In 2014, we didn’t have much expectations for the Dallas Cowboys. Analysts and fans thought they could become one of the worst defenses in the history of the NFL. Some were even calling them to end the season with only four wins. Then the Cowboys ignored every expectation and won 12 games, the NFC East title, and beat the Detroit Lions in the Wildcard round. Even though they were defeated by the Packers in the Divisional Round (The catch-no catch will forever be an argument), it was an amazing season for such terrible expectations.
In 2015, we had big expectations for Dallas, but after Tony Romo got hurt, and Dez Bryant too, they faded week after week until finally they ended the season with only four wins. We had to go through the terrible Brandon Weeden/Matt Cassel/Kellen Moore carousel, and it was the worst season I’ve ever seen in my whole life.
But Things Were Different In 2016
Heading into the first game of the regular season, most of us didn’t know what to expect. There was this young rookie who had played a pretty good preseason at quarterback. With help from the fourth overall pick, Ezekiel Elliott, we all had hopes that Dakota Rayne Prescott would win a fair share of games before Romo's return.
The season began with a tough loss against the New York Giants, but even after that, we weren't that sad; we were hopeful. So we moved on, and so did the Cowboys.
The Cowboys' 11-Win Streak
Last year, after Tony Romo went down versus the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys lost seven straight games."The Streak" that year was something bad. This year though, things were different.
It didn't look like much at first. The Cowboys had beaten the Washington Redskins, the Chicago Bears, and the San Francisco 49ers, and suddenly were 3-1 under Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, who had built upon his impressive performance during the preseason. The next games were tough. "This week the Cowboys face their first real test," the media said before the Cowboys dominated the Cincinnati Bengals in a home game, beating them 28-14.
They said the same when Dak & Co. traveled to Lambeau Field. I'd dare say this was the game where the Dallas Cowboys made their first statement.
Dak Prescott threw his first career interception but made it right, throwing for 247 yards and three touchdowns, including one great drive just before the first half ended. Ezekiel Elliott ran for 157 yards against the then number one rush defense. The Cowboys won the game 30-16, and it was when the streak began to be something real.
The Tony Romo vs. Dak Prescott debate was at full speed when the Cowboys hosted the Eagles in possibly the best Sunday Night of the season, but that didn't matter to the team.
This game was a huge deal. The first Carson Wentz/Dak Prescott match-up ever.
The Cowboys started slow; Dak was shaky, the team drew a lot of penalties, and for a moment it looked like they were going to lose the game. Late in the game, Dallas rallied. With the help of Chris Jones and his infamous fake punt run and a settled-in Dak Prescott, they were able to get the game to overtime. They finally end the game with a Romo-esque scramble by the rookie before tossing TD pass to Jason Witten.
And The Streak Lived On
One week later America's Team -- now with a 8-1 record -- had its way at Cleveland, beating the Browns 35-10 in a game where we even got to watch Mark Sanchez throw a pass. A week later they played in another thriller against the Pittsburgh Steelers. This was their "real test," something people seemed to say every single week the Cowboys played a football game.
The game turned into a shootout between one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, Ben Roethlisberger, and the sensational rookie Dak Prescott.
In what was probably the most exciting 45 seconds of the season, Big Ben faked a spike and threw a touchdown pass to Antonio Brown for the lead. With 15 seconds remaining Dallas was in field goal range, but the offensive line decided to give Zeke the game-winning touchdown by blocking the Steelers' front seven and clearing the way.
The Streak Kept Going
The Cowboys kept rolling. Ezekiel Elliott beat another then #1 rush defense in the NFL. Dak posted another 300-yard performance along with three touchdowns. Later that week, Tony Romo spoke to the media for the first time since August.
Tony Romo held a press conference, one I'll never forget and I'm sure no Cowboys fan will.
He talked about the whole situation and how Dak Prescott earned the right to be the Dallas Cowboys quarterback. It was the classiest of acts. Tony said he didn't plan to be a distraction for the team, and he put an end to the media distraction that for weeks had discussed the QB controversy in Dallas.
It was hard to watch because, at the end of it all, it was the end of an era. Young fans like me had never really seen another quarterback leading this team. But it was the right thing to do, and we'll never forget it.
The Cowboys won another close offensive shootout against the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving, then headed to Minnesota to face a pretty tough defense on Thursday Night Football. It was a bad game with lots of penalties and mistakes by the offense. The Cowboys got away with a win, which didn't seem so important, but it really was. The Cowboys proved they could win in situations where the offense wasn't working like it should. Being able to win ugly games is an important thing in January.
A week later, Dallas got their second loss of the season, against the same team as the first... the New York Giants swept them.
