We have gained insights into the opponent and the matchup each week so far this season by speaking with the writers who know the teams best. This week is no exception, and I had the pleasure of speaking with Dave Halprin, managing editor of Blogging The Boys — SB Nation’s website for all things Dallas Cowboys.
Check out our conversation below:
1. Following last Sunday’s overtime loss to the Houston Texans, where head coach Jason Garrett decided to punt on fourth-and-one in Houston territory, I’ve heard a lot of people in the national media saying Garret’s job security is not very safe. Is that how the actual fan base feels, or is there still confidence in Garrett?
Dave: Of course it’s always hard to gauge how a whole fan base feels, but I would be pretty comfortable in saying that most Cowboys observers feel like Garrett has to turn things around this year or he will probably lose his job. This is his ninth year, and while some good things have been done around getting a much younger roster stocked with some quality talent, and getting the salary cap under control, the results on the field are not what was expected. The Cowboys only have one playoff win in three playoff games under Garrett and time is running out. After the team went 13-3 in 2016 many of us felt like the team had turned the corner and all the process and work under Garrett was paying off. Unfortunately we lost our first playoff game that year, and since then the team is 11-10. It feels like a real step backwards being only 2-3 this year and the way the team’s offense has played is making things even worse. In my own personal opinion, if Garrett can’t get things turned around and get this team into the playoffs, the Cowboys will have a new coach in 2019.
2. After a fantastic rookie season, Dak Prescott has underwhelmed, especially as a passer. He also lacks weapons on the outside. What are the issues with Dallas’ passing game, and can they be fixed?
Dave: If you asked five different Cowboys fans what the problem is with the passing game you would get five different answers. The answers most commonly heard - Dak Prescott, bad receivers, bad play-calling, unimaginative scheme, or poor offensive line play. Personally I think it is a combination of all those things, but the majority of the blame has to be laid at the feet of Dak Prescott. I’ve told this story many times, but here it is again, up until the Cowboys played Atlanta in the ninth game of 2017, Dak Prescott looked like a star. The offense was humming and the team was 18-6 in the regular season with Dak as quarterback. Then came the Atlanta game where he was sacked eight times and was running for his life all game. Since then, the passing game has stalled and the team has a record of 6-7. Dak doesn’t look comfortable int he pocket, his footwork and mechanics seem out of whack, and he’s just not seeing the field as well as he should. Because of this, his accuracy is suffering and he’s just not seeing open receivers.
Now, there are other problems as mentioned above. There aren’t a lot of playmakers on offense outside of Ezekiel Elliott, and the offensive line has been inconsistent this year. There is a dissatisfaction with the Cowboys offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, with many feeling that he hasn’t updated the offensive scheme as much as he should have, especially in using Prescott’s legs and using a lot more of the bunch formations, rub routes and other spread ideas that have come from the college game and other places. Add all this up and you have a passing game in disarray.
3 On the flip side, Ezekiel Elliott leads the NFL in rushing yards with 480 yards. He also leads the Cowboys in receptions. The stout Jaguars defense is going to obviously key in on him. Are there any other players who can make an impact on offense if the Jags are able to shut Elliott down?
Dave: Well, not anybody who is doing it consistently. Guys are making intermittent big plays, with Tavon Austin probably doing the most damage. He can be a big-play threat and has scored a few touchdowns this year, but the Cowboys have yet to figure out how to get him as many touches as he should be getting. Cole Beasley is the most consistent wide receiver and the guy who you want to take out of the passing game. He can move the chains pretty regularly if you don’t key on him. Your old friend Allen Hurns has been very inconsistent so far, and a couple of other guys have made a couple of plays, but nothing you would game plan around. Tight end Geoff Swaim is starting to put together some good games, but he’s not going to take over a game, he’s just a complementary piece.
4. Defensively, the Cowboys have been solid, and rank No. 8 in total defense. The Jacksonville offense is about as inconsistent as it comes, capable of blowing up or playing a complete dud. The offensive unit is also dealing with significant injuries at running back, offensive line and tight end. Which side has the advantage here and why?
Dave: The Cowboys defense is the reason the Cowboys haven’t been just an awful team this year. I haven’t studied the Jaguars offense on film, so it’s hard to be specific, but looking at statistics and based on your injury situation, the Cowboys defense might hold a small advantage here. The Cowboys scoring defense has been pretty good and they were awesome in the red zone last week. The strength of the defense is built around DeMarcus Lawrence and a strong set of linebackers. The Cowboys can generate a pass rush and they are a pretty good tackling team. They can be an aggressive blitzing team and they like to run stunts up front. This season they have had some issues with mobile quarterbacks and they can definitely bust a coverage in the secondary which can lead to bad results.
5. Going into the season, how did your expectations for the team compare to what they are now through five weeks? What can Dallas do to make a playoff run at 2-3?
Dave: I expected the Cowboys to be a better team than they are right now. I knew that they had issues on offense at the end of last season, but we thought some of that had to do with the suspension of Elliott and injury issues with Tyron Smith. With Elliott not under suspension, and a healthier Smith it was expected the offense would resemble more of the team we saw in 2016 and early 2017. Losing center Travis Frederick has hurt, and Dak Prescott has continued his regression. Plus the Cowboys banked on a revamped wide receiver corps and it just hasn’t produced.
If they are going to make a playoff run, it’s all going to rest on improvements from Dak Prescott. That can come in two forms. Self-improvement, where Prescott conquers his mechanical issues and starts getting a better sense of the pocket an working his way around it without losing vision of the field. He has to start delivering more accurate passes. Second, the coaching staff could help him out by letting him run more, call some more read-options and RPOs, and they could also help the receivers get some more separation by using more bunch formations, pick routes and other tricks to open up the field. The route-combinations from the Cowboys are just too predictable.
Score prediction? Cowboys 17 - Jaguars 16.
I truly appreciate Dave for taking the time to provide his insights and analysis on the Cowboys. Be sure to follow Blogging The Boys on Twitter to keep up with all things Dallas leading up to Sunday’s contest.