With the Dallas Cowboys off due to the bye week, five members of the Cowboys Fanatics staff sat down to tackle six questions. The Cowboys look to take on San Francisco on Sunday. Before the game occurs, the staff answered questions on what the team did against Green Bay and what could happen over the next few weeks.
Did the Cowboys mismanage the last drive against Green Bay?
Selena Sixtos: Yes, and no. As Jeff Cavanaugh from 105.3 The Fan explained, it was vital that the team both shaved time from the clock and scored a touchdown, the latter being the most important. Dak did his job by putting up six on the board, what I would focus on here was poor play by the defense on allowing the packers to move down the field so easily.
Jay Attal: No, they didn’t. While it is easy to say the Cowboys should have “drained the clock more”, momentum is a dangerous thing to mess with. The Cowboys had already gotten a 4th down conversion call reveresed in their favor on that drive, they didn’t need to push their luck in what was obviously a critical moment. You take points where you can get them in the NFL. If you want to point the finger at someone, blame the defense for not hanging on for 75 seconds.
Corey Douglas: I definitely think the Cowboys mismanaged the last drive where they took the lead. My problem isn’t that Dak scored because it’s tough to tell any player in any situation to take a knee at the one. My problem is on the 2nd and 2 play where it was a RPO and Dak throws an incomplete pass to Dez Bryant in the end zone. One of two things are going to happen in that situation, you either score a touchdown which allows Aaron Rodgers to have more time for game winning drive or the incomplete pass happens and allows the Packers to keep their timeout.
Jacie Scott: I can understand the logic. Better to keep it safe, score and avoid turnovers, ya da ya da. And that can work perfectly against some teams, but not the Packers. You simply CAN NOT give Aaron Rodgers that much time. We should know this by now. So yes, I do think the Cowboys mismanaged that last drive.
Jared Wingate: The Cowboys led a nearly nine-minute scoring drive to take a 31-28 lead over the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. The problem was, they left 1:13 on the clock in regulation for Aaron Rodgers to go to work. After seeing Rodgers end their season with 20 seconds to play in last year’s divisional round playoff matchup, the team was aware of the dangers Rodgers posed. While I don’t have a problem with Prescott scoring with 1:13 left, I had a problem with the decision to pass the ball on second down.
If the team runs the ball there, they can at least kill more time and put the Packers in a more precarious position. Instead of scoring the game-winning touchdown with 11 seconds left, the Packers might’ve settled for a game-tying field goal attempt, or could’ve been held out of scoring position altogether. Hindsight is hindsight, but the decision to not kill even more clock should be questioned given the opponent.
How long can the team afford to miss Sean Lee?
SS: Not long at all. The defense has been struggling, even with Lee who looked shaken against Denver, but it is clear that with him this team is better. We have maybe just a couple of more games to see what this defense is really about.
JA: No time at all. Have you noticed the defense tackles differently when he’s off the field? And not in a good way I might add. He’s the glue that bonds the team together (watch his performance in last years playoff game).
CD: The Cowboys are 0-2 without Sean Lee. The loss of Lee on the defense puts a lot of pressure on the rest of the guys and quite frankly, they aren’t ready for that. Cowboys have lost back to back games when the offense has scored 30 points. That doesn’t happen with the general in uniform. The sooner we can get Lee back the better.
JS: Not much longer. The linebackers are one of the weakest spots on defense right now and Lee’s presence has definitely been missed these last few games. The return of a healthy Lee would have a great impact on the defense’s performance in stopping the run.
JW: In short, the team can’t afford to have Sean Lee miss more time. As evidenced in the team’s past two games, the defense has failed to perform well in run defense, and has struggled to defend the mid-level passing game of the Rams and the Packers.
The defense plays better and with more discipline with Lee in the lineup, and the veteran linebacker is capable of changing drives with his level of awareness and play recognition. Hopefully with the bye week, Lee will be ready to rock against the 49ers next week.
Which Rookie Defensive Back Is Going To Grow The Most Through the End of the Season?
SS: Xavier Woods has been performing well and I believe he’ll get more opportunities to be able to play the ball in help coverage where he flourishes. I think it’s possible he’ll replace Heath this year.
JA: Probably Jordan Lewis, simply because he’s being thrown into the fire a lot already, and Awuzie can’t stay on the field. However the rookie DB I am most excited about is Xavier Wood. I can’t wait to see him get involved more, Woods is currently only involved in 30% of the defensive snaps. It will be exciting to see if his ball skills come into play more as his snap totals rise
CD: The defensive back that is going to grow the most is Xavier Woods. I feel that he will be on the field a lot more down the stretch and make a huge impact on the defense. Woods has the ability to create turnovers with his great instincts, ability to make plays on the ball and he’s a great tackler.
JS: I’m going to take this question quite literally. Looking at the group of young defensive backs, it’s obvious that Jourdan Lewis has made a name for himself this season. He’s one of the best defensive players out there and in the running for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Now, he has even more room to show what he’s got with the departure of Nolan Carroll.
That said, if I’m looking at who will grow the MOST through the end of the season, I’m going to say Xavier Woods. He’s had some good moments in his limited exposure. But, if the Cowboys make some necessary shifts in the bye, we may see more of him. This will give him more opportunities to grow into his own and give the Cowboys a chance to see what his role and potential can be.
JW: He may have grown the most so far, but it is exciting to think about where Jourdan Lewis’ level of play can go with more playing time. Lewis has quickly developed into one of, if not the best defensive backs on the team. His play has been aggressive, yet disciplined. He has shown a willingness to come up and tackle the ball carrier in open space, which is valuable in a cornerback. He also shows a feistiness in coverage that is needed to defend the top receivers in the league. It will be interesting to see where Lewis can take his level of play to in the coming weeks.
