Every year around the end of a season in any sport you can think of, a debate rages on regarding that particular league's MVP award. Some believe it should go to the best player on the best team. Other's take the, "if you remove (a certain player) from their team, what would the team look like?" route. And others still, argue that it should go to the best player in a given league. When we talk about team sports, it's nearly impossible to have a clear definition of what "Most Valuable Player" means. In the NFL, where 46 guys can have an impact on a given week and 53 or more make contributions throughout the season, that discussion becomes even more difficult. Then you take a team like the Dallas Cowboys who have talent at all of the premium positions and then the discussion becomes even more convoluted.
On Tuesday, Jean-Jacques Taylor of 103.3 ESPN, threw out his 5 most important Dallas Cowboys. Important is certainly subjective, but his list is a good one and certainly creates debate.
5 most IMPORTANT Cowboys: Dak, Tank, Zeke, Amari and LVE. Yours?
I'd argue that his list is a bit flawed in that it doesn't include the second most important position for any team, offensive tackle. But instead of ripping apart his list, I'll give you my own.
1. Dak Prescott, Quarterback
The starting quarterback to any team is generally the most important player determining success in the NFL. You can win games despite having good play at the position, but sustained success is very difficult in the NFL without good quarterback play. Teams that want to contend in the modern NFL have to have a player at the quarterback position that can make plays in the passing game.
Dak Prescott isn't a perfect quarterback and not even a top 10 quarterback, but he's a player that makes plays in the passing game and keeps his team in a position to win the game ar more often than he hasn't. Sure he's had some clunker games, but he's had some great games as well. His ability in the running game pretty much helped the Dallas Cowboys seal the win over the Seattle Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the playoffs.
For 2019, a lot of what will determine the Dallas Cowboys success will be the play of Dak Prescott. If he's able to recreate the back half of 2018, after Amari Cooper arrived, then the Cowboys will have a lot of success despite the appearance of a difficult schedule.
John Williams from InsideTheStar.com takes you Inside the Quarterback room to breakdown the Dallas Cowboys signal callers heading into 2019.
2. Tyron Smith, Left Tackle
Though he's struggled with back issues each of the last three seasons, Tyron Smith is still one of the best players in the NFL regardless of position. You only have to look at how the Dallas Cowboys have performed without Smith manning the left side to see how valuable he is, in particular in 2017.
The 2017 season was derailed in the Atlanta Falcons game when the Cowboys had to play Chaz Green at left tackle for the injured Smith. By now, we know what happened that night. The Dallas Cowboys allowed Dak Prescott to be sacked eight times by rather no-name defensive players because Chaz Green and Byron Bell couldn't hold up on that side of the field.
In Smith's three game absence that season, the Dallas Cowboys averaged only seven points per game. In the other 13 games, the Cowboys averaged 25.5 points per game. That's a tremendous difference. Many people would like you to believe that Ezekiel Elliott's suspension was the reason the Cowboys suffered in 2017. In games with Elliott, the Cowboys averaged
3. Amari Cooper, Wide Receiver
Whether you want to take a statistical look at the impact Amari Cooper had once arrived in Dallas or look at the game film, you can't deny that the Dallas Cowboys offense looked radically more explosive after his arrival.
Cooper's elite ability to get open quickly and make plays after the catch, combined with his size as well as his reputation, provided an element that had been missing since Dez Bryant was still doing Dez Bryant things in 2016.
Though he struggled at the end of his time in Oakland, a change of scenery showed why he was so highly regarded coming out of Alabama and why the Dallas Cowboys were willing to give up a first-round draft pick for Cooper's services.
After Amari Cooper arrived, Dak Prescott went from a passer rating of 87.4 in the seven games of the season to a passer rating of 103 in the nine games after Cooper came on board. Prescott saw his pass yardage per game jump from 202 yards per game to 274. Even if you take out the 455 yard game against the Philadelphia Eagles and the 387 yard game against the New York Giants in the regular-season finale, Prescott still averaged 232 yards per game over the other seven games. Still, that's a significant jump from 202 yards per game in the first half of the season.
