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I want you to do me a favor. Look at the date, please. It reads December 2nd.
I just wanted to make sure that was well-known so that the amazingness of this could be fully digested - the Dallas Cowboys are 11-1. Happy #VictoryPoloMonday to you and yours!
That's right, the Dallas Cowboys were on the right side of a 17-15 slobber-knocker type of game against the Minnesota Vikings in what was easily the closest Thursday Night Football game of the season. Every week a new squad gives America's Team all they can handle, and in the last eleven efforts they've all failed.
It was hardly a walk-in-the-park type of victory, though. Many members of Cowboys Nation were on pins and needles to the very end. What was our experience? What did we learn? Here are my 10 Takeaways From The Cowboys Ugly Win In Minnesota.
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This Team Is Different, They Know How To Win Ugly
Typically the wins we enjoy most as football fans are the ones when we're scoring at will, putting together highlight after highlight. The truth of the game is that winning isn't always that sexy.
You have to be able to win ugly in the NFL, in every sport really. This is what quality teams do. This is what elite teams do. This is what championship teams do.
It's easy to win games like when we played Cincinnati many moons ago and everything's going your way. It's extremely difficult, and says more about your mental discipline, when you can win without that benefit. The Cowboys shot themselves in the foot over and over (shout out Gavin Escobar and Doug Free), let Sam Bradford be functional, and didn't consistently do anything on offense.
Normally that script would dictate a loss... not with this team. They're different.
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Lucky Whitehead's Fumbling Is Starting To Become A Real Issue
Early in the second quarter the Cowboys ran a jet sweep, a play that's brought us much joy, with Lucky Whitehead. After picking up the first down, which is notable, Lucky tried to dance a bit and had the ball jarred loose. Argh!
Lucky Whitehead has fumbled 4 times on 26 career touches. He has 3 fumbles on 10 touches this season.
We've seen the Cowboys send Cole Beasley out to return punts occasionally, seemingly because Lucky Whitehead can't be trusted. Lucky is awesome, his Snapchat game is extremely on point, but that reality is just that - reality.
Lucky Whitehead can't totally be trusted with the football in his hands. That's a bad thing when it's the most important element to his job.
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Anthony Hitchens Had, But Not According To The Box Score, An Amazing Game
For so long, literally years, it's been nothing but Sean Lee and Sean Lee alone as far as the Dallas Cowboys linebackers are concerned. We've been teased by certain guys like Rolando McClain and Justin Durant, but the constant common denominator has been Sean Lee... until now?
As of late we've seen Damien Wilson (shout out to 2014 Training Camp's pet cats) really come on, and on Thursday night Anthony Hitchens reminded us that he's a baller and shot caller.
Hitchens had an incredible interception that was negated thanks to a penalty by Orlando Scandrick, who we'll get into in a bit. Hitchens nearly had a second interception later in the contest... it was his night.
Matt Eberflus has done an amazing job year after year with what he's had to work with at linebacker for the Cowboys, Anthony Hitchens is the latest example.
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Orlando Scandrick Is Not Who He Once Was
Last season was obviously very difficult for the Cowboys thanks to a multitude of injuries, cornerback Orlando Scandrick's season-ender at Training Camp among them.
Was it really, though? Would Orlando Scandrick have seriously improved the 2015 Dallas Cowboys? The 2016 iteration of Scandrick doesn't necessarily suggest that.
Orlando Scandrick angry about being benched for rookie Anthony Brown https://t.co/vdATHQOQ9o #Cowboys
There was a point in time where Scandrick was the best corner on the Cowboys. Morris Claiborne took that title when he was healthy earlier this season, and now the Cowboys are prioritizing Anthony Brown over Orlando.
Scandrick is still good for an occasionally solid play, but it's obvious now that there was far too much hope/hype put into who he could be post-injury.
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All I Want For Christmas Is A Tight End 2
When you have Jason Witten - who was held without a catch in a game for the first time since 2008 on Thursday - on your team, you really don't have a right to complain about the tight end position. Well here I am complaining! I break all the rules!
