July 17, 2015
This week we're taking a look at each of the Eagles' divisional enemies, in detail. Earlier in the week, we blasted the Redskins, and then busted on the Giants. Today's target will be the Dallas Cowboys. To note, we will not be talking about the positives of any of the Eagles' NFC East rivals, because, well, that's no fun. This will be 100 percent vitriolic. Also to note, this will be published in the Eagles Almanac, which you can pre-order here.
Disclaimer: OK, so the Cowboys aren't going to be a "dumpster fire" this season unless Tony Romo gets hurt, but they are far from the juggernaut many are making them out to be. Let's get to it...
Google "Cowboys offensive line." Here are some of the headlines you'll find:
OMG BEST EVERRRRRRRRRR!!!!!!!!!
The Cowboys certainly have an offensive line that can run block. You will not get an argument from me on that one. In 2014, as every Eagles fan knows, DeMarco Murray won the rushing title by a margin of almost 500 yards. You simply don't do that without a strong offensive line opening up some holes along the way.
However, the Cowboys' offensive line is far from a great pass blocking group. Including the playoffs last year, the Cowboys gave up 40 sacks. Here's a sampling of some egregious examples:
Cowboys OL, Part I: Leary tackles Peppers, still gives up strip sack: pic.twitter.com/hEK9NmFiNp— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part II: Not much of a pass rush by Nick Perry, but he runs right around Tyron Smith. pic.twitter.com/STmnA9egfd— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part III: Nothing overly exotic here. Lions show 6, only send 4, get 2 guys completely unblocked. pic.twitter.com/zu12DLnOwU— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part IV: Ronald Leary Smoked by Fletcher Cox. pic.twitter.com/KNTiY9JZul— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part V: Carbon copy of Leary getting smoked by Cox. pic.twitter.com/Sr7DBhDJuy— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part VI: Ronald Leary bullied by Brandon Graham. pic.twitter.com/Zz9OJMferO— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part VII: Travis Frederick beaten soundly. pic.twitter.com/9bO3yq2HLl— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part VIII: Frederick beaten by Jason Hatcher, LB wins race to Romo. pic.twitter.com/hMyENZKWO3— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part IX: JPP smokes Tyron Smith. pic.twitter.com/aHucYKSx4A— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part X: Doug Free beaten badly by Casey. pic.twitter.com/yQ8KAYJiiD— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part XI: Take your pick between Free and Martin on who got beat here. pic.twitter.com/ThqZDtZHiB— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part XII: Casey swats Leary, runs around center. pic.twitter.com/h63ayEfTJd— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part XIII: Tyron Smith whiffs on Brooks. pic.twitter.com/TDpEkBf0hH— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part XIV: Nobody picks up Smith on stunt. pic.twitter.com/iBNlIpZ837— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
Cowboys OL, Part XV: Another Tyron Smith whiff. pic.twitter.com/feXcoeVp2X— Jimmy Kempski (@JimmyKempski) July 16, 2015
I figured 15 egregious examples were enough to make the point that maybe the Cowboys don't have the best OL in the history of the Universe. Apparently not. The reaction on Twitter was largely this:
In 2014, the Cowboys gave up a sack on 7.07% of their pass plays. That was good for 21st in the NFL:
|Rank||Team||QB sacked percentage|
And who knows how many other sacks Tony Romo saved the Cowboys OL with that little Houdini spin he does.
• Great run blocking offensive line? Yes.
• Young, with a boatload of potential? Sure.
• Complete, elite unit that does everything well? No freaking way.
Pass protection is kind of an important thing, and the Dallas offensive line is only average in that regard. Somewhere along the way, the Cowboys OL hype train became thought of unanimously as the best line in the NFL. I'd be a liar if I said I've studied every offensive line in the NFL in great detail, but this is most definitely not an elite unit. Not until they improve their pass protection, anyway.
DeMarco Murray is blinder than a bat, or slow, or something. Or so I've been told by Cowboys fans ever since the Eagles signed him during free agency this past offseason. He doesn't see holes, he doesn't make the most the of his opportunities when he gets into the second level of the defense, he should have had 4000 yards instead of 1800+, blah blah blah.
That rhetoric was further emphasized by Murray's backup, Joseph Randle, who said during OTAs that Murray left "a lot of meat on the bone," which means he didn't gain as many yards as he should have.
