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2015 Dallas Cowboys: Anything Can Happen

RJ Ochoa

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NFC East Blog - 2015 Dallas Cowboys: Anything Can Happen

"This is Christmas! The season of perpetual hope!" -Kate McCallister in the 1990 classic Home Alone.

Christmas 2006 was a special day for me. My Dad took me to my first ever Dallas Cowboys game... a home contest against the Jeff Garcia-led Philadelphia Eagles.

I was young and wide-eyed at everything surrounding this incredible team. I was particularly enamored with the play of a quarterback who was taking the NFL by storm - Tony Romo.

The game actually took place on Christmas Day - so there was a magic in the air. Hours before kickoff we gathered with some other fans in the parking lot of the team hotel as the Cowboys exited it on their way to Texas Stadium. It was a fun atmosphere to chat about the 9-5 Cowboys and snag a few autographs.

Players would come out one by one and the crowd would roar each time. Certain players, Terrell Owens for example, gained louder cheers and excitement. Finally, after a majority of the team had come and gone, Tony Romo made his way to the parking lot and was met with the loudest greeting of them all.

Cowboys Blog - 2015 Dallas Cowboys: Anything Can Happen

Fans stormed the fence screaming for him. "Tony! Tony! Hey!" People, myself among them, were losing their minds over the new Cowboys QB.

Romo graciously made his way to the line of fans and started to sign some autographs. I reached out my football as my Dad watched and hoped with me.

After an autograph here, an autograph there, Romo kept making his way down the line... away from me. With every step he took my heart broke that much more.

As it was Christmas Day it was pretty chilly in Dallas. Tony was about 15 autographs deep and you could sense that this was it. I was beginning to feel devastated. My fears were realized when Tony waved at the crowd and headed for his car.

I was crushed. Keep in mind that we still had the actual game to go to! None of it mattered, though. This was going to eat at me all day and my Dad, my best friend, knew that better than I did.

My Dad, in an effort to console his son, looked around for a sign of hope. He scanned the perimeter when suddenly... an idea hit him.

"Son, you see that stoplight over there?" he said as he gestured about a hundred yards away.

"Tony has to go through it. If you run, and you catch him, anything can happen." my Dad said.

There was no time to waste. I tucked my football and ran. Remember that it was pretty cold, so I had a lot of layers on, and I had to beat a moving car. This was a long shot.

I don't know that I've ever run that fast in my life. Like a running back staring down would-be tacklers I kept my eyes on Tony throughout the entire sprint. You could sense that something special was about to happen.

As I approached the stoplight I looked up... and the light turned red. I turned back and saw Tony slowing down (he does obey traffic signals after all) and my heart began to race.

I was the only kid, the only person, around for hundreds of yards. There was nobody there. He could have just ignored me and no one would have ever known.

As Tony's car slowed down he began to roll down his window... and he already had a sharpie in his hand.

I was excited. I was nervous. I was cold. I was exhausted! I'd just sprinted a hundred yards for crying out loud. I blurted out, "Tony! Could.. you, uh.. sign... uh..."

Cowboys Blog - 2015 Dallas Cowboys: Anything Can Happen 1

"Merry Christmas, man." Tony said as he signed my ball.

I trotted back to my Dad and we hugged. It was one of the greatest moments of my life.

I still get pretty emotional thinking about that day.

I love Tony Romo. I always have. It pains me greatly that I have to consider a plan for the playoffs that doesn't include him lining up under center for the Dallas Cowboys.

But like my Dad once brilliantly said, "Anything can happen."

This is that anything.


I've written extensively here at Inside The Star about potential "plans" for the Dallas Cowboys to make the playoffs this season.

The first plan (we'll call it Plan I) was put into action right before the loss against the Seattle Seahawks on the first day in November. I drew up a second draft (aka Plan II) after the Cowboys fell at home to the Philadelphia Eagles - a game which the first plan totally hinged on. I thought one revision would be all it took.

I was back at it just one week after the second plan when the Dallas Cowboys inexplicably lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that's how Plan III was born. It seemed like a hat trick of plans would be all we needed when the Cowboys carried out the first step of it by beating the Miami Dolphins... but every plan in existence was blown to smithereens when Tony Romo was laying on the turf at AT&T Stadium on Thanksgiving.

You now know that I've been a heavy supporter of Tony Romo since 2006. Seeing him, and knowing what had just happened, almost a week ago now... was perhaps the lowest that I've ever felt as a Dallas Cowboys fan.

One thing that I've learned from Tony over this decade-long ride is that you can't give up. You just can't.

How many times has he evaded a tackle, made a throw, or pulled out a victory when all logic pointed to the contrary? We owe it to him to keep believing.

