The Cowboys’ offensive line has been considered one of the best in the NFL for the past few years. Most of this is due to the outstanding play of Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. The problem is not that their play is declining or their talent is diminishing, but that their health may not be able to keep up.
Zack Martin left the second preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals with a knee injury. The good news is that there is no ligament damage; he was diagnosed with a hyperextended knee and bone. However, knee problems and offensive lineman have never been a good mix. Martin will not play in the last two preseason games, and aims to be back for week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.
Travis Frederick had been dealing with a ‘stinger’ since August 15th. He missed the preseason game against the Cincinnati Bengals and has had several doctor’s appointments since then. A week later, on August 22nd he was diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome, a rare autoimmune disorder that affects the nerves. The Mayo Clinic says that for most people with GBS, the condition worsens for 2 weeks after the first signs and symptoms and plateaus within a month. Recovery usually lasts 6-12 months, but could take as long as three years. Jerry Jones was optimistic that Frederick would play week 1 before the diagnosis, but now Frederick says there is no timetable for his return.
The third and best of this trio, is Tyron Smith. He has looked like his future gold jacket wearing self in the first two preseason games, and says that he is “feeling great now” and is “in the best shape I’ve been in a while”. Unfortunately, that is coming from a 6’5″ 320 pound man who had bulging disk problems in 2016, and missed several games due to back, hip, groin and knee problems in 2017. If you had to think of injuries not to have as an NFL left tackle, at least 3 of those would be in the top 5. Dak Prescott would be the first to tell you Smith’s importance to the Dallas offense, considering Dak was sacked 8 times in the first game Tyron missed due to injury last year. It should be noted that 6 of those sacks were by Adrian Clayborn, the defensive end that Smith would have been responsible for blocking.
With Cameron Fleming added through free agency there is seemingly better depth at tackle than last year. He is a swing tackle that can fill in better than Chaz Green did in 2017. Second round draft pick Connor Williams will most likely be starting at left guard opposite Zack Martin (if healthy). Joe Looney started at center in the absence of Frederick against the Bengals, and looked as if he could benefit from a few more reps in the final two preseason games. La’el Collins is holding his own at the right tackle position, and seems to be feeling more comfortable with each snap.
All in all, the Cowboys offensive line is a force to be reckoned with…if healthy. But if injuries become an issue, especially with the three All-Pro lineman, Zeke will not be saying “feed me” as much and Dak will be running for his life. Jason Garrett better be praying for a healthy offensive line in 2018, or he may be finding himself getting his resume together in January.
UPDATE: La’el Collins limping with heavily taped ankle on 8/23/18. Yup, the only healthy Cowboys offensive lineman in rookie, Connor Williams.
Cowboys Nation received an early Christmas present Sunday night as they defeated the surging Tampa Bay Buccaneers 26-20 behind Dan Bailey’s four field goals. This was a complete shift from last week’s loss to the Giants. The Offense found its legs with Ezekiel Elliott rushing for 159 yards and 1 touchdown and Dak Prescott doing his part to hush the critics with his outstanding performance going 32/36 for 279 and his own rushing touchdown. Dak looked to be having more fun throughout the game, even when he found the team down in the 3rd quarter. Prescott also did his best to silence the critic’s biggest issue with his performance completing several passes over 20 yards down the field to various receivers. The secondary’s outstanding performance from last week appeared to be lost this week. While the overall stats make the performance look like a job well done, the eye test looks completely different. The secondary continues to be exposed down field as Jameis Winston completed nearly a third of his passes for 18 yards or more.
Offensively, this was a thing of beauty. Dak looked poised and comfortable at home, using his legs when needed and spreading the ball around as the defense allowed. The result? Seven different receivers catching a pass with Dez Bryant hauling in 8 and Jason Witten 10. Dez’ strong hands made a return as well as everything that touched his hands seemed to stick. Throughout this season, that has not been the case; as Dez has had trouble hauling in catches. The offense was able spread the field and take what the defense gave them the entire night. The only blemish on the night was the continued lack of discipline collecting 8 penalties for 91 yards, one of which costed them a touchdown. As they move forward toward the playoffs, they cannot afford to make these mistakes and give points back to the opposition.
The defense had its moments and the defensive line looked fantastic. The Bucs rushed for only 52 yards and Winston was sacked 4 times, fumbled once and threw 3 interceptions. David Irving continued to be a force collecting 2 sacks and hitting Winston 5 times. While the defensive front continued to excel, the secondary continued to show its weakness. The absence of Morris Claiborne again was apparent as Winston was able to continually find his way down field. The Buccaneer offense wasn’t able to do much, but when it did, they made it count. As mentioned earlier, the stats weren’t impressive as Winston only completed 17 of 35 for 247 yards for a Passer Rating of 55.3, but when able, he found the open receiver down field. This is something that will need to improve as the opposition’s talent increases.
Overall, the team played well enough to end the longest win streak in the league and at least for now, the QB controversy is squashed. Dak is back on top and Ezekiel Elliott now holds the record for the most TDs ever by a Cowboys rookie. The Cowboys need to push on as a win this week against Detroit will clinch the NFC East and a first round bye.
Keys to the Game Scorecard:
A wise man once said, “A W is a W”. That has never been more true than right now. In what was, without question, the ugliest game of the year played by the boys in blue, they somehow figured out a way to escape with a win. Four fumbles, two were recovered by the Vikings, 10 penalties for 78 yards all seeming to come on big plays:
Dallas did everything they could to lose this game. The Vikings defense played as expected and held this offense to 264 yards. Dak Prescott finished the day 12/18 for 139 and a touchdown for a rating of 108.3. I should note that over 50 of those 139 yards came on 1 play to Dez Bryant. What kept the Cowboys mistakes from dooming them was the failures by the Minnesota special teams. Punter Jeff Locke had a miserable day, averaging only 32 yards per punt and more than one of those punts shooting backwards for a big Dallas gain. Adam Thielen lost the ball on this punt return which led to a Dez Bryant touchdown on the next play.
— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) December 2, 2016
The offense faced its toughest test of the year against this Vikings defense. The Vikes built their secondary the way the Cowboys built their Offensive line and it showed. Dez was able to capitalize on their one mistake for a massive reception that fell short of the end zone by 1 yard, but other than that one mistake, the secondary held the Dak Prescott in check.
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) December 2, 2016
Dak continued to play smart but was again taken by surprise when he was put under pressure and had the ball knocked out of his hand. If there is a knock on Dak, this is it. Perhaps it is due to the comfort generally afforded him by this offensive line. We all say how comfortable he looks in the pocket, but maybe it’s too comfortable. Dak has 4 times as many fumbles as interceptions. Sam Bradford happens to be the closest to this stat among active starting quarterbacks with 7 fumbles and 3 interceptions. Zeke had a steady game and should have broken the 100 yard mark but had a 43 yard run negated by a holding penalty, he finished the day with 20 carries for 86 yards and this TD.
— Chat Sports (@ChatSports) December 2, 2016
Defensively, the Cowboys played well. They gave up a total of 87 rushing yards and 231 passing. Bradford completed 32/45 for an average of 5.5 yards per reception, which would rank him 54th among the 59 Quarterbacks who have attempted a pass this year. This was a result of the offensive Vikings offensive line which forced Bradford to catch and shoot the entire game. The Cowboys played safe, made tackles and kept the offense in front of them, which led to 3 field goals until the last two minutes of the game when Sam Bradford looked like the former 1st overall pick and led the Vikings down the field with no timeouts to find the end zone and pull within 2 with 25 seconds left. Bradford and the Vikes went for 2 but Bradford’s pass sailed out the back of the end zone. With all the mentions of bad calls or over calls, the refs flat out missed one on this play which sealed the win for the Cowboys. The Cowboys pass rush got home and slapped Bradford in the jaw just after he released the ball, this should have resulted in a penalty and retry of the 2 pt conversion, instead, the pass is incomplete and the Vikings are forced to try an onside kick. Jason Witten recovered the onside kick and Dak kneeled the ball to end the game and the Cowboys win their 11th straight game.
For all the miscues by the Cowboys that kept the Vikings in this game, they found a way to pull this one out. The better team won, but didn’t deserve it. I’m going to chalk it up to being the 3rd game in 12 days, but A W is a W.
The Cowboys can clinch a playoff spot this weekend with a win and either a Tampa Bay or Washington loss. It all starts Thursday night in Minnesota at Sun Devil Stadium, a place where the Cowboys haven’t won a regular season game since their Super Bowl XXX run in 1995.
The Cowboys offense has yet to be hindered this season, even after taking on the league’s best. They will have to do that again this week as the Vikings defense has remained solid. Their secondary, led by former Cowboy Terrence Newman, is comprised of four 1st/2nd round draft picks and is currently ranked 4th in the league in passing yards per game. Xavier Rhodes is excelling in his 3rd year alongside this year’s second rounder Mackensie Alexander. This young group of playmakers also has the 3rd most interceptions in the league with 12. It’s safe to say the Dallas passing attack is meeting its biggest challenge to date. The Cowboys are ranked 4th in the league with 407.6 yards per game and 3rd in points per game with 28.7, whereas the Vikings are only allowing 307 ypg and 17.5 ppg. Strength vs Strength. Who’s stronger? So where can the Cowboys make their biggest impact? The running game – big surprise, I know. The Vikings are 14th in rush yards allowed per game (100.2) but allowed 153 rushing yards to Bears RB Jordan Howard back at the end of October. If the Cowboys can avoid allowing this secondary to make them one dimensional, Ezekiel Elliott should be able to move the ball well enough to secure the team’s 11th win in a row.
The Vikings offense, on the other hand, is not so well put together. Sam Bradford is throwing for 7 yards per attempt in an offense that is ranked dead last in yards per game and 24th in points per game. Bradford isn’t throwing too many interceptions (3 on the year) but that’s probably due to the fact he’s been sacked 26 times, tied for 12th most in the league. Bradford is not the QB that will burn you with his allusiveness, so getting to him and forcing him to go down is key. He is an accurate passer but will dink and dunk his way down the field instead of taking chances with the long ball. The Cowboys weakness has been it’s secondary with numerous injuries to key starters. This week, Barry Church is coming back with his cast bubble wrapped, but JJ Wilcox is set to be out with a thigh contusion. Morris Claiborne is still out with no set timetable for return, other than Jerry’s “end of season” estimation. The Vikings running game is flat out abysmal, embarrassing or whatever other term you can assign. They are averaging 2.8 yards per carry, which is dead last in the league by .6. The Cowboys run defense has been solid this season, allowing only 81.8 yards per game (3rd in the league).
This is a winnable game. Strength vs strength, weakness vs weakness. Who is stronger? Can Dak continue to protect the ball and find the open man? Will Zeke break 100 yards for the first time since November 13th? We shall see on Thursday night.
When you lose the battles of yardage, time of possession and collect 0 turnovers, you are supposed to lose. That is exactly what happened on Thanksgiving Day. Kirk Cousins threw for 449 yards (almost 100 yards more than the entire Cowboys offense) and 3 TDs for a passer rating of over 120, DeSean Jackson burnt the secondary worse than my turkey (thanks broken meat thermometer), the Redskins held on to the ball for 7 minutes longer than the Cowboys. Yet somehow, the Cowboys won that game and it wasn’t really as close as the score would lead you to believe. The Cowboys won this game thanks to the kickers, the one area of the game that the Cowboys won. Dan Bailey didn’t miss anything and Dustin Hopkins did. Two missed field goals (43 and 55 yards) in the first half which left the Redskins chasing those points the remainder of the game. They also failed to convert a 2 point conversion in the 4th quarter thanks to Sean Lee’s interception. I don’t know about the rest of you, but its games like this that remind me just how good Dan Bailey is and how bad our kicking game was before Mr. Bailey graced us with his presence.
