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With Saints looming, let the litmus test begin

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Cowboys Blog - With Saints looming, let the litmus test begin

Cautious optimist or stubborn curmudgeon?  Half full or half empty?  Building momentum, or just teasing?

Where do you stand?  I'm still fuzzy on the whats and whys, but I’m leaning positive as I peck away right now.

Amidst a sudden urge to run and a surprising ability to play make-believe defense here and there, our Cowboys remain a mystery wrapped in an enigma inside a puzzle.

Hardly the only NFL team shrouded in questions – hello Packers, 49ers, Saints, Bears, Colts, Broncos, Ravens, Lions, and Patriots – the Cowboys seem unable to jump off the 8-8 treadmill.  I believe it’ll happen this season, but I’m not sure if they’re headed for the stairmaster or the trap door.  Something’s gotta tip this thing one direction or the other.

I think three looming games will do just that, this weekend against the Saints, and two weeks later in Seattle, wrapped around a you'd-better-win game against Houston.

No, that doesn’t mean Dallas has to beat both New Orleans and Seattle to be real.  In fact, the Cowboys don’t have to beat either, although a split would be advisable.  It's critical that Dallas belongs in both games for this season to be anything more than a dress rehearsal for 2016.

There's reason to be optimistic, and here’s why.

The best addition this off-season wasn’t Zack Martin or Rolando McClain.  It was Scott Linehan, and not just because he calls running plays.  Linehan didn’t call running plays in Detroit because the Lions weren’t that good at it, much like the Cowboys for so long.  Garrett, too, would have run more this year because, as he’s stated, it doesn’t require smoke and mirrors to do so like before.  This offensive line can block however you want now, and to either side without deception.

What Linehan brings is a tempo to his play-calling and a different look to his playbook.  Romo isn’t perched in the shotgun nearly as much, and when he is, there’s a newness and multiplicity to what develops from there.  Play-action from under center is much more of a staple, too, which is extremely effective with DeMarco Murray pounding away as he has.

Linehan also isn’t hesitant to feed a beast his food.  Much like with the aptly named Megatron, Linehan will wear Dez out with the ball if it’s there.  Forget balance and spreading the ball around.  If it’s working, do it. Can’t stop Murray?  Here he is again.  Can’t cover Dez?  Prepare for a blitzkrieg of footballs that direction.

As we go on, I hope Dunbar, Escobar, Beasley, Williams, and even Witten become a bigger part of the offense.  But first, somebody’s going to have to stop Murray and Dez because Linehan won’t stop until they do.

Yummy.

The other side of the ball remains a chemistry lab, and Rod Marinelli's juggling Bunsen burners as fast as he can.  It isn’t great, but it’s a much tastier concoction than that slime we fought through last year.

The defense needs edge rushers in the worst way, and Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Lawrence can’t get here quickly enough.  It needs consistency, and it’s obvious that coaches are growing impatient after Mo Claiborne was unceremoniously told he’s fighting with Tyler Patmon for the fourth corner spot.  I suggest J.J. Wilcox take careful notice.

Concerns flow through the linebacker corps, which is going through what the defensive line did last year with musical chairs in the M*A*S*H unit.  A healthy Rolando McClain, Justin Durant, Bruce Carter, and Kyle Wilber would calm the storm quite a bit.

Special teams continue to shine on the leg of Dan Bailey and the stylish locks of Dwayne Harris.  Where would this thing be without those guys?

So this begs for a prediction, so here goes.  I have a good feeling about Sunday night and a Cowboys win, and if that pans out, I also feel like Dallas will play well in a loss in Seattle.  An ugly game Sunday would hint of an 0-3 run, but I don't see that happening.  The key is to get to 4-2 with three home games to follow, and the season will head in the right direction from there; 3-3 doesn’t bode well going forward with a heavy road schedule waiting late.

My optimism lies in the starkly different approach of Linehan, which helps Marinelli and the defense. My pessimism comes from multiple and repetitive blind-folded kicks to the groin in recent years.  Injuries, of course, will have a mighty say in it all.

The season truly begins Sunday.   Dallas 31, New Orleans 30.



Star Blog

Was Sunday A “Wake Up Call,” Or Were Cowboys Exposed?

Kevin Brady

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Was Sunday A "Wake Up Call," Or A Flashback To Reality?

Entering last Sunday's game in Indianapolis, the Dallas Cowboys were riding high. Having won five straight games, including key victories over the top seeded Saints and division rival Eagles, everything seemed to be breaking right for the Cowboys heading into the home stretch.

Their defense was playing like one of the best in football, and after firing Paul Alexander and trading for Amari Cooper their offense was clicking just as they'd hoped. They needed (and still need) just one win to officially close out the division and clinch a home playoff game in January.

Instead, the Cowboys got absolutely demolished by the Indianapolis Colts. Of course, there's no shame in losing a road game to an 8-6 team in the NFL, but the way in which they lost certainly deserves some shame. Not even the 23-0 score can encapsulate the complete butt-kicking Dallas received at the hands of the Colts, and it was the type of loss that can sometimes make you question the blueprint.

The Cowboys, however, are not looking at it that way. Multiple leaders in the locker room have spoke this week about how they "needed" to lose like that. Running back Ezekiel Elliott called the loss embarrassing, but also said it is better for Dallas in the "grand scheme of the season."

Clearly, the leaders and coaches are calling the putrid performance a wake up call, something that will galvanize them and reset their win streak heading into the postseason. But is this really the case, or was the shutout defeat more of a sign of things to come?

Obviously it's too early to say for sure, but I do think it can be a little bit of both.

