The Cowboys enter the bye week at 2-3, not quite the start this team hoped to have coming into the season. With 11 games left, there’s still time but who is seeing their stock rise and fall at the bye?
Other than the total team letdown in week two at Denver, Prescott has really played remarkably well. It’s an even bigger bummer that the Cowboys have gone 1-2 in the last three games with quarterback play like this:
Dak Prescott over the last three games:— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 9, 2017
64.4 completion percentage, 686 passing yards, 8 TDs, 2 INTs, 107.9 passer rating, 2 rushing TDs
A lot was said this offseason about that “sophomore slump” label that is unfairly tacked onto quarterbacks like Robert Griffin III, who pretty much was decimated by injuries. Dak Prescott has been nowhere near such a term. He may have equaled his rookie season tally with four interceptions in five games but it hardly suggests a down year coming, quite the contrary:
Dak Prescott threw for 3,667 yards and 23 TDs last season— Jon Machota (@jonmachota) October 9, 2017
Dak is on pace to throw for 3,814 yards and 35 TDs this season
Will Prescott see more interceptions in year two? Absolutely, but he’s also on pace to throw more touchdowns. This past week’s loss to the Packers stings but at the same time Dak Prescott went toe-to-toe with the NFL’s most talented passer. If this Cowboys team is able to pull themselves out of 2-3, it’s going to have a lot to do with the phenomenal young man behind center.
The Cowboys are truly missing the presence of Sean Lee but his being on the weakside is not going to solve everything. The run defense has been extremely bad considering they were the very best in 2016 at 83.5 yards per game. So far, they are 20th in rushing defense allowing 118 yards per game. Now, they have only allowed two rushing touchdowns and have only allowed two rushes of 20+ yards.
Still, through five games, they have allowed 33 first down runs (sixth-most in NFL), and three 100-yard rushers after allowing zero last season. C.J. Anderson and Todd Gurley are phenomenal players for their teams but how do you let a rookie Packers running back have the best performance of the three? The Packers are 27th in rush attempts per game and 21st in yards per game at 91.6. Aaron Jones, a fifth-round pick from UTEP, outright wrecked the Cowboys on 19 runs for 125 yards. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry which is unacceptable.
The linebacking corps has been spearheaded by Jaylon Smith and Justin Durant the past few weeks. They did see the return of Anthony Hitchens in this game and he should be able to help them going forward. Once Sean Lee returns to join Hitchens, Smith is likely to see a significant drop in snaps. He’s been forced to play quite a bit due to attrition and could use less exposure as he continues to heal. With that said, the entire defense from the line to secondary has to be better at containment and tackling.
Rookie DB’s Jourdan Lewis and Xavier Woods
Is it perfect? No. But these two rookie defensive backs have been impressive. Let’s start with Jourdan Lewis, who has played in four games with only one in which he played less than 80% of the defensive snaps. The uneducated folks of social media will beat him up for that game-winning touchdown Davante Adams made while forgetting that one play before it, he batted one down. In his four games, he has five pass deflections, three of which against Aaron Rodgers. He’s also finished fifth, third, eighth, and first in team tackles, averaging almost five per game.
Xavier Woods has done everything they have asked of him including playing slot corner. In his limited time on defense, 34% of the snaps, he’s been noticeable every time. He only has six tackles on the season but has already seen increasing snaps at safety in the past two weeks. Woods went from 16 snaps in week four to 21 snaps in week five. The coaches tend to side with the veterans but at some point, Woods abilities are going to make him the starter over Jeff Heath.
The secondary hasn’t been great but these two rookies are on a mission to win starting jobs. Lewis has already claimed one, the hope is that some guys can get healthy and maybe this unit will improve.
The Cowboys were thrilled to get Williams back on a team-friendly deal and he’s not a terrible player by any means. In fact, he’s been really helpful as a run blocker when they’ve needed him to make key blocks downfield. His issues have been something that he’s never going to shed completely, the body-catching tendency. He’s had plenty of dazzling plays that have helped the team win games. He’s also cost them some too. Williams is not incapable of catching with his hands, he just is too comfortable letting the ball bounce off a body part. The play in question was just an awful effort in securing the ball with your hands.
It might be time to sit Terrance Williams. This isn't even close. pic.twitter.com/7GqzfUKozd— Marcus Mosher (@Marcus_Mosher) October 9, 2017
That one play ended up costing them six points and their 24-22 lead. It doesn’t get as much play as the second and goal pass or clock mismanagement but it should. Teams don’t win a lot of games when they lose the turnover battle. If Terrance catches that and turns up field, he’s got a great chance of getting the seven yards they needed. The way Dak was playing against Green Bay’s defense suggests pretty good odds of potentially going up by two possessions.
I was very skeptical of his return meaning anything for a few weeks but he was ready to roll. He had two sacks in his debut from the defensive tackle position and that’s exactly the kind of pressure you need against great quarterbacks. On his first one, he just blows through the blockers and take Rodgers down on 3rd and 18:
David Irving is a MONSTER amongst men. pic.twitter.com/JGaa2jM4Kt— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) October 8, 2017
David Irving's first step on that third down was ridiculous. Sack in his season debut. #cowboyswire— Rob Phillips (@robphillips3) October 8, 2017
Irving’s second sack came where he just overpowered the guard and lunged to get the quarterback down.
David Irving’s presence also kept DeMarcus Lawrence’s sack streak going. It’s super important to have more than one guy who can get to the passer, Irving is a welcomed sight. The Cowboys’ pass rush has been the most productive part of this struggling defense. If they could only get improvement from the other parts of their defense, who knows, they may be able to hold onto a lead.
The Cowboys are 6th in the league in sacks. The LB and safety play have been concerning the last two weeks, to say the least. https://t.co/stdyXPZhaj— David Helman (@HelmanDC) October 10, 2017
Third-Quarter Offense/ Ability to close
This is the biggest conundrum the Cowboys are experiencing right now with their inability to close out games. They have been especially pitiful in the third quarter where they only scored a total of seven points which came against the Cardinals. Four of their five games, they have been shut out in the third quarter. You can give them a pass for week one because they were up 16-3 with New York playing terribly on offense.
The Cowboys are currently eighth in scoring offense, only three spots down from where they finished 2016. Here is a chart detailing the average points scored per quarter by the Cowboys both this year and last.
|Quarter||2016 Avg. Points||2017 Avg. Points||NFL Rank 2016||NFL Rank 2017|
The Cowboys are averaging 3.4 points less in the third quarter this year than they were last season. However, the Cowboys’ third quarter performance last year was their worst scoring quarter as well with five games in which they didn’t put up any points. The difference right now is that last season Dallas was scoring points pretty evenly throughout each quarter.
This season, you see the lopsided pattern as Dallas scores most of it’s points in the second quarter where they lead the league. Though the Cowboys are currently two spots better than their 2016 ranking in the fourth-quarter, Dallas did a great job of building leads last year and holding them.
This chart shows that the offense has started slow at the beginning of each half. Their first opening drive touchdown came last week against the Packers, so there’s hope it’s turning around. When you look at their first-half scoring, they average 15.6 points per game which is good for fourth in the NFL. The second-half is their Achilles’ heel, they’re averaging 9.4 points which ranks them 22nd. It’s only worsened by the fact that Dallas has been outscored a total of 76-47 after halftime this year.
It’s clear that they have to figure out a way to finish games and by the looks of their defense, it means they have to improve offense efficiency. The good news is that we’re seeing some offensive improvement, now they just need a full game’s worth. This is a team dominated by offensive star power, it’s their calling card.