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5 Matchups Cowboys Must Win For A Victory Over Cardinals

Brian Martin

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5 Key Matchups For Cowboys To Ensure Victory Against Cardinals

After the shellacking the Dallas Cowboys took from the Denver Broncos last week, they look to get back on track against the Arizona Cardinals Monday night. This will be their second road game of the 2017 season, but home or away, this Cowboys team has to be at their best in order to put another W in the win column.

The Arizona Cardinals might not be as talented overall as the first two teams they've faced this season, but they do have some players that could give the Cowboys some problems. I put together a list of five matchups I think the Cowboys must win in order to ensure a victory over the Cardinals Monday night. Continue to read below to see which matchups I believe are the key to a victory.

Dez Bryant vs. Patrick Peterson

Dez Bryant is arguably the best playmaker the Dallas Cowboys have on the offensive side of the ball. There has been a lot of talk lately that he is washed up and not as talented as he once was, but that is completely inaccurate. He may not be the focal point of the offense anymore, but that doesn't take away how important he truly is.

Bryant will draw the opposing defenses best cornerback ever week. He has already faced Pro Bowl CBs in the first two games of the season and will see another one in Patrick Peterson this week. This is a tough matchup again because Peterson is physical and can carry Bryant in coverage anywhere on the field.

Peterson of course won't have to do this alone, because the Cardinals defense will undoubtably role extra coverage Bryant's way every time he's on the field. Bryant just has to do enough in order to keep the Cardinals defense rolling extra coverage in his direction, because that will open up things for the rest of the Cowboys offense. But, Bryant simply can't allow Peterson to win the one-on-one matchup.

CB Jourdan Lewis

Mandatory Credit: Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys Secondary vs. Cardinals WRs

The Dallas Cowboys will be a little thin in their secondary tonight against the Arizona Cardinals. Both Nolan Carroll and Chidobe Awuzie will miss this contest due to injuries, which means some of the young defensive backs will have to step up.

Luckily, Orlando Scandrick will be back on the field, which provides more veteran experience against a talented group of Cardinals WRs. Scandrick can't do it alone though. Anthony Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and maybe even Xavier Woods will have to be on top of their games in order to keep the Cardinals WRs in check.

The Arizona Cardinals offense likes to push the ball down the field, so the Cowboys secondary will have to keep the plays in front of them and make sure tackles. This was a problem last week, but I'm sure defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has emphasized this week how important tackling is. This matchup just might be the most important for the Cowboys.

DE D Marcus Lawrence

Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

DeMarcus Lawrence vs. John Wetzel

Dallas Cowboys defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence has been simply outstanding the first two weeks of the 2017 season. He has pretty much dominated any offensive lineman he has gone up against and should continue that impressive streak this week against the Arizona Cardinals backup left tackle John Wetzel.

Wetzel will be filling in as an injury replacement and as a former practice squad member of the Dallas Cowboys, should know what he's up against. Unfortunately, that works both ways. Lawrence should know all too well Wetzel's strengths and weaknesses and how best to win the match up. I'm expecting Lawrence to have another good game getting after the QB and you can bet Carson Palmer is paying extra close attention to where he is lined up every play.

RT La'el Collins

RT La'el Collins

La'el Collins vs. Chandler Jones

The Dallas Cowboys absolutely have to win the battle of the trenches against the Cardinals tonight. The Denver Broncos were able to beat them at their own game and control the line of scrimmage last week. That can't happen this week and La'el Collins might just be the key to the entire offensive lines performance.

The Arizona Cardinals have a talented defensive line, but I believe that it will be Chandler Jones who might just be the most impactful. I think Jones and Collins will square off against one another the majority of the game and this is a battle Collins has to win. Luckily, Collins has performed above expectations and has already proven himself against some of the best pass rushers in the NFL.

It may be unfair to single out Collins, because I believe the entire offensive line needs to up their game after last week's performance. But, I believe the Collins and Jones matchup will go a long ways in determining how the Cowboys come out in the battle of the trenches. If the Cowboys can win that battle, it will open up the passing and running game, making things that much more difficult for the Cardinals defense.

Scott Linehan

Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan

OC Scott Linehan vs. DC James Bettcher

It's no secret that I've been extremely hard on Scott Linehan in the past. I think he was largely responsible for how the Dallas Cowboys offense performed last week against the Denver Broncos defense, which is why I think he has to do better this week.

Offensive coordinators against defensive coordinators is always a chess match. You have to anticipate what the other is going to do and come up with the right counterattack move. Linehan was unable to do that against the Broncos, but the Cardinals defense doesn't have the same kind of talent on that side of the ball as Denver did.

Linehan has to do much better job of getting Dak Prescott settled down early, because he has been a little inaccurate to start the first two games of the season. He also has to find ways to get the ball in the hands of his best playmakers, Dez Bryant and Ezekiel Elliott. When they are involved early in the game, it helps the entire offense and puts the opposing defense on their heels.

