The key to winning down the stretch/winning the division

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The key to winning down the stretch and winning the division has it’s usual suspects, but there is one element that I’m going to be watching more than anything else. It’s stopping the run on the road. So far this year they’ve done a great job of stopping the run on the road, and overall, when they do that they win.

tyrone crawford defensive line

Last year the Cowboys gave up a whopping 143 rushing yards per game on the road and didn’t fare well in those games. This year on the road, they have given up a measly 88 yards per game and won all four games. I believe this to be the number one key to winning the division. Who would have thought?

ray eberflusHad you told me the Dallas Cowboys would  have a prayer at stopping the run at home or on the road I would have called the funny mobile to bring you a straight jacket and take your loony ass away. I say this not because of Ware or Hatcher, but because of the LB situation once Lee went down. They didn’t have a LB proven or otherwise that appeared to be able to step into the middle linebacker spot and play to a standard that could accomplish that, but the front office, coaches and players all surprised us. First; the front office went out and signed a twice retired former 1st round pick in Rolando McClain that revived his career by being a run stopping machine. Second; they drafted in the forth round, a little known linebacker out of Iowa who turned out to be pretty darn good. Thirdly; the coaching staff, mainly Matt Eberflus, has done a fantastic job at really coaching this unit up to play exceptionally well. The players are believing what the coaching staff is teaching them, and playing very well. Nobody really expected, (hoped but not expected), McClain to be so good. Durant was proving to be one of the best on the team at the linebacker position. It’s a shame that he went down. They drafted HItchens to take the place of Lee in case he went down to ANOTHER injury. I don’t believe for one second they envisioned him to be as good as he as been.

dallas cowboys rb demarco murrayThere are other factors I’m looking at if they are to meet my expections of 12-4. First off they have to go 5-1 down the stretch with four of them on the road. To do this they have to, as mentioned, stop the run on the road. They also have to continue to run the ball. It doesn’t have to be just DeMarco Murray because Joseph Randle is averaging a whopping 6.9 yards per carry. in all three losses they threw the ball more than they ran it. This can’t happen down the stretch. IT JUST CAN’T!!! They also need to open the play book. For the first time that I can remember, in the Jason Garrett era, they ran the running back screen three, that’s right three times against the Jags: on two of them they gained a first down, and on all three they gained positive yards. I’ve been screaming for this play for a while now. The Cowboys have one of the most athletic young offensive lines in the NFL, and all three running backs are solid at catching the ball. The most dangerous RB the Cowboys have for this play is the shifty, quick, and fast Lance Dunbar, who is far too under utilized.

They must add some variety to the offensive formations and play calling. For the first time in 2014 they ran a double reverse against the Jags, and although it lost a couple of yards, a minor tweak in design can change the effectiveness of that play. They also ran a shallow crossing play to Dez Bryant out of the slot position and as we all know, he scored a TD. I really hate and despise some of the vanilla formations and lack of imagination that comes out of the offense. They line up, no motion, no stacking or bunching, and just let the defense dictate who will be open instead of getting some motion, or using other methods to guarantee someone will be open. As a defensive coordinator you just love the fact that you can line up your defense and you don’t have to make any adjustments. You know that the Cowboys aren’t going to do anything that will confuse you. As a former offensive coordinator I get so frustrated watching such vanilla formations.

 

Tony RomoThe last thing they must do if they are going to have success down the stretch and win the division, (although listed last) I believe most important is to keep Tony Romo upright. He is the franchise. If he goes down the Cowboys would be lucky to win a game. I’ve always, and still do believe that if Tony Romo had a team around him he could win it all. This is a completely different team without him. If Romo is out a defense can line up to stop the run, and make Brandon Weeden beat them, which he can’t do. Speaking of which, there have been some bad free agent signings by the Dallas Cowboys in the past, but more so because of how much they gave up to get them or how much they paid them. In the case of Brandon Weeden, it’s due to talent and not because of how much he earns or what was given up to get him. It’s because he is bad…REALLY BAD.

