When the 2015 NFL Draft kicks off nine days from tonight in Chicago, it will commence the official beginning of the 2015 NFL season (free agency is cool, but it ain’t the draft).
I’ve been known to be quite the nostalgic - I still watch Friends reruns on a daily basis - so I thought what better way to get excited about where we’re going than to look back at where we just were? Take a stroll down memory lane with me, and please keep all hands inside the vehicle at all time. Flash photography is allowed.
Let’s count down the Dallas Cowboys' 10 greatest moments from 2014.
Rolando McClain’s interception in Tennessee (Week 2)
In the first minute of the fourth quarter, Jake Locker stepped back in his usual nit-witty sort of way and fired off a pass that got tipped at the line of scrimmage by last year’s big free agency pick up, Henry Melton.
Rolando McClain made an incredible one-armed acrobatic move in which he kept the ball afloat with his right arm, and bounced it around until he corralled it safely in his arms. He had enough moxie to get up and run the TD in, too. Unfortunately for RoMac, the referees whistled the play dead and the play was only ruled an interception after a challenge by Coach Garrett… which gave us the ball at the spot of the pick. The offense would go on to produce a Dan Bailey field goal that pushed the lead to 26-10, giving us our first win of the season.
Barry Church Picks off Eli Manning in New York on Sunday Night Football (Week 12)
With 3:16 remaining in the third quarter, the Giants were up 21-17 on the Cowboys. Already inside their 20, the G-Men were looking to go up two scores. Thankfully Baby Peyton hit Preston Parker right on the fingertips, and he took off just enough of the pass to allow Barry Church to swoop in and pick it off.
Church took the ball practically to midfield and turned the momentum in Dallas' favor. Romo & Co. took that momentum and drove downfield in five minutes before hitting Dez Bryant for the go-ahead touchdown.
Dez Bryant Won’t Be Denied in London (Week 10)
This is technically two plays but it’s my countdown so I can do whatever I want.
Already leading the Jacksonville Jaguars (yes, that’s a real NFL team) 10-7 across the pond in England, Tony Romo threw a teeny little baby five yard pass towards #88. In typical Dez fashion, he sprinted 35 yards, evaded 7 defenders, and fell into the endzone for the score.
Touchdown Cowboys - 17-7.
Seven minutes later, with the score unchanged, with 31 seconds remaining, Tony did what all the Brits wanted to see. He threw to Dez. He threw a beautiful rainbow pass that Dez caught over his shoulder - and the bruised pride of Jacksonville - on his way to a 68 yard score.
It's DeMarco Murray’s World, Saints Just Live in it (Week 4)
This is also two plays. I promise this isn’t a recurring theme. Stop yelling at me.
With just over four minutes to play in the first half, DeMarco Murray showed us who he would be in 2014. Had he dominated the Titans and Rams? Yea, sure. But so can kindergarteners.
This was the Sean Payton coached, Drew Brees quarterbacked, Jimmy Graham goal post dunking New Orleans Saints.
And with a 10-0 lead at his back DeMo took a handoff from numero nueve, caught one of the most textbook blocks from Jason Witten on Junior Galette, and sprinted in for the score with the ball held high.
Hello 2014, I’m going to be your leading rusher.
Oh but before I lead the league in rushing, I’m going to humiliate the Saints. Almost a full quarter later DeMarco took New Orleans for a 35 yard exercise in humility.
He broke free behind his stellar line and put the game away for Dem Boyz.
Cole Beasley Stretches Out for Glory in Chicago (Week 14)
We’ve seen him dunk. We’ve seen him fly. We’ve even seen him fix his facemask while scoring a touchdown on the Indianapolis Colts. Now we can say that we’ve seen him lay it all out for the score. And we’ve seen him do it twice.
Cole Beasley broke out at Soldier Field on NFL Network’s Thursday Night Football.
With under 20 seconds to go in the first half, Romo hit Cole at the Chicago five. Chris Conte flailed helplessly at Cole. Cole shook part of him off. Cole dove for the endzone. For the score! And he wasn’t done yet...
Three minutes into the third quarter - on 3rd and 3 - he did it again.
Romo took the ball in the gun at the Chicago 24 and rolled to his right (I guess he was getting bored with that spin move to his backside that leaves defensive ends hating their lives). He motioned for Cole to come back slightly and Cole indeed came back to the perfect spot to catch the pass right over Chris Conte’s head.
He turned, five yards still to go, and dove for the endzone (Conte hanging on again for dear life). 24 yard TD for Mr. Beasley.
