The NFL preseason is only a few weeks away and not too long after that, the 2018 season officially begins. For the Cowboys, it's a year of progressions, extensions and questions.
Progressions for the year-two and three players like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Xavier Woods, Jourdan Lewis and others. These are all cornerstone players who need to have a big impact this season. These players all had an impact on the 22-10 overall record the last two seasons and will have to be even better to take that next step.
Extensions for players of the present and future. Guard Zack Martin already received his extension and is now the highest paid player in the league at his position. For players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Dak Prescott, Jaylon Smith, David Irving and others who hope to be in Dallas next season and in the foreseeable future, 2018 is the season to ball out.
Finally, questions. There are always more questions than answers at first, and the Cowboys have many at different spots.
- Will the health of Tyron Smith or Sean Lee be a big issue again?
- Who will play tight end?
- Who is the number one receiver?
- Can this defense play even better in 2018 and become elite?
One way or another, these will all be answered eventually.
As for the teams the Cowboys will play, Dallas has the 15th toughest schedule in 2018, according to CBSSports.com. A mixed bag of elite teams, teams on the rise and fall, and teams with more questions than Dallas currently has.
Most experts have the Cowboys winning anywhere from 8 to 11 games this year, and with the teams they'll face and the squad they have, it's all very possible. Talent won't be a problem.
It's not too hard to see this team being more like the 13-3 team from 2016, rather than the 9-7 team last season. If the team can stay healthy, adapt well to any injuries, and answer their questions as soon as possible, 2018 can be special. From 1 to 53, the Cowboys have as much talent as any team in the league, but they'll need to prove it against 13 teams in 16 games.
Week 1: @ Carolina Panthers
First thing you’ll notice is, “wait... it’s NOT the Giants?”
It's become something of a tradition to open the season on NBC's Sunday Night Football in Dallas against the Giants. But like Prince Akeem of Zamunda said, “it is also tradition that times must, and always do, change, my friend.”
Carolina is coming off of a playoff year, and starting against Dallas is Cam Newton, the x-factor.
Cam Newton’s career pattern has been, he’ll be good one year and fall off the next season. If that pattern continues, it means that Carolina could be in trouble.
Dallas 31 - Carolina 27 (1-0, 0-0)
Week 2: New York Giants
The last two home games against the Giants, the Cowboys have scored 19 points. Despite a much more evenly matched offensive game than we’ve seen in the past, this may actually be a defensive game.
This game will be billed as “Zeke vs. Saquon,” and for good reason.
We’re seeing the future of NFL running backs in this game, but it’s still September and Dallas is 9-4 in their last 13 games in September. They’ll continue that dominance.
Dallas 24 - New York 14 (2-0, 1-0)
Week 3: @ Seattle Seahawks
Dallas and Seattle always seem to play each other down to the final possession.
The Cowboys tried to obtain Earl Thomas in a trade with Seattle ever since Thomas made it clear he’d like to be in Dallas.
Despite the Legion of Boom starting to deteriorate with Richard Sherman now in San Francisco, and the uncertainty around Thomas’ future in Seattle, the Seahawks still posses one of the league's best defenses and an elite quarterback in Russell Wilson.
Plus, the game is in Seattle. Good luck with that.
Dallas 20 - Seattle 23 (2-1, 1-0)
Week 4: Detroit Lions
The battle of the silver and blue. Dallas has fared well against Detroit since Calvin Johnson retired, winning the last two matchups.
Detroit arguably features the best secondary in the league and also have a new, solid offensive line. However, with Detroit’s front seven not looking like a match for Dallas’ offensive line and fierce rushing attack, it doesn’t look like passing the ball will be how Dallas wins.
Dallas 35 - Detroit 24 (3-1, 1-0)
Week 5: @ Houston Texans
Watson vs Prescott. I can already see the promotional materials for this game, with both #4 young star quarterbacks, billed as the “Battle 4 Texas.”
Ironically, people may want this to be a rivalry, but all these teams share is a state. There’s no rivalry-level passion in this game, but plenty of talent.
