The Ghost of Jimmy Johnson

When the Cowboys moved from Valley Ranch into The Star they may have accidentally brought the ghost of Jimmy Johnson with them when they packed Garrett’s office.

With the recent release of Lucky Whitehead from the team today, you have to wonder if Jason Garrett is starting to pay more attention to what the media has to say and not enough on the pulse of the team. I’m not going to stand here and say that this situation is not a big deal but it’s not as big as the DUI that Nolan Carroll received in May or the  Aggravated Assault w/ Deadly Weapon that Damien Wilson was charged with on the  (insert any Jason Pierre-Paul joke) fourth of July holiday.

In the infamous words of Desi Arnaz “Jason!! You Got Some Explaining to Do”. So far the Cowboys story this offseason and almost every offseason has been to let the justice system play out before passing judgement and with the release of Whitehead it seems a 360 degree turn or maybe a 180 from the past (where the past is less than ninety days) but you get the gist. Somewhere in the Florida Keys, Jimmy Johnson must be smoking a stogie, smiling and thinking “The young padawan has finally learned” but the reality is that Garrett’s probably three years too late with the discipline stick.

Everyone remembers the stories of Jimmy Johnson and his ginsu cutting techniques for small infractions but this move reeks of bowing to the media pressure of having to make a statement. Lately, the media have been holding the organization to task for the perception of lawlessness in the Cowboys locker room. If I had the ability to ask Jason Garrett three questions and most likely by the time this is posted they will have been asked, they would be:

  1. Does the team have a crime chart that is similar to the draft trade value chart that determines the discipline leveled to players for committing crimes or team infractions?
  2. If so, where on your crime/team infraction chart does aggravated assault w/ a deadly weapon or DUI rank compared to shoplifting and (unproven) petty larceny?
  3. Was this your decision or Jerry’s?

These questions may sound a bit facetious but they most likely have crossed through the minds of die-hard Cowboys fans who have had to put up with the memes and recent video spoofs of Jerry Jones at a press conference signing OJ Simpson. The material is actually funny but hard to stomach on a weekly basis and that’s considering the damn season hasn’t even started. Garrett seemed out of character at the press conference when he announced that the team could look at cutting Whitehead. Garrett is the master of “talking loud but saying nothing” and his stern statement surprised me and most likely won’t be the last public display of emotion we see this season. In a lot of sportswriters minds, this could be the year the Cowboys make a deep playoff run and the same pundits are even predicting a Super Bowl appearance but this team has enough questions about its roster without having to deal with players missing games due to legal problems. Whitehead’s agent has come out with proof that he wasn’t in Virginia at the time of the crime but maybe Garrett already had his mind made up and this was the tipping point.

As this continues to play out in the media, I’m sure what will be lost in the conversation is the disparity of draft positions of the two players. Damien Wilson was a fourth round pick in the 2015 draft and Whitehead was an un-drafted free agent pick-up the same year. Once the Cowboys drafted Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown there were immediate questions about Whiteheads spot on the roster. With the Cowboys jumping the gun on his release it may not have the effect that Garrett may be hoping for, especially if it’s a case of mistaken identity.

 

So Mote It Be!

Can Cowboys Build On 2016 Draft Success?

Cowboys 2016 NFL Draft

Talent wins championships.

In 1961 The Dallas Cowboys had (arguably) the finest “first draft” of any team in NFL history. Reportedly HC Tom Landry had demanded a specific player as a condition of him taking the job and the Cowboys had received a wink-nod-bob’s-your-uncle deal where no other team would select DT Bob Lilly until the expansion Cowboys pick at 13.  The team snapped up the  Texas Christian product with their first-ever selection of the first round. Then in the 14th round the team added to it’s future Hall of Fame roster by selecting OG Billy Shaw. Name me a better first-ever draft.

