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Cowboys news: A look at the team’s QB protection woes last season

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More Kellen Moore insights and a shorter pre-season?

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Divisional Round - Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

Inside the Cowboys’ Film Room: The 2018 pass-protection disaster, Weeks 9-12 (Part 3 of 4) – Bob, Sturm, The Athletic
The Sturminator continues his annual look at every single sack taken by a Cowboys’ quarterback in 2018, which is always interesting and informative. Those with weak stomachs, however, might want to avert their eyes.

Welcome to Part 3 of a four-part series where we look at arguably the biggest issue with the 2018 Dallas Cowboys — the incredible failure in sacks allowed by the offense — and discuss ways in which they might improve. In case you missed the first two parts of this series last week, I highly encourage you to go back and review those at your leisure. I think we are starting to find a number of repeated mistakes which offer insight into what Kellen Moore, Jon Kitna and the offense have probably spent a good portion of their offseason strategizing against.

Sacks are demoralizing, and they are drive killers. I have some specific information on how badly they kill drives that I will share soon, but know now that they are the second-worst offensive outcome behind a turnover. Of course, some of these sacks also end in turnovers, and almost every quarterback sack happens because he just got hit by one or two players who both are much bigger and stronger than him. This doesn’t always go without saying: If you have a QB who fumbles a lot, I am willing to guarantee you that he gets sacked a lot, too.

Moore’s philosophy, the wide receiver bubble and more – Calvin Watkins, The Athletic
Kellen Moore’s new-age offensive philosophies have garnered much attention during OTAs and The Athletic’s Watkins has some insights.

So far, what’s come out is something unexpected given those roots. During the two OTA practices open to the media, the Cowboys have run tight formations with 11 personnel. Dak Prescott is doing everything from throwing short, quick passes at slot receivers such as Randall Cobb to intermediate throws over the middle to running bootlegs. The key, though, is how it’s set up. The Cowboys are trying to use the same formation but run different things out of it, similar to the Los Angeles Rams. That is the opposite of what Moore did at Boise State and what the Cowboys displayed in 2018 with Scott Linehan as the offensive coordinator. It might be difficult to pinpoint what Moore is trying to accomplish from a philosophy standpoint because he’s not running an offense he was raised on. So Moore will try new things utilizing the speed of this team.

“It’s a nice little blend that’s been established here,” Moore said. “Certainly the (offensive) system has been in place for a while with Coach (Jason) Garrett. I understand the system, recognizing it and then being able to naturally in terms as a different play caller. There are different voices each year, there’s going to be different spins on it and different presentations that maybe you can experience elsewhere that you can incorporate into it.”

Some might be surprised to find out PFF graded “declining” Tyron Smith as the Cowboys’ best offensive player. The comments are....interesting.

Rico Gathers Looking To Think Less & Play More - Nick Eatman, DallasCowboys.com
Randall Cobb, Tony Pollard, Michael Gallup, Jason Witten. Those are the brand new, somewhat new and returning names that have excited many Cowboys’ fans about the team’s offensive potential. But Eatman reminds us the Cowboys’ have a big, athletic tight end down-roster who is looking to make a bigger impact on the 2019 season.

In 2019, the step for Gathers should be able to get more involved in the offense. He played in most of the games, but was targeted only seven times – hauling in three passes for 45 yards.

The production isn’t that high, but the entire experience has helped Gathers gained much more confidence as he enters his fourth year.

“Just the picking up on everything is second nature now,” Gathers said. “Actually getting that year under my belt to get out there, make mistakes, play, get better and grow as a player. It really helped me get into this year. I can play fast and execute my assignments and do what I need to do.”

One thing Gathers said he’s not doing much is thinking. And that’s a good thing.

“The less you have to think about what you have to do, the better you are in the execution side of things,” he said. “This whole offseason I’ve tried to study game film of last year and just analyze the growth where I’ve come from. It’s all over the tape – just my progression.”

Goodell reiterates desire to shorten 4-game preseason - John Wawrow, Associated Press
There’s not many things Cowboys’ fans and Roger Goodell agree on, but reducing the number of NFL pre-season games might be one of them.

Four preseason games remain too much for Roger Goodell.

The NFL Commissioner on Monday reiterated his stance of wanting to reduce the preseason schedule at a time the league and players’ association have begun preliminary talks on a new collective bargaining agreement.

“I feel what we should be doing is always to the highest quality, and I’m not sure preseason games meet that level right now,” Goodell said, while participating in Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Jim Kelly’s 33rd charity golf tournament outside of Buffalo, New York.

“I’m not sure, talking with coaches, that four preseason games is necessary any more to get ready for a season to evaluate players, develop players,” he added. “There are other ways of doing that, and we’ve had a lot of discussions about that.”

Ezekiel Elliott’s passing game usage tweak could fix Cowboys offense - Eli Cuellar, CowboysWire
A look at how the Cowboys have utilized Ezekiel Elliott in the passing game and finding it wanting. It’s an interesting analysis worth your time.

As the 2019 season approaches there is hope within the Dallas Cowboys organization that new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore can turn the offense around. The optimism is not unfounded, aside from 2014 and 2016, seasons where the Cowboys were a legitimate passing threat, the Scott Linehan era has failed to deliver much in the vein of consistency. Perhaps one of the biggest oddities during Scott Linehan’s tenure in Dallas was the use or misuse of running backs in the passing game.

In 2018, the average pass to a running back traveled 1.21 yards through the air. For comparison, the average pass to a wide receiver garnered 11.3 air yards. This difference explains the variance between running backs and wide receivers from a usage standpoint. With this in mind, it is important to realize why Ezekiel Elliott’s usage in the passing attack has been problematic.

The 2018 season saw Elliott leading the Cowboys with 95 targets, but he only had an average depth of target (aDOT) of 0.23 yards. He might have gotten the bulk of the targets on offense, but the way he was utilized often meant that he was forced to pickup chunks of yards after the catch in order to be an efficient threat. This is not an ideal way to generate targets for a star player.

The Biggest Risk Every NFL Team Is Taking in 2019 - Kritopher Knox, Bleacher Report
Meanwhile, the Bleacher Report’s Kristopher Knox thinks a reduced role in the running game for Elliott would increase his effectiveness.

The Dallas Cowboys added Amari Cooper last season and Randall Cobb this offseason. They should have a more formidable passing attack than they had in years past. However, they're still going to field an offense that is based around Ezekiel Elliott.

There's good reason for this, as Elliott is a two-time rushing champion and one of the best all-around backs in the league. But Dallas doesn't have a sound backup plan in the event Elliott misses extended time—either because of injury or league discipline.

According to Charles Robinson of Yahoo Sports, the NFL is "likely" to investigate Elliott's latest off-field incident—an altercation with a Las Vegas security guard.

The Cowboys do not have an established veteran running back behind Elliott and will rely instead on Darius Jackson and fourth-round selection Tony Pollard. If Elliott misses time, Dallas could be in trouble.