If 2017 was any indication, injuries can take a tremendous toll on a team. The Dallas Cowboys are no different. In the first half of the season they struggled to keep people healthy in their linebacking corp, losing Anthony Hitchens in the preseason and Sean Lee just a few games into the regular season, which forced Jaylon Smith into a role he wasn’t quite ready for in 2017.
Seeing how the team fell apart in the second half of the season with the loss of All-Pro Left Tackle Tyron Smith showed Dallas that the options they had at backup tackle weren't good enough. As we look to the 2018 season, there are still places where the Dallas Cowboys can’t afford an injury.
Here are five players they need for all 16 games.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
Like every other team that has eyes for playoff and Super Bowl contention, the Dallas Cowboys need Quarterback Dak Prescott to stay healthy in 2018. Prescott, entering his third year in the NFL, hasn't missed a start in two seasons and has been a durable player -- see the Atlanta Falcons game from 2017.
He's a big quarterback who can take hits, but with his running ability -- and sometimes the play caller's stupidity -- Prescott sometimes gets put into some really vulnerable positions.
Yes, the Philadelphia Eagles won a Super Bowl with a backup quarterback, but that's an aberration, not the norm. That just doesn't happen. We can't expect that backup Quarterback Cooper Rush or Mike White to be able to step in and carry the Cowboys to their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Say what you want about Prescott's final eight games of the 2017 season, but you need him on the field leading this team with the departures of Jason Witten and Dez Bryant. He may not be in the elite group of quarterbacks, but he's a good quarterback who can win you a lot of football games in the NFL.
Tyron Smith, Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys went to work in the offseason to get themselves a better insurance policy at tackle after the debacle of the 2017's second half of the season. Chaz Green and Byron Bell were for the most part awful at keeping Dak Prescott's blind side clean.
The Dallas Cowboys signed Cameron Fleming, who started at right tackle for the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl last season, to be their swing tackle. They then spent their second round pick on Connor Williams, who they plan to play at left guard but also has a lot of experience as a left tackle in the college ranks. He was an All-American selection his freshmen and sophomore years at the University of Texas.
If necessary, the Dallas Cowboys have two options to replace Tyron Smith, but in all honesty, we should hope that Fleming never has to see the field and that Williams never has to slide over from left guard.
The 2017 points per game numbers should be indicative of the impact felt by Tyron Smith's absence.
Cowboys offense in 2017 with Tyron Smith = 28.5 pts/game (ranked 4th) Cowboys offense in 2017 without Tyron Smith = 8.0 pts/game (ranked last) Poor chemistry with Dez, no Zeke...those things hurt, but there is no greater Dak-friendly piece than your All Pro left tackle.
While the Dallas Cowboys may have much better depth on the offensive line this season, I don't want to go through another season of Dallas Cowboys football without Tyron Smith.
DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
If not for the first two mentioned on this list, Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence might be the most important piece to a team that wants to get back into the playoffs and make a deep run. Pass rushers don't grow on trees, and while DeMarcus Lawrence has had his issues with injury and consistency, 2017 should leave no doubt that he is one of the elite pass rushers in the NFL.
For the Dallas Cowboys, they don't have anyone else who comes close to what Tank can do on a football field.
He's a three down player who plays the run as well as rush the passer.
Lawrence has two seasons in which he played 16 games and in those two seasons (2015 and 2017), he recorded eight and 14.5 sacks, respectively.
Aside from David Irving's 2017 and Maliek Collins' 2016, the Cowboys don't have a lot of proven pass rushers on the roster. Sure, they have potential with guys like Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, and Randy Gregory -- if he's reinstated -- but at the moment, that's all it is, potential.
Lawrence takes a lot of pressure off the rest of the guys on the defensive line and his absence would put that weight right back on their shoulders. His is an absence they can't afford.
Sean Lee, Linebacker
He's entering his age-32 season, but 2016 All-Pro Sean Lee is still a great player for the Dallas Cowboys.
They are a different team with him on the field, especially in the running game. The three games that stand out to me are the Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, and the Atlanta Falcons game.
In the Rams and Packers games, Lee didn't even play a snap. The Dallas Cowboys lost both games despite the offense scoring 30 points. They got gashed on the ground and through the air by the opposition's running backs.
