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.
Where In The World Is DE Taco Charlton?
Over pretty much the last decade, the Dallas Cowboys have been rock solid with their first round picks. With selections of Ezekiel Elliott, Travis Frederick, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Leighton Vander Esch (just to name a handful), Dallas has rebuilt the core of their roster through the NFL Draft.
It's nearly impossible to bat .1000 in any round of the draft, however, and this appears to be the current case with the Cowboys' 2017 first round pick.
Defensive end Taco Charlton has not had the sophomore season that he, or anyone, had hoped for. A healthy scratch last Sunday, Charlton has only been active for 1 of the Cowboys' last 5 games, and has not recorded a sack or tackle since week 9.
Prior to disappearing with injuries and "attitude issues," Charlton had only recorded 1 sack on the season and was beginning to fall behind his Hot Boy-brethren. Defensive end Randy Gregory has reached his form over the last few weeks, Tyrone Crawford is having arguably a career year, and DeMarcus Lawrence is one of the best ends in all of football.
This doesn't leave much room for Charlton, who's now having issues even getting on the gameday roster. Rod Marinelli dodged questions about Taco Charlton earlier this week, vaguely saying they are "moving forward" and that he'd like to talk about other players on his defensive line who are performing.
Rod Marinelli on Taco Charlton's benching and being inactive last week: "We just keep moving along keep going forward. It's kinda been out there I'd leave it at that. I'd rather talk about our two tackles.
Charlton has not been quiet about his displeasure as of late, either. He's taken to Twitter to voice his frustrations, saying that not only is his shoulder fine but that the Dallas media is making up stories about his absence. He's also posted some cryptic tweets such as this one, with a picture of Allen Iverson and a caption reading "Every players needs that one coach to believe in them."
Maybe Taco is right. Maybe he just needs increased opportunity and a support system/coach that believes in him whole-heartedly. After all, Charlton has faced nothing but doubters and detractors since the second he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.
But in the NFL, the ultimate "what have you done for me lately" sport, it's hard to imagine he'll get that unwavering support anywhere in the league. He's going to have to "earn" his playing time, as head coach Jason Garrett spoke to earlier in the week. But with the plethora of talent the Cowboys are already putting out there on the defensive line, it's becoming difficult to see exactly where Taco Charlton can fit in on this defense.
It's possible, and fine, if it is simply not a fit between Charlton and the Cowboys at this point. But I'd also be wary of giving up on your first round pick in just his second NFL season. Another offseason with the team, working on his craft and getting fully healthy, should do Charlton wonders, and hopefully allow us to get a better read on his future with the Cowboys going forward.
Until then, we are all left to scratch out heads and wonder what in the world is going on with the Cowboys and Taco Charlton, and if the former first round pick will have a future in Dallas at all.
Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC
2018 has seen the emergence of high-powered offenses in both NFL conferences. The Kansas City Chiefs sit atop the AFC and the NFC is spearheaded by the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. Through 14 weeks, these three teams are the top three offenses in the NFL, each averaging over 30 points per game. This year, for the first time in NFL history, two teams scored more than 50 in the same game.
Thanks to this consistent impressive offensive performances, you would think "offense" is the name of the game for the 2018 NFL season. Well, not so fast, my friend. Despite sitting atop the NFC, the Saints and the Rams have recently suffered losses that indicate hope is anything but lost for defensive teams in the league.
The Chicago Bears were able to bring down the Rams last Sunday Night 15-6. The same offense that averages 33 points per game was limited to six points. Sean McVay's remarkable offense went home with no touchdowns to talk about on the plane back home. Instead, they probably discussed Jared Goff's four interceptions.
Weeks earlier, the Dallas Cowboys shocked the world when they brought down the Saints. Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas simply couldn't move the ball against Leighton Vander Esch, DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones. 13 points were all the Cowboys needed to score to beat an offense that was averaging 37 per game heading into week 13 but was only able to put up 10 in Dallas.
The Cowboys are the #4 seed with the Bears slightly ahead of them as the #3 seed in the NFC. Together, these teams have defeated the top two in the conference. Now granted, playoffs will definitely be different.