No, the Cowboys are not the class of the NFC, despite beating what can be called the best team in the same conference a couple weeks ago. There probably will prove to be some drop-off from the top 3 seeds in the conference and the Cowboys, if for no other reason than Dallas will have to go on the road to play those teams in the playoffs. It's really hard to win on the road in the NFL, especially with the increased wackiness of 2018.

The Cowboys offense is far from perfect or prolific, though if clicking they now have the skill talent to drop 30+ points any given Sunday. Their defense is talented, has a high ceiling, but is still very young and inexperienced. Though they've played elite level games before, they've also had some stinkers against the Colts and Titans during the same season.

All of this can be true. The Cowboys can be a team deserving of the playoffs, a team we should not be panicking over, but still a very flawed football team. They can be a team that if "hot" could make a run through the postseason, but also will have to answer some tough questions about coaches and players during the next two offseasons.

After all, who isn't greatly flawed in today's NFL? Hell, we just saw the beloved Rams lose two straight games.



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Star Blog

Is it Too Late For Dallas to Fire OC Scott Linehan?

Brian Martin

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Scott Linehan

Grab your pitchforks and your torches, it's time to run the Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan out of town. His playcalling has been absolutely atrocious season and it's time for him to hit the road, even if there are only two regular-season games left on the schedule.

It's completely unorthodox for an NFL team to fire an offensive coordinator this late in the season, but just last week we saw the Minnesota Vikings do just that when they parted ways with John DeFilippo. It was definitely a bold move to make considering the Vikings are still in playoff contention, but it was something they believed was in the best interest of their team.

I believe if the Dallas Cowboys want to do what's best for their team right now and not later, then they should go ahead and cut ties with Scott Linehan. His predictability and un-creativeness as a play caller is holding back a talented offense, which is hurting the overall team as a result. He's been given every opportunity to turn things around, but enough is enough.

I'd personally be on board with Jason Garrett taking over the playcalling duties. He has the experience and held the position with the Cowboys from 2007 until Linehan was hired. I'd even consider giving Kellen Moore a shot as the OC. He knows the system and has worked closely with Quarterback Dak Prescott. Regardless, the Cowboys need to find some way to increase their offensive productivity.

Kellen Moore

Dallas Cowboys QB Coach Kellen Moore

Right now the Cowboys offense is the 26th scoring offense in the NFL and are averaging just 19.7 points per game. To make matters worse they are the 31st ranked Red Zone offense in the league. I don't know about you, but I think that is completely unacceptable with the talent they have on the offensive side of the ball.

Firing Linehan has been a long time coming. The Cowboys flirted with the idea earlier this season during the bye week and should've pulled the trigger then, but for some reason or another decided to let him stick around. They are definitely still paying for that mistake now.

The Cowboys mistake not to replace Linehan could mean yet another early exit in the playoffs, something we have unfortunately become accustomed to. Scoring just 19 points a game isn't going to get them very far, which is truly unfortunate considering the talent they've acquired this season.

Unfortunately, as much as we would love to see Scott Linehan tarred and feathered and run out of town, I just don't see the Cowboys doing that before their season is officially over. But, in no way should he be allowed to retain his position beyond this season. He clearly isn't the answer any longer.

Do you think the Dallas Cowboys should fire Scott Linehan?



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Star Blog

Despite Embarrassing Showing, Health Remains Biggest Cowboys Concern

Kevin Brady

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Zack Martin

What is it about the AFC South with these Dallas Cowboys?

Dallas' five game winning streak came to a close on Sunday, as they got straight-up embarrassed by the now 8-6 Indianapolis Colts on the road. The loss was the first since the Cowboys were embarrassed by a different AFC South competitor, the Tennessee Titans, on Monday night football earlier this season.

Though the final was 23-0, and not a single phase (or really even a single player) showed much fight or promise, the biggest concern I have for the Cowboys moving forward didn't change because of the putrid performance. It didn't change because the defense was gashed play after play or the offense failed to finish a single drive. And it didn't even change because both the Redskins and Eagles secured season-saving victories on the same day Dallas was dismantled.

The biggest concern is still their health, particularly across the offensive line.

That was not a playoff caliber interior offensive line the Cowboys put out their on Sunday. Not even close.

With their backup center in Joe Looney, backup guard in Connor Williams, and the very last interior offensive linemen on their roster in Adam Redmond playing for basically the entire game, this offense never had a chance. Dak Prescott wasn't any more inaccurate or indecisive than normal, but all those who like to scream "step up in the pocket" whenever he is sacked did not seem to have an argument this week.

There often was no pocket to step into, as those interior three, specifically Looney and Redmond, failed to provide much protection or confidence for Prescott at all. Joe Looney has actually been rather solid this season, but Sunday felt like one of his worst games of the entire year.

The Cowboys absolutely need Zack Martin to get healthy if they are to make any noise whatsoever in the postseason. At the very least, the need Xavier Su'a-Filo to come back and replace Redmond, and regain the form he displayed during his debut against the Eagles back in November.

Prescott already has issues with his pocket presence and footwork when pressured, so throwing three backup-level linemen right in front of him is not a recipe for success for the Cowboys.

I'm not jumping out of the window over this loss, and I don't think any of you should be either. Dallas had won three straight incredibly emotional and important home games to extend, save, and solidify their season respectively before this loss. They had also just about clinched the NFC East a week ago with their win over Philadelphia, and they played like a team that was due a flat performance

A letdown loss on the road, against a good team I might add, is not the end of the world. The bigger issue here is their health, because if Martin can return to anchor this offensive line, the offense should look a whole lot better than they did against Indianapolis.

It's time to move on from Sunday, go beat Tampa Bay, officially clinch the division, and get ready for Wild Card Weekend.



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