Sean Lee started the Atlanta Falcons game and played eight snaps, all in the first quarter. Here's what the Atlanta Falcons offense did during Lee's eight snaps:
- The Dallas Cowboys forced a three and out on their first defensive possession.
- On four first quarter carries with Lee on the field, the Falcons were held to minus one yard rushing. In case you missed it, let me say it another way, 4 carries for -1 yard rushing.
- Matt Ryan went three of four for a healthy 75% completion percentage, but averaged only 6.25 yards per attempt.
- Atlanta had to settle for a 50 yard field goal at the end of the possession in which Sean Lee was injured at the end of the first quarter.
After Lee went out, Ryan threw 25 more times for 190 more yards, averaging 7.6 yards per attempt. The running game got a boost as well, even though star Running Back Devonta Freeman went out with a concussion on the first series of the game.
After only managing minus one yard on their first four carries, Falcons' running backs and wide receivers, led by Tevin Coleman, combined for 131 yards on 30 carries to the tune of 4.3 yards per carry.
That's a significant difference.
Now, the offense didn't do the defense any favors in the now-infamous "Chaz Green game," but the defense wasn't able to hold up its end of the bargain either.
The Dallas Cowboys hope Jaylon Smith takes another step in his recovery from the knee injury that has kept him limited so far in his NFL career. They also drafted Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft for insurance at the position as well.
Joe Thomas and Justin March-Lillard are nice depth, but at the moment you don't want to be counting on those guys to play 95% of your defensive snaps.
The fact remains that until Jaylon Smith or Leighton Vander Esch show they are capable of handling a full workload, you need Sean Lee on the field.
Just like Jack Nicholson told Tom Cruise in the movie A Few Good Men, You want him on that wall. You need him on that wall.
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back
Before you tell me that the Dallas Cowboys can win games without Ezekiel Elliott, I just want to leave this here for you.
Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott's highlights from the 2016 Season. Subscribe to NFL: http://j.mp/1L0bVBu Start your free trial of NFL Game Pass: https://www.nfl.com/gamepass?campaign=sp-nf-gd-ot-yt-3000342 Sign up for Fantasy Football! http://www.nfl.com/fantasyfootball The NFL YouTube channel is your home for immediate in-game highlights from your favorite teams and players, full NFL games, behind the scenes access and more!
Not only does Ezekiel Elliott churn out the "dirty yards," as Head Coach Jason Garrett likes to say, but he's a game-breaker. Anytime he touches the ball, he's a threat to take it for a touchdown. He has amazing patience and vision to find the hole, and the burst to get from the first to second levels in a hurry.
Only two running backs have averaged more yards per game in their first two seasons than Ezekiel Elliott's 104.6: Eric Dickerson (122.3) and Clinton Portis (106.9).
Elliott, through 25 games, has averaged a touchdown per game.
A couple of weeks ago, I gave you my projection for Ezekiel Elliott in 2018. I'm expecting big things for the third-year running back out of Ohio State University.
Rod Smith, Bo Scarborough, Darius Jackson, and Tavon Austin are fine players, but none of them combine the speed and physicality that Elliott brings to the table. Elliott is as complete a running back as there is in the NFL, running, receiving, and blocking. It's hard to find a running back that is elite in all three of those traits, but Zeke Elliott is.
Maybe the running back position has devalued in the NFL, but the value of Ezekiel Elliott is greater than any other running back on the Dallas Cowboys roster. By a lot.
If he were to miss extended time during the 2018 NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys offense would look a lot different.
With Elliott on the field, opposing defensive coordinators have to get eight or nine guys in the box against the Dallas Cowboys' run game. When he's not available, coordinators can have less guys in the box knowing that anyone else carrying the ball for Dallas is nowhere near as explosive. This makes things much harder on Dak as play action becomes less effective and teams will leave more guys in coverage for Prescott to beat.
Elliott is one of the three best running backs in the NFL and the best skill-position player the Dallas Cowboys have.
On an offense with a lot of unproven skill players and with a game plan designed to Feed Zeke, they can't afford to have Elliott missing from the dinner table.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Who else must the Dallas Cowboys have available to make a run at their sixth Lombardi?
