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2016 Plan I: Predicting Tony Romo’s Return And When The Cowboys Clinch The NFC East

RJ Ochoa

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Tony Romo

Listen to an audio version of this article on Bumpers!

https://bumpers.fm/e/b0d3jhvdqck000sn8o70

I've been writing this post, in my head, for the last 67 days. I said so with this tweet shortly after it was announced that Tony Romo would miss some serious time this season.

https://twitter.com/rjochoa/status/769622419111710720

2016 Plan I... what exactly is that? Through the horror of the 2015 season here at Inside The Star, I wrote a series of "plans" (for example 2015 Dallas Cowboys: Anything Can Happen) that continually kept the Cowboys in the hunt for the NFC East crown. In this particular plan I also shared a personal interaction that I had with Tony Romo a decade ago.

Tony Romo... our quarterback. We are approaching the one year anniversary of when we last saw him take a regular season snap - Thanksgiving 2015. The subject of when Tony will take his first one of this season has been hotly contested, and one that Owner/President/General Manager Jerry Jones has weighed in on frequently, and most recently this past Tuesday on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas.

"I don’t think that unquestionably Tony is going to be ready to go at some point near the end of the year, and we’ll be able to evaluate things at that time.” -Jerry Jones

This sent Cowboys Nation into quite the tizzy. Why? Only the words, near the end of the year.

These are big - albeit subjective - words, and ones that have some big implications if meant in particular contexts. I digested Jerry Jones' words and dissected them to the point that I had an epiphany regarding Tony Romo's inevitable return. I discussed this on Tuesday's episode of OchoLive.

#OchoLive (11/1): Dissecting Jerry Jones QB Comments | Trade Deadline | RJ's Epiphany On Romo Return

Posted by Inside The Star on Tuesday, 1 November 2016

 

You ready for my epiphany, Cowboys Nation?

Tony Romo will return on Thanksgiving Day when the Dallas Cowboys host the Washington Redskins. 

Why do I believe this? Consider the following:

  • Whether you are Team Tony or Team Dak you undoubtedly agree that the moment the Cowboys pull a healthy Romo in favor of Prescott is when the real controversy begins. There is no way the Cowboys want to have to cross that bridge. In their minds, obviously, if they bring Romo back he'll flourish and things will be great.
  • Tony Romo's kryptonite over the last two seasons has been short weeks. He struggled mightily on Thanksgiving Day in 2014 when the Cowboys lost to the Eagles, and that was because he was more healthy than ever at that point. It was the same story a year later when, after his return four days earlier in Miami, Romo played poorly against the Panthers before suffering the injury that would finally end his season. If Romo were to return on Thanksgiving Day he would not have to play two games in five days, he'd be making his debut and be totally fresh. The Cowboys play seven days after Turkey Day on Thursday, December 1st in Minnesota then get 10 days to rest before traveling to New York to visit the Giants.
  • The Cowboys are currently 6-1 and have three AFC games between now and the all-important Thanksgiving Day. Why does it matter that they're AFC games? They're less important. I'm not diminishing the value of any single game in the NFL, but the most important games are within your division and conference as those serve as the primary tiebreakers. Dallas is currently 2-1 within the NFC East and 5-1 within the NFC, no other NFC team has more than 3 wins in conference. This means that the Cowboys will - regardless of how the next three weeks go - enter Thanksgiving with those credentials at their back.

This is the answer. This is when Tony Romo will return. Lock it up and throw away the key.


So what of this plan, RJ? You just outlined Tony Romo's return, but you promised to tell me how/when the Cowboys will win the NFC East!

