The dust is starting to settle, and the Dallas Cowboys roster for 2018 and starting to become clearer and clearer as we approach training camp and the upcoming NFL season. After all of the drama from free agency surrounding Dez Bryant, to the retirement of Jason Witten and the NFL Draft, Cowboys Nation is getting closer to seeing a brand new team.
A big question at this juncture, however, is did the Cowboys really improve from 2017? They added new pieces, got some new toys in a few trades and now can see a tiny glimpse into the future of the squad. But did they improve?
People everywhere who follow the Cowboys knew what they needed to address the most after the 2017 season: Wide receiver, defensive tackle, guard, linebacker, safety, and eventually tight end was pushed as a bigger priority with the subsequent retirements of James Hanna and Jason Witten. As far as if the team improved, we'll have to break it down.
There's no question that Dak Prescott is the starter and the presumed quarterback of the future. Cooper Rush came in as an undrafted free agent from Central Michigan and outplayed Kellen Moore in the preseason, eventually becoming the new backup quarterback.
In a surprising move, the Cowboys used a fifth round pick on Western Kentucky quarterback, Mike White. White was a name that rose up draft boards as a solid developmental project. In his final two seasons as a starter, he was able to throw for 8,540 yards, 63 touchdowns and complete 66.5% of his passes.
The player, himself, isn't bad. In fact, some draft analysts had Mike White as a third round prospect, and Dallas got a two-round value out of it. What it does bring into question, however, is if Cooper Rush's job is in jeopardy?
Is this move strictly for competition? Will the team decide to keep all three? Did the Cowboys waste a pick?
In terms of skill, all of these players are quality quarterbacks, but using a draft pick on a quarterback, after Cooper Rush seemed to have earned the job, only raises more questions instead of answers. The team will have time to answer but for right now, this doesn't seem like a smart move.
The Cowboys backfield is the team's car, and they only really needed some gas. What they got instead was an Xzibit-style pimped out makeover.
Ezekiel Elliott is one of the game's young superstars and is firmly sitting in the driver's seat. After serving his 6-game suspension last year, Elliott looks ready to get back into the game.
Rod Smith offered not only some solid backup effort, but position flexibility and special teams play. Smith was all over the team last season; at tailback, full back, slot receiver, kick returner.
It seemed the team would add a 3rd down back, which they did by trading with the Rams. In exchange for a sixth round pick, the Cowboys got for former first-rounder Tavon Austin, and then followed it up with announcing intentions to play him exclusively at running back, adding speed and hands that the backfield needed.
Thought they were done? Nope.
In the 7th round, the Cowboys added one of college footballs most punishing runners, Bo Scarborough from Alabama. A physical back who should be looking forward to running between his new center and right guard. The backfield already looked set, but adding this beast is just overkill in the best way.
The last brick has been lain and the Great Wall of Dallas is complete. Not only does the team have their starters, but they have a great collection of backups who can step in and play well for the squad.
Left guard was a big need for the team. Johnathan Cooper did a solid job last season, but not so well that the team was giving him an extension. Instead, they looked 201 miles South to University of Texas Offensive Lineman Connor Williams.
An All-American tackle, he looks set to step inside next to Tyron Smith and solidify arguably the best offensive line in football.
Another question was the swing tackle, the tackle who backs up both La'el Collins and Tyron Smith on both sides. Last season, the job was split between Chaz Green and Byron Bell, with undesirable results.
The Cowboys improved in that department by signing Cameron Fleming, a player some thought would get starter money, but instead went to Dallas at an affordable rate. In New England, he started 20 games in four seasons, and only allowed 7 sacks during that time. Adding Fleming gives the Cowboys and their fans some relief and relaxation in the event one of the tackles is hurt.
I'm not sure how losing your number one and two tight ends in the same off-season can possibly make you think the position has improved. Full disclosure.
Jason Witten, one of the game's greatest tight ends who will be in the hall of fame one day, and James Hanna occupied the tight end one and two spots for a number of years. Witten was a reliable receiver and both were good blockers throughout their time.
Remaining on the depth chart are a bunch of question marks.
Geoff Swaim has largely been a blocking tight end and only has nine career receptions going into 2018. Rico Gathers has shown a lot of promise and talent during his time in the preseason, but hasn't yet been able to see the field. Blake Jarwin has plenty of skill, but is still very raw. Finally, the Cowboys 4th round selection, Dalton Schultz, from Stanford, is not a very polished receiver but is an excellent blocker. It wouldn't surprise me to see him be one of the starters in 2018.