If Ezekiel Elliott suspension is upheld, which running back should get a majority of the carries?
SS: It’s been rumored that the Cowboys are expected to roll with McFadden on this one, but it would definitely make sense to use more of Morris here and turn this into a committee. I expect McFadden to get more carries than Morris simply because of his experience with this team. Either way, expecting the run game to match Zeke’s previous performances would be foolish as they look lack his speed and versatility.
JA: I don’t think either Alfred Morris or Darren McFadden are necessarily the key by themselves. Use Morris to try and bruise the defense, then once they are worn down they could use the speed of McFadden to get the bulk of your rush yards.
CD: Darren McFadden. Even though he’s been inactive every game so far, I think that was the plan all along to keep him fresh just in case this Zeke situation went in the direction it has gone now. Last time Mcfadden was the feature back in this offense he was the 4th leading rusher in the league.
JS: I think the carries could be split between Alfred Morris and Darren McFadden. Obviously not evenly, but I don’t see it being much of a difference. Morris is currently Ezekiel Elliott’s backup, but McFadden is a better blocker and maybe receiver. I haven’t forgotten about McFadden’s 1000+ yard season not long ago. I don’t know that he still has that in him, but he could still produce. It may just come down to whoever is having the better day.
JW: Practically the question of the week among fantasy football fans. While the Cowboys will certainly mix in both backs, the team would rather one of Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, or Rod Smith become the featured back in the absence of Ezekiel Elliott. Assuming Elliott does indeed serve his suspension beginning after the bye week (no guarantee), the team could re-feature 2015 starter Darren McFadden at running back.
The team has kept McFadden under bubble wrap so far, this season, and I believe that decision was made with the thought that McFadden can come in and start if needed. I believe the team likes their current role for Alfred Morris, and that McFadden is best suited for the three-down role this offense needs.
What are your expectations of the team should Elliott sit the next six games?
SS: By losing Zeke the team essentially loses a big weapon. Although this year is not what we had expected, it’s the threat of having Elliot on this team that instantly gives the Cowboys leverage. A lot of this pressure will fall onto Dak, of course, but also onto two running backs who haven’t seen half the success as Zeke.
JA: Honestly, it won’t be hard for the running backs to match the on field production that Zeke has given the Cowboys so far this year. His numbers aren’t all that exceptional. This team is going to be heavily on the shoulders of Dak Prescott, who can be expected to pass 30-35+ times a game over the course of the next 6 weeks. I see the Cowboys going 2-4 over the next six weeks. 3-3 if they’re lucky.
CD: In my piece I wrote about this very situation, I had the Cowboys going 4-2 during this six game stretch. The two division games are a toss up to me, but I feel the cowboys can win both of those games and then win in San Francisco and at home against the Chargers on Thanksgiving day.
JS: If Elliott ends up serving his suspension, it’ll be a tough loss for this offense that created an identity from the run game. Dak Prescott will likely take on more, and he can handle it. The team’s record isn’t a reflection of Prescott’s performance.
JW: With the team currently sitting 3 games out of first place in the NFC East, they can ill afford to lose more ground in a competitive NFC playoff race. With tough matchups against the Redskins, Chiefs, Falcons and Eagles in the next six weeks, the team already had their work cut out for them. I think the team is still talented enough to beat San Francisco and the Los Angeles Chargers, they will need to win at least one of these other four matchups to be in position to compete for a playoff spot.
Ultimately, I believe the team will split these next six games with Elliott sidelined, and enter the stretch run with a 5-6 record. Whether this record will be too far back of a surging Philadelphia Eagles squad remains to be seen, but the team will need to get hot when Elliott returns to have a chance of reaching the postseason.
Is it time for Brice Butler to take starting snaps as the second wide receiver?
SS: I’m doubtful that Butler will take over for Terrance Williams, but I definitely believe that he will see an increase of snaps.
JA: Absolutely. I don’t understand why Dallas is afraid to switch up the pecking order at receiver. Butler has more than proven he deserves at least more utilization within the offense, if not starting snaps. Give him a shot at WR2 and if it doesn’t work out, no harm done. It’s not like you’d be missing a bunch of on field production from Terrance Williams.
CD: Terrance Williams was having a great season to me until Sunday. The problem with Williams is that he doesn’t make enough big plays to overcome the critical mistakes he makes at the most critical moments of the game. Brice Butler has shown he can make big plays down the field like he did in the Arizona game. If I was coach, I would look at getting Butler on the field a lot more following the bye week.
JS: It might be. I’m a Terrance Williams fan so it pains me to say it, but he just hasn’t looked like a number two receiver in these last few games. It could be interesting to see how Brice Butler fares in that role. There’s an obvious chemistry there with him and Prescott. Butler has proven to be a playmaker in limited playing time, so we’ll see if that could translate over to a starting role.
JW: Brice Butler has really stepped up his play this season. He has refined his ability to go up and grab the ball out of the air, something of which we have yet to see from current starting wide receiver Terrance Williams. In fact, Brice Butler has more yards (207 to 180) and touchdowns (2 to 0) than Williams on less catches (8 to 19).
While Williams is making more money on a new deal, the team should look at what Butler can do with more playing time. Butler can bring a new level of consistency that the Cowboys are missing with Williams, and he arguably offers more big play upside, as evidenced by his absurd 25.9 yards per catch.
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