What are your key matchups for the Cowboys against the Cardinals?



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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Dallas Cowboys

History Suggests a Contract Extension for Ezekiel Elliott is a Crapshoot

Brian Martin

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Contract Extension With Ezekiel Elliott a Crapshoot at Best

If rumors are true, Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon could be following in the footsteps of Le'Veon Bell by threatening to hold out not only training camp, but the 2019 season if they're not rewarded with contract extensions from their respective teams. It's a bold strategy, especially considering the history of long-term extensions previously given to running backs.

Contract extensions for running backs is always a controversial topic. It's not only one of the easier positions to replace, but the shelf life for a NFL RB is a short one due to the physical nature of the position. Players bodies break down quicker, meaning their lifespan in the league on average is between just 3 to 5 years.

For the most part, the market value for running backs around the league would suggest the position isn't one teams like to invest a lot of resources in. Although, there was an uptick in the market last year when Todd Gurley signed a four-year deal worth $14.375 million a year and then David Johnson signed for three years worth $13 million a season. Those two contracts could be the starting point for Ezekiel Elliott.

Ezekiel Elliott's camp knows all of this and so do the Dallas Cowboys. But, handing out upwards of $14 million to a position that has such a short shelf life in the league is a crapshoot at best, even to a player as talented as Zeke. History hasn't been kind to running backs who receive a long-term extension. In fact, it's really hard to put a finger on one single RB who has lived up to their contract extension.

Ezekiel Elliott, Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley

RBs Ezekiel Elliott, Le'Veon Bell, Todd Gurley

Take Todd Gurley and David Johnson for instance. Gurley already has long-term concerns about his health, and Johnson missed nearly all of the 2018 season due to an injury. Both players are currently the top paid at the position right now, but they're not the only examples of why the Cowboys should be cautious offering Zeke a contract extension.

The RB tier below Todd Gurley and David Johnson are making around $8 million a year after receiving a contract extension. Unfortunately, the results are about the same. Devonta Freeman ($8.25 M) and Jerick McKinnon ($7.5 M) missed nearly all of the 2018 season due to injuries after being rewarded with long-term deals. Only LeSean McCoy ($8.01 M) has come close to living up to his deal, but even he has struggled off-and-on with injuries.

Need more convincing?

Let's take this back a little bit further. Chris Johnson, Johnathan Stewart, DeMarco Murray, DeAngelo Williams, Ray Rice… I can go on and on. Even players such as Arian Foster who remained productive after receiving an extension struggled with injuries. If you haven't yet, you may start to see a trend here.

Now, I'm not saying the Dallas Cowboys shouldn't extend Ezekiel Elliott. Personally I'm on the fence about it and would be fine with them going either direction. But, they absolutely have to be cautious with the way they handled this. History is a good indicator they may not get the same kind of production from Zeke as they have previously.

Do you think the Cowboys should give Ezekiel Elliott a contract extension?



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Linebacker

Jess Haynie

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Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith

The linebacker position went from liability to luxury in 2018, thanks largely to the emergence of a pair of dynamic young talents. Now seen as one of the strengths of the Dallas Cowboys' defense, what questions remain for the linebackers as we await the start of the 2019 training camp?

Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are the nucleus now at linebacker, if not the the Cowboys' defense as a whole. The days of worrying if Sean Lee can stay healthy are over; we now have two players capable of elite play and the versatility to handle multiple spots.

Lee isn't gone; the longtime defensive captain accepted a pay cut and a lesser role to stay in Dallas this year. He is still expected to start in the base defense, moving to the strong-side LB role that Damien Wilson vacated.

Indeed, the top-three linebackers for 2019 are easy to project. Jaylon and Leighton are the new leaders and Sean will get as much playing time as his body can handle.

This year, which is unusual for reserve players, the second team is almost just as predictable.

Here's the projected Linebacker Depth Chart for the 2019 training camp:

  1. Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee
  2. Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Chris Covington
  3. Kyle Queiro, Andrew Dowell, Luke Gifford, Nate Hall

There may not be a position on offense or defense with less x-factors than linebacker. Almost just as likely as the starters, Joe Thomas, Justin-March Lillard, and Chris Covington should have the second-team spots locked down.

Joe Thomas, Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys LB Joe Thomas

Thomas is especially valuable, having the skills to step into a larger role if Sean Lee suffers from age or injury. If Lee were to go down, we might see Jaylon Smith move into the SAM spot and Thomas playing as WILL in the base defense.

Dallas re-signed Justin March-Lillard this offseason. He played in all 16 games last year as a backup and special teamer, and his experience will make him hard to oust.

Chris Covington was a 6th-round pick last year and has the body to play SAM but also experience at other spots in college. Dallas would love to see him grow into a larger role the way other recent 6th-rounders like Anthony Brown and Xavier Woods have.

