The Dallas Cowboys defense took a step forward in 2017, and in the process they answered several questions. They found a “war daddy” in DeMarcus Lawrence, something that’s been missing since DeMarcus Ware left for the Denver Broncos. Lawrence finished tied for second with Calais Campbell in sacks with 14.5, and made the NFL All-Pro Second Team.
We got to see Jaylon Smith answer questions about his health all season long. Smith appears to be trending in the right direction, both in his health and his performance on the field.
The plan to rebuild the secondary seems to be on the right track as they’ve found a couple of aggressive corners in Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. They have the look of a dynamic duo that will be impact players on this team for a long, long time.
Kavon Frazier has been a revelation. The thumper at the safety position is something that's been missing for the Dallas Cowboys since Roy Williams.
However, questions still remain about a defense that carried this team at times, and looked like the Rob Ryan and Monte Kiffin defenses of yesteryear at other times.
To me the biggest questions in the secondary revolve around Byron Jones and Xavier Woods.
Where do Byron Jones and Xavier Woods Fit?
Byron Jones has been a popular whipping boy for Cowboys Nation. Some of that has been accurate, but he's not as bad as social media would have you believe.
He’s been sticky in coverage, especially against tight ends, throughout his career, but in 2017 it seemed like he was shying away from tackling a bit too much. He still has that tremendous athleticism and coverage ability that warranted a first-round pick, but the question remains: What is his best position?
After playing where needed his rookie season, the Cowboys coaching staff moved him to safety for the last couple of years with mixed results.
As stated, he’s been pretty good in coverage and made some incredible plays on the ball, even if he’s lacking the interception numbers. The problem comes, in my opinion, when he’s asked to make tackles in space, which is an important aspect of being a safety.
Many have begun to wonder if Dallas would be best served moving Jones back to corner.
As a cornerback, Jones would be able to use his athleticism and coverage skills against the bigger wide receivers in the league, but not be asked to make as many tackles in the middle of the field against running backs and tight ends.
They can still bring him in against some of the better tight ends in the league. We already know the Cowboys will face Zach Ertz of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jordan Reed of the Washington Redskins, and Evan Engram of the New York Giants for a total of six games in 2018.
Dallas will also face the likes of Michael Thomas, DeAndre Hopkins, Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Alshon Jeffrey and Marvin Jones, who are bigger more athletic wide receivers who could require a man of Byron's skill.
It will be interesting to see what they do with Byron this offseason.
The same question applies to Xavier Woods, but not because he struggled. He was actually quite good as the slot corner throughout much of his rookie season.
Woods primarily played safety in his time at Louisiana Tech, and showed an ability to be the deep middle safety. Because of injuries to the cornerback group, Woods lined up as the slot corner for a lot of his snaps.
He played well there for Dallas, leaving many to wonder if he hasn’t earned the role of third cornerback. That may be a good fit, but it’s not typical to see a guy who was primarily a safety in college become a corner in the NFL.
I'd rather see him as a full-time safety.
With Woods at safety, Dallas can stay in their base defense when teams go to three wide receiver formations, especially on early downs or in situations where a run is just as likely. He can drop down from the safety spot to play in the slot, if -- and it's a big if -- you trust your single-high safety.
Woods' ability to cover in the slot allows you to stay competitive against the run, which was a struggle for Dallas.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
We’ve seen how the yo-yo game between positions can affect a player's technique and mentality. Chaz Green wasn’t the same player in 2017 when asked to prepare as both a guard and a tackle, as opposed to 2016 when he strictly played tackle.
In my opinion, it would be to the Dallas Cowboys interest to move Byron Jones back to cornerback full-time, and move Woods to safety.
When you decide to go to your nickel package, Chidobe Awuzie and Jones play the outside with Jourdan Lewis moving to the middle. Or you bring Jones in to cover the tight end, leave Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, and drop Woods into the slot and play cover 1.
What do you think?
Where do Byron Jones and Xavier Woods fit best on this team?
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?
This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.
if you can only pay one it should be
The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.
To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.
Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.
The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.
Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.
As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.
Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.
In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.
Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.
Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.
Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.
Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.
Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.
BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb
According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.
Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T
The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.
During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.
After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.
This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.
Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur
L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.
Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.
The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e
Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.
Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.
Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.
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