Offensively, the Cowboys could do pretty much whatever they wanted. The Cowboys punted on 2 their 9 drives converting 4 into touchdowns and 1 into a Field Goal (46 yards). Dak Prescott ended his day completing 17 of 24 passes for 195 yards with 1 TD and a Passer Rating of 108.9. Dak completed 2 passes over 20 yards, the longest pass went to Dez in the 4th quarter for 26 yards. Ezekiel Elliott ran for only 97 yards, the second straight game he has been held to under 100. I say ‘only’ due to the fact that on the first drive alone he ran for 47. Going into this game I expected Zeke to eat to his fill but somehow, the team only rushed for 163 yards. The Cowboys were able to play nearly error free football on offense the entire game and as a result walked away with their 10th straight win.
Redskins’ rookie running back, Robert Kelley, was asked this week about the Redskins/Cowboys rivalry and he said, ‘Nobody here likes the Dallas Cowgirls’. Kelley was beat up by said ‘Cowgirls’ the entire day finishing the day with 37 yards on 14 carries for an average of 2.6 ypc and a long run of 8 yards. Kelley was obviously feeling pretty good about himself at the time of his comments as he had averaged over 100 yards over the previous 3 weeks. The Cowboys defensive line continued to hold the opponent’s run game in check while failing to get anything resembling a pass rush. Kirk Cousins was able to drop back 53 times without being sacked even once. Cousins completed 41 of those 53 passes for 449 yards, 3 TDs and no ‘official’ interceptions (Sean Lee intercepted a pass on a 2 pt conversion attempt). DeSean Jackson finished the day with 118 yards and Jordan Reed had 95 yards. The Cowboys secondary was exposed yet again allowing over 400 yards through the air for the second time in 3 weeks. Good news is, safety Barry Church is set to return to practice on Sunday ahead of Thursday’s matchup with the Minnesota Vikings.
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A lot has changed since the last time these two teams met in week 2. One team left 1-1 and the other 0-2 and they have lost a combined 1 game since. The week 2 matchup featured a Cowboys rookie backfield that was just beginning to come into its own and a Kirk Cousins that was the focal point of everyone’s laughter. The interception by Barry Church 6 yards into the end zone spelled disaster in the 4th quarter as the Cowboys drove down the field to score the game’s last touchdown to secure a 4 point lead. Just to put everyone back in the mindset after that game, here is my opening paragraph:
After the Cowboys win in Landover, one thing is for certain: the Redskins have issues. Kirk Cousins threw for 364 yards and 1 TD, but should have had 3 more easy ones as Jamison Crowder and DeSean Jackson both had breakaways well past the Cowboy secondary only to be over thrown. Redskins Running Back, Matt Jones, had a good game as well rushing for 61 yards on only 13 carries. Why Jay Gruden doesn’t run more is beyond me. Not saying Cowboys coach Jason Garrett is perfect, but he did try to be less predictable with an onside kick in the middle of the game, which caught both teams off guard when the ball didn’t travel the 10 yards required. I want to feel good about this win, I do, but watching all the blatant missed opportunities by Washington makes it difficult.
Fast forward 10 weeks and the Redskins appear to have righted the ship. All those missed opportunities aren’t missed anymore as the Redskins rank 3rd in the league in passing yards per game and 9th in scoring. Kirk Cousins has a 98.8 passer rating on the season and only 4 interceptions since week 2. The Cowboys secondary had a hard time containing DeSean Jackson and will be even more hard pressed this week without Barry Church and Morris Claiborne helping cover the talented receiving core of this Washington team. The Skins rushing attack is no slouch either, ranking 10th with 117.1 ypg. This team will score, but to win, they need to score over 24 points per game as their defense is among the bottom feeders of the league allowing 23.3 points per game.
The Redskins aren’t the only ones to have improved since week 2. The Cowboys star running back has gone from averaging 67 ypg to 121 ypg since and Dak Prescott has earned the starting quarterback job over a healthy Tony Romo. The Cowboys put up over 100 yards rushing on the top ranked Ravens rush defense last week and will look to continue that domination this week vs the 22nd ranked Redskins D.
This game will be decided by which high powered offense can beat the weaker defense the worst. The Redskins vaunted pass attack vs the injured Cowboys secondary or the Cowboys vicious running game vs a bottom feeder Redskins front 7? What the Cowboys have going is their strength also keeps their opponents strength off the field. The Cowboys need to run the ball well and punish this Redskins defense by way of numerous 7-8 minute drives in order to prevent their own weakness from being too exposed.
The Cowboys have won 9 straight for the first time in franchise history. Let that soak in… Staubach, Aikman, Romo or any of the 5 Super Bowl teams never won 9 in a row. Despite starting slow and throwing the ball more than they have at any point this season, the Cowboys took over the second half and the offensive line opened the holes needed to mount several big drives. The last 2 drives combined for over 14 minutes powered by Dak Prescott who completed 13 passes in a row that spanned the final 3 drives. Overall, Prescott completed 27 of 36 for 301 yards (second straight 300 yard game) for 3 touchdowns and 0 interceptions resulting in a Passer Rating of 127.2. Over this 9 game winning streak, Prescott has a Passer Rating of 116.4. Zeke Elliott was held to only 97 yards against the number 1 ranked run defense in the NFL who had allowed an average of 76 yards per game so far this season.
While the offense was pretty bland yet again in the first half (punting on their first 3 drives), they were able to spread the ‘sauce’ around in the second half, scoring on their final 5 drives and covering 367 of their 417 total yards over those drives. The Ravens were cocky and arrogant as they took the lead quickly and began mocking the Cowboys by throwing up the X after the Terrance West TD run in the first quarter and copying Zeke’s ‘feed me’ motion as they amassed 71 yards on the ground in their first 2 drives. Dez Bryant said after the game, those antics go unnoticed by the team who is only focused on doing their job. Regardless, the antics stopped quickly half way into the second quarter when the Cowboys began to find their groove.