DeMarco Murray Finishes the Seahawks (Week 6)
After the Terrance Williams hoopla (spoiler alert: you’ll read about that later), the Cowboys were in prime position all the way up in Seattle.
While down 23-20, they had the ball at the Seattle 15 on 2nd and 4 with just under four minutes to go. They had all the momentum. They had the confidence. They had the belief. And they had DeMarco Murray.
Even though Right Tackle Doug Free had been injured on the previous play, DeMarco barreled his way through the Seahawk's defense behind his all-pro offensive line all the way in for the go ahead touchdown… with Richard Sherman hanging on for the ride.
Bruce Carter’s Pick-Six Completes the 21-Point Comeback in St. Louis (Week 3)
It was ugly.
After a pick-six by Janoris Jenkins, the Cowboys found themselves in a 21-0 hole… to the St. Louis Rams. Seriously. The 2014 Cowboys were a different breed though, and they proved it by scratching and clawing their way back into the game. Down 20-24 late in the fourth, Romo hit Terrance Williams for the go ahead TD.
Austin Davis, the fresh new Rams QB, had a chance. With six minutes to go and down only three he could lead this team to victory and the story about the Rams blowing a 21-point lead would never be written. Instead, as Austin Davis’ usually do, on the first play he threw right into the arms of Bruce Carter, who scampered in and put the exclamation point on the game.
Davis rallied a little and closed the gap to 34-31, but he couldn’t climb out of the hole that Bruce Carter put him in. This was a turning point for the Cowboys as it gave them the confidence that propelled them to the success that they ultimately enjoyed.
Tony Romo Evades Defensive Player of the Year JJ Watt and Hits Terrance Williams for a TD (Week 5)
JJ Watt beat Tyron Smith. I’ll be the first to say it. He straight up beat him.
What many consider - let’s be honest, not many but all - the best defensive player of the last five years had a free shot at Tony Romo’s back.
Yes, that back...
With the Cowboys trailing their in-state rivals 7-3 with about six minutes to go in the third quarter, Romo was all JJ’s. Until the spin happened.
Yes, THAT spin.
The patented Romo back left spin that we’ve all come to know and love went into effect right then and there. JJ gave Lennay Kekua a big ‘ol bear hug while Romo set his feet and delivered a 43 yard TD to this generation’s Alvin Harper.
Tony Romo Evades Bruce Irvin on 3rd and 20, Hits Terrance Williams for the First Down (Week 6)
With approximately five minutes to go at Century Link, the Cowboys were trailing the Seahawks 23-20. With the ball at their own 31, the Cowboys ran DeMarco Murray on first down, only to have Travis Frederick get called for holding.
A wash, rinse, repeat, DeMarco run on 1st and 20 yielded zero yards.
Romo threw incomplete for Dez Bryant on 2nd down. On 3rd and 20 Romo dropped back, sensed Bruce Irvin coming for him on his blind side, spun to his right, successfully evading Irvin, climbed the pocket, pointed 22 yards downfield, and with Bruce Irvin on the ground flailing at his ankles Tony Romo threw a beautiful pass to #83.
As if that wasn’t enough beauty, Terrance toe-tapped his way in-bounds with about 10 feet to spare. Pete Carroll and his Seahawks staff challenged the play to no avail, and the Cowboys marched downfield and completed what some would call the biggest upset of the 2014 NFL season.
The Dallas Cowboys #FinishtheFight against the Detroit Lions on Wild Card Weekend
Detroit Lions with the lead.
2:39 left in the ballgame.
3rd and Goal from the Detroit eight yard line.
The hopes and dreams of millions hang in the balance.
Tony Romo, Mr. One Playoff Win, takes the snap from the gun.
He looks right - Cole Beasley is covered.
He looks left - both Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray are covered.
Briefly looks right again - Beasley still covered.
He tap dances to his right as Tyron Smith makes the block.
He steps up in the pocket.
He steps into the throw.
Detroit’s Ezekiel Ansah takes him out at his hips.
The ball travels for what feels like forever, right into the arms of Terrance Williams.
While there are many plays that were notable and exciting throughout the 2014 season, these are the ten that I feel most defined our season. Without each of these 10 plays the Cowboys don’t achieve the success that they did in 2014.
Here’s hoping that next year’s list ends with a knee in victory formation in San Francisco.
Will 2019 be the Storybook Ending to Jason Witten’s Hall of Fame Career?