Seahawks’ Tight End Will Dissly Flying Under the Radar
The Seattle Seahawks are in need of a big win this weekend to stay a game or two back of the NFC West leading Los Angeles Rams. The Dallas Cowboys hope to extend their one game winning streak to two, but to do that, they'll have to win certain matchups on both sides of the football. One player that the Dallas Cowboys will have to be aware of and contain is rookie Tight End Will Dissly.
With Doug Baldwin injured in week one and out week two, other players have had to step up in their lead wide receiver's absence.
Brandon Marshall and Tyler Lockett are the names that most everyone will recognize, but Dissly, is the name that Cowboys Nation should keep an eye on come Sunday.
Dissly, drafted in the fourth round of the 2018 NFL Draft out of the University of Washington, came into the season with a reputation as a blocking back. Dane Brugler, of The Athletic, had Dissly ranked 98th overall and as the ninth ranked tight end in the draft. Just one spot behind Dallas Cowboys rookie Tight End Dalton Schultz.
Here is what Brugler had to say in his 2018 NFL Draft Guide.
"A one-year starter at Washington, Dissly spent his first two years at Washington on defense and his final two years on offense, lining up inline and wing in the Huskies’ offense. He was a blocker-first and receiver-second in college, which was a role he embraced with his hard-nosed toughness and competitive edge. Dissly uses his upper body power and base strength in unison to control the point of attack, displaying the core flexibility and length to keep defenders busy. While he flashed reliable hand/eye coordination and run power after the catch, he lacks the route-running experience or athletic deception to consistently uncover. Overall, Dissly is a project as a pass-catcher, but he will contribute early in his NFL career as an inline blocker and sixth offensive lineman."
Dane Brugler - Dane Brugler's 2018 NFL Draft Guide
To say that it comes as a surprise at Dissly's start to his rookie campaign would be a huge understatement. A Brugler notes, there was a chance he'd contribute early as a blocking specialist, but was thought to be a project in the passing game. He's been a big play threat in the first two games of the season, already taking the lead in Seattle Seahawks TE snap distribution at 65%.
Among tight ends, Dissly's is tied for 12th in the NFL in targets with 10, tied for 17th in receptions with six, fourth in the NFL in receiving yards, tied for first with 2 touchdown receptions, third in yards per reception at 24.5, third in yards after the catch with 90, is tied for fifth with five receptions for first downs, sixth in yards per route run, and hasn't dropped a pass this season. He's averaging five targets, three receptions, 73.5 yards, and a touchdown per game. He's been targeted twice out of the slot and has two receptions for 36 yards and a touchdown while playing 46% of his snaps from the slot.
When Seahawks Quarterback Russell Wilson has targeted his rookie tight end, he has a passer rating of 143.8.
He's been way more than they could have hoped.
Here's what SB Nation' Seattle Seahawks blog Field Gulls had to say about Will Dissly after the Seattle Seahawks week one loss to the Denver Broncos.
"Hot damn! Who saw that coming? Was that Will Dissly or a prime Jeremy Shockey? 3 catches for 105 yards and a touchdown for someone drafted primarily for his blocking abilities. Seattle has a new weapon on offense, and I doubt anyone saw that coming."
Mookie Alexander - Field Gulls, SB Nation
It's likely that nobody, including the Denver Broncos or the Chicago Bears, saw Dissly's breakout coming this soon. Now with it on tape, the Dallas Cowboys will have their eye on Will Dissly.
Russell Wilson doesn't have a ton of established -- or still good -- wide receivers at his disposal, but Will Dissly looks like a fourth round steal for the Seahawks.
The Dallas Cowboys' linebackers will be tested on Sunday.
Four of Dissly's six receptions have come against linebackers, including a 34 yard reception (19 yards after the catch) against Chicago Bears' Linebacker Danny Trevathan and a 66 yard reception (52 YAC) against Denver Broncos Outside Linebacker Bradley Chubb.
