If you're familiar with my contributions at CowboysZone.com, then you know I’m not a big believer in these 2014 Cowboys. Let me define “big believer” – I do not believe this team is championship caliber. I’m certainly not willing to write off their potential as a playoff team.
The Cowboys are only one year removed from going 5-6 against their NFC East foes, losing the last one largely because Romo was injured, Orton was Orton, and the defense (decimated by injury) was one of the worst the Cowboys have ever fielded.
Since the tragic end of the last season, the Cowboys have taken several steps to address the woes on defense. However, as a result of a limited cap and a draft that saw their top three defensive targets scratched off the big board in the first round, prior to the Zach Martin pick; arguably their best two defenders last year lost via Free Agency, and the recent loss of Sean Lee to injury, Dallas has had to be simultaneously cost-effective and creative in their rebuild.
This has been particularly the case on the defensive line where we will likely see three new starters, possibly four; depending on George Selvie’s training camp and Anthony Spencer’s recovery.
As a result of personnel turnover, and the various gambles the Cowboys brass have made on an assortment of players with mixed degrees of past success, the defense - on paper - is a huge question mark. But that’s not the same thing as hopeless…more on that later.
For now, let's review who the Cowboys presently have penciled in as significant contributors.
Barry Church -
He tops my list in terms of knowing what you’re going to get. The fact that he's moving to strong safety is a plus, I believe, since he is a very heady player, rarely out of position, can lay the wood, and is ideal for a run-support role. The only knock on Church is his coverage ability, particularly if he has to run with the speedier variety of receivers. As an SS he'll pick up coverage on TEs and RBs out of the backfield more often than not.
Orlando Scandrick -
After what many would call a sophomore slump, he has been pretty solid in pretty much everything the Cowboys have asked him to do, especially manning the slot. He's a fearless hitter, knows his role and assignments, and has the athleticism to stick with just about every receiver in the NFL.
With the loss of Sean Lee, unfortunately, that's the end of certainty. Now for the host of questionable, in no particular order:
Henry Melton -
Were it not for the fact that he's returning from a season-ending injury requiring knee surgery, you could likely slide this guy over to the sure-thing column. He's young, athletic, and while no one expects him to improve on or duplicate Hatcher's contribution last year, he still looks to be a better long-term solution in the 3-tech DT role.
George Selvie -
I really thought long and hard about putting him in the sure-thing column. Trouble is, what he did last year was for the first time in his career and, furthermore, his play started to fall off in the final third of the season, which makes me wonder: Was he running out of gas or were the first several games anomalous, not to be repeated? As a result of last year, I’m hoping one of the youngsters prove to be starter-worthy since it seems his value and the team would benefit from giving him limited snaps throughout the season.
Brandon Carr -
If he was the #2 corner, I would say he is a sure thing. But I don't believe the Cowboys can count on Carr to consistently hold a true #1 receiver to at least modest days. I'm not asking him to be a shutdown corner; I'm not sure there is such a thing in this pass-happy era of football. But I think most would agree he struggled throughout the year in the CB 1 role, and it would seem a lack of athleticism overall was the predominant culprit for his difficulties. He always seemed to be a step too late or behind his responsibilities.
Kyle Wilber –
Quick hat-tip to my fellow DCN Contributor Erod for the following: Which Wilber is going to show up? The Wilber who started in the second Giants game last year, or the Wilber who for the most part had been underwhelming in terms of showing up as a significant contributor? I know Erod is really hoping it's the former, but count me among those who have him projected as a backup behind Durant when the season begins. To be honest, I have an ulterior motive – if Durant is starting in his stead, that would suggest Rolando McClain proves to be a steal for the MLB position. I know, on that, I’m being a tad bit optimistic…but here’s hoping anyway.
Terrell McClain –
Four years in the league and the Cowboys are his fourth stop. On a resume, that typically means the shredder gets fed. But given the Cowboys' cap issues, they have to roll the dice on potential across the board this year. His career stats aren't worth mentioning but to be fair, McClain’s first two stops were in 3-4 defenses, where a DT is more of a blocker-eater than the guy getting after some sacks and tackles. The Panthers were his last stop, where he played predominately in the 4-3 and he had his best statistical year, despite only starting 12 games. Furthermore, not sure exactly how this will translate to the regular season, but several quotes throughout the OTAs pegged him as the most impressive player to watch on the defensive side of the ball.
Amobi Okoye –
A mysterious undisclosed injury/illness has thus far prevented us from getting any news on how Amobi fared in the offseason. He joins both Melton and Marinelli from the Bears, though his best year was in 2010 with the Texans. Since then there has been a notable slide in his performance. Whether due to age, declining ability or lack of desire, the hope is that Rod Marinelli can reignite his career.
DeVonte Holloman –
Drafted in the 6th round last year, DeVonte was impressive, all things considered. Against Miami in the Hall of Fame Game, he returned an interception for a 75 yard touchdown. After missing seven games with a spinal contusion, he returned to start the final three games due to a few injuries at middle linebacker. Against Philadelphia in the season finale, the lights seemed to come on for him. He led the team with 11 tackles and 2 sacks. Having played strong safety the majority of his college career, I was more than impressed with his production in his new role as MLB. But the Cowboys have seen flash-in-the-pan prospects before; guys who look like world-beaters one season and completely fall off the next. This will be his year to prove the last game was not a mirage.
