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.
2018 In Review: Byron Jones Emerges As CB1
Heading into the 2018 season Byron Jones was being asked to prove himself. The former first round pick had fallen out of the coaches' good graces during his third season, though many of his struggles could be attributed to those very coaches which were then questioning his ability.
Being asked to play out of position, or at least in a spot which did not maximize his natural ability, Jones struggled in 2017. Too often he was playing in the box as a safety where his lack of physicality was exposed by the opponent's run game. This was mostly due to the coaching staff falling in love with his tight-end-erasing ability in man coverage, but backfired when overused as a safety.
Once hired the following offseason, Kris Richard and company decided to move Byron Jones to cornerback full time, allowing him to utilize his excellent coverage skills and athletic ability to the fullest, rather than putting him at a disadvantage in the box.
The results? Well, Jones had one of the best seasons of any cornerback in football, earning All Pro and Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his young career.
Byron Jones had a dominant season for Dallas
Pro Football Focus graded Jones as the sixth best cornerback in all of football last season, allowing just 0.79 yards per coverage snap. Despite not having an interception on the season, Jones still earned national recognition as one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league.
Down the stretch of the season, Chidobe Awuzie started to play up to the level which fans had hoped for during the preseason. He had been sticky in coverage most of the year, but now he was making plays on the ball at a much better rate, forcing incompletions. This led to an increase in targets to Jones' side, and though the increase resulted in more catches given up by the number one cornerback, I don't think Jones' play faltered as much as some will have you believe.
The fact is, when you get targeted more you are bound to give up more catches and yards. The key is to force them into contested catches, and make things as difficult for the receiver as possible when targeted.
Byron Jones continued to do this all season long, and fans should be excited for the next step of his growth in 2019.
Cowboys en Español: Comentando el Tope Salarial
Por muchos años, el tema del tope salarial ha sido un tema sensible para los Dallas Cowboys. Entre dinero muerto y otros problemas, el equipo ha tenido una situación delicada en este aspecto. Sin embargo, para la temporada del 2019 tienen más espacio de lo que estamos acostumbrados.
Según Over The Cap, los Cowboys tendrán aproximadamente 48 millones de dólares disponibles en 2019. Es importante recalcar que este número no es definitivo y puede cambiar. Año tras año, esta administración ha sido aficionada de reestructurar los contratos de ciertos veteranos para liberar espacio salarial constantemente. Además de esto, hay varios jugadores bajo contrato que el equipo podría decidir cortar para liberar aún más dinero.
Al ver sólo 48 millones disponibles, es complicado imaginar un escenario en que el equipo logre satisfacer todos sus objetivos. Hay bastantes candidatos a grandes extensiones en el equipo, principalmente dos jugadores. En una liga en la que quarterback es la posición más importante, la segunda más importante podría ser la del caza cabezas, cuyo objetivo es ir tras el quarterback contrario.
Pues en Dallas, hoy dos jugadores en estas posiciones que hay que extender. El más urgente sin duda es el defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence se puso el jersey del equipo cuando este lo designó a jugar bajo la etiqueta franquicia. Afortunadamente, el atleta de 26 años la hizo de soldado y jugó sin amenazar con faltar a entrenamientos ni pretemporada.
Lo que sí comentó es que no pasaría por lo mismo en 2019. Ahora, el momento está aquí y es tiempo de que los Cowboys lo extiendan. El valor de Lawrence es difícil de predecir, pero es bastante seguro que se acercará a los números de Khalil Mack. Mack hizo historia ganando un contrato que en promedio gana 23.5 millones al año. Si bien no anticiparía que lo supere, la cifra estará cerca al contrato del defensivo de los Chicago Bears.
Además está Dak Prescott, cuyo contrato probablemente estará por encima de los 25 millones anuales. Son contratos caros, pero son piezas fundamentales para el equipo. Definitivamente se les tiene que pagar a ambos. Son pilares que año tras año buscan equipos en toda la NFL.
