It feels like forever ago, but the Dallas Cowboys current 11 game winning streak started after a season-opening loss to this week's opponent - the New York Giants. Now with a remarkable chance to lock up the NFC East with a revenge win at the Giants, I sat down with NJ.com Giants Beat Writer James Kratch to get his insight on this match up from a New York perspective.
Q: So let's start with the big injury news coming into this game on the Giants side of things. Most notably, Jason Pierre-Paul was injured in that Steelers game - going to be out for some time including this game of course. Who are the Giants really looking at to step up in his absence?
He's historically always been consistently good, but he's had his best games against the Cowboys. So who are they looking at not only in the long-term as far as who can rush off that edge opposite of Olivier Vernon, but here against the Cowboys knowing you have Doug Free at right tackle - probably the only potential weak spot on the Cowboys offensive line - who are they trying to put over there to get the same pass rush that they've gotten out of Pierre-Paul?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): It's going to be tough. It's not going to be one person per say, it's going to be three main guys. Kerry Wynn, an undrafted free agent that's been in the league a couple of years. Really strong run defender. Not as much of a pass rusher - he's only got two sacks in his career. They also have two young guys, undrafted rookie Romeo Akwara - he's kind of emerged as the third end. Wynn maybe will start the game in the base package but you'll see Akwara in there on passing downs. He doesn't have a sack in his NFL career but he's flashed at times in the preseason, somewhat in the regular season. Then you have Owamagbe Odighizuwa, last year's third round pick. Basically missed his entire rookie season due to injuries. He had a good preseason but hasn't done a whole heck of a lot in the regular season -- and hasn't got a whole lot of opportunities. He missed last week's game against the Steelers with a knee injury. It looks like he should be able to play on Sunday but it's not 100% sure. He was kind of coming on strong before the knee injury, so they're going to look to those three key guys.
I think you'll also see SAM linebacker Devon Kennard also walk up a little bit in pass rush situations on the end. For the most part, it will be those three guys, and they readily admit that no one player will replace Pierre-Paul. It's really a devastating blow for this defense and this team, especially when you're going to go up against the Cowboys and that offensive line. They're kind of hoping that those three guys - and the sum of their parts - will be something equal to Pierre-Paul.
Q: Overall on this defense, how confident is this Giants team and defensive line as a whole that they can duplicate what they did in Week 1 against the Cowboys offensive line and against Ezekiel Elliott playing in his first game? They held Elliott to just 51 yards on 21 carries in this game and ever since we've all seen Elliott blossom into what we all expected him to be behind this Cowboys line when they drafted him at fourth overall. He's been great, Dak Prescott in the backfield as the other rookie has progressed as well. Obviously the Giants understand that they have a whole different test coming into this game facing those two, but how confident are they that what they did in Week 1 was something that can be duplicated here on Sunday night?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): They are very confident. They have the league's 5th ranked rush defense. Johnathan Hankins and Damon Harrison in the middle, Vernon on the edge, I would expect them to be confident as an 8-4 football team. They've had a really good defense and they've done it before, but from an outsiders perspective I just look at this Cowboys team and see a team that is drastically different from what they were in week 1 especially in Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. I think the Giants will have their hands full on Sunday.
Q: Ben McAdoo has really been giving a lot of praise to this Cowboys offense, and he even pointed out a couple of defenders that are playing pretty well for Dallas right now. You think back to this rivalry between the Giants and the Cowboys when it was Tom Coughlin over on the sideline for the Giants - coming into a game like this you would always be worried as a Cowboys fan that the Giants were going to get this win or at least make it your toughest game of the season. Always incredibly competitive, he always knew how to rally his guys for any big game and especially these against Dallas. Now under McAdoo, he's trying to get this team bounced back after a loss, he's still trying to stay alive in this NFC East race and trying to not let the Cowboys clinch the division on their home field, what's been his message to the team this week and what has he been emphasizing when it comes to understanding that they beat this team once but they can't get too far ahead of themselves if they want to prevent the Cowboys from winning their 12th straight game?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): I really don't think they've spent much time externally projecting out on this game. I think their main focus is to take it week by week. With Pierre-Paul being out, the rally cry this week has been, "all hands on deck", and a whole bunch of players have been saying that. Clearly McAdoo is drumming that into their minds. He says they have to get better at getting better, this offense has struggled mightily recently and it's a major issue. Cruz isn't getting any targets, Shepard the week before struggled too.
