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5 Injuries the Dallas Cowboys Can’t Afford in 2018

John Williams

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A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

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.

5 Injuries the Dallas Cowboys Can't Afford in 2018

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (James D. Smith/Dallas Cowboys)

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.

Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) from Blogging the Boys shared this nugget on Twitter the other day and it paints a picture of how ineffective this team was without 77 on the field.

Dan Rogers on Twitter

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, Franchise Tags and Realities for Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence (Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports)

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 MenYou want him on that wall. You need him on that wall. 

Will Cowboys' Offense Improve With Ezekiel Elliott's Return?

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

Ezekiel Elliott's Best Highlights from the 2016 Season | NFL

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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?



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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5 Comments
  • Matt

    So if Dak gets hurt, one of our backup QBs are in danger of leading the league in pick 6s, going 10 straight quarters without a TD pass and leading the worst 3 game stretch in Cowboys history? Would our backup QB fail to throw passes further than 20 yards? Dak set the bar pretty high in 2017. Yeah, we’re toast if he gets hurt.

    • kabob

      I like how you think one 3-game stretch defines Prescott’s entire career. You’re naive to think a 2nd year UDFA or a 5th round rookie (both developmental projects) would do better after all the key injuries and predictable play calling killed the offense. I guess you forget what bad to mediocre QB play really looked like between 1997 and 2007 when we had Aikman on the back end of his career and then a series of has-beens and never-weres before Romo became a franchise QB. Dak Prescott is the QB for a long while yet so there’s no point in not getting behind him unless you’re just being spiteful.

    • John Williams

      You must not have enjoyed the first 24 games of Dak’s career where he went 18-6 as the starter (including the week 17 game in 2016 where he only played 2 series). Even with as bad as the offense was in the second half of last year, they still went 4-4.

      In the first half of the season where they went 5-3, they lost two games in which the offense scored 30 or more points. even if they win one of those games, they’re 10-6 and likely in the playoffs.

      QBs have bad stretches some times. It was a bad stretch of games, but it doesn’t erase all the good he did in the previous 24 games.

      Before the injury to Tyron, Dak was on pace to throw for 32 touchdowns, rush for 10 touchdowns, and only throw 8 interceptions on the season.

      When the protection was bad in the second half and receivers were dropping balls or not giving effort, Dak threw nine interceptions. That’s nine INTs in 8 games. In the previous 24 games, he only threw 8.

      Choose to look at the smaller sample size where the left side of his offensive line got him killed if you want to, bt I’m going to look at the bigger sample size.

  • Travis Diggs

    Sounds like a offseason excuse plan. How many years in past did we end the season with” if romo didn’t get hurt”. Enough with the excuses, good teams know how to overcome them. Last time i checked didnt Philly win the super bowl with their back up qb, come on with the early excuses already

    • John Williams

      How many times has a backup quarterback won the Super Bowl.

      That’s not a plan.

      Also the Left Tackle the Eagles lost was 36. It’s possible that the guy behind him was better anyway. Age is not kind to athleticism.

      Tyron is 28 and still in his prime.

      But to your point. This is not an excuse plan. Garrett needs to get to the playoffs this year. I would like to see a win or two or a Super Bowl in the playoffs, but I also realize how stacked the NFC is. There are literally 10 teams who could compete for a playoff berth and there are probably 6 teams who have a legitimate shot at making the Super Bowl. If they don’t make the playoffs, I’d argue that Jason Garrett should be gone, but I also didn’t think they’d keep him after the 2015 season.

      I think Jason Garrett is a good coach who’s had some really bad luck in the playoffs (the Dez catch in 2014 and the Jared Cook catch in 2016). This is the year they put it together and get to at least the NFC Championship game.

Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Can we Believe General Manager Jerry Jones?

Entre los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys, pocas cosas son criticadas tan frecuentemente como la administración de la franquicia que no ha ganado ningún Super Bowl en más de dos décadas. Se ha convertido en un equipo que, a pesar de ser el más valioso en el mundo deportivo, no ha sido nada relevante en el emparrillado. Lo que alguna vez fue una dinastía se ha convertido en una unidad que rompe frecuentemente los corazones de los fans.