Randle is so good that the Cowboys let him touch the football during the playoffs. Twice.
Oh, and the Cowboys have Darren McFadden too, who has averaged 3.3, 3.3, and 3.4 yards per carry the last three years. So there's that.
The Cowboys sack totals and NFL rankings the last three seasons:
The Cowboys made two key additions to bolster their pass rush this offseason.
Hardy had 15 sacks in 2013, but he missed 15 games in 2014 for his off-the-field issues, and will miss the first four games of the 2015 season as well.
The Cowboys also drafted Nebraska edge rusher Randy Gregory in the second round of the 2015 draft. If Cowboys fans are expecting big production from Gregory, they should know that edge rushers rarely make an impact their rookie seasons. Below is a list of first round edge rushers selected in the last three drafts and the number of sacks they had their rookie seasons:
That would be 3.38 sacks per player. The Cowboys could get increased production from Tyrone Crawford and Demarcus Lawrence, but there isn't exactly a lot to be excited about on the Cowboys defensive line unless Hardy returns to the form he showed in 2013.
The Cowboys are getting Sean Lee back from injury this season, as they do every year. Lee's injury history going back to his time at Penn State:
• 2008 (Penn State) - Torn ACL. Missed the entire season.
• 2009 (Penn State) - Sprained knee. Missed 3 games.
• 2010 (Dallas) - Strained hamstring. Missed 2 games.
• 2011 (Dallas) - Dislocated wrist. Missed 1 game.
• 2012 (Dallas) - Toe. IR. Missed 10 games.
• 2013 (Dallas) - Hamstring. Missed 5 games, including Week 17 finale vs Eagles.
• 2014 (Dallas) - Torn ACL. Missed the entire season.
Lee doesn't just have to prove that he's healthy. He has to show that he's still good.
As long as we're talking about Cowboys linebackers, we should also note here that MLB Rolando McClain will miss the first four games of the season with a suspension. If Lee's ligaments are made of dandelions, McClain's brain is made of a different type of weed.
Just a reminder.
Yes, that drawing is my official analysis of Brandon Weeden, for the record.
As the NFC East champs a year ago, the Cowboys have to face the NFC North and NFC West champs. Those two teams (the Seahawks and Packers, as noted above) are the two best teams in the NFC.
In 2014, the Cowboys beat the Seahawks, which #CowboysNation hailed as the greatest achievement of modern mankind. However, they lost to the
Lions Packers in the playoffs:
...and his numbers are in decline:
Witten turned 33 in May.
The Cowboys are on the hook for $27,856,663 against the cap for the corners in 2014, per overthecap.com. That's the second highest dollar figure in the NFL at CB. For that money, the Cowboys had the 26th ranked pass defense a year ago. The Cowboys don't exactly have awesome safeties either, although you can say that for 90% of the league.
In 2013, the Cowboys defense was historically bad. In 2014 it was just "regular bad."
|Stat||2013 Cowboys||2014 Cowboys|
|Total yards||415.3 (32)||355.1 (19)|
|Yards per play||6.1 (30)||5.8 (26)|
|First downs per game||24.2 (32)||19.7 (17)|
|3rd down %||43.3 (28)||43.6 (29)|
|Pass yards||286.8 (30)||251.9 (26)|
|Pass yards per play||7.8 (27)||7.5 (21)|
|Pass TDs allowed||33 (T-30)||22 (T-6)|
|Opp QB rating||96.0 (26)||88.5 (13)|
|Sacks||34 (25)||28 (28)|
|Rush yards||128.5 (27)||103.1 (8)|
|Rush yards per attempt||4.7 (30)||4.2 (16)|
|Rush TDs allowed||17 (26)||18 (31)|
Credit the Dallas coaching staff for recognizing what the Cowboys were a year ago. They knew they had to keep their garbage defense off the field, so they successfully pounded the run with DeMarco Murray, stayed on schedule, and the offense converted third down conversions at a very impressive rate (47%), which was second in the NFL. They were able to sustain long drives, convert those drives into points, and make life easier on the defense.
It seems simple, but it worked. But it all started with the run game.
However, if the run game falters without DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys could experience a domino effect.
Follow Jimmy on Twitter: @JimmyKempski