"Life is great. Football is better." -Steve Sabol
Those words ring ever true in the halls of NFL History and the hearts of Cowboys Nation. We love this game, and we love the Dallas Cowboys. Hoo-ahh.
Part of the passion associated with loving this great game is cultivated through the great work of NFL Films. Over the last year I've had the opportunity to speak with NFL Films Senior Producer Paul Camarata, one of the leaders of Sabol's Army, twice concerning different projects.
In December he and I spoke about a new series called The Timeline and an episode that focused 50% on America's Team - a name we'll address more in a second - the Dallas Cowboys.
A few months later, Paul joined my weekly NFL Podcast, the RJ Ochoa Show, to talk about the nuts and bolts of what goes into making one of these treasures. I'm proud of all that work and urge you to check it out.
It's a funny little story about the whole "America's Team" nickname. It was another member of Sabol's Army, Bob Ryan, that coined the legendary nickname when cutting the 1978 season highlights for the Cowboys (a year ending in the loss of Super Bowl XIII, what I believe to be the greatest game ever played... but that's a story for another day).
It emanates patriotism, glory, and a pedigree of excellence. They are more than just two words. They're a five syllable code linking Dallas Cowboys fans to one another, near and far. We are, for now and for always, America's Team.
This is a philosophy that some have tried to dispute in recent years, but ultimately accepted. The Dallas Cowboys are just as much America's Team as water is wet, and gravity is 9.8 meters per second squared. Facts of life, I tell ya.
The NFL Network is on board with the right disposition and is choosing this weekend, which will culminate with a July 4th Monday, to celebrate the most star-spangled team in its repertoire - America's Team. Beginning Saturday (July 2nd) at 7:00 AM CDT, NFL Network will be showing an America's Team Marathon.
As a student of NFL History and NFL Films, I've seen all of the programs they have scheduled. As a Staff Writer here at Inside The Star, it's my job to deliver you the goods when it comes to the Dallas Cowboys, so we're going to merge those two ideas here.
Let's be real. You don't have time to watch every single thing that's a part of this marathon. You've got errands to run, groceries to buy, yards to mow, kids to take care of, or any and every other possible chore that comes up through our walks of life.
I've developed a Star (we're Inside The Star, get it?!) rating for each of these films.
- Three stars means it's something you absolutely cannot miss
- Two stars means you can DVR it for a rainy day
- One star means you're not missing anything spectacular and can leave it on in the background
7 AM - Top 10 Dallas Cowboys ✭✭
Any sort of Top 10 is always an interesting debate, but that's exactly what it is... a debate. This is a subjective practice which keeps it from getting the three-star rock star status from me. What's cool about it is this program is a walk down memory lane because they include Cowboys from different eras, but the episode is a bit older and a little dated. Yawn.
8 AM - America's Game: 1971 Dallas Cowboys ✭✭✭
America's Game is a documentary series that the NFL Network began airing in 2006. The objective then was to count down the Top 20 Super Bowl teams of all time with an hour long documentary about each team. After the Top 20, they went ahead and included the remaining 20 (this was the season that culminated in Super Bowl XLI) and have made an episode for each Super Bowl Champion ever since.
Each episode has clips from that season and members from its team as narrators. This one includes Roger Staubach, Bob Lilly, and Duane Thomas. It's a great tale about Staubach's battle with Craig Morton, Duane's with Tex Schramm, and Bob Lilly's with the frustration of losing.
This is a must-watch for anyone looking to understand what helped make the Dallas Cowboys who they are today.
9 AM - America's Game: 1977 Dallas Cowboys ✭✭✭
Back to back three stars means that you're going to be glued to your TV for these two hours. Maybe it'll even be three, but we'll get to that in a minute.
The narrators here include Tony Dorsett, Charlie Waters, and Drew Pearson. The 1977 squad was perhaps the best Dallas Cowboys team to ever win the Super Bowl and was the first team in NFL History to do so in the Louisiana Superdome.
Dallas certainly prospered from the services of their rookie running back Tony Dorsett, but the story about how his playing style clashed with Coach Landry's game plan is one you don't want to miss. Tres stars!
10 AM - America's Game: 1992 Dallas Cowboys ✭✭✭
This is the final three-star broadcast of the America's Game series, but it's for a great reason.
