Recently USA Today released its predictions for the 2017 NFL season. A lot of it seemed reasonable, though there were a ton of teams with 10 wins or more, including your Dallas Cowboys at 12-4.
Here's the summary of their Dallas Cowboys prediction.
"Dallas Cowboys (11-5): The league should be ready for Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott — assuming he isn't suspended — this time around; that celebrated O-line is breaking in two new starters; and the defense could be a hot mess. Still, there's no denying this club's offensive firepower. The Cowboys play four of their five November games at home, a good point to make a move in the standings."
There are some things I disagree with here, but that is another discussion for another time. However, that seems a reasonable expectation for America's Team.
One surprising prediction was where they put the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots.
Many, including Las Vegas, have the Pats as the favorite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy for Tom Brady's record-breaking 6th time. It's a bold prediction, considering only two teams have ever gone undefeated in the regular season. The 2007 Patriots and the 1972 Miami Dolphins.
Their prediction got me thinking, what would it take for your Dallas Cowboys to run the table in 2017.
Now you might be saying, the Dallas Cowboys are nowhere near what the '72 Dolphins or '07 Patriots were, but you might be overlooking one thing.
The Cowboys offense will be a juggernaut in 2017.
Like the Patriots and the Dolphins before them, the Dallas Cowboys will be extremely difficult to slow down, let alone stop on offense.
Here are six things that need to happen for the Dallas Cowboys to go 16-0.
1. Dak Prescott Makes Elite Leap
What occurred in 2016 with Dak Prescott was extraordinary. His season was one of the best two or three rookie seasons of all-time. Even among all NFL quarterbacks, his first season as a pro stands out as a great season.
He was great in 2016, but if the Cowboys want to win every game this season, then Dak Prescott needs to join the elite ranks of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Drew Brees.
The offense is one of the best in the league already and were nearly unstoppable in 2016. If Dak and the Cowboys can get off to fast starts against teams and give the defense and running game a lead early, there is no reason they can't become an elite offense.
2. Defensive End Becomes Elite Pass Rusher
A lot of the 2017 season will hinge on the offense continuing to get better and better, but the defense also needs to make improvements.
As a team, they were about average at rushing the passer. Where they were really good was in the fourth quarter when the team had a lead. The problem last season was consistency. We never knew where the pressure was going to come from, or who would come up with the big sack.
Maliek Collins appears to be the elite 3-technique tackle that the team has been looking for. Now they just need to find that defensive end that can take a game over.
Dominant defenses have at least one guy who can consistently get pressure or at the very least command the attention of the offense.
DeMarcus Lawrence is in a contract year. All the tools and skills are there, it's time to put it together. All he needs is a little luck on the injury side of things. 2017 may be the year of his breakout.
3. Byron Jones Becomes a Turnover Machine
On the great defenses of the past decade plus, players like Ed Reed for Baltimore, Troy Polamalu for Pittsburgh, John Lynch and Ronde Barber for Tampa Bay, there were guys who could create turnovers.
Dallas has lacked a guy who can consistently intercept the ball.
Byron Jones has the athletic ability and football awareness to be a five interception a season guy, but has yet to put it together. Already adept at deflecting passes away, Jones is working on tracking the ball in the air this offseason.
His work with the Frisco Roughriders seems to have paid off. It's been reported that he's been creating turnovers and being a force in the secondary in the early part of training camp.
While the defense hasn't had their pass rushing sack artist, they've made do with a bunch of guys being able to create pressure.
The one thing they haven't been able to find is the guy who consistently creates turnovers.
In 2017, expect Byron Jones to be that guy.
4. Dez Bryant Plays 16 Games
In the second half of last season, Dak Prescott and Dez Bryant displayed great chemistry.
After starting off the season a bit slow, then being injured, Dez came back with a fury in the last 10 games he played.
If we project the last ten games of the season over 16 games (not counting week 17, where he played one series), Bryant would have had 76.8 receptions, 1,244.8 yards, and 14.4 touchdowns.
Those are dominant numbers for a receiver in a run first offense. If Dez plays 16 games, and there's no reason to believe he won't, look for him to produce similar numbers to his All-Pro 2014 season.
5. Clear Eye View
If the early returns from training camp are any indication, the Dallas Cowboys have found their Brian Urlacher.