This is the greatest game in the world. We spend the majority of the offseason counting down the days until Dallas Cowboys Football officially begins. It's here and we're smack dab in the middle of it. Forgive me if I don't want to fast forward through it. We're going to make the most of 2015.

The Dallas Cowboys believe that the playoffs are still a possibility. They said so yesterday when they decided not to put Tony Romo on season-ending injured reserve. They believe, so we're going to believe.

Welcome to Plan IV - where anything can happen.

Here are the standings in the NFC East through Week 12:

Overall Record Division Record
Washington Redskins 5-6 2-1
New York Giants 5-6 2-3
Philadelphia Eagles 4-7 2-2
Dallas Cowboys 3-8 2-2

I spent a lot of Plans I, II, and III looking at things by group. We're going to do things a little differently and look at each team and their remaining schedule individually.

Washington Redskins (5-6)

Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
Dallas Cowboys @ Chicago Bears Buffalo Bills @ Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys

If you've read my previous plans then you know that I'm a big fan of color coding things. We'll get to that, but let me explain this five game stretch first.

The hopes and dreams of these Cowboys totally and completely hinge on them beating the Redskins in both of their matchups - we're going to give Washington losses for those.

The other three games? Chicago has been resurgent lately, they did just beat Green Bay at Lambeau on Thanksgiving when Favre got his number retired, and Buffalo is in contention for a wildcard spot in the AFC. Philadelphia is uglier than last year's eggnog, Washington will win that easily.

Looking at their schedule with wins in green and losses in red we have:

Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
Dallas Cowboys @ Chicago Bears Buffalo Bills @ Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys

This would put Washington at 7-9 on the season. It's not asking for a lot. In fact we control a good chunk of it, which is always a good thing. So what do we need, in layman's terms, from the Washington Redskins for Plan IV to work?

We need to beat the Redskins twice and have them lose at least one game from their other three.

New York Giants (5-6)

Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins Carolina Panthers @ Minnesota Vikings Philadelphia Eagles

Alright so we took care of the Redskins and now need to figure out how the Giants are going to give us everything on our Christmas list.

The Panthers and Vikings are two guaranteed losses for the Giants. The Jets are going to give them a run for their money this Sunday and I'm sure Odell Beckham Jr. will be on Revis Island... which means many interceptions from Eli Manning. It's hard to tell what you're going to get from the Dolphins and while I don't think the Eagles could beat them in New York, the Giants are pretty bad themselves.

Looking at their schedule with wins in green and losses in red we have:

Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
New York Jets @ Miami Dolphins Carolina Panthers @ Minnesota Vikings Philadelphia Eagles

The Panthers game is a slam dunk in terms of what we need. The Vikings aren't as much of a lock, but they're a free throw at the very worst. Just consider those two games for the Giants as the two games that we have against the Redskins. We can't control these, but we can easily assume losses for our division foe. This puts the Giants at 7-9 along with the Redskins.

We need the Giants to lose at least three of their five remaining games.

Philadelphia Eagles (4-7)

Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
@ New England Patriots Buffalo Bills Arizona Cardinals Washington Redskins @ New York Giants

Of the three division rivals this domino is the one most likely to fall. Instead of a slam dunk this one is like the ball just permanently being surrounded by the net. The net of Chip Kelly's misguided football mind.

The Eagles in New England after the Patriots just experienced a gut-wrenching loss on primetime? Too da loo, Chippy. The Bills are in contention, the Cardinals are on fire... and it's hard to see them beating either other division rival right now.

Looking at their schedule with wins in green and losses in red we have:

Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
@ New England Patriots Buffalo Bills Arizona Cardinals Washington Redskins @ New York Giants

I am not making this up. Tell me one team on that list who you think the Eagles can beat. You can't.

You could maybe argue that they'd beat the Bills if Rex Ryan had a bad enough day, but they are not beating the Patriots or Cardinals. That alone would put them at nine losses which would tie them with Washington and New York.

They'd still have to beat Buffalo, Washington, and New York... which is not happening. It would actually be awesome if Philly lost these next three games in a row. That would put them at 10 losses on the season already.

Imagine they then beat Washington or New York or both? Remember that we counted the remaining game against the Eagles as a win for both the Redskins and Giants? Another loss from either of those teams would also put them at 10 on the season.

We need the Eagles to lose at least two more games (which will likely be the Patriots and Cardinals). If they also lose to Buffalo then we would like them to beat Washington or New York or BOTH to give us even more breathing room.

Dallas Cowboys (3-8)

Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
@ Washington Redskins @ Green Bay Packers New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills Washington Redskins

The best for last. (I hope the same is true for plans as well).