The contingent for Houston this season is the health of their quarterback and the improvement of their offensive line. I like the Cowboys' chances, but I think Houston takes this one close.
Dallas 27 - Houston 30 (3-2, 1-0)
Week 6: Jacksonville Jaguars
Undoubtedly, Jacksonville was the surprise team in 2017. They posted one of the league's best defenses, and an exciting new running back in Leonard Fournette.
They have only one X-factor on their team who can cause a deterrent for their season: quarterback Blake Bortles.
An up and down career can not only cause concern but call into question their value. Despite his contract extension in the offseason, I think his inconsistency and loss of his Allen receivers (one of which is now a Cowboy) will hurt Jacksonville and possibly a backslide from 2017.
Dallas 28 - Jacksonville 20 (4-2, 1-0)
Week 7: @ Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins have arguably the worst roster in the NFC East. It doesn’t matter who’s quarterback, even though Alex Smith looks to be a better option in their system.
The Redskins didn't do enough to help the team prepare for success.
The Redskins are in win-now mode with Alex Smith at quarterback, but don’t have the team in place to compete within their own division.
At least, not in 2018.
Dallas 35 - Washington 17 (5-2, 2-0)
Week 8: Bye Week
Despite there not being a game for week 8, it’s always important to acknowledge the bye week - a time to get players rested and healthy.
With Dallas having yearly injury concerns to some of their key players, like Sean Lee and Tyron Smith, the bye helps immensely.
More importantly, it’s a mid-season bye.
Teams who have an earlier bye, they’ll get healthy too soon and flatten later on. Teams with a late-season bye just keep taking punches for weeks at a time, gasping for air.
Luckily, Dallas has one right in the very center.
Week 9: Tennessee Titans
The Titans barely squeaked into the playoffs last season, and pulled off a terrific comeback in the wild card round. Marcus Mariota looks like a franchise-level quarterback, and Derrick Henry is a beast of a running back. The titans have nowhere to go but up, but Dallas is winning this game.
As I previously stated about Jacksonville, there are teams that take a step back after having success and making it to the playoffs. I think the Titans are another one of those teams.
The Titans' offensive line and running game is impressive, but their passing game is almost nonexistent. The cowboys are very good against the run and are as deep along the defensive line as they have been in years.
If the Titans can’t throw the ball on Dallas, I don’t see a way that Tennessee leaves this game with a victory.
Dallas 27 - Tennessee 17 (6-2, 2-0)
Week 10: @ Philadelphia Eagles
I believe the Cowboys and Eagles will split their season series, and that these victories will come on the road. For whatever reason, the Cowboys and Eagles always seem to do better when they’re not home.
Carson Wentz versus Dak Prescott is going to be one of the key quarterback matchups for the next decade, and it looks like the Eagles and Cowboys are going to be perennial NFC contenders for the foreseeable future.
In their first contest, Wentz will get the better of an improved Cowboys defense, and be an MVP candidate. This will be one of the games the MVP voters will look at. Close game, Cowboys pull it off.
Dallas 27 - Philadelphia 20 (7-2, 3-0)
Week 11: @ Atlanta Falcons
It’s amazing that three players can have as big an effect as they did, but not having Sean Lee, Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott had a disastrous effect last season against Atlanta. One of the worst games the Cowboys played in 2017 and none of it looked good.
This season, I expect a better game out of the Cowboys.
Barring injury, the Cowboys look like a more evenly matched team with the Falcons.
Atlanta's new receiver toy, Calvin Ridley, looks like an unfair, very talented companion of Julio Jones and, despite an improved Dallas secondary, Matt Ryan will still be Matt Ryan. For now, Falcons win in a much closer game than last season.
Dallas 21 - Atlanta 27 (7-3, 3-0)
Week 12: Washington Redskins
The result will only differ in score. Washington is betting the farm on Alex Smith but doesn’t have the team to back him up. Aside from the team's offensive line, Washington doesn’t offer much to worry about.