That initial draft surrendered two Hall of Fame inductees, two pro-bowlers (2nd round center Houlb and 3rd round tackle Barber) and was followed up by three pro-bowlers in the next two drafts. Then in 1964 the team added Pro Bowl OG Kupp and future Hall of Fame inductees CB Mel Renfro (2nd round), WR Bob Hayes (7th round) and a QB from the Naval Academy by the name of Roger Staubach in the 10th round. The die was cast.

Sidebar: when you draft (late) and wait four years on a Hall of Fame QB you’ve just made the best value pick in the history of the NFL. Get over the Tom Brady pick. He was available in year one.

The Dallas Cowboys went on to draft Pro Bowl and/or Hall of Fame players for 15 straight years. Generally several each season. There is no doubt (in my mind) that Tom Landry was one of the greatest coaches and innovators in the history of the NFL. There is also no doubt (in my mind) that GM Tex Schramm was THE best GM in the history of the game. In a nod to historical accuracy I’m obligated to mention he was (by all accounts) a ruthless, lying SOB as well. Thank you Peter Gent.

Back in the day the Cowboys were light-years ahead of the league in scouting. They computerized their internal systems, invented an incredible collegiate scouting program and rode the talent infusion to a 20 year winning-season run that resulted in a winning record versus the entire league, two Lombardi trophies and historical recognition of their excellence and innovation.

The point here is one Rafael Vela and myself have made often. It takes consistent, quality drafting to create a NFL dynasty. Head Coach Jimmy Johnson got the ball rolling again by landing 13 elite players (Hall of Fame/Pro Bowlers) in 4 short seasons leading to a staggering 3.5 elite players a year average. The wheels fell off the talent drive shortly after Johnson left and the results, 20 years of .500 ball, were predictable.

“It takes consistent, quality drafting to create a NFL dynasty” – Van & Raf

With 2 Pro-Bowlers,  4 current and 8 probable starters from the 2016 draft on the team has the current club finally turned the “talent acquisition” corner? Perhaps. As exciting as the 2016 draft was, recent drafts, though an upgrade over recent efforts  have fallen far short of previous Cowboys dynastic efforts. Can Dallas replicate their incredible 2016 draft haul? To be frank, I am concerned the team had two big advantages in 2016 they won’t have this season. Due to their 2014 melt-down sans Tony Romo the staff both coached the Senior Bowl and was on the field working with the combine players in drills before the 2016 NFL Draft. They won’t have that hands-on advantage this time round.

Cowboys staff were in the bleachers with the rest of the play-off teams this senior bowl. Combine access will be similar. Pete Rozelle’s vision of parity begins with the draft. The more successful the team, the higher the next-season-mountain. This is the next challenge for the Cowboys front office. How to build on the knowledge from that seasons experience when they went against the pundits “grain” and took the “best available” player with their fist pick (RB Ezekiel Elliott) versus drafting for need (edge rusher).

“I am concerned the team had two huge advantages in 2016 they won’t have this season.” – Steven Van Over

In a modern NFL Catch-22 if the Cowboys draft for “need”this year they will fail as other teams get the cream of the crop and Dallas will be trying to get starter minutes from JAG’s (just another guy). However if the club doesn’t get the players they need they won’t succeed as other teams exploit their weaknesses. Former GM Tex Schramm would’ve figured it out. The Patriots, Steelers and Seahawks have it figured out. Do Will McClay, Stephen Jones & Jason Garrett have the answers for 2017?

I hope so. Rudy makes for a great movie. Talent wins championships.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over

Shout out to Bridget – Thanks for the Chili

Dallas Cowboys – What Was, Is & Shall Be

Lett and Marinelli

The Dallas Cowboys and you. What a pair. For some, it was the 70’s that brought home the Lombardi and cemented the team in our psyche. For others it was the 90’s run of Super Bowl bling that brought us into the fold. A lot of fans became such during the incredible euphoria of winning it all. However before the champagne was uncorked, tattoos were received and utter dedication to all things Cowboys was a period of time we tend to forget. The suffering.