The tight end depth on this team was sneaky deep way back in the offseason: Witten, James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, and Gavin Escobar. When a 2nd Round Pick is option number four
you really messed up that 2nd Round Pick you're sitting pretty.
Injuries to Hanna and Swaim have found them on IR, so Gavin Escobar is back to his 2014 role of Tight End Numero Dos. While the role might be the same, the job performance isn't. Gavin Escobar almost singlehandedly lost this game for the Cowboys with penalty after penalty. Santa, hook it up man.
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Maliek Collins Makes The Draft Class All The More Special
"Hey you can have Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, Maliek Collins, and Anthony Brown. Also you've got Jaylon Smith on ice for a hopeful future. Plus you have Rico Gathers." This is what the Dallas Cowboys Front Office told us at the conclusion of the 2016 NFL Draft. Christmas season is now, but the presents landed way back then.
Zeke, Dak, and Anthony all play sexy positions so it's easier to see their big plays, but Maliek does all that dirty work that Rod Marinelli loves so much. He was, and has been, on fire last night.
Maliek Collins has finished each of the last 3 plays.
The most difficult thing going on in the lives of Dallas Cowboys fans right now is picking which rookie is the most awesome. Seriously.
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Dak Prescott And Dez Bryant Have Figured It Out
Every offensive element to the Dallas Cowboys game last night is pretty rough when you look at it in the box score, but one particular statistical line makes you happy. Dez Bryant caught 4 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.
When Dez Bryant visited with the NFL Network guys postgame he was asked about the transition from Tony Romo, who he had great chemistry with, to Dak Prescott. Dez simply said that Dak was phenomenal and that they work hard and trust one another. That's evident.
We hadn't truly seen Dez Bryant be Dez Bryant until the game against the Ravens when he had two touchdowns for the first time since Week 17 of 2014. He and Dak have found what makes their duo work, and goodness it is great.
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The Cowboys Offensive Line Is Free Fallin'
Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" debuted in 1989. Current Dallas Cowboys Right Tackle Doug Free was five years old at the time. Fast forward 27 years and Doug is the one who's causing the Cowboys Offensive Line to free fall.
Look, the Dallas Cowboys have the best offensive line in the NFL. This is, at times, in spite of Doug Free. It very obviously wasn't Doug Free's night in Minnesota, but it really is no secret that the right side is the achilles heel of Zeke's fortress.
This is a, thankfully, long bit of rest that the Cowboys are facing before their trip to New York next Sunday night. We'll see a lot of discussions about La'el Collins and Chaz Green, and right now Doug Free is giving us every reason to have them.
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The Cowboys Are So Good, They Are Saving Thursday Night Football
When you're the Dallas Cowboys, everybody wants to watch you. When you're the best team in the NFL, everybody cares. When you have the two hottest rookies on the planet, people are totally and completely overwhelmed.
It's no secret that fans dislike Thursday Night Football. In fact, there have been rumblings that the NFL is considering dealing away with the mid-week games altogether; however, the Cowboys may have saved it.
Last night's game is the most-watched #TNF game ever! @dallascowboys @Vikings @nbc @nflnetwork #fastnationals
If you have a problem the Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott, and Ezekiel Elliott can probably fix it. Unless that problem is that you don't like winners or people eating things. We can't fix that.
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This Was The Most Important Win Of The Season
The Cowboys may have won in ugly fashion against the Vikings, but this is far and away the most critical win for this football team.
In 2014 the Cowboys fell down 0-21 early in the game while in St. Louis. They rallied, ran the ball, and won the game in dramatic fashion. All throughout the magical ride that 2014 was, it was that game that gave the Cowboys the realization that they were never out of it.
This game will serve a lot of the same purpose. It's a big confidence boost when you completely dismantle an opponent, but it's an even bigger team-wide confidence surge when you win simply because you won. It's who you are.
A win against the Vikings was also enormous because the New York Giants lost to them. This gives the Cowboys another victory over a common opponent with the G-Men (they also have the Packers win as well). Huzzah.