I’ve seen a lot of bad QB play, had teams that I’ve coached where I didn’t have a good QB, and nothing, absolutely nothing, will take a team down faster than a lousy QB. Brandon Weeden is just that. The front office has been, in my opinion, getting better at personnel decisions, but without a doubt, signing Weeden was one of the worst in franchise history in my book. Keep Romo upright, continue to run RB screen plays and continue to develop some creativity on offense. Besides keeping Romo upright, stopping the run on the road is is also crucial for winning down the stretch.   If they do what I’ve listed, I believe the Dallas Cowboys will win the division going away, and will make a lot of noise in the playoffs.

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  • Al

    Once again nice Job Jeff. You always make good points.

    • I agree. His content is always meat and potatoes. I love it.

      • Jeff Kessinger

        Thanks Cas, I really enjoy writing, and am trying to be a better writer, and believe I’ve grown a lot since my first articles last year. I’ll be writing more the rest of the season. I’ll have a prediction article for this week, and who knows maybe another one based on some other thoughts I have.

    • Jeff Kessinger

      Thank you Al. I get busy, but will try to have more the rest of the season.

  • Johnathan Nguyen

    In our 7 wins, we ran the ball on the average of 51-49%. Of our loses, that number skewed significantly the other way. Coincident or not, those are facts! The Washington game, i was screaming at the TV for screen plays and short passes to counter their relentless blitzes! We only averaged 14 yards per screen play, and the entire season, we ran it 9 times! How on earth did our coaching staff not seeing this?!! The coaching staff were over confident in Weeden’s ability IMHO. More over, Weeden started to feel the pressure and forced throws to Dez where he had no business throwing to. Weeden is and always will be…A PRACTICE QB! He did well enough in practice to earn the trust of the coaches but when the spot lights are on, he fail miserably..like Mr. Sanchez! Couldn’t agree more with your article. We have the ability to line up and run this year when everyone KNOWS we are running…PLEASE RUN! We can win the rest of the 6 games remaining if we can just stick to that formula, especially on the road like you’d mentioned.

    • You made some excellent points Jonathan.

    • Jeff Kessinger

      Johnathan, I’ve been screaming for the screen play for a long time. The coaching staff for whatever reason just doesn’t get it. They ran it three times against the Jags, a first that I can remember. You say nine times, and that is surprising to me as I can remember only 5 or 6, and all but once they got positive yards. In the Rams game they ran it once, but Murray dropped it, and it would have gone for a long gain, and they didn’t call it again in that game. It’s just baffling to me. When I was coordinating, and a team was blitzing us I would use it, and sure enough they’d stop bringing the house. Nothing slows a blitz like a screen play.

      • Johnathan Nguyen

        My bad Jeff, according to ESPN play by play, in 10 games, we ran a total of 7 Screen plays for 99 yards and that is an average of 14.1 yards per play! I will take that average and go to war with anybody on any given Sunday!

  • Lionone1

    Its the Redskin, Giant games that make me nervous. They are division opponents with nothing to lose. The Cowboys can beat the Eagles if they handle the line of scrimmage the same way they played Seattles line. Eliminate the penalties and stupid turnover mistakes. The scheduling of their next few games are brutal. A Sunday night game(Divisional), followed by a quick Thursday game (Divisional), followed by another Thursday game against a desperate Chicago team that woop their ass last year. Then back to Philly.

    • The division always feels like trap games to me.

      • Jeff Kessinger

        Cas, you got that right. Just look at the last skins game. A game we should have won on paper, but it’s a division game. The NFC East as much as any division you can never pick a winner based purely on records or talent. Funny things seem to always happen.

        • The most common is JG gets out coached in our division.

    • Chris

      This is what it comes down to, can they stay strong down the stretch unlike previous years. Finish strong and look good for the playoffs.

      We can’t let another cast off quarterback beat us.

      • In other words stay healthy down the stretch. This team is always riddled with injuries in Dec.