Their defense is full of talent, but too much potential. If the Cowboys can block Ryan Kerrigan, and get past Josh Norman, the offense will be fine.
Aside from Jordan Reed, whose health is suspect, the team doesn’t have any weapons worth worrying about. Dallas sweeps the series.
Dallas 31 - Washington 21 (8-3, 4-0)
Week 13: New Orleans Saints
The Saints are like cousins to the Cowboys.
The fans all share a space and there’s always trash talk.
It’s all in love, until they play each other.
Native Texan Drew Brees has made a career of making defenses look bad, no matter who. After a heart-breaking end to the season against Minnesota, the already stacked Saints look even better.
Both the Cowboys and the Saints will be contenders, and feature some of the most complete teams in the league, but New Orleans will show why they're elite.
Dallas 31 - New Orleans 35 (8-4, 4-0)
Week 14: Philadelphia Eagles
As I said before, this series will split and each team wins on the road. After going 2-2 in the previous four games, the race for the NFC East will come down to this game.
Wentz and Prescott again have a battle, but what will affect the outcome the most will be the defense of Philadelphia.
While in their first meeting Dallas will have the upper hand offensively, the Eagles will have since adapted and dominate that side of the ball while Carson Wentz pushes for MVP.
Dallas 24 - Philadelphia 28 (8-5, 4-1)
Week 15: @ Indianapolis Colts
With Andrew Luck back, the Colts are a better team, especially with their revamped and much improved offensive line. However, no team on the Cowboys' schedule has more questions and more holes than the Colts.
Despite having Andrew Luck back, they have holes on offense at receiver and running back and all across the defense.
Indianapolis will be a better team this year, just not against the Cowboys.
Cowboys 38 - Colts 24 (9-5, 4-1)
Week 16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With the concerns around Jameis Winston, the confidence should be all on the Cowboys.
This will be a late season push for the playoffs and Tampa Bay may be all but eliminated from contention at this point in the season.
Aside from receivers and tight ends, there's really no position group that Tampa Bay holds a bigger edge on.
The Buccaneers may have improved in a lot of areas but probably not enough to take that next step. Cowboys clinch a playoff spot with the win.
Dallas 33 - Tampa Bay 17 (10-5, 4-1)
Week 17: @ New York Giants
The Giants at this point will be much better off than they were a season ago. They may be in contention for a final playoff spot, and Dallas could be playing for the divisional crown.
Giants and Cowboys games are usually well played and fought to the last snap and I don't think this game will be any different.
Whoever is the healthiest at this point in the season will win, and in that case, the Cowboys have the advantage. Even if they aren't as healthy as New York, they have better depth to acclimate to any injuries the season may throw at them.
Dallas 27 - New York 24 (11-5, 5-1)
Cowboys WR Cole Beasley Wants Bigger Role, Blames Front Office
With free agency on the horizon, Cole Beasley isn't pulling any punches about his dissatisfaction with his role in the Dallas Cowboys offense. Could this have him wanting a change of scenery in 2019?
Today, Beasley made some big statements on his personal Twitter account. The first was only an appetizer.
Utilization is more important than money. https://t.co/qP8XoR6uBu
One has to think that Cole sees the success players with his skills have had in a system like New England's, or even just other more proficient passing offenses, and thinks he could do even more elsewhere.
But even when it was suggested that the firing of Scott Linehan could bring some new opportunities for Beasley in Dallas, the receiver dropped this bomb.
Honestly, the front office pushes who they want to get the ball to. I haven't been a huge priority in that regard. Maybe that will change but I'm not sure. More balls come my way in 2 minute drill where nothing is planned. https://t.co/ioih9BJJv1
Well, there's no denying his frustration there.
Some might be confused by this, given that Beasley was the most-targeted receiver or tight end in the 2018 offense. Only Ezekiel Elliott got more passes thrown his way.
However, Cole's role did diminish once Amari Cooper showed up. And in the Cowboys' playoff loss to the Rams, Beasley only got two targets the whole game. Cooper and Michael Gallup got nine targets each.
