Listen to an audio version of this article on Bumpers!
When football season ends we find ourselves in a "what do I do now?" sort of space. In mid-February football-hungry folks are resorting to getting stoked for some NFL Combine action while counting down the days until - and dreaming up all sorts of hypotheticals in regards to - NFL Free Agency starts.
It's a song-and-dance that we put into practice annually, and it's always accompanied by three simple words, "I miss football." The offseason is a ritual unlike any other that we partake in as a necessary stretch of time to fill the gaps between respective kickoffs. The funny thing about the offseason though, is that beyond the structures of it things have a way of repeating themselves.
The offseason is built for narratives. It's hot take season out there and the temperature is only climbing. This is the time of year where every NFL team thinks they're in contention, and Team A is only one piece away while Team B is completely rebuilding.
The stories stay the same, the lone line of change being the team logo that they bare. The same can be said of each individual team with its core nucleus of players, as storylines are regurgitated as the tradition rolls on.
These are those storylines, you know the ones I'm talking about. We're seven months away from the 2017 Dallas Cowboys season officially starting, and between now and then we're going to hear all of these ad nauseam. You can see them coming from a mile - or an offseason - away.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
"Jaylon Smith Is Feeling Better Than He Did Pre-Injury"
Despite the NFL Draft not taking place until late April, the Dallas Cowboys already have one of this season's most talented "rookies" on their roster - 2016's 34th Overall Pick, Jaylon Smith.
Cowboys Owner/President/General Manager - and recent Pro Football Hall of Fame inductee - Jerry Jones has always been one for the theatrics, but when it comes to Jaylon Smith he's always anxious to say something new. At some point this offseason we're going to hear all about how Jaylon has healed (which will be great), and how he's at an even higher level of athleticism than he was when he was hurt during the Fiesta Bowl back in January of 2016.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
"The Cowboys Have A Tougher Road In 2017 Than They Did In 2016"
Thanks to the NFL's rotating schedule, 14 of any given team's 16 opponents in a season are known from now until the end of time. This rotating wheel of wonder handed the 2016 Dallas Cowboys the NFC North, AFC North, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Francisco 49ers, and of course their NFC East rivals.
2016 was a fourth-place schedule, which is what the Dallas Cowboys were in their division in 2015. This time around they've earned themselves a first-place schedule - you can view the 2017 Dallas Cowboys Opponents right here - that includes the NFC West, AFC West, Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, and division rivals.
As far as the calendar is concerned we've turned past Valentine's Day and we've already seen some talking heads from the national media succumb to this storyline. More will come. Save the chocolates for those dark days.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
"The Cowboys Could Explore The Read Option More In 2017"
For the first time in a decade the Cowboys are entering the offseason with total and complete plans for a starting quarterback that is not named Tony Romo - Dak Prescott. Young Dakota made a whole lot out of the situation that unfolded before him in 2016, but could Scott Linehan take a page out of Joseph Randle's playbook and go for some more meat off the bone?
Many people have called for the Dak-led Cowboys to utilize the read option more in their offensive play-calling. Prescott certainly has the athleticism to run the option, and his best pal running back Ezekiel Elliott is probably down for anything as long as he's wearing a football uniform.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
"Free Agent X Wants To Play With Dak And Zeke"
Thursday, March 9th will mark the beginning of Free Agency in the NFL, and it's going to be a day that requires us to set alerts for Adam Schefter's Twitter Timeline. There is no spectacle like football players looking for new places/teams to call home, and if you buy into the narrative then a lot of them could be looking at Dallas.
What narrative is that, exactly? You see, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott are pretty charming young players in today's NFL. They're the darlings of football, they play for the Dallas Cowboys, and they're two of the best players in the game. It's widely believed that other players - seeing this phenomenon - will gravitate towards them in hopes of calling Dak and Zeke teammates.
We've already seen projected number one overall pick Myles Garrett make a plea to join the Cowboys, and he even mentioned Dak by name. At some point or another, the same will be said about some arbitrary free agent
that the Cowboys can't afford.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
"The Cowboys Are Better Off Without (Insert Free Agent That Leaves)"
There are a few things true of a majority of football fans, sports fans in general really. We're loyal to our team, we always think we have a shot, and we always try to spin things in a positive direction.
The truth of the Free Agency era in the NFL is that you're going to lose someone you like in it. Someone is going to leave whether it's for more money, a better opportunity, or just because they're leaving. When this happens to the Dallas Cowboys with one of their current free agents this season, members of Cowboys Nation and narratives near and far will all talk about how we're suddenly better off without that player and his services.
Let's remember that, shall we?
