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5 Of Dallas’ Next 6 Games Pose A Real Challenge For The Cowboys

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Cowboys Headlines - Upcoming Schedule Poses Next Challenge for Dallas

Through four weeks of the season, the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of business. They sit at 3-1, capitalizing on a stretch of winnable games to start the season.

That's not to say the team hasn't impressed thus far. They can be considered one of the league's surprises through the first quarter of the season.

They continue to dominate up front offensively, boasting an elite rushing attack led by rookie sensation Ezekiel Elliott.

Dak Prescott continues to improve on a weekly basis, and most importantly, remains turnover free.

The moment has never seemed too big for either first-year player. But now things get tougher.

Five of the next six games for Dallas are against tough opponents. Luckily for Dallas, a tilt with the league-worst Cleveland Browns is thrown in the mix. We will learn much more about what this team is made of in the coming weeks.

Here are some thoughts about the team as they face their toughest stretch of games on the year.

Surviving Key Injuries/Suspensions

When I look at how the Cowboys are built, it is clear who the most important players are on this team. Outside of the obvious importance on the quarterback position, it can be argued that Dez Bryant and Tyron Smith are the next up in terms of importance for this team's success.

With injuries to key slot coverage corner Orlando Scandrick and left guard La'el Collins, it was a rather impressive victory this past Sunday, considering. Not to mention missing their two best pass rushers as well.

The fact Dallas has survived these injuries and suspensions, all while looking pretty good in the process, says a lot about the team.

I get Prescott is the main difference from the play of last year's quarterbacks, but this team clearly has a different aura about it.  The fact Dallas will get some of their key guys back in the coming weeks should provide a big boost as the schedule gets tougher.

Either way, their play with a depleted lineup last week was encouraging.

Pass Rush Must Improve

If Dallas wants to be for real and hang with some of the teams coming up on their schedule, the pass rush must improve now.

Getting DeMarcus Lawrence back next week will help the team, but this unit ranks towards the bottom of the league in sacks with six. This is the biggest question mark and scare for this team moving forward. Yes the team is 3-1, but the skill of opposing quarterback play on the schedule will rise in the coming weeks.

Facing off against some of the league's best quarterbacks in the coming weeks, some in their house, will be truly tough tests. Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger will shred Dallas if the pass rush does not improve.

When you look at some of the other upcoming match-ups too, Dallas has other good quarterbacks coming up that could perform well if not pressured by our front. Andy Dalton, Joe Flacco, and even Carson Wentz cannot be allowed to get comfortable in the pocket.

How Will Dallas Look If Forced Off-Script?

This one is an interesting one for me to analyze.

I love Dak Prescott. I appreciate and respect everything he has accomplished thus far this year. I get that he hasn't had to be the guy to carry the team, make the big plays down the field, and bring this team back out of huge deficits. So there is an unknown element there as to where he stands in that portion of his game.

But it will be intriguing to see how Dallas looks if their run game is taken away or if Prescott is forced to carry the team offensively. Yes, the team fell behind 14-0 on Sunday, but it was still early enough to stick with their game plan.

This will most likely present itself in the coming weeks against better teams and some potent offenses. Not saying Prescott can't do it, but this is the main thinking that goes into bringing a guy like Tony Romo back in for the front office.

You have to ask yourselves this...

If Dallas gets in a high-scoring game or falls behind, are they truly built to hang around in these types of games without Tony Romo at the helm?

Just some food for thought.

Do you think the Cowboys will continue to win games and surprise in the coming weeks -- weather the storm -- or fall victim to this tough stretch of games? Test number one starts this Sunday against Cincinnati.



Die hard Dallas Cowboys fan behind enemy lines here in New Jersey. CBS Sports employee and contributor for InsideTheStar.com.

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4 Comments
  • Kevin Black

    I believe they have a chance against Cincinnati due to the Bengals erratic behavior and not having Tyler Eifert available. Green Bay I think will take the Cowboys back behind the woodshed. Playing in GB for the first time for Dak and Zeke might be too much to overcome. Our lack of pass rush will really hurt against GB.

    • Justin Grohowski

      I also believe they have a good chance against Cincinnati this weekend. So does Vegas apparently. Eifert is out as you mentioned which helps. Gut feeling is that it is close either way. I could also see your other point becoming a factor if things get close late. Hard to predict stuff like that though.

