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America’s Team Has Lost Its Identity

Watching the Cowboys offense in 2018 is a confounding experience. For years, Dallas was defined by a few key players. But Sunday against the Seahawks, the absence of the team’s once-foundational pieces was impossible to ignore. On every run that was snuffed out in the backfield, there seemed to be a Travis Frederick–size hole in the middle of the offense. As Seattle cornerback Bradley McDougald smothered tight end Geoff Swaim on play after play, images of Jason Witten’s face came to mind while Sarah McLachlan played in the background. And each time a Cowboys receiver failed to fight off a defensive back on a contested catch, the Dez Bryant era got a little smaller in the rearview mirror.

Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott may still be around, but the vaunted 2016 Cowboys offense couldn’t feel farther away. During the past two years, this unit has wandered into Bizarro World: The aspects of the team that seemed set in stone have changed, and the parts that needed changing have stayed the same. Frederick is out indefinitely after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barré syndrome, and in his absence, the days of Dallas’s offensive line dominance seem to be over. Though the Cowboys drafted Prescott and Elliott, two franchise cornerstones, two years ago, they’ve held onto regressive concepts that are only fit for an outdated version of the league. Other teams have embraced modern ideas like altering receiver alignments, incorporating various motions, and increasing play-action, but this offense has completely stagnated. All of that has left "America’s Team” with no discernible identity. And it begs the question of what, exactly, the Dallas Cowboys mean in 2018.

The lack of ingenuity in the Cowboys’ current playbook is stupefying. Against Seattle, Prescott threw 34 passes. A wide receiver went in motion on just three of those plays (two of which were completions to Cole Beasley, and at 18 and 16 yards respectively, they were the Cowboys’ longest passes of the game). Dallas used a receiver stack once—sort of. Near the goal line, Swaim lined up somewhat near a receiver and half-heartedly tried to clear out the defensive back. The Seahawks thwarted that immediately.

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A horrifying percentage of the Cowboys’ pass plays look like a variation of the same route combination. Three or four receivers, all of whom start in isolation on the outside, run to certain points downfield and turn around. That’s it. Sometimes their depths are staggered. Sometimes they’re not. There are no mesh designs. There are no rub routes. There are no bunch concepts. Occasionally, receivers will cross paths or run complementary routes, but just as often, they won’t. The Cowboys’ staff has done next to nothing to scheme their pass catchers open, so they’re left trying to create separation on their own—and considering the overall lack of receiving talent on this roster, that’s a challenge, even against a decimated secondary like Seattle’s.

Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan and head coach Jason Garrett have failed to keep pace with the rest of the league creatively, but what’s even stranger is their refusal to incorporate the concepts that allowed Prescott to take the league by storm his rookie year. On 40 dropbacks against Seattle (Prescott was sacked five times against a mediocre Seahawks front, but we’ll get to that later), Dallas used play-action on five passes. Five. For the season, Prescott has used play-action on 22.1 percent of his dropbacks, which ranks 19th among qualified quarterbacks, according to Pro Football Focus. That rate hasn’t fallen off much since 2016—when he was at 24.2 percent—but what’s changed is the prevalence of play-action throughout the league. Two years ago, Dak’s percentage ranked fourth in the NFL. Through three games this season, that same rate would rank 14th. No QB averaged a play-action rate greater than 25 percent in 2016; 11 are topping that mark this season, including four players who use it on more than 30 percent of dropbacks. Rams QB Jared Goff, who plays in arguably the most innovative offense in football, leads the league at 36.8 percent. As teams have adopted this approach and made it their own, the play that was once the focal point of the Cowboys offense is now just another example of how far Garrett’s team has fallen behind.

Other mainstays of recent Dallas offenses have also eroded. Frederick was the lynchpin of the Cowboys’ mindlessly efficient running game. His ability to reach nose tackles without any help allowed guards to get to the second level immediately after the snap. Replacing Frederick with Joe Looney not only downgrades the center position, it also has the ripple effect of making each interior lineman’s job more difficult. Elliott has still averaged 5.7 yards per carry through three games this season, but against the league’s best defenses, the Cowboys won’t run the ball at will like they have in years past.

The offensive line’s most significant issue this season, though, has been pass protection. The main culprit thus far is rookie left guard Connor Williams, who has struggled one-on-one with defensive tackles like Carolina’s Kawann Short and Seattle’s Jarran Reed. Defensive coordinators have also used his inexperience to their advantage and bombarded him with various twist and line stunts.

