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Cowboys news: Three Cowboys who need to improve their play

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Dallas Cowboys v New York Giants Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Film room: 3 Cowboys who need to improve their play, including defensive end Everson Griffen - John Owning, Dallas Morning News

The Cowboys have a few different players who really need to step up their play.

[Insert Cowboys defensive back here]....Dallas’ entire secondary has struggled mightily — this is evidenced by the fact Dallas ranks last in passer rating allowed in coverage (126.6), according to Pro Football Focus. Dallas also ranks 31st in explosive pass rate, allowing such a play on 12% of its snaps, according to Sharp Football Stats.

The secondary has been plagued by poor execution, blown assignments and miscommunication. As was detailed Monday, many of the big plays Dallas gave up were on account of busts in the secondary.

It makes sense why many are calling for the Cowboys to simplify their scheme, as constant coverage busts and miscommunication are making it tough for them to play effective defense for extended stretches. Whether it’s the players buckling down to get on the same page or the coaching staff simplifying the scheme, the Cowboys have to figure out a way to get the secondary on the same page consistently.

What’s wrong with Cowboys’ defense? ‘It’s more than one thing’ - Todd Archer, ESPN

If the Cowboys are going to turn this season around, their defense has to get right.

Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan sat down after the Dallas Cowboys’ 38-31 loss to the Seattle Seahawks almost dreading what he was about to watch on the ride home Sunday night.

“I would say it’s just disappointing to lose and in particular when you give up big plays, that always kind of hurts you even more,” Nolan said. “The most disappointing thing was at the end of the game when we had them in a situation where we could have won the game, or at least get pretty close to it had we stopped them on the fourth down, that was a big play in the ballgame, for us anyhow. So there’s little battles here and there that disappoint more than others.”

Through three games, the Cowboys have given up 97 points, the most in franchise history. Leaguewide, only the Minnesota Vikings and Atlanta Falcons have given up more. The Cowboys are giving up 404.7 yards per game with only six teams giving up more.

That there are growing pains is not a surprise, considering the circumstances created by the coronavirus pandemic. The plan was installed virtually instead of face to face. There was no offseason program complete with organized team activities and a minicamp. Training camp was shortened. There were no preseason games.

While every team has dealt with the same circumstances, those with new coordinators have a similar story. There are 11 teams with new coordinators, if not new schemes, and eight rank in the bottom half of the league in yards per game and nine are in the bottom half in points per game.

Dallas Cowboys: Is the sky really falling? Grounds for optimism - Matt Aaron, FanSided’s The Landry Hat

Is 1-2 panic time, or time to take a step back and evaluate?

Mitigating factors or excuses? You decide...First and foremost, the Cowboys have faced three playoff-caliber teams in the last three weeks. It’s probably their toughest three-game stretch of the season. This is coming off a perfect storm of an offseason. A new head coach (Mike McCarthy) was hired. Most assistant coaches are new hires too. The defensive scheme is very different. The team really needed a normal training camp and preseason.

But because of COVID-19, there were no minicamps, no rookie minicamps, a vastly shortened training camp, and no preseason games. In addition, much of the training camp that did occur was devoted to Coronavirus protocols.

Dallas is dealing with the worst injuries it has experienced in years:– Both starting offensive tackles (both considered top 10 in the league) are out injured. La’el Collins has been out all three games and Tyron Smith out two. Two of the three starting cornerbacks are out: Chidobe Awuzie and Anthony Brown. Both are on injured reserve, so out for a few more weeks at least. The player considered their top free-agent acquisition of the offseason, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy is out for the season with a ruptured right quad tendon.

How “Game Has Changed” Now For Aldon Smith - Jonny Auping, Dallascowboys.com

The game may have changed, but Aldon Smith is still pretty darn good at it.

There was always an easy way to frame the question surrounding Smith: Will he be the same player that he was more than four years ago? But perhaps that was the wrong way to frame it all along. According to Nolan, the answer is no. Smith is a different player.

"He's about 20-25 pounds heavier than he was the last time he played," Nolan said. "His game has actually changed a little bit as well, from the standpoint of the things he does well and the things he can do."

Perhaps seven years ago you might have described the perfect defensive end if you were to talk about Smith. Now, you might have to use different words. You'd describe a player with a new physical trait. "He's always been a versatile player, but when you put on 25 pounds it changes some of that versatility," Nolan said. "It maybe takes a little bit of that versatility away from you, but then again it might help you in another area, as far as strength goes. He shows a lot of strength in his game, more strength than he showed as a younger player."

1 Player Every NFL Team Should Demote - Kristopher Knox, Bleacher Report

Do you agree with the Cowboys selection?

Dallas Cowboys: CB Trevon Diggs.....Undrafted rookie tackle Terence Steele was not benched for poor play in Week 3. According to Jane Slater of NFL Network, he left the game due to food poisoning. Steele has been serviceable since being forced into action in Week 1.

Rookie cornerback Trevon Diggs, on the other hand, has had his issues. The second-round pick out of Alabama has allowed 14 completions on 22 targets for a whopping 219 yards and a touchdown. He's also missed two tackles, although he does have a forced fumble and two passes defended.

The issue is that Diggs has played 100 percent of the defensive snaps this season, and opposing passers are picking on him. The Cowboys need to consider rotating in more experienced defensive backs and getting Diggs out of so many unfavorable situations.

Which OL Combo Gives The Offense The Best Shot? - David Helman, DallasCowboys.com

The injuries are making the offensive line a jigsaw puzzle.

What makes this season different, though, is the way the Cowboys are handling it. In previous years, it was common simply to see a third tackle – Cam Fleming, Chaz Green or Brandon Knight – step in.

In 2020, the depth of the problem is enough to switch things up entirely. When reserve tackle Terence Steele left the game due to problems with food poisoning, the Cowboys had to break the proverbial emergency glass. After years of talking about his flexibility, they kicked Zack Martin out to right tackle to handle the Seahawks’ edge rush. To compensate for the move, they inserted Tyler Biadasz at center and moved Joe Looney to left guard.

“I thought he did very well when he did step out to the right tackle position,” McCarthy said.

It’s safe to say it worked. The Cowboys racked up 321 yards after halftime and put together scoring drives of 94 yards, 89 yards and 70 yards.

Which prompts the obvious question: how will they play it in Week 4, with a talented Cleveland pass rush led by Myles Garrett coming to town?

“I think really the answer to the question is what we’ve been through already,” McCarthy said. “We’ve kind of played different combinations. So to answer your question I think we’ll continue to work the different combinations.”

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