You could see where there was some executive agenda behind getting Cooper and Gallup the ball. Dallas wanted their trade of a first-round pick for Amari to be validated. They also are invested in Michael as a future starter. What Cole said isn't without merit.
Despite what he tweeted, though, Beasley did say that he was open to returning to the Cowboys.
Doesn't mean I'm gone. I'll play anywhere where I can make more of an impact. I would love for that to be Dallas or anywhere else that will give me more pops to make an impact. I just wanna ball. It's hard with 3 to 4 opps a game. https://t.co/zImZKxkAvD
So no, it's not time to put your Beasley jerseys on eBay just yet. But given these comments, it's clear that Cole is looking for more than money in his contract.
Will the Cowboys have a satisfying answer for him? And if Beasley does want a bigger role, will he also want to be paid closer to what he thinks he's worth?
It's easy to say it's not about money, but the two really do go hand in hand.
Free agency may not open until March 13th, but Cole Beasley is already showing his cards. How will the Dallas Cowboys respond?
Dallas Cowboys Pro Bowlers Show Promise for Future
The next class of players to join the Dallas Cowboys may be on the field at Mobile, Alabama this week for the Senior Bowl, but their young core is well represented in front of the Cowboys coaching staff at the Pro Bowl.
With Left Tackle Tyron Smith and Right Guard Zack Martin not participating, the Cowboys have six Pro Bowl participants. The improved health of their offensive line is still one of the best things going for this team in the early part of the offseason, expecting four-time Pro Bowl Center Travis Frederick to rejoin Smith and Martin as soon as OTAs.
A compilation of the best linemen in the NFC will have to do for Quarterback Dak Prescott and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott - making their second Pro Bowl appearance together. It took the addition of Wide Receiver Amari Cooper for the Cowboys offense to find their expected form under Prescott and Elliott in their third season, as Cooper will appear in his fourth Pro Bowl in as many years.
Both times Elliott's made the Pro Bowl, he's done so as the league's rushing champion.
Hardly on track to reach Orlando with the Oakland Raiders, Cooper put up 725 yards and six touchdowns on 53 catches in nine regular season games for the Cowboys. He followed up this resurgent performance with seven catches for 106 yards in the Wild Card Round vs. the Seahawks and six for 65 and a touchdown at the Rams in the Divisional Round.
The Cowboys shouldn't be done adding talent at wide receiver, with Cooper serving as the bold reminder of what Prescott can do with dynamic talent on the outside. Moving on from Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan already this offseason, the next steps towards building the offense around Dak's strengths is yet to be determined.
Meanwhile, their established strengths will be on display, and not just on offense at the Pro Bowl. Making strides as one of the best young defenses in the league this season, Cowboys rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch will be joined by Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Cornerback Byron Jones.
Though its unlikely their coaching will match the intensity of the season, the best thing these three defenders have going for them is more time under Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard. One of Richard's first moves with the Cowboys was moving Jones to cornerback, where he became a first-time Pro Bowler.
Unable to reach his full athletic potential at safety, Jones was the elite corner the Cowboys needed at a position still in need of depth. His length and range should make him a fixture in Richard's secondary for a long time.
Vander Esch becomes the 11th Cowboys rookie to make a Pro Bowl, the third on the defensive side of the ball. Surely the Wolf Hunter will look forward to another week of football, going from eight man HS player to one-year starter at Boise State and finally a Cowboys fixture at linebacker.
The Cowboys did what was thought to be proved impossible this season by fielding a competent defense (mostly) without Sean Lee. Vander Esch and teammate Jaylon Smith deserve the credit here, with Leighton making a larger immediate impact than ever expected as the 19th overall pick.
Last but nowhere near least is DeMarcus Lawrence, much closer to the Cowboys top priority in free agency this offseason than an afterthought at his second Pro Bowl. Putting together consecutive seasons with at least ten sacks, the Cowboys don't have to see anything further from their top pass rusher to do whatever it takes to re-sign him.
