THE COWBOYS REPORT

Dallas Cowboys midseason review

Jason Garrett and the Cowboys need a big second half. Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys enter Week 9 of the 2018 NFL season with a record of 3-4 and in third place of the NFC East.  They are one game behind the Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) and two games behind the first place Washington Redskins (5-2).

The Cowboys three wins have come at home and they have not had a record over .500 all year.  Luckily, they are coming off a bye week and they will be taking on the Tennessee Titans (3-4) at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.  

Currently, Dallas is the No. 1 defense in the league in terms of total yards allowed (2196) and points allowed (123).  Their bye week has come at a good time which has given their best defensive player Sean Lee an extra week to heal his injured hamstring although he did play against Washington.  In his absence rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch and second year linebacker Jaylon Smith have really stepped up and combined for 111 tackles and 3 sacks.  If they can keep it going along with Lee, the Cowboys defense could become elite before the end of the year.  

With the Dallas defense playing well and not allowing opposing teams to score much, the Cowboys offense has been what has held them back from winning a few other games.  Head coach Jason Garrett and the front office have made some moves since the Cowboys last played. Garrett made his first ever in season coaching change by firing offensive line coach Paul Alexander.  They have named former Cowboy offensive lineman Marc Colombo as the new OL coach; he was an assistant under Alexander.

The biggest change the Cowboys made was the acquisition of two time Pro Bowl wide receiver Amari Cooper.  Dallas traded their 2019 first-round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Cooper. Many have said that they paid too high a price for him because he hasn’t had a good season since 2016.  In reality, it’s not that bad of a trade. The Cowboys are the 30th best passing offense in the league and should instantly improve.  Cooper is a big play threat and with him on the field, it helps fill their need for a No. 1 receiver.  He is only 24 years old and has already proven he can play in the NFL. He had a 1,000 yard seasons in both 2015 and 2016.  There are no superstar receivers entering the draft next year and Dallas would probably be picking somewhere between 15 and 20.

Dallas has nine games left to play this season; five of them are currently against teams with losing records.  

Players to Watch

  1. Amari Cooper (wide receiver): Has had a little less than two weeks to get accustomed to the play book and create some chemistry with quarterback Dak Prescott.  His 2018 stats of 22 catches for 280 yards and 1 touchdown already make him the second best receiver on the team.

  2. Ezekiel Elliott (running back): It is going to be interesting to see how defenses adjust now that they can’t key on Zeke with Cooper there to stretch the field.  He should have more running lanes to hit.

  3. Sean Lee (linebacker): The defensive leader should be able to help keep pressure on the opposing quarterback Marcus Mariota who is very mobile and can run if he has to.

Coming up

Monday Night Nov. 5 at 7:15 p.m. Central time, the Cowboys will be hosting the Tennessee Titans.  This is a perfect opportunity for Dallas to get back to .500 at 4-4. Tennessee is second to last in total offense and has no offensive superstars.  The Cowboy defense should be able to capitalize on this, which in turn will allow the Dallas offense to control the ball with super star running back  Elliott and Prescott’s new weapon Cooper.

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

Cowboys:  Ezekiel Elliott (RB), Cowboys (Defense).  Only play Cooper if you have to, I am going to wait and see how they use him before starting him.

Titans:  Dion Lewis (RB), only if you have no other option.

For you gamblers out there, the Cowboys are -6.5 and the over/under is 41. That seems like a lot of points to give but if I had to play it, I would go with Cowboys -6.5 and the over of 41.   


 

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A WEEKLY REVIEW OF CRENNEL'S COACHING

Now my job: Texans feast on Lions

Photo by Getty Images.

Thanksgiving is full of tradition. There's the typical family gathering, large meal, and of course, football. Sometimes, new traditions are added and old ones are retired. I think the Texans did both in their impressive 41-25 win over the Lions in Detroit. Old traditions were carried on (Lions losing on Thanksgiving), some were put to rest (Texans not being able to get turnovers), and new ones were started (multiple passing touchdowns by Deshaun Watson in six straight games).

The fact that this defense got three turnovers in the game was unbelievable! They got all three in the first quarter within the span of eight plays. JJ Watt's pick-six was insane. He went for a batted ball, ended up catching it, and ran it in. They forced Jonathan Williams to fumble on the Lions' very next play from scrimmage and recovered it. On the Lions' next possession, the Texans recovered yet another fumble after the challenge was reversed. Great call by the coaching staff to challenge and win. The defense looked good. Tyrell Adams stood out because he was in on those two fumbles, made 17 total tackles with 14 of them being solo tackles. They also brought pressure that seemed to make Matthew Stafford very inaccurate and resulted in four sacks. I give defensive coordinator Anthony Weaver credit for knowing he needs to blitz to get pressure, but the run defense has to improve.

The offense kept the tempo up in this game as well. The spread and hurry-up were used to keep the Lions already staggered defense off balance. Knowing the Lions were without a couple defensive backs, I thought it would be the perfect marriage of their defense and the Texans' offense. A buddy asked before the game about the line (Texans -3.5) and the over/under (52.5). I told him bet the Texans and the over because neither team can play defense and both have good quarterbacks. Offensive coordinator Tim Kelly put together another good game plan and Watson executed it flawlessly. One route combo I saw later on in the game I particularly enjoyed. Two receivers were tight to the left side. Cooks ran a hook/curl and settled in the middle of the zone while Fuller ran a vertical route. Duke Johnson ran a swing route to that same side. It left Cooks wide open as the attention went to Johnson in the flat, Fuller deep, and the action to the other play side. Route combos are important because it gives the quarterback different reads as he goes through his progressions and lets him pick apart the defense based on what he sees. Combine that with Watson's play and the way Kelly has changed his play calling now that he's liberated from he who shall not be named, we're seeing a beautiful thing.

As good as things were, there's still room for improvement. The defense gives up way too many easy yards, both run and pass. They can't get pressure bringing only four and will often give up big plays if the blitz is picked up. Plus the run defense is still an issue as evidenced by the Lions' first possession of the second half. The Lions ran the ball 10 plays straight for a total of 58 yards on that drive. Utterly ridiculous! Watson was good (17/25 318 yards and four touchdowns), but he missed two more touchdowns with passes slightly off, and continues to hold onto the ball too long at times. The difference between these two issues I've presented here is the fact that Watson has so played well, his "issues" are minor and very correctable, while the defense is terrible and there's no easy fix in sight. But let Romeo Crennel and Anthony Weaver tell it, they're getting the most out of these guys and they're playing disciplined.

The thought that this team may actually creep into the playoff picture may take shape better after next week if they can beat the Colts. I doubt it, but it is getting interesting. Let's see what else happens around them because they need help getting there.

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