On Sunday, the Cleveland Browns’ take on the Dallas Cowboys. To help preview a few topics from Dallas’ perspective, we reached out to Dave Halprin from Blogging The Boys and exchanged five questions with him. Enjoy!
Chris: “After many years with Jason Garrett, Mike McCarthy is the Cowboys’ new head coach. What are your early impressions of him, and where does he seem to differ most from Garrett?”
Dave: “All the way around, the Cowboys appear to be a more aggressive team. Jason Garrett was so intent on running the ball even when it seemed like the opposing defense was waiting for it. He just had this belief that you had to establish the run. McCarthy seems to be content letting offensive coordinator Kellen Moore rely on the pass if that is what is called for. Now, the Cowboys have been playing from behind all season, so they have had to use the pass more, but it still feels like they aren’t as wedded to the run.
McCarthy also is much more aggressive in things like faking punts, going for two, going for it on fourth down. The Cowboys fanbase had grown accustomed to Garrett being super-conservative in all those areas, so this feels really new to us. All those aggressive moves haven’t really worked out yet, but at least he’s trying some things. The Cowboys are also blitzing more on defense, but that hasn’t really produced dividends yet.”
Chris: “The Cowboys drafted WR CeeDee Lamb with the 17th overall pick. How has the rookie been utilized through three games and what type of snaps is he seeing?”
Dave: “Lamb has been fully involved in the Cowboys offense. He sees about 75% of the Cowboys offensive snaps as Dallas uses a lot of three wide receiver formations in their base offense. He does a lot of his work out of the slot but they do move him around some. He has been very impressive for a rookie wide receiver and looks like he has a very bright future ahead. He already has one 100-yard game to his credit and is a weapon. He’s had a couple of his long catches over the middle of the field but he doesn’t seem to be limited in his route tree. He also is used as a punt returner sometimes and is an elusive runner in the open field.”
Chris: “Dallas’ defense has given up a lot of points these past two weeks, and it seems like their pass defense is pretty terrible. While the Browns thrive at running the ball, that has fans salivating at the thought of unleashing Odell Beckham Jr. this week. What areas has Dallas’ defense struggled in the most?”
Dave: “The secondary is definitely the problem point on the Cowboys defense, although their pass rush could also use a boost. The Cowboys brought in a new defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan this year and he has brought in a very different system. This seems to be a lot of the problem as the Cowboys are just blowing coverages on the regular and they don’t seem to always know what the other guy is doing. The defense they used to run was very simple and used only a few coverages.
Nolan’s defense is much more complicated and the Cowboys didn’t have the full offseason to get it installed; this seems to have led to some communication issues. It’s not like they don’t have some talent back there, but they have also suffered through some injuries. Put it all together and good quarterbacks like Matt Ryan and Russell Wilson have just been dissecting the Cowboys in the passing game.”
Chris: “Despite Dallas’ defense struggling, I see them, like Cleveland, staying in games with their offense. If there is an area where Dallas has a hole offensively, what is it?”
Dave: “Right now, the problem for the Cowboys is the injuries along the offensive line. Even before the season they had to replace Travis Frederick at center, they are using Joe Looney there. Then they lost starting right tackle La’el Collins before the first game and lost backup swing tackle Cam Erving in the first game. Now Tyron Smith is ailing and it’s hard to say if he will play this week or not.
They have been using two UDFAs at the tackle spots and while they have had varying degrees of success, the Cowboys offensive line certainly isn’t what it used to be at this point. You have to give credit to offensive line coach Joe Philbin as he’s managed to hold the line together enough so that the offense can operate, but if anything else goes wrong there it could be a big problem. Left guard Connor Williams looks like the real weak link and has not been playing well.”
Chris: “Tell us about one player on offense and one player on defense who Browns fans might not be familiar with, but who could make a nice contribution for this week’s game.”
Dave: “On offense, don’t sleep on tight end Dalton Schultz. He started the season as the backup tight end but Dallas lost starter Blake Jarwin for the season in the first game. In the past two games, Schultz has 13 catches for 136 yards and one touchdown. He’s given the Cowboys a threat at the position and it’s a surprise because he hadn’t done much in his previous couple of years.
On defense, it’s actually really hard to pick out a player because so far, besides Aldon Smith, no one has really stood out. I’ll go with Joe Thomas at linebacker, he’s had to step in for Leighton Vander Esch who was injured in Week 1, and has had some good moments. Against the Falcons in Week 2 he was particularly active and was a big help in shutting down the run game, even though he’s known more for his ability to cover. He wasn’t as good last week, but he could be a guy to make an impact.”
Thanks again to Dave for taking the time to answer my questions.