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How The Cowboys Should Approach Weeks 16 And 17 At Quarterback

RJ Ochoa

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Dak Prescott, Tony Romo

A lot has happened since the Dallas Cowboys defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers during Week 15's edition of Sunday Night Football:

  • The Philadelphia Eagles beat the New York Giants on Thursday Night Football, giving the Cowboys the NFC East, a first-round bye, and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs as the NFC's top seed.
  • The Washington Redskins beat the Chicago Bears, putting them at 8-6-1 on the season and depending on the Cowboys on Monday Night Football (I'll explain in a bit).
  • The Green Bay Packers beat the Minnesota Vikings, putting them at 9-6 on the season and a win-and-clinch scenario away from the NFC North title.

What's At Stake This Week?

That final little bit about the Green Bay Packers is very pertinent to the Cowboys match-up against the Lions. Detroit enters this game at 9-5... with a win they will clinch a playoff berth (worst case scenario as the NFC's second Wildcard), but with a loss their hopes remain alive to win the NFC North.

Jason GarrettWeek 17's Lions/Packers game has already been flexed to Sunday Night Football as - regardless of what happens between Dallas and Detroit - the winner of the game will win the NFC North. The only way that can change any degree is with a Lions-over-Cowboys win, which would give Detroit some room for error against Green Bay.

The stakes could be even higher in that Lions/Packers game if the Cowboys beat Detroit. Should Dallas topple the Lions, then the Washington Redskins will have an opportunity to clinch that second Wildcard spot themselves next week with a win over the New York Giants. That would mean only the winner from Lions/Packers would head to the playoffs.

Derek Carr And Marcus Mariota: A Lesson Learned

Typically on Christmas Eve a fine gentleman named Santa Claus travels across the world to bring presents and joy to everyone... such was not the case in Oakland or Tennessee.

On the day before Christmas we saw both Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota incur broken fibulas, ending their 2016 seasons. Tennessee was still fighting for a playoff spot, and obviously that hurts a lot, but Oakland was already playoff-bound... simply fighting for their division and other advantages.

The NFL is a cruel, cruel thing. Your season can be taken away from you on one random play, we in Cowboys Nation know that all too well (see: 2015). I've cautioned before here at Inside The Star that if/when the Cowboys find themselves in a meaningless game... Tony Romo should not play.

This same notion is applicable to Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, if you can name a player that's important to the Cowboys - he's involved. While both Carr and Mariota were playing with something at stake, do you really not want to learn the lesson from that? It's a miracle - a gift - that the Cowboys are where they are, with what they have, and are actually getting healthy (Claiborne, Wilcox, etc.).

Rest Vs Rust

The primary reason why you wouldn't want to put the important players on ice until football games have consequences again (Saturday, January 14th at the earliest for the Cowboys) is because "we don't want them to be rusty in the playoffs."

Do we want anyone to be rusty in the playoffs? Of course not. That goes without saying.

What we want is all of our players... in the playoffs. The Cowboys are at a point where they can have what they want, but yes it comes at the risk of accumulating rust. The counterpoint to that is the risk that's involved with playing them in two meaningless games... losing them altogether like Oakland and Tennessee lost their quarterbacks.

The Detroit Lions Game Is Essentially Meaningless

The Cowboys will play (depending on when you've read this) in Week 16's finale on Monday Night Football. It was a big loss for ESPN that the Cowboys clinched everything back during TNF and that the Green Bay Packers won on Saturday. Why?

The Cowboys side of things is obvious, they have literally nothing to gain. They have it all. On the other side of things, the Lions really can't do much in this game. Yes, they can clinch a playoff spot and I acknowledge the importance of that... but Detroit is basically starting the playoffs now with an extra life that they can burn on their first game.

Even if the Lions win, they are playing for the rights to the NFC North and keeping Green Bay out of the playoffs in Week 17. It is essentially the most meaningless meaningful game ever.