The Dallas Cowboys seem fully capable of matching up with good receiving tight ends as Jaylon Smith showed on Sunday. Smith showed an ability to run with Odell Beckham Jr. in coverage on Sunday. No small task. We know that Sean Lee is good in coverage. Leighton Vander Esch's best trait coming out of Boise State is his coverage ability. I also wouldn't be surprised to see the Dallas Cowboys matchup Xavier Woods and Anthony Brown with the athletic tight end when he's lined up in the slot.
How the Dallas Cowboys defense does in coverage against the rookie tight end could be a major key to the game. With names like Brandon Marshall, Tyler Lockett, and Rashad Penny to keep an eye on, someone like Will Dissly could be easily forgotten.
You're going to hear his name called on Sunday. Let's just hope it's more for what he did weeks one and two.
Xavier Woods Among Cowboys with Something to Prove in Seattle
The Earl Thomas trade rumors have been relentless this offseason. We've heard about them. I've written about them, and for better or worse, they just won't stop. No doubt Dallas Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods has heard them as well.
When Woods went down with his hamstring injury and as Earl Thomas continued his hold out, the clamor for Thomas grew louder and louder.
Per reports, it looks like Woods is set to make his 2018 debut. With a good game against the Seattle Seahawks, he can put a silence to the trade rumors.
I've been a proponent of making the deal for Earl Thomas all offseason. From the time he came running down the tunnel toward the Dallas Cowboys locker room, I've been all aboard the Earl Thomas hype train. Opportunities to add All-Pro players don't come along very often and if you're hoping to win football games in the short term, like the Dallas Cowboys are, you make the move.
My opinion isn't a knock on Xavier Woods, who was good as a rookie last year. He was especially good when asked to play in the slot early in the 2017 season. It has more to do with Woods still being a bit of an unknown and Thomas being a known quantity.
Xavier Woods has shown potential to be a really good safety in this league. In college, he played a lot of single high safety and played it very well. He has a knack for making plays on the football and can be a game changer for the Dallas Cowboys.
If the Dallas Cowboys can come away with a victory in Seattle, facing the player that the Dallas Cowboys have been linked to for months, and Woods has a good game in the process, then all of this will go away.
Heading into Sunday, Xavier Woods isn't the only player on the Dallas Cowboys roster who has something to prove.
Two Wide Receivers
The Cowboys added another wide receiver this week when they resigned free agent Brice Butler. I agree with Inside The Star Staff Writer Jess Haynie that adding Butler doesn't make a ton of sense, but it definitely adds question marks to the wide receiver room, in particular wide receivers Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns.
These two wide receivers were expected to be the starters on the outside and the primary targets, aside from Wide Receiver Cole Beasley, and yet, they've failed to have much of an impact in either of the two games in the 2018 season.
Take a look at their stat lines.
- Allen Hurns: 5 targets, 2 receptions, 29 yards, 0 touchdowns, on 55% of the team's offensive snaps.
- Terrance Williams: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 18 yards, 0 touchdowns on 25% of the snaps.
Those two are tied for fifth in receptions through two weeks of the season. Wide Receiver Deonte Thompson has found himself as a favorite target of Quarterback Dak Prescott through the first two games and has seven receptions for 60 yards.
With now seven wide receivers on the roster, there are less snaps to go around and with the increase in playing time for Tavon Austin and Michael Gallup, Terrance Williams may have already found himself as the odd man out. Brice Butler complicates things further for Williams and may eat into Allen Hurns snap count as well.
Now it looks like Terrance Williams is facing a suspension. If the suspension comes down before Sunday, he's going to really have a hard time finding a role on this team when he comes back.
Sources: Cowboys WR Terrance Williams faces suspension stemming from May arrest for public intoxication https://t.co/of11Xlb7wD via @sportsdaydfw
If he comes back.
Defensive End Making a Comeback
Things started out really well for returning Defensive End Randy Gregory. During the preseason he flashed the tools that made him a highly coveted player before his failed drug test at the NFL Combine.
Unfortunately the start of his 2018 season was derailed due to a concussion early in the Carolina Panthers game forcing him to miss week two.
In his place, Taco Charlton emerged as an impact player on the right side of the defensive line. Charlton has played the most defensive snaps of any defensive end through the first two games of the season; DeMarcus Lawrence included. Taco went from a 73% snap share in week one to an 83% snap share in week two. It's obvious that he's earned his snaps and the coaching staff wants to get him on the field.