The 1992 Dallas Cowboys set the standard, not just for their franchise, but for the National Football League in the 90s. They were the first step that the team took in building a dynasty and that disposition is apparent in the episode's narrators: Troy Aikman, Ken Norton Jr., and Michael Irvin.
As you can imagine, Irvin is his charming self and tells a few stories that will make the team you remember oh so fondly all the more amazing in your mind. Also within is the legendary "asthma field" story, courtesy of Troy Aikman.
You can't miss this. Trust me.
11 AM - America's Game: 1993 Dallas Cowboys ✭✭
This installment of the series doesn't fire me up in the way that the first three World Championships do. Emmitt Smith, Jimmy Johnson, and Bill Bates do a great job of telling the story... but we expected this team to win.
It's interesting to hear about the drama behind Emmitt's holdout to begin the season, and if drama is your thing then stick around for the end when the actual end of the Jimmy Johnson era is discussed.
12 PM - America's Game: 1995 Dallas Cowboys ✭✭
Ah, the franchise's fifth - and so far most recent - Super Bowl title. #Sigh
The cast of narrators here is interesting in that it includes someone involved with their respective team who isn't present on any other episode of America's Game - a PR man.
Richard "Rich" Dalrymple joins Darren Woodson, Larry Brown, and Daryl Johnston to recount the season that made the Dallas Cowboys the first team in NFL History to earn three championships in four years.
1 PM - My Road to Canton: Michael Irvin ✭
You're a hardcore Dallas Cowboys fan. You know that. I know that. Even Michael Irvin knows that. While it's great to see Irvin's journey into football's most elite fraternity, it's a story that you are well-familiar with by now.
Use this time to catch a nap, because you'll need your rest for later.
2 PM - Deion Sanders: Canton Goes Prime Time ✭
If I knew how to slice that Star emoji in half I'd do it here. Deion is arguably the greatest defensive back to ever slip on a pair of shoulder pads, but this particular motion picture is probably my least favorite throughout the America's Team Marathon lineup.
3 PM - A Football Life: Jimmy Johnson ✭
The purpose of A Football Life is to tell the story of one's football life. "Duh, RJ."
Jimmy Johnson, in all his greatness, only spent five seasons with the Dallas Cowboys. That doesn't mean that he's not one of the best coaches in franchise history, it just means that the portion of this program devoted to the silver and blue isn't particularly exciting.
4 PM - A Football Life: Roger Staubach ✭✭✭
This is one of my favorite episodes of any television program ever. And that's coming from someone who saw Sunday's Game Of Thrones season finale.
The life of Roger Staubach is so vast, so incredible, and so heroic that one hour isn't enough for us. This whole marathon could be devoted to Staubach's greatness and even that wouldn't be enough. Nevertheless, take this hour to learn about his life, both on and off the field, including intricate details about things like his Faith, "the Hail Mary," and what it was like playing for coach Tom Landry.
5 PM - A Football Life: Great Wall of Dallas ✭✭✭
This is a sight to behold.
The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line of 2016 is heralded as one of, if not the best in the National Football League. That standard of excellence was built in the 90s by the Great Wall. This episode tells the story about how they were formed, their relationships with one another, and what it was like to pave the way for the NFL's All-Time Leading Rusher, Emmitt Smith. Prepare to be amazed.
6 PM - A Football Life: Bill Parcells ✭
This falls into the same category as the Jimmy Johnson AFL for me. Bill Parcells is a Pro Football Hall of Famer, but so much of that is because of his time spent elsewhere. Yes, the Dallas Cowboys (and Tony Romo) are a part of that story, but not enough to make it a must-see for Cowboys Nation.
7 PM - A Football Life: Tom Landry ✭✭✭
I know that you might eat dinner at around this time, but you need to postpone it for an hour. This episode of AFL is absolutely incredible.
It's an hour long education in the equally large greatness and mystery that helped encompass one of the brightest minds to ever grace an NFL sideline. Coach Landry's former players are on hand in the episode to speak about life under his wing and about the lessons they learned from, in the infamous words of Roger Staubach, "a man in a funny hat."
