Dallas Cowboys: 3 crucial areas to improve in 2019
By Brad Austin
When approaching free agency and the draft, the Dallas Cowboys must significantly improve three key areas to advance further in 2019.
As the dawn of the 2019 offseason has arrived, the Dallas Cowboys are now entrenched in a process of self-reflection and critical analysis. Free agency and the draft are quickly approaching in coming months. Problem areas in need of roster upgrades must be identified and addressed with planned solutions.
The easiest way to unveil roster needs is understanding which areas are failing the most. These are the weak links hindering a pretender from becoming a contender. Along those lines, there are three critical performance areas the Cowboys must address and improve to become a realistic super bowl contender in 2019.
Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times this season, more than twice as many times as his 2016 rookie season (25). It was also the second most sacks allowed in the league.
Solution 1: Instant improvement would occur with a healthy return of All-Pro center Travis Frederick. Dallas must also start the best left guard option between Joe Looney and Connor Williams. If Connor doesn’t gain significant strength, Looney takes over.
Solution 2: Unleash Dak. The best way to keep pass rushers disciplined is break the pocket. When they pin their ears back and blow by, take off. Add more designed bootlegs and moving pockets. A mobile, unpredictable passer helps tame the rush.
POWER BLOCKING TIGHT ENDS
Dallas ranked an awful 29th in red zone scoring percentage (48%). The decline in rushing touchdowns (13) to 16th in the NFL was a big factor. Power blocking took a nose dive, as they were recently 2nd in rushing scores in 2017 (18) and 2016 (24).
One noticeable difference was Looney being no longer available to serve as the 3rd (jumbo) tight end near the goal line. Also the position’s best blocker, Geoff Swaim, was no better than the third best blocking tight end the previous two seasons.
Solution 1: If Looney returns to a back-up role, he must resume his featured spot as the jumbo blocking tight end near the goal line like the past two seasons.
Solution 2: Sign a rookie (late draft pick or undrafted free agent) blocking tight end. I’ve hammered on this for the past two offseasons. They are not elusive nor expensive. Power running is the goal, add a big, second tight end who specializes in it.
FORCING MORE TURNOVERS
Dallas finished a pedestrian 16th in forced turnovers. They haven’t cracked the top 15 since 2014 (2nd), Rod Marinelli’s first season as defensive coordinator.
There’s another interesting aspect to the 2014 defense. It was the first year Barry Church moved from free safety to strong safety and Jeff Heath was sent to the bench.
With Nick Hayden (NT) clogging the middle, Rolando McClain (MLB) stuffing lanes, and Barry Church (SS) sealing the box, the Dallas defense was a force up the middle. The #1 run defense allowed corners, safeties, and space linebackers to take more risks.
That defense’s 18 interceptions and 13 fumbles recovered was a combined 11 more than the 2018 defense. Kris Richard must help Marinelli adapt with the times.
Solution 1: A McClain type enforcer is at middle linebacker in Leighton Vander Esch. It’s time to add a two-down, space eating nose tackle. Don’t tell fans a one-trick pony is a wasted spot when undersized tackles Datone Jones and Caraun Reid cash checks.
Solution 2: Add a hammering box safety like Church, though more athletic. Let Heath excel at special teams and as an ideal rotational player for both safety spots.