I know that it's hard to envision literally any of these as a win because these Dallas Cowboys have not won one single game without Tony Romo... and he will not be present for any of them. We're off to a good start, aren't we?

Remember that this is where anything can happen. You can't see this team, with all of its stars on both sides of the ball, beating the Redskins twice? We're halfway there off of that alone.

Say we drop the deuce on Washington (like what I did there?). What else do we need? It's simple - two out of three.

Looking at their schedule with wins in green and losses in red we have:

Week 13 Week 14 Week 15 Week 16 Week 17
@ Washington Redskins @ Green Bay Packers New York Jets @ Buffalo Bills Washington Redskins

I cannot stress enough how vital the two games against the Redskins are. Without those this plan does not work (that explanation is coming right after this, I promise).

The Cowboys have a score to settle in Green Bay. If they can pull off the win in Washington it's hard to see them not getting up for that contest. Toss in the fact that the Packers have lost four out of their last five? They're beatable!

The Jets are for real this year. There's no way that we can hang with them offensively if Revis eliminates Dez. Rex Ryan can be beat, his Bills are so hot and cold.

Ultimately it doesn't matter which games are wins between the Redskins ones. We must have at least two. That would get us to 7-9.

We NEED to beat the Redskins both times. We also need to win two out of three of the games in between (and potentially only one out of those three if Philadelphia is able to give us more breathing room)

NFC East

So if all of this comes to fruition we'd have:

Overall Record Division Record
Washington Redskins 7-9 3-3
New York Giants 7-9 3-3
Philadelphia Eagles 4-12 2-4
Dallas Cowboys 7-9 4-2

That 4-2 there at the end? It's really important.

The immediate tiebreaker within the division is, you guessed it, division record. This is why those Redskins games are so vital to this whole plan:

  • The Redskins only have one division loss currently, but with two opportunities to play them we control the ability to turn that into three which we'd be better than.
  • The Giants are already at three division losses. As we are 2-2 we would be better with the two Redskins wins.
  • The Eagles will lose to the Patriots and Cardinals, that part is as guaranteed as it can be at this point. That's why if they lose to Buffalo we'd be rooting for them in the final two weeks. Losses to New England, Buffalo, and Arizona would put the Eagles at 4-10 on the season entering their games against Washington and New York. As we're planning on the Cowboys finishing at 7-9, even if Philly won those last two and ended with a 4-2 division record they would still be one overall game behind us and therefore not a threat. They could finish at 6-10 with those division wins and give us an extra game for potential error (right now the margin is one).

Plan IV

  • We need to beat the Redskins twice and have them lose at least one game from their other three.
  • We need the Giants to lose at least three of their five remaining games.
  • We need the Eagles to lose at least two more games (which will likely be the Patriots and Cardinals). If they also lose to Buffalo then we would like them to beat Washington or New York or BOTH to give us even more breathing room.
  • We NEED to beat the Redskins both times. We also need to win two out of three of the games in between (and potentially only one out of those three if Philadelphia is able to give us more breathing room). 

There you have it - a fourth draft of the 2015 Dallas Cowboys' chances at making the playoffs.

If you want to pack up shop and focus on 2016 I'm not going to talk you out of it. I'm a realist and I get that things look as bleak as ever. I'm just choosing the other option.

This isn't a matter of believing until we're mathematically eliminated or being an eternal optimist.

This is Christmas. The season of perpetual hope.

This is where anything can happen.

This is that anything.


RJ Ochoa on Fancred

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What do you think of Plan IV? What are your thoughts on how probable this is? I'd like to know! Comment below, Email me at Roel.Ochoa.Jr@Gmail.com or Tweet to me @rjochoa!

Tell us what you think about "2015 Dallas Cowboys: Anything Can Happen" in the comments below. You can also email me at RJ.Ochoa@SlantSports.com, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!



I like long walks on the beach, mystery novels, no just kidding those suck. The Dallas Cowboys were put on this earth for us all to love and appreciate. I do that 24/7/365. I also love chicken parmesan. Let's roll. @RJOchoa if you wanna shout!

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Sean’s Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory’s Impact on Cowboys Defense

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory's Potential Impact on Cowboys Defense

The Dallas Cowboys report to training camp next week, and for the first time in a long time there may be more excitement for their defense compared to a largely reshuffled offense. This hype for Rod Marinelli's defense, bolstered by the addition of Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, was elevated earlier in the week when the Cowboys learned Defensive End Randy Gregory would be reinstated.

Gregory's presence as a potential starting right defensive end is an uplifting one for the Cowboys as they depart for Oxnard. Above all else, this is a rare turn of fortunes for a player the NFL can now tote as a success story.

Once Gregory's focus shifts towards taking hold of that starting DE position for good and giving the Cowboys a pass rush of him and DeMarcus Lawrence off the edge, his impact could change the entire complexion of this defense.