      And I completely agree with Green Bay and even Pittsburgh for that matter. The Cowboys match up well with teams that are more defensive oriented. I’d rather have our elite offensive line go to battle with some of the league’s top defenses than put our underwhelming pass rush up against great quarterbacks like Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger. With the explosive offenses that both possess, those games are going to be hard to win, especially on the road.

      Bengals, Ravens, and Philadelphia all at home in this stretch though. Have to take 2 of those 3 at least.

      Thanks for reading, Kevin.

  • John Williams

    Green Bay will probably be the game that brings the hype train to a halt. Not that they will be bad, but when you lose a game it makes everyone question everything. I think they are good enough to beat Cincy, but it’s going to be a very tough matchup. Probably comes down to the wire.

    • http://gravatar.com/jgrohowski jgrohowski

      Completely agree John. I could see this game going either way. Cincinnati is definitely the most complete team Dallas has faced thus far.

      Green Bay/Pittsburgh scare me, especially on the road. With our pass rush, or lack there off, we just don’t match up well against potent passing offenses, even if our secondary has been playing well. Can’t give elite passers all day to throw. As I mentioned in my comment to Kevin above, I’d rather go up against a defensive oriented team rather than a team like Green Bay. At least then you know our strength (Offensive Line) would be going against their strength instead of getting our weakness (pass rush) exposed.

Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys OT La’el Collins Could Become Major Bargain

Jess Haynie

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La'el Collins

When you talk Cowboys offensive line, you always think of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin first. Right Tackle La'el Collins still has to prove he belongs in the same sentence with his elite teammates. If he does that in 2018, Collins could become one of the best bargains on the roster.

Making the move from left guard to right tackle last year, Collins improved with time and was playing his best football at the end of the year. This was despite ongoing back issues that had him on the injury report most weeks.

La'el started all 16 games at right tackle and did enough that the Cowboys committed to keeping him there in 2018, even despite a big hole back at left guard. They are hoping consistency and stability will allow Collins to really blossom this season, building on the strong progress shown last year.

For 2018, Collins has a $5.76 million cap hit. According to Spotrac, that makes him the 13th-most expensive right tackle in the NFL this year.

That middle-of-the-pack expense is consistent with where La'el currently rates among NFL right tackles. Bleacher Report ranked Collins as the 16th-best RT in football last year.

But that ranking was based on the season as a whole. If La'el plays all of 2018 the way he was playing towards the end of last year, he will have emerged as one of the better right tackles in the game.

La'el Collins' Position Flex Could Come in Handy for Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys OT La'el Collins

If Collins develops as we hope, that salary suddenly becomes a major bargain. The most expensive right tackles in the NFL are making $7-$9 million this season.

But this can go a couple of ways. With his 2019 cap hit rising to $7.9 million, La'el needs to next step forward.

If Collins were to struggle this year, it could make him a potential cap casualty next offseason. Dallas can save $6.5 million in cap space if Collins is released or traded in 2019.

Dallas could elect to give Connor Williams, their second-round pick this year, a look at right tackle next season. It's the position he played in college.

They could also consider veteran backup Cameron Fleming, who will still be just 26-year-old. Fleming has two Super Bowl rings and several starts, including in the postseason, from his time with the Patriots.

While we think of La'el Collins as a first-round talent, it's important to remember that he was ultimately an undrafted free agent. Dallas did not have to invest anything to acquire him, and ultimately that makes it easier to let him go.

Naturally, we prefer the other side of this coin. If Collins builds on 2017, he will join the upper echelon of right tackles in the league. And if the Cowboys' offensive line isn't already the best in the NFL, that would only cement them as the best unit in football.

If La'el makes the leap, it could mean huge things for the Cowboys' offense and team success this year.



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Dallas Cowboys

How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Randy Gregory Withdraws Suspension Appeal, Cannot Return Until Week 15

Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.

Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.

Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.

You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.

Randy Gregory

Dallas Cowboys DE Randy Gregory

What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.

Or does it?

Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.

As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.

Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.



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Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de Earl Thomas, la NFL Sigue Equivocándose
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.

In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond

It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.

Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.

Considering an Earl Thomas Extension, Age is just a Number

The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.

Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond 1

Click image to view at full size.

The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.

Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.

Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time.  I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.

Back to the chart.

Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.

So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.

Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.

When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.

At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.

If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.

Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III." 

Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!



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