Jerry Jones y Stephen Jones, siendo los operadores del ámbito deportivo del negocio familiar, son criticados semana tras semana y en gran parte por justa razón. Pero en gran parte, por cosas no muy válidas.

Cambios de Coach

A mi parecer, lo más criticable para la administración de este equipo viene cuando hablamos de los coaches. Muchos se burlan de los Cincinnati Bengals y de la manera en la que están atascados con el Head Coach Marvin Lewis. Con Jason Garrett al volante, la situación para los Cowboys no es nada diferente.

A mediados de la temporada 2018, no parece que esta narrativa vaya a cambiar. Una vez más, los Cowboys arrancaron de una manera muy inconsistente y ya no sabemos que esperar de ellos. Gran parte de las derrotas, la mayor parte, es el coacheo.

Sin duda el equipo no será exactamente el mismo en 2019, pero ¿serán suficientes los cambios como para decidir quedarse con el mismo capitán que no ha podido mantener el barco navegando por años?

El Draft

A diferencia de como se manejan muchos equipos en la liga, los Jones fungen como general managers de su propio equipo. Con la ayuda de Will McClay han logrado superar varios de los fracasos de los Jones de antaño, pero actualmente, siendo sinceros no han hecho un mal trabajo.

A pesar de las critícas de Abril, Leighton Vander Esch está probando haber valido más que la pena. Siendo objetivos, aparte de Taco Charlton en el 2017, todas las selecciones de primera ronda de los Cowboys han sido valiosas. La línea ofensiva, el corredor, un cornerback que por fin se está perfilando como uno de los mejores en la liga.

En cuanto a la segunda ronda, ha habido varias críticas, muchas con razón. Pero el mejor caza cabezas del equipo, DeMarcus Lawrence, el linebacker Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory y más están teniendo un impacto muy fuerte en el equipo.

Decisiones difíciles

La administración se ha visto en la necesidad de tomar decisiones bastante difíciles después de una temporada de nueve victorias en 2017. El LB Anthony Hitchens fue liberado, Dan Bailey se fue inesperadamente, se confió en Byron Jones para tomar su opción de quinto año.

Hasta ahora, pura decisión digna de aplaudirse. Pero ninguna como la más reciente de todas: Amari Cooper.

Por más caro que haya salido, los Cowboys merecen bastante crédito por haber mejorado muchísimo su posición de WR. Si el equipo llega a tener una oportunidad esta temporada, será en gran parte por él.

No cabe ninguna duda en mi cabeza de que los Jones han cometido errores a lo largo de los años, el más evidente siendo la resistencia de dejar ir a Jason Garrett. Pero a pesar de esto, la administración ha tomado excelentes decisiones y ha realizado el draft muy bien. En ese aspecto en específico, les aplaudo.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Star Blog

Sack Numbers Don’t Tell DeMarcus Lawrence’s 2018 Story

Kevin Brady

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Breaking Down DeMarcus Lawrence's League High 5.5 Sacks Through Week 4

Coming off of a career year in 2017, many fans expected DeMarcus Lawrence to continue his ridiculous sack production this season. After all, he is once again in a "contract year" due to the franchise tag, and fans are hoping the Cowboys can secure him longterm this offseason.

Through the first four games of 2018, Lawrence looked as ridiculous and unstoppable as ever. He had 5.5 sacks, tied for the league lead, and was dictating the pass protection schemes of every offense the Cowboys were facing.

Since that hot start, though, DeMarcus Lawrence has recorded just 1 sack, falling behind some of the league leaders he was once ahead of. This has some people scratching their heads and wondering if Lawrence's career year in 2017 was just that, a career year. One which he will never replicate again, and one which the Cowboys should factor out when talking contract extensions.

Here's why those people are wrong.

Let's first talk about what makes DeMarcus Lawrence so good, and then we'll get into the full context of the Cowboys defense and how that explains some of the drop in sacks.

