Sturm’s Decoding Linehan series is an important read. Here, he shows how much of a difference the loss of two key offensive players changed the look of the Cowboys. It was as dramatic as losing Sean Lee was to the Cowboys defense.
Above you see the realities of the two halves of the Cowboys season. Sure, they were only 5-3 through the first eight weeks and 4-4 in the second half, so books will not be written about the two halves being strikingly different. But if you watched the season -- as you know doubt did if you are reading this -- then you know they always appeared to be in the mix during the first half of 2017 and never seemed close once the Atlanta game kicked off, signaling the second half was beginning.
They easily were a top-10 offense and most of their offensive statistics in the first half of 2017 matched those in 2016. But then they lost Smith and Elliott.
Instead of playing a total of 993 snaps in eight games, the two talents combined for just 354 snaps in the next eight games. If you want to quantify the difference, it is all in that graphic.
They went from 28.3 points per game to 16. They went from being the eighth-most productive offense to 26th. They went from the second-best pass protection team to 25th. They turned the ball over, guys couldn't get open and drives were no longer sustainable.
Tom Ryle covered this topic on BtB earlier. Here’s Sherrington’s take. (My own view is because of his contract, he’ll be given one more year.)
First order of business: Time to let Dez Bryant go.
Pretty much since the day he arrived, we've known Dez's faults. Though he's still too emotional, and he remains a distraction, we've seen him grow up a lot. What we haven't seen is much improvement in his craft. The Cowboys have always been limited in what they do because of his inability to sell a route. As a former Cowboy great, Drew Pearson, has noted, Dez doesn't so much as pretend on a running play.
The Cowboys let him get away with it all this time because of his toughness and red zone production. But that was 2012-14, when he averaged at least 1,200 yards and 12 touchdowns a season. He'll be a well-worn 30 this fall, and those halcyon days appear long behind him.
For an idea of just how far behind, Dez just finished 24th in receptions, 28th in yards and tied for 139th in yards per catch.
More bad data on Dez Bryant.
Dez Bryant, WR — He didn't step up during Elliott's absence. He disappeared. While Bryant did lead the team in receptions (69) and receiving yards (838), he had more drops (13) than touchdowns (6) receptions. He failed to record a 100-yard receiving game for only the second time in his career and was held to less than 65 yards receiving in 13 games.
Jerry Jones agrees that Dez has to do more.
“Well, I think Dez is right. We need more from Dez. We need bigger plays,” Jones said on 105.3 The Fan. “That's obvious to everybody is we didn't get big plays. I don't know that you ever get enough of them, but we certainly didn't get the amount that we have to have to change our fate here. And, so, I agree with him. We need to have bigger plays. There's a lot into that, but we've got to get more from — he's top player on our team. He certainly expects to make big plays, the expectation for Dak (Prescott) to get him the ball is there. We've gotten used to it. Yeah, we need more from that area.”
Here’s a surprise entrant for the trending up category. Do you agree? My feeling is that safety is perhaps the position most in need of an upgrade on defense.
Jeff Heath, S — Moved into the starting lineup for the first time in his career and responded with a strong season. Heath led the team in interceptions with three -- the club's highest total in three years. A big hitter who finished fourth on the team in tackles and forced two fumbles.
Any self-reflection going on, Jason?
Garrett tried not to single out one loss, citing there were “too many” as a whole that led to the Cowboys being at home for the playoffs, but couldn’t deny the importance of the Falcons loss.
“Well the Atlanta game was certainly a game that wasn’t great for us,” he said. “It started with the protection. Tyron was out in that game and we didn’t handle his absence as well as we could have and should have. They are a good defensive team. But I don’t want to say that there was some kind of a trend that happened after that. You want to pull back, you got to be careful about huge generalizations. You want to look at specifics and see the ways that you can get better.”
Garrett did say this team remains close in the big picture, even with some expected changes taking place on the coaching staff and/or roster.
What did Dak think of this season?
All along, Prescott often struggled, throwing more than three times as many interceptions with a passer rating nearly 20 points lower for an offense that dropped to 14th in the NFL from fifth.
"If you want to call it that," Prescott said, still refusing as he had before the season to acknowledge the term "sophomore slump" after a season-ending 6-0 win over Philadelphia with the Cowboys already eliminated from the playoffs.
"I think I played some of my best ball of my career this year and obviously I played some of my worst ball of my career this year. So you can call it what you want. But like I said, I learned from it and call it a growing year."
More on Dak.
"I think he's absolutely the right kind of guy to have as the quarterback of your organization," Garrett said. "I think he's demonstrated that time and time again. Now, if you pull back and look at what he's done in his first two years of his career, he's won 22 out of 32 games, he's 22-10 as a starting quarterback in the National Football League. You reflect back at other quarterbacks as they have started their careers no one has really had that kind of success like he has.
This is the article you need to read about Dak Prescott.
But without Tyron Smith in the lineup, things came crashing down in a bad way. And it's likely that the issue for Prescott wasn't just about Tyron Smith, but the knock-on effect Smith's absence had on the rest of the offensive line.
There is no doubt that Prescott will have to continue working on his mechanics, his reads, and his accuracy for next year and the years beyond. But there is no reason not to believe Prescott can get back to the performance levels he showed over the first 24 games of his career - if he gets the protection he needs.
There will some turnover among lower level staff, but will any of the bigger heads roll? It doesn’t look like it.
As of Tuesday, head coach Jason Garrett said he hasn’t made any final decisions regarding his coaching staff now that the 2017 season is over.
The Cowboys have multiple coaches with expiring contracts. One change that is expected: Garrett said tight ends coach Steve Loney has indicated he plans to retire.
One take on the Cowboys’ offseason needs. Before they add, the Cowboys need to take care of Zack Martin, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Anthony Hitchens.
Looking at NFL.com, their three needs are tight end, defensive tackle, and cornerback. CBSSports has the needs as tight end, right tackle/guard, defensive tackle, and linebacker. NBCSports is currently listing wide receiver and defensive tackle. And if you dare try your hand at the Fanspeak Draft, you will see a massive list of needs, that seems to change about once a week.
The important list of Cowboys’ free agents. My take is the Cowboys try to sign: Lawrence, Hitchens, Cooper, Looney, Ladouceur, and the three restricted and exclusive rights guys.
QB Kellen Moore
RB Alfred Morris
WR Brice Butler
OT Byron Bell
G Jonathan Cooper
G/C Joe Looney
DE DeMarcus Lawrence
DL Stephen Paea
LB Anthony Hitchens
LB Kyle Wilber
CB Bene Benwikere
LS L.P. Ladouceur
FB Keith Smith
DL David Irving
DL Brian Price
Which Cowboys should make the Hall of Fame this year? It’s Everson Walls’ last chance. My take is that Owens will be admitted, and the current Cowboys could sure use Walls’ ability to pick the ball off.
"Owens is really the tougher call. Statistically, he's a slam dunk. His 15,934 yards receiving are second only to Jerry Rice. In terms of career production, Hall of Famers Cris Carter, Steve Largent, James Lofton and others can't touch him.
"But then there's the other side of Owens -- misunderstood or just disturbing, depending upon which side you take. In the three main stops along his NFL journey (San Francisco, Philadelphia, Dallas), his consistent production on Sundays was matched only by his determination to wage battles with figures of authority.