Amari Cooper's impact goes beyond Dak Prescott though. Ezekiel Elliott went from 88.4 rushing yards per game to 101 yards per game after Cooper arrived. His yards per carry and yards per reception both went up over the second half of the season.
Much of how we expect the offense to go in 2019 will depend on the Dak to Amari connection being as explosive as it was in 2019. With Cooper's ability and the rapport already established, there's a reason for optimism that this offense can go to the next level.
4. DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
There's a reason you're seeing the top edge players in the league now being paid as the second most important position in the NFL behind the quarterback position. Because creating pressure in the passing game is such an elusive trait that every team is looking for it. It's why the Chicago Bears sent a huge package to the Oakland Raiders for premier pass rusher Khalil Mack. Believe it or not, DeMarcus Lawrence fits right into that discussion with as one of the top edge players in the NFL.
Lawrence's ability to play the run and pass to an equally elite level makes him one of the best defensive linemen in the NFL. Per Daniel Houston of WFAA, and @CowboysStats on Twitter, the only defensive lineman who was more productive according to playmaking EPA (expected points added) was Los Angeles Rams Defensive Tackle Aaron Donald.
Sure, Khalil Mack and Von Miller may be more productive players when it comes to sacks, but nobody, other than Aaron Donald plays the run and creates pressure to as great of an extent as DeMarcus Lawrence.
His impact on defense is similar to that of Amari Cooper on offense. When Lawrence is in the game, he opens everything up for the rest of the defense. Opposing offenses are sending double teams and give their tackles help with running backs and tight ends to combat Lawrence. That opens up opportunities for the rest of the defensive line. Randy Gregory is a good, ascending player, but does he record six sacks if Lawrence isn't taking some of the attention? Do the linebackers have as much effectiveness without Lawrence setting the edge on the left side of the defensive line? The answer is probably not.
He's an insanely disruptive player, who's still in his prime and a huge reason for the Dallas Cowboys success on defense over the last couple of seasons. Even after getting paid, you don't have to worry about Lawrence experiencing a drop off in production. He's a player that brings so much intensity to the playing field that you'll never see a drop off in effort. His leadership and that intensity helped propel the Dallas Cowboys to their biggest win of the regular season last year against the New Orleans Saints.
It's wildly important that he's healthy for the Dallas Cowboys in 2019. If he's unable to start the season on the active roster, it will certainly hurt the Dallas Cowboys chances of repeating as NFC East champions.
5. Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
Another player who's become an emotional and on-field leader for the Dallas Cowboys is Linebacker Jaylon Smith. Even for the most optimistic of Cowboys fans, there was always a little bit of doubt that Jaylon Smith would return to his All-American form that he displayed out of Notre Dame.
In 2017, that doubt grew into concern when Smith did take the field and looked to struggle with lateral movement. While those outside of The Star may have had doubts, Jaylon never lost faith that he would make a significant impact in the NFL.
Not only did Jaylon Smith make an emotional impact as an on-field leader for the Dallas Cowboys, his impact, though largely unnoticed, might have been bigger than fellow Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch.
As you can see from the graphic above, Jaylon Smith was far more disruptive than Leighton Vander Esch when it comes to playmaking EPA. Here's an excellent definition of playmaking EPA, again from Daniel Houston.
"Playmaking EPA measures the expected points added on all sacks, quarterback hits, tipped passes, interceptions, fumbles forced or recovered, tackles, etc., that resulted in a failed play for the opposing offense.
Playmaking EPA doesn’t care as much if you make a large number of routine tackles for four or five yards allowed. Instead, it rewards you for making game-changing plays that substantially reduce your opponent’s odds of scoring next—such as a tackle that stops the opponent on third-and-short, for instance."
Daniel Houston - WFAA.com
Traditional statistics liked Leighton Vander Esch's 2019 more, but more advanced analytics liked Jaylon Smith more. Combine that with the leadership he brings to the table, his ability to rush the passer, and the physicality with which he plays and to me, he's a more important player to the Dallas Cowboys success than Leighton Vander Esch.
