The Cowboys are off this week, which only means that Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot are taking a hiatus from proving why they are the most impressive duo in the NFL. However, fans can still take solace knowing that the bye week follows an impressive performance against the Green Bay Packers, the team that prevented the Cowboys from advancing to the NFC championship in 2014. This is also the team that prompted Jerry Jones, the owner and general manager of the Cowboys, to fire former head coach Wade Phillips and bring in current head coach Jason Garrett after a 45-7 loss to the Packers in 2010. Garrett is now the man who, given the unexpected circumstances this season, has orchestrated a remarkable turnaround for the Cowboys. Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement that the Cowboys can capitalize on during their bye week.
1. Exert more pressure on the opposing quarterback. Last week, Aaron Rodgers had all day to throw, and the run defense allowed a banged-up Eddie Lacy to gain a few pivotal runs. The defensive line simply could not get any pressure on Rodgers, pressure that really needs to consistently be there given the lack of notable talent on defense. It was certainly a blessing in disguise that Rodgers failed to make a few routine passes.
Defensive end David Irving was the only defensive lineman to show up against the Packers, logging three forced fumbles, one sack, and a key pass deflection inside the red zone. In the fourth quarter, Irving forced a Rodgers fumble then a fumble from Packers wide receiver Ty Montgomery on the very next play that was recovered by the Cowboys.
Irving’s numbers were good enough to bail out the defensive line against the Packers, but, as a backup defensive end, Irving has not performed nearly as well in previous games. There needs to be a more consistent presence inside the trenches. If Demarcus Lawrence can return to full health Week 8 against the Philadelphia Eagles and if Tyrone Crawford can anchor the interior defensive line like he used to, then the Boys should be in good shape. The progress of Maliek Collins, the rookie defensive tackle selected in the 3rd round from the University of Nebraska, also needs to be monitored. For now, the defense has to be more than happy that they still have a healthy Sean Lee headlining the front seven.
2. Maintain the efficiency in the secondary. The secondary has been a pleasant surprise thus far. Cornerback Morris Claiborne is finally looking like the 6th overall pick that the Cowboys spent on him in the 2012 NFL Draft, and rookie cornerback Anthony Brown, a 6th round pick out of Purdue University, has exceeded expectations this season in the absence of top corner Orlando Scandrick. Given his age, Brandon Carr has seemed to have overcome a two-season slump with his lockdown coverage this season, tallying one interception and four pass deflections so far.
The real story of the secondary, however, lies with safeties Byron Jones and Barry Church. Jones, a converted cornerback out of Connecticut, has excelled this season at both man and zone coverage. Church has revived his hard-hitting mentality this season, forcing two fumbles and two interceptions in conjunction with Jones. The expected return of Scandrick against the Eagles will only add fuel to the fire for this hot defense.
3. Allow Prescott to unleash his college swagger. Prescott ran a very fast-paced offense at Mississippi State. With the read option and his tendency to run with the football, Prescott never really lined up under center like he does most of the time now with the Cowboys. Furthermore, people tend to forget that Mississippi State was No. 1 in The Associated Press college football poll at one point with Prescott at the helm. Clearly, Prescott had the recipe for success up his sleeve. Fast forward to now when Prescott has only 20 rushes on the whole season—keep in mind that he had plenty of games in college with at least 20 rushing attempts in each of those.
By no means is this a plea to increase Prescott’s rush count to 20. Prescott has thrived under center in the NFL, and he has the past five wins to show for it. That being said, just imagine what a little more freedom could do to the rookie’s already-blossoming potential on a team with ever-increasing expectations.
Photo: Erich Schlegel (USA TODAY Sports)