Dallas Cowboys Offseason: Projecting Dak Prescott’s Extension
This week, Spotrac.com, who analyzes the salary cap, player performance, and makes projections for future contracts, released their most recent contract valuations for the big name Dallas Cowboys who will be approaching the offseason looking for a new contract. Between, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys will have a lot of negotiating going on this offseason and will be handing out some big bucks.
Obviously, the one that we're most concerned about here in Cowboys Nation is what the Dallas Cowboys front office is going to do with Dak Prescott. Many fans and pundits aren't sold on Dak Prescott as a franchise quarterback, but he is a franchise quarterback and he's about to get paid like one.
Updated Baseline Market Valuations for notable #Cowboys heading into 2019 Dak Prescott: $25.2M https://t.co/ShnCWjIJOM DeMarcus Lawrence: $19.6M https://t.co/3pekUoiVjQ Amari Cooper: $16.7M https://t.co/vPymDSdEeU Zeke Elliott: $9.4M https://t.co/mtFxTap892
Over The Cap is projecting the 2019 salary cap to be around $190 million this season, which would put Dak Prescott's projected salary figure of $25.2 million at around 13.2% of this season's salary cap. And percentage of the cap is the more important number to look at when judging Dak Prescott's figure. When Russell Wilson signed his four-year extension in 2015 that averaged out at $21.9 million per year, his contract took up 15.3% of the salary cap when signed. So yes, in total dollars, Prescott's salary will be higher, but in percent of the cap it will be lower. If you give Dak Prescott 15.3% of the projected 2019 salary cap, you’re looking at $29.07 million per year.
When Spotrac does their salary projections they attempt to find quarterbacks who have had similar careers to the player and use those players as a gauge for what the projection might be, including adjustments for the market rate for the position and the growing salary cap. So, Spotrac has Dak Prescott's career thus far comparable to Blake Bortles, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, and Cam Newton. Below, you can see the contract numbers for those players that Dak Prescott compares to and the age when they signed their deals.
That's an interesting mix of players.
Let's also take a look at the top six quarterback contracts in the NFL.
Let's start first with Derek Carr, who has the sixth highest average annual pay rate at just over $25 million per year. He signed his deal two years ago in the 2017 offseason. Another contract I like to look at when attempting to figure Prescott's number is Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo got his deal from the San Francisco 49ers after only seven NFL starts (two with New England Patriots and five with the 49ers). His contract made him the fourth highest paid quarterback at $27.5 million per year. Again, after only seven NFL Starts.
Dak Prescott has 48 starts in the NFL regular season, and a career passer rating of 96. Of the top six quarterback contracts listed above, only Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo have a higher career passer rating than Dak Prescott. If you look at the top 10 quarterback contracts in the NFL now, only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Jimmy Garoppolo have a higher career passer rating than Dak Prescott. You can argue that Prescott's teams have had more success than Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, and Derek Carr in his first three seasons. While QB Wins is not a stat that we should use to evaluate quarterback play, because you’re paying not only the production of Dak Prescott, but also the intangibles if Dak Prescott, you have to look at the wins.
The Dallas Cowboys have gone 32-16 in the regular season with Dak Prescott at quarterback and 1-2 with him in the playoffs. That, in only three years in the NFL. He's going to get better as a player. Even if you don't look at QB Wins, Dak Prescott has been as productive as those guys he's mentioned with, aside from Brees and Rodgers.
Dak Prescott's body of work as a 3-year starter is franchise QB level stuff. As @Marcus_Mosher pointed out on the @lockedoncowboys Podcast, Dak's last 15 games 4,100 total yards, 30 total TDs, 7 INTs. Y'all don't want to pay that? #CowboysNation
These comparisons below look at the two years before the quarterback signing their franchise quarterback contract. Here you see that Dak compares favorably to Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Kirk Cousins.
As you can see above, over the last two years, Dak Prescott's averaged more passing yards per game, nearly as many touchdowns per game, fewer interceptions per game, and a comparable passer rating to Newton and Wilson in the two years before they signed their big contract extensions. His completion percentage That doesn't consider his play during the 2016 season in which he won rookie of the year as the starting quarterback for a team that went 13-3.
Derek Carr became the highest-paid player in NFL History after his third season. He signed a five-year, $125M extension. Here's his first three seasons next to Dak Prescott's.
