3 & Out: Trends At The Halfway Point?

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FRISCO, Texas – Refreshed after an all-nighter at the Meadowlands, and hopeful Monday Night Football Cat is enjoying his Wednesday somewhere in East Rutherford, here are three quick topics at the exact midpoint of the 2019 Dallas Cowboys season:

  • Zim
  • Trends
  • #79

I Know…

the Cowboys franchise knows all too well what a Mike Zimmer-coached defense can do.

Sunday will mark Zimmer’s first game back in Dallas as an opposing head coach. A trusted assistant for four Cowboys head coaches in the 1990s and 2000s, he cut his teeth as a defensive coordinator here from 2000-06 and stayed on staff through the Bill Parcells administration.

Zimmer showed his flexibility as a coach in 2005 when, at Parcells’ request, he switched to a 3-4 scheme for the first time in his career and developed a rookie pass rusher named DeMarcus Ware.

Long overdue, Zimmer got his first head coaching job in 2014. Since then, the Vikings have ranked in the top 10 in scoring defense each of the last five years. Here’s the breakdown:

2014: 11th (21.4)
2015: 5th (18.9)
2016: 6th (19.2)
2017: 1st (15.8)
2018: 9th (21.3)
2019: 4th (17.6)

And, keeping statistically symmetry, the Cowboys escaped with a 17-15 victory at Minnesota in 2016 despite gaining only 13 first downs and 264 total yards.

In nine games this season, teams have reached 20 points four times and 30 points only once against the Vikings. Uncharacteristically, they gave up a 91-yard touchdown run to the Chiefs last Sunday – the longest ever allowed by a Zimmer defense – and a last-second field goal in a 26-23 loss.

You have to think they’ll be locked in Sunday night.

Exactly why a faster start is imperative for Dallas.

I Think…

one trend is emerging on defense, while a less friendly pattern continues on offense.

For the first time since December 2018, the Cowboys have forced multiple turnovers in consecutive games. They’ve got seven in last two games, pushing their season total to 12. That’s tied for the seventh-highest total among teams.

Two years ago, the Cowboys thought Xavier Woods was an absolute steal in the sixth round in part because of his ball skills (14 interceptions in three years starting for Louisiana Tech). He’s been the catalyst for this takeaway turnaround, posting three in the last two games. A deserved NFC Defensive Player of the Week honor.

Now, the slow starts on offense? They’re just hard to explain.

It’s not for lack of preparation or effort. But it’s there. The Cowboys have still managed to rank fifth in scoring this year, averaging 28.4 points a game. Here’s how the averages break down by quarter:

1st: 4.6
2nd: 7.1
3rd: 7.3
4th: 9.4

An exception was their 27-7 second-quarter lead over Philly three weeks ago. But overall, they’ve been a second-half team that irons out early deficiencies.

“I think we beat ourselves more than they beat us (Monday),” Zeke Elliott said after the Giants game. “We’ve definitely got to fix that. If we want to be a good team we’ve got to play 60 minutes of football.”

The encouraging part: There's a reason they're the NFL's top-ranked offense. They've shown they can consistently move the ball, road or home.

I Have No Idea…

why I was a little surprised by Michael Bennett’s workload Monday (43 snaps, fourth most among the defensive linemen).

Yes, he only had a few days in the Cowboys’ system since arriving from New England. But he’s been practicing and playing games this season. He’s in shape. He’s an 11-year vet who adapts quickly.

And, well, he was too productive to keep off the field against New York: 3 tackles, a sack, a tackle for loss and a team-best 4 quarterback pressures from defensive tackle and left end.

“We wanted to play him a lot, but he handled the work really well and we kept him out there,” head coach Jason Garrett said. “He really was impactful.”

They’ll need him Sunday night against Kirk Cousins, who’s thrown 13 touchdown passes with only one interception in the Vikings’ last five games (4-1).

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