LAST year… the Cowboys went 5 – 1 in the division, and 10 – 6 overall to win the NFC East. This was due to riding a top 10 defensive unit, which allowed just 20.2 points against per game, (6th), and held opponents to 329.2 yards per game (7th). A midseason trade to open up the offense, helped the team increase it’s scoring from 20.0 points per game (Weeks 1 – 6) , to 22.1 points per game (Weeks 9 – 17). That scoring jump helped them finish 22nd in scoring (21.2 points per game) for the year. They won a Wild Card playoff game against the Seahawks, before falling to the Rams in the Divisional
That was last year. Keeping in mind that though the Draft will change some of this, the following is a report on how the team looks today, prior to the NFL Draft….
Dak Prescott is good for 28 touchdowns per year (22 passing, 6 rushing). Look it up. You can practically set your watch by the regularity with which he hits those very numbers. After trading a 1st round pick to acquire a new weapon in mid-2018, Prescott saw his QBR go up, his yards per game went up, and his completion percentage went up. The team’s win percentage also went up. Prescott is backed up by Preseason Hall of Famer, Cooper Rush. What’s not to love?! (+)
In 2018 Ezekiel Elliott logged 381 touches, for 2,001 yards from scrimmage. He caught a career-high 77 passes for a career-high 567 yards, and a career-high 3 touchdown receptions, which equaled his previous career total . In fact, the 77 passes he caught, eclipsed his previous career total of 58. Expect another high usage year out of him. Especially with a contract year coming up!
There is currently no back-up on the roster of any significance, should Elliott miss any time. In fact, the QB was the second leading rusher on this team last year, with 305 yards, and he also had the second-most carries with 75. But depth is the sort of worry that other teams have. Depth isn’t an issue so long as Elliott is healthy. What’s not to love?! (+)
Amari Cooper came over via a Week 7 trade for a first round Draft pick in 2019. Cooper quickly became the focal point of the team’s passing attack. While his stats weren’t great in four of his first nine games with the team, they were his first nine games with the team. In 2019 he’ll have an entire training camp to better absorb the new offense. His biggest contribution however, is in forcing teams to take a Safety out of the box, which opens up the run game.
As far as other receivers, there isn’t much on paper. Given his youth, Michael Gallup seems to have the most upside. The further Allen Hurns gets from 2015, the more he looks like a one year wonder. Once again he shit the bed in 2018, with 7 starts but only posting 295 yards and 2 scores.
Tavon Austin will operate in the Slot now. While he’s been a talent tease since he became a pro, his brief time with this team looks different than anything else in his career. As a Ram for five seasons (2013 – 2017) he averaged 8.7 yards per reception. However, with this team in 2018, he averaged 17.5, though it was on a small sample size of just 8 catches.
So Austin is about to get a new lease on- Wait. No. Randall Cobb will be the Slot guy! Almost forgot all about Cobb. Which means that Austin will… Awww shit. Sorry dude! So Cobb will do here, what he was doing in Green Bay over these last few years. By which I mean, he’ll be proving to everyone that he peaked in 2014. Looking at how old his game is, it’s hard to remember sometimes that Cobb is only 28 years old. Noah Brown is a good blocker, and averages almost 10 yards per catch, over the course of his career. What’s not to love?! (+)
Jason Witten unretired! Yayyyy! And he did it in the same abrupt style, in which he decided to retire during the 2018 NFL Draft! Wahooo! In fact, his retirement was so abrupt, that the last one of these that I did, he was still in. For the good of We The People, the team lured Witten out of the broadcast booth. For the good of this part of their team, they lured him back onto the gridiron.
Every gamble this team has made on young players at this position, has blown up in their face, so the team hopes it can wring one more season out of Witten.