RJ Ochoa, formerly of Inside The Star and now of Blogging the Boys, provided a nice comparison between Derek Carr and Dak Prescott in their first seasons in the NFL. When Derek Carr signed his contract, he became the highest paid player in NFL history.
The projection provided by Spotrac of $25.2 million is the floor as it would be just above Derek Carr's contract that he signed 2 years ago. It's entirely possible that Prescott signs a contract for more than Matt Ryan and could potentially become the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, but I'm going to estimate that Dak Prescott receives a five-year deal for $145 million, which would give him $29 million per year.
Jerry Jones has been adamant over the course of the season about his desire to get a long-term contract done with Dak in the offseason. Jerry Jones is the owner and the general manager, so it's only a matter of time before Dak's representatives and the Cowboys front office hammers out the final numbers. Dak Prescott is going to get a big deal and bigger than many in Cowboys Nation want to give him. But the going rate for franchise quarterbacks in the NFL is that number that Jimmy Garoppolo signed.
More Salary Cap and Contract discussion here at Inside The Star
Dallas Cowboys Fire Special Teams Assistant Doug Colman
The theme of last year's offseason in Dallas was coaching changes below HC Jason Garrett, OC Scott Linehan, and DC Rod Marinelli, and not yet through a week of this offseason it appears to be the same now. The Cowboys today have moved on from Special Teams Assistant Doug Colman.
Like current ST Coordinator Keith O'Quinn, Colman was in his first season with the Cowboys. The former sixth-round draft pick out of Nebraska held the same position with the Houston Texans for four previous seasons.
Small change on the #Cowboys coaching staff, as assistant special teams coach Doug Colman is out, source said. The only known change at this point.
With O'Quinn filling perhaps the biggest shoes left behind from last year, when Rich Bisaccia left the Cowboys after five seasons, the team has tentatively agreed they're struggles on special teams do not fall on the coordinator and will now be looking for a new assistant.
The Cowboys did successfully transition from Kicker Dan Bailey to Brett Maher, watching Bailey struggle with the Vikings as Maher finished 29 of 36 and six of seven on field goals of 50 or more yards. The always-steady Chris Jones averaged 44.5 yards a punt in 2018, up slightly from 44.1.
The return game is where Dallas struggled to find consistency. Deonte Thompson led the team in kick returns despite being released after eight games. Darius Jackson, Jourdan Lewis, and Cole Beasley all failed to make an impact from this spot once called upon - with Beasley and Tavon Austin also handling punt returns for an average of 5.7 yards a return.
With further upgrades at wide receiver being a pressing need for the Cowboys still, adding a dynamic returner should be of priority for both the current coaches and any new additions to the ST staff.
The Cowboys were also second to last in average kickoff return yards allowed this season, and 16th in punt coverage.
5 Potential Candidates Cowboys Could Target to Replace OC Scott Linehan
Should he go or should he stay!? That seems to be the question the Dallas Cowboys are asking themselves about their current Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Many of us would say it's an easy decision to make, but we really don't know what's going on behind closed doors.
The only thing we know for sure right now is Scott Linehan is still employed by the Dallas Cowboys and it might be a while before we know his fate with the organization one way or another. The Cowboys coaching staff, including Linehan, will coach the Pro Bowl in a little over a week, which is why any decision regarding Dallas' coaching staff will likely be delayed.
I know my opinion means little, but I have a hard time seeing Scott Linehan returning to the Dallas Cowboys next season. His playcalling has been pretty predictable and dated the past few years, plus there's the fact he was nearly fired earlier this season during the bye week. I don't think he's done much since then to improve his chances of sticking around. But, that's just my opinion.
That's why today I thought I'd share with you a few of the potential OC candidates I'd personally target if I were the Dallas Cowboys. Let's get started…
How elated would Cowboys Nation be if Tony Romo returned to the Dallas Cowboys as their next offensive coordinator. Everybody understands he doesn't have any formal coaching experience, especially in the NFL, but I seriously doubt that would matter.
No one would question his knowledge of the game, especially after hearing him break down the X's and O's first hand while he's commentating on game days. It's one of the reasons why he's grown in popularity as a commentator in such a short time.