As well as the Cowboys have been playing in the second halves this season, there are several areas they can improve defensively. Sunday marked the 3rd game in a row without a takeaway after stealing 9 through their first 6 games. Down the stretch, against their divisional foes, that has to change if they are going to continue this streak and secure the division. Sean Lee acknowledged this after the game, “The good part is we came back, we rallied, we played better. But we have to get turnovers. If we get turnovers and get the ball back to our offense, these games can be a little bit easier because of how well they’re playing.” Another area in which they can improve is in eliminating the big plays. The Ravens first TD drive was a result of 3 big runs of 20, 16 and 18 yards.
The Cowboys are playing very well, but with 3 of their final 6 games coming against divisional rivals in the strongest division in the NFL (.688 win pctg), it will be no easy task. The Redskins come to town on Thursday afternoon fresh off their 42-24 rout of Green Bay on Sunday Night behind Kirk Cousins’ 145.8 Passer Rating. The time to enjoy their 9th straight win is over. The quest for their 10th begins today.
The Cowboys are on a historic pace. For the first time since 1975, they have won 8 straight games. Let that sink in for a minute. Neither Tony Romo nor Troy Aikman ever won 8 in a row. This team is clicking on all cylinders and as a result, we finally have an end to the quarterback controversy. Jerry Jones said after the game that Tony Romo will be active next week…as Dak Prescott’s backup. “I think the longer (Prescott) plays like this, the more we have a chance to have another win,” Jones told reporters. “Everybody here wants to do only really one thing, is win… to be able to come out of here with a win just obliterates any thought about any of the issues that you might have as to who’s out on the field.” Controversy squashed.
Dak Prescott finished 22 of 32 for a season high 319 yards and 2 touchdowns for a passer rating of 121.7 bringing his season average to 106.2. The only 2 games he has not broken the 100 mark is game 1 against the Giants (69.4) and against the Eagles (79.8). Dak continues to keep the game moving forward at his pace. He has settled down and refuses to force the ball to any one receiver. Dez Bryant played for his dad who passed away Saturday from an “unspecified illness” and made his father proud catching 6 receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown on a 50 yard bomb from Prescott. Dez isn’t the player we have been used to seeing over his career, but he has the ability to dial it up at any moment. His hands aren’t as solid as they have been and seeing Antonio Brown on the other side further brings in to question just how ‘elite’ Dez really is. As Dak and Dez play more together, the timing will come on those fades in the end zone, but even on the 50 yard TD, he bobbled the ball for several steps before finally reeling it in. Down the stretch, Dez needs to find his hands and become the man that he was in 2014 in order for this team to make a deep push in the playoffs. Having this offensive line ‘Parting the Red Sea’ for Ezekiel Elliott helps alleviate some of the pressure as Elliott rushed for 114 yards on 21 carries resulting in 2 touchdowns as well as taking an 83 yard screen pass to the house for another. Watching this offense have their way with defensive fronts in the second half is a thing of beauty and something you don’t see anywhere else in the NFL.
This game showed the holes in the defense. Antonio Brown caught 14 of his 18 targets for 154 yards and 1 touchdown, proving that an elite receiver will get his catches regardless of coverage. Big Ben Roethlisberger was back to his Hall of Fame form completing 37 of 46 for 408 yards, 3 touchdowns and a passer rating of 125.4. The bright spot of this defense? They held Le’Veon Bell to just 57 yards on the ground on 17 carries. He did get another 77 through the air however and with Barry Church and Morris Claiborne still out for a few more weeks, look for teams to put the ball in the air even more. I will give Leon McFadden some credit, though. On the fake spike play that fooled the entire defense, it was McFadden trying to cover one of the most elite receivers in the NFL in Antonio Brown. Big Ben made a perfect throw and Brown scored, but he showed some hustle, so here’s an atta boy!
Allegiances aside, this was one of the best games, if not the best game in the NFL this season. It had 7 lead changes, 5 big plays over 30 yards and 3 touchdowns scored in the final 2 minutes. It also had a massive teaching moment for my 2 boys (ages 8 and 9), when at the end of the game I was able to show them why going for 2 after every touchdown is a bad idea and horrible strategy. Steelers coach, Mike Tomlin, failed to attempt an extra point and also failed to convert any of the 4 2 point conversions. As such, instead of trailing 35-34 and only needing a Field Goal, they were forced to score a touchdown. Not only that, but it’s anybody’s guess at how those last 2 minutes would have played out had he not tried to go for 2 on every touchdown. My oldest boy, Mason, goes for two in Madden every time and refuses to see the downside. He gets it now. Thanks Mike Tomlin!
They are who we thought they were. This game went exactly as expected. The Cowboys came out hot, scored Touchdowns and punted twice. The Browns, on the other hand, had 33 yards in the second half. This no name group of orphans on the Cowboys’ Defense continuously steps up and embraces the ‘next man up’ mentality. Even without S Barry Church and CB Morris Claiborne, the Browns only had 222 total yards and were 1-9 on third downs. As Defensive Coordinator, Rod Marinelli, would put it they were “solid, didn’t break, off the charts”. Coach is a man of many words.
Dak played solid as well, completing 21 of 27 for 247 yards and 3 TDs with a career best 141.8 passer rating. What impressed me the most about Dak was his ability to reel Dez back in after a couple of missed Pass Interference calls. Dez was fuming as he went to line back up and Dak got him to keep his cool and focus. Dez finished with only 1 catch for 19 yards, but said, “At the end of the day we got that W”.