I did promise, and here I am to deliver. Welcome to 2016 Plan I. It's beautiful. Here are the current NFC East standings:

  1. Dallas Cowboys: 6-1 Overall, 2-1 in NFC East
  2. New York Giants: 4-3 Overall, 1-1 in NFC East
  3. Philadelphia Eagles: 4-3 Overall, 0-2 in NFC East
  4. Washington Redskins: 4-3-1 Overall, 2-1 in NFC East

NFC East Through Week 14

NFC East Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14
Dallas Cowboys @ CLE @ PIT BAL WAS @ MIN @ NYG
New York Giants PHI CIN CHI @ CLE @ PIT DAL
Philadelphia Eagles @ NYG ATL @ SEA GB @ CIN WAS
Washington Redskins BYE MIN GB @ DAL @ ARI @ PHI

These are the next six weeks for the most storied division in professional football. This is all it's going to take, six painless weeks until you can order your NFC East Champions merchandise. Want to know how? I'm always here to please. The next version of this data has wins highlighted in green and losses highlighted in red. I believe this to be a conservative approach to each team's chances over the next month and a half.

NFC East Week 9 Week 10 Week 11 Week 12 Week 13 Week 14
Dallas Cowboys @ CLE @ PIT BAL WAS @ MIN @ NYG
New York Giants PHI CIN CHI @ CLE @ PIT DAL
Philadelphia Eagles @ NYG ATL @ SEA GB @ CIN WAS
Washington Redskins BYE MIN GB @ DAL @ ARI @ PHI

Say this actually happened. This would mean:

  1. Dallas Cowboys: 11-2 Overall, 4-1 in NFC East
  2. New York Giants: 7-6 Overall, 2-2 in NFC East
  3. Philadelphia Eagles: 7-6 Overall, 0-4 in NFC East
  4. Washington Redskins: 6-6-1 Overall, 3-2 in NFC East

Why did I stop at Week 14? What do all of these colors mean? It all makes sense, my friend.

At this point there would be three games left in the season. Because the Cowboys play the Giants, who I believe will have the best run in the next five weeks of our NFC East foes, in Week 14 they have a chance to deliver the finishing blow and get to 11 wins which would be mathematically impossible for the Giants and Eagles with only three left.

If you want you can even forget the games, forget the colors. Here is the recipe to the Cowboys winning the NFC East over the next six weeks:

  • Cowboys Win Five Of The Next Six: This includes games against Cleveland (duh), Baltimore (extremely winnable, I was just being conservative), Washington without Trent Williams, and Minnesota who just saw their Offensive Coordinator resign.
  • Giants And Eagles Both Go 3-3: This is very feasible because you're talking about teams that are 4-3 currently, so that's their pace. What makes things particularly interesting is they play each other in Week 9 so one of them will already be one third of the way there. I'm of the belief that Cowboys Nation should root for Philadelphia to win this game because their five weeks following Sunday are more difficult than New York's. Additionally if Philadelphia does win and the Giants are one third of the way there, the fact that Dallas also plays New York in this stretch gives us the chance to account for the second third... meaning they would only need to lose one of their other four games.
  • Redskins Win No More Than Three Games: Here again we have the benefit of playing the Redskins in this stretch. Assuming the Cowboys win on Thanksgiving when I have predicted Tony Romo will return, this means they would have to go a perfect 4-0 just to prolong their hopes of defending their NFC East title from a season ago. Three of those other four games will be played without the services of Trent Williams so that's a tough sell.

This is all very manageable, if not likely. We have eight weeks of data in order for us to draw conclusions about these teams and discern what will happen over the course of the next six.

Tony Romo will return on Thanksgiving Day and the Cowboys will clinch the NFC East on Sunday, December 11th in New York. Huzzah.

What do you think of my thoughts on Tony Romo's return and Plan I? Let us know! Comment below, Email me at RJ.Ochoa@SlantSports.com, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!

Tell us what you think about "2016 Plan I: Predicting Tony Romo’s Return And When The Cowboys Clinch The NFC East" 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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Is Ezekiel Elliott the Most Dominant Running Back in the NFL?

John Williams

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Safe to Say, Ezekiel Elliott Not an Offensive Line Product

There's no player in football that is more hotly debated at the moment than Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott. Though much of the debate surrounds his potential contract extension, which would likely make him the highest-paid running back in the NFL, there's also been a lot of debate about his standing as the best running back in the NFL.