It's old news now, but Jason Witten will suit up for the Dallas Cowboys once again in 2019. After less than a year in retirement, he will return to the field with the hopes of chasing down that ever elusive Super Bowl ring that has eluded him, and the Cowboys, for nearly two decades. If successful, it would be the storybook ending to an impressive Hall of Fame career.
I may be in the minority here, but I actually wasn't too excited to hear Jason Witten was going to end his retirement and rejoin the Dallas Cowboys. I thought he retired at the right time last year, going out on his terms instead of letting father time force him out. He definitely didn't have anything else to prove on the field, but sometimes hunger gets the best of us all.
That's what Jason Witten is. He's hungry! He's not stupid. He's looked this Dallas Cowboys roster over and sees just how talented it is from top to bottom. He knows this team has a real shot at reaching the promised land this year, adding yet another Super Bowl trophy to their collection. He wanted in, and rightfully so.
Witten may not have a full tank of gas anymore, but he's got enough left to help get this team to their desired destination. Despite my hesitation at first, I'm really excited to have him back in uniform. I'm really looking forward to seeing him back in action now, but more importantly having him on hand to mentor these younger players around him.
Most importantly though, I'm really hoping the 2019 season can be the storybook ending he deserves. He's been such an important ambassador to the NFL throughout his career, both on and off the field. What better way to end such a decorated career than with a little jewelry to put on his finger?
The 11 time Pro Bowler still holds a lot of records in the NFL and with the Dallas Cowboys, despite not playing last season. I'll let you look those up for yourself if you want, but the impact he has had on the game throughout his career is undeniable, and should continue to be so. The Cowboys or Witten wouldn't have reunited if either thought that wasn't the case anymore.
I know many of you may be thinking I'm probably reaching little to suggest this 2019 Dallas Cowboys team has a chance at going all the way this year, but I don't think so. This is a team with Super Bowl aspirations and the roster to do it.
The Cowboys already had a championship caliber defense last season and they're even better now after making a few upgrades. This alone will make them a much more dangerous team this year, but they're not slouches on the offensive side of the ball either.
The offense was good last season after making the Amari Cooper trade, but should be able to take the next step this year. They only lost Cole Beasley, but replaced him with Randall Cobb, who has a chance to be even better if he can stay healthy. Then if you throw in the addition of Jason Witten and the development of a few players, this is looking more and more like one of the more dangerous offenses in the NFL.
Maybe, just maybe, this is the team that can finally get the Dallas Cowboys back to the Super Bowl and help Jason Witten end his Hall of Fame career in a storybook like manner. Hello Hollywood! You've got a blockbuster movie in the making.
Do you think Jason Witten can end his career in a storybook like manner?
Travis Frederick’s Return Named Cowboys Biggest Reason For Excitement
Overall, Cowboys Nation feels to be in a positive mood during this year's offseason. Despite early angst over lack of action at the start of free agency, and concern over the Cowboys' draft strategy, most within the fan base seem to have high, yet realistic, hopes for the 2019 season.
Most seem to believe the NFC East will be a two team race, with the last two champions battling for the crown once again down the stretch of the season. Others can see the potential for a dark-horse candidate in Washington, but still believe the Cowboys roster has the edge.
So while Cowboys fans may not think they need a singular reason to look forward to the Fall of 2019, Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski gave them one this week.
NFL Brent Sobleski @@brentsobleski Twitter Logo NFL Analyst The offseason can be as thrilling for NFL fans as the regular season. Player movement constantly refreshes rosters-whether through free agency, the draft or trades. Significant changes inject excitement into franchises, personnel and fanbases. A one-time league doormat can become the league's "it' team simply through a string of acquisitions.
Brent identified the biggest reason for each team to look forward to 2019, with the return of center Travis Frederick being the Cowboys' submission. There's no question that when healthy, Frederick is one of the best centers in the game, and anchors an offensive line many still consider to be at the top of the league.
"A full year with wide receiver Amari Cooper and re-signing Demarcus Lawrence to a long-term deal are both reasons for the Dallas Cowboys to be excited. However, the return of Travis Frederick to man the middle of the offensive line is far more pertinent."
Frederick missed all of the 2018 season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease that I am not nearly qualified enough to discuss. What I do know is that it can be very serious, and it kept Frederick out for the entire year.
The Cowboys offensive line suffered during the early part of 2018, largely due in part to Travis Frederick's absence. Yes, Joe Looney filled in and played as well as anyone could have hoped for, but the disconnect in communication across the offensive line was clear without their usual center. Especially during the first couple months of the season.
