As I sat at home watching the playoffs over the weekend, I couldn't help but reflect on the Dallas Cowboys' 2017 season and how disappointing things turned out. It was as if anything and everything that could possibly go wrong did, but that's just the way things sometimes go unfortunately.
Things sometimes just don't go our way in life, but we have to continue pushing forward regardless.
I think that's the best way we can summarize the Cowboys' 2017 season. But, for fun, let's take a look back at some of the biggest disappointments and how they helped shape Dallas' season, one way or another.
Losing Back-to-Back Home Games After Leading at Halftime
I think the first real disappointment for the Cowboys in the 2017 season was the back-to-back losing performances at home against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers in weeks four and five. Both of these games had a huge impact on the end of the season and the Cowboys' playoff chances.
If they would've been able to win one or both of these contests, they probably would still be playing.
Unfortunately, that's not the way things turned out.
After leading both of these games going into halftime, second-half meltdowns resulted in two losses heading into their bye week. The Cowboys had both of these games in their grasp, but couldn't hold on long enough to secure the victory. Both games were decided by last-minute touchdowns, which made it even more heartbreaking.
To me, this was the first big disappointment of the 2017 season.
Injuries to Key Players
Arguably the most disappointing thing to happen to the Dallas Cowboys in 2017 were the injuries sustained to some of their key players.
Both Sean Lee and Tyron Smith missed several games due to injuries, and not having them on the field directly correlated to a few losses for the Cowboys.
It's hard to win games in the NFL when two of your best players keep getting injured.
The Cowboys likely wouldn't have lost both of those back-to-back home games against the Rams and Packers with Sean Lee in the lineup. It's doubtful Todd Gurley puts up 215 total yards and scores the winning touchdown with #50 on the field.
The same can be said about Tyron Smith against the Atlanta Falcons.
I don't know if the Cowboys win that game, but it definitely would have made it a closer contest. The injuries to both of these players likely kept the Dallas Cowboys out of the playoffs.
2017, the Year of the Suspension
As time goes by, the 2017 season might end up being referred to as the "year of suspension" for the Dallas Cowboys. If the injuries to several key players weren't the most disappointing thing that happened to the Cowboys, then the Ezekiel Elliott suspension is.
A suspension, by the way, that probably shouldn't have happened if we are being honest with ourselves. But, the NFL/Roger Goodell thought otherwise, which made Elliott miss six games.
Unfortunately, without Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup, the offense for the Cowboys struggled to find any kind of success or develop an identity.
It all started against the Atlanta Falcons, the first game Tyron Smith missed as well, and continued throughout the rest the season. Dak Prescott no longer had the running game to lean on and struggled to find his receivers in the passing game.
I don't know if having Zeke for those six games he missed would have gotten the Cowboys in the playoffs, but it certainly would've helped.
Scott Linehan and His Play Calling
It's no secret that I haven't been a big fan of Scott Linehan or his play calling since he arrived in Dallas. But, I think he really took a step back in 2017, evidenced by all the Cowboys' wide receivers putting up some of the worst numbers in their careers.
He was predictable and didn't do anything to put his players in a position to succeed for the majority of the season.
What really bothered me most about Scott Linehan in 2017 was the fact he didn't make adjustments to the offense when Ezekiel Elliott was finally suspended. He continued to lean on the run game -- I guess -- thinking Alfred Morris and Rod Smith could do what Zeke does, but it didn't work.
Opposing defenses no longer had any respect for the running game and dropped extra defenders into coverage instead. Those extra defenders ended up taking Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley out of the passing game, which made things extremely difficult for Dak Prescott.
The entire Dallas Cowboys offense suffered as a result.
What was most disappointing about the 2017 Dallas Cowboys?
Could NY Giants Be a Surprise Threat in the NFC East?
The NFC East is a wild, wild division. Since 2004, the division that hosts some of the most popular franchises in the NFL hasn't seen the same team winning the NFC East title two years in a row. It's crazy! Who expected the Dallas Cowboys to become the #1 seed in the conference in 2016 after seeing Tony Romo go down during the preseason? Who was able to predict the Philadelphia Eagles' amazing run for the Super Bowl last year?
It's an unpredictable league, but the NFC East side of things can really amaze you on a yearly basis.
Heading into 2018, it all seems to be about the Eagles and the Cowboys. Being the last two teams to win the title, it's only logical to expect them to be the only teams in the division that have what it takes to own the NFC East crown.
But maybe, just maybe, we are overlooking the New York Giants.
Coming from a 3-13 record in 2017, the Giants have quite a bit to prove if they want to become a winning team once again and return to playoff contention. With Odell Beckham missing most of the season and with good ol' Ben McAdoo calling the shots, the team was never able to get a break.
Listen, we all know Eli Manning has been struggling lately. Many thought the Giants should've drafted a quarterback when they held the #2 overall pick back in April. But whether we like it or not, New York seems to have a plan: take advantage of Manning's last years on the field.
Instead of taking a young QB for the future, they drafted the best player available to take the load off Manning's shoulders. Saquon Barkley will probably be able to do what Ezekiel Elliott was able to do in 2016: lead the offense by running the football 20 times a game and have several 100-yard performances.