Tom Landry’s Dallas Cowboys had a label before they played the perfect game against Miami. Dallas “couldn’t win the big one.” They were all flash and no bang. A finesse club that couldn’t hang with the physical Steelers teams of the era (70’s steroid scandal that wasn’t). The team would literally own the regular season games only to flame out in the playoffs when it mattered. You knew your team was awesome, however the rest of the world was laughing as talented Cowboys teams came up short year, after year, after year. It was a brutal time to be a Cowboys fan. You suffered.

Then all became right in the world when an entire team played as one against the Miami Dolphins and it was as if the preceding years of agony had never occurred. I watched a similar phenomenon as my son was born and my wife went from a place of intense pain to one of wonderment and joy in the blink of an eye. Instantly uninterested in the intensity of her discomfort only moments before. The same was true for Cowboys fans as years of waiting, of being denied only made the victory that much more intense. The nectar that much sweeter.

After a 20 year run of football excellence the wheels fell off for Tex Schram and Tom Landry as the team fell on hard times as the rest of the league caught up with their modern techniques. The doldrums set in hard as a lengthy period of poorly played football was put on display in Dallas. Fans used to excellence were left suffering and confused as cats chased dogs, the sun shined in Seattle and the rain poured in Arizona. Life was not as it should be. You suffered.

Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson changed all that in the 90’s in quick order. It was again “cool” to be a Cowboys fan as the team was talented and down-right nasty on game day. The club was built for the playoffs and the fans were treated to a wonderful run of NFL dynastic euphoria that most never experience and now Cowboys fans had twice. It seemed as if it would never end. Then Jimmy Johnson left. The team he built grew old and again fans suffered.

Next up was 20 years of mediocrity as Jerry Jones got in a fight with his ego at the expense of the team and of course, the fans suffered. Nay, the fans were tortured really, for unlike a Cleveland Browns fan, a Dallas Cowboys fan was made to believe every year their team was only “one player away” giving them false hope when in reality the team was “one GM away” from being competitive again. Regardless, each year the obligatory big-trade, big-announcement, new-player con played out at Valley Ranch. The media bought the hype and thanks to UDFA QB find Tony Romo the club had a chance to win almost any (regular season) game they were in. But the team wasn’t built for the second season, it was built for flash. With no bang, the fans suffered.

2014 was the beginning of real hope. Analyst watched closely as the team built it’s offensive line and Jerry Jones became some-what restrained in the draft and free agency. I recall you could tell in camp it was a new gig as the talent on the field was visibly improved. After years of living and dying on Romo’s arm the running game returned to big D. Then #DezCaughtIt and fans (again) suffered.

2015 was an outlier that once and for all proved the value of the QB to the front office and Jerry Jones. It was a brutal year that left fans bruised yet unbent as the problems were obvious as were the solutions. Could the organization find the right players in the draft to bring it all together? That was the only question. The pieces were in play and yes, the team was “a player or two away” from being a real contender.

2016 was special. The pieces to win via “Cowboys football” were in place. Hope became expectation. However fleeting hope can be let go. Expectation denied hurts to the bone. Short version …. in truth, the team was too young. The club got out-coached and out-played. The fans suffer.

Unlike recent seasons this years disappointment doesn’t feel like a blind date gone bad. I don’t feel cheated. I don’t feel lied to. I feel disappointed certainly, but I clearly see this team is now just that, a team. 2016 was a special run. Unlike a teen with a fold-out of his favorite model taped over his bed this year’s fan had the phone number of a Victoria’s Secret model with a date penciled in on the calendar. They were close. It was a special  year. But this offseason, when carnival-barker Jerry Jones begins his annual dog and pony show trying to convince fans the team is only one player away I will nod and enjoy my suffering.