On Thursday, Bleacher Report's Kristopher Knox released his list of the most dominant players at each position. It's a fantastic read and not just because he listed Ezekiel Elliott as the most dominant running back in the NFL.

It's certainly easy to see where he's coming from despite the debate that rages across the NFL's fanbases. Ezekiel Elliott's lead the NFL in rushing two of the three season's he's been in the league. Both of those seasons, Elliott only played 15 games, getting the benefit of the Cowboys playoff positioning being solidified prior to week 17. In 2017, he would have probably ran away with the league's rushing title again, which would make him the three-time defending rushing champion heading into 2019.

In that 2017 season when he missed six games and had a game against the Denver Broncos where he only rushed for seven yards on nine carries, Elliott still finished in the top 10 in rushing.

In 2018, he bested Saquon Bakley by 127 yards rushing. Had Elliott played in the week 17 finale last season and rushed for his season average, he would have won the rushing title by more than 200 yards. And he did that in what many considered to be a down season for Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys rushing attack. Pro Football Focus even graded Elliott as the 30th best running back for 2018.

In 2018, Elliott had 2,000 total yards, besting his 2016 number of 1,994 total yards as a rookie. His rushing total was down in 2018 from 2016, but he still had an excellent season.

No disrespect to Todd Gurley, Saquon Barkley, Alvin Kamara, Le'Veon Bell, or Chrisitan McCaffrey, but they don't have the credentials that Ezekiel Elliott brings to the table. Those guys are great running backs in their own right, but Elliott has lead the NFL in rushing in two of the three seasons he's been in the league and would have probably lead the league in 2017 had he not been suspended.

Per Game Table
Rushing Receiving
Rk Player From To Att Yds TD Rec Yds TD
1 Saquon Barkley 2018 2018 16.3 81.7 0.7 5.7 45.1 0.3
2 Le'Veon Bell 2015 2017 21.1 94.4 0.6 5.6 42.6 0.1
3 Ezekiel Elliott 2016 2018 21.7 101.2 0.7 3.4 30.0 0.2
4 Todd Gurley 2015 2018 18.0 78.4 0.8 3.2 32.5 0.2
5 Alvin Kamara 2017 2018 10.1 52.0 0.7 5.2 49.5 0.3
6 Christian McCaffrey 2017 2018 10.5 47.9 0.3 5.8 47.4 0.3
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 7/18/2019.

Since 2015, only Le'Veon Bell has averaged more total yards per game than Elliott, but Elliott's close and he's not used as much in the passing game as Bell. Only Todd Gurley has a higher average of rushing touchdowns per game than Elliott.

Elliott's 3.4 receptions per game through the first three seasons of his career is only slightly better than Todd Gurley who ranks sixth among this group of players. The Dallas Cowboys attempted to get Elliott more involved in 2018 but didn't work him downfield enough in his targets for him to be anything more than a dump-off option. In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys should work to get him running more intermediate routes in the passing game because as we saw in the Detroit game last season, Elliott's got really good hands.

Historically, Elliott is off to a great start to his career. His first three years in the NFL compare quite favorably to two Hall of Famers and one of the most dynamic running backs of the early 21st century.

No player with more than 100 career attempts in the NFL has averaged more rushing yards per game than Ezekiel Elliott.

Think about that for a second. Through his first three seasons, he's averaged more rushing yards per game than Emmitt Smith, Barry Sanders, Terrell Davis, Eric Dickerson, Adrian Peterson, Tony Dorsett, Walter Payton, and the list goes on and on.

If you look at what he's done compared to other players during their first three years. Only Eric Dickerson, Earl Campbell, and Edgerrin James averaged more rushing yards per game than Ezekiel Elliott in the first three seasons of their respective careers.

One of the things that people have used to knock Ezekiel Elliott has been the volume of carries that he's received, but there's a reason that the Dallas Cowboys lean on him so heavily. They've created a run-first identity and though at times it has made the offense somewhat inefficient, it's not because the player they're handing to is not a good player, but because every team in the NFL is expecting the Dallas Cowboys to run the football with Ezekiel Elliott.