I don't think the Giants are worried about the Cowboys, I'm sure they want to beat them and they would prefer to not have the Cowboys clinch the East at MetLife Stadium, but I think the Giants are more focused on themselves. The division hasn't been on the table realistically for weeks now, this team has got to make a push for the Wild Card. You have Tampa Bay and Washington and teams below them that they've already lost to getting themselves back into the playoff picture. The Giants needs to focus on themselves and getting their offense right these last four games.
Q: Getting into the Giants offense, they had their six game winning streak snapped at the Steelers as Manning thew two interceptions in that game. The Cowboys defense has forced just two turnovers in their last five games overall. Looking at this Giants offense, knowing the names that are probably going to have a big game - we know Manning is going to bounce back, we know Beckham is going to get his targets and make the explosive plays that we've all seen - who else outside of those expected named do you really need to step up for the Giants offense to potentially stick with the Cowboys in what could be a shootout type of game?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): I think the running game has to step up. It remains to be seen if Shane Vereen will be active from IR for the game. If he is, they need him, Paul Perkins, and Rashad Jennings. I also think Will Tye is a guy that has proven he can make plays, they need to him to make plays consistently, and him and Jerell Adams need to block to help the run game. The Giants offense is juts not getting the job done 12 games in, and it's been a surprise given what they expected to be. They have to get this ship righted fast with four games left and a crowded NFC Wild Card mix. I think the Giants would be devastated if they started 8-3 and missed the playoffs, but I think that's very much on the table if they don't get their act together.
Q: Another sore spot for the Giants offensively not only in the Steelers game but ongoing is left tackle Ereck Flowers. This is an interesting match up talking about who Flowers is going to line up against defensively. The Cowboys have shuffled through some guys at that RDE position. They don't really have a true speed rusher. They've moved DeMarcus Lawrence back and forth a bit to try to get production from that spot. What do you see coming out of this match up if anything, can Flowers step up and help the Giants running game and really have his best game of the season to get himself right down the stretch or do you see any Cowboys defenders that can have their way against Flowers surprisingly?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): Flowers had a really bad game against the Packers earlier in the season, and he bounced back the next week pretty well. I would not go as far to say he'll have his best game of the season, but given the fact the Cowboys don't have a tremendously productive pass rush this could be a bounce back performance from Flowers. I definitely think that's one of the key things for the Giants giving them a shot to win on Sunday night, the Cowboys don't have a tremendous pass rush, their offensive line can adjust although they've been banged up.
Q: How closely are you personally expecting this game to resemble the week 1 match up between these two teams where it was kind of sloppy on both ends? On the Cowboys side of things you could tell that Prescott and Elliott weren't in their preseason form, they were a little bit uptight, allowing the Giants defense to make plays. Manning threw the game winning touchdown to hand the Cowboys their only loss so far this season.
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): I think this will be pretty much what we saw in week 1. There may be at least some snow on Sunday Night in East Rutherford. This will be a slug fest. The Giants offense isn't that great, and the Giants defense will have some success against the Cowboys. I don't think they'll have all the success they need to have to win the game but I do think they'll be able to get to Elliott and the run game and get to Dak to a point. I do think they'll generate some pass rush, and it will be a close game in the fourth quarter. I think Dallas will eventually wear the Giants down and pull away.
Q: In your opinion, is there a better team that is more fit to win a game that might be played in the snow on the road than the Cowboys with this offensive line traveling and their comfort with Ezekiel Elliott touching the ball like a workhorse back that nobody else really has?
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): No. I think this Dallas team has it drawn up how you want it to be to win these games in December on the road. In terms of the best team in the NFL, I think the Cowboys have to be considered that now. I do wonder what will happen down the road if they play Seattle, New England, Kansas City, or Oakland. If those defenses force Dak to make all the plays to beat them it will be interesting. This team is built for December football which is unique because they play indoors, and they have most of their games down the stretch indoors. The Giants are built like a dome team that plays outdoors. The Cowboys have the edge if the elements are a factor on Sunday night.
Q: Janoris Jenkins, another big off-season acquisition, still getting a feel for how New York fans respond to having such a high paid player at defensive back going up against some of the top WRs that we have here in the NFC East and around the league. What are you hearing from Jenkins and his teammates coming into this game on his match up with Dez Bryant? A lot of Cowboys fans are certainly aware of Landon Collins coming into this game as the Giants secondary has played well, he can help out along with the pass rush effecting Prescott - but overall Jenkins against Bryant is a game within this game.