An Allowance For The Alternative

Dak PrescottI've been staunch in the notion that Tony Romo, nor any of the important players on the Cowboys, should see any playing time when things are meaningless. The word "meaningless" literally means that there's no meaning... so play people who have no meaning to you.

While I don't agree with it, I understand the argument that players, Romo included obviously, could incur rust with so much time off. As a result, here's my proposal for how the Dallas Cowboys should handle Weeks 16 and 17 at the quarterback position:

  • Dak Prescott plays the first three quarters against Detroit.
  • Tony Romo plays the final quarter against Detroit.
  • Mark Sanchez plays the entirety of the game in Philadelphia.

I called this an allowance because I'm allotting for time for Tony Romo. It's not something that I want happening, but if there is a quarter to play him in... it's this one. The fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions - with the game likely decided - is the safest quarter of the season for Romo. We're talking about potentially two quarters against what will then be a winded defense who is playing in a pseudo-meaningless game.

Why Is Tony Romo Such A Focus In This Conversation?

Tony Romo is the backup quarterback on the Dallas Cowboys. We all know that.

The reason that Romo and his health are of extremely high priority for us is because of what we've learned from this season across the NFL - a backup quarterback is an insane luxury.

RJ Ochoa on Twitter

Current AFC Playoff QBs: Tom Brady Matt McGloin Ben Roethlisberger Tom Savage Alex Smith Matt Moore No I didn't make any of those names up

Let me reiterate - Dak Prescott is the starting quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. Tony Romo is the backup. We all acknowledge this.

We also need to acknowledge the lottery ticket that Tony Romo is if something happens to Dak like we saw with Carr and Mariota. Tony Romo's health - he's been hurt three of the last six times he's put on an NFL uniform and saw action - is of the utmost priority to this team. He isn't simply a backup quarterback, he's QB1B. His role should not be diminished by the name assigned to him on the depth chart.

This also has an opposing argument laced with, "well if you think Romo is that injury prone then let's just roll with Sanchez." You tell me who you want in a playoff game at quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. A rusty Romo that could potentially get hurt or Mark Sanchez? The answer is obvious.

Maximizing Odds With Rest

The notion is that if the Cowboys sit out players in Philadelphia that they'll go "three weeks without playing." There are 19 days between the Lions game and Saturday, January 14th (the day that the Divisional Round begins). They are "missing" what would otherwise be two football games in that span. That's eight quarters of supposedly accumulated rust.

Jason Garrett is this season's Coach of the Year. It's not debatable, accept it or don't - it's true. If anyone is well-equipped to handle that stretch of missed time with his players, it's Coach Garrett and his staff.

In a perfect world the Dallas Cowboys would play every available quarter of football, keep "momentum", and suffer no injuries. Derek Carr and Marcus Mariota just proved that this is not a perfect world.

This is a world - a game - of maximizing odds. We're playing a game of chess, looking far down the road. You do what you can to put yourself in the best positions for success, and this is it. Huzzah.

Tell us what you think about "How The Cowboys Should Approach Weeks 16 And 17 At Quarterback" in the comments below. You can also email me at RJ.Ochoa@SlantSports.com, or Tweet to me at @RJOchoa!



I like long walks on the beach, mystery novels, no just kidding those suck. The Dallas Cowboys were put on this earth for us all to love and appreciate. I do that 24/7/365. I also love chicken parmesan. Let's roll. @RJOchoa if you wanna shout!

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Star Blog

2018 In Review: Byron Jones Emerges As CB1

Kevin Brady

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Byron Jones

Heading into the 2018 season Byron Jones was being asked to prove himself. The former first round pick had fallen out of the coaches' good graces during his third season, though many of his struggles could be attributed to those very coaches which were then questioning his ability.

Being asked to play out of position, or at least in a spot which did not maximize his natural ability, Jones struggled in 2017. Too often he was playing in the box as a safety where his lack of physicality was exposed by the opponent's run game. This was mostly due to the coaching staff falling in love with his tight-end-erasing ability in man coverage, but backfired when overused as a safety.