The rest of the Cowboys "Hot Boyz" have a lot of potential and promise, but Lawrence is a rare proven commodity at defensive end with 25 sacks in his last 32 games. Rushing the passer in the Pro Bowl is a relatively futile task, but the Cowboys know Lawrence is capable of saving his best plays for the biggest moments. Also a dominant run defender, there simply shouldn't be a reality where the Cowboys are forced to field a defense without Lawrence at left end in 2019 and beyond.
The Cowboys at the Pro Bowl will tell you they'd prefer to be missing the game in preparation for the Super Bowl. Getting within two games of this feat after a 3-5 start is still impressive enough for the Cowboys to feel great about their future, in large part because of the six players representing America's Team this week.
Handing out Hardware for the Dallas Cowboys 2018 Season
The 2018 NFL season for the Dallas Cowboys was literally a roller coaster ride with as many ups and downs as the Texas Giant. Through the first seven games of the season the Cowboys alternated home wins with road losses to get to 3-4. They made as big of a personnel move as they've made in recent years when they traded for Amari Cooper only to all to 3-5 in his debut on Monday Night Football to the Tennessee Titans.
Then the team went on an improbably five game winning streak to put themselves in position to win the NFC East for the third time in five years by mid December. The Cowboys were able to pick up the win in the wild card round over the Seattle Seahawks before being ousted by Todd Gurley, C.J. Anderson, and the Los Angeles -- battering -- Rams' offensive line.
The season always ends with a little disappointment for 31 of the NFL's 32 teams, but this year felt different at the end because of where they were to start the season and after eight games. After the Tennessee game, this team was written off. They were Leonardo DiCaprio in The Revenant. They stormed back and made the 2018 season a memorable one, even if it didn't end with a sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Let's give out some post season awards to your Dallas Cowboys.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
Many will scoff at this choice and think it could be Ezekiel Elliott, and I understand, but nobody had a greater impact on the Dallas Cowboys making the playoffs and winning their matchup with the Seattle Seahawks than Dak Prescott did.
Over the final eight games of the season, Dak averaged 278 passing yards per game, 2 total touchdowns, and threw only three interceptions. His numbers down the stretch over a 16 game pace were phenomenal. On 71.6% passing, he was on pace for 4,450 yards, 24 passing touchdowns, eight rushing touchdowns, only six interceptions on the season, with a passer rating of 103.4.
Not to make this about Dak, but I'm going to make this about Dak. 2nd in success rate, 3rd in EPA and EPA/play among playoff QBs. #CowboysNation https://t.co/Evyf73uzJ9
His play in the win over the Seattle Seahawks was instrumental in getting the victory to move on to the divisional round. Though they fell short against the Los Angeles Rams, Dak was able to bring them back from 16 down early in the second half to make it a one score game in the end.
Dak Prescott is still a developing player, and in reality, all players are trying to grow their game. Every season. Prescott is a good quarterback, who is on his way to being great and we saw this season the potential that he has.
He threw for a career high 455 yards against the Eagles and three touchdowns and then threw for 387 yards and four touchdowns against the New York Giants. There's evidence now that Dak can throw the ball, and that should scare teams.
In the playoffs, Prescott stepped up and was a big reason why the Cowboys beat the Seahawks and hung in there against the Rams.
Offensive Player of the Year
Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back
Three years, two rushing titles, and it almost seemed like a "meh" season for Ezekiel Elliott. Sure he had some big games, but only a couple times this season did it feel like Elliott took over the game. Some of that is due to the offensive line injuries and inconsistencies, but some of that may be due to Elliott who saw a much bigger workload than he had in his career to date.
He was much more actively involved in the passing game this season as he more than doubled his previous career high with 77 receptions for 567 yards. Though he won the rushing title, this was the lowest rushing yards per game he's had in his short three-year career. Elliott only scored nine touchdowns this season, which tied with his 2017 total that he accrued in only 10 games.
Elliott struggled some in the red zone because the team struggled in the red zone. Some of those issues related to the offensive line and some because of the play calling, but you'd hope that Elliott would be able to overcome some of that where it mattered most.
