THE COWBOYS REPORT

Cowboys defense dominates the Jags in Big D; Redskins next

Dak Prescott had a big game. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys cruised to an easy 40-7 victory on Sunday over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Cowboys looked like a completely different team from the one that showed up in Houston last week.  The offense was crisp, the play calling was excellent, and the defense didn’t allow Jacksonville to get anything going offensively.   

The Dallas defense was GREAT. They caused two turnovers (one interception and one fumble), only allowed 10 first downs, and had three sacks.  The front seven kept constant pressure on quarterback Blake Bortles and never let up. Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith look like they are the ones who will be picking up the slack with the absence of the injured Sean Lee.  They combined for 18 tackles, 13 of them were for a loss.

The Cowboys offense was also clicking on all cylinders and it began on their first offensive play of the game.  Head Coach Jason Garrett started the game off with a bootleg, where Dak Prescott faked a handoff to Ezekiel Elliott, rolled out and hit a wide open Geoff Swaim for an 11 yard gain.  Dallas went on to score on its first four possessions. Throughout the game, Garrett mixed in lots of play action passes as well as taking deep shots down the field to receivers like Cole Beasley and Michael Gallup.  Dallas also ran a few option plays where Prescott was able to break free and get some yards with his legs.

Dak Prescott was 17 of 27 for 183 yards, two touchdowns, and NO interceptions.  He also ran 11 times for 82 yards and another touchdown. A Cowboy receiver finally showed and helped Prescott out in the passing game. Cole Beasely caught nine balls for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns.  No other pass catcher caught more than two. He seemed to always be open somewhere down the field and Dak always got him the ball.

With the defense locked in on Elliott, Dallas let Prescott get at the Jaguar defense through the air and once they had a good lead, they leaned on Elliott to seal the game.  Ezekiel Elliott had 24 carries for 106 yards and a touchdown.

The win moved Dallas to 3-3 on the season and keeps them one game behind the division leading Washington Redskins.

3 Players to Watch

  1. Dak Prescott (quarterback): Dak is going to be a major factor this week as Washington has a good defense and will have to make plays down the field to help back the defense off the line to help create space for Elliott to get free.

  2. Cole Beasley (Wide Receiver): Looks like he has become Prescott’s No. 1 go-to receiver and needs to build last week’s success and leads the team in catches, receiving yards, and receiving touchdowns.  

  3. Leighton Vander Esch (Linebacker): Has filled in nicely for an injured Sean Lee and has become the team’s leading tackler.  He helps keep consistent pressure on the opposing offense and helps create opportunities for other players like Jaylon Smith to make plays in the backfield.

Coming Up (Week 7)

Sunday afternoon the Dallas Cowboys will be in our nation’s capital taking on the Washington Redskins at 3:25 pm Central time.   

This NFC East battle is very interesting as the Cowboys have a chance to move into a tie for first place in the division with a win.  The Redskins are coming into the contest off a win over the Carolina Panthers and look like they have found a reliable running game with Adrian Peterson in the backfield.  The Cowboys defense is going to have to play another great game to keep him corralled. Luckily for Dallas, the Redskins have a lot of injuries on their receiving group and that should allow the front seven to keep the pressure on Washington.   As for the Dallas offense, they are going to need to click on all cylinders again because Washington is the No. 2 defense in yards allowed this season.

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

Cowboys:  Ezekiel Elliott (RB)

Redskins:  Adrian Peterson (RB), Jordan Reed (TE)

For you gamblers out there, the current line is Dallas +1.5 with an over/under of 41.5.  If you think Dallas is going to win, bet the Cowboys. I am probably going to stay away from it and take the under seeing how both defenses are playing well.  



 

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Here's what to make of the Rockets free agency moves. Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

No NBA team with title aspirations entered the offseason with more questions than the Houston Rockets. Ironically, Houston's situation got more precarious as the offseason went along. From head coach Mike D'Antoni walking away after the season to general manager Daryl Morey following suit shortly after that, the Rockets have been a sinking ship in desperate need of stability. They found some of that once new head coach Stephen Silas was hired, but the boat took on more water when star players James Harden and Russell Westbrook demanded to be traded a couple of weeks later.

It's been a giant roller coaster and it was unclear how Houston would approach their free agency. Would they double down on contending for a championship to try and convince their star players to stay or would they be forced to rebuild?

It looks like Houston tried to thread the needle and accomplish both: They appear ready to rebuild if they can't convince James Harden to stay, but also addressed roster needs and acquired better fitting pieces for their stars. It's hard to say whether or not they got better, but they're certainly a lot younger and look to play a lot different. Let's take a look at each player and how they fit into the framework.

Christian Wood

Contract:

3 years, $41 million

Grade:

B+

If there's a signing that embodies Houston's offseason, it's Christian Wood. For obvious reasons and some subtle ones, Wood is the exact kind of player Houston had to acquire this summer. Let's start with the obvious: Wood is the perfect player to have alongside both James Harden and Russell Westbrook because of his unique set of skills. Wood can hit threes at a high clip for someone his size (36.8% for his career) and stretches the floor for the moments you want Russell Westbrook barreling to the rim or James Harden trying to break a trap.

Lob threat

The Rockets didn't have a big man with that capability on the roster last year, so they had to resort to trading for Robert Covington and going small so they could properly space the floor. However, in doing that the Rockets lost their best lob threat and limited themselves on offense even further. This is where Wood solves the second problem: He may not be as good of a lob threat as Clint Capela, but he's damn close.

