If you've been following national media's NFL previews, you've likely heard a lot of similar statements about the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. Today, I thought we'd run through some of these storylines and see if they have real merit, or if they're just overrated hype.
The first, and most prevalent that I've seen, is that the Cowboys will struggle without Dez Bry
ant and Jason Witten in the offense. Before I say anything else, I want to make it clear that I have tremendous respect for the contributions that both men made during their time in Dallas.
But if you want to say that Dallas lost Bryant and Witten, then you're really a few years late with that point. Neither guy had played up to their reputations in recent seasons.
Jason simply got old. There's no shame in that for him, or in us admitting it as fans. He could still get open with his pristine route running, but he couldn't do anything with the ball after the catch. Watching Witten go sideways or backwards after every catch last year became depressing.
Dez, while several years younger, finally showed his mileage as well. We predicted all the way back in 2010 that Bryant might not last long with his physical playing style. We were right; the wear and tear was evident as he wasn't the same explosive athlete anymore over the last few seasons.
This isn't to say that Blake Jarwin or Geoff Swaim is going to fill Witten's shoes, or that Allen Hurns is guaranteed to replace Dez' production. But many keep looking at the WR and TE positions as if Dallas just lost two All-Pros, and neither Jason or Dez have been at that level since 2014.
No, we don't know what sort of production the Cowboys will get out of their current receivers and tight ends. But last year saw what happened when you kept trying to feed aging stars with diminishing returns. We saw predictable results from that strategy.
Maybe less familiarity and more unpredictability in the passing game is exactly what this offense needs.
Another common criticism of the 2018 Cowboys is the lack of experience in their secondary. This is wrong on a few levels.
For one, none of these players are rookies. Jeff Heath is in his sixth season, Byron Jones is in Year Four, and Anthony Brown has had a lot of playing time over the last two years. Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis were starters as rookies in 2017. Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier have also had some run since coming to Dallas.
There may not be household names among this group yet, but the arrival of Kris Richard as Defensive Backs Coach and the development across the difference means breakout potential is high for several of these players. Awuzie looks like a star in the making and Byron Jones should benefit from moving back to corner.
Safety is more concerning, but Heath is actually underrated despite all of the sarcastic "G.O.A.T." jokes. Once Woods gets healthy and Jeff can play in the box where he belongs, you'll see more playmaking and less coverage issues.
Sure, there where still be some growing pains. That is a natural part of relying on young players. But to say that the youth among the DBs is a liability is a one-sided perspective.
Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas, and Kam Chancellor were third and fourth-year players when they won their Super Bowl. They were in the second round of the playoffs a year before that.
Young teams can win in the NFL. That youth can be a strength in December and January when older teams are wearing down. If these Cowboys corners and safeties have the potential that we think they do, then their age may be a positive by the end of the season.
While the Cowboys receivers and defensive backs may need to prove themselves in 2018, one guy who doesn't is Running Back Ezekiel Elliott. Still, that notion has been put out there by more than one outlet.
There is no denying that Elliott is one of the best RBs in the game. He has led the NFL in rushing yards-per-game the last two years. If not for the suspension last year, Zeke would have won back-to-back rushing titles since entering the league.
Elliott may not put up the receiving numbers of peers like Le'Veon Bell and David Johnson, but he isn't asked to. Dallas hasn't utilized him in the role as much as they could; Zeke is a great receiving back when called upon.
If you think Zeke has something to prove on a personal level, that's fair. Availability is key, and obviously he can't be a star sitting in the commissioner's doghouse.
But it appears all of that is behind Elliott now, and he's free to get back to being the most productive rusher in the NFL. He's not coming back from an injury or even an off year; he was on pace for close to 1,600 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns last year without the missed time.
You shouldn't need to see another carry to know that Ezekiel Elliott is still an elite RB. Roger Goodell is the only one who could slow him down.
Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
The Dallas Cowboys are not only breathing in playoff contention, but they're now the favorites to crown themselves as the NFC East champions in 2018. It's pretty impressive how the tables can turn so quickly in the NFL. Dallas played very well against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday and we learned quite a bit from them as they bounced back to .500. Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday! Enjoy it as much as you did Brett Maher's game winning field goal a couple of days ago.
Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
Despite taking steps in the right direction, it's impossible to compare this offense to units like the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. However, it's the Cowboys' defense that could be labeled as a championship unit. Facing an offense with such a strong WR core, allowing only one touchdown on the road is impressive.
The Cowboys sacked Matt Ryan three times and were constantly causing pressures. Byron Jones was great once again, allowing only two catches in passes thrown in his direction. And of course, the kid who's been impressing us all, Leighton Vander Esch continued to play out of his mind. He should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner at this point.
The Cowboys' defense is one of the best in the NFL right now, and any offense will have a tough time facing them. It'll be intriguing to see if they can take the next step and stop a high-powered unit like the Saints in a few days.
Offensive Line Woes Are Gone
The offense has improved a lot the last couple of games. Although there is still a lot to work on, they're not struggling as they were in the first half of the season. The offensive line is a huge part of this. With Marc Colombo at OL coach, things have looked very different in Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I feel great. I feel fast. I feel physical. I feel very comfortable with the running schemes. We just got to keep rolling. That's what's important. We just got to keep rolling.
Ezekiel Elliott has been on a roll the past two weeks and his comments regarding how he feels about the running schemes shouldn't go unnoticed. The offensive line wasn't playing as well as they are right now earlier in the year. Dak Prescott is noticeably more comfortable in the pocket.
It's intriguing to know what will happen at left guard for the Cowboys. With Connor Williams injured, Xavier Su'a-Filo has done a good job filling in for him. Williams has the upside, but should Dallas mess up the mojo this OL has lately?
Dak Prescott: Clutch QB
Dak Prescott continues to be criticized by fans while he keeps proving us why it's not that easy to move on from him. The guy is far from the perfect passer, yet he's been clutch time and time again. This time he did so on the road on an impressive two minute drill.
With 1:46 on the clock, Prescott marched his team down to the Falcons' 24 yard line. He managed to give his team another game winning drive in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' young quarterback needed a confidence boost and this is perfect for him. He needs to keep it up if the team is going to finish the season as the NFC East champions.
Since entering the NFL, Dak has 12 game winning drives. As frustrating as his play is at times, he will not be easy to replace if the Cowboys decide to move on from this guy down the road. Hopefully, they don't have to. I, for one, believe Dak can be way better with a proper coaching staff. But that's a discussion for another day.
Now, it's time to celebrate the Cowboys' victory and get ready for a short week as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?
Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.
Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire
In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.
But in reality, is there?
For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.
The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.
First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.
The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.
In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.
Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?
Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.
That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.
Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support
Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.
According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.
A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:
“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”
Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.
As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:
“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”
While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.
The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.
Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.
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