    • Jeff Kessinger

      The Chicago team isn’t nearly as daunting as last year, as they just aren’t playing good football, and there’s distention in the locker room there. The second iggles game at Philly is a bit worrisome, and the one game that scares me the most that you failed to mention is the Colts game. Luck is one of the very best QBs in the league, and I have a lot of respect for the way he plays. The more I see him play the more I like him, and he’s really still learning. There’s noting he can’t so as a QB. When on the move he does a lot of Romoish things like keeping his eyes down field when scrambling. He has a very strong arm, and is smart as they come. Years down the road he will be the looked at as one of the best QBs of his era.

      • I am much more worried about facing Rodgers than Luck: especially the way Nelson and Cobb are playing. I was concerned about the Eagles. Especially their D who is at the top of the league in sacks, but after the beating GB gave them I feel our D is in deep shit.

        • Gabriel Carrasco

          Yep Aaron Rodgers is far and away the best QB. But I don’t trust the Greenbay’s D either.

  • Gabriel Carrasco

    Look at Tom Brady against the Colts, the ball is out so fast, where Romo holds on for it seems like forever. Not innovative enough for me or other defenses.

  • californy

    I have always believe a good run game will help our defense. If you look at our defensive number a little closer you will see the Cowboys rank 27 against pass per play and 27th against the run per play. What you are seeing with a better run game is the Cowboys defense less on the field. Cowboys are currently ranked 15 in total defense, that 12 spot ahead of what they could be base on averages in the pass and run game. It was just a couple of weeks ago, where the Cowboys were averaging the same amount per play than they did last year. So if you want to win the Cowboys must run the ball more not only to help the offense, and Romo, but the defense as well

    • Jeff Kessinger

      Cali, not just earlier in the season, but the yards per play given up by the defense has been within a tenth or two of a yard as last year. The biggest difference is the scoring defense. You’re right about keeping them off the field and that makes up for the total yards allowed, but they are a bend but don’t break defense this year. I believe that they will get better down the stretch with Lawrence adjusting to the speed of the game, and continuing to gel. I said that the beginning of the year that they would get better and better as they played together. You have to give a ton of credit to the coaching staff. The job they are doing coaching this team up is just plain ol ridiculous. However in the last three games they only ran it more once, and only by a slim margin. Running the ball is one of the biggest keys to winning with this team. And like stated in the article is doesn’t have to be Murray. I could run behind that line, and I’m a broken down old ass 53 yr old man.

      • Gabriel Carrasco

        One thing to remember is that yes the line is really good. But remember not everyone can run behind an offensive line. They tried to say any one could run behind that line in the 90’s and we know what happened. I don’t think it’s as easy as many think it is.

      • I honestly believe JG should watch the tape of the offense kellen Moore. Ran at Boise. It was as comcomplex as I have ever seen with multiple formations, shifts and motions. The control Moore had over all that stuff is amazing in itself. Moore is as good a field general as I have ever seen. I know your high on luck, but I stand pat on my scouting report that Moore was the best QB in that draft. Luck may have better intangibles, but Moore is much smarter and has better vision, accuracy and touch. Considering his history with Linehan, JJ needs to get him to Dallas. Like Moore told Gruden, our goal was to make it as confusing as possible for opposing defenses.

        • Johnathan Nguyen

          I want Moore so bad to be our #2 QB. If Tony misses any time, we don’t miss a beat with Moore at the helm!! I am not a football expert, but i do sometimes see a star in the making by chance..Moore is a stone cold killer and a superstar if he EVER have a fair chance to show case. Forget his height, he can flat out run loops around Weeden’s best day! BTW, can anyone here call our FO to look at Moore? lol

  • californy

    I was looking at the Cowboy defensive number and looking for the negative play in tackles, and the only player that register was Melton at 5 TFL. They cut the TFL at 4 on the player listed. So as Good as Hitchen has been, he has yet to even register 4 tackles per lost base on the chart I am looking at.. Here the Chart, i used , so you can judge yourself.http://www.teamrankings.com/nfl/player-stat/defense-tackles-for-loss

    • Jeff Kessinger

      Hitchens is a very promising rookie. You have to remember that. Also he’s been learning all three LB positions, and played all three so far this season so he deserves more credit than worrying about TFL, and judging him on that strictly.