James Kratch (@JamesKratch): Dez had one catch for eight yards in the opener. I don't think the Giants are going to hold Dez to one catch again on Sunday night. Every time Jenkins has faced an elite receiver - Antonio Brown last week had a TD catch on a circus grab, AJ Green earlier in the year, Jenkins did relatively well against Pryor too - he's proven to be worth his money as a lock down corner against #1 wide receivers.
I do expect Dez to make plays on Sunday night, it would be pretty hard to keep him 0 for the season in two games. The Giants are going to try to make it so Dez doesn't wreck the game for them. Tight end has been a major issue for the Giants, so Jason Witten could wreck the game and he's a guy that you have to take care of. Cole Beasley has beat them up on third down at times out of the slot. Overall Jenkins has played well and the secondary is a bright spot for the Giants going up against the Cowboys, but I do expect Dez to do something on Sunday Night - I have a hard time thinking they'll shut him down for two games.
You can follow me on Twitter for more @ShoreSportsNJ, and feel free to use the comment section below to discuss your thoughts on the Giants and Cowboys!
Dallas Cowboys Offseason: Projecting Dak Prescott’s Extension
This week, Spotrac.com, who analyzes the salary cap, player performance, and makes projections for future contracts, released their most recent contract valuations for the big name Dallas Cowboys who will be approaching the offseason looking for a new contract. Between, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys will have a lot of negotiating going on this offseason and will be handing out some big bucks.
Obviously, the one that we're most concerned about here in Cowboys Nation is what the Dallas Cowboys front office is going to do with Dak Prescott. Many fans and pundits aren't sold on Dak Prescott as a franchise quarterback, but he is a franchise quarterback and he's about to get paid like one.
Updated Baseline Market Valuations for notable #Cowboys heading into 2019 Dak Prescott: $25.2M https://t.co/ShnCWjIJOM DeMarcus Lawrence: $19.6M https://t.co/3pekUoiVjQ Amari Cooper: $16.7M https://t.co/vPymDSdEeU Zeke Elliott: $9.4M https://t.co/mtFxTap892
Over The Cap is projecting the 2019 salary cap to be around $190 million this season, which would put Dak Prescott's projected salary figure of $25.2 million at around 13.2% of this season's salary cap. And percentage of the cap is the more important number to look at when judging Dak Prescott's figure. When Russell Wilson signed his four-year extension in 2015 that averaged out at $21.9 million per year, his contract took up 15.3% of the salary cap when signed. So yes, in total dollars, Prescott's salary will be higher, but in percent of the cap it will be lower. If you give Dak Prescott 15.3% of the projected 2019 salary cap, you’re looking at $29.07 million per year.
When Spotrac does their salary projections they attempt to find quarterbacks who have had similar careers to the player and use those players as a gauge for what the projection might be, including adjustments for the market rate for the position and the growing salary cap. So, Spotrac has Dak Prescott's career thus far comparable to Blake Bortles, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, and Cam Newton. Below, you can see the contract numbers for those players that Dak Prescott compares to and the age when they signed their deals.
That's an interesting mix of players.
Let's also take a look at the top six quarterback contracts in the NFL.
Let's start first with Derek Carr, who has the sixth highest average annual pay rate at just over $25 million per year. He signed his deal two years ago in the 2017 offseason. Another contract I like to look at when attempting to figure Prescott's number is Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo got his deal from the San Francisco 49ers after only seven NFL starts (two with New England Patriots and five with the 49ers). His contract made him the fourth highest paid quarterback at $27.5 million per year. Again, after only seven NFL Starts.
Dak Prescott has 48 starts in the NFL regular season, and a career passer rating of 96. Of the top six quarterback contracts listed above, only Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo have a higher career passer rating than Dak Prescott. If you look at the top 10 quarterback contracts in the NFL now, only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Jimmy Garoppolo have a higher career passer rating than Dak Prescott. You can argue that Prescott's teams have had more success than Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, and Derek Carr in his first three seasons. While QB Wins is not a stat that we should use to evaluate quarterback play, because you’re paying not only the production of Dak Prescott, but also the intangibles if Dak Prescott, you have to look at the wins.
The Dallas Cowboys have gone 32-16 in the regular season with Dak Prescott at quarterback and 1-2 with him in the playoffs. That, in only three years in the NFL. He's going to get better as a player. Even if you don't look at QB Wins, Dak Prescott has been as productive as those guys he's mentioned with, aside from Brees and Rodgers.
