The Dallas Cowboys are 3-5 midway through the season. And while they are saying the right things about what they need to do to turn it around, it appears to be nothing more than empty words.
The truth is the Cowboys have no idea how they got here making fixing the problem and getting on a run in the second half, starting Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles, a little more than a pipe dream.
The Cowboys knew they would be challenged outside with an overhauled receiver corps following the retirement of tight end Jason Witten and release of Dez Bryant. But none of their plans for the season included a declining offensive line and an ineffective rushing attack.
The trade for Amari Cooper has given them a little hope for a second-half spark. But it may be too much to overcome on offense with quarterback Dak Prescott making poor decisions and continually under siege thanks to a broken down offensive line.
Defensively, defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, cornerback Byron Jones and linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch have been bright spots. But injuries to linebacker Sean Lee and defensive tackle David Irving, as well as the lack of impact plays from cornerback Chido Awuzie and defensive end Randy Gregory has left the unit wanting.
It all has the Cowboys heading into the second half hoping against hope and bracing for a coaching change with Jason Garrett.
Cowboys Grades at the Midseason
Run offense: C
Don’t let the numbers fool you. Ezekiel Elliott is the league’s fourth-leading rusher. The running game ranks sixth in the league. But those figures ring hollow with a team that is 3-5 and winless on the road. The Cowboys struggle on short yardage. Elliott is 34th in the league on 3rd and 1. They don’t control the clock. Blame goes to an offensive line that is banged up and on the decline and passing game that doesn’t make defenses pay for focusing on the run.
Pass offense: F
Dak Prescott is supposed to be the team’s franchise quarterback of the future. But there are questions about his long-term status because of continued struggles in the passing game that has him 27th in yards per game. He is 28th on 3rd downs and in the fourth quarter passing. He had little help on the outside as the revamped receiver corps had failed to separate and make contested catches. The offensive line has failed the passing game, allowing 28 sacks in eight games. Prescott was sacked 25 and 32 times in 2016 and 2017, respectively.
Run defense: B
Numbers wise, the defense has played well, certainly better than expected. The Cowboys are 10th in the league against the run, giving up 99.9 yards per game. They have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher. But that has more to do with teams using a running back by committee than the Cowboys stoning the run. Too often, opponents have run well when necessary. But give defensive tackle Antwaun Woods credit for being the best interior run defender and Smith and Van Esch for leading the team tackles in place of the injured Sean Lee.
Pass defense: C
Lawrence leads the way with 6.5 sacks. The team has 23 sacks to rank fifth in the league. Of course that is below the 27 sacks they had through eight games last season. The Cowboys need to rush the passer with more consistency and get off the field on third downs. Only cornerback Byron Jones is playing at an above average level in the secondary. The unit needs to make more plays on the ball. They have just two interceptions all season. The best the Cowboys have done is limit the big play, which is why they rank a respectable fifth in the league against the pass.
Special Teams: D
Kicker Brett Maher was the surprise of the league when he replaced Dan Bailey at the start of the season and made 16 in a row after a miss in the season opener. He has now missed two straight kicks that were game-changers in the past two games; a potential game-tying 52-yarder in a 20-17 loss to the Redskins and a 38-yarder at the start of the 28-14 loss to the Titans. Deep snapper L.P. Ladouceur had a snap infraction that cost the Cowboys a field goal and a chance to go in overtime against the Redskins. The return game has been largely non-existent.
Head coach Jason Garrett fired offensive line coach Paul Alexander during the bye, but he is not the only staffer with an underperforming unit. Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan says his play-calling is partly to blame. Garrett could take over those duties if the Cowboys don’t turn things around quickly. Of course, Jerry Jones said there will be no more in-season coaching changes. But he also thought the team would not be in this position. If the Cowboys continue to crumble, Garrett could be in trouble as well.