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.