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Cowboys news: Looking forward to the Vikings, and beyond

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Minnesota Vikings v Dallas Cowboys
A big matchup for Dallas.
Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Dallas Cowboys still believe in 2020 season despite 2-7 record - Jori Epstein, USA Today
If you want one logical reason for the Cowboys to start Andy Dalton over Garrett Gilbert, this is probably the best.

The Cowboys have outlined their keys to upsetting Minnesota. Protect the ball. Protect their quarterback. And attack as a gradually jelling run defense facing a star in Dalvin Cook

Dallas has turned over the ball each of the last eight games, but expects to return five offensive linemen for a consecutive game after months without that luxury. The Cowboys are hopeful veteran Andy Dalton will beactivated after three weeks of concussion and COVID-19 protocols. They expect Dalton to expand the playbook more than rookie seventh-rounder Ben DiNucci and journeyman Garrett Gilbert were able to in each of their NFL debuts.

Zeke Details "Across-The-Hall" Coaching Shuffle - Jonny Auping,
It might seem gimmicky at first, but if you think about it, the cross-coaching sessions described by Ezekiel Elliott actually make sense.

"Across-the-Hall is basically, you meet with the position coach you'd go against on defense," Elliott said. "So, the running backs meet with the linebacker [coaches]. The receivers meet with the cornerback coach."

Perhaps this might seem like a silly gimmick to some fans when placed in the context of how poorly things have gone for the Cowboys this year, but one might argue it could actually have a greater effect on a team that has failed to do things as planned. The positional coaches have obviously instructed their players on how to approach their gameplan, but circumstances and mistakes have prevented the intended results. When someone tells you to do something that isn't working over and over again, it might start to lose its meaning, even if it's good advice.

Elliott explained how this new approach is almost more like meeting with the enemy.

"You talk to the coach and they do a study of your film from the first nine weeks," he said. "You basically have an open conversation where he says what he would think to do if he were preparing against me."

Dallas Cowboys' Ezekiel Elliott on dip in production: It's been tough - Dallas Cowboys Blog, ESPN
The Cowboys need more from the running game.

What has happened to Elliott's production?

He had at least 89 yards rushing in three of the Cowboys' first five games. He had six total touchdowns. The Cowboys found themselves in big deficits, which made running the ball superfluous. Elliott looked sharp enough because he had the benefit of training camp -- albeit a shortened version -- after sitting out camp in 2019 in a contract dispute.

In the four games since -- all Cowboys losses -- he has topped 60 yards rushing one time. He has fumbled five times this season, losing four, which all have been turned into opposing touchdowns. Elliott has not been as effective as hoped in the passing game, catching 36 balls for 238 yards.

"With us playing four quarterbacks in five weeks, their No. 1 thoughts are to stop the run because Zeke is such a dynamic player," Cowboys executive vice president Stephen Jones said.

Writer’s Blocks: Finding A New Scapegoat - David Helman,
Lots of thoughts about Jeff Heath being named AFC defensive player of the week (sigh), but also this.

Is it dramatic to think that this game is a litmus test for how the rest of the season is going to go?

When I think about it, Minnesota is really the perfect opponent to determine whether the Cowboys can actually play competent football the rest of the way. There are a variety of reasons for that.

For starters, this is not a Bullseye Game, for lack of a better term. The Cowboys were bound to get up for a division rival like Philadelphia, and you're always going to give your best shot against the league's only undefeated team.

Minnesota is definitely on a roll, but this is a 4-5 team with slim hopes of winning the division. Much like the Cowboys, the Vikings are a flawed team fighting for an outside shot of making the playoffs. This is a much more even-keeled matchup than the two before it, if that makes sense.

Will Next 7 Games Change CB Chido Awuzie’s Future w/ Cowboys? - Jess Haynie, Inside The Star
Getting Chidobe Awuzie back could be a help to the Dallas secondary. But his performance has long-term implications for him and the team as well.

That’s why I think these final seven games of 2020 (and yes, perhaps a playoff game or two) are vital for Chido’s future with the Cowboys. I can’t say he’s done enough to clearly earn a second contract but also don’t think it’s anywhere close to being off the table.

In a way, Awuzie may present Dallas with an opportunity to secure an asset at bargain price. With the missed games in 2020 and his lack of consistency in previous seasons, Chido probably wouldn’t be a big name in the upcoming free agent market. The Cowboys may be able to lock him up to a bargain deal for at least the next two or three years.

Is Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy keeping his promise to embrace analytics in Dallas? -Joseph Ferrailola, NFL Next Gen Stats
When Mike McCarthy was hired, there was a lot of talk about him being more analytics-oriented than we are used to. This article takes a look at how that worked out, and while the results are mixed, they do have some positive indications.

The in-game decision-making aspect has been the most obvious difference between McCarthy in Green Bay and McCarthy in Dallas. Through nine games for the Cowboys, McCarthy has attempted to go for it on 13.7 percent of fourth-down plays this season. This figure only trails the Jaguars at 15 percent. It's also 5.6 percentage points more than McCarthy's go-for-it rate over his final five seasons in Green Bay.

However, it's important to note that the NFL has become more aggressive overall in terms of going for it on fourth down. Consider that the Packers' 8.1 percent go-for-it rate on fourth downs from 2014 to '18 was the highest in the NFL in that span -- and that figure would be the 22nd-highest rate in the league today.

Still, in comparison to his predecessor in Dallas, Jason Garrett, McCarthy's been far more aggressive, going for it on a league-high 18 fourth downs, already blowing past the 2019 team's season total of seven. Although the results aren't there yet -- the Cowboys have only converted nine of those of 18 fourth-down attempts this season (50.0%, tied for 22nd highest in the NFL) -- the process is sound.

Early Cowboys draft talk: QBs, trading down and more – Bob Sturm,The Athletic
Surrendering to the zeitgeist, Sturm skips his usual preview of the opponent and talks draft, including this nugget of insight.

But my brief thoughts here — because we have six months for more pontification on these matters, which I will certainly provide —is to always prioritize premium positions, which are quarterbacks, left tackles, pass rushers and shutdown corners. So, yes, I am interested in the Oregon tackle, the many top corners in this draft and difference-makers on the defensive side of the ball. Non-premium positions like guards, centers, running backs, linebackers and safeties are found later on in the draft. I might make exceptions on a few spots provided they are special players on defense, but you have to stop trying to cut corners and start paying a little more for U.S. Prime beef. You will taste the difference. Acquire enough premium players at premium positions, and you will see you are paying the right spots on your roster the most money, and those right spots are the ones closest aligned with making a difference on winning teams. If you take a center, a guard, a running back and a linebacker in the first round, then pay them all of your money and still aren’t good enough, it is possible you might be frustrated at why you never seem as good as the sum total of your players.

Revisiting preseason concerns for all 32 NFL teams – Mike Sando, The Athletic

Dallas Cowboys

The worry: The Cowboys peaked in July.

In-season reality: The summer was unkind to the Cowboys as injuries sidelined Gerald McCoy, Sean Lee, La’el Collins and others. All signs were pointing to the Cowboys failing to meet expectations, which was certainly the case, even before quarterback Dak Prescott was lost for the season.

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