It’s week 7 of the NFL season and the 1-5 Washington Football Team will be facing a 2-4 Cowboys team at home in FedExField. The Cowboys led the division at the end of week 6 with a mighty 2 wins compared to the single win boasted by other NFCE teams (though the Eagles now have 2 wins thanks to week 7 Thursday Night Football).
The Cowboys share a few similarities with their opponents this Sunday. The Cowboys fired their Head Coach in the offseason and hired former Packers Head Coach Mike McCarthy to replace him. McCarthy brought in former Saints LB coach Mike Nolan to serve as his Defensive Coordinator (along with Jim Tomsula as DL coach) and hired former Rams Special Teams Coordinator John Fassel to oversee that phase of the game. Unlike Washington, the Cowboys maintained their former OC Kellen Moore. Perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the Cowboys offense has been the most productive unit on the team so far this season. However, the offense took a huge step back with a season-ending injury to QB Dak Prescott, who suffered a broken and dislocated ankle week 5 against the Giants. Backup QB Andy Dalton looked immobile and uncomfortable replacing Prescott in their week 6 matchup against the Cardinals. Injuries across most of the offensive line certainly haven’t helped.
The biggest weakness of the Cowboys team seems to be their defense. After holding the Rams to 20 points in week 1, the Cowboys defense has failed to hold an opponent to fewer than 34 points this season.
To learn more about these and other issues, I asked Dave Halprin of Blogging the Boys five questions about the state of the Cowboys and what to look for in this game.
1) What are your impressions of the new coaching staff and how long of a leash do you think they have? Would you replace any of them at this point?
This is a very difficult thing to judge given the fact that there was no preseason, no OTAs and none of other things that come with a normal offseason, and the fact that the Cowboys are buckling under an enormous amount of injuries. Dallas has lost four starters on offense for the year, and have had various other injuries that saw them playing four guys on the offensive line against the Cardinals that between them had started exactly one game previous to 2020. Now, the NFL is full of injuries and some teams do better with them than others, and that’s kind of the knock on the Cowboys coaching staff. They aren’t doing a great job of scheming around the injuries. They also implemented a totally new defensive scheme that was very different, and much more complex, than the one the Cowboys used to use. That has been a big point of contention. Defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is receiving the biggest amount of heat at the moment.
I probably wouldn’t replace anyone at this point, but if I did it would probably be Nolan. In-season coaching changes are not always the best idea, but I have seen them work on occasion. Mike McCarthy seems to believe in Nolan and what he is trying to do on defense, so it doesn’t look like anything will change on that side of the ball even though it’s been historically bad. I’d say this coaching staff has a leash through this year, but if things don’t improve all bets are off once the 2021 offseason hits.
2) What prevented Dak Prescott from signing a long term extension from the Cowboys last offseason and what are the chances he gets one this offseason? Do you think his injury will impact that decision or the type of contract he signs?
The word is that the Cowboys front office and Prescott’s camp couldn’t agree on the length of the contract. Reportedly the Cowboys wanted a five-year deal and Prescott wanted a four-year deal so he could hit another big contract in his prime. It’s hard to believe that the one-year difference is the thing that held up the deal, and we’ll probably never really know what happened, but sources intimated that the amount of money for each season wasn’t really the big issue and was reportedly in the $35 million range.Jerry and Stephen Jones are saying that nothing has changed in terms of the Cowboys wanting to get a long-term deal done and that the injury won’t impact that. Unless Prescott goes through some dramatic recovery like Alex Smith, he should be back and 100% in April or so. If that’s the case, the Cowboys will probably try to sign him to a long-term deal and will likely franchise tag him again to hold onto him while a deal gets done. The offensive performance on Monday night must have been a real eye-opener for the Cowboys front office about just how much Prescott means to the team. I’d say the odds are very high a deal gets done.
3) I know you’ve been asked this before, but what is going on with the Cowboys defense?
There are a few different things happening. We touched on one above about how the Cowboys changed their scheme this offseason and so far the personnel is not working well with the change. The Cowboys are using a more complex, multiple defense with different coverage schemes and that has led to a lot of blown coverages and players out of position. They just don’t seem very confident in what they are doing right now and the player’s might not have bought in totally. Next is injuries. The Cowboys lost a couple of defensive tackles for the year, including Gerald McCoy who they were really counting on to solidify the middle. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch missed four games and Sean Lee hasn’t played yet. Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie has missed several games as has corner Anthony Brown, although he is now back. The safety play has already resulted in a starter being benched. It’s just a real mess, and the Cowboys defensive line hasn’t been able to apply as much pressure as needed. New scheme, multiple injuries in the same position groups, and players underperforming has led to a disastrous defense.
4) If you had to assign a percent of blame for the Cowboys terrible season so far, how much would you assign to the following factors: shortened offseason due to COVID, coaching staff, initial roster talent, injuries, ownership/team management? Is there another major source of blame I missed (if so, what would it be)?
I would put about 25% on the offseason issues/new coaching staff, 35% on the injury situation, 25% on underperforming players and 15% on ownership. The coaching staff should have realized that the dramatic change on defense was going to be difficult to implement given the strange offseason and should have scaled that back, and done a better job of fixing it once the season was underway as the results weren’t encouraging. They also haven’t been able to do much to shake the team out of this downward trend they are on. The injuries are probably the biggest factor, especially since they have been clustered in groups so the team has had to reach deep down on the depth chart in certain areas. And now with Prescott out, things have gotten even more difficult. Many of the players have underwhelmed, like Ezekiel Elliott’s fumbles, DeMarcus Lawrence’s pass rush and Jaylon Smith’s all-around play. Ownership always carries some fault as they hired the coaches and they also signed a free agent class that hasn’t really helped much at all outside of Aldon Smith. They did a very good job of drafting so they get some credit there.
5) How would you gameplan to attack the Cowboys on offense and defense?
Against the Cowboys offense, get after the quarterback as the Cowboys offensive line is a shell of its former self. There are a lot of young, inexperienced players on the line who can be beaten and can be confused with blitzes. Dak Prescott isn’t back there to bail them out either. Putting pressure on Andy Dalton and pressing the recievers will give the offense fits. The Cardinals did this very well. As the opponent, I’d rather have the Cowboys try to grind it out with the run game rather than giving Dalton time in the pocket because the Cowboys strength is their receivers.
Against the Cowboys defense, run the ball because the Cowboys are horrendous in run defense. They have been cooked regularly and if you have a mobile QB then let him use his legs too. Use a lot of misdirection, play-action and other trickery because the Cowboys will over-pursue, will get out of position and will absolutely blow coverages. If you can run the ball and use some good misdirection, you’ll score easily on this defense.
Thanks again to Dave Halprin for taking time out of his day to answer our questions about the Cowboys.
As of right now, Vegas has the Cowboys matchup as a pickem game, meaning neither team is favored over the other. How would you bet?
This poll is closed
The game ends in a tie
As of now, Vegas has the over/under for this game at 45 points. Which would you bet?
This poll is closed
45 or more total points are scored (both sides combined)
Fewer than 45 total points are scored (both sides combined)