One potential challenger could be Jalen Jelks, the 7th-round defensive end that Dallas just drafted last April. Jelks has the body and athleticism to play a hybrid LB/DE role, and could challenge as the backup SAM. We don't know if the Cowboys will give Jelks a chance at LB, but it may be the only way to keep him on the 53 given all the talent at defensive end.

It will be hard for any of the remaining LB prospects to work their way onto the roster. The top six have experience and upside that undrafted rookies will need to be exceptionally good to overcome. Only Kyle Queiro, who was on the practice squad last year, brings a little NFL experience to the table.

Of course, unexpected things can happen. The talent margin between late-round picks and undrafted guys can be slim; who knows if one of these prospects pushes March-Lillard or Covington out of the way?

But barring a surprise, we already have a good idea who the Cowboys' six linebackers will be in 2019. Will this year's training camp solidify that projection, or will we get some new evidence to consider?

~ ~ ~

OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS



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Tony Romo: Cowboys TE Jason Witten Will “Pick Up Right Where He Left Off”

John Williams

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Did a Year Away Help Rejuvenate TE Jason Witten's Game?

There's no denying that the future holds a gold jacket for Dallas Cowboys Tight End Jason Witten. With everything he's done in his career, he'll go down as one of the three best tight ends in the history of the NFL when he finally hangs up his number 82 for good.

Most of the questions that have come surrounding the offense have focused on the tight end position this offseason. Even prior to Jason Witten announcing his return from the broadcast booth at ESPN to the NFL, tight end was one of the areas that was considered a draft need by most analysts. Since coming back, the questions may have altered, but they're there all the same. Now, we're wondering how much Jason Witten will play? Will Blake Jarwin and/or Dalton Schultz see significant playing time in the offense? Will Jason Witten be able to return to his pre-retirement form?

It's that last question that was answered pretty directly by Witten's former quarterback and NFL on CBS Analyst Tony Romo when he was on with Ben and Skin of 105.3 The Fan. In the way that only Tony Romo can, he illustrated what exactly will allow Jason Witten to return to the game without missing a beat.

"He'll pick up right where he left off. I don't think it's a big challenge for Jason  (Witten). The reality of it is as long as, if you know the game the way he does, there are certain positions -- he plays one of them at tight end -- he's always going to have the nuance to get open. Let's say he runs the exact same he always did, to me , it's just that at that position, your ability to use leverage against somebody, make you think this and then do that. It's like the back pick in basketball. Just all of a sudden it gets you and you didn't even know it was coming and that guy is wide open. He's very intelligent with the game of football. I think he's going to pick up right from when he retired. I think you're going to see the same guy."

Tony Romo on 105.3 The Fan via Jon Machota of SportsDay DFW

Jason Witten has been one of the best route-running tight ends in the NFL during his time with the Dallas Cowboys. He's always been able to win with his intelligence and route running despite not ever being the quickest or most athletic tight end in the NFL.

Because of Jason Witten's knowledge and feel for the game, it's easy to see why a player like that could walk back into the NFL after taking a year off and remain a productive player for the Dallas Cowboys. It's why they didn't hesitate to bring him back in the offseason. Though it's been relayed that he'll have a somewhat reduced role, he'll be the starting tight end week one against the New York Giants.

While it's uncertain exactly how much Jason Witten can play, you know that he'll be available to play. Prior to his retirement, Witten played in 235 straight regular-season games. Not only is Witten's availability great to have, but so is his ability to win on third down and in the red zone. It will be a welcomed addition to a Dallas Cowboys offense that struggled in both of those areas in 2018.

In 2018, they were 10th in third-down conversion percentage in the NFL at 41.4%. That's down from ranking fifth in the NFL in 2017 at 42.9%. 1.5% may not seem like a huge difference, but that's two to three more first downs on the season. Being able to convert on third downs increases your chances of scoring. Scoring more helps you win.

They were 29th in red-zone scoring rate at 48% in 2018. The only teams in the NFL that were worse than the Dallas Cowboys were the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Francisco 49ers. Only one other team in the bottom 10 in the league in red-zone scoring rate made the playoffs; the Houston Texans. In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys were sixth in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage at 59.6% and that was without Ezekiel Elliott for six games and without Tyron Smith for three games.

Having Jason Witten's ability to get open in confined spaces will help everyone on the offense. Even after having a year off, Witten is a player that will have to be accounted for in those high-leverage situations.

There isn't a person in the world that knows Jason Witten the football player better than Tony Romo does. Their careers have been so intertwined that it's hard to think of one without thinking of the other. It's why one day when they're inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, that it would be fitting for it to happen together.

If, as Romo believes, Jason Witten can pick up right where he left off, his veteran presence, leadership, and on-field ability are going to be a huge asset for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations in 2019. For the Cowboys to reach the Super Bowl and win their sixth Lombardi Trophy, they're going to need "Gold Jacket" Witten to return to his pre-retirement form.

And if Tony Romo believes he will, there's no reason to doubt Jason Witten. Do so at your own peril.



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