Defensive Player of the Year
DeMarcus Lawrence, Defensive End
No player on defense has a bigger impact for the Dallas Cowboys than Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence. Whether it's in the run game or the passing game, DeMarcus Lawrence is elite in both categories and makes life incredibly difficult on the opposing offense.
On the season he had 10.5 sacks, finishing with double-digit sacks for the second year in a row. While that may not be as impressive as his 2017 total of 14.5, he was doing his thing with much less help along the defensive line. There wasn't another player who flirted with double-digit sacks this season. Though Randy Gregory, Maliek Collins, and Tyrone Crawford performed well, teams gave all of their attention to Lawrence in both the run and pass game.
And he was still amazingly effective.
Lawrence finished fifth among EDGE players -- 4-3 defensive end and 3-4 outside linebackers -- in tackles, fourth in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops" measure with 44, and 15th in total pressures. Pro Football Focus ranked Lawrence as the seventh best EDGE defender, ninth best pass rusher, and the 12th best run defender. J.J. Watt and Khalil Mack were the only other EDGE defenders who ranked in the top 12 as both a pass rusher and run defender per Pro Football Focus.
DeMarcus Lawrence is heading into the offseason looking to get a long-term deal done.
Rookie of the Year
Leighton Vander Esch, Linebacker
While Connor Williams and Michael Gallup had really good starts to their NFL career's no rookie for the Dallas Cowboys was as impressive as 19th overall pick Leighton Vander Esch. He led the Dallas Cowboys in tackles and "stops" and had the second highest grade of any defender as graded by Pro Football Focus.
In tackles, he was second only to future Hall of Fame inductee Luke Keuchly and fellow rookie Darius Leonard. Vander Esch did all this while playing a limited number of snaps as the Dallas Cowboys eased him in at the start of the season and then attempted to find a way to have Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, and Sean Lee on the field together.
It was an impressive year for the former Boise St. Bronco and the sky is the limit for Vander Esch. He's now played just his second season as a starter in 11-man football. If you remember, he didn't start for Boise St. till the 2017 season and had played 8-man football in high school.
I'm really looking forward to seeing what kind of progression Vander Esch can make to his game in 2019. He's going to be a great player.
Most Improved Player
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
The 2017 season was not kind to Jaylon Smith. It was his first attempt at playing football since January of 2016 when he tore his ACL in the Fiesta Bowl. It was amazing that he was even playing, though he didn't play considerably well.
2018, however, was a different story.
Jaylon Smith could make a case for team MVP. He may not have had as many tackles as Vander Esch, or as many sacks, but by playmaking defensive EPA, he was nearly as effective at making big plays on defense as DeMarcus Lawrence.
Overall playmaking EPA rank among all NFL defenders: 5. DeMarcus Lawrence 7. Jaylon Smith 58. Leighton Vander Esch
EPA measures the effect a play will have on the score. Not all plays are weighted the same, as some weigh heavier because of down and distance, turnovers, etc. Jaylon Smith had an excellent season for the Dallas Cowboys and looks to be the guy that they thought he would be when they selected him at the top of the second round in the 2016 NFL Draft.
Having Smith and Vander Esch roaming around the middle of the field for the Dallas Cowboys moving forward is huge. They're excellent at moving in space and are excellent definitions of "sideline to sideline" players.
Jaylon Smith is one of the players I'm already looking forward to watching again in the 2019 season.
Comeback Player of the Year
Randy Gregory, Defensive End
After sitting out all but two games of the 2016 season and all of last season, Randy Gregory came back this season and had a good year. With only one sack in his career heading into the 2018 season, Gregory had a nice comeback year with five sacks and finished tied for second on the team with 37 pressures according to Pro Football Focus. According to Pro Football Reference, Gregory was second on the team in tackles for loss.
The Cowboys have Randy Gregory under contract for the 2019 season for just under $1 million.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys have a lot to feel optimistic about as they look to roster build this offseason in preparation of the 2019 season. They have several ascending players playing key roles for them. This team looks primed to contend again in 2019.
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