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A lot of people would probably have Ezekiel Elliott in their top five. He's an important player for me, but not quite there. He'd probably rank six or seven if I extended this list. I'm not a "running backs don't matter" guy like some are, but I do believe the value of running backs is diminishing and not as important to team success as the guys listed above.
If the Cowboys for some reason didn't have Elliott, I think they could get productive games out of the running back position from a combination of Tony Pollard, Mike Weber, and Jamize Olawale. They wouldn't be as productive as Elliott, but they don't need to be.
Elliott's a great player and I would like to see the Dallas Cowboys work out a contract extension with him this offseason to keep him around through his prime years, but as we inch closer to training camp, it doesn't look like that's going to happen.
Who are your 5 Most Important Dallas Cowboys for the 2019 Season?
Jason Garrett Reminds Everyone That Kellen Moore Calls the Plays
There's a lot of blame game being played around the Dallas Cowboys right now after a demoralizing home loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Even the head coach seems to be getting in on the act as Jason Garrett went out of character and got unusually specific in explaining Kellen Moore's responsibility for play-calling.
Garrett is not known for calling people out. In fact, many fans have criticized him for not being more critical of his players. He tends to speak in vague, nebulous terms when it comes to discussing the Cowboys' weaknesses or failings after a loss.
But in a radio appearance this morning, Garrett didn't mince words on who was deciding the plays during the Cowboys' final drive.
Jason Garrett on @1053thefan on the two run plays late: "Kellen's calling the game. In that situation it's 2nd and 2. He felt like he had a good opportunity against a favorable box to run the ball in those situations. On each of those plays we had options beyond just the run.
Jason did try to excuse his offensive coordinator's decisions with some context, but he also made sure to clarify who was responsible for those calls. It was not very Garrett-like, and it may speak to his own growing frustration and concern over his future.
Garrett is on the final year of his contract and the Cowboys' front office has made it clear that any extension depends on the results of the 2019 season. With Dallas now dropping to 5-4 and only leading the division by a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Philadelphia Eagles, the future is increasingly unclear.
Jason Garrett famously uses "we" and "us" terms when talking about the negatives, not wanting to assign blame to any particular player or person when things aren't going well. That he strayed from this well-established behavior today may be an anomaly, but it shouldn't be ignored.
With a tough second-half stretch coming in this 2019 schedule, Garrett may be starting to feel like a dead man walking. We'll see in the coming weeks if this leads to anymore shifts in his usual demeanor with the media.
Dallas Cowboys Good, Bad, and Ugly from Week 10 Against Vikings
Well Cowboys Nation, the Dallas Cowboys let yet another winnable game slip to their grasp Sunday night after the devastating 28-24 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. By my count, that's three out of four games the Cowboys probably should have won this season. But, probably… maybe… and should have don't mean diddly squat in the NFL.
I'm not going to beat around the bush today because I would likely end up going into a long winded rant about what took place last night. So, let's go ahead and jump right into this week's edition of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. As always, please feel free to use the comment section to voice your opinions and thoughts on the subject.
Unlike in weeks past, I had absolutely no problem deciding what to go with this week for this category from the Dallas Cowboys Week 10 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings. I don't think anyone would argue that the good had to be Quarterback Dak Prescott's play and the Cowboys overall passing game. This unit was the sole reason they had a chance to win at the end.
Prescott was simply phenomenal Sunday night. He threw for 397 yards, three touchdowns, and only one interception. He was on point last night and was dropping dimes all over the place. It's one of the reasons why both Amari Cooper (147 yards, 1 TD) and Randall Cobb (106, 1 TD) both went over the 100 yard mark in receiving, and Michael Gallup wasn't too far behind (76 yards, 1 TD). All in all it's an MVP caliber performance from No. 4, but unfortunately it wasn't enough to seal the victory.