It was sad, sure, but we were still atop the division, so it wasn't that bad. The defense played great and Anthony Brown even got his first career interception. A lot of questions were raised about this offense and some people even started the Romo vs. Prescott debate again.
Dak hushed all this talk by beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with the second highest completion percentage in NFL history, with the help of an amazing performance by Ezekiel Elliott.
This offense was suddenly back on track.
2016 Has Been One Hell Of A Season For Cowboys Fans
Sitting one win away from clinching the NFC East title, a first round bye, home field advantage, and the #1 seed in the NFC, the Eagles did us a favor last night.
They beat the Giants and saved the Cowboys the trouble of having to win at least one of their last two games. When your hated rivals -- the Eagles -- give you the #1 seed by winning a game, you got to ask yourself: How amazing has this season been?
Two rookies who have become super stars have led our team, the Dallas Cowboys, to a 12-2 record. Some wins have been dominant, some have been thrillers. Jason Garret is the front-runner for the Coach of the Year award. Zeke is in the conversation for MVP, and with two games left the Cowboys have nothing else to fight for in the regular season.
But the best part of it all? The Dallas Cowboys are just getting started.
What are your favorite memories from this Dallas Cowboys 2016 season?
Could a Former Division Rival be Cowboys’ LG Solution?
When it comes to prioritizing the Dallas Cowboys offseason needs, offensive guard is definitely near the top of the list. Opinions will certainly vary, but for me, solidifying the offensive line with a new starting left guard is the top priority for the Cowboys.
I know many of you will disagree and believe the Dallas Cowboys need to continue to upgrade their defense. But, this teams success or failure will be determined by how their offensive line performs. That's just the way the Cowboys are built, which is why they have invested so heavily putting this unit together.
Four out of five of the Dallas Cowboys starting offensive line is set in stone, but there is currently no one on the roster to step into the vacant left guard position unless you want to see the coaching staff give Chaz Green another try.
No, I didn't think so.
With the start of the 2018 free agency just a few weeks away, the Dallas Cowboys have certainly narrowed down some of the potential free agents they would be interested in bringing aboard if the price is right. Remember, they have turned into "bargain shoppers".
There are a few intriguing free agent options who I believe could step in to upgrade the LG position for the Cowboys next season, and not break the bank. One such option is a former division rival of the New York Giants, Justin Pugh.
The former 19th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft has spent five years in New York while playing out his rookie contract, but that time has come to an end. The Giants aren't likely to re-sign him, which means he will get his first taste of free agency.
Justin Pugh could step in and be an immediate upgrade over what the Dallas Cowboys employed at the left guard position in 2017. He has exceptional mobility. He reaches the second level with ease and plays with good body control and footwork. He is a perfect fit in a zone blocking scheme like the Cowboys employ.
Pugh is also versatile. He has played both right tackle and offensive guard for the Giants. He of course would be asked to play between Travis Frederick and Tyron Smith at LG with the Cowboys, but versatility to play another position is never a bad thing.
Unfortunately, Pugh doesn't come without baggage. He has missed a total of 13 games over the last two seasons with the Giants, including eight last season due to a back injury. This is definitely a huge red flag, especially for the Cowboys after dealing with the same issue with Tyron Smith.
But, this is why Justin Pugh will likely be in the Cowboys price range. Sportrac currently estimates his contract at 4 years at $23,983,847, which equates to $5,995,968 annually. I personally think that's a little low for someone of Pugh's caliber and versatility, but it certainly understandable when you take into account his recent injury history.
I personally think this is a longshot to happen because the Cowboys would prefer to go younger and cheaper, but it wouldn't surprise me.
Do you think Justin Pugh makes sense for the Cowboys?
Dallas Cowboys Wishlist: 2018 Free Agency Edition
Sadly, we can't wake up on Sundays to NFL football. The Dallas Cowboys are not on TV every week for us to watch them play. To make matters worse, we'll have to wait until September to get real football from our favorite team.
But that doesn't mean there's nothing to talk about until then! For the die-hard Cowboys fan, the offseason should be quite entertaining. Free agency will begin in March, and it should be an intense one for Dallas.
They need to handle a tight salary cap while trying to add a bit of help for this football team. Recently, Inside The Star Contributor John Williams wrote an in-depth piece about the Cowboys' cap situation and how they can manage to get things done, despite having little cap space right now.
Last season, I wrote a weekly Cowboys Wishlist about things I wanted to see for each game. Now there are no games, but I decided to write a special edition for this upcoming free agency.
Wish #1: Keep The Rushmen
The front office will have one hell of a challenge trying to retain all of its free agents. The two most important ones may be their two defensive linemen. If they can keep them, DL won't be a top need heading to the Draft.
