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Cowboys News: Three players to watch down the stretch in 2020

Plus, more news on America’s Team.

Dallas Cowboys v Detroit Lions Photo by Jorge Lemus/NurPhoto via Getty Images

3 & Out: 3 Players To Watch Down The Stretch - Rob Phillips, Dallascowboys.com

Here are some players to keep an eye as the Cowboys navigate the second half of the season.

I Know…more Tony Pollard will mean the offense is moving in the right direction. That's no knock on starter Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys need both backs, and if they're going to have any success on offense going forward – especially when they're down to their No. 3, 4 and 5 options at quarterback this week – they've got to find success on the ground and stick with it. It's been a strange year for Zeke. Although he's just outside the top 10 for most 10-yard runs this season (12), he's on pace for the lowest carries of his career aside from a suspension-shortened 2017 season. Turnovers, including his fumbles, have led to deficits and pass-heavy drives. Injuries on the offensive line have disrupted the rhythm and timing of the run game.

But guard Zack Martin's return made a difference against the Eagles. The Cowboys posted 133 rushing yards, their highest total since the opener in LA, and mostly controlled the line of scrimmage against a really good Philly front. Back to Pollard. He was terrific Sunday night, decisive and explosive, with seven carries for a season-high 40 yards. Leading 9-7 in the third quarter, the Cowboys ran Elliott and Pollard seven straight times to reach the Eagles' 26-yard line. Then a reverse to wide receiver Cedrick Wilson went for a 10-yard loss. Then Greg Zuerlein missed a field goal. Then the Eagles took the lead for good.

2020 NFL Trade Deadline: What Cowboys Should've Done With Aldon Smith - Brian Martin, Inside the Star

Should the Cowboys have dealt Aldon Smith?

According to reports the Dallas Cowboys turned down a trade offer from the Seattle Seahawks regarding Aldon Smith. Now no trade compensation has been leaked, but with the way No. 58 has played this season anything less than a fifth or sixth-round pick is unlikely. If it were me, I would’ve made this transaction in a heartbeat and I’ll tell you why.

The Dallas Cowboys claimed the reason they didn’t trade Aldon Smith is because they have future plans for him beyond the 2020 season. Well that’s good and all, but I don’t think trading him away would necessarily put an end to those plans. In fact, there’s no reason to believe it would have impacted them at all except not having him on the roster for the second half of the year.

The cold hard truth is whether the Dallas Cowboys traded Aldon Smith or not he’s still going to become a free agent at season’s end. As such they are going to have to compete with other suitors in order to retain his service and the better he plays, the higher his price tag will be. That’s not good news for the cash strapped Cowboys.

Once Dallas Cowboys' strength, this position group has been hit hard - Todd Archer, ESPN

The offensive line has gone from the Cowboys’ biggest strength, to their Achilles heel.

The Cowboys have employed nine different offensive line groupings in eight games, including five different starting configurations. They have not had the same five players start more than two straight games. In last week's loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, Martin returned to right guard with Cameron Fleming and Terence Steele lining up at tackle with Connor Williams at left guard and rookie Tyler Biadasz at center.

This week, the Cowboys face the unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers (7-0) at AT&T Stadium (4:25 p.m. ET, CBS). Pittsburgh has the No. 5 ranked defense in terms of yards per game and ranks No. 6 in points per game. The Steelers also lead the league in sacks. T.J. Watt (6.5), Stephon Tuitt (6) and Bud Dupree (6) have combined for 18.5 sacks; the Cowboys have 17 as a team.

"I've always felt the biggest challenge of an offensive line was consecutive starts," Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy said. "When you have five offensive lineman that play together week in and week out, that doesn't always equate to a very efficient offensive line, but if you look at the statistics of consecutive starts by an offensive line group, the winning percentage is extremely high. The stabilization of your offensive and defensive line is a key component to being successful in this league."

Jerry Jones may not be in favor of tanking, but it’s clearly the way to go for the Cowboys - Kevin Sherrington, Dallas Morning News

Is team tank the way to go in 2020?

Here’s something else you’re probably thinking: If the Cowboys can’t catch the Jets, then what’s the use? They’ll take Trevor Lawrence, the best quarterback prospect in a generation. That is, if the Jets don’t scare him off and he stays at Clemson or defects. First, let me say that if the Cowboys are bad enough to beat out the Jets, they should entertain all offers for the first pick. The Cowboys already have a quarterback, and if his ceiling isn’t as elevated as Lawrence’s, he’s good enough. Meanwhile, Lawrence would be worth three first-rounders and maybe more.

Even if the Cowboys don’t catch the Jets, they could still finish runner-up. Ohio State’s Justin Fields is the draft’s second-best quarterback, and if he wouldn’t draw the same trade haul as Lawrence, teams would still be interested. The message here in case you missed it is that this season has proven beyond any doubt that the Cowboys have a lot of holes, and they need quality players to fill them.

Troy Aikman talks Ezekiel Elliott and Dallas' run game, expectations for Cowboys the rest of the season - Staff, Dallas Morning News

The former Cowboy had some interesting thoughts about the 2020 season.

Why not use more motion to get guys out of the box instead of running at eight or nine guys?

Aikman: “Yeah, I think it all makes sense to some degree. I think that the reason the spread, in a lot of ways, came about was because of the — it’s hard, the offensive lines just aren’t as dominant as they once were, and back when I was playing and when we go around and cover these teams, there’s not a lot of teams that are real solid up front. It’s hard. It’s hard to put together the kind of offensive line that Dallas has enjoyed for so many years. And they’re just not being developed at the collegiate level. It’s a little bit of a different game, so it’s carried over into the NFL and you spread people out and you try to create space and try to give the running game an opportunity that way. The defense will always have an advantage in numbers, unless you have a guy like Lamar Jackson or when they put in Taysom Hill, and that’s when the wildcat came about, so then you’re able to get even numbers. So, I don’t know that whether you bunch them up, and yeah, the more bodies you get in there the more difficult it is, or if you spread them out, there’s always going to be potentially an extra defender. Not that that should always discourage you from running the football either.

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