Once hired the following offseason, Kris Richard and company decided to move Byron Jones to cornerback full time, allowing him to utilize his excellent coverage skills and athletic ability to the fullest, rather than putting him at a disadvantage in the box.

The results? Well, Jones had one of the best seasons of any cornerback in football, earning All Pro and Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his young career.

Pro Football Focus on Twitter

Byron Jones had a dominant season for Dallas

Pro Football Focus graded Jones as the sixth best cornerback in all of football last season, allowing just 0.79 yards per coverage snap. Despite not having an interception on the season, Jones still earned national recognition as one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league.

Down the stretch of the season, Chidobe Awuzie started to play up to the level which fans had hoped for during the preseason. He had been sticky in coverage most of the year, but now he was making plays on the ball at a much better rate, forcing incompletions. This led to an increase in targets to Jones' side, and though the increase resulted in more catches given up by the number one cornerback, I don't think Jones' play faltered as much as some will have you believe.

The fact is, when you get targeted more you are bound to give up more catches and yards. The key is to force them into contested catches, and make things as difficult for the receiver as possible when targeted.

Byron Jones continued to do this all season long, and fans should be excited for the next step of his growth in 2019.



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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Comentando el Tope Salarial

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Time to Stop Making Excuses for QB Dak Prescott?

Por muchos años, el tema del tope salarial ha sido un tema sensible para los Dallas Cowboys. Entre dinero muerto y otros problemas, el equipo ha tenido una situación delicada en este aspecto. Sin embargo, para la temporada del 2019 tienen más espacio de lo que estamos acostumbrados.

Según Over The Cap, los Cowboys tendrán aproximadamente 48 millones de dólares disponibles en 2019. Es importante recalcar que este número no es definitivo y puede cambiar. Año tras año, esta administración ha sido aficionada de reestructurar los contratos de ciertos veteranos para liberar espacio salarial constantemente. Además de esto, hay varios jugadores bajo contrato que el equipo podría decidir cortar para liberar aún más dinero.

Al ver sólo 48 millones disponibles, es complicado imaginar un escenario en que el equipo logre satisfacer todos sus objetivos. Hay bastantes candidatos a grandes extensiones en el equipo, principalmente dos jugadores. En una liga en la que quarterback es la posición más importante, la segunda más importante podría ser la del caza cabezas, cuyo objetivo es ir tras el quarterback contrario.

DeMarcus Lawrence, Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Pues en Dallas, hoy dos  jugadores en estas posiciones que hay que extender. El más urgente sin duda es el defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence se puso el jersey del equipo cuando este lo designó a jugar bajo la etiqueta franquicia. Afortunadamente, el atleta de 26 años la hizo de soldado y jugó sin amenazar con faltar a entrenamientos ni pretemporada.

Lo que sí comentó es que no pasaría por lo mismo en 2019. Ahora, el momento está aquí y es tiempo de que los Cowboys lo extiendan. El valor de Lawrence es difícil de predecir, pero es bastante seguro que se acercará a los números de Khalil Mack. Mack hizo historia ganando un contrato que en promedio gana 23.5 millones al año. Si bien no anticiparía que lo supere, la cifra estará cerca al contrato del defensivo de los Chicago Bears.

Además está Dak Prescott, cuyo contrato probablemente estará por encima de los 25 millones anuales. Son contratos caros, pero son piezas fundamentales para el equipo. Definitivamente se les tiene que pagar a ambos. Son pilares que año tras año buscan equipos en toda la NFL.

Además de esto, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, Cole Beasley y más podrían tener un impacto en el tope salarial. Algunos buscan un contrato nuevo, otros una extensión. Pero honestamente, me parece que habrá más espacio en el tope salarial de lo que pensamos. Sólo es cuestión de tiempo para que los Cowboys comiencen a reestructurar a sus veteranos para ahorrarse unos cuantos millones para utilizar en agencia libre.

