Dallas pulled out a gutsy, critical road win in Arizona on Monday night, but things weren’t always pretty. How can the Cowboys play better football moving forward, and improve their odds of repeating as NFC East champions?
Here are five scheme and personnel adjustments Dallas can make to be more successful.
1] Start Jonathan Cooper at LG
Dallas is desperately trying to hang on to the dream of Chaz Green as a starting offensive lineman, but it’s beginning to cost them. Green was bullied in Arizona on Monday night, getting bullied by interior lineman, and looking clumsy in open space.
Jonathan Cooper is a former top 10 pick who hasn’t managed to reach his potential yet. He looked like he might have found his home in Dallas when he was by far the team’s best left guard in training camp, but the Cowboys bizarrely opted for Green.
It’s time to right that wrong and see if Cooper would be a better fit with an offensive line that is struggling to gel.
2] Get Ryan Switzer and Cole Beasley on the field together
It’s been said by more than one person that Cole Beasley may be the most difficult player to guard on Dallas’ offense. Imagine having a duplicate of that matchup problem and placing him on the other side of the formation. That’s the opportunity Dallas has in Ryan Switzer, and yet they’ve passed on capitalizing on it.
Through 3 games, Switzer has played just 10 snaps on offense. Lucky Whitehead, a player the Cowboys believed to be inferior, played in 9 games last season in which he saw at least 10 snaps. Switzer saw two snaps on offense in weeks one and three. Whitehead played as few as 2 offensive snaps just once in his 30 career games with the Cowboys.
Switzer can make things happen in the open field. His first 2 punt returns of the year went for 19 and 21 yards respectively. He amassed almost 3,000 yards from scrimmage in his 4 years at North Carolina, and tallied another 1,100 on special teams.
You have Switzer for a reason. Use him.
3] Use your best front four
This is the only change that can’t be made right now, but Dallas will be able to do so following this Sunday’s game with the Rams.
Since Rod Marinelli arrived in 2013, only one defensive lineman has played at least 70% of the defensive snaps in a season: DT Nick Hayden played 72% in 2013. So far this season, only Maliek Collins has played at least 70% of the defensive snaps.
When David Irving returns from suspension in week five, Dallas has to commit to Irving, Collins, Stephen Paea, and DeMarcus Lawrence along the defensive line. The drop-off from those four to the players immediately behind them is significant. Dallas should be rolling with Irving at left end, Lawrence at right end, Paea at 1-tech, and Collins at 3-tech for at least 70% of the defensive snaps. Probably closer to 80%.
4] Trust your rookies in the secondary
Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods have honestly been your three best defensive backs so far this season. There is a fear of putting too much trust in young players, but Dallas started Anthony Brown for 10 games last season and were led by rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. If your rookies are performing better than your veterans, don’t be stubborn.
Awuzie was the best player in the secondary in week one against the Giants. Woods played admirably with an unexpected workload against Denver, and made plays against the Cardinals on Monday. Lewis was the best player on defense not name DeMarcus Lawrence in both weeks two and three. Nolan Carroll and Jeff Heath may have been around the block, but the skill disparity is so wide that common sense demands you commit to the three rookies.
5] Get Dak Prescott on the move
Prescott thrived in his rookie season on play-action boots and designed rollouts. There have been a few, but the number of plays called that get Prescott moving to his right have dropped significantly. Is that Scott Linehan, or is Prescott using his autonomy to move away from those plays?
Regardless of who is making those calls, Jason Garrett needs to step in and put an end to it. Other than Aaron Rodgers, Prescott is quite possibly the best on-the-move quarterback in the NFL. It was twice on display Monday when he hit Brice Butler for a 37-yard touchdown and a 53-yard strike on back-to-back offensive snaps. Prescott almost seems more accurate and more comfortable when he is rolling to the sideline, and with defenders forced to improvise and be reactionary, it gives the Cowboys a distinct advantage.