Además de esto, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, Cole Beasley y más podrían tener un impacto en el tope salarial. Algunos buscan un contrato nuevo, otros una extensión. Pero honestamente, me parece que habrá más espacio en el tope salarial de lo que pensamos. Sólo es cuestión de tiempo para que los Cowboys comiencen a reestructurar a sus veteranos para ahorrarse unos cuantos millones para utilizar en agencia libre.
Tyron Smith, Tyrone Crawford entre otros pueden ser buenas opciones para comenzar este proceso. Antes era Jason Witten uno de los candidatos favoritos para este proceso, pero él ya se encuentra comentando partidos para ESPN. En Inside The Star, continuaremos actualizándote con contenido al día de los Dallas Cowboys.
Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason?
Super Bowl LIII is in the books, and the Dallas Cowboys can look back on a better-than-expected 2018 campaign. Having won the NFC East with a 10-6 record and bowing out to eventual finalists Los Angeles Rams, the Cowboys' young team can look ahead to 2019 as a chance to take another step forward.
The offseason is now upon us, with the NFL free agency period opening in the middle of March and the NFL Draft coming around at the end of April. Until those times, experts, pundits, and fans are left to assess their teams and predict their activities in the running to the start of next season.
The Dallas Cowboys are in a precarious position, with the team exceeding expectations, still being very young and having plenty of cap space, but also having many top-end players set to become free agents and being without a first-round pick in this year’s draft. There does, however, appear to be a way for the team to make improvements and solidify their place atop the NFC East and potentially go on to win in the Conference Finals.
Lock Down the Big Guns
Many see DeMarcus Lawrence as the top potential free agent this spring, so the Dallas Cowboys need to do everything in their power to lock down the 26-year-old defensive end.
Vice President Stephen Jones has emphasized the team’s target of retaining their own stars, per Star-Telegram, with Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and perhaps Byron Jones being in the discussion for long-term deals.
As it stands, the team will have roughly $48.5 million in cap space for next season, which leaves plenty of space to re-sign their top players. They look set to let go of Tavon Austin, David Irving, and quite possibly Cole Beasley, among others, leaving a need to add reinforcements.
Adding New Talent
One of the most heavily rumored moves for Dallas in this free agency is picking up native Texan and former Legion of Boom linchpin Earl Thomas, per Forbes.
Against the Rams in the playoffs and throughout the season, the Cowboys lacked a defenseman who could make plays on the pass. Thomas is one of the notorious ball hawks in the league, boasting 28 career interceptions, three of which came in just four games of last season.
If the Cowboys can re-sign their stars while keeping some space for an Earl Thomas-sized contract, which clocked in at $10.4 million in 2018 for the Seattle Seahawks, their odds of going all the way next season will significantly increase.
Right now, the expected names of the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs lead the odds to win the next Super Bowl at +750. Behind them, the Rams sit at +900 having suffered a suffocating defeat in this year’s Super Bowl. Much further down are the Cowboys at +2500 right now with redbet. If they re-sign Lawrence, pay their young stars, and bring in Thomas, they’ll shoot up the table of favorites.
Then, there’s also the additions in the draft to consider.
The Cowboys may be without a first-round selection, but that may end up working in their favor. Round one of the 2019 NFL Draft is set to be laden with defensive selections according to most mock drafts, with a few quarterbacks sprinkled around and a minimal selection of offensive weapons. If the Cowboys re-sign Lawrence, they’ll be looking good at defensive end, so should then turn to giving Prescott another weapon in the passing game, which will also help to keep defenses honest and give Elliott more room to operate.
As stated, the NFL is a passing league, and Prescott exploded once he was given a viable option in Amari Cooper. Michael Gallup is expected to take another step forward next season, but just in case, the Cowboys can add another strong receiving option in the draft thanks to the strength of the defensive class. A.J. Brown of Ole Miss will almost certainly go in the first round, but exciting talents in D.K. Metcalf, Parris Campbell, Marquise Brown, and Deebo Samuel could all still be available when Dallas rings in during the second round.
Improving Dallas' pass options and pass defense will go a long way toward improving the team and allowing them to push on to a bigger and better campaign in 2019.
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