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Seven moves the Dallas Cowboys should make right now

Five remaining games is a rare opportunity to find out what young players can do for the Cowboys.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Atlanta Falcons Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

It took exactly 18 days for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys season to go from challenging but still hopeful to utter, complete disaster. The Cowboys walked off the field on November 5th having won their third straight contest to not only put themselves in wild card contention but, with another win, able to compete for a second straight division title. They possessed one of the games elite offenses, scoring over 28+ points per game while generating over 370+ yards offense.

Thus, only 18 days later, it’s hard to believe that with five weeks remaining in the 2017 season the team should focus on 2018. The 2017 season is over. The remaining games should be used to evaluate young players, reduce wear and tear on proven but fragile veterans and try some new schemes and wrinkles in a stagnant offense. The Cowboys have already announced they are opening up Anthony Brown’s cornerback position for a challenge, and they apparently will look at changes at safety. Adding more Xavier Woods into the mix instead of Jeff Heath would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Towards that end here are seven more things the Cowboys could do the rest of the season.

Test Byron Jones at cornerback

Byron Jones, as a first-round draft pick, hasn’t quite lived up to expectations. He hasn’t been terrible but he hasn’t come close to being a Pro Bowl caliber safety. More worryingly, he’s regressed in his third season, a time when he should be rounding into peak career form.

Jones’ biggest weakness is his run support; he often takes bad angles and simply doesn’t tackle with confidence. Runners always seem to end up 2-4 yards farther after Jones first hits them. He’s better in coverage. He gets exposed at times but has shown the ability to run with tight ends. He’s lost as an open-field coverage man, I can’t recall a single play he’s made in that situation.

At the same time, the Cowboys’ corners are woefully inadequate (seems like we’ve been saying that for 10 years). Orlando Scandrick’s best days are behind him and he’ll be 31 next year. Anthony Brown has had a horrific season from day one. Every Dallas opponent picks on him with success. He is unequivocally not a starting caliber NFL cornerback. Only rookie Jourdan Lewis has shown any real one-on-one coverage skills; he looks like a keeper at the position moving forward.

So why not try Jones at cornerback the next five games? His skill set seems better suited for the position. Give him five games to find out what he can do. If he fails, okay....move him back to safety next season and he can continue being the mediocre safety we’ve had for the last couple of years. But if there’s even a small possibility he can be a better corner than he’s been at safety, isn’t that a worthwhile use of these games?

Start Chidobie Awuzie at cornerback

We’ve already discussed the change coming for Anthony Brown at cornerback. Awuzie is finally healthy and actually got on the field against the Chargers for the first time in several weeks. As of now Awuzie is a complete unknown due to persistent hamstring injuries. The final five weeks should be used to let Awuzie play as much as possible to get a gauge on what he can do moving forward.

The Dallas brass chose to go with rookies in the secondary, jettisoning four veterans they deemed unworthy of new contracts. It’s time to find out what the youngsters can do.

Honestly, how you mix it up isn’t that important. You could put Awuzie at safety and put sixth-round pick Marquez White at cornerback. The objective is to give the youngsters as many snaps as possible. It doesn’t matter if they get exposed and beaten; that’s already happening to the allegedly better veterans. But what if the kids prove better than what we have now? What if they show some skills we haven’t seen from the team’s secondary lately? Isn’t that a better use of these final five games than running out the same beaten crew?

Start Taco Charlton at defensive end

Using the same logic (that young players need real game snaps to learn and improve) Charlton need to play 50+ snaps per game these final five weeks. He’s had an extremely disappointing season but who cares? Another 250+ snaps would give coaches better insights into what he’s capable of, what his strengths and weaknesses are and whether the team can expect him to be a core player moving forward.

Play Rico Gathers at tight end

Rico Gathers is supposedly close to being healthy again. Assuming he is, and he’s been cleared to play, put the man on the field. Let’s find out if those eye-popping pre-season plays can provide some solutions to the team’s anemic offense. Obviously, if Gathers hasn’t cleared concussion protocol or some other injury hurdle this is moot. But I loved what Gathers brought to the offense. His downfield playmaking is exactly what has been missing from the Cowboys’ offense.

Sit Tyron Smith and Sean Lee

We’ve seen how valuable veterans Tyron Smith and Sean Lee are to the Cowboys; when they both went down both the offensive and defensive units melted like a snow-cone in July. Both players are expected to be core contributors in 2018, so why force them to endure any more wear and tear on their bodies than necessary? If Smith is going to need off-season back surgery get a start on that process. Let Lee rest and heal and comeback at full health for next season. There’s no reason for either player to risk further injury in meaningless games. Chaz Green and Byron Bell can compete for who to keep as the swing tackle next season.

Play Noah Brown at wide receiver

I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from Noah Brown. He’s done exactly what the coaches have asked him to do. Admittedly he’s been asked to block and not much else but hey, you have to start somewhere. Why not reward the youngster with some real pass-catching opportunities. Let Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams sit a dozen more plays per game and give Brown 25 more snaps as a real target.

Play Dak Prescott

I’ve been as disappointed as anyone with Prescott’s mystifying decline the last three weeks. He’s literally gone from (arguably) the greatest start of any quarterback in the NFL through his first 25 games to completely lost. Everyone knows the numbers and the truth is the numbers barely tell how badly he’s played.

But everyone calling to bring in someone else seem to have forgotten that Prescott was a top-10 QB just a few weeks ago. It makes no sense to believe the last three weeks is the true Prescott and the previous 25 games somehow don’t count.

He’s still a young quarterback and all young quarterbacks can benefit from experience. Let him get back up, dust himself off and go at it again. One of his strengths is his mental toughness; well, time to put that strength to test.

I know some are clamoring for Cooper Rush to get some playing time. And I’d be fine with giving him maybe a quarter a game. But Prescott is the one who needs work here. Not long ago he was performing like one of the better QBs in the league; he needs this opportunity to get back there.

Coaching flexibility

The modern NFL provides very little opportunity for real practice. Outside of a handful of training camp scrimmages and pre-season games players really never play except in the 16 NFL games each season. That makes these final five games a rare opportunity to allow players to face high-level competition and find out if they can really play or not.

Jason Garret undoubtedly won’t do all of the things I think he should. My worry is he won’t do any of them. Garrett’s track record indicates he will instead adhere to the exact same plan he had going into the Atlanta, Philadelphia and Los Angeles games. He’ll run the same tired offensive strategies with the same personnel. He’ll keep Heath and Jones at safety and leave Awuzie and Woods fighting for a handful of snaps. Charlton will get 15 snaps. Garrett is going “fight” and blahblahblah...

This would be a travesty and a criminal waste of a terrific opportunity. We’ve learned over the first 11 games that many Cowboys players turned out to not be as good as we thought. Let’s now find out what Woods, Awuzie, Charlton, Brown, Gathers and others can be. If only one or two make a breakthrough and surprise you’ve already won big.

And if they’re exposed as inadequate, well, you’ve gotten a start on understanding what problems need to be addressed in the off-season. Losing with rookies is way, way better than losing with vets. I’m hoping Garrett surprises us with some creative thinking over the last quarter of this disappointing season.

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