Bruce Carter -
In the attacking 4-3 you really need guys with his type of athleticism. However, he is another up and down presence on the field. Sometimes he takes good angles and he sifts through traffic with ease to lay the hit you expect from a physical presence like him. Other times, you're left scratching your head wondering, "what was he thinking?" Many point to a simple lack of confidence. Others to a lack of desire and passion. Confidence can be fixed. I'm not so sure about the latter, though.
Morris Claiborne -
Can he stay healthy? Can he get his mind right? Is he a bust - was he worth the 1st and 2nd round picks? We've seen flashes from Claiborne that make us believe he has all the tools you want in a corner. Nevertheless, for every good play you see, we have witnessed him get completely burned and, possibly as a result of being smaller than today's prototypical corner, his ability to stay healthy is questionable. I hate to point to intangibles, but I think he may have the same affliction that some have ascribed to Bruce Carter - lack of confidence. Whatever the reason, he has to show something this year.
Justin Durant -
Arguably his best year was 2012 with the Lions, where he had 103 combined tackles, but considering I never really watched him before Dallas, that stat could be misleading. Regardless, his production dropped from 103 tackles to just 24 with the Cowboys in 2013. Part of the separation here is a result of him starting the full 16 games in 2012, while he only started 10 games last year because an injury similar to Sean Lee. The other part is he was removed from the field in many nickel situations and, regardless of base, in today’s NFL, defenses are forced to lineup in the nickel the majority of the time. Nevertheless, clearly something was missing last year. And, of course, though he doesn't seem to have many injury red flags, the Cowboys faithful will still find room to ask: Can he stay healthy this year?
Jeremy Mincey -
This guy was the head-scratcher signing of Free Agency - he started two games for a defense that was terrible and only registered 1 tackle. Part of me thinks maybe the Cowboys brought him in to be a veteran presence, someone with experience getting to the Championship game. It's a relatively cheap veteran contract on a team that started 20 different players on the defensive line last year. But whatever the reason, questions certainly abound for this guy.
Tyrone Crawford –
Initially brought in to be a 3-4 DE, his body type gives him some flexibility across the line. Unfortunately, he was injured early last season, so we haven’t the slightest idea what to expect from him in the 4-3, but it’s safe to say he is not the speed-rusher type of DE. Like too many already discussed, staying healthy is a question mark for him, as well.
Anthony Spencer -
He, too, is shrouded in mystery, so-to-speak. We really didn't get that much of an opportunity to see him in the 4-3 DE role last year. He is on the wrong side of 30. He has a history of injuries. Enough said.
Rolando McClain -
Coming out of college, he met all the criteria for being the Right Kind of Guy – Team Captain, gym rat, studied film with Nick Saban, great team player, fantastic physical tools and, at least, seemed to love football. From what I've read, his dismissal from the Raiders had very little to do with performance. Granted, his play may not have warranted an 8th overall selection in the 1st round of the 2010 draft, but for the most part, he played sound assignment football and is likely the best coverage linebacker on the team - next to Sean Lee. On the other hand, there are the off-the-field issues and him recently being quoted as saying, "he doesn’t love football" following three retirements. So the question is which player will show up at training camp?
J.J. Wilcox -
Physically, he looks the part for a free safety. He has speed, he can cover, and having spent significant time as a receiver in college, he can catch, making him a potential ball-hawk. Unfortunately, we must point to intangibles with Wilcox, as well. He lost his mother late in preseason last year and many point to that for why he never seemed to get his mind right. He also suffered injury, though, not of the season-ending variety. For some reason, he was never able to get his job back from Jeff Heath.
Now, in an effort to avoid this becoming so long that no one gives it a second glance...
Rookies, Jags, and No-names: Behind the above are a host of players who have to answer the following questions: Can they make the switch from college to the pros? Can they stay healthy? Can they improve on 2013 with more experience in the 4-3 defense? Do they belong in the NFL? Were they worthy of moving up in the 2nd round using a very valuable 3rd round pick (Yes, I am talking to you Mr. Lawrence)?
At this point you may be wondering, why rehash the things most of us already know? See the title - the point is that there is a difference between having "questions" and being "hopeless." Sprinkle a little Marinelli magic over the defense, combined with avoiding the injury bug and who knows? This team could overachieve and prove to be a contender.
You simply never know in the NFL. Do I expect it? Not really...nor would I place money on it. However, I would be willing to wager that this defense will at least be in the Top 20 by seasons end.
Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración
Entre los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys, pocas cosas son criticadas tan frecuentemente como la administración de la franquicia que no ha ganado ningún Super Bowl en más de dos décadas. Se ha convertido en un equipo que, a pesar de ser el más valioso en el mundo deportivo, no ha sido nada relevante en el emparrillado. Lo que alguna vez fue una dinastía se ha convertido en una unidad que rompe frecuentemente los corazones de los fans.
