Dallas Cowboys

First-place Dallas Cowboys inconsistent; playoff fate could be decided over next month

The Dallas Cowboys are 5-3 after eight games.

They are a half-game up on the Philadelphia Eagles for first place in the NFC East.

And it’s also appropriate to say no one knows who the Cowboys are at the midpoint of a 2019 season they entered with coach Jason Garrett’s job on the line and a goal of reaching the Super Bowl for the first time since 1995.

This is the most talented and balanced Cowboys team since the Super Bowl dynasty teams of the 1990s, and they have shown that at times over a frustrating first half of the season, which has shown them to be nothing more than consistently inconsistent.

How else do you explain a team that opened the season with three wins, followed by three losses and is now riding a two-game winning streak?

How do you explain only one of five wins against a team with a winning record?

They have two wins against the lowly New York Giants (2-6) and wins against the Washington Redskins (1-8) and Miami Dolphins (2-7).

Most important, how do you explain the fraudulent and unforgivable loss to the New York Jets (1-7)?

The other two losses were against the New Orleans Saints (7-1) and the Green Bay Packers (7-2).

The stats tell the same maddening story.

The Cowboys offense, in its first year under coordinator Kellen Moore, is first in the NFL in yards, fourth in rushing, fourth in passing, first in yards per play, first in third down conversions and fifth in scoring.

Yet, the Cowboys are 25th in interceptions, 24th in field-goal percentage and 15th in red zone touchdowns.

Defensively, the Cowboys are sixth overall, second on third down and third in the red zone. Yet they are 26th in interceptions and 16th in sacks.

The Cowboys been their own worst enemy. They combined for six turnovers in losses to the Saints and Packers.

Of course, the Cowboys had none against the Jets.

And they have been penalized 77 times for 639 yards.

The Cowboys lead the NFC East after eight games and still have their hopes and dreams in front them of them.

Yet, they lost to the Jets.

Maddening.

Here is a first-half report:

MVP: QB Dak Prescott

What else can be said about quarterback Dak Prescott other than the Cowboys simply need to pay the man? Prescott said the light came for him late last season. He is now shining brighter than ever. He is first in quarterback rating, third in yards per attempt, fifth in yards per game, eighth in passer rating and ninth in touchdowns while directing the league’s No. 1 ranked offense. Prescott has shed his bus-driving roots and has arrived as a legitimate franchise quarterback. He is even drawing league MVP buzz.

Biggest surprise: DE Robert Quinn

The Cowboys traded for defensive end Robert Quinn in March to make up for the loss of the suspended Randy Gregory, giving up a sixth-round pick to the Miami Dolphins. They’ve gotten so much more in the rejuvenated Quinn. He has been the team’s defensive MVP through the first half of the season. He has a team-leading 6.5 sacks despite missing the first two games due to suspension. He just needs another half-sack to earn an $800,000 bonus for seven sacks on the season. He had 6.5 last season with the Dolphins.

Biggest Disappointment: Jets 24, Cowboys 22

In losing to the Jets, the Cowboys are guilty of criminally negligent homicide. It has killed any hopes they had of competing for home-field advantage in the playoffs, and it might come back to bite in the race for the NFC East title. A tie in the standings with the Eagles could come down to common opponents. The Eagles have beaten the Packers and the Jets. The Cowboys have lost to both. There is no excuse for losing to the Jets, who were bad before facing the Cowboys and have been outscored 88-33 and are 0-3 since they beat Dallas on Oct. 13.

Season-deciding stretch

Whatever you don’t know about the Cowboys — and there is plenty still in doubt considering their inconsistent first half — prepare to get some answers over the next month.

The Cowboys host the Minnesota Vikings (6-3) on Sunday, then play at the Detroit Lions (3-4-1) on Nov. 17 and New England Patriots (8-1) on Nov. 24, before the Bills game on Nov. 28. That is followed by a game at the Chicago Bears (3-5) the following Thursday, Dec. 5.

Dallas will then have a 10-day break before facing the Los Angeles Rams (5-3) at home on Dec. 15, followed by games at the Eagles (5-4) on Dec. 22 and home against the Redskins (1-8) on Dec. 29 to end the season.

But the Cowboys’ fate will likely be decided over the next month.

The final December stretch for the Eagles includes two games against the Giants (2-7) and matchups against the Dolphins (1-7) and Redskins (1-8) in addition to the Cowboys.

Anything less than a 4-1 mark over the next month puts the Cowboys’ playoff hopes in jeopardy.

Rookie draft update

Overall: The 2019 draft has been a huge disappointment so far.

Running back Tony Pollard, the fourth-round pick out of Memphis, has been the only regular contributor, and his effect has been minimal as a backup to starter Ezekiel Elliott. He has been a huge letdown on kickoff returns. But at least he is playing, which is more than can be said about the rest of the class.

The picks

Trysten Hill, DT, UCF (Round 2, No. 58 overall): Hill has struggled since the Cowboys seemingly mistakenly drafted him over safety Juan Thornhill, who has started every game for the Kansas City Chiefs. Hill has one tackle in four games and has been inactive for four games. He has battled immaturity, showing up late and falling asleep in a team meeting.

Connor McGovern, G, Penn State (Round 3, No. 90 overall): McGovern was billed a prototypical Big Ten offensive lineman who could come in and provide depth at center and guard, if not play immediately. But he suffered a torn pectoral muscle during offseason workouts. He participated in only two training camp practices before suffering a setback and has been on injured reserve since the start of the season.

Tony Pollard, RB, Memphis (Round 4, No. 128 overall): Pollard was the talk of training camp and preseason with starter Ezekiel Elliott in a contract holdout in Cabo San Lucas. He has played in every game and has had his moments with 48 rushes for 230 yards and five catches for 37 yards. But Elliott is the workhorse. More was expected of Pollard on returns. He has just 104 yards on six kickoff returns and has had some questionable decision making.

Michael Jackson, CB, Miami (Round 5, No. 158 overall): Jackson was supposed to be the long, tall cornerback who secondary coach Kris Richard preferred, but he couldn’t overcome a deep group of veterans in training camp on a team looking to win now. The Cowboys signed him to the practice squad to continue his development, but the Detroit Lions signed him to their active roster two weeks ago.

Joe Jackson, DE, Miami (Round 5, No. 165 overall): Jackson survived an uphill climb and a deep roster of defensive ends to make the final cut. The Cowboys like his versatility and physicality. He has played in five of eight games as a reserve and has five tackles. The addition of Michael Bennett could limit his opportunities.

Donovan Wilson, S, Texas A&M (Round 6, No. 213 overall): Wilson had a strong training camp and had interceptions in three straight exhibition games before he suffered an ankle injury in the preseason finale. He was inactive for three of the first four games. He has played in five games and has no tackles on defense or special teams.

Mike Weber, RB, Ohio State (Round 7, No. 218 overall): Weber was considered more of an every-down back who could possibly serve as the primary backup to Elliott with Pollard doing the gadget stuff. But Pollard showed the strength and toughness to be a three-down back. Nothing about Weber is flashy or special, but he was signed to the practice squad.

Jalen Jelks DE, Oregon (Round 7, No. 241 overall): Jelks flashed some potential and versatility in training camp but was never going to survive the deep roster at defensive end. He has a chance to develop for next season after he suffered a sprained foot and was placed on injured reserve.

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Clarence E. Hill Jr. has covered the Dallas Cowboys as a beat writer/columnist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram since 1997. That includes just two playoff wins, six coaches and countless controversies from the demise of the dynasty teams of the 1990s through the rollercoaster years of the Tony Romo era until Jason Garrett’s process Cowboys.
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