But early missteps are standard for any rookie. What’s been far more distressing is the regression of this unit’s best player, and the lack of development from its talented young right tackle. Tyron Smith no longer looks like the best left tackle in football as he did in his heyday. Whether his issues are due to lingering back problems or a change in technique under first-year position coach Paul Alexander (who was fired by the Bengals this offseason after a disastrous couple of seasons by Cincinnati’s offensive line), Smith hasn’t been stonewalling pass rushers like he has in years past. On the other side, La’el Collins still hasn’t fully tapped into his seemingly limitless potential. Dallas rewarded Collins last summer with an early contract extension after the promise he showed in his first two seasons, but inconsistencies continue to plague him in Year 4.

Two seasons ago, even with Bryant and Witten still hauling in touchdowns, it seemed like the offensive line’s stability, the ground game’s efficiency, and Prescott’s play-action ability would comprise this team’s offensive identity for years to come. Dallas rolled to a 13-3 record that year, finished fifth in points scored, and Prescott and Elliott looked like the league’s next dominant duo. Now, those elements have all crumbled, and Dallas’s offense has become a plodding mess. Prescott’s contract is set to expire after 2019, and his backslide—from future superstar to average quarterback—has started to raise questions about what he’ll be worth this offseason. Elliott’s production has fallen off since his historic rookie season, and his repeated off-field transgressions and resulting 2017 suspension should make any team reluctant to present him as the face of their franchise. Meanwhile, all around the league young superstars like Patrick Mahomes II and Todd Gurley are ascending, and talented rookie quarterbacks are stepping into starting roles. The most popular team in the NFL hasn’t been less relevant since before Tony Romo’s tenure began.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said on local Dallas radio this week that he’s not panicking, because, "I like our players. I like our coaching staff. ... When you lose a game and come in on Monday, it’s never as bad as it seems.” And maybe for Jones, it isn’t. Dallas has four prime-time games and a nationally televised Thanksgiving matchup remaining on its schedule. The Cowboys will continue to draw huge ratings, and at the end of the season, Jones will take his massive check from the league and probably ****le like Mr. Burns all the way to the bank. But if the Cowboys continue to deploy what might be the league’s most outdated offense with a roster devoid of premium talent, it won’t be long before they cease to matter as a competitive football team. 

https://www.theringer.com/nfl/2018/9/27/17908676/dallas-cowboys-offense-dak-prescott-jason-garrett-jerry-jones

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Allen Hurns admits frustration at lack of targets

The Cowboys are running one of the worst offenses in the NFL at the moment.

And one of their offseason targets admits he’s tired of not having more to do.

Allen Hurns has been targeted nine times in three games, and has four catches for 51 yards. So while he wants to be a good teammate, he also wants to do something about it.

"The majority of my snaps, I feel like I can get separation,” Hurns told Calvin Watkins of The Athletic. "You will get frustrated, that’s part of it. The main thing for me is just staying positive in the head and control what I can. I can’t let that affect how I am. If I let it affect how I am then I won’t be getting open and I will be dropping the ball when it does come my way.”

At this point, anything would help, as the Cowboys are 30th in total offense and 31st in scoring.

They signed the former Jaguars wideout to a two-year, $12 million deal this offseason, in hopes he’d add something to the post-Dez Bryant mix at the position, but so far they’re waiting for a return on the investment.

"It’s frustrating for sure,” Hurns said. "It’s just getting to the point, especially when we (haven’t) thrown for 200 yards yet, it’s kinda frustrating. We won the second game, fortunately, but to win in this league you have to pass for some yardage. It’s frustrating, plus I’d like to be implemented more, be more involved more. Fortunately, when you’re winning, it’s not a problem at all. But when you got games when you’re losing, it’s kinda tough. It’s tough on you. It comes down to you keeping that faith that things will get on track and control what you can.”

The problems with the Cowboys offense are multiple, but not getting Hurns more involved highlights how broken their passing game is.

https://profootballtalk.nbcsports.com/2018/09/27/allen-hurns-admits-frustration-at-lack-of-targets/

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I can't believe anybody jumped on this wagon pre season.  Cowboys and Chargers are perennially overrated every single year, I don't understand how so many writers keep falling for same trap.

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On 9/28/2018 at 10:09 AM, dawkins4prez said:

I can't believe anybody jumped on this wagon pre season.  Cowboys and Chargers are perennially overrated every single year, I don't understand how so many writers keep falling for same trap.

Almost nobody picked Dallas to win the east this year, most had then at 7-8 wins....not sure how they were overrated 

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Dak has not played well or to the level he did in 2016 last year or the start of this year. I understand he is having to deal with a group of WR’s that can’t seam to get open and will take time to build chemistry. I don’t know what his future holds for Dallas and if he is a franchise QB but by the end of the season we will know. The OL has holes with Frederick now out for who knows how long or if he will ever play again. Very sad story for one of the best centers in football. 