The 2016 season ended in bitter disappointment. However the arrow is pointing up for this club and I haven’t even listened to Jerry’s take on the offseason yet.  Today this is an organization waiting to hear (good) news about nerve regeneration, new draft picks and intense interest in the progress of Dak, Zeke, Irving, Mayowa, Collins, Lawrence, Brown & Jones over the summer. The QB/RB/WR/OLine combination is here for the long haul. The answer at LB may already be on the team as the defense is starting to come together after years of neglect. The NFL draft is coming up and salary cap relief is readily available with the departure of Tony Romo. The team believes in and never quits on it’s young head coach as he continues to grow his game day chops. They are young, talented and hungry. Their offseason began a bit earlier than they would have liked. They are ready to get to work.

This year Cowboys fans again suffered. But I’ve seen this script play out before. This is a team on the brink. Enjoy your suffering while you can. Sweet nectar is in the future. I can taste it.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over

Running on 1st Down/Short Yardage Gives Cowboys Identity (vs PIT)

Wright Perspective
This entry is part 14 of 25 in the series 2016 Answering Questions - Dak & Coaching

 

 

 

 

Before the season began, I posed a bunch of questions about how Dak Prescott would play and how Scott Linehan and Garrett would adjust the offense to compensate for the loss of Romo (click here to read to read that post). Each week, I continue trying to answer those questions.

The analysis of the Pittsburgh Steeler game began earlier this week in a post about Scott Linehan’s impressive ability to maintain offensive balance (click here to read).

Opening Drives

It has been interesting to watch the changes in how Scott Linehan calls his plays on the first couple drives. For a few weeks, we saw the Cowboys line up and run the ball almost 80% of the time on their early drives. Against the Eagles, we saw Linehan do the opposite by calling predominantly passing plays early in the game.  After mixing it up against Philly, Linehan went back to classic Jason Garrett football (i.e. score using a balanced offense, and then run the ball to maintain the lead) against the Browns.

In the first quarter against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Cowboys ran the ball 6 times (2 from shotgun), passed it 5 times (all from shotgun), and tried 3 play-action passes (1 of the 3 from the shotgun).

In the 2nd quarter, they ran the ball 5 times ( all with Dak under center), passed it 6 times (all from the shotgun), and tried 2 play-action passes (both with Dak under center).

In the 1st half, the Dak was under center 14 times: they ran 10 times and tried 4 play-action passes.

He was in the shotgun 14 times: they ran twice, passed 11 times, and tried 1 play-action pass.

Throughout the entire game, the Cowboys ran it 29 times and tried to pass 34 times.

This is not just an impressive balance, it also “mixes it up” as much as Scott Linehan can “mix it up” when he has a QB that he will not ask to drop back and pass from under center.

1st Downs

The Dallas Cowboys ability to stay balanced offensively is premised on their ability to run the ball for 4+ yards on 1st down, even when defenses are expecting it. The devotion to this type of football, coupled with the skillful execution of the philosophy, suggests that Jason Garrett learned a lot from Jimmy Johnson when it comes to building a championship football team.

The Cowboys continue to average more than four yards a rush on 1st down.

This is the genius of Jason Garrett football: all year-long the Cowboys have lined Dak up under center and run the ball on 1st down.

Against NYG: 31 plays on 1st down – 14 runs, 17 passes.

Against WASH: 31 plays on 1st down – 17 runs (3 from shotgun), 8 passes (7 from shotgun), 6 play-action attempts (all from under center).

Against CHI: 34 plays on 1st down, 25 runs, 4 passes (shotgun), 5 play-action attempts (1 from shotgun).

Against SF: 30 plays on 1st down – 25 tuns, 4 passes (shotgun), 5 playaction passes (1 from shotgun).

Against CIN: 25 plays on 1st down – 18 rushes (2 from shotgun), 2 passes from shotgun, 5 play-action passes.

Against GB: 29 1st down plays – 20 rushes, 9 passes (6 from shotgun, 3 play-action)

Against PHI: 28 1st down plays – 15 rushes, 11 passes (all from shotgun), 2 play-action pass attempts.