I thought and thought about what I wanted to go with in this category and I'll have to admit, I had a hard time deciding. There were individual players who deserved a nomination here, but in the end I think the bad for the Dallas Cowboys was them getting off to yet another slow start against the Minnesota Vikings. Unfortunately, it's been a trend for them this season.
It all started when Jason Garrett decided to send out Kicker Brett Maher to attempt an ill-advised 57 yard field goal. Maher is capable of making such kicks, but there's a time and place to use that kind of weapon. Last night on the opening drive of the game was not one of those times. After the missed FG, the Vikings had excellent field position and scored a quick TD. Not long after they scored another TD to go up 14-0 after another stalled drive by the Cowboys offense. It's a hole they were never quite able to dig themselves out of.
Deciding what to go with here in this category was pretty easy after narrowing down what I wanted to put in the bad category. I think the ugly for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night against the Minnesota Vikings was their defensive play. In all honesty, it was absolutely sickening to watch the Vikings have their way with the Cowboys defense. Dallas has far too much talent on that side of the ball to be manhandled like they were.
The tackling was atrocious and so was the execution. I'm pretty sure the game plan was to neutralize Dalvin Cook the way they did Saquon Barkley in Week 9, but the league's leading rusher (Cook) would have none of that. He pretty much did what he wanted. He ran through arm tackles and had room to run, whether it was as a rusher or receiver. It looked a lot like what Green Bay Packers RB Aaron Jones did to the Cowboys in Week 5. It was completely inexcusable and unacceptable!
What is your good, bad, and ugly from the Dallas Cowboys Week 10 matchup?
Randall Cobb has Breakout Game in Tough Loss vs Vikings
When NFL free agency began this past March the Dallas Cowboys spent the month making several additions to their roster. Veterans George Iloka (only one not currently on the roster), Kerry Hyder, Christian Covington, and Robert Quinn were added to help on the defensive side of the ball.
Offensively, there was a huge hole to fill when Wide Receiver Cole Beasley signed a four-year 29 million dollar deal to play for the Buffalo Bills. The Cowboys would then sign Randall Cobb about a week later to a one-year deal. The seasoned pro was brought in as an upgrade over Beasley in the slot to compliment Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Also, with his unique ability to play on the outside as well, it would allow Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore to present different looks for opposing defenses.
In his first seven games of the season, Cobb struggled to find his place within this offense. He produced 25 receptions for 274 yards, with his lone touchdown coming in the season opener vs the New York Giants. He had four or fewer receptions five times and his most productive game only produced 69 yards. However, last night against the Minnesota Vikings was a glimpse of how productive Cobb can be in this system.
Cobb finished with six receptions for 106 yards Sunday night. This was his first 100-yard game since Week 1 in 2018. Four of his catches went for 20 yards or more, five went for first downs and he scored his second touchdown of the season. Dak Prescott showed supreme confidence in looking for Cobb on crucial third-down situations.
That's exactly what Cobb can do for this offense. He provides another reliable threat in the Cowboys aerial assault. When Cobb plays at a high level it will only free up Cooper and Gallup to wreak havoc on the outside.
Last night's game was a perfect example of this. Cooper had 11 receptions for 147 yards and Gallup added four catches for 76 yards, each scoring touchdowns. It doesn't allow a defense to lock in on one receiver and take them completely out of the game.
Cobb playing well also has an impact on the running game. The better he plays the more defenses will have to focus on stopping himself, Cooper, and Gallup. What does that do? The Cowboys won't face as many eight or nine-man fronts which will give All-Pro Ezekiel Elliott the opportunity to wear down opposing defenses by playing ball control, which is the Cowboys bread and butter.
Hopefully, this is a sign of things to come from Cobb as the playoff push heats up. If he can continue to build chemistry with Prescott it will only improve one of the NFL's best passing offenses while simultaneously increasing Elliott's ability to be effective by taking extra defenders away from the box. Will Cobb make this a regular occurrence for the rest of the season? Only time will tell.
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