Scott L and Garrett will be gone if we don’t reach the playoffs. The D is playing good except for the safety position in a train wreck but I’m hoping we can correct that area as the season goes forward. 

Sundays game was huge for Zeke, the D, the OL, Dak and others but this league is about consistency. 

Eagles have not looked great either even with Wentz back. He may take some time to get his game back but teams will play them hard this year.

It’s early in the season and lots of football to play before we know where our teams will end up so just enjoy each game. 

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2 hours ago, Mortimer said:

ewok.jpg

That’s hilarious, but that Ewok is the best running back in the NFL

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On 10/1/2018 at 8:34 PM, Stephen1 said:

Almost nobody picked Dallas to win the east this year, most had then at 7-8 wins....not sure how they were overrated 

I hope they win 7-8 games. That means another year of Jason Garrett and the rest of the crew. Best case scenario for the Eagles.

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1 hour ago, Stephen1 said:

That’s hilarious, but that Ewok is the best running back in the NFL

Don't know about that, maybe. He has plenty of competition now that's for sure

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5 hours ago, Stephen1 said:

That’s hilarious, but that Ewok is the best running back in the NFL

And in today's league that gets you...

 

Not much. 

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9 hours ago, Road to Victory said:

I hope they win 7-8 games. That means another year of Jason Garrett and the rest of the crew. Best case scenario for the Eagles.

Yeah...Garrett wasted Romo’s career...as long as he’s around they aren’t really a threat to do anything. He brings nothing to the table x’s amd o’s wise.

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Troy Aikman calls for big changes to Cowboys organization

FRISCO, Texas -- Having lived through the Dallas Cowboys' decline after three Super Bowl wins in the 1990s and witnessed the franchise's continued struggles, longtime broadcaster and Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman said he believes major organizational changes will be needed if the team doesn't turn it around in the second half of this season.

Those changes could include owner and general manager Jerry Jones, the one constant during a parade of coaches. Aikman mentioned the coaches since the Cowboys' last Lombardi Trophy -- Chan Gailey, Dave Campo, Bill Parcells, Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett -- none of whom has been able to take the team to an NFC Championship Game, let alone a Super Bowl.

"Go through the list and this team, over a long period of time, has been what it's been," Aikman said Tuesday on 1310 The Ticket. "It hasn't always mattered who the head coach has been. So to me, if you're asking me, I'd say there has to be a complete overhaul of the entire organization."

Jones has been the general manager since 1989, but he does not operate as a traditional general manager. He leans mostly on executive vice president Stephen Jones, vice president of player personnel Will McClay and Garrett in personnel moves.

"I've heard Jerry say, 'OK, look, we're going to do it differently. I'm going to do it differently.' ... But it's the same. Nothing changes," Aikman said. "And that to me is the bigger issue. ... Yes, coaching is important, personnel, all those things are important, but how are you going about evaluating how you're going about running the organization?

"Whatever that looks like -- and everyone has an opinion on what it does look like, but I'm not in the building. I have no idea. I talk to people. I talk to people who have been inside the building and have a pretty good understanding how things are run, and in a lot of ways there's a lot of dysfunction, and that has to change if this team is going to be able to compete on a consistent basis like the teams that you look to around the league that seemingly are in the hunt each and every year."

Aikman is a close friend of Garrett from their years together as Dallas teammates, but he has been critical of Garrett through the years.

Jones said after Monday's 28-14 loss to the Tennessee Titans there was no scenario in which he would make an in-season head-coaching change. Since purchasing the team he has done so once, elevating Garrett to the position in 2010 after Phillips got off to a 1-7 start.

Garrett was asked on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas if he was worried about his job.

"I'm just focused on getting our team to play as well as we can play," said Garrett, who has a 70-58 career record, including 3-5 this season. "We'll learn from that experience [Monday] and get our eyes forward to Philadelphia.

Aikman said: "I can't think of a loss that was this bad at this point of a year." But he said he does not believe Jones would make a change if the Cowboys finish the season below .500 because he is "comfortable" with Garrett.

"One thing Jerry has done over the years, whether it's been accurate or not, is he's done things to at least give the fan base hope going into the next year," Aikman said.

http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/25195017/troy-aikman-thinks-cowboys-need-complete-overhaul

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Cowboys fans, this is Prescott's 4th and final year of his rookie contract. Do you want him extended or do you want to look elsewhere, be it the draft or free agency?

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