Not only that, but the front office did make an effort to re-build a disastrous offensive line by bringing in a talented left tackle in Nate Solder and by stealing the UTEP product, Will Hernandez in the second round of the draft. If the Giants are able to finally groom Ereck Flowers into a decent starter at right tackle, this could be a pretty solid offensive line.
Of course, Manning will not only be benefited from the running game, but his superstar wide receiver will be back on the field. Beckham is one of the NFL's best wide receivers and will surely be back at terrifying opposing secondaries week in and week out.
The Giants are bringing in Defensive Coordinator James Bettcher, who did a nice job for the Arizona Cardinals' defense over the last few years. With some talented defensive players, the team might not have the best squad in the league, but it doesn't seem like a defense that will struggle throughout the season.
Last but not least, the Giants will have a new head coach in form of Pat Shurmur. He's had some success in the league, lately as an offensive coordinator for a Minnesota Vikings team that managed to get to the NFC Championship with Case Keenum at QB. It was a good hire for the team, and I'm pretty sure it will be easy to do a better job than McAdoo's work with the Giants.
If I was to make a prediction, I'd say the Giants will have a handful of wins in 2018. However, I don't see them getting back into the postseason just yet. An 8-8 record sounds about right. Having said that, though, it really seems like a team that could surprise everyone and emerge as a surprise contender in the NFC East.
Do you think the New York Giants could be a surprise threat in 2018?
Where Cowboys CB Marquez White Fits In 2018
In the 2017 NFL Draft the Dallas Cowboys selected four new defensive backs, three of which saw significant playing time during their rookie season.
Those three, of course, are Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, and Xavier Woods. That fourth defensive back, however, should not be forgotten about as we enter the beginning stages of the 2018 season. That player is former Florida State cornerback Marquez White.
Rather than playing alongside his rookie counterparts in the secondary, White spent time on the Cowboys practice squad in 2017. The former sixth round pick was signed to a futures contract at the end of 2017, however, and now has a chance to compete in camp once again.
Entering their sophomore seasons the starting secondary already appears to be taking shape. Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones are just about locked in to the outside cornerback jobs, Xavier Woods is expected to start at safety beside Jeff Heath, and Jourdan Lewis is battling with now third year player Anthony Brown for the slot corner role.
So where does Marquez White fit into all of this?
Well, the aforementioned players are locks to make the 53-man roster, but Marquez White should be the favorite to win the 5th cornerback spot going forward. White's raw talent is undeniable, and he has the ability to play under both man and zone responsibilities.
The main reason we should be optimistic about Marquez White's chances to land on the final roster, however, is his athletic profile. At 6'0" tall, just under 200 pounds, and long arms White fits the mold for what new secondary coach and passing game coordinator Kris Richard tends to look for in his cornerbacks.
And, for better or for worse, Richard clearly values these measureables highly. This is evident in how second year corner Jourdan Lewis has been used thus far in mini camp and offseason activities; being relegated to second team and the slot rather than allowed to compete for an outside cornerback job with Awuzie and Jones.
So with the arrival of Kris Richard, the departure of Orlando Scandrick, the underwhelming play of Anthony Brown, and the raw talent he already possesses, Marquez White has a very strong chance of making the final 53-man roster in Dallas.
Can Jaylon Smith Challenge Vander Esch For Starting MIKE Role?
When the Dallas Cowboys selected Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch with their first round pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, the whole world basically assumed he would be the starting MIKE linebacker week one of the upcoming season.
After all, the Cowboys lost Anthony Hitchens to free agency and none of the injury replacements had much success during the 2017 season.
Now just a couple of months shy of that week one match up with the Carolina Panthers, a battle for that middle linebacker spot appears to be occurring.
Former 2016 second round pick Jaylon Smith has seemed to find his health, and his movement skills and agility look like they did back when he was at Notre Dame. Whether or not these offseason hype videos will actually mean anything on the field remains to be seen, but just the fact that Smith is working out and playing without the knee brace is obviously a good sign.
Unlike Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith did play for the Dallas Cowboys a year ago. Sure Smith had his share of growing pains, but he seemed to find his groove late in the season. It probably isn't a coincidence, though, that Smith's best games came when coming off the bench in a limited role and when playing beside veteran Sean Lee.
During the offseason activity thus far Jaylon Smith has gotten the majority of snaps at middle linebacker, but Vander Esch has also been sidelined with an injured ankle. Leighton Vander Esch clearly fits the mold of a MIKE both physically and athletically, but at his best Jaylon Smith does as well.
Despite the resurgence of Jaylon Smith and the injury to Leighton Vander Esch, I still do expect Vander Esch to snag that MIKE role moving forward. While showing glimpses of productive play, Smith did not impress enough to earn him the unquestioned starting job last season, and may best fit as a SAM backer and situational pass rusher/blitzer in the current scheme.
Allowing Jaylon Smith to conserve his energy and provide a boost off the bench is the best way for the Cowboys to structure their defense. Of course, this is only true as long as Vander Esch becomes the player they expect him to be, though.
If Jaylon Smith does return to the player he was at Notre Dame prior to his horrific injury, the Cowboys will possess three incredibly rangy, athletic, and talented linebackers on their roster.
Of course, that if is a very big if at this point, however.
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