I would expect a rotation of all four tight ends in 2018 to find the next starting pair. James Hanna can be replaced but no one will ever be able to replace Jason Witten. All-time greats don't grow on trees. All the team can hope for is that the position doesn't suffer too much as a result.
The good news is that the main core from last season's dominant defensive line is back: DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Maliek Collins, Taco Charlton and Tyrone Crawford. Add the return of promising players such as Lewis Neal and Charles Tapper, the additions of Kony Ealy and Jihad Ward, as well as drafting Dorance Armstrong Jr. and the team looks as deep along the defensive line as it has looked in years.
However, a big hole that needed addressing this off-season was finding a permanent nose tackle. Brian Price is a solid rotation player, and Maliek Collins has shown to be much more effective at the three technique. Yet the didn't address the need.
I expect the team to add another defensive tackle at some point to better fill the hole. Some options have been a possible reunion with Terrell McClain, who played in Dallas from 2014-16, or possibly undrafted defensive tackle, DeQuinton Osborne, who was the only rookie acquisition at the position.
The defensive line was a huge strength for the Cowboys in 2017, and I expect it to be in 2018 as well. Despite the nose tackle spot still being in question, the Cowboys front four rotation looks like it could be one of the league's best.
The Cowboys linebacker group took a huge hit this off-season with the losses of Anthony Hitchens and Kyle Wilber. This left the Cowboys with just Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson.
As a starting group, it's not a bad trio, but the Cowboys had no depth to spare. Even with the off-season addition of Joe Thomas from Green Bay, the team was in dire need of depth.
They addressed the need not once but twice in the NFL Draft.
They drafted Leighton Vander Esch from Boise State in the first round and Chris Covington in the 6th round. This group won't be able to be properly judged on if it has really improved or not until the team hits the field in the fall, but the depth looks fixed and the linebackers already look like they can be better than they were a year ago.
For the first time in a long time, the secondary looks like it will be a strength for the Cowboys and not a weakness.
New secondary coach, Kris Richard has come in from the Seattle Seahawks and is looking to revamp a very talented, young secondary. He was the key creator of Seattle's Legion of Boom, which caused terror for quarterbacks all around the league for years.
The move from safety to corner looks like a great move for Byron Jones. He'll be paired with second year players Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, on the opposite side and in the slot, respectively.
Xavier Woods is the Cowboys' most talented safety and is the most likely to play the free safety position. The other safety spot will either be occupied by an improved, hard-hitting Kavon Frazier or Jeff Heath (The G.O.A.T).
The secondary looks as solid and as talented as it has ever looked. With a great coach who can mold the secondary to a level we know they are capable of, all signs are pointing up for the Cowboys defensive backfield.
Finally, the position you probably have the most questions about. Sorry for making you wait. No position group has seen more changes this off-season than wide receiver. Let's recap.
Losses: Dez Bryant, Brice Butler, Ryan Switzer
Acquisitions: Allen Hurns, Deonte Thompson, Michael Gallup, Cedrick Wilson, Tavon Austin (reported to be a RB)
In an effort to give the team more "Dak-friendly" receivers, the team parted ways with Dez Bryant, who seemed to have chemistry problems with Prescott. In response to that, the Cowboys have options in Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson and draft picks Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson.
None of them are the play-maker that Bryant was, but they all have the ability to run crisper routes, which Prescott relies on. You shouldn't be shocked if two or three of these players become main targets in the passing game.
A shocking move was the trade of Ryan Switzer after a solid rookie season. With the trade for Tavon Austin, and subsequent position change, Switzer became expendable. It wasn't a popular decision, but it made trimming the receiving core easier.
Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, Noah Brown, Hurns, Thompson, Gallup and Wilson are the receivers on the team currently. However, Dallas usually only keeps maybe five or six on the team. Don't be surprised by anymore trades or cuts to come.
The receivers should have better chemistry with Dak Prescott than Dez Bryant had, but don't hold your breath on any big plays you hope can come from this group on day one.
Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense
For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.
Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.
He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.
During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.
Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.
With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.
Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.
#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.
Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.
Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points.
The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.
Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.
And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.
Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.
At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.
Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.
Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.
The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.
- The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
- The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
- The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
- Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.
The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?
Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.
A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.
Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018
For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.
After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote
As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.
Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.
Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.
His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!
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