Back in the spot light this week was the future Hall of Famer himself, Jason Witten. Witten recorded his first 100 yard game since 2013 with 8 catches, 134 yards and 1 TD. This game wasn’t flashy, in fact, the longest run was 15 yards. Exactly the game that we needed, methodical, consistent, and about 30 minutes shorter than all the other games. Get in, get out and get home with the W. Zeke only rushed for 92 yards on 18 carries, but the stats were skewed as the majority of the starters sat most of the 4th quarter. The last drive of the game took 7:48 seconds, included 2 4th down conversions and 2 QB kneels from the victory formation inside the red zone. The Cowboys eclipsed the 400 yard total offense for the 6th straight time, setting yet another record. The biggest stat of the day was Time of Possession. The Cowboys controlled the ball twice as long as their opponent (39:39-20:21) which allowed them to keep the clock running.
Defensively, Maliek Collins recorded his first 2 career sacks and after the game said he should have had a third. This team is the first “Team” we’ve seen. Nobody flashy, just a team of hard working guys who are in the right place and don’t beat themselves.
Pretty close again! The Browns converted 1 of those field goals into a TD and the Boys got all TDs. Dan Bailey was 0/0 on field goal attempts.
In a league begging for conversation topics, I was really trying hard to find something to spotlight in this game. And not because there are too few, it’s quite the opposite here in Dallas. In this Sunday Night Football matchup between league rivals, you have a 5-1 Cowboys team facing off against a 4-2 Eagles team, both of which are starting rookie quarterbacks. Add the fact that Cowboys’ long time quarterback, Tony Romo, actually practiced for the first time since training camp on Thursday and you are pretty much guaranteed to see and hear plenty about the QB debate during the national broadcast. Is this Dak’s last game? This game will tell us. If the Cowboys win by 14, Dak has a rating of 100+ and Zeke rushes for 150, it will be really hard to pull him. A Cowboys loss, on the other hand, makes it really easy for the front office and coaching staff to put Romo back in and let him get a shot at a ring. Needless to say, there are plenty of story lines leading into Sunday Night.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Cowboys will look to stop the run and force Carson Wentz to move his feet. When Wentz can hang in the pocket, he can deliver a nice pass. However, when he is forced to move while throwing, he tends to throw flat footed and rely on his arm causing the ball to sail. Last week we saw the defense rush 3 and drop 8. The Packers didn’t have a running back for most of the game, so this made sense. This week, the Eagles have two in Jordan Matthews and Darren Sproles, both of which can hurt you. That said, the Eagles are ranked 17th in the league in rushing with 111/ypg. On paper, this Eagles offense doesn’t look like a 4-2 team. Their defense, however, is a whole ‘nother story, allowing only 307/ypg (5th in the league) and 14.7 points per game (3rd in the league).
Offensively, Dak and Zeke have this team rolling and Dez Bryant is coming back. The Eagles will need to pick their poison and are going to really need to think about their choice. Their run defense is ranked 24th in the league allowing 4.5 yards per carry and their starting defensive tackle, Bennie Logan, is might not suit up. If that happens, Zeke is going to have a field day. The only way to stop this from happening is to load the box, leaving 1:1 with Dez outside. This might be the day Dak posts his first 300 yard game.
Find a way to get in the backfield: Doing this will give the running backs less room to move and force Carson Wentz to move his feet. Over the last two weeks, teams have been able to do this and Wentz has looked more like a rookie. The Offensive line isn’t as good as the Cowboys have faced in the first 6 weeks, so if there was a matchup that allowed a rush, this is it.
Run: The Eagles defense as a whole ranks in the top 5 in the league in yards per game and points allowed, however, the run defense is ranked 24th. Feed Zeke. Force the Eagles to stop him and by doing so freeing up the receivers. Zeke or Dak should have a big game, which one depends on the Eagles preference.
Get Dez started early: With Dez set to start for the first time in 4 weeks, look for him to get some early receptions in order to kick off the dust. If the Eagles decide to shut down Dez, look for Cole Beasley to have another big game.
It was all fun and games in Arlington on Sunday as the Cowboys had their way with the Bengals. Dak continued to look poised in the pocket as he managed to make it to his 3rd and 4th read at will. The offensive line had their best game yet against a defensive front 7 that is the heart and sole of a usually stout defense. We all know how much the Cowboys have sunk into this offensive line – the Bengals have done the same with their defensive front. Their best vs our best. The result? 180 yards rushing, 134 from Ezekiel Elliott, 3 rushing touchdowns, 227 yards passing and 1 passing touchdown. The low point (because you have to stay grounded) was Dak’s first turnover of the year. The offensive line gave up just 1 sack on the day which resulted in a fumble which the Bengals recovered. That turnover ended a 12 play, 57 yard and nearly 8 minute drive at the CIN 18 yard line. The Cowboys were driving and about to make it 35-0. Instead, the Bengals recovered the fumble and 10 plays later cut their deficit to 28-7.
The Cowboys didn’t give up any big plays as their secondary was firm and Bengals QB Andy Dalton found himself under pressure within 2-3 second on nearly every drop back. The Cowboys actually had a pass rush for the first time all year thanks to the return of Demarcus Lawrence. Lawrence didn’t record a sack, but came very close on two separate occasions – we’ll chalk that up to the rust factor. But his speed off the end forced Dalton out of the pocket and right into our other 3 rushers, resulting in 4 sacks. As the weeks progress, and Lawrence gets continues to get his feet back, he won’t miss those opportunities. Rest assured, if he does, the other guys bull rushing from the other side won’t. AJ Green caught half of his 8 targets for just 50 yards while Brandon LaFell caught 8 for 68 and two TDs. The Bengals couldn’t seem to to get a quick score as both scoring drives were 10+ plays and over 5 minutes. The Cowboys were giving up the short plays to eliminate the quick strikes.