Against CLE: 30 plays on 1st down – 21 runs, 5 passes from shotgun, 4 play-action attempts from under center.

Against PIT: the Cowboys ran 27 plays on 1st down. Dak was under center 15 times: 10 rushes, 1 quick WR screen, and 4 play-action attempts.

Dak was in the shotgun for 12 plays on 1st down: 9 passes, 1 run, 2 play-action attempts.

In total, they rushed the ball 11 times on 1st down, passed it 10 times, and tried 6 play-action passes. (The high number of pass attempts on 1st down is mainly due to the 3 drives, including one at the end of the 1st half, that the Cowboys had little time left on the clock).

Every defensive coordinator in the NFL knows that the Cowboys run the ball or use play-action on 1st down when Dak is lined up under center. It is less than once a game that they do anything different when Dak is under center, and that is always a quick WR screen. Everybody knows this, yet the Cowboys keep doing it successfully week after week.

The identity of this football squad crystallizes a little more every game they win by running the football at defenses that know it is coming. The Cowboys rushing attack demoralizes its opponents. Is there anything worse in the football world than knowing that the offense is going to run the ball at you over and over, but you won’t be able to stop it?

3rd and Short

The Dallas Cowboys were an impressive 7 for 13 in converting 3rd downs against the Steelers.

Every week it seems like Linehan is calling more plays that send L. Whitehead through the backfield, like he might take the handoff on a jet-sweep. That pre-snap motion has become a staple for the Cowboys on 3rd and short; every week Linehan uses it successfully, and he seems to add in some new wrinkle that makes the package different from the week before.

The Cowboys faced 3rd and short (3 yards or less) 8 times against the Steelers. They converted 5 of their 8 attempts.

Of the 5 times they lined Dak up under center and tried running the ball, they were successful 4 times.

They were unsuccessful both times they tried to throw the ball from the shotgun on 3rd and short.

The one time they tried running the ball from the shotgun, they were successful.

Lesson: Run the ball on 3rd and short.

It was a bit surprising this week that Scott Linehan didn’t try to use play-action on any of the 3rd and short calls, even though the Cowboys had more (8) than in previous games. The Cowboys have used play-action fairly frequently in the past on 3rd & 1 and even 4th & 1.

Conclusions

Jason Garrett football is becoming old school power football. The Cowboys are forging an identity based on running the ball. Even the WR’s appear to take pride in their blocking. More and more the offense looks to be carrying itself with a swagger that says, “We can line up and run the ball at any defense effectively”. The two TD run by’s Ezekiel Elliott in the 4th quarter are a direct result of pounding the rock and wearing a defense down over 60 minutes.

The Cowboys have an incredibly talented offensive line that deserves a ton of the credit for their being the best rushing team in the NFL. But Ezekiel Elliott also deserves a big part of the credit as well. The fact that he wasn’t touched by a defender for the first 3.5 yards on each carry against the Steelers was widely reported. The fact that he came in to the Pittsburgh game leading the NFL in yards after contact (396) was not as eagerly disseminated.

People underestimate the RB’s role in not getting touched by a defender for the first couple yards of every run: it takes vision, patience, the ability to cut-back, burst, agility and speed. Ezekiel Elliott has all of those things, and that is part of the reason, along with excellent blocking, he has been so successful at evading contact with defenders.

We will post the conclusion (“Dak under pressure”and play-action stats) of this article in due course.

As always, we encourage you to review the original questions posed (click here to read) and then provide your answers below, especially if you disagree with the observations offered above. We would also like to hear what specific things you will be watching for when the Dallas Cowboys play the Baltimore Ravens.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.

Keys to Cowboys Success: 1st Down Runs & Play Action (vs CLE)

This entry is part 12 of 25 in the series 2016 Answering Questions - Dak & Coaching

Before the season began, I posed a bunch of questions about how Dak Prescott would play and how Scott Linehan and Garrett would adjust the offense to compensate for the loss of Romo (click here to read to read that post). Each week, I continue trying to answer those questions.

