Cowboys 1st and 10: The Front Four Shuffle

Each weekend I provide 10 quick hits on the Cowboys. Marinelli is turning to his tackles to create an edge rush, the debate about Romo’s job security is a little insulting, and Terrance Williams’ disappearing act are all part of this edition of First and 10.

USA Today Images

1. I wouldn’t say the Dallas Cowboys are in desperation mode when it comes to their pass rush. But they’re close. The movement of Tyrone and Jack Crawford to the two end positions, and Maliek Collins into a starting role inside with Terrell McClain, represents a pretty seismic shift in what the Cowboys have done the past two weeks, at least when you consider the majority of the snaps on defense. But seeing Tyrone Crawford crash the Redskins’ backfield for a late sack of Kirk Cousins probably piqued the Cowboys’ interest in moving him outside in the short term. Let’s not forget that Tyrone Crawford started his NFL career as an edge rusher in a 3-4 and moved inside two years ago because defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli thought his pass-rush ability would translate well to the all-important under-tackle, or three-technique, in his front four. He’s a little big to be an edge rusher in Marinelli’s 4-3 at 285 pounds, but the Cowboys are seeking any edge pressure at this point. Same goes for Jack Crawford, who comes in around 288 pounds. He also had a sack last Sunday.

As for Collins and McClain, well we have a one-game sample of Collins’ ability and this is the first time McClain has been truly healthy since he’s been in Dallas. So your guess is as good as mine regarding what Dallas will get out of the pair. (Fish has already talked one-on-one with Tyrone and Jack Crawford about all this, and on Sunday he conducts a roundtable with Terrell and his Toe. Seriously.)

But this is where the Cowboys are until DeMarcus Lawrence returns in Week 5. And, frankly, if you think he’s going to solve all of their issues up front you’re kidding yourself. This mix-and-match thing Marinelli is doing now — something he did last year as well — is going to be the norm. But if it works it has the potential to be quite discombobulating to opposing offensive lines. It might have the same effect as moving Dez Bryant from one side of the field to the other. But we’ll see.

2. I’m really getting sick of the simmering national debate about whether Tony Romo has lost his starting job at quarterback. Look, the worst thing that happens is that Romo comes back, gets hurt again and Prescott takes over again. That’s the worst-case scenario from a football standpoint.

If you’re looking for a reason to put Romo back in the lineup when he’s healthy, here’s one. In 2014 when Romo was the full-time starter the Cowboys were 64.9 percent in the red zone. Last year, with Romo largely out of the lineup, the Cowboys were 44.4 percent in the red zone. This year, with two games under their belts without Romo, the Cowboys are 50 percent in the red zone and Prescott hasn’t thrown a single touchdown pass yet. Red zone offense is one of the last areas that really clicks for a young NFL quarterback. Romo excels at it. If the Cowboys are going to get back to the postseason they need that excellence in the red zone back on the field.

3. Worth a read this week? Elizabeth Merrill’s story at ESPN.com titled “Zeke Elliott will have to grow up under a harsh glare.” The story takes on the fallout from the domestic violence charges against Elliott this summer, namely how his family is working to make sure Elliott chooses those around him more carefully. I didn’t realize until reading the story that Elliott’s father, Stacy, had moved to Dallas recently and that he moved from St. Louis, Missouri, to Columbus, Ohio, when Zeke moved on to college at Ohio State.

Merrill does a great job of exploring Zeke’s mindset as a person off the field and how his upbringing framed how he sees the world. I have my own opinion. Read the piece and form your own. But I will echo something our Mike Fisher tweeted out shortly after the charges were dropped against Zeke. It was something about making sure you choose your friends carefully. Has Zeke learned that? We’ll see.

© Steve Mitchell | 2015 Nov 22 | USA Today

4. I’m a bit surprised that Terrance Williams has become so lost in this offense so far. Sometimes when you have a new quarterback it’s a reps issue. But Dak Prescott had plenty of reps with all of the receivers, including the presumed starters, in training camp and preseason. It’s clear Prescott is most comfortable throwing to Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and Cole Beasley, and Beasley’s rise has clearly been at Williams’ expense.

This could play into the Cowboys’ hands, though. An average season for Williams likely means tepid free-agent interest and the opportunity for the Cowboys to re-sign him on the cheap in 2017. He’s good depth, but right now he’s been de-emphasized as a good offensive option. At this point it might take an injury for that to change.

5. Getting ready for Sunday’s game with the Bears? Let us help. Here are all of our stories previewing this week’s game through Friday night:

Cowboys 100: Facts + Figures for Bears

Should Cowboys “Butterfly” Tyrone to DE?

Cowboys Shuffle D-Line; Do Sacks Matter to Playoff Hopes?

Dallas Cowboys Fantasy Picks for Week 3

6. My three keys to Sunday’s game with the Bears?

Exploit this great matchup. As our Jordan Ross pointed out earlier this week:

https://twitter.com/CHQ_Jordan/status/779044712069988352

Jordan is right about winning. I wouldn’t say handily because this is the NFL and those blowouts don’t come easily. But, yes the Cowboys should win as long as they form a game plan that exploits the Bears’ shortcomings right now — interior defensive line, secondary and quarterback play. That means running the ball, taking advantage of what I imagine will be zone coverage to compensate for injuries and putting pressure on the Bears’ Brian Hoyer.

Avoid turnovers. The Cowboys have done a great job of avoiding turnovers — just one in two games. But when the scales appear tipped in your favor, as they do on Sunday night, the easiest way to balance those scales is to turn the ball over. QB Dak Prescott needs to keep on keepin’ on with the lack of interceptions and RB Ezekiel Elliott and the receivers need to hang on to the football.

Get a lead and salt it away. When you’re facing an opponent with sizeable shortcoming one key is to get the lead and sit on it. If the Cowboys can do that they have the running game, between Elliott and Alfred Morris, to control the clock and keep the Bears from coming back. That’s the ideal scenario. But it’s the Cowboys so when are things ever ideal?

7. It’s our Tweet of the Week:

https://twitter.com/dallascowboys/status/777966704487862272

I think the bigger news here is that Drew Henson won a football game his rookie year.

8. This week’s great moments in headline porn: “It’s a burning issue: What do Dallas Cowboys players think about marijuana and the NFL” from dallasnews.com

Well I clicked on it. But what you get, unlike most headline porn, is a serious exploratory piece by Brad Townsend, one of our best local writers, on the attitudes of players in the locker room when it comes to weed. If all headline porn were like this the journalism world would be much better. Plus, there are links within the story leading to other pieces that show Townsend is putting together an impressive series on the subject. It’s worth your time.

9. John Fox has done the highly improbable. He’s making Bears fans pine for Lovie Smith. And Jay Cutler is darned close to making them pine for Rex Grossman.

10. My prediction for Sunday’s game? I’ll take the Cowboys. They’re at home, the Bears are supremely banged up and this should be the type of game the Cowboys win, if their intention is to reach the playoffs. You can’t allow opportunities like this slip away. Cowboys 28, Bears 23.

 Now, if you wanna bet? The iconic Norm Hitzges is here to help over at Norm's Clubhouse with a special deal for CHQ readers. Check it out!

Want to talk more Cowboys? Hit the CowboysHQ.com message boards or hit up Postins @PostinsPostcard or Mike Fisher @FishSports on Twitter.

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