8 PM - A Football Life: Terrell Owens ✭✭
I'm rounding up from 1.5 stars to the full dos for the man they call T.O.. As it'll be later in the evening, you'll want to have your popcorn ready for someone who asked you to get some ten years ago now.
Terrell Owens shares a common denominator with some of these episodes in that only a fraction of his story was written in a Cowboys uniform, but he's such a fascinating individual. This episode dives into all the stops along his journey, which include two of our biggest rivals, the San Francisco 49ers and the Philadelphia Eagles.
Give T.O. a chance and just hit record.
9 PM - A Football Life: Charles Haley ✭✭✭
If you want to talk about fascinating lives then Charles Haley is going to take up the whole conversation.
One of the most animated personalities in the history of football helped catapult the 1990s Dallas Cowboys to the forefront of the league, and the story behind it all will leave you on the edge of your seat. Learn about the demons that Haley battled off the field and about the relationships he relied on to help him get through and, ultimately, into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2 AM - NFL Classic Games: 2014 NFC Wildcard (Cowboys v. Lions)
As a nightcap, you can re-live the last Dallas Cowboys playoff win, which is only 500 or so days old.
Watch the Detroit Lions take an early lead, Terrance Williams narrow the gap before halftime, the Cowboys fight back, a slew of crazy calls, and Tony Romo throw the game-winning touchdown. It's all here for your eyes to see, and when you're done you can go pass out. You'll be tuckered out after a long day of Dallas Cowboys greatness.
Notice: You may have noticed that the America's Game titles are links. You can follow them to DallasCowboys.com where you can catch the full episode, in case you can't during the marathon!
Sean’s Scout: WR Deonte Thompson A Vertical Threat for Dallas Cowboys
Finally addressing their underwhelming cast of wide receivers, the Dallas Cowboys signed journeyman Deonte Thompson yesterday. The seventh-year pro spent 2017 with both the Chicago Bears and Buffalo Bills, hauling in 38 passes for 555 yards and two touchdowns.
Thompson was undrafted in 2012 out of Florida, making both the Cowboys' free agent signings to date former UDFAs. The Cowboys added LB Joe Thomas earlier in the week, who you can learn more about in Sean's Scout as well.
In desperate need of speed and play making ability on the outside, here is a look at what WR Deonte Thompson can bring to the Dallas Cowboys.
WR Deonte Thompson: Strengths
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
Deonte Thompson plays with a great understanding of his own frame, using his length to give defensive backs problems up the field. Not a true "burner", Thompson takes some time to accelerate down the field, but can separate vertically.
Thompson runs smooth routes, using his long strides to get on DBs in a hurry. Once in position to free himself at the stem of a route, Thompson showed the ability to consistently turn his hips and complete a number of underneath and deep routes at a high level.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
Deonte Thompson may not win on many throws "above the rim", but he is above average at the catch point securing passes with his strong hands.
Snagging the ball outside of his frame is not much of an issue for Thompson, who makes the most of his run-after-the-catch opportunities by effortlessly receiving the ball in stride.
At this stage of his career, Thompson may not be an every down player, but this is a player the Cowboys can absolutely find a way to get involved in their sputtering passing offense next season - at the very least replacing the role of FA WR Brice Butler.
WR Deonte Thompson: Weaknesses
Deonte Thompson should not be expected to go over the top on many defenses for the Cowboys in 2018. While the traits are there to flash as that sort of player, Thompson simply is not at his best trying to track down deep vertical passes.
When Thompson does not create separation on his initial burst up the field, there was a tendency for him to get shoved around at the catch point. Still coming up with his fair share of passes, the degree of difficulty on these catches was often increased by his inability to truly play through contact.
This is not a player with a powerful lower body, relying on upper body flex and foot speed to free himself and create plays in space. Overall balance is a strength for Thompson, but he rarely is able to break tackles or move defenders as a blocker in the running game.
WR Deonte Thompson: Summary
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
The Cowboys should know what they are getting in Deonte Thompson, who has not had the benefit of great quarterback play in recent seasons. The hope in Dallas is that a number of receivers on the bottom of the depth chart can stand out this summer to make the team out of a crowded room.
This group of Ryan Switzer, Lance Lenoir, Noah Brown, and KD Cannon will now include Deonte Thompson - who should have the edge over most of these names.
