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?
Will DeMarcus Lawrence Be Franchise Tagged Again in 2019?
The deadline for extending players under the franchise tag has come and gone last Monday, in a day in which none of the remaining tagged players reached an agreement with their respective teams. That includes Dallas Cowboy Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, who's set to earn $17M in 2018.
The front office and the 26-year old defensive end failed to agree to a new contract before the season's start, but we saw that coming. After all, there was never a point in which we had the classic "X player and his team are close to a new deal" headline.
All of this makes the future of the Cowboys' promising "War Daddy" very uncertain. What lies a head of the player that put on an impressive show in 2018?
Since 2017 was Lawrence's breakout year, racking up 14.5 sacks trough the season, we have leaned towards the narrative of last season being his only good one. His performance last season was impressive and clearly his best one yet, but we tend to overlook 2015.
In his sophomore season, the only other year in which he has played 16 games, he finished the campaign with eight sacks and 35 tackles (55 combined). Really, the idea of 2017 being his only good year is not as accurate as we might think.
That being said, I think it's more likely that we see another great year from him this upcoming season than seeing a disappointing one. This, of course, will end up being the main thing that determines his future in Dallas.
The Dallas Cowboys front office really took a risk by tagging Lawrence this offseason. #90 was reportedly asking for an average of $17M per year in his long-term contract, which is Olivier Vernon kind of money.
So what if he puts a similar season or an even better one? Lawrence and his agent could end up asking for even more money. Perhaps in the 18 or 20 million dollars per year range. If that ends up being the case, the team will find itself in a tough position when trying to reach an agreement with its promising pass rusher.
Which leads us to the possibility of seeing the Cowboys franchise tagging Lawrence for the second consecutive season. Dallas will already be negotiating a contract extension with QB Dak Prescott, and things will get complicated. Even more if they decide to pursue a big-time free agent in March, such as Earl Thomas.
It would make sense, from a financial perspective, to hand the tag twice in consecutive years to D-Law. However, it shouldn't be the priority. If he plays like he did in 2017, the front office will be more than wise to extend him for good.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Cowboys will have approximately $50.6M. Seemingly, the team's cap woes will be over soon.
Fortunately, Lawrence didn't become a headache by threatening to holdout for offseason programs and even training camp. However, don't expect that to happen if he finds himself under the tag next year.
Careers in the NFL are short, so DeMarcus will surely want to get paid. If he keeps it up, he'll deserve it. As much as he deserves it, though, football is a cold business. If the Jones need to tag him, they will.
Do you think the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence in 2019?
Without Looming Suspension, RB Ezekiel Elliott Should Shine In 2018
NFL Films typically does a good job of exposing some truths around NFL teams. Whether through "Hard Knocks" or Amazon's new "All or Nothing" series, these documentaries do an excellent job of giving fans an inside look of their favorite teams.
If anything was revealed through the Cowboys' All or Nothing series on their 2017 season, it's that Ezekiel Elliott's suspension weighed heavy on his mind all year.
The Pro Bowl running back did not look, act, or play like himself while awaiting decision on his incoming suspension. And, once it was finally announced he would serve the six games, the entire team collapsed in Atlanta.
Despite the clear and detrimental effects Elliott's suspension had on the Cowboys' season, Zeke still put up more-than-respectable numbers; rushing for almost 1,000 yards and averaging a league leading 98.3 yards per game.
Now, Ezekiel Elliott enters a season with no doubts about his own availability. Scott Linehan gets to coach an offense that knows they will have their best player for the entire season barring major injury. And, Jason Garrett can lead his team without addressing questions about Elliott's future day in and day out.
Of course, these effects aren't quantifiable. We can't sit here and say that without the pressure of court appearances and suspensions that Elliott will be worth "X" amount of more yards and "Y" more touchdowns.
But I do believe we can say, without question, that playing with a clear mind and without a looming suspension will breed the type of production we saw from Zeke his rookie year.
We can say that Elliott has had a weight lifted off his shoulders, and could be looking for revenge on a league he feels did him wrong.
And, for the Cowboys sake, I hope this is true. Because they are going to need Ezekiel Elliott to be even better than he ever has been if they hope to make a run at the Super Bowl in 2018.
Cowboys en Español: El Regreso de Randy Gregory
A sólo días de que los Dallas Cowboys aterricen en Oxnard, California para dar inicio a su training camp como todos los años, el equipo recibió excelentes noticias respecto a la selección de segunda ronda del 2015: Randy Gregory. Después de pasar todo el 2017 suspendido, el ala defensiva ha sido oficialmente reintegrado por la NFL.
Gregory, quien tuvo muchos problemas debido al uso de marihuana, ha pasado los últimos meses rehabilitándose para poder volver a vestir la estrella y volver al emparrillado. Los Cowboys, quienes siempre apoyaron a su joven jugador, sin duda estarán felices de verlo de vuelta en el equipo por motivos más allá que el football americano.
Sin duda alguna, antes de estar emocionados y felices por verlo en el campo intimidando a quarterbacks rivales, deberíamos estar alegres por el logro personal de Randy como un ser humano. Realmente hizo un esfuerzo consciente en un lugar en el que muchos se hubieran rendido y dejado sus sueños de ser parte de la NFL. Pero no lo hizo, y ahora, todos sus esfuerzos han valido la pena.
El siguiente paso en su lista por-hacer, es volver al campo y poco a poco, ganarse su puesto en el equipo y después, la titularidad. La última vez que vimos a Gregory en el campo, fue contra Philadelphia, en el final de temporada del 2016.
En este juego, Gregory mostró muchos destellos de lo que sería capaz de hacer semana tras semana en la liga y porque valió la pena nunca dejarlo ir, lo cual no hubiera tenido sentido hacer, dado que los Cowboys no les costaba nada (literalmente) mantenerlo en el equipo.
Sean Martin escribió un artículo recientemente en el que analiza este partido a fondo.
El potencial de Gregory es inmenso, suficiente incluso, para aventurarse a decir que se convertirá en el defensive end (ala defensiva) derecho antes de lo esperado. El reto más grande para el jugador de 25 años será regresar a una condición física óptima para la NFL.
Afortunadamente, a diferencia del 2016, Gregory no estará regresando a media temporada. Su llegada toma lugar justo a tiempo para el training camp, dándole tiempo para regresar a la forma en la que tiene que estar.
Una vez ahí, ¿qué tanto le tomará ganarse un rol más importante que el de Tyrone Crawford y Taco Charlton? A pesar de que prácticamente no lo hemos visto jugar en Dallas, sabemos el potencial que tiene para convertirse en un defensivo de suma importancia para los Cowboys.
Un año después de ver la mejor temporada en la carrera de DeMarcus Lawrence, los Cowboys tendrán el potencial de una estrella similar en el lado derecho de su línea defensiva. Gregory tiene una montaña que escalar para cumplir las expectativas de los aficionados, pero no será una sorpresa si lo logra.
Vaya, no olvidemos que si no fuera por sus problemas fuera del campo, hubiera sido seleccionado en el Top 10 del Draft del 2015. Tiene el potencial de conseguir diez sacks por temporada.
Con un poco de suerte, no nos equivocaremos en tenerle fe al jugador que ha tenido un gran viaje para llegar a este punto. El punto de ponerse el casco e ir a trabajar con su equipo.
Incluso si sólo llega a ser un jugador de rotación, sin duda será importante para el éxito del equipo. Entre DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Randy Gregory y el resto del talento que los Cowboys tienen en la línea defensiva, el equipo podría tener un frente de muy buena calidad.
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