News & Analysis

Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season Recap

By PFF Analysis Team
Feb 21, 2019

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Dec 30, 2018; East Rutherford, NJ, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott (4) looks to pass against the New York Giants during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

During the NFL season, our team of 300-plus staff spend around 20,000 man-hours grading and analyzing every play of the NFL season, from the kickoff in the Hall of Fame game to the final play of the Super Bowl.

Now that the 2018 season is officially in the books, we can now take a look back at the season through the eyes of each NFL team and using the grades and statistics that we have compiled, we and detail what went right, what went wrong, and explain what that team has to look forward to.

Below is the 2018 season recap for the Dallas Cowboys.

Overview

After starting the season 3-5, the Dallas Cowboys were able to right the ship and win seven of their last eight games to win the NFC East and make the playoffs. The team managed to win a playoff game for the first time since 2014 before falling to the Rams to end their season.

What went right?
  • Amari Cooper came over in a trade and completely transformed the passing attack, as well as rejuvenating his own flagging career. He earned an overall PFF grade of 82.1 after arriving in Dallas, the best mark of his career.

  • On the defensive side of the ball, a wealth of talent had this unit really cooking all season. Rookie first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch finished with the highest grade among rookie linebackers and was a tackling machine. Jaylon Smith‘s continued return to form alongside him gave Dallas arguably the best linebacker duo in the game.

  • Up front, Demarcus Lawrence‘s 63 pressures and 89.5 near-elite grade proved he wasn’t just a one-year wonder, and Byron Jones for the longest time was the No. 1 graded CB in football in his first year as a pro playing the position. 

What went wrong?
  • As impressive as Cooper was as a No. 1 receiver, the rest of the receiver group was unimpressive, struggling to get the job done before Cooper arrived and to provide quality support once he was there.

  • In the secondary, safety Jeff Heath missed 19 tackles, and the cornerback play opposite Byron Jones was patchy at best.

Highest-Graded Offense Player

Dallas addressed a lackluster passing game by trading for WR Amari Cooper from the Raiders, who gave Dak Prescott the No. 1 target he had been sorely lacking to that point. Cooper proved that he can still be an elite receiver at this level, earning a top-15 grade during his time in Dallas.

Highest-Graded Defensive Player

Dallas slapped the franchise tag on pass rusher Demarcus Lawrence, asking him to prove he could back up his career year with another one before they committed big money to him. He did, with an overall grade of 89.5, just down on a season ago but still top 10 among all edge rushers.

Breakout Player

Linebacker Jaylon Smith completed one of the most impressive comeback stories of recent memory, finally emerging as the player his Notre Dame tape showed he could become before a devastating knee injury. Smith flew to the football all season and teamed with key rookie Leighton Vander Esch to record 98 defensive stops, the most among any LB duo.

In Conclusion

Dallas was able to get one monkey off their back with a playoff victory, but couldn’t take that next step and fell to the Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs. With a lot of exceptional young talent, this team could back up that late-season run with a strong 2019 season.

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