Dak Prescott's body of work as a 3-year starter is franchise QB level stuff. As @Marcus_Mosher pointed out on the @lockedoncowboys Podcast, Dak's last 15 games 4,100 total yards, 30 total TDs, 7 INTs. Y'all don't want to pay that? #CowboysNation
These comparisons below look at the two years before the quarterback signing their franchise quarterback contract. Here you see that Dak compares favorably to Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Kirk Cousins.
As you can see above, over the last two years, Dak Prescott's averaged more passing yards per game, nearly as many touchdowns per game, fewer interceptions per game, and a comparable passer rating to Newton and Wilson in the two years before they signed their big contract extensions. His completion percentage That doesn't consider his play during the 2016 season in which he won rookie of the year as the starting quarterback for a team that went 13-3.
Derek Carr became the highest-paid player in NFL History after his third season. He signed a five-year, $125M extension. Here's his first three seasons next to Dak Prescott's.
RJ Ochoa, formerly of Inside The Star and now of Blogging the Boys, provided a nice comparison between Derek Carr and Dak Prescott in their first seasons in the NFL. When Derek Carr signed his contract, he became the highest paid player in NFL history.
The projection provided by Spotrac of $25.2 million is the floor as it would be just above Derek Carr's contract that he signed 2 years ago. It's entirely possible that Prescott signs a contract for more than Matt Ryan and could potentially become the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, but I'm going to estimate that Dak Prescott receives a five-year deal for $145 million, which would give him $29 million per year.
Jerry Jones has been adamant over the course of the season about his desire to get a long-term contract done with Dak in the offseason. Jerry Jones is the owner and the general manager, so it's only a matter of time before Dak's representatives and the Cowboys front office hammers out the final numbers. Dak Prescott is going to get a big deal and bigger than many in Cowboys Nation want to give him. But the going rate for franchise quarterbacks in the NFL is that number that Jimmy Garoppolo signed.
More Salary Cap and Contract discussion here at Inside The Star
Dallas Cowboys Fire Special Teams Assistant Doug Colman
The theme of last year's offseason in Dallas was coaching changes below HC Jason Garrett, OC Scott Linehan, and DC Rod Marinelli, and not yet through a week of this offseason it appears to be the same now. The Cowboys today have moved on from Special Teams Assistant Doug Colman.
Like current ST Coordinator Keith O'Quinn, Colman was in his first season with the Cowboys. The former sixth-round draft pick out of Nebraska held the same position with the Houston Texans for four previous seasons.
Small change on the #Cowboys coaching staff, as assistant special teams coach Doug Colman is out, source said. The only known change at this point.
With O'Quinn filling perhaps the biggest shoes left behind from last year, when Rich Bisaccia left the Cowboys after five seasons, the team has tentatively agreed they're struggles on special teams do not fall on the coordinator and will now be looking for a new assistant.
The Cowboys did successfully transition from Kicker Dan Bailey to Brett Maher, watching Bailey struggle with the Vikings as Maher finished 29 of 36 and six of seven on field goals of 50 or more yards. The always-steady Chris Jones averaged 44.5 yards a punt in 2018, up slightly from 44.1.
The return game is where Dallas struggled to find consistency. Deonte Thompson led the team in kick returns despite being released after eight games. Darius Jackson, Jourdan Lewis, and Cole Beasley all failed to make an impact from this spot once called upon - with Beasley and Tavon Austin also handling punt returns for an average of 5.7 yards a return.
With further upgrades at wide receiver being a pressing need for the Cowboys still, adding a dynamic returner should be of priority for both the current coaches and any new additions to the ST staff.
The Cowboys were also second to last in average kickoff return yards allowed this season, and 16th in punt coverage.
5 Potential Candidates Cowboys Could Target to Replace OC Scott Linehan
Should he go or should he stay!? That seems to be the question the Dallas Cowboys are asking themselves about their current Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Many of us would say it's an easy decision to make, but we really don't know what's going on behind closed doors.
The only thing we know for sure right now is Scott Linehan is still employed by the Dallas Cowboys and it might be a while before we know his fate with the organization one way or another. The Cowboys coaching staff, including Linehan, will coach the Pro Bowl in a little over a week, which is why any decision regarding Dallas' coaching staff will likely be delayed.
I know my opinion means little, but I have a hard time seeing Scott Linehan returning to the Dallas Cowboys next season. His playcalling has been pretty predictable and dated the past few years, plus there's the fact he was nearly fired earlier this season during the bye week. I don't think he's done much since then to improve his chances of sticking around. But, that's just my opinion.