If Frederick is fully back and healthy, his presence alone will take the Cowboys offensive line back towards their peak. Combine his comeback with a healthy Zack Martin, and a now bulked up Connor Williams, and the interior of this line has the chance to be special.
3 Dallas Cowboys Who Could Make Pro Bowl Debuts this Season
Every year, the Dallas Cowboys send quite a few players to the Pro Bowl. This year, the Cowboys sent eight players to the Pro Bowl with Leighton Vander Esch and Byron Jones being selected to their first Pro Bowl squad.
There is a lot of talent on this year's roster and the Cowboys will likely send someone to the annual all-star game that hasn't been there before. Here are three I think will make a push for Pro Bowl recognition in 2019.
Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback
In the first half of the season, Chidobe Awuzie got picked on a bit. His coverage was always pretty good, but he allowed a ton of receptions. Awuzie allowed the ninth highest passer rating in coverage, the 12th most receptions, the 10th most yards, and tied for the sixth most touchdowns allowed weeks 1-9 of 2018.
In the second half, including the playoffs, Awuzie was much better and showed a higher level of comfort. His passer rating allowed dropped 50 points and was the 17th lowest in the league among corners who played at least 197 coverage snaps. He allowed fewer receptions, yards, and touchdowns in the 10 games over the second half than he allowed in the first eight games of the season.
Awuzie is one of the tougher players on the team. He plays with a similar edge that DeMarcus Lawrence does on the defensive line.
After spending part of his rookie season injured and rotating in, Awuzie found his stride in the second half of 2018 and was one of the Cowboys better cover players. Going into his third season in the NFL, the Cowboys 2017 second round pick looks to be an ascending player that could make some noise for postseason awards.
Tony Pollard, Running Back/Kick Returner
The Dallas Cowboys went into the 2019 NFL Draft looking to find a gadget player they could use on offense, but just as important, they wanted a player who could contribute in the return game. They got him in Rookie Tony Pollard.
Over the course of three seasons and 87 returns, Pollard averaged 30 yards per kick return and returned seven kickoffs for scores. In 2017, Pollard averaged an insane 40 yards per return. He's an incredibly dynamic player with the ball in his hands and though he wasn't used much on punt returns, shows an ability to make people miss and read his blockers.
As Stephen Jones said, "he's got a little Alvin Kamara to him." As a ball carrier, Pollard averaged 7.7 and 7.1 yards per carry over his final two seasons at Memphis. He was dynamic as a receiver as well averaging more than 12.4 yards per reception over three seasons in college.
With Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys may not give Pollard enough snaps and touches to have an Alvin Kamara like rookie campaign (120 carries for 728 yards, 8 touchdowns and 81 receptions for 826 yards and 5 touchdowns), but if he's given half that workload, plus what he could do on returns, he'll make noise for Pro Bowl consideration.
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
It was a bit surprising to go back and look at which linebackers made the Pro Bowl and not see Jaylon Smith's name. As good as Rookie Leighton Vander Esch was, Jaylon Smith might have been better. By standard metrics -- tackles, interceptions, tackles for loss -- Vander Esch totaled more. Advanced metrics like defensive EPA (expected points added) and playmaking EPA, favored Jaylon Smith's season.
Overall playmaking EPA rank among all NFL defenders: 5. DeMarcus Lawrence 7. Jaylon Smith 58. Leighton Vander Esch
Jaylon Smith didn't rack up the tackles like Vander Esch, but he was far more impactful over the course of the season. That's not to diminish Vander Esch's contribution to the Cowboys success in 2018. It's important to show Jaylon Smith his due, though.
Smith recorded four sacks, two forced fumbles, four passes defended to go along with his 120 combined tackles in 2018. And that was just his second full season back from the devastating knee injury he suffered in college.
Another season removed from the injury should make Jaylon Smith more confident and more explosive in 2019, which should lead to another outstanding season for the Dallas Cowboys Middle Linebacker.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Don't let anyone tell you that Pro Bowls don't matter. They do. Sure, All-Pro awards are the more highly coveted recognition, but to the players and to their agents, Pro Bowl selections matter. It's not as exclusive, but in a league with 1,696 players being one of 88 is still a really nice honor. To be a Pro Bowl player mean's you're in the top 5% of NFL players.
Obviously, we'd all prefer none of the Dallas Cowboys play in the Pro Bowl. Because that would mean they'd be preparing to play for that elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy. The Cowboys have always provided quite a few participants to the Pro Bowl game, but if the participation was zero in 2020, it wouldn't be all bad.
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