Call me crazy, but this is exactly the way I like to watch my teams. Relaxed, with my feet up, blood pressure at a nice calm rate. There was never a time throughout the entire game where I was even a little worried. Dak continued to spread the ball around, Zeke busted a 60 yard touchdown run (untouched), the defense was swarming around the ball. It was utter domination beginning to end. All of this without Dez Bryant and Orlando Scandrick. Dez was sidelined another week with the hairline fracture in his leg, and Orlando rested his hamstrings another week. The offense didn’t miss a beat thanks to Terrence Williams catching all 5 of his targets for 70 yards and Jason Witten’s 3 catches and 43 yards with an absolutely beautiful stiff arm of Derron Smith:
The Cowboys will look to continue this 4 game winning streak in which they have progressed significantly each week as they head into Lambeau to face the 3-1 Packers. A win there will officially start the conversation about a certain Cowboy’s retirement. But for now, let’s enjoy this week, as it’s back to work tomorrow.
Zeke runs wild:
I had the “Zeke runs wild” part down, although I did not see this defense playing as soundly as they did, nor did I think we wouldn’t miss Dez against a reportedly solid Bengals Defense. When I am wrong, I want it to be in this way!
Zach Martin shouldn’t have to worry about who is wife will support on Sunday afternoon as her brother, Bengals TE Tyler Eifert, will be sidelined with a back injury. Unfortunately, the Cowboys will have their own problems with who suits up on Sunday. Just to name a few of the Cowboys who did not practice on Wednesday: K – Dan Bailey (back), WR – Dez Bryant (knee), RB – Lance Dunbar (knee), OT – Chaz Green (foot), DT – David Irving (Concussion), G – La’El Collins (toe, moved to IR).
There were several others who were limited participants, namely CB Orlando Scandrick and OT Tyron Smith. On a more positive side, DeMarcus Lawrence is back this week which means we could see some resemblance of a, wait for it… wait for it… PASS RUSH! For those of you who don’t remember what this is, a “Pass Rush” is typically where the Defensive End gets around the Offensive Tackle and sacks the QB within 3 seconds. The QB shouldn’t have 7 or 8 seconds to scan and re-scan the field every time he drops back.
So now that we are caught up on who is playing where, what does that mean for Sunday? Ezekiel Elliott is the NFL’s leading rusher through 4 weeks. At his current pace, he should end with over 1600 rushing yards. This Bengals team will let you run on them. They are giving up an average of 3.8 yards per carry on the ground so far this year and haven’t seen anything close to the Cowboys’ rushing attack yet. Establishing the run game early will help the Dak and the passing game. It’s still uncertain if Dez plays on Sunday, so let’s assume he’s out. Bryce Butler had a good game but didn’t really stretch the field like we’d hoped, Terrence Williams apparently didn’t learn from his week 1 goof and refused to go out of bounds before the half and Cole Beasley was contained for most of the game. Not having Dez on the field affects everyone. All the more reason for the Cowboys to continue to pound the ball and control the clock. The longer they keep the Bengals weapons in the arsenal the better.
Defensively, the Cowboys will have their first big test. AJ Green is a big play threat on every play and is averaging 14.6 yards per reception with 2 TDs. Watching Jeremy Hill run against the Dolphins (I know it’s the Dolphins) was scary. He has good feet and won’t go down if you don’t wrap up. With Orlando Scandrick questionable Sunday, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr have to shut down Green and make the other receivers beat them, which they are more than capable of doing. Giovani Bernard and Brandon LaFell can each make plays if you sleep on them. Best way to defend this Offense? Don’t let them on the field.
Cowboys: 31, Bengals: 27
Down 14 – 0 in the second quarter, I took it upon myself to do something to help the boys in blue turn it around: I promptly switched chairs. From there, the Cowboys finished the game 27-3. Coincidence? Ok, sure… It probably was. Whatever the reason, the Cowboys were a different team after the horrible start.
Dak finished the game completing 72% of his 32 attempts for a QB Rating of 114.7, 2 TDs and extended his Rookie record to 134 attempts without an interception. The other half of the rookie backfield, Ezekiel Elliott finished the day with 138 yards on 23 attempts for a whopping 6 yards per carry and 1 touchdown, becoming the NFL’s leading rusher. The offensive line didn’t miss a beat, even though they were missing Pro Bowler Tyron Smith and La’El Collins. If anything, they looked a lot more aggressive on run blocking. In my week 3 preview, I mentioned the line might be improved with Ron Leary back at his Left Tackle spot (albeit with Collins replacing Right Tackle Doug Free), however, we did not see a turnaround like this.
Defensively, Morris Claiborne has continued to dominate the secondary. With Orlando Scandrick sidelined for a second straight week, Mo has risen to the occasion making several key stops including the game winning tackle on fourth down late in the 4th quarter. The defensive line had 1 sack and not many more hurries, but did their job after they figured out how to stop Chip Kelly’s option offense with help from Sean Lee (which couldn’t have come sooner as watching a high school offense make an NFL defense look silly got annoying in a hurry). Overall, this was a solid 2. 5 quarters of defense.
I came close again in my week 4 preview. The Cowboys finished the game 24-3, but the damage was done on the 49ers’ first two drives. Cowboys cover the spread: Final Score 24-17
[ecko_wide]WINNING STREAK: A series of consecutive successes; a run of good luck. – American Heritage Dictionary[/ecko_wide]
I figured everyone could use a refresher on the definition of “winning streak” – The last time the Cowboys had one was September 20 of last year when they beat the Giants week 1 and Eagles week 2. That week 2 win was bitter sweet as Tony Romo injured his collar bone and we all know what happened next. This year is different. Yes, Tony Romo is injured again, but we have Dak Prescott under center and he is only getting better. Week by week you can see is confidence level grow. In the week 1 loss to the Giants, his passer rating was 69.4, followed by a 103.7 in his first win in Washington last week. This week? A rating of 123.6 completing 19 of 24 for 248 yards and 1 TD. Dak threw his first NFL touchdown last night in the 4th quarter when he completed a 17 yard pass over the middle to Dez Bryant. The offensive line provided a clean pocket and controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the night allowing Zeke Elliott to eat as much as he wanted as he ran for 140 yards on 30 carries. All of this while missing Pro Bowl Left Tackle Tyron Smith and losing Left Guard La’El Collins at halftime. Chaz Green filled the void at tackle and Ronald Leary stepped in at guard and the line didn’t miss a beat. Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones said, “I thought we showed our depth on the offensive line tonight.”