Tyron Smith, Tyrone Crawford entre otros pueden ser buenas opciones para comenzar este proceso. Antes era Jason Witten uno de los candidatos favoritos para este proceso, pero él ya se encuentra comentando partidos para ESPN. En Inside The Star, continuaremos actualizándote con contenido al día de los Dallas Cowboys.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Comentando el Tope Salarial" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Star Blog

Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason?

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Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason? 2

Super Bowl LIII is in the books, and the Dallas Cowboys can look back on a better-than-expected 2018 campaign. Having won the NFC East with a 10-6 record and bowing out to eventual finalists Los Angeles Rams, the Cowboys' young team can look ahead to 2019 as a chance to take another step forward.

The offseason is now upon us, with the NFL free agency period opening in the middle of March and the NFL Draft coming around at the end of April. Until those times, experts, pundits, and fans are left to assess their teams and predict their activities in the running to the start of next season.

The Dallas Cowboys are in a precarious position, with the team exceeding expectations, still being very young and having plenty of cap space, but also having many top-end players set to become free agents and being without a first-round pick in this year’s draft. There does, however, appear to be a way for the team to make improvements and solidify their place atop the NFC East and potentially go on to win in the Conference Finals.

Lock Down the Big Guns

Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason?

@Randy81MossRetires, via Twitter

Many see DeMarcus Lawrence as the top potential free agent this spring, so the Dallas Cowboys need to do everything in their power to lock down the 26-year-old defensive end.

Vice President Stephen Jones has emphasized the team’s target of retaining their own stars, per Star-Telegram, with Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and perhaps Byron Jones being in the discussion for long-term deals.

As it stands, the team will have roughly $48.5 million in cap space for next season, which leaves plenty of space to re-sign their top players. They look set to let go of Tavon Austin, David Irving, and quite possibly Cole Beasley, among others, leaving a need to add reinforcements.

Adding New Talent

Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason? 1

@brkicks, via Twitter

One of the most heavily rumored moves for Dallas in this free agency is picking up native Texan and former Legion of Boom linchpin Earl Thomas, per Forbes.

Against the Rams in the playoffs and throughout the season, the Cowboys lacked a defenseman who could make plays on the pass. Thomas is one of the notorious ball hawks in the league, boasting 28 career interceptions, three of which came in just four games of last season.

If the Cowboys can re-sign their stars while keeping some space for an Earl Thomas-sized contract, which clocked in at $10.4 million in 2018 for the Seattle Seahawks, their odds of going all the way next season will significantly increase.

Right now, the expected names of the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs lead the odds to win the next Super Bowl at +750. Behind them, the Rams sit at +900 having suffered a suffocating defeat in this year’s Super Bowl. Much further down are the Cowboys at +2500 right now with redbet. If they re-sign Lawrence, pay their young stars, and bring in Thomas, they’ll shoot up the table of favorites.

Then, there’s also the additions in the draft to consider.

The Cowboys may be without a first-round selection, but that may end up working in their favor. Round one of the 2019 NFL Draft is set to be laden with defensive selections according to most mock drafts, with a few quarterbacks sprinkled around and a minimal selection of offensive weapons. If the Cowboys re-sign Lawrence, they’ll be looking good at defensive end, so should then turn to giving Prescott another weapon in the passing game, which will also help to keep defenses honest and give Elliott more room to operate.

As stated, the NFL is a passing league, and Prescott exploded once he was given a viable option in Amari Cooper. Michael Gallup is expected to take another step forward next season, but just in case, the Cowboys can add another strong receiving option in the draft thanks to the strength of the defensive class. A.J. Brown of Ole Miss will almost certainly go in the first round, but exciting talents in D.K. Metcalf, Parris Campbell, Marquise Brown, and Deebo Samuel could all still be available when Dallas rings in during the second round.

Improving Dallas' pass options and pass defense will go a long way toward improving the team and allowing them to push on to a bigger and better campaign in 2019.



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