My first set of answers regarding the Cleveland Browns game was published on Monday.

Play-action

After the Cowboys had so much success with using the play-action bootleg in the first couple games, it seemed like defenses were anticipating that from Dak and therefore (almost) sacking him on a couple bootlegs per game. The pressure that Dak has faced on bootlegs has been drastically reduced in the most recent few games. Against the Packers, Eagles and Browns, there was only one (or less) play-action attempt on which Dak was immediately under pressure from a defender.

The Cowboys play-action continues to be so effective that it is arguably the second biggest reason for their success (after successfully running the ball on first down).

The Cowboys ran 8 play-action passes against the Browns. Linehan called 6 play-action against the Packers, 10 against the Eagles if you include fake handoffs followed by Dak running and the fumble, 7 vs Bengals and against the 49ers, 7 against the Bears, 12 versus the Redskins, and 9 against the Giants.

Linehan continues to run the play-action almost exclusively when Dak is under center (except vis PHI), and he uses it predominantly in two specific situations: 1st and 10, and 2 & goal.

Despite being open to accusations of being predictable, Scott Linehan continues to get everything you want out of the play-action pass: the occasional big gain of 25-40 yards, TD’s from inside the 10, and conversions of key 3rd and 4th & 1.

Against the Browns, 7 of the play-action attempts were from under center, while only 1 was from the shotgun. (Against Green Bay, all 6 of the play-action passes were attempted after Dak lined up under center, but against Philly, they tried the play-action from the shotgun 4 times.)

Scott Linehan called play-action passes 4 times on 1st & 10, twice on 2nd & goal, once on 4th & 1, and once on 2nd & 23 (that was the one time from the shotgun).

Dak Prescott completed all four play-action passes that were attempted on 1st down (Swaim for 3, Williams for 15, Witten for 15, Witten for 35). Although it may look like long throws on 1st down off the play-action, they are not medium or deep throws: they are exclusively short throws with long runs after the catch. Credit the Cowboys for excellent downfield blocking on these throws and some nifty running (even Witten was breaking tackles and looking nimble).

The Cowboys scored a TD to Escobar on a play-action pass, they also converted a 4th down attempt on a play-action pass to Swaim. The other two play-action passes: a Dak throwaway on 2nd and goal and a 5-yard completion to Beasley on 2nd & 23.

On the play-action attempts, Dak was 7-of-8 for 84 yards and a TD.

1st down

Bryan Broaddus pointed out this week that the Cowboys success moving the ball on 1st & 10 is a major reason for their offensive success:

“How efficient has this offense been on first down? Dallas has run 249 first down plays and on 132 of them they’ve managed a gain of 4 or more yards. That is 53 percent of their snaps, which ranks them fifth in the league.”

But, he is missing the real beauty of Dallas’ success on 1st down: all year long the Cowboys have lined Dak up under center and run the ball on 1st down.

Against Green Bay, the Cowboys ran 29 plays on 1st down. They rushed the ball 20 times and passed in 9 times (6 from shotgun, 3 play-action) on first down. Even against the Eagles, a game which they trailed by 10 points in the 2nd half, the Cowboys ran more often than passed on 1st down (15 rushes, 11 passes, 2 play-action pass attempts).

This week, the Cowboys ran 30 first down plays against the Cleveland Browns. Dak was lined up under center for 26 of the 30 plays on 1st down: 21 of those plays were runs, 4 were playaction passes, and one was a quick WR screen. The Cowboys lined up in the shotgun 4 times on 1st down and passes all 4 times.

In total, the Cowboys ran the ball 21 times on 1st down, threw it 5 times, and tried 4 play-action passes.