For starters, if they are to advance to the divisional round, they'll be on the road. Chicago was surely benefited by playing in such a cold weather versus a Los Angeles team. As far as the Cowboys are concerned, few times has AT&T Stadium been as loud as when they beat the Saints.
Hopefully, we'll get to see both of these elite defenses advance to the Divisional Round to square off against this couple of high-powered offenses again. We will not only be witnessing amazing football games, but a great discussion regarding the everlasting debate between offense and defense.
For years, "defense wins championships" has been a widely accepted statement in football. The Cowboys and Bears have made that same statement resound recently with their impressive wins.
Can they do it again in January football? Can they do it on the road?
Cowboys en Español: Los Colts No Son Cualquier Rival
Al igual que el resto de la afición de los Dallas Cowboys, parte de mí se siente confiada respecto a este equipo visitando a Indianapolis Colts y resultando victoriosos. ¿El problema? Los Colts no son un rival sencillo de vencer. Si crees que la racha de los Cowboys los intimidará, piensa de nuevo. Los Houston Texans llevaban nueve victorias al hilo antes de enfrentarse a este equipo.
Siendo objetivos, este puede ser el partido que evite que los Cowboys cierren su temporada con ocho victorias al hilo para terminar el año con un récord de 11-5. Ni los Tampa Bay Buccaneers ni los New York Giants deberían presentar amenaza alguna contra Dallas. Lo mismo no se puede decir de Indianapolis.
Por primera vez en mucho tiempo, Andrew Luck está realmente de vuelta. Gracias a una reconstrucción de su línea ofensiva, su nivel de juego a regresado al nivel que conocíamos de él desde que llegó a la NFL. Afortunadamente para los Colts, Luck se ha mantenido sano toda la temporada y no se ve rastro alguno de sus lesiones anteriores en el emparrillado.
T.Y. Hilton está teniendo un muy buen año y sin duda alguna presentará un reto para Byron Jones y el resto de la secundaria de los Cowboys. Eric Ebron en la posición de tight end también será un dolor de cabeza para la defensiva.
Lo más interesante se dará en las trincheras. Los Cowboys han hecho un muy buen trabajo presionando quarterbacks opuestos en la temporada, pero si el centro de los Colts, Ryan Kelly está sano el domingo, se enfrentarán al mejor duo de centro-guardia en la liga actualmente. Con Quenton Nelson al lado, Luck estará muy bien protegido.
Sin embargo, Kelly no ha jugado debido a una lesión y aún está por verse si tomará el campo el domingo por la mañana. Los Cowboys hicieron un muy buen trabajo a la entonces ofensiva #1 de la liga, los New Orleans Saints, pero eso no significa que la ofensiva #8 que tienen los Colts no los retará.
Promediando 27 puntos por juego, la defensiva necesitará ayuda de Dak Prescott y compañía para ganar el partido. Dallas continúa moviendo el balón efectivamente, pero es tiempo de anotar touchdowns y no goles de campo.
Ezekiel Elliott será, una vez más, clave para la victoria. Enfrentándose a una defensiva Top 10 contra el juego terrestre, mover las cadenas con Zeke no será tan fácil. El novato Darius Leonard como linebacker ha sido algo espectacular otra temporada al igual que Leighton Vander Esch. Liderando a toda la NFL en tackleadas, estará listo para recibir a los Cowboys al Lucas Oil Stadium.
Lo más importante de este partido...
Por más impresionante que sea la racha de cinco victorias consecutivas, los Cowboys tienen que demostrar que pueden ganarle a un equipo fuerte estando de visita. Porque hay que admitirlo, Jason Garrett y su equipo no han tenido éxito fuera de casa. Claro, le ganaron a un equipo debilitado de Philadelphia Eagles y a unos Atlanta Falcons que va 4-9.
Este equipo "nuevo" de los Cowboys no ha ido contra un rival de calidad siendo el visitante. Es tiempo de demostrar que lo pueden hacer, ya que si quieren contender en postemporada, es justo lo que necesitarán... jugar bien de visita.
Sinceramente creo que los Cowboys ganan este partido. Principalmente gracias a su defensiva, pero también veo a la ofensiva dominar el tiempo de posesión en un juego de pocos puntos. Es tiempo de mantener esa racha.
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