      • californy

        I must admitt I usually dont over sell a player in his first year unless his number are outstanding, Burflict in his first year was a beast, and last year he led the NFL in tackles.. I look at all the LB that came after Hitchen in this year drart, and one player jump out at me, his name is Prince Shembo. he a ND LB, and in 4 games he started this year he had 37 tackles. He on Atlanta and they had a undrafted LB get 130 tackles last year. I will be looking at Prince Shembo, and I believe he will finished somewhere between 80-100 tackles on the season this year.

        I believe in Atlanta they have a system that enable them to plug in a LB, and them having success This is what I want in Dallas again, like Landry use to have in his day at the next man up philosophy..

  • californy

    I know Stats dont tell all the picture, I just wanted you to see how many Times Moore CB has beaten the competition, he leads the Cowboys with 8 PD, That 2 better Than Scandrick who is believed to be this team best CB. For the price, I believe Moore is the better bargain.

    • Jeff Kessinger

      Yeah, and the amazing part is they cut him last year, and it was a question of him making the roster this year. There has to be something other than talent that is keeping this team from recognizing his talent. I’ve argued that he is the second best CB on the team.

  • californy

    Despite The Cowboys ranking 18 in passing yards, 11-12 best In sacks allowed by the Offensive line, Tony Romo is 2rd In Completion percentage. I wished I had the amount of hits that Romo has taken this year, My guess, he and Rothensburg may be some of the leader in qb Hits for drop back pass qb.

  • Chris

    Agree that the offense lacks creativity the majority of the time (90%?) I’m not calling for trick plays but more motions, have Dez motion to the slot, anything!
    The Giants have nothing to lose so you know they’ll be looking at the Redskins game tape. Like Sun Tzu said, “Disciplined and calm, to await the appearance of disorder and hubbub amongst the enemy – this is the art of retaining self-possession.”
    Against the Redskins we failed to be disciplined and calm, instead of adjusting to quick routes we went for the big play.
    2 weeks to prepare for this game and get healthy so hopefully it’s a solid showing. No excuses.

    • Jeff Kessinger

      Chris you’re right. Something to chew on while we wait the week out for Sunday night. The Cowboys are 11-3 after the bye when playing a division opponent.

  • californy

    BTW Coach K nice article, I always like articles which stir real football conversion.

  • californy

    5. DeMarco Murray, Dallas Cowboys:
    Jerry Jones’ squad owes its 2014 success to a road-grading offensive
    line and a bruising tailback on pace for 448 touches and 2,422 yards
    from scrimmage. In a league that places less emphasis on the running
    game with each passing season, Murray has 49 more attempts and 282 more
    rushing yards than the next-closest back — while breaking records held
    by legends such as Jim Brown and O.J. Simpson.http://www.nfl.com/news/story/0ap3000000430967/article/aaron-rodgers-leads-list-of-top-10-mvp-candidates this article is about The league leading MVP candidates

  • Jonathan Stimmell

    Its all about Jason Garrett not liking gadget plays or trick plays. Not to mention that Dez Bryant and Dwayne Harris can both throw the ball very far down the field. You may see some of this stuff in the playoffs if we make it into the playoffs, but I wouldn’t hold your breath in the regular season.I feel good about the Boys right now, if they can continue to run the ball well in these next couple games we got a good as shot as anybody. Another BIG thing you forgot to mention in your article is HEALTH it plagues teams every year and the Good teams stay healthy and figure out a way to keep solid 2nd stringers in the rotation to be firing on all cylinders. Cross our fingers guys because I know our boys with be fired up, lets just hope for Health and for our Lines to take over games and win us some battles…. HI Cas 🙂