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What Went Wrong for The Dallas Cowboys in 2017? – Aside From Zeke Suspension

Dallas Cowboys 2017 Recap

Year after year the expectations in Dallas are Super Bowl or bust, and year after year since 1996 they’ve failed to meet that goal. The 2017 Cowboys, of course, were no different. In 2016 they finished the regular season 13-3 before getting bounced in the Divisional Round of the playoffs by Green Bay. QB Dak Prescott and RB Ezekiel Elliott looked tremendous during their rookie campaigns and the Cowboys appeared to be primed for greatness for years to come. Expectations were again through the roof at Jerry’s World, little did they know how drastically things would change for the 2017 season.

The team did not make many roster changes from 2016 to 2017 figuring that they were ready to make a deep playoff run with the players and coaches that were already on their roster. Offensive play-calling was an obvious issue with OC Scott Linehan, and Head Coach Jason Garrett’s failure to make adjustments proved costly. Dallas was 5-3 halfway through the season after winning 3 games in a row (weeks 7-9) and then the wheels fell off.

Ezekiel ElliottStar Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was suspended for 6 games, starting in Week 10 after his never-ending legal saga with the NFL finally came to a close. Although backs Alfred Morris and Rod Smith filled in admirably, the Cowboys would lose their next 3 games as their offense was not the same without the 2016 rushing champ. They would go on another 3 game winning streak late in the season before their playoff hopes were spoiled by a loss to the Seahawks.

The Zeke suspension was just the start for the Cowboys mediocre season. Even though the team finished 9-7 and their Offense ranked in the top half of the league in both points and yards, QB Dak Prescott clearly took a step back after his impressive rookie year. His numbers were almost identical to 2016, but he clearly regressed in terms of his accuracy, decision-making, and turnovers. Prescott threw just 4 interceptions in 2016 to 13 in 2017. He also had 8 games where he threw for under 200 yards. However, the regression is not all on Dak’s shoulders. His receivers also took a step back struggling to create any separation from opposing defensive backs.

Dak Prescott
Year Cmp% Yds TD Int Rate RuYds RuTD
2016 67.8 3667 23 4 104.9 282 6
2017 62.9 3324 22 13 86.6 357 6

Dallas receivers Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley saw a significant decline in their production due in large part because they could not get open. Williams did not have a single TD reception in 2017, while Beasley’s yards and catches were more than double in 2016. Boisterous Wide Receiver Dez Bryant had a disappointing 2017 even though he saw an uptick in catches and yards. He would too often go missing for the Cowboys offense when they needed him most. It remains to be seen if Bryant’s lackluster season was due to him losing a step or a product of Dak’s passing struggles. It will be interesting to see if Dez is back with the team in 2018 or if the two ultimately decide to part ways.

Cowboys Receiving Stats
Player 2016 Rec 2017 Rec 2016 Yds 2017 Yds 2016 TD 2017 TD
C. Beasley 75 36 833 314 5 4
D. Bryant 50 69 796 838 8 6
J. Witten 69 63 673 560 3 5
T. Williams 44 53 594 568 4 0

Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the loss of Tackle Tyron Smith also weighed heavily on Dallas’ offense. The five-time Pro Bowler’s absence coincided with the suspension of Zeke Elliott leaving the team without their offensive centerpiece and arguably their best lineman. Although he only missed 3 games he was never the same due to his back injury and was eventually forced to end his season early after injuring his knee against Seattle. The offensive line clearly struggled with Smith being injured, forcing Dak to rely more on his mobility to scramble away from pressure.

The Cowboys defense was another story. The unit had an up and down season but was actually a surprise bright spot for the team with the emergence of DE DeMarcus Lawrence and CB Chidobe Awuzie. They ranked 13th in the league in points per game and 8th in yards surrendered. However, the loss of oft-injured Linebacker Sean Lee who led the team in tackles despite missing 5 games undoubtedly hurt Dallas’ defense. Lee’s injuries seem to be a yearly issue and the defense cannot seem to rebound when he is missing from the lineup. In the 5 games that Lee missed their run defense was trampled by opposing backs and the Cowboys lost all 5 games. Dallas was clearly not the same without their defensive leader.