Since making the move to the 4-3 under Monte Kiffin a few years ago, all eyes have been focused on the health of Sean Lee at the all important weak side linebacker spot.
The middle linebacker spot is just as important. For years it's been average to good play at MLB, but with Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys have finally found that fearsome MLB that 4-3 teams crave.
If the 2006 Chicago Bears are any indication, having an All-Pro middle linebacker like Urlacher next to Lance Briggs (at WLB) is monumental. That tandem helped carry the Bears to a Super Bowl appearance with Rex Grossman at quarterback.
Smith is already showing the range and play-making ability that made him an All-American at Notre Dame. He has the talent, awareness, and even with only part of a nerve is looking explosive.
It's only a matter of when with Jaylon at this point. All indications are making week one more and more likely.
Dallas is on the verge of having several playmakers at all three levels of the defense. Smith and Lee would form one of the most dynamic and dangerous 4-3 linebacker tandems in the NFL.
6. Dominant Offense Ready to Roll
Like the dominant Patriots offense of 2007, the Dallas Cowboys have the makings of a deep and dominant offense.
Starting with Dez Bryant, then Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Brice Butler, Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown or Andy Jones make this wide receiver group one of the deepest and most versatile groups in the league.
The tight end group can perform as well. Jason Witten, though is getting aged, can still be a reliable weapon in the short to intermediate passing game.
James Hanna and Geoff Swaim are under the radar guys who can make a play through the air when called upon. If Rico Gathers is making the progress that it seems he's making (we'll know more during the preseason games), then he may be ready to contribute in some two and three tight end formations.
This doesn't even begin to mention the pass catching abilities of Ezekiel Elliott and Darren McFadden, who can both hurt you in the passing game.
They have more than 10 guys on offense that can hurt you in the passing game. If for some reason you are able to cover everyone and take away all of Dak Prescott's options, which is unlikely, he has the athletic ability and awareness to make you pay with his legs.
We all know the dominance that the run game brings Ezekiel Elliott behind their All-Pro offensive line. They were difficult to stop last year and will be incredibly difficult to slow this year.
If you focus on the run, Prescott has shown he can win through the air. If you play coverage, you're going to get gashed by Elliott and the offensive line.
The offense is poised to be elite in 2017. They have too many weapons to slow down, let alone stop.
There isn't a weakness on the Dallas Cowboys offense. If Byron Jones, DeMarcus Lawrence, and Jaylon Smith can play at a high level in 2017, there won't be many weaknesses on the defense, making 16-0 a real possibility.
Are the Dallas Cowboys Distancing Themselves from HC Jason Garrett?
Training camp is always an exciting time for the Dallas Cowboys, with 2018's proceedings being no exception. A major difference this year is the hype carrying over to the Cowboys coaching staff, featuring newcomers at the positional level everywhere but running back, safety, and defensive tackle.
Experienced coaches like Kris Richard, Paul Alexander, and Sanjay Lal will have a big impact on the Cowboys development as a 9-7 team that's only gotten younger this offseason. Still likely in need of a playoff appearance to save the job of Head Coach Jason Garrett and his coordinators, one can't help but question Garrett's effectiveness with this year's team.
The Cowboys appearance on NFL Films' latest All or Nothing series offered Cowboys Nation a rare look inside this team's day-to-day activities, including Garrett's role as a motivator and leader to many coaches no longer with the team.
Garrett's walk through a proverbial hall of mirrors at The Star reflects much deeper though. Ultimately, it's the players that decide games on Sundays, and the Cowboys didn't have enough of their blue chip ones on the field together for 2017. Whether or not this changes in 2018, the Cowboys can do little to shake the truth that conditions must be perfect for Garrett to captain this team to success.
If having a future Hall of Fame tight end like Jason Witten around wasn't enough for Garrett, going all in on this team in their first year without not only Witten but Dez Bryant feels foolish.
This underdog status and youthful nature may very well bring the Cowboys back to their 2016 form. I've already mentioned mirrors however, and how about the smoke? Garrett's best year out of eight full seasons, that 13-3 campaign was surely not all 'smoke and mirrors', but it is now far enough in the past to expect improvement from the Cowboys head coach.