Thompson won't be the difference in the Cowboys' offense having a bounce back season in 2018, but his raw athleticism and effortless ability to serve as a deep threat could surely make an impact in Dak Prescott's progression.
Using Win Probabilities To Evaluate Decision Making: Cowboys Kick Vs. Raiders
The Philadelphia Eagles have surpassed the Dallas Cowboys in more ways than one, but on Super Bowl Sunday, their willingness to "be aggressive" and "take chances" shined through the most. Eagles head coach Doug Pederson was congratulated by the masses for not coaching scared, and instead going for it on key fourth downs and even attempting trick plays.
When you really evaluate those decisions, however, they shouldn't even be thought of as "risky." If anything, they were simply the obvious call.
Over the last few months I have been working with win probability models, looking to validate and refine those available to the public. I can't share too much about the work as of yet (there will hopefully be a published article in the future), but the work is certainly promising.
What I can say is this. Dennis Lock and Dan Nettleton worked to utilize random forests to estimate win probabilities before each play in an NFL game. These "forests" are similar to decision tree machine learning, cycling through random trees of past data to predict future outcomes.
Brian Burke has been utilizing his model for a while now, and Pro Football Reference has a simple, yet effective model as well. For my project, I have been working to find the "best" ways to estimate those win probabilities in order to inform decision making by head coaches and coordinators.
If you aren't utilizing analytics correctly in today's NFL, you're falling behind. And if you aren't willing to take calculated risks based off of what these numbers say and mean, you are really falling behind.
How does this all relate to the Cowboys?
Well, Cowboys Nation has been pretty consistent in their main criticism of head coach Jason Garrett: he's too conservative. They say he coaches scared, and they believe he punts the ball away too often between the 40's. Numbers accumulated by writers such as Bob Sturm and Marcus Mosher back up these claims, but I wanted to examine Garrett's decision making through the win probability lens.
I took to Twitter to ask the fan base for specific scenarios in which they felt Garrett was too conservative. Then, I ran these situations through the win probability model to determine how these decisions affected the outcomes.
Over a series of posts I will detail what the model says about the Cowboys' decision making in these key moments. First, we go back to December of last season where the Cowboys had their season on the line in Oakland.
Cowboys at Raiders, 2017
One instance which was consistently brought up was ironically from a Cowboys win. Yes, a win!
The Raiders had played the Cowboys close all game long, and with their season on the line Dallas was in position to put those pesky Raiders away. Tied at 17 they entered a fourth and goal situation at the Raiders' 1 yard line. The Cowboys decided to kick the field goal and grab a 20-17 lead. While Dallas did hang on to win, this was only because of a miraculous play by Jeff Heath which resulted in a fumble and a touchback.
Many of the fans who tweeted at me seem to think the Cowboys should have went for the touchdown on fourth down, rather than take their three points. But what does the model say?
Prior to the fourth down play, the Cowboys had about an 85% chance to win the game. After kicking the field goal and kicking the ball away to Oakland, that probability went down to just above 80%. Had the Cowboys gone for it and been stuffed at the Raiders' 1 yard line, that probability would have dropped all the way to just over 57%.
But the model does believe that Garrett made the right decision. Of course, had Dallas scored a touchdown, the game would've virtually been over, but the variance in probabilities suggests that kicking the field goal and taking the sure points was a good move.
Next week, I explain where Jason Garrett and company may have gone wrong during a key 4th down decision against the Los Angeles Rams. If you have any suggestions for plays/situations you'd like evaluated, please comment below!
Cowboys en Español: Nuevas Contrataciones, ¿Podría Ser Allen Hurns la Siguiente?
La agencia libre de los Dallas Cowboys comenzó un poco tarde, siendo el último equipo en toda la liga de la NFL en realizar una contratación este offseason. Ahora, con algunas caras nuevas en el equipo, comienzan las preguntas inevitables. ¿Qué jugadores tendrán un impacto y qué jugadores serán una contratación irrelevante?
Sólo el tiempo lo dirá. Las piezas que añadieron los Cowboys no son agentes libres de gran renombre pero podrían llegar a tener algún impacto en el 2018. Sin embargo, no todas las adquisiciones de Dallas han sido por medio de la agencia libre.
