The Cowboys Report

Cowboys collapse; Redskins up next

Dallascowboys.com

The Dallas Cowboys (7-8) came out with a disappointing performance on Sunday when they were defeated 17-9 by the Philadelphia Eagles (8-7). Dallas was lucky to only lose by one score as their offense was terrible, their defense wasn't able to stop anyone, and the coaching was even worse.

Recap

The Cowboys went three and out on their first two possessions while the Eagles quickly gained a 10-0 lead on their first two possessions.

Quarterback Dak Prescott was 25/44 for 265 and NO touchdowns. He also carried the ball one time for 7 yards and had zero turnovers. Not all of the offensive struggles can be put on Dak, as star receiver Amari Cooper didn't help much. He failed to do anything by catching four balls for 24 yards and killing fantasy players for the second week in row. Michael Gallup led the team with five catches for 98 yards and was the target on their last play of the game.

Pro Bowl running back Ezekiel Elliott was held in check. The Eagles defense only allowed him to rush for 47 yards on 13 carries, but he did have 7 catches for 37 yards. With both Dak and Zeke not being able to move the ball much, the Eagles were able to hold the ball for over 36 minutes and wear down the Dallas defense.

Dallas falls to (7-8) and now only have a 26.2% chance of winning the NFC East (according to ESPN's Football Power Index). In order for that to happen, the Cowboys have to beat the Washington Redskins (3-12) and the Philadelphia Eagles (8-7) have to lose to the New York Giants (4-11). If that happens, Dallas will win the NFC East via a tiebreaker over Philadelphia and will host a playoff game next week.

3 Things to Watch For

1.Ezekiel Elliott (Running Back): Zeke needs to come up big this week.He will be going up against the 4th worst rushing defense and I expect him to get 20+ touches for 100 yards and maybe a touchdown or 2.

2.Randall Cobb (Wide Receiver): With free agent to be Amari Cooper pulling a disappearing act over the last few weeks, it seems Cobb has become a great option for Dak over the middle of the field. He made some clutch catches in the 4th quarter last week. Let's see if he can keep up the momentum.

3.Kai Forbath (Kicker): Has now played 2 games as a Cowboy this year, and still has not missed a kick. He is now 6/6 on field goal attempts and is 5/5 on extra points. With the Dallas offense struggling, hopefully he will help keep them in the game with a few kicks.

Coming Up

Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys (7-8) will be at home taking on the Washington Redskins (3-12) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX. Kickoff is set for 3:25pm.The Cowboys need to come up with a win in order to keep their hopes of a postseason berth alive. I expect the Cowboys to ride Zeke to a victory as they keep their eye on the scoreboard of the Eagles game which also starts at 3:25pm.

If you have any fantasy leagues still going, the only must start players are:

Cowboys: Ezekiel Elliott (RB), Dak Prescott (QB), Michael Gallup (WR)

Redskins: Adrian Peterson (RB), Terry McLaurin (WR)

For you gamblers out there, the Cowboys are -11 and the over/under is 44.5.There is no way I could lay more than 10 points on Dallas with the way they just played. Washington +11 is the play here and I also lean on the over, the Redskins have been playing hard and I think they will push the Cowboys to score.

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The numbers show a concerning trend. Composite image by Brandon Strange

Michael Brantley signed a two-year, $30M deal with the Houston Astros prior to 2019 to little fanfare. The then 32 year-old was coming off of yet another injury riddled season with the Cleveland Indians, and the signing was seen as a safe gamble (if there is such a thing). Brantley would produce if healthy, but would he ever be healthy?

Brantley went on to have two of the healthiest seasons of his career, putting up big numbers for the Astros. Across two seasons, Brantley slashed .309/.370/.497 with a 134 wRC+. The Astros got the best version of Brantley, who had slashed .295/.351/.430 with a 114 wRC+ during his tenure with the Indians.

Brantley is set to hit the market once again, and the Astros face a couple of questions. One, is Brantley worth bringing back? Two, is Brantley worth a qualifying offer?

Hard Hit % - 37.3%

Barrel % - 4.9%

K % - 15%

BB % - 9.1%

Chase % - 20.1%

(All numbers from 2020)

Brantley's greatest skill is controlling the strike zone. He forces pitchers to come to him, and he's only getting better at it. His chase % was the best of his career, and it was 6% better than his 26% mark in 2019. Brantley was t-19th in MLB in chase % with Ronald Acuña Jr. and Yasmani Grandal. Brantley combines this enviable level of plate discipline with another enviable trait: he doesn't swing and miss. His 16.4% whiff % was in the 93rd percentile of MLB. By comparison, Acuña and Grandal were in the 29th and 26th percentiles respectively. Those two don't chase often because they keyhole one spot that they know they can drive. Brantley forces pitchers to come in the zone similar to those two, but he usually doesn't swing and miss when the pitchers do come to him.

However, there are some alarming trends for a hitter now well onto the wrong side of 30.

His 15% K% was the highest it's been since 2011, when he was a 24-year-old in his first full big league season. It was a 4.6% increase in K% over last season. Brantley's 16% whiff % is far and away the worst it's been in his career, and it's 5.6% worse than it was in 2019. That 5.6% is the difference between swinging-and-missing the second least in MLB and swinging-and-missing the 11th least. That's a steep drop over one season. Remember, Brantley chased pitches outside the zone the least he ever had in his career. That increase in whiff % mostly came on strikes. His contact % on strikes dropped 4.8% from 2019.

A big indicator of age is the inability to catch up with the fastball. Brantley's 13.2% whiff rate against fastballs in 2020 was the worst it's been in his career. The second worst? 7.5% back in 2011. On the surface, Brantley performed fine on fastballs in 2020. He batted .295 with a .438 SLG against them. But it gets a little uglier just one level deeper. Brantley's xBA on fastballs was .242. His xSLG was .410.

Compared to his 2019 performance against fastballs, it was quite the downturn. Brantley batted .320 against fastballs in 2019 with a .311 xBA. He slugged .501 with a xSLG of .506. Lastly, Brantley had an 89.3 average exit velocity on fastballs in 2019 compared to 87.4 in 2020. The downturn in fastball productivity is alarming.

Brantley performed great against breaking balls and offspeed pitches in 2020, but once pitchers realize that he can't stay on the fastball like he used to, Brantley will be setup for failure, not success.

Brantley doesn't run well either. His average sprint speed of 26.2 ft/s was in the 34th percentile in MLB. Brantley did perform well defensively by nearly every metric, but he was in the 39th percentile in outfielder jump. He really can't afford a downturn defensively, and with Yordan Alvarez returning as the full time DH next season, they won't have the ability to give Brantley the occasional day off his legs at DH

The qualifying offer has been set at $18.9M for the 2020 offseason. Considering Houston's lack of draft picks due to their punishment for technological sign-stealing, recouping some of that draft capital would be helpful for the club. $18.9M would represent a $3.9M raise for Brantley, which is exactly the price of not being able to bring back Brad Peacock.

It's unlikely that Brantley will regress so quickly that he'll be unplayable in 2021. He will likely be a productive ballplayer. Considering that the Astros can afford to pay the raise in salary if he accepts the qualifying offer, it is worth giving it to him. If he declines the QO, however, it isn't worth giving him a multi-year deal. There are too many signs of regression, and anything more than one year is a risk. If Brantley demands a multi-year deal, the Astros should let him walk and take the draft pick compensation.

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