After watching Gregory's last game for Dallas, a week 16 win in Philadelphia back in 2016, here is what I saw from the Cowboys "Christmas in July" addition to their defensive line.

Gregory3

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

This first clip is probably Gregory's most memorable play through three seasons with the Cowboys. Two teams going in opposite directions since this game, the Cowboys have cycled through their rotation of pass rushers to play the weak side -- with nobody coming close to the athleticism and bend Gregory displays here.

Already planning on attacking the offensive tackle to the outside with his long arm approach, Gregory regains his balance avoiding the low block to get even with Carson Wentz and finish the play. This type of relentlessness is a signature of the Cowboys defense under Marinelli, now fielding a deep group of defensive ends around Gregory and Lawrence.

Gregory1

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Just how much Gregory comes off the field for the likes of Tyrone Crawford, rookie Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper, or Taco Charlton will be determined by his ability to hold up against the run. This was a strength for Gregory against the Eagles, as his cornering ability helped him chase down plays all over the field.

It's hard to understate just how important Gregory's speed and range from this RDE spot could mean to the Cowboys, especially given their changes at linebacker for the 2018 season.

This is a team that's also added plenty of range to the second level of their defense with rookie Leighton Vander Esch and another year of Jaylon Smith.

These linebacker's ability to shoot gaps and be disruptive in the backfield will be aided by the depth Gregory is capable of gaining with ease against left tackles.

Gregory2

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Gregory does have a tendency to play upright at times and offer a larger blocking area than needed. As you see above, this can help him as an all-around player, as chasing down the run to the outside comes easy for him.

The Cowboys won't be at full strength at defensive tackle to start the season, with David Irving suspended for the first four games again. Maliek Collins is also coming back from another broken foot, as him and Gregory will be important to watch progress through training camp.

The overall potential for a Cowboys defensive line featuring all three of these players, and the rotational pieces behind them, is incredibly high for a team just looking to get back to their roots this season.

For the Cowboys in 2018, this means running the ball effectively, limiting turnovers on offense, and protecting the lead on defense. Randy Gregory significantly helps the Cowboys do the latter here, improving an already fearsome pass rush in ways that few players are capable of.

This is ultimately why the first-round talent fell to the second round for the Cowboys, who took the risk on Gregory and are now on the long path back towards seeing this gamble pay off, something a very thankful Gregory must see through on the field.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory’s Impact on Cowboys Defense" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Why Patience Is Key In Evaluating Randy Gregory

Kevin Brady

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Will the Dallas Cowboys "Get Lucky" at Defensive End?

The Cowboys were fully aware of the risks involved when they drafted prolific edge rusher Randy Gregory in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

They were also well aware of the potential rewards too.

Gregory has spent much of his NFL career away from the Dallas Cowboys, dealing with suspension after suspension and rarely playing actual football. Now, Randy Gregory has gained reinstatement into the league, and all signs point to positivity around his future.

As expected, both the Cowboys and their fan base are excited about the return of Gregory to the roster. And, of course, they should be. Gregory possesses all the traits necessary to be a top tier pass rusher in the NFL, even if we haven't seen it on full display thus far.

At his best Gregory is the prototypical RDE that Cowboys Nation has been yearning for. But it's probably unfair for him to reach that potential as early as this season. Pass rushers coming off suspensions, particularly lengthy suspensions, are rarely able to find their way quickly after returning.

And if you want proof of this, you only have to look across the way at DeMarcus Lawrence. After a strong 8 sack 2015 season, Lawrence was suspended the first four games of 2016. Once he returned, Lawrence battled injuries all season and only appeared in 9 games. Over those 9 games Lawrence tallied just 1 sack and made a minimal impact.

The next season, though? DeMarcus Lawrence was back to playing fully healthy and engaged, en route to a team leading 14.5 sacks and the best overall season of his career.

Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence are different players, and this is obviously a different situation, but the need for patience remains the same. To expect Gregory to be a dominant pass rusher in 2018 is more-than-lofty, as he deserves time to work back into playing shape and perfect his craft off the edge.

Unlike Lawrence, Gregory will have a full offseason and 16 game slate ahead of him. Plus, we haven't heard of any lingering injuries affecting Gregory going forward.

So while we may need to temper expectations at least a little bit, I still expect Randy Gregory to become the RDE we all hoped he could be with time.



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How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?

Kevin Brady

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Will Cowboys' Offense Improve With Ezekiel Elliott's Return?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.

Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.

Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.

With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?

To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.

Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.

Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.

In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.

Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?

Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.

The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.

Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.

If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?

We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.

But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.

Once again, at least it is for now.



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