In 2018 in particular, the Cowboys offensive coaching staff, namely the departed Scott Linehan, didn't do enough to create favorable matchups in the running game. Too often it was a first down run out of heavy personnel that the defense was expecting.

With two rushing titles already in the bag, there's no reason to expect anything different from Ezekiel Elliott in 2019. It's anticipated that the offensive gameplan and execution will be better in 2019 than it was in 2018. The offensive line will be better and with Kellen Moore as the offensive coordinator, there's a thought that the Dallas Cowboys are going to be less predictable moving forward.

The debate will continue to rage over the value of extending Ezekiel Elliott with a contract that will carry him to his age 28 or 29 season, but there is no debating that Ezekiel Elliott is the best and most dominant running back in the NFL.



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Tony Romo: Cowboys TE Jason Witten Will “Pick Up Right Where He Left Off”

John Williams

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Did a Year Away Help Rejuvenate TE Jason Witten's Game?

There's no denying that the future holds a gold jacket for Dallas Cowboys Tight End Jason Witten. With everything he's done in his career, he'll go down as one of the three best tight ends in the history of the NFL when he finally hangs up his number 82 for good.

Most of the questions that have come surrounding the offense have focused on the tight end position this offseason. Even prior to Jason Witten announcing his return from the broadcast booth at ESPN to the NFL, tight end was one of the areas that was considered a draft need by most analysts. Since coming back, the questions may have altered, but they're there all the same. Now, we're wondering how much Jason Witten will play? Will Blake Jarwin and/or Dalton Schultz see significant playing time in the offense? Will Jason Witten be able to return to his pre-retirement form?

It's that last question that was answered pretty directly by Witten's former quarterback and NFL on CBS Analyst Tony Romo when he was on with Ben and Skin of 105.3 The Fan. In the way that only Tony Romo can, he illustrated what exactly will allow Jason Witten to return to the game without missing a beat.

"He'll pick up right where he left off. I don't think it's a big challenge for Jason  (Witten). The reality of it is as long as, if you know the game the way he does, there are certain positions -- he plays one of them at tight end -- he's always going to have the nuance to get open. Let's say he runs the exact same he always did, to me , it's just that at that position, your ability to use leverage against somebody, make you think this and then do that. It's like the back pick in basketball. Just all of a sudden it gets you and you didn't even know it was coming and that guy is wide open. He's very intelligent with the game of football. I think he's going to pick up right from when he retired. I think you're going to see the same guy."

Tony Romo on 105.3 The Fan via Jon Machota of SportsDay DFW

Jason Witten has been one of the best route-running tight ends in the NFL during his time with the Dallas Cowboys. He's always been able to win with his intelligence and route running despite not ever being the quickest or most athletic tight end in the NFL.

Because of Jason Witten's knowledge and feel for the game, it's easy to see why a player like that could walk back into the NFL after taking a year off and remain a productive player for the Dallas Cowboys. It's why they didn't hesitate to bring him back in the offseason. Though it's been relayed that he'll have a somewhat reduced role, he'll be the starting tight end week one against the New York Giants.

While it's uncertain exactly how much Jason Witten can play, you know that he'll be available to play. Prior to his retirement, Witten played in 235 straight regular-season games. Not only is Witten's availability great to have, but so is his ability to win on third down and in the red zone. It will be a welcomed addition to a Dallas Cowboys offense that struggled in both of those areas in 2018.

In 2018, they were 10th in third-down conversion percentage in the NFL at 41.4%. That's down from ranking fifth in the NFL in 2017 at 42.9%. 1.5% may not seem like a huge difference, but that's two to three more first downs on the season. Being able to convert on third downs increases your chances of scoring. Scoring more helps you win.

They were 29th in red-zone scoring rate at 48% in 2018. The only teams in the NFL that were worse than the Dallas Cowboys were the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Francisco 49ers. Only one other team in the bottom 10 in the league in red-zone scoring rate made the playoffs; the Houston Texans. In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys were sixth in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage at 59.6% and that was without Ezekiel Elliott for six games and without Tyron Smith for three games.

