already has so much confidence in Jones' ability that he is "not afraid to throw him the ball in any situation."
Wow. That's a lot to say about an undrafted rookie free agent.
When the lights turned on yesterday for the Cowboys blue/white scrimmage and fans packed the house or streamed eagerly on their computers, Jones continued to prove why he deserves a spot on this team.
I see you, Dak. Play action fake, finds Andy Jones. https://t.co/k6hQvw0SOw
While it is hard to see his entire route from this angle, you can see Jones go up, extend his arms, and catch the ball while knowing that the defensive back was just waiting to deliver a blow. Then, he toe-taps in for a reception.
Showers to Andy Jones https://t.co/ILmFr9Ysky
We get a bit of a better angle on this play, and we can watch the entirety of Jones' route. He comes off the ball with a purpose, making the defensive back believe that he is running straight up the field. Then, he is able to quickly change directions and cut inside, creating separation and making the play.
There were also multiple occasions that I saw Jones be physical at the line of scrimmage with corners, helping him to win on those quick hitting routes. Much more physical, I might add, than any receiver on this roster not-named Bryant has shown us before.
Dak finds Andy Jones in 7v7 https://t.co/gHKUPuIlOY
Here is yet another example of Jones not being afraid to go over the middle, get up and make the play. Yes, it's just 7 on 7 and you can tell that no defensive back is going to come up and really drill him, but you can still clearly see the ability that Jones seems to possess.
There seems to be a logjam at the wide receiver position in Dallas, as five guys- Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, and Lucky Whitehead- are all already expected to make the final roster. But it is becoming more and more obvious that undrafted free agent Andy Jones is going to make it very difficult for the Cowboys staff to let him go. Even if that means keeping six wide-outs, or letting one of those aforementioned five go.
Andy Jones will be on an NFL roster this fall, and I sincerely hope it is this one in Dallas.
(Here's one last great Andy Jones catch for good measure)
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
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:
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!
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
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.
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.
When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott
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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