Run Defense Without Lee
Week Opp RuYds RuTD
4 LA Rams 168 0
5 Packers 160 1
10 Falcons 132 1
11 Eagles 215 2
12 Chargers 81 0

There will be plenty to think about for the Cowboys this offseason. Their young defense must continue to improve and become less reliant on Linebacker Sean Lee. But their most important task will be getting QB Dak Prescott back on track. With Ezekiel Elliott expected to play a full 16 games (barring injury) the team will look to replicate their 2016 offense when Dak and Zeke were at their best. If they can have that same success, the 2018 ‘Boys will be back in business.

Thanks for reading, leave me a commnet below.



  1. Tom, ask Anthony Cervino

    February 22, 2018 at Thursday, February,22

    Wow, really. Im not a Dallas fan but Zeke’s suspension was such a minor part of an ok year, a predicted year. Vegas had the over/under at 9.5 wins for season, they hit it on the head

    Nowhere in your article do you talk about strength of schedules or the miles traveled traversing the country. Let me educate you.

    In 2015, the injury to Romo got Dallas a 4-12 record but it also got them a last place schedule for 2016.

    And the rebound 13-3 2016 season w/ rookies Dak and Zeke rewarded a first place schedule for the 2017 season

    Cowboy’s first place schedule was the 10th toughest schedule in the league, it included 10 games vs teams above .500 in 2016 and 7 games, almost half the damn schedule, against 2016 playoff teams They had three sets of back to back road games thru the year in weeks 2,3 then 7,8 and 14,15.

    The cowboys by the completion of the season would have collected 28,000 frequent flier miles criss crossing the country.
    For comparrison, the Steelers flew roughly 3,000 miles the entire season

    If you think you can discount strength of schedules and their impact, lets review a few teams and see what happened.

    Denver Broncos #1 toughest SOS and they went 5-11

    Oakland Raiders #4 toughest SOS, they went 6-10 and del Rio gets fired cause they were supposed to be playoff bound

    Jaguars #2 EASIEST schedule, they make the playoffs and finish 10-6

    Redskins 7th toughest SOS and they finish a very respectable 7-9 considering the injuries and lack of ground game and WRs that disappeared and under performed. Kirk Cousins SHOULD get paid, kid is an unappreciated Stud

    Giants 8th toughest schedule, they finish the season without a HC or GM at a miserable 3-13

    Atlanta Falcons, Saints and Panthers schedules were, 13, 15, 16 SOS respectively so all of them making the playoffs was foreseen by the Sharps but getting bounced in the playoffs was expected by the Vegas sharps as well, but suprised most of the block head wanna be pundits. Slightly above average teams playing advantageous schedules equal the playoffs in the NFL

    So with that said, Dak is a below average QB. Zeke is a great back but with no threatening WRs and Dak, Zeke’s career is gonna mirror Walter Payton’s before Mad Mac became the Bears QB. Dallas will win sqeakers against average teams and get, as my friend Nick Wright says “Molly Whopped” by the yearly power teams.

    Running backs dont move the needle of the win/loss column in a pass oriented league. Never have, never will. Ask Barry Sanders and Eric Dickerson. Running backs primary job is to suck defenses in to expose the middle of the field and give outside WRs man to man coverage setting up the big play

    In a few months, the schedule comes out. I spend a month dissecting every team, even drawing a chart showing the traveling.

    I recommend you doing the same. Hell, I gamble for a living so this is my world you in and your hot take is hot crap.

    Only thing I agree with is the Dallas defense blows without Sean Lee but he is made out of class and always hurt.

    Strength of Schedule is the most important criteria when evaluating future success or forensically reviewing a team’s year.

    But then again, wtf do I know

    Excuse any typos, my editor day off lol

    School is out, class dismissed!

    • Mike Rigz

      March 23, 2018 at Friday, March,23

      Strength of schedule is overrated, as it’s based on the previous year’s record. Look how many trades and players have changed teams in the last month, any strength of schedule that uses last years record should be thrown out.

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