Even if it matches his 2017 season of (63 – 560 – 8.9 – 5), it will still be comparable to what all three players at this position, (all of whom are grown men, who want be, and expect to be taken seriously), produced last year (56 – 594 – 10.6 – 4). The best part? Two of those three players are STILL on this roster! Did I mention that 2017 is considered to be Witten’s worst year? Wow! What’s not to love?! (+)
So let’s start with the results. In 2016 this line allowed 28 sacks. In 2017 they allowed 32. (That’s 60 in two years.) In 2018, this mostly healthy line, allowed 56 sacks. That’s passing. What about rushing? In 2016 they ran for 2,396 yards and 4.80 per carry. In 2017 it was 2,170 for a 4.52 average. In 2018 the total was 1,963 and 4.47. Passing or rushing, these are all downward trends, which indicate a line that is becoming easier to defeat. Not easy, but definitely easier.
In 2018 OT La’el Collins and C Joe Looney both played and started 16 games. G Zack Martin 14, OT Tyron Smith 13, rookie G Connor Williams played 13, but started 10. As the NFL goes, that’s a really healthy o-line. Missing all of last season with Guillain-Barré Syndrome (an autoimmune disease) was C Travis Frederick. (He also had shoulder surgery this past January.) While his loss was significant, it’s not as if he was replaced by a novice, or like losing him occurred in Week 7 or 8.
The good news is that Frederick received treatment and is on the mend. He’s already working out at the team’s facilities. So this unit should return everyone, with Frederick being a hopeful upgrade over Looney. However, after a year of autoimmune therapy for an incurable disease, compounded by shoulder woes, it’s unreasonable to immediately expect Frederick to pick up at the level that he last played at.
On one hand, 1,900 rushing yards and a 4.47 yard per carry average, are numbers that every other team in the division would have loved to have. On the other hand, in 2018 the 56 sacks allowed were second worst in the NFL, and only 6 teams allowed more hits (107) on their QB. (None of those 6 were division rivals.) If protecting the QB counts, then this unit is in need of an overhaul. If we’re just going off of rushing numbers, and past Pro Bowl nods, then what’s not to love? (+)
In a nutshell:
This unit is a lot like a case of Legos in 1983. It looks like wow, a lot of great pieces! At first glance. Doors! Windows! Shutters! Little wheels, big wheels, skinny flats, and even some single-dot pieces! But a closer look reveals no hinges, no completely-flat tops, no rounded single-dot pieces, no four-dot rotating disks! It has lots of parts, but it lacks the little things that tie everything together, and make something mundane, into something amazing.
This offense lacks the little things. It lacks finesse, depth and everywhere you look, it seems that the talent is already maxed out. Prescott is almost clockwork with what he delivers, year in and year out. Elliott will put up 2,000 more hard-earned yards this year. Cooper will loosen things up enough for it all to work. The parts have and will operate, but they’ve never transcended, because there’s been no maestro to tie it all together.
They are unlikely to find that maestro in 2019. The team promoted last years QB coach, Kellen Moore, to offensive coordinator, with just last year as his only coaching experience. They also hired Jon Kitna, to be Prescott’s new QB coach, right off of 7 years of coaching high school. No pro or college coaching experience. Just high school.
It’s impossible to call this a bad or talent-poor offense. What it is, is an offense with a lot of loose ends, and no established vision. Given that the o-line is steadily getting worse, and trying to improve on the back of a man who will never be fully healthy again, it’s almost rotting from the inside, out. They have players, but they don’t have an offense yet. (-)
DeMarcus Lawrence signed a long-term deal.
With that off of his mind, he should be able to focus on playing. Now, instead of being insurance in case Lawrence didn’t sign, Robert Quinn can be the other bookend, and a force multiplier vs the pass. Taco Charleton started the first 7 games last year, and earned himself a seat on the bench in the process. However, until Randy Gregory weeds out his indefinite suspension, Charleton may find a shot at redemption. Tyrone Crawford offers the versatility to kick inside on pass rush downs. (+)
Antwuan Woods and Maliek Collins more or less space-eaters that occupy blocks to allow other players to make stops. The team was banking on David Irving to develop into their interior pass rush threat, but that plan has gone up in smoke. This position is a clear weak spot, and the sort of defensive hole that teams invest a first round pick into repairing. (-)
In his rookie season, Leighton Vander Esch led his team with 140 tackles, picked off 2 passes, and edged Sean Lee out of his starting job. By the way, 102 of those stops were solos. Let me say that again. A rookie picked up 102 solo tackles, playing on the outside. This guy is a problem. With that being the case, a huge 2019 season is expected of him.