Defensively, the boys stepped up and didn’t let the Bears’ receivers beat them. Brian Hoyer threw for 317 yards and 2 touchdowns, however, a lot of those yards seemed to come toward the end when the secondary started playing a more prevent style coverage (65 passing yards in 1st half). The defensive line had trouble yet again getting to the QB recording only 1 sack on the night which resulted in a fumble. Hoyer had plenty of time to scan the field the majority of the night, and this Cowboy secondary held its own against the physical Bears’ receivers, even without starting CB Orlando Scandrick (2 hamstring injuries).
When the NFL schedule gurus created this Sunday Night Football matchup, the Cowboys and the Bears looked much different than they do now. Jay Cutler was the QB in Chicago and Tony Romo was the man in Dallas. Instead, we get the veteran Brian Hoyer versus the rookie, Dak Prescott. But the starting QB’s may not be the only missing pieces from the originally planned lineups. CB Orlando Scandrick (Hamstrings, has not practiced), RT Doug Free (Quadricep, Limited in Practice) and DE Jack Crawford (Shoulder, Limited in Practice) could all potentially miss Sunday night’s game. Everything coming out of the Star in Frisco says that Scandrick could take the week off. I know the Bears are win-less and playing a backup QB, but these Bears receivers are not to be taken lightly. Alshon Jeffery and Kevin White are both capable of putting up big numbers at any moment and Hoyer is a seasoned veteran who finished last season with a passer rating over 90, throwing for 19 TD’s and only 7 INT’s.
The Chicago defense has been decimated by injury with 10 players either limited or not practicing this week. This should be the week Dak gets his first and maybe second TD passes of his career. The question that could spark the most debate, however, isn’t with the rookie Prescott. Of all the position groups on this team, the offensive line has the most intriguing dilemma. With Doug Free limited in practice, Ron Leary aching for action on the sideline and La’El Collins struggling at Guard, it’s creating a perfect storm to move Collins (who’s every highlight is in the open field) over to right tackle and Leary back into his left guard spot. This could help the struggling run game significantly. Collins missed 5 blocks last week in the run game. To say he isn’t the mauler we all hoped for is an understatement. Ezekiel Elliott needs some holes this week to help him get his mind right after being benched for the first time in his life. Zeke dropped the ball twice last week after only fumbling 3 times in his entire college career. Couple this with his off the field ‘issues’ (if you can call them that), and he needs a big game this week.
Defensively, the Cowboys need to get to Hoyer and force him to make bad decisions. This has been a problem spot for the Cowboys D, which is to be expected when you are essentially rushing 4 DT’s. The two sacks this season are, of all things, coverage sacks which allowed time for the big guys up front to power their way home. Those coverage sacks might be a little harder to come by this week. If Scandrick sits, look for Byron Jones to get some action at corner alongside Carr, Claiborne and rookie Anthony Brown with JJ Wilcox and rookie Kavon Frazier getting more reps at the Safety.
Game Time: 7:30 PM on NBC
Location: AT&T Stadium, Arlington
All in all, this week is set up perfectly for the Cowboys to break that 8 game home losing streak pretty easily. Here are the keys to the game:
It wasn’t all fun and games for Dez Bryant and the Cowboys on Sunday afternoon. Actually, I think it’s safe to say that no fun was had by any athlete donning a star on their helmet. As time expired in the 20-19 loss to the New York Giants, I couldn’t help but say, “I told you so.”.
The key to this game was the Cowboys’ Defensive Line. Not the rookie QB – Not the rookie RB – The Defensive Line. The D-Line had more holes than a cheese hat from Green Bay, which allowed the Giants to rush up the middle at will. However, the game ultimately came down to a play that couldn’t have been scripted any better for Cowboy haters, as Terrance Williams made the bone-head decision to turn back towards the middle of the field rather than getting out of bounds to stop the clock with only 10 seconds remaining. With no timeouts, the Cowboys ran out of time at the Giants’ 40 yard line, which coincidentally is exactly where they needed to be for a game-winning field goal try by Dan Bailey.
As for Dak Prescott, his debut was ok. He showed poise in the pocket at times, but there were too many other times when it seemed like he was simply throwing in the general direction of his receivers and hoping for a miracle. Dak finished his debut going 25 of 45 for 227 yards with no Touchdowns, no Interceptions and an overall passer rating of 69.4. Not exactly the triple digit rating we were all hoping for, but if it wasn’t for a horrible drop by Beasley in the red zone, it would’ve have been a little better.
[ecko_pull_quote alignment=”left” source=”Ezekiel Elliott”]I think I was average, you know – average. [/ecko_pull_quote]
Ezekiel Elliott didn’t live up to expectations either, averaging just 2.4 yards on 20 carries for 51 total yards. Every time he touched the ball he was met by a wall of defenders at the line of scrimmage. After the game, Zeke acknowledged his lackluster performance, saying “I think I was average, you know – average. That’s not why I was brought here to be average, so we’ve got a lot of work to get done. A lot to work on.”. Alfred Morris seemed to have better luck finding the holes, gaining 35 yards on 7 touches (5.0 YPC). Maybe the defense played Morris a little looser, maybe not.
But the most shocking stat was Geoff Swaim having a bigger day than Dez Bryant. The 2nd string TE out of the University of Texas hauled in one pass for 21 yards while the star wide receiver was nearly X’d-out (pun intended), finishing with only 8 yards from one catch. Dez had a couple opportunities for big plays in the end zone, but failed to come down with the ball in either instance. The timing and feel between Dak and Dez will come with continued practice and they will eventually find their rhythm, but for the sake of Cowboy Nation, I sure hope it’s soon… Star CB Josh Norman awaits Dez next week in Washington.