Over the past few years, the Rockets have slowly phased out pick and roll out of their offense and resorted to isolation. Part of it is because of how teams have defended the pick and roll, but part of it is also them not having the option anymore. James Harden is too good of a pick and roll ball handler for it to not be a part of the Rockets' attack. Adding more pick and roll to Houston's offense should be a priority next season, regardless of what else Silas decides to do.

Clint Capela was the perfect center for James Harden. P.J. Tucker was the perfect center for Russell Westbrook. Christian Wood is the perfect center for both.

Defensive rebounding

Another weakness Houston needed to address this offseason was their defensive rebounding (26th in NBA last season). It got to the point where it was a rarity that Houston would win the rebounding battle against good teams. This was partly by design and partly because of roster weakness. Houston was so porous at rebounding in the beginning of the season, they decided to emphasize turning over opponents to even the possession battle. If Houston were to even marginally improve in defensive rebounding, it could have a drastic positive impact on their defense.

Per 36 minutes:

22.0 PPG

10.6 RPG

1.5 BPG

65.9% True Shooting

Houston also replenished their coffers in the process of acquiring Wood. By flipping Robert Covington to the Blazers, the Rockets netted two draft picks back after losing two the prior offseason in the Westbrook trade. It may not matter in the grand scheme of next season, but these assets could be especially useful if Houston pivots to a rebuild. They could also be useful to upgrade the roster at the trade deadline if Houston gets Harden's buy-in. (As an aside, the series of transactions that led to Wood are impressive and reflect well on new GM Rafael Stone's ability to get deals done.)

The subtle reason Wood embodies their offseason is his age, 25 years old. Wood would immediately become the youngest starter on the team and be a building block piece on the next iteration of the Rockets. He's also old enough to make an immediate impact should Houston acquire a ready-made blue chip prospect in a James Harden trade. With the 76ers rumored to be a team interested in Harden's services, it probably isn't a coincidence that Ben Simmons (24 years old) falls neatly into Wood's age group. It also probably isn't a coincidence that the ideal team for Simmons has always been imagined to be a team that can spread the floor at the four other positions on the court. Having Wood is great start to try and accomplish that.

David Nwaba, Sterling Brown, and Jae'Sean Tate

Contracts:

Negligible

Grade:

B-

Nwaba, Brown, and Tate are all being placed in one category because it's quite clear what the Rockets are trying to accomplish: Take bets on young, cheap wings on the market and hope one pans out enough to make the final rotation for Stephen Silas.

While David Nwaba technically wasn't signed this offseason, he's essentially a free agency signing because the Rockets signed him up a few months ago with the knowledge he wouldn't be able to play in the first year of his deal. He's the oldest of this group (27 years old), has the largest wingspan (7'0"), and has logged the most NBA minutes (3295). Because of all this, he's probably the safest bet to make Houston's final rotation. However, just because he's the 'safest bet' doesn't mean he's a 'safe bet' per se.

Nwaba suffered a season-ending achilles injury on December 9th of last season and has spent the past year rehabbing. It's unclear how he will respond from this, but before the injury, Nwaba had found a nice role in Brooklyn as a combo forward who could shoot well enough from beyond the perimeter (34.4% for his career). The Rockets have desperately needed competent perimeter defenders off the bench since their 2017-18 campaign and a healthy Nwaba was just that.

Sterling Brown, 24, found his way on the fringes of the Bucks' rotation the past few seasons and gained the trust of head coach Mike Budenholzer enough to play nearly 15 minutes a game. Brown is a pesky defender and average three-point shooter (34.5% for his career) and like the other wings in this category, he doesn't need the ball. He's probably the second most proven wing here and if he cracks the rotation, it's unlikely he will have to play more than he did in Milwaukee.

Jae'Sean Tate, 25, is probably the most intriguing prospect of this bunch as he's never played in the NBA before. Tate played under new Rockets assistant coach Will Weaver on the Sidney Kings and averaged 16.4 points, 5.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists on 66.0% shooting from the field last season while earning first-team All-NBL honors. He's 6'4" with a 6'8" wingspan and was considered to be one of the top basketball prospects outside the NBA before signing with Houston. The Rockets appear to be quite high on him considering they used part of their mid-level exception to sign him to a three-year deal.

The Rockets already have much of their rotation locked in:

James Harden and Russell Westbrook will likely play at least 35 minutes a piece, P.J. Tucker will probably play around 32 minutes, and finally Danuel House and Christian Wood will likely play around 30 minutes each. That leaves 78 minutes for a bench that already has Eric Gordon and Ben McLemore. Also, Houston will probably sign another center before the season starts. Now, the Rockets may try to ease the load off of some of their older starters, in which case there might be more time available. However, whatever way you slice it, they really only need one of these wings to crack the rotation for regular season purposes.

It's unlikely all three signings end up backfiring for them, but we'll see. Stranger things have happened.

It's also convenient that all three of these players are 27 years or younger should the Rockets decide to trade Harden at the trade deadline. Like Wood, these signings give Houston the option to pivot in another direction. Because of Houston's lack of room under the apron, they didn't have the option to use their full mid-level or bi-annual exception. Ring-chaser types also weren't going to sign with the Rockets for the minimum given the uncertainty surrounding their stars. This was a nice way for Houston to hedge their bets while also filling out the roster with possible contributors.

The Rockets aren't done making moves yet, but they're close. Understanding the circumstances, it's hard to be too critical of what they did in free agency.

Overall Grade: B

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