Since Week 4, The Cowboys are much closer to the bottom half of the league than the top - David Moore, Dallas Morning News
It feels like ages ago that the Cowboys were 3-0 and looking dominant; a three-game losing streak will do that. But it’s been more than just that losing streak, and David Moore argues that the Cowboys are in the bottom half of the league over their most recent games.
Let’s start with the end of September, known in competitive time as Week Four. Since then, every team in the league has played either six or seven games.
Only five teams in the NFL have a worse record than Dallas in this stretch. The Cowboys have lost four of six games along with the Dolphins and Jets. Throw Tampa Bay in there as well for good measure.
A total of seven teams are 2-4 since Week Four. The Cowboys are the only team in that group that leads their division, a fact that speaks more to the club’s 3-0 start and a weak NFC East than it does their relative strength.
If the season ended today, the Cowboys would make the playoffs as the NFC East champion, but both Wild Card teams would have better records. This highlights a concerning issue for Dallas, as their shot at a playoff berth gets more and more narrow.
At the moment, the loss to the Vikings is not terminal. Just as the loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 29 wasn’t terminal. Just as the loss to the Green Bay Packers on Oct. 6 wasn’t terminal. Just as the loss to the New York Jets on Oct. 13 wasn’t terminal.
Those losses stacked together, however, are shaping a Cowboys season of more than disappointment. This was a team that entered 2019 with Super Bowl visions. This was a team that looked dominant in the first three weeks, albeit against inferior competition. The first goal the Cowboys have each season is to win the division because that is the simplest way to make the playoffs. Now it might be the only way.
“I still think we’re a team that can play with anybody and beat anybody,” linebacker Sean Lee said, “but we have to show that more consistently.”
There was much debate over the decision by Tavon Austin to call a fair catch when he had ample room to run a punt return in the final minute of Sunday night’s game. After initially saying that Austin wasn’t instructed to fair catch the ball, Jason Garrett amended that statement on Tuesday and blamed it on communication issues.
Cowboys coach Jason Garrett explained Monday the staff emphasized to Austin to avoid bleeding clock with his return, as in, don’t run around in circles trying to create a miracle. But they didn’t mean call for a fair catch no matter what.
“We didn’t communicate that well enough,” Garrett said. “In that situation, you’ve got a couple different options. You can try to block the punt. We decided not to do that. We decided that we thought there’d be a good chance that we can get the ball around the 50-yard line. So the biggest coaching point for Tavon was make sure you don’t bleed the rest of this time off by spending a lot of time trying to return the ball.
“So fair catch was a very viable option. The part of it that we didn’t communicate well enough was just simply if you do feel like you have a good return opportunity, take advantage of it. Catch it and go north and south and get as much as you should. We did a poor job as a staff making sure he understood that and hopefully we’ll learn from that experience.”
Jason Garrett says Cowboys didn’t give rookie RB Tony Pollard enough opportunities against the Vikings - Calvin Watkins, Dallas Morning News
In a game where Ezekiel Elliott was repeatedly running nowhere as the Minnesota Vikings’ vaunted defense shut down the running game, Jason Garrett said on Tuesday that the team did not give Tony Pollard enough touches, a recurring theme ever since his breakout performance against Miami.
“We needed to get him out there a little bit more,” Garrett said. “That’s something we talked about going into the game and coming out the game. We just felt like we didn’t give him enough opportunities. In a game like that you’re just trying to get Zeke going to be honest with you.”
Maybe utilizing Pollard changes things for the Cowboys rushing attack on Sunday night. It produced just 50 rushing yards, second-lowest of the season with Elliott playing 98.6 percent of the offensive plays (70 snaps).
“And we were trying to get (Elliott) on track a little bit,” Garrett said. “Unfortunately, that didn’t happen but we got to make sure Pollard is a part of it a little bit more. He was a part of the plan. Unfortunately, we didn’t execute that enough. He’s a good football player and he’s done a good job with his opportunities.”
Michael Bennett on adjusting to Cowboys: After Patriots, learning any defense is easy - Jori Epstein, USA Today
Michael Bennett asked the Patriots to trade him after signing with the team only a few months ago, which caused some to worry if he’d been a bad fit in the locker room. Bennett revealed that the Patriots’ defense was tough to learn, and by contrast that’s made it easier for him to get acclimated in Dallas.
“The D line, I think it’s been going pretty well,” Bennett told USA TODAY Sports on Monday from the Cowboys’ locker room. “I think it’s new for all of us figuring out how to make it work together cohesive. I’ve been trying to figure out myself how to make that happen.”
Bennett has figured it out well enough to record five solo tackles, a sack, six quarterback hits and two tackles for loss in two contests. Bennett credits his 10-plus seasons with four other teams exposing him to enough looks to make few defenses new. Five previous seasons under Cowboys defensive play caller Kris Richard in Seattle helped, too. And his latest stop, for six games in New England?
“I just came from the place with the most defenses in the league,” Bennett said. “So any other defense is pretty much easy to learn.”
Cowboys QB Dak Prescott is saying all the right things. Privately, he needs to throw a fit about the play-calling - Jean Jacques-Taylor, DMN
Dak Prescott didn’t publicly question the play-calling that led to the two ill-fated runs late in the Vikings game. Some think he should question it privately.
Privately, he needs to throw a fit.
He needs to make it clear he expects Garrett and Moore to put the ball in his hands and let him win a game on the rare days Elliott is being contained.
The numbers don’t lie.
Through nine games, Prescott ranks third in the NFL in passing yards per game (308.6). He ranks second with 41 completions of 20 yards or more and he’s third in the league with nine completions of 40 yards or more.
He trails only Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes in yards per attempt at 8.7, and his 18 touchdown passes are tied with three others for third in the NFL.
It’s too bad he didn’t get a real opportunity to add to his touchdown total late in the fourth quarter against Minnesota.
Cowboys-Lions preview: Will Matthew Stafford be ready to go against hometown team? - Michael Gladstone, DMN
The Cowboys play the Lions next, but will they face Matthew Stafford?
But it remains to be seen whether Stafford will play Sunday. He missed his first game since 2010 last weekend, reportedly with multiple fractured bones in his back. There has not been any update since Stafford was made inactive Sunday morning, although it seems more likely than not that he will sit again. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported, according to a source, that the injury could keep Stafford out for up to three weeks.
If that is the case, the Cowboys will avoid a red-hot quarterback who is having one of the best seasons of his career. Stafford is averaging 312.4 yards per game, the second-most in his 11 seasons, and a career-best 106.0 passer rating with 19 touchdowns to only five interceptions in eight starts.
It’s time to start looking towards the next opponent for the Dallas Cowboys. Welcome to the latest episode of The Ocho where we set the stage for the week to come.
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