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This time last year very few people thought the Washington Redskins had any real chance of winning the NFC East. However, they were able to prove critics wrong after starting the season 4-6. The Skins ultimately finished with 9 wins, but at one point last year it was widely believed that 7 wins would be enough to clinch the East. In other words, no one expected the division to be competitive in the slightest, and for the most part they were right. The Redskins were able to finish strong, winning 5 of their last 6 and clinching the division by 2 games, but their outlook for 2016 has not greatly improved. With Kirk Cousins at the helm, the Redskins should have a very similar year in 2016, but 8-9 wins will not be enough this year. No team has won back to back NFC East titles since the 2003 & 2004 Eagles, and that’s not going to be changing this year. The Dallas Cowboys are primed to have a rebound year and take back what was rightfully theirs in 2014.
Similar to 2015, the NFC East is not expected to be very strong in 2016 either. Let’s take a quick look around the division to see what Cowboy fans can expect.Undoubtedly, the Cowboys had the best team in the NFC East last year. Unfortunately, their best players were watching in street clothes on the sidelines for most of 2015. But if the Cowboys can keep Romo upright in 2016, they should be resting their starters as early as Week 16. I know that’s a bold statement to make after going just 4-12 last year, but don’t forget that the Cowboys were 3-1 when Romo started last year and the offense has only improved in 2016. With the addition of Ezekiel (Zeke) Elliott at RB, the Cowboys should have a top 3 offense and lead the NFL in time of possession (much like the 2014 Cowboys who were 3rd in TOP). In order for this to happen, the Cowboys’ key players will need to stay healthy and the defense will have to perform a few notches above “absolutely terrible” (mediocre will do just fine).
The Giants are entering the post-Tom Coughlin era, and there is uncertainty within the Giants organization without Coughlin running the show. However, the G-Men did beef up their secondary in the offseason, and promoted offensive coordinator, Ben McAdoo, to head coach. McAdoo’s promotion was a move to ensure Eli Manning replicates the past two seasons, where he had a combined 65 TDs and 28 Ints under McAdoo. They finished 6-10 last year, and I believe they will be slightly better by a win or two, but not much more.
On the other hand, the Eagles are moving on from the failed Chip Kelly experiment by replacing him with Doug Pederson, the Chiefs offensive coordinator. They drafted Carson Wentz with the 2nd overall pick, but don’t expect him to have any impact this year unless Sam Bradford goes down again (which is very possible). The Eagles will chalk this up to a rebuilding year with a new head coach and QB. That just leaves the Redskins!
As I noted earlier, the Redskins surprised everyone last year, but the reigning champs will have a target on their backs in 2016. Remember how the Redskins won 5 of their last 6 games in 2015? Well, their only loss in that span was to the Cowboys at Fedex Field with Matt Cassell at the helm (Yes, Matt Cassell did win a game). Keep in mind, this was the only game the Cowboys won last year without a QB named Romo. If Cassell’s Cowboys could stomp into Landover and beat the Skins last December, I think it’s safe to say the Skins will have their hands full when playing the Boys with a healthy set of triplets this year. However, with Kirk Cousins improving his game, the Redskins will be a decent team in 2016 and hover around the .500 mark.
And then there was one! This Cowboy team will win more than 10 games for one, and only one reason: The Offense. The Cowboys boast the best offensive line in football (it’s not even close). The O-Line will have to keep Romo clean and open up holes for Zeke and company, but this should not be a concern for any Cowboy fan. They legitimately have four pro bowlers on the O-line, which may be the 2nd best line in Cowboys history. They also have a top 5 WR in the league coupled with a future hall of famer in Jason Witten. Not to mention they selected the best running back in the draft, and maybe even the past few drafts with Zeke. Outside of tough road match-ups against the Packers, Steelers, and Vikings, the Cowboys’ schedule is pretty favorable. I see this team winning 10 or 11 games this year, which will be more than enough to clinch the NFC “LEast”.
It will all come down to keeping Romo healthy. If Romo stays healthy, the Boys are going to light up the scoreboard and control the game clock, minimizing the exposure to the defense. I know Romo’s health is sketchy at best; however, Romo did his part by having the Mumford procedure to prevent another clavicle injury. In short, a small portion of his collarbone was shaved to prevent grinding so it will not break when he lands on his shoulder. This procedure is not guaranteed to work, but the chances are high that it will. A Romo injury will be the only reason the Cowboys will not be hosting a playoff game in January. Rest easy Cowboys fans, this year the Cowboys’ win total will be double-digits and they will win the NFC East for the 22nd time.
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For most of us, sports is a game, but one that must be taken very, very seriously. It comforts us to know that there is a higher power, a sports god if you will, that is protecting the very sacred laws of sports. When these sports gods are on your side, you’ll do whatever you can to keep them happy. This can range from the somewhat normal (Wade Boggs eating chicken on every game day), to the obsessive (Jason Terry sleeping in the shorts of his opponents the night before every game), to the disgusting (Serena Williams not changing socks throughout an entire tournament). It’s when the sports gods are against you that things start to get weird. Jason Giambi used to wear a gold thong to get out of slumps. Seriously!? What’s worse is that when it worked, his teammates started to do it too! (hopefully using different thongs)
It’s that very special time of year where every NFL city has a bullish outlook of the upcoming season. From coast to coast, fans believe the right moves were made in the off-season and this will be the year their team finally reaches the ever-elusive championship game. Unfortunately, that optimism can sink faster than the Titanic in the cold Atlantic. The Cowboys had a tough 2015 campaign… (Clears throat) Let me try that again, the Cowboys outright sucked in 2015. Last year, a lot of bad things happened and happened quickly to ensure the Boys had their worst record since the dismal 1-15 season of 1989. In 2016, the Cowboys are banking on the 2014 formula that had them one bad-call away from an NFC Championship. To repeat 2014, the Cowboys will need their risky off-season decisions to pay dividends, coupled with a streak of good luck on the injury front. I’ve listed the top 5 concerns that should keep every Cowboys fan awake at night heading into the season.