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
"The Lack Of Back Issues This Season Will Make Dan Bailey Even Better"
In the aftermath of the Cowboys Divisional Playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers, a shocking detail about Dan Bailey's 2016 season came to light - he played, and kicked, since Week 4 with a herniated disc in his back.
Bailey finished 2016 27 of 32 on field goal attempts, still making him one of the top kickers in the National Football League. If we're being honest though, there was an obvious disconnect in his game and that piece of information solved that puzzle.
With an offseason to rest up and get the body right, it's easy to assume that Dan Bailey will be even more dynamite - Dan-o-mite? - this upcoming season. That assumption will be made near and far, but however far it is Dan could still make a field goal from there.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
"Jason Witten Is Focused On 2017 And Nothing More"
Earlier this week Jason Witten won an Ocho on a special Valentine's Edition of OchoLive. While I would understand if it was, I doubt that is going to be the peak of his offseason activities over the next few months.
No, perhaps Jason and the family will take a vacation and have a new experience. Whatever the case we know that "Gold Jacket Witt" is nearing the end of his playing time in the NFL, but he will definitely be back in action this upcoming season.
It really is insane that the clock is ticking so loudly on Jason Witten's career already, but he has remained focused that he is playing this season and unsure of anything beyond that. This idea will circle back quite a few times until September football begins. Witten will take the route of another Jason and handle things day by day.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
"Charles Tapper Looks Like A Star Pass Rusher In Workouts"
Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Maliek Collins, Anthony Brown, and the prospect of Jaylon Smith should be enough for folks to be happy with a draft class, but nope not Cowboys Nation. The people demand more and the people demand Charles Tapper!
Amazingly the Cowboys drafted two players in the first 101 picks of the 2016 NFL Draft on the defensive side of the ball that didn't see a lick of regular season action - Jaylon Smith and Charles Tapper. We know all about Jaylon Smith's progress thanks to all his Twitter videos, but what of Defensive End Charles Tapper?
The Cowboys need some serious rushmen if they're going to make it any further than the Divisional Round of the Playoffs and a man charged with some of that responsibility is indeed Tapper. At some point or another he's going to have a great workout and it'll send us all into a tizzy. Just steer into the ice, folks.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
"La'el Collins' Return Will Take The Cowboys Offense To A New Level"
Somebody who missed a majority of the 2016 Dallas Cowboys party was La'el Collins. The third-year Guard from LSU has had a really interesting career so far in the NFL, beginning with the unpredictable circumstances that affected his draft stock.
When La'el originally signed with the Cowboys three years ago he made it known that Dallas was assembling one of the greatest offensive lines this game has ever seen. His rookie campaign saw the type of player that would back that statement up across the course of his career, but an injury early in 2016 gave Ron Leary the chance to shine in La'el's spot.
Leary will very likely be on a new team in a month, leaving the Cowboys to "settle" for a healthy La'el Collins. He is essentially a first-round player on an offensive line that features three of them and that blocks for another in their running back. The possibilities make one foam at the mouth which is why it'll be all over the headlines.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
"We're In A New Era Of Dallas Cowboys Football"
There's a ton that has changed regarding America's Team over the last 365 days or so. A new rookie-of-the-year-winning franchise quarterback has arrived, the next great running back is here (and led the league in rushing), there is a Coach-of-the-Year-winning caliber man leading the organization, and Cowboys Owner/President/General Manager Jerry Jones is a Pro Football Hall of Famer.
These aren't your father's Dallas Cowboys, heck they're hardly your Dallas Cowboys. The most renowned organization in professional sports underwent a pretty serious makeover across the life of the 2016 season, and that included some changes with some serious ripple effects.
These will certainly always be the Dallas Cowboys, but they've indeed changed. They're better, smarter, wiser, faster, and carved by a Hall of Fame hand. A new era is upon us, and it's hard not to get lost in it.
Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.
We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.
- TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
- G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
- DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
- WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
- OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
- DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable
Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.
Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving. Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.
Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.
Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.
While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.
- G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
- LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
- S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
- WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
- TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
- S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable
The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.
Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.
Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.
Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.
Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts
The Dallas Cowboys offensive line depth will be tested as they play for a chance to clinch the NFC East on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Suffering a knee injury last week against the Eagles, Right Guard Zack Martin will not be able to play. In missing his first career start, rookie Connor Williams rightfully returns to the starting lineup as Martin's replacement.
The 50th overall pick from this year's AT&T Stadium hosted Draft has started eight games this season at left guard. Williams' last start happens to be in the last game Dallas lost, a week nine defeat to the Tennessee Titans. This opened the door for Xavier Su'a-Filo to become something of a sensation for Cowboys Nation as the starting left guard throughout the team's current five game win streak.
Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained knee. Rookie Connor Williams will start in his place.
Zack Martin being unavailable is hardly how Marc Colombo wants to prepare for the Cowboys first road game since week 11. Having both Su'a-Filo and Williams in the lineup will be valuable for the Cowboys moving forward though, as Williams could earn his job at left guard back from the right side.
While he won't nearly be expected to play at the level of Martin, Williams looked poised coming off the bench against the Eagles and helping the Cowboys offense score their final three touchdowns. Williams was on the field for all three of Amari Cooper's scores, as Dallas rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries with him in the game.
Williams flashed some of the traits that made him a top left tackle prospect out of college, flowing to the second level with ease and creating movement with quick feet at the point of attack. The Cowboys have forced him to remain game ready despite losing his starting position by finding a few emergency snaps for him in recent weeks, as well as special teams looks. The team has every reason to believe Williams is an ascending young player still.
The same cannot be said of Su'a-Filo, who simply has to focus on continuing to hold up at left guard again this week. With each passing win, Su'a-Filo's LG spot has become more of a liability in a Cowboys offense in need of a jump-start late in this 2018 season.
Consistent offensive line play is one of the few things that's clearly hurting the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC behind a stellar defense and game breaking wide receiver.
The Cowboys won't be at full strength against the eighth best rushing defense and 15th ranked passing defense in yards per game. With three separate chances to clinch the NFC East starting at the Colts and extending until the end of the regular season, the Cowboys stand to learn all they need to know about the offensive line that will start in the playoffs.
Martin, who's elevated his game to a new level this season despite this lingering knee injury, should be on track to return when the Cowboys come home to play the Buccaneers in week 16.
Final Thoughts and Prediction for Cowboys vs Indianapolis Colts
Over the last five weeks, the Dallas Cowboys have put themselves in a position in week 15 to clinch the NFC East with a win over the Indianapolis Colts or a loss by the Philadelphia Eagles vs the Los Angeles Rams.
My how things have changed.
Just six weeks ago, the Cowboys were coming off an embarrassing two touchdown loss on Monday Night Football at the hands of the Tennessee Titans and looked dead in the water sitting at 3-5. A month and a half later they are in position to win the division and potentially have little to play for the final two weeks of the season. That's an amazing turnaround. One that should have Jason Garrett in the Coach of the Year discussions.
As we get ready for the Colts on Sunday, let me give you my final thoughts on the week 15 matchup.
Will Key Injuries Tell the Tale?
By week 15 of the NFL season, pretty much everyone is dealing with injuries and most teams are dealing with injuries to key players. The Dallas Cowboys and the Indianapolis Colts are no different.
All-Pro Right Guard Zack Martin has already been ruled out of Sunday's contest, as he's been battling a knee injury for several weeks. It was worsened on Sunday vs the Eagles when he took a bull rush from Fletcher Cox and fell awkwardly. This will be the first start that Zack Martin has missed in his illustrious five-year career. He's been an iron man for the Cowboys at a position that makes it extremely difficult to stay healthy.
On the plus side, it looks like the Cowboys mat get All-Pro Linebacker Sean Lee and Wide Receiver Tavon Austin back for Sunday. Both Lee and Austin will likely be in reserve/rotational roles if they suit up this week, but if they're active, they'll make important impacts to their respective units.
Indianapolis is struggling with an injury to a very important player in their own right as Wide Receiver T.Y. Hilton has not practiced this week. He's dealing with an ankle injury and Colts Head Coach Frank Reich doesn't sound optimistic about his chances of playing.
The Colts will also be missing their Right Guard Mark Glowinski, who has started the last eight games for Indianapolis. Glowinski suffered an ankle injury during the Colts win over the Texans last Sunday. That's a key loss for an offensive line that has played as well as anyone in the NFL this season.
Can the Cowboys Limit Andrew Luck?
The Cowboys defense has been one of the best units in football in 2018 as they've put on a show against really good offensive teams like the Atlanta Falcons and the New Orleans Saints. They'll have another tough test this week against Andrew Luck and the Colts.
According to Pro Football Reference, Luck sits second in the NFL in touchdown passes, sixth in passing yards, third in completions, second in attempts, 12th in quarterback rating, and ninth in QBR. At 7.1 yards per attempt, he sits 22nd in the NFL in and 20th in the NFL in air yards per attempt at 7.3.
Luck has been one of the best passers in the NFL, but he's also thrown the second most interceptions this season. On the flip side, among quarterbacks who have started 13 games, Luck has been sacked the second fewest times. Only Drew Brees has taken less sacks. Luck has only been sacked 16 times in 13 games and has been sacked multiple times in only five games. Over the last three weeks, Luck has taken an average of two sacks a game.
