The Cowboys Report

Trouble in Big D? Offensive line takes some hits

Dak Prescott should see lots of action this week. Christian Petersen/Getty Images

With the start of the NFL season only a few weeks away, are the Cowboys already in trouble?  At this point in time they are down two great offensive linemen. Last week Pro Bowl Right Guard Zach Martin left the game vs. Cincinnati with a left knee injury and early Thursday morning it was announced that Pro Bowl Center Travis Frederick is out indefinitely with Guillain-Barre Syndrome.   This is a rare auto immune disorder that attacks the body’s nerves and causes muscle weakness and has to timetable. Along with the departures of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, this only adds to the question of “What is the Cowboys offense going to look like this year?”

Logically Jason Garrett and his staff would look to lean heavily on their young stud running back Ezekiel Elliott.  This will probably mean Elliott getting over 400 touches this season which relies on having a healthy O-Line. Luckily, starting QB Dak Prescott and the first team offense have looked good the first two preseason games.  Prescott has gone 13-of-18 for 125 yards, two touchdowns and NO interceptions. On the four drives he has had, they have scored three times. The most notable was a 30 yard TD pass to rookie wide receiver Michael Gallup.

Even with the Cowboys starting 0-2, things might not be so bad if Prescott can bounce back to his 2016 form where he threw for over 3,000 yards, 23 TDs, and only 4 INTs.  This would be a tremendous benefit to both Elliott and the O-Line by keeping the defense honest and not stacking the line of scrimmage.

3 Players to Watch

  1. Joe Looney, Cowboys starting Center due Frederick’s illness.  Looney is a 2012 4th round pick out of Wake Forest.  He is 6’3 and weighs over 300 lbs. but has only started three games in the last two years.  It will be good to see how he fits in with the first team offense.

  2. Tyree Robinson (Undrafted Free agent), who is fighting for a spot on the 53-man roster but has a great opportunity because the Cowboys also have multiple injuries to their secondary (starting safety Xavier Woods and backup Jameill Showers).  He is a 6’3 slender defensive back who put up decent college stats at the University of Oregon. He has the ability be be a great asset in the defensive backfield as well as contribute to special teams.

  3. Michael Gallup, rookie wide receiver from Colorado State who was drafted in the third round this year. (I will definitely have my eye on this one for fantasy purposes.)  At 6’1 he has favorable size and speed, which he has shown already. The coaches definitely see something there because he has been in on 85% of the first team snaps in the first two preseason games.  Not to mention the Cowboys have a few question marks at the position with Cole Beasley and Tavon Austin not being on the field much with lower body injuries.  

Coming up

On Sunday night, the Cowboys will take on the 2-0 Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX (AKA:  Jerry’s World). This should be a good one not only because it is the third preseason game which is said to be the one that most resembles a real game but the Cowboys haven’t won a game yet and I am sure they are going to push hard to get one in the win column.  Not only are we going to get to see a lot of reps out of Prescott and Elliott, but the Cardinals first team is loaded with a bunch of talent too.  Newly signed free agent QB Sam Bradford will be on the field with All-Pro running back David Johnson and potential future Hall of Fame receiver Larry Fitzgerald.

For you gamblers out there, you might want to put a small wager on the Cowboys at +1.5.  I know I am going to.




 

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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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