The Los Angeles Rams are facing the Dallas Cowboys in Week 4 in a huge NFC matchup. Both teams are looking to set out a 3-1 start to the 2017 regular season and set the bar in their respective divisions.
To get a better understanding of what we’re facing, I linked up with Dave Halprin from Blogging The Boys, the SB Nation community for Cowboys fans.
So we did this about a month and half ago ahead of our preseason opener against each other. What have you learned about the 2017 Dallas Cowboys that you had 0 clue of back then?
One thing I ahve learned is that our offensive line has not gelled together and it might have a weak link. The Cowboys running game isn't what it was last year and we are trying to break in a new left guard and right tackle. Right now, it's not working nearly as well as it should. I'm concerned about the play of left guard Chaz Green the most, but Jason Witten has also had some poor blocking recently.
Another thing we learned is that we actually have a pass rush! DeMarcus Lawrence has been a beast in the first three games, and he's also getting help from 3-tech Maliek Collins. We weren't sure about the defensive line play going into the year, it has been a surprise.
Bonus thing we learned: Jaylon Smith's knee is holding up, he's played a lot of snaps.
What's holding back the Cowboys offensively? Perhaps I'm not phrasing that question appropriately though. If not, lemme try it this way. For the Cowboys to be "successful" this year in whatever that means to your fan base, what does the offense need to do? Is it as simple as coming through in the big moments as they did on Monday and perhaps not more comprehensively dominant performances?
I think a lot of it has to do with what I mentioned above. The reason the Cowboys offense worked so well in recent years was that the offensive line was dominant, allowing the team to impose its will through the running game, and then use an efficient passing game to complement it. So far, our running attack has been mediocre at best. Dak Prescott also started off a little slow in the passing game, but seems to be finding his groove again. The Cowboys need to let Dak run more read-option plays to make defenses a little less aggressive, and they need to get him outside the pocket some more where he seems to do very well.
Maybe the offensive line will round into form and the running game will pick up, but the Cowboys can help compensate for it by getting Dak more involved.
On the defensive side, what are the concerns? Obviously a potential injury to MLB Sean Lee is its own concern, but skill-wise what are the biggest holes on the defensive depth chart?
Yes, any injury to Sean Lee is a huge concern. He is the quarterback and leader of the defense. One concern is the inexperience in the secondary. We have rookies playing a lot of snaps because of injuries, and we have elevated a player (Jeff Heath) to a starter that had previously been more of a role player. So route recognition, reading the quarterback, being in the correct coverage on every play, a lot of these things are natural for vets but can be challenging for younger players. Also, the Cowboys lack a speed rusher. DeMarcus Lawrence is killing it, but he's more of a strength, technique guy. The Cowboys could use a pure speed rusher to complement him.
Are any of the new personnel (rookies or free agents) having a major impact? I know Chidobie Awuzie was out on Monday, but are any of the rookies making 2017 look different than 2016?
Rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis looks like a baller. With Nolan Carroll, Orlando Scandrick and Chidoeb Awuzie out at various times because of injury, Lewis has been thrust into major reps and has looked like he could be a real find. He's small, but isn't afraid to make tackles. He has one interception already and is learning on the fly. Rookie safety Xavier Woods, to a lesser extent, looks like someone who can contribute. And rookie WR Ryan Switzer has started to pay dividends in the punt return game. Last week he helped set up Dallas for a touchdown. One free agent who has helped is nose tackle Stephen Paea. He's a good run-stopper, space-eater.
Overall, what's the feeling of expectations and trajectory for you guys? Obviously given last year, fans are going to demand nothing less than a return to the postseason, yeah? And whatever the demands are thereafter, are you comfortable that the team is shaping up to meet them at least through three games?
Right now, we're kind of unsure of where we are as a team. We dominated the Giants offense in the first week, but as we're learning they are not a good team. During that game the offense struggled. Then came the fiasco in Denver that had everybody concerned that this team wasn't anything like last year's. Both sides of the ball were terrible. The game last week against the Cardinals restored some confidence, but there are still flaws with this team. It's hard to gauge exactly where we are, but the expectations are still there that this team will make the playoffs and do some damage in the post-season. If they fall short of that, fans, and I imagine the front office, will be very unhappy.
Thanks to Dave for the time.