Lee missed 9 of 16 games last year, but was re-worked his deal to avoid becoming a cap casualty. Since moving to the outside, he’s become a shadow of the force he used to be on the inside. Now he’s a liability in coverage, and offers no value as a pass rusher. There are other bodies here, but no one who would be considered a lock to make the roster. (+)
Jaylon Smith makes stops, gets to the passer, and defends in space. He has the full toolkit to be the man in the middle. Joe Thomas is the back-up who you’ll never see. His game and his name makes it seem like he’s in the Witness Protection Program. (+)
The thinking is that newly signed George Iloka is an upgrade over incumbent SS Jeff Heath, but Iloka’s track record tells a different story. While Heath has played his way into starting, Iloka has played his way onto two different teams and onto the last team’s bench. Heath also appears to have better hands and faster feet, but unfortunately, he isn’t 6’4” like Iloka. Who at this point, is more of an “in the box” type.
Xavier Woods is a 6th round pick who made the team take notice of him. He’s a FS who makes a point of getting his fingerprints on the football. Kavon Frazier started the first 2 games of 2018. He started off strong, but petered out, finding it difficult to make an impact on a game if he wasn’t starting in it.
There’s a good mix of youth and experience here, the question is who starts at the Strong spot, and are they an asset or liability in beyond intermediate coverage. Then again, even if Heath starts with Woods, this defense was 13th vs the pass in 2018. (+)
Chidobe Awuzie, and Byron Jones aren’t ball-hawks (4 total interceptions in 2 years), but they do get fingers on the football. Anthony Brown (3 picks in 2 years) is the Nickel, who chips in on blitzes. Jourdan Lewis (2 pick, 2 years) who has some career starts, provides depth and experience.
In the last two years, the four top players at this position, have intercepted a grand total of NINE passes. That explains why their tackle and passes defensed numbers are so high, since they are frequently targeted, by opposing passers. While no one fears this grouping they have played together for two years and will provide a consistent result that the defensive coaching staff can build off of. (+)
In a nutshell:
Lawrence, Quinn, Esch, and Smith give this team enough ammo to disrupt pretty much any blocking scheme. That is, if the interior d-line holds up. The secondary isn’t great, but they understand their roles and the concept that they play. Or have played. Surely there will be some changes made by incoming secondary coach Kris Richard. Time will only tell if he improves the secondary, or over-reaches and exposes them. However, until then, this is still a top 10 unit. (+)
Chris Jones didn’t have a good 2018. Of his 60 punts, 30 were returned for 254 yards (8.4 yards per). His net was just 39.6 yards per punt, and fewer than a third of them (17), were down inside the 20, or fair caught (16). He’s not exactly an asset. (-)
Brett Maher’s rookie season featured an accuracy mark of 80.6%. Not great. When working from 50+, he was money in the bank, making 6 of 7 (85.7%). Working 40-49 yards out, his accuracy fell precipitously to 63.6% (7 of 11), and 30-39 wasn’t great either at 75% (6 of 8). His kickoffs are also…not great? His placement isn’t coinciding with the arrival of his coverage team, and thus the unit allowed an average of 26.5 yards per kickoff return. (-)
WR Tavon Austin returned 10 punts for 58 yards, with a long of 22 yards. The team as a whole, through SIXTEEN games, returned 13 kickoffs for all of 283 yards, with an average of 21.8 yards per. Naturally none of those resulted in scores. (-)
In a nutshell:
This unit does no favors for either the offense or the defense. It as to be wondered how many games per year this unit is costing the team. (-)
There is talent all over this roster, but no one seems to know how to tie it all together. Worse yet, they’re about to hand the reigns of their most talented unit (the offense), over to two coaches green enough to be mistaken for broccoli. On their sheer talent, and the goofy mismanagement of half the division, Dallas should be able to muster at least 8 wins, in 2019