This is the genius of Jason Garrett’s offense: defenses know that they will almost always put Dak under center on 1st down, and that they only have to defend the play-action, not a standard drop back, and that the Cowboys run out of this QB formation about 80-90% of the time, and the defenses, at least seven NFL defense, have not been able to consistently stop the Cowboys rushing attack on 1st down.

The Cowboys are not successful on 1st down because of great coaching or genius play-calling, they are successful on 1st down because the players are good enough to execute a simple running game-plan against almost any defense.

The 2016 Dallas Cowboys are starting to look more and more like the Jimmy Johnson team of the 90’s. The 90’s were beautiful, over and over we got to see the Cowboys, line up and run variations of the same basic running plays that everyone knew they would run. Teams just couldn’t stop them because they were more talented and they executed better as a unit. This current squad is building the same persona: they are going to pound the ball on first down even when the opponent expects it, because most teams can not stop their rushing attack. And if a defense does manage to stop the rushing attack early in the game, they will keep running the ball in the faith that eventually they will wear you down and/or Elliott will break off a big run.

3rd and Short

My decision to try to track Scott Linehan’s play calling on 3rd and short was premised on what I perceived to be a serious flaw in his history of play calling on 3rd and short with Romo at QB.

When Romo was the QB, it seemed like Linehan went to the shotgun, and then emptied the backfield far too frequently on 3rd and short. I can’t count the number of times I cursed Scott Linehan for abandoning even the illusion of running the ball when it was 3rd and 3-or-less.

Linehan doesn’t do that very often with Prescott at the helm.

The Dallas Cowboys were an impressive 8 for 12 in converting 3rd downs against the Browns. They were also 2 for 2 on 4th down attempts.

Running Lucky Whitehead through the backfield, like he might take the handoff on a jet-sweep, has become a staple for the Cowboys on 3rd and short.

The Cowboys faced 3rd and short (3 yards or less) 4 times against the Browns. They converted on all of their attempts, except the 3rd & 3 they faced in the 4th quarter (a 3 yard run from Whitehead resulted in a 4th & 1 which was successfully converted).

The Cowboys converted 3 times on 3rd and short: a pitch to Elliot, a run by Morris, and a catch by Beasley (6 yards and the only 3rd and short play in which Dak was in the shotgun).

Miscellaneous

The Cowboys continued their habit of giving L. Whitehead one rush per game. He has now carried 6 times in 6 different games for 65 yards. Whitehead’s stats do not reveal how important he is to the short-yardage game: the threat of him taking the ball on the jet-sweep on 3rd and short is a significant part of Linehan’s success on 3rd and 4th down.

J. Witten led all receivers with 8 catches for 135 yards. The Cowboys have had 4 different leading receivers in their 8 games (Witten vs Giants, Dez vs Washington, Williams vs Bears, Beasley vs SF,  Williams vs Cinci, Williams vs GB, Bryant vs Philly).

Cole Beasley continues to lead the Cowboys in receptions (43) and yards (499) and TD’s (4). Jason Witten is 2nd in all receiving categories (38 catches, 424 yards, 2 TD’s)

For at least the 3rd or 4th time this season, the Cowboys had only one “3-and-out” series on offense.

Dallas punted the ball just twice against the Browns.

Remember when people thought JJ Wilcox might not make the team? I’ve always advocated that the defense needs a few players with Wilcox’s attitude. I am looking for him to make a statement with Bell or Brown or both this Sunday.

Conclusions:

The Steelers will be a big test. If the OL can establish a strong running game, it will be reasonable to assume this offense is good enough to do that in almost any NFL stadium. If the defense can contain the Steelers version of the the triplets (Roethlisberger, Brown, and Bell) in Pittsburgh, then everyone will have to admit the Cowboys defense is much better than people thought.

As always, we encourage you to review the original questions posed (click here to read) and then provide your answers below, especially if you disagree with the observations offered above. We would also like to hear what specific things you will be watching for when the Dallas Cowboys play the dreaded Pittsburgh Steelers.

Click here to follow C. Joseph Wright on Twitter.