Honestly, bringing in Romo as the OC could be the match made in heaven for the Cowboys. He already knows the system Jason Garrett likes to use offensively and his coaching philosophy. It would likely be a seamless transition, especially since he's already so familiar with the personnel. But, there's really no way of knowing if he's ready to leave his cushy commentating job to become a coach.
As much as I'd like to see Tony Romo make his return back to the Dallas Cowboys in a coaching capacity, bringing back Todd Haley to the organization would be a close second. He spent 2004-2006 with the Cowboys as their wide receiver coach before moving on to become the offensive coordinator for several teams (Cardinals, Steelers, Browns) and the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Unlike Romo, Haley has a proven track record as a play caller in the NFL. I personally like what he would bring to the table if made the new OC in Dallas. He is an aggressive play caller with a fiery attitude. I think his addition to the Cowboys offense could have the same kind of impact as Kris Richard's did to the defense this past season.
There is a downside about Haley though. He can be a bit abrasive with those he's working with. He's known for not always getting along with some of his players or with his coaching staff. It's one of the reasons why both he and Hue Jackson were fired this past season by the Cleveland Browns. I don't think it would be a problem with Dallas, but it is something to think about.
I'm grasping a little bit here because it would take quite a bit to lure Eric Bieniemy away from the Kansas City Chiefs, but it's not completely impossible. Jerry Jones would have to really put on his business hat to get Bieniemy's attention, especially after he was in the running for a few head-coaching jobs here recently. But, we all know how persuasive Jerry Jones can be when he wants to.
First off, the Dallas Cowboys would have to make Bieniemy their assistant head coach as well as their offensive coordinator. He is already the OC with the Chiefs, just not the playcaller. Andy Reid still handles those responsibilities. He does however handle the majority of the game planning, which is raved about because of his attention to detail.
His players have also raved about his personality and aggressiveness as a coach. This is something that has endeared Cowboys players to Kris Richard in a short amount of time and it could be the same if Eric Bieniemy comes aboard. Unfortunately, I think this is a longshot. He's probably is eyeing a head-coaching job that could come as soon as next season. Jason Garrett replacement?
Joe Lombardi, the grandson of Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, isn't on a lot of people's list as a potential offensive coordinator candidate, but probably should be. He does have one year of experience as an OC in the NFL, but that was with the Detroit Lions in 2014-2015 and we shouldn't count that against him. No play callers last long in Detroit since Matthew Stafford took over as their starting QB.
The reason I really like Lombardi as a potential Scott Linehan replacement is because of the time he spent with Sean Payton and Drew Brees in New Orleans. Minus the one year in Detroit, he's been with the Saints since 2007. The majority of that time was spent as the QB coach to one of the best ever played the game.
I've been trying to figure out a way to get Sean Payton back as a Cowboys coach for the past several seasons without any success. Turning to someone he's personally groomed could be the next best thing. He was there through all of Drew Brees' numerous passing records and his Super Bowl victory. He has also help develop Taysom Hill into the playmaker he's become this season. He could just be the guy to take Dak Prescott's game to the next level.
Doug Nussmeier (In-house Candidate)
If the Dallas Cowboys do indeed decide to move on from Scott Linehan, it doesn't necessarily mean they will look outside the organization for a new offensive coordinator. They could quite possibly already have his replacement on the team in Doug Nussmeier, who served as their tight end coach this season.
Nussmeier's coaching background mostly consist of him being a QB coach or offensive coordinator at the collegiate level. In fact, those are the only two coaching titles he's held throughout his career until this year when he became the Cowboys TE coach. I don't know about you, but I find that pretty impressive, especially after seeing Dallas' young tight ends progress through the season.
Promoting Nussmeier to OC would virtually be a seamless transition for everybody involved. He knows the system, the players, and has been involved in the game planning this past season. I don't know however if he would be an upgrade over Scott Linehan. The two have known one another for years and have worked together in the past. Not exactly a ringing endorsement in my opinion.
Do any of these Dallas Cowboys OC candidates intrigue you? If not who?
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