Lawrence, unlike some of the league's other top pass rushers, is a complete 4-3 defensive end. He is one of, if not the best run defending defensive ends in football, as shown by his 12 tackles for loss on the season (only Aaron Donald and Danielle Hunter have more).

Much of the year, the Cowboys run defense has boiled down to Lawrence making splash plays, as we saw against the Washington Redskins. Adrian Peterson was gashing the Cowboys during that game, and the only one who did anything to stop him was DeMarcus Lawrence, as indicated by his 3 tackles for loss that Sunday.

There's also the point that 6.5 sacks through half the season is, well, good. It's really good! And when you couple his sack numbers with his solid pressure and QB hit stats, you can see that Lawrence is having a very good season.

Then there is the context of this entire Cowboys defense, specifically their defensive line and pass rush. To put it bluntly, DeMarcus Lawrence has been their only consistent rusher this season. Though we came into the year with high hopes for Randy Gregory, and cautious optimism about first round pick Taco Charlton, neither have been all that impressive this season.

Somebody, anybody, has to step up and become a threat opposite of Lawrence. David Irving could help matters with his interior pass rush ability, but he has been unavailable for basically the entire season.

Without another pass rusher for offense's to even think twice about, Lawrence is getting double teamed and/or chipped by a tight end or running back on just about every rush. It's becoming rare that Lawrence is in a true one-on-one pass rush situation.

Of course, if you are elite, offenses are going to shift protections to you in this way and you still have to find ways to be productive.

And thus far in 2018, DeMarcus Lawrence is doing just that.



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Star Blog

Can QB Dak Prescott Steal Back His Mojo From Atlanta?

Brian Martin

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Can Dak Prescott Regain His Mojo Against Atlanta?
Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dallas Cowboys last traveled to Mercedes-Benz Stadium they were completely throttled by the Atlanta Falcons. It's a game a lot of Cowboys Nation would like to forget, but no one more so than Quarterback Dak Prescott. That game could very well be where his struggles really began.

It's almost exactly a year later and the Dallas Cowboys still find themselves haunted by that brutal beating the Atlanta Falcons handed them in Week 10 of the 2017 season. The Cowboys seemed to lose all confidence in themselves after that game, but it was almost as if it was the exact point in time where Dak Prescott lost all of his mojo as well.

Before that match up against the Falcons, Prescott was still playing at a pretty high level. But since then, he has been in a slump and there have been very few signs of recapturing any of that magic he once had. Heading back to Atlanta maybe the key for him finding and stealing back his mojo.

Things could definitely go a little differently this time around. The Cowboys will have Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith in the lineup this week. Zeke missed the game last year due to the league mandated six-game suspension, and Tyron missed due to an injury. Having those two back in the lineup could pay huge dividends, especially for Prescott.

Without his starting left tackle and running back, Dak was pretty much beaten to a pulp by the Falcons defense a year ago. They applied relentless pressure, hitting and sacking him on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, I think that's where he started seeing ghost in the pocket and its haunted him ever since.

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

The beating he took at the hands of the Falcons has really thrown off his entire game. His mechanics, accuracy, and effectiveness as a scrambler can all be traced back to that one matchup. He just hasn't been the same QB he was prior to that game.

Prescott's stats prior to the Falcons game:

24 starts
66.7 completion percentage
102.4 passer rating

Prescott's stats since the Falcons game:

17 starts
63.3 completion percentage
83.1 passer rating

As you can see, that's a notable difference. His passer rating has shockingly dropped nearly 20 points since last playing the Falcons and it's really hurt the entire offensive production. It's time for that to change.

Prescott has no choice this week. He has to get back up on the horse that bucked him off and hopefully regain that mojo he left in Atlanta a year ago. Fortunately for him, his confidence might be is as high as it's been since that last meeting after pulling off the upset against the Philadelphia Eagles last week.

Now, he just has to go out and prove it!

Do you think Dak Prescott can regain his mojo against the Atlanta Falcons?



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