Garrett must overcome massive changes on the offense he once coordinated to see third-year Quarterback Dak Prescott put this team back in the playoff picture, or the Cowboys will only continue to change face even more dramatically for 2019.
Long gone are the innocent days of Garrett playing catch under the California sun with a rookie Prescott, who had no idea the impact he'd make on the entirety of this franchise so quickly. Now, the Cowboys may have to quickly separate this duo if looking to preserve a window of contention under Dak's rookie contract.
It truly will be fascinating to see the new points of emphasis this revamped Cowboys coaching staff brings to the team not only on the field in Oxnard but through their team meetings and into the regular season. As Garrett allows the likes of Richard and Lal to oversee important changes at CB/S and WR respectively, his overarching message of character, competition, and respect will still echo throughout the team.
Whether or not the slew of new players Garrett has to coach can inspire him to implement this message effectively, or if his days are numbered given the slack the Cowboys have already provided, is the most important story line for the Cowboys in 2018.
By most team's standards, a 9-7 season given the circumstances around the Cowboys a year ago is acceptable -- which it ultimately was for Dallas as they kept Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli.
This team's shortcomings through a disappointing season was enough for the Cowboys to begin reevaluating the coaches below this trio though, leaving only their ninth year head coach to fall victim to the level of turnover NFL teams are experiencing on the fly right now.
The Cowboys roster has received this message loud and clear. Will Garrett's carry the same impetus, and will it truly matter for the 2018 season?
Is WR Cedrick Wilson the Player With Most to Gain in Training Camp?
Within the Dallas Cowboys' uncertain wide receiver core, is sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson. Considered a draft steal by many, Wilson's name is often lost in the mix among Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley and third round rookie Michael Gallup. Just days away from the start of the 2018 training camp, Cedrick Wilson might be the player with the most to gain on the team.
Wilson comes from the Boise State Broncos, where he set the school record for receiving yards in a season with 1,511 last year. As a sixth-round rookie, the young 22-year old receiver has an uphill battle ahead of him to earn a spot on the Cowboys' 53-man roster.
It shouldn't come as a surprise if he emerges victorious in this battle, though.
You see, the lack of a #1 receiver has been one of the main story lines for the Cowboys and for good reason. Heading into the preseason, there is no clear-cut "#1." But even though there isn't a big name such as Dez Bryant, I'm sure we'll feel way better about the wide receivers once the season starts and the offense manages to sustain a good passing attack led by Dak Prescott.
Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup seem like the two front-runners for being the "X" receivers on offense, the position in which Wilson lined up at Boise State during his last year in college football. It's tough to imagine a sixth round rookie being the starting "X" receiver in his rookie season, but that doesn't mean he can't earn an important role at some point of the year.
In 2017, the offense struggled due to the receivers failing to create separation downfield. Wilson, although a raw route-runner, was a very dangerous vertical threat in Boise State and could be just that for the Cowboys down the road.
He needs to improve as a player, but with Sanjay Lal focusing hard at route-running with his receivers, Cedrick could become an important target for Dak earlier than expected.
In order to do so, the young wide receiver will have to find success in training camp. Wide receiver will undoubtedly be one of the most intriguing position battles on the team, with many young yet unproven talent.
There's too many receivers that will be fighting for a roster spot over the following weeks, so Cowboys Nation is bound to be disappointed with so many so-called "pet cats." One or two of these guys will be released and I bet it'll hurt, just as it happens every year.
In all seriousness, though, with his ability to stretch the field and be a vertical threat plus his experience as an "X" receiver, Cedrick Wilson might not only make the roster, but become a significant piece for this new-look offense in Dallas during his rookie season.
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?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Ex-Giants Coach Ben McAdoo Talks Trash About Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN
Star Blog1 week ago
Would Trading La’el Collins for Earl Thomas Make Sense?
Dallas Cowboys5 days ago
What’s Left for Cowboys to Offer in Deal for Earl Thomas?
Star Blog1 week ago
True or False: Sifting Through the Cowboys Trade Rumors
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Kris Richard Allows Cowboys to be Patient on Earl Thomas
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Who Replaces Dez Bryant as Cowboys Red Zone Threat?
Star Blog1 week ago
If Reinstated, Is Randy Gregory A Lock for Cowboys 53-Man Roster?