This doesn't even begin to mention the contributions by rookie fourth round pick Dorance Armstrong, who like Charlton, saw a 10% snap increase from week one to week two and played really well when in the game.
This is a bit of a problem for Randy Gregory. Yes, he flashed in the preseason and early in the Carolina game, but the NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league and Gregory hasn't done much of anything in the regular season, yet.
Coming into the Seahawks game, Gregory is going to have to earn back some of those snaps. By all accounts he has a chance to be an elite defensive end on the right side of the Dallas Cowboys defense, but he has to prove that he can stay on the field and effective when on it.
He needs to shine in week three.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Who are your players with something to prove heading into the week three matchup with the Seattle Seahawks? Let us know in the comment section.
How The Seattle Seahawks Have Increased Importance In Cowboys’ Lore
You can't talk about this decade's Dallas Cowboys without discussing the Seattle Seahawks.
In 2012, when Golden Tate took out Sean Lee on a crack-back block and the Seahawks embarrassed a Cowboys team who had just defeated the defending champion New York Giants, we saw which of the two teams was truly ready for the big stage.
In 2014, as Rolando McClain intercepted Russell Wilson and the Cowboys clinched a critical road victory, we knew that Dallas was a legit contender.
In 2015, when Seattle finally came to Dallas and rendered the return of Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant meaningless in a 13-12 win, the then 2-5 Cowboys were sent further into a Romo-less abyss.
And, in 2017, Dez Bryant's key drops and Dan Bailey's missed field goals during a horrendous home loss to the Seahawks on Christmas Eve might have sealed each of their fates for the following offseason.
The most important moment in this Cowboys/Seahawks history, however, occurred during a preseason game. A meaningless preseason game which turned out to be the most meaningful day in recent Cowboys history.
Cliff Avril dragging Tony Romo down from behind, effectively ending his career, and kicking off the roster massive turnover we have seen the last two offseasons. From Dak Prescott, to a brand new secondary, to the retirement of Jason Witten, and the cutting of Dez Bryant. All of this change, which put an end to the Romo era rosters in Dallas, began with that hit in Seattle.
Since 2012 the Cowboys, and the rest of the NFC really, have been judged by how they play against two teams: the Packers and the Seahawks.
They have been the class of the NFC, and while we like to think that if the "Dez Caught It" game went how it should have Dallas would've handled Seattle, that will forever be an unknown.
Sunday's game is not expected to carry the franchise-changing implications that some of these other match ups have had. The Seahawks are 0-2 and reeling, with a shaky offensive line and reported distrust throughout the organization.The Cowboys, however, can jump-start their season with a big road win over a winless team that they should beat in the minds of many.
But knowing how things between these teams tend to go, Sunday afternoon may end up having major implications on the rest of the Cowboys' season.
Where this could be the case is in a potential Earl Thomas trade. It's been speculated that Seattle has been hesitant to deal Thomas to Dallas before their week 3 match up, but could be more willing to do so after the game.
Especially if that game is a loss which sends them to 0-3. The Cowboys have been actively pursuing Earl Thomas, and Thomas has certainly made it clear that he wants to be in Dallas. The only party not willing to make it happen thus far, are the Seahawks.
So, this weekend, there is a chance another chapter is added to those franchise-changing moments in Cowboys/Seahawks lore.
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
Cowboys Reunion with WR Brice Butler Makes No Sense
Game Notes1 week ago
Cowboys Rookie LB Leighton Vander Esch May Be New Starter at SAM
Player News6 days ago
Report: Dallas Cowboys to Sign Free Agent Wide Receiver Brice Butler
Game Notes5 days ago
Sean’s Scout: Secondary Play, Improved OL Stand Out in Cowboys Win Vs. Giants
Game Notes5 days ago
3 Stars from Dallas Cowboys Win over the New York Giants
Player News2 weeks ago
Cowboys Sign G Xavier Su’a-Filo; Impact on Connor Williams?
Game Notes2 weeks ago
CAR 16, DAL 8: Cowboys Open Flat, Fall Short to Panthers
Game Notes2 weeks ago
3 Stars from the Dallas Cowboys Week 1 Loss to the Carolina Panthers