That's why today I thought I'd share with you a few of the potential OC candidates I'd personally target if I were the Dallas Cowboys. Let's get started…
How elated would Cowboys Nation be if Tony Romo returned to the Dallas Cowboys as their next offensive coordinator. Everybody understands he doesn't have any formal coaching experience, especially in the NFL, but I seriously doubt that would matter.
No one would question his knowledge of the game, especially after hearing him break down the X's and O's first hand while he's commentating on game days. It's one of the reasons why he's grown in popularity as a commentator in such a short time.
Honestly, bringing in Romo as the OC could be the match made in heaven for the Cowboys. He already knows the system Jason Garrett likes to use offensively and his coaching philosophy. It would likely be a seamless transition, especially since he's already so familiar with the personnel. But, there's really no way of knowing if he's ready to leave his cushy commentating job to become a coach.
As much as I'd like to see Tony Romo make his return back to the Dallas Cowboys in a coaching capacity, bringing back Todd Haley to the organization would be a close second. He spent 2004-2006 with the Cowboys as their wide receiver coach before moving on to become the offensive coordinator for several teams (Cardinals, Steelers, Browns) and the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Unlike Romo, Haley has a proven track record as a play caller in the NFL. I personally like what he would bring to the table if made the new OC in Dallas. He is an aggressive play caller with a fiery attitude. I think his addition to the Cowboys offense could have the same kind of impact as Kris Richard's did to the defense this past season.
There is a downside about Haley though. He can be a bit abrasive with those he's working with. He's known for not always getting along with some of his players or with his coaching staff. It's one of the reasons why both he and Hue Jackson were fired this past season by the Cleveland Browns. I don't think it would be a problem with Dallas, but it is something to think about.
I'm grasping a little bit here because it would take quite a bit to lure Eric Bieniemy away from the Kansas City Chiefs, but it's not completely impossible. Jerry Jones would have to really put on his business hat to get Bieniemy's attention, especially after he was in the running for a few head-coaching jobs here recently. But, we all know how persuasive Jerry Jones can be when he wants to.
First off, the Dallas Cowboys would have to make Bieniemy their assistant head coach as well as their offensive coordinator. He is already the OC with the Chiefs, just not the playcaller. Andy Reid still handles those responsibilities. He does however handle the majority of the game planning, which is raved about because of his attention to detail.
His players have also raved about his personality and aggressiveness as a coach. This is something that has endeared Cowboys players to Kris Richard in a short amount of time and it could be the same if Eric Bieniemy comes aboard. Unfortunately, I think this is a longshot. He's probably is eyeing a head-coaching job that could come as soon as next season. Jason Garrett replacement?
Joe Lombardi, the grandson of Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, isn't on a lot of people's list as a potential offensive coordinator candidate, but probably should be. He does have one year of experience as an OC in the NFL, but that was with the Detroit Lions in 2014-2015 and we shouldn't count that against him. No play callers last long in Detroit since Matthew Stafford took over as their starting QB.
The reason I really like Lombardi as a potential Scott Linehan replacement is because of the time he spent with Sean Payton and Drew Brees in New Orleans. Minus the one year in Detroit, he's been with the Saints since 2007. The majority of that time was spent as the QB coach to one of the best ever played the game.
I've been trying to figure out a way to get Sean Payton back as a Cowboys coach for the past several seasons without any success. Turning to someone he's personally groomed could be the next best thing. He was there through all of Drew Brees' numerous passing records and his Super Bowl victory. He has also help develop Taysom Hill into the playmaker he's become this season. He could just be the guy to take Dak Prescott's game to the next level.
Doug Nussmeier (In-house Candidate)
If the Dallas Cowboys do indeed decide to move on from Scott Linehan, it doesn't necessarily mean they will look outside the organization for a new offensive coordinator. They could quite possibly already have his replacement on the team in Doug Nussmeier, who served as their tight end coach this season.
Nussmeier's coaching background mostly consist of him being a QB coach or offensive coordinator at the collegiate level. In fact, those are the only two coaching titles he's held throughout his career until this year when he became the Cowboys TE coach. I don't know about you, but I find that pretty impressive, especially after seeing Dallas' young tight ends progress through the season.
Promoting Nussmeier to OC would virtually be a seamless transition for everybody involved. He knows the system, the players, and has been involved in the game planning this past season. I don't know however if he would be an upgrade over Scott Linehan. The two have known one another for years and have worked together in the past. Not exactly a ringing endorsement in my opinion.
Do any of these Dallas Cowboys OC candidates intrigue you? If not who?
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