Lawrence is one of the biggest names in free agency this 2018, but the Cowboys should find a way to keep him from ever being available.
If they're able to franchise tag him, that'd be the way to go since he's only had one elite season in his four-year career and they may not want to sign him to a huge long-term deal and risk not seeing the same guy next season.
David Irving is a more polarizing player, with off-the-field issues. However, he's been a very disruptive guy and he has the chance to be a unique player. His talent is really out of this world. Keeping him and Irving would give this franchise a top defensive line for the first time in many years.
Wish #2: Pay Anthony Hitchens
When healthy, Sean Lee is one of the NFL's top linebackers. He is simply an outstanding player who's always around the ball and seems to know where the ball is going before the opposing coach even calls the play.
The problem is, he has a lot of trouble remaining available. Anthony Hitchens is a guy who's found the way to step up every time the General is out, and he's shown a great progression as a player year after year.
Lee will be 32 by the time the season starts, giving Dallas something to think about. Hitchens is a guy capable of starting and competing in the NFL. If the front office finds a way to keep him, they'll be getting closer to being less "Sean Lee-dependent."
Wish #3: Get Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas
When we talk about a potential big name addition to the Dallas Cowboys, we're usually a bit pessimistic. This team isn't one that makes splashes like this, but Earl Thomas to Dallas makes a ton of sense. Former Seahawks' defensive coordinator is now the Cowboys' defensive backs' coach.
With Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis (and maybe Byron Jones moving to CB), this team will have a promising secondary. Add Earl Thomas, and it will go from "promising" to "great" in a heartbeat.
The Cowboys could not only have a top DL, but a top secondary if they're able to get this veteran.
Let's hope the Cowboys listen to Thomas and they go get him.
Wish #4: Get Dez Bryant to Take a Pay Cut
When I started writing this, I wanted to add a "get this wide receiver in FA"... but I won't. A few weeks ago, I wrote a case in favor and one against Dez Bryant remaining a Cowboy in 2018. Personally, I would be fine with him parting ways with the team.
However, I'm aware of how hard it can be finding a replacement for a guy like #88. The biggest issue with Dez is definitely his cap hit. He hasn't justified the money he's being paid on the field as he should be.
If they can get him to take a pay cut, it may end up being the ideal scenario for the Dallas Cowboys.
It'll be a very interesting offseason, and here at Inside The Star we'll continue to provide you with content about it all.
Switzer and Beasley: A Dilemma for Cowboys’ 2018 Offseason
When the Dallas Cowboys drafted Ryan Switzer in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft, Cowboys Nation rejoiced. By some, including myself, the product out of North Carolina was considered a steal by America's Team. Taking a guy who could contribute from day one for special teams and for the offense was something to be happy about.
At the time, WR didn't look like much of a need. Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley were staying in Dallas and Terrance Williams had just been re-signed (little did we know he'd fail to score a single touchdown in 2017) pushing the receiver position down the team needs list.
But the front office had landed a very productive slot receiver from North Carolina. On top of that, they found a guy to replace Lucky Whitehead as a return specialist. However, offseason hype took over a large amount of Cowboys' fans, writers and analysts and the expectations for Switzer were very big.
Naturally, he was compared to Cole Beasley since people started talking about him as an NFL prospect. His height, skills and playing style were similar and with the Cowboy veteran coming off from a big year in 2016, people were excited for what Switzer could do as a professional football player.
But it wasn't just about the rookie returning punts and kickoffs, it was about him contributing to an offense that already had a great slot receiver. Cowboys Nation was excited to see Switzer and Beasley on the field at the same time.
That never happened.
Switzer barely saw playing time in 2017 and when he was on the field as a WR, he was limited to running or faking jet sweeps. The coaching staff misused him and we didn't get to see him get a lot of snaps until the final week of the season, when #11 was injured.
And it was that same week when we saw what he was capable of. Switz showed how talented he is and how he can beat NFL defensive backs when he was asked to do so.
With a busy offseason and a tight salary cap, the Dallas Cowboys' front office will be considering a lot of possibilities. One of them will be the future of Cole Beasley. Releasing him would free up more than $3M in cap space.
I know a large amount of Cowboys' fans prefer to see Dez Bryant gone over him, but we can't deny that there's already a clear replacement for Beasley in Switzer.
The Cowboys wanted Switzer to be a returner and a receiver for them, but if they're going to use him just as a gadget player on offense... was the fourth-round pick worth it? If you're not going to use one of them, why have two players who are very similar on your roster?
Cowboys Nation loves Cole Beasley, as they should. I for one wouldn't want to see #11 on another team. Even still, it's only fair to admit that it would make sense for Dallas if they were to say goodbye to one of their most beloved players.
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