Having Jason Witten's ability to get open in confined spaces will help everyone on the offense. Even after having a year off, Witten is a player that will have to be accounted for in those high-leverage situations.

There isn't a person in the world that knows Jason Witten the football player better than Tony Romo does. Their careers have been so intertwined that it's hard to think of one without thinking of the other. It's why one day when they're inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, that it would be fitting for it to happen together.

If, as Romo believes, Jason Witten can pick up right where he left off, his veteran presence, leadership, and on-field ability are going to be a huge asset for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations in 2019. For the Cowboys to reach the Super Bowl and win their sixth Lombardi Trophy, they're going to need "Gold Jacket" Witten to return to his pre-retirement form.

And if Tony Romo believes he will, there's no reason to doubt Jason Witten. Do so at your own peril.



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Report: Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott Planning Training Camp Holdout?

John Williams

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Ezekiel Elliott: NFL's History with Domestic Violence Shows Inconsistency, Hypocrisy 2

All offseason, the possibility of a new contract for Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott has been a hot button issue among media and fans alike. Not because Ezekiel Elliott isn't a great player and worthy of top running back money, but because the idea of paying running backs north of $15 million a year isn't as simple as, "Is he worth it?"

There is significant evidence that the running back position experiences a significant decline in production around their age 28 season and few running backs play into their 30's with good to elite production. Ezekiel Elliott, though he's experienced heavy usage in his first three seasons, could be the exception to the rule.

Well, knowing his worth to the Dallas Cowboys he's expecting a heavy payday at some point in the next couple of seasons. Elliott is under contract through 2019 and the Cowboys picked up his rookie option for 2020. So, technically, Elliott wouldn't be a free agent until the 2021 offseason. However, much like in the case of Todd Gurley, Elliott's looking to get paid early to maximize his prime years as the Dallas Cowboys running back.

Within the last hour, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk released a report that Ezekiel Elliott is planning on holding out of training camp if he doesn't receive a new contract, per a "league source." It should be noted that Mike Florio has had some missteps in his reporting of Dallas Cowboys news, most notably the perpetuating a rumor that Dez Bryant was caught on videotape doing something at a Wal-Mart, that would have a "Ray Rice type of impact." A tape that has never been discovered or produced and a story that's completely died off since it was originally reported in 2015.

Given the recent news that Melvin Gordon is planning a training camp hold out, it should come as no surprise that Elliott is being mentioned similarly. ESPN even mentioned the idea of Elliott and a looming contractual holdout in a piece earlier today, but their prediction pointed to 2021 and wasn't a report based on fact or a source, but a prediction for next year.

The two-time NFL rushing champ is scheduled to count $7.9 million in 2019 and just over $9 million in 2020 against the salary cap. His salary for 2019 is only $3.8 million. Elliott certainly has earned the right to be paid like Todd Gurley ($14.37 million per year), Le'Veon Bell ($13.13 million per year), and David Johnson ($13 million per year) despite having two more years on his deal.

In looking at the long-term impact of Elliott's contract, I've advocated that if the Dallas Cowboys intend to pay Elliott, now's the time to do it. A contract extension now, that adds three or four more years onto his existing deal would get Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys to his age 28 or 29 season. In a well-structured contract, they'd have opportunities to get out at the back end if Elliott experienced a significant decline in production.

Ezekiel Elliott's contract is going to continue to be a hot button issue until he's either signed to an extension or it's made known that the Dallas Cowboys have no intention of extending him. Currently, there aren't any other sources confirming Elliott's plan to hold out of training camp, which starts July 27th, but it's a story that we'll continue to follow here on InsideTheStar.com.

Update: 7/16/2019 10:42 am.

Charles Robinson, Senior Reporter for Yahoo! Sports provided some insight into the thinking of Elliott and his representation.

It certainly seems like holding out is on the table for Ezekiel Elliott and his representation, but no decision has been made at this point.

Check back with us for updates on Ezekiel Elliott's contract extension. 



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