In that four week stretch, the Colts have gone 3-1, and Luck has averaged 321 yards passing, two touchdowns and an interception per game.
The Dallas defense has come on strong and is finding ways to get pressure with four rushers. Taking advantage of the injury at right guard and getting to Luck with their front four is a huge key to the game as it is against most quarterbacks. Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence are playing as well as any defensive end duo in the NFL this season and I expect that to continue this week.
Big Games from Explosive Duo?
The Dallas Cowboys have been getting huge games from their two most important skill position players; Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and Wide Receiver Amari Cooper. Over the last five weeks, Elliott has averaged 116 rushing yards a game, 55 receiving yards, and at least one touchdown per game. During the same stretch, Cooper has averaged seven receptions for 116 yards and a touchdown per game.
Elliott and Cooper may find it difficult to reach their respective 100 yard milestones against the Colts. As Patrick Conn of WFAA.com illustrates below.
Colts haven't given up 100 yards to a single rusher. 2-100 yard receiving games vs Texans in first matchup (Hopkins/Coutee). Other than that, no other 100 yard performances
Now, it could be argued that the Colts have only played three games against teams with good to great offenses. The Houston Texans (twice), and the New England Patriots. They went a combined 1-2 in those three games and the defense allowed an average of 32 points per game. The Colts have played better defense over the last seven games than they did earlier in the season. Over the last seven, they went 6-1 and allowed an average of 17 points per game. Of course that stretch of games doesn't feature any offensive juggernauts. They played the Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars, Miami Dolphins, Tennessee Titans, and the Oakland Raiders. The best team they played in their last seven games was the Houston Texans and they allowed 21 points. The Cowboys only allowed 16 points in regulation to the Texans.
Only one team on the Colts schedule to this point is in the top 10 in rushing; the Houston Texans. And only one team on their schedule is in the top 10 in passing; the New England Patriots. Again, in three games against those teams, they went 1-2.
They haven't faced an offense this season that is playing as well, and as balanced, as the Cowboys have over the last five weeks.
Rookie Linebackers Dominating
We've all witnessed the standout play of rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, as the "Wolf Hunter" has taken the NFC by storm during Sean Lee's absence. Vander Esch is third in the league in solo tackles this season. The two players in front of Vander Esch are perennial All-Pro Luke Kuechly and the guy who will probably run away with Defensive Rookie of the Year award, Indianapolis Colts rookie Darius Leonard.
Leonard is leading the NFL in solo tackles and combined tackles per Pro Football Focus. He's tied for the lead league among linebackers with seven sacks and is second in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops" metric. Leighton Vander Esch is fourth.
Both linebackers have been huge contributors for their teams, at times taking over games and coming up with big plays to turn the tide. Throw in Fred Warner in San Francisco and 2018 has been the year of the rookie linebacker.
Since I've been writing this column, the Dallas Cowboys have enjoyed a bit of a win streak. I haven't always picked them, as you can see in the New Orleans Saints edition of Final Thoughts, but when I have picked the Cowboys, they've made me look smart and I'm going to go with them again this week on the road.
Indianapolis isn't really known as a tough place to play and in the Jason Garrett era, the Cowboys have generally been a really good team away from AT&T Stadium. I believe this game will be a close one, as most have been this year, but I think that Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott continue their impressive string of performances and are able to do enough to keep Andrew Luck on the sideline and limiting his impact on the game. If T.Y. Hilton is limited in the game or unable to go, that gives the Cowboys a huge advantage as they then can focus on touchdown maker Tight End Eric Ebron and we know what Byron Jones does to tight ends.
This is going to be a tough game, but I like the Cowboys to come out on top. Randy Gregory continues his sack streak and they get to Luck multiple times in the game and are able to force at least one turnover. Dak Prescott is efficient and doesn't turn the ball over this week and finds ways to beat the blitz. So, I've got it...
Cowboys 24 - Colts 20
Be sure to leave us your prediction in the comment section.
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Should Cowboys Address TE Injuries and Inexperience With This FA?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Why is Jerry Jones “keeping a very close eye” on the Kareem Hunt Case?
Player News2 weeks ago
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch a Dominant Defensive Duo
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Will Kris Richard’s Success End Jason Garrett’s Era in Dallas?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
David Irving’s Return Could Make Cowboys’ Defense Even Scarier
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Randy Gregory Is Looking Like We Always Thought He Could
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Wide Receiver Michael Gallup Making a Huge Impact for Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Tavon Austin’s Return Should Make Cowboys Offense More Dangerous