A lot has gone wrong for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys through the first five weeks of their season, as Dallas’ early bye week now feels like it came at the perfect time. As the Cowboys look to regroup and get this young team on track sooner rather than later, they will need starters on both sides of the ball to live up to (or exceed) expectations.
Defensively, the Cowboys allowed 30 points in consecutive home losses for the first time since 2015 – doing so in two games without QB Tony Romo of course. This isn’t to say that Dak Prescott‘s offense hasn’t been held back by a few new faces in the starting lineup.
Before Dallas takes the field for a potential “get well” game at the 49ers on October 22nd, let’s take a closer look at four players that I believe have unperformed to put the Cowboys in this spot.
S Jeff Heath
Growing pains are going to be an ongoing issue in the Cowboys secondary. Just as rookie CB Jourdan Lewis has emerged as solid starter on the outside, veteran S Jeff Heath has not adjusted well to his increased role at all. The word “rotation” is thrown around arbitrarily when discussing all three levels of Rod Marinelli’s defense, and often times it simply means the starters the Cowboys have are not good enough.
A rotation at safety is needed for a defense that commits to playing in Nickel and Dime sets so often, and the truth through five weeks is that Jeff Heath needs to revert back to being this rotational piece. When asked to stick to his assignments in coverage on every down, Heath has been outperformed by rookie Xavier Woods – an encouraging sign for the sixth round pick.
Thanks to Woods and Chidobe Awuzie, the safety position could become a bright spot for the Cowboys on the other side of this bye week. Jeff Heath has already cost this team plenty of yards in the back end though, including late breaks on two consecutive plays, the second of which being the game winning score by Davante Adams (with Lewis covering).
DT Maliek Collins
Stop me if you’ve seen this before. With the Cowboys struggling to generate pressure off the edge for some time now, the hype for any interior rushers has often gone too far. First, it was Tyrone Crawford at the 3T position.
The reason Crawford now finds himself as a plug-and-play starter at every spot along the defensive line is because of Maliek Collins, who was the younger and cheaper option as a rookie in 2016.
With five sacks and a forced fumble in 2016, Maliek Collins thrived at the most important position in Rod Marinelli’s scheme. After spending the summer furthering his game by working against – and beating – Zack Martin in training camp, Collins was due for a dominant season at DT.
There is no doubt that Maliek Collins can still be a difference maker this season, and start as a key contributor up front for the Cowboys for a long time, but he has not flown out of the gates as Cowboys Nation expected.
With a ton of issues at linebacker, the need for consistent play up front is even more urgent, and Collins can go a long way in improving both Dallas’ run defense and pass rush efficiency.
DE Benson Mayowa
Sticking with the Cowboys defensive line, Benson Mayowa has struggled once again at the start of a season. His second with the Cowboys, Mayowa ended up leading the 2016 team in sacks after sitting out three games in the middle of the season due to his lack of production.
Another late season run of sacks from Mayowa will certainly be accepted in Dallas, as he can support a group that is already getting production from DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving.
With zero sacks on the 2017 season though, Benson Mayowa is among the top under-performers on this team right now. Failing to play with good technique or utilize any rush moves on the weak side on frighteningly consistent basis, the Cowboys simply do not have a reliable player in Mayowa – who is getting the largest share of the work at RDE.
LG Jonathan Cooper
As mentioned, the Cowboys offense does not go unscathed here when it comes to players not performing at a needed level. The big plays have not been there in the running game for the Cowboys thus far, and much of this has to do with Jonathan Cooper taking over for Chaz Green at LG.
There was of course a time when La’el Collins was expected to get his job back at LG in place of FA departure Ronald Leary, but Collins has been a solid starter at RT while Cooper has failed to embrace the best opportunity of his career at guard next to Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.
Jonathan Cooper’s issue has not been fitting the athletic profile for the linemen Dallas desires, instead struggling as he has throughout his difficult career with short-range power and block sustainability. Breakdowns on the second level for Cooper have not only caused some struggles from Frederick next to him at center, but have held back Ezekiel Elliott when looking to clear the linebackers and do his damage in the secondary.
I doubt the Cowboys make a switch at LG coming off of the bye, but Jonathan Cooper will need to be a completely different player if this offensive line is going to totally resemble the dominant units that led two separate running backs to league rushing titles in 2014 and 2016.
Whether or not you believe that more players deserve a spot on this list, or that these four are in good position to turn things around, will determine which direction this Cowboys season ultimately goes.
At 2-3 chasing the 5-1 Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys have their work cut out for them to rapidly improve on defense and patch up a few holes offensively.