It’s Week 2 of the regular season, and the 0-1 Redskins are licking their wounds after an up-and-down game against the Eagles that showed both the good and bad this team has to offer. This week, the Washington Redskins will be facing off against division rival Dallas Cowboys, who blew out their divisional opponents in week 1. I asked Dave Halprin of Blogging The Boys five questions to better understand the state of the Cowboys and what to look for in this game.
1) The saying goes that no plan survives contact with the enemy, and the same is often true about fans’ expectations of their team after week 1. What were Cowboys fans’ expectations about their team prior to week 1 and how did the team meet or differ from those expectations?
I would say the majority of fans going into Week 1 were cautiously optimistic. The Cowboys had a talented roster and were coming off a season where they won the division and won a playoff game. So there was a baseline of quality there. The roster hadn’t changed too much and there were a few nice additions, so for most fans there was hope that this team would be a contender. The one huge question mark everyone had was the new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. You ask about him below so I won’t go into that too much now. Having said all that, I don’t think there’s any question the team surpassed expectations against the Giants, especially on offense.
The Cowboys looked extremely sharp on that side of the ball as they put together five long touchdown drives in a row. No, the Giants defense does not look like it will be good this year, but it was still an impressive performance. If there is one down thing about the Week 1 performance to take note of, it was that the Cowboys defense did not play as well as they showed last year. The Giants were able to get some explosive plays and rack up a ton of yards, but at least the Cowboys kept them from putting too many points on the board.
2) Much has been made about Cowboys new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. In what ways was the previous OC Scott Linehan to blame for the struggles of the Cowboys offense last year and how will the offense be different under Moore?
The feeling was that Scott Linehan’s offense had become stale and predictable. We heard reports of opposing defenses knowing what was coming on the regular because Linehan wasn’t too concerned with disguising plays and he wasn’t able to incorporate newer concepts into the game plan. The Cowboys were predictable on run/pass selection based on formation and down and distance. They also didn’t use play-action nearly enough for a team that was run-based. Basically the players were left to do all the work of winning the play because the element of surprise and the scheme weren’t really helping them out.
Kellen Moore has changed all that. He will run or pass out of any formation, he used the pass more than the run last week, and he moves players around pre-snap to help disguise what is coming. In essence, he’s running a modern NFL offense in the vein of a Sean McVay or Andy Reid. The Cowboys are incorporating bunch formations, RPOs, and other elements of offense into their regular game plan with Moore. These things were rare under Linehan. It feels like taking an offense that was stuck in the 1980s and bringing it into the modern age.
3) For years, Jerry Jones has been the very public face of the Cowboys front office. However, recently it has seemed like he may be taking a less active role in managing the roster and ceding some of that power to his son Stephen Jones as well as others. Can you describe the Cowboys front office power structure, who seems to be rising/falling within the FO, and which people not named “Jones” have had the biggest hand in the Cowboys recent success in the draft?
You are correct in your observation that more power has been delegated. Jerry Jones is still the final answer in the organization, but it truly feels like the real decisions are being made by Stephen Jones, Jason Garrett and Will McClay. Stephen is the guy who handles the roster/money and he’s done a great job of keeping the Cowboys salary cap functioning smoothly. Even with all the contracts the Cowboys have handed out recently, they still have cap space for Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper. Once Jerry’s time has passed, Stephen will run the franchise. And for those who think Jason Garrett is some kind of puppet, they couldn’t be more wrong; he has a huge amount of input into personnel decisions.
The Cowboys’ secret weapon is Will McClay, who is the VP of Player Personnel. He is the guy who constructs the Cowboys drafts and helps make the decisions on free agents. Dallas has done a phenomenal job of drafting recently and the roster is stocked with young, burgeoning talent. It’s one reason the Cowboys are negotiating so many huge second contracts for players right now. When these young draftees play well, you end up having to pay them. He also does a great job of finding inexpensive quality free agents. Dallas doesn’t spend much in free agency, so he’s limited in budget there, but he always manages to find a guy or two who stand out.
4) With all of the big new contracts and several important players left to be extended, which Cowboys players do you think will be Cap casualties next year and how will Cowboys fans feel about letting them go? Was the Amari Cooper trade worth it?
Good question. There was an expectation that right tackle La’el Collins was going to be one of the guys who would be allowed to leave in free agency after the season but the Cowboys just locked him down. Cornerback Byron Jones may be a candidate for a guy who is left out. He was outstanding last year and is coming of surgery this year and being eased back in. Given his talents, the Cowboys fanbase would probably be disappointed if he left but he could command big dollars on the market. Cornerback Anthony Brown is another guy they have to decide on; his contributions in the slot and on the outside when needed can’t be overlooked. He’s a sneaky good player. Dallas will also have to decide about defensive tackle Maliek Collins, who, when healthy, is a good player, but until this year has always seemed to get injured.
And yes, the Amari Cooper trade was absolutely worth it. He turned this team around when he arrived and has been all the team could have hoped for. The Cowboys will definitely extend him at some point. Who knows what was happening with him and Oakland in their last year or so together? He’s a number one receiver who demands attention on the field, but off the field he’s no diva — just a humble, hard-working guy who sets an example for the rest of the receivers.
5) What kind of game do you expect this to be and what do you think will be the critical factors in determining the outcome? If you were HC of the Redskins, how would you gameplan for this matchup and what weaknesses would you exploit on the Cowboys?
The Cowboys will probably try to feature Ezekiel Elliott a little bit more than they did last week when he was just coming off his holdout. He should be in better football shape now so he will likely get some more touches. But it seems that Kellen Moore likes to use the pass more than Linehan did, so we probably are not going to be the run-heavy team you’ve become accustomed to. The Giants tried to man-cover at times and they got burnt for their efforts. They also gave up a lot of YAC. Keeping the Cowboys receivers from the explosive plays has to be a priority, so I would play deeper in the secondary and mix in a fair use of zone to keep tacklers looking at the ball. Cowboys receivers were running free too often against the Giants. A pass rush would obviously help; the Giants barely touched Dak Prescott. But if you have to sell out on the blitz to get a pass rush, you are probably in trouble because Prescott handles blitzes very well.
On offense, establish a running game. The Cowboys have been a little bit vulnerable to the run lately so I would pound them to see if they can stop it. The Cowboys corners are very talented, so a pure passing game against them is risky. If you can run it early, then they will have to commit to the box and then take your shots downfield.
Thanks again to Dave Halprin for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Cowboys.