Hace unos días, los Raiders y los Cowboys acordaron un trade por el fullback Jamize Olawale. Días después de perder a Keith Smith (quien fue contratado por... los Raiders), Dallas no quiso echarse todavía otra necesidad encima, así que solucionó rápidamente su hueco en la posición que le abrirá camino a Ezekiel Elliott.
Además de enviar a Olawale a los Cowboys, los Raiders consiguieron una selección de quinta ronda de parte de Dallas y ellos entregaron su sexta ronda. En otras palabras, los Cowboys sólo renunciaron 19 turnos en las rondas tardías del Draft por un fullback que será de ayuda constante para esta ofensiva.
A pesar de ser tres años más grande que Keith Smith, Olawale le brinda a los Cowboys potencial para participar en el juego aéreo así como en el terrestre.
Por la agencia libre, los Cowboys obtuvieron ayuda ofensiva y defensiva.
Joe Thomas, (no, no el que todos conocemos como uno de los mejores tackles de la historia) el linebacker que viene de los Green Bay Packers, usará la estrella este 2018. Mi compañero y escritor de Staff Sean Martin escribió una excelente pieza analizando a detalle al nuevo defensivo.
Thomas definitivamente no será un titular, pero sin duda ayudará a un grupo de equipos especiales que necesitan bastante apoyo esta temporada. Además, es un linebacker rápido y atlético que podrá brillar como un jugador de rotación en una defensiva que incluye a Sean Lee y a Jaylon Smith.
Esta contratación no hace que los Cowboys dejen de tener una gran necesidad por un LB, pero da una profundidad que urgía a la posición.
El último movimiento y quizá el más discutido por los aficionados de los Cowboys es la adquisición de Deonte Thompson. Un receptor abierto que ha batallado para conseguir una casa en la NFL llega a un equipo que cuenta con nombres como Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams y Cole Beasley, pero que aún necesita mucho más producción.
¿Acaso la adición de Thompson al roster hace que WR deje de ser una necesidad para el equipo de los Cowboys? Claro que no, pero añade un talento que quizá pueda ayudar al equipo en ciertos aspectos.
Thompson es un jugador muy rápido, lo cual es algo que esta ofensiva necesita para abrir el campo un poco más. Un corredor de rutas bastante sólido con manos seguras. Thompson viene probablemente a ser una versión mejorada de Brice Butler por $2.5M.
Quizá fue un error de parte de la administración garantizarle un millón de su contrato. ¿Por qué garantizarle dinero a un jugador que ni siquiera debería tener un lugar asegurado en el equipo? Sin embargo, Thompson parece ser un contribuidor a la ofensiva.
Pero no fue el WR en la agencia libre del que se ha hablado esta semana en el mundo de los Dallas Cowboys. De hecho, aún después de firmar su contrato, no es el más discutido entre los aficionados.
Allen Hurns, receptor que fue cortado de Jacksonville, es un jugador que podría llegar a hacer un impacto inmediato en la ofensiva de Dak Prescott y proveerle al QB un potencial mejor amigo. A pesar de que muchos esperarían que conseguir a Hurns significaría decirle adiós a Dez Bryant, la verdad es que no sería necesario.
Hurns podría tomar el rol que Terrance Williams posee ahora como receptor "Z" y llevar a esta ofensiva a otro nivel. Todd Archer de ESPN reportó que la reciente adquisición de Deonte Thompson no significa que la posibilidad de ver a Hurns usando la estrella ha acabado.
Todos queremos ver acción en la agencia libre, aunque a veces lo sensato sea ser conservadores. Así como muchos aficionados de los Cowboys se quejan de la falta de movimientos, muchos aficionados de los Steelers y los Patriots agradecen que sus equipos tengan esta filosofía de no gastar mucho en agencia libre.
La diferencia son los resultados en el campo.
Sin embargo, Allen Hurns definitivamente parece como una opción muy viable para los Cowboys, y una adición que simplemente tendría mucho sentido. Sólo queda esperar si lograrán firmarlo o si un equipo (como los Jets, quienes han mostrado mucho interés y tienen bastante espacio en el tope salarial) logra convencerlo de no regresar a Dallas.
Por ahora, esperamos. Quizá hasta que los Cowboys firmen a alguien más. O quizá hasta la llegada del NFL Draft.
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