Jerry Jones y Stephen Jones, siendo los operadores del ámbito deportivo del negocio familiar, son criticados semana tras semana y en gran parte por justa razón. Pero en gran parte, por cosas no muy válidas.
Cambios de Coach
A mi parecer, lo más criticable para la administración de este equipo viene cuando hablamos de los coaches. Muchos se burlan de los Cincinnati Bengals y de la manera en la que están atascados con el Head Coach Marvin Lewis. Con Jason Garrett al volante, la situación para los Cowboys no es nada diferente.
A mediados de la temporada 2018, no parece que esta narrativa vaya a cambiar. Una vez más, los Cowboys arrancaron de una manera muy inconsistente y ya no sabemos que esperar de ellos. Gran parte de las derrotas, la mayor parte, es el coacheo.
Sin duda el equipo no será exactamente el mismo en 2019, pero ¿serán suficientes los cambios como para decidir quedarse con el mismo capitán que no ha podido mantener el barco navegando por años?
A diferencia de como se manejan muchos equipos en la liga, los Jones fungen como general managers de su propio equipo. Con la ayuda de Will McClay han logrado superar varios de los fracasos de los Jones de antaño, pero actualmente, siendo sinceros no han hecho un mal trabajo.
A pesar de las critícas de Abril, Leighton Vander Esch está probando haber valido más que la pena. Siendo objetivos, aparte de Taco Charlton en el 2017, todas las selecciones de primera ronda de los Cowboys han sido valiosas. La línea ofensiva, el corredor, un cornerback que por fin se está perfilando como uno de los mejores en la liga.
En cuanto a la segunda ronda, ha habido varias críticas, muchas con razón. Pero el mejor caza cabezas del equipo, DeMarcus Lawrence, el linebacker Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory y más están teniendo un impacto muy fuerte en el equipo.
La administración se ha visto en la necesidad de tomar decisiones bastante difíciles después de una temporada de nueve victorias en 2017. El LB Anthony Hitchens fue liberado, Dan Bailey se fue inesperadamente, se confió en Byron Jones para tomar su opción de quinto año.
Hasta ahora, pura decisión digna de aplaudirse. Pero ninguna como la más reciente de todas: Amari Cooper.
Por más caro que haya salido, los Cowboys merecen bastante crédito por haber mejorado muchísimo su posición de WR. Si el equipo llega a tener una oportunidad esta temporada, será en gran parte por él.
No cabe ninguna duda en mi cabeza de que los Jones han cometido errores a lo largo de los años, el más evidente siendo la resistencia de dejar ir a Jason Garrett. Pero a pesar de esto, la administración ha tomado excelentes decisiones y ha realizado el draft muy bien. En ese aspecto en específico, les aplaudo.
Sack Numbers Don’t Tell DeMarcus Lawrence’s 2018 Story
Coming off of a career year in 2017, many fans expected DeMarcus Lawrence to continue his ridiculous sack production this season. After all, he is once again in a "contract year" due to the franchise tag, and fans are hoping the Cowboys can secure him longterm this offseason.
Through the first four games of 2018, Lawrence looked as ridiculous and unstoppable as ever. He had 5.5 sacks, tied for the league lead, and was dictating the pass protection schemes of every offense the Cowboys were facing.
Since that hot start, though, DeMarcus Lawrence has recorded just 1 sack, falling behind some of the league leaders he was once ahead of. This has some people scratching their heads and wondering if Lawrence's career year in 2017 was just that, a career year. One which he will never replicate again, and one which the Cowboys should factor out when talking contract extensions.
Here's why those people are wrong.
Let's first talk about what makes DeMarcus Lawrence so good, and then we'll get into the full context of the Cowboys defense and how that explains some of the drop in sacks.
Lawrence, unlike some of the league's other top pass rushers, is a complete 4-3 defensive end. He is one of, if not the best run defending defensive ends in football, as shown by his 12 tackles for loss on the season (only Aaron Donald and Danielle Hunter have more).
Much of the year, the Cowboys run defense has boiled down to Lawrence making splash plays, as we saw against the Washington Redskins. Adrian Peterson was gashing the Cowboys during that game, and the only one who did anything to stop him was DeMarcus Lawrence, as indicated by his 3 tackles for loss that Sunday.
There's also the point that 6.5 sacks through half the season is, well, good. It's really good! And when you couple his sack numbers with his solid pressure and QB hit stats, you can see that Lawrence is having a very good season.
Then there is the context of this entire Cowboys defense, specifically their defensive line and pass rush. To put it bluntly, DeMarcus Lawrence has been their only consistent rusher this season. Though we came into the year with high hopes for Randy Gregory, and cautious optimism about first round pick Taco Charlton, neither have been all that impressive this season.
Somebody, anybody, has to step up and become a threat opposite of Lawrence. David Irving could help matters with his interior pass rush ability, but he has been unavailable for basically the entire season.
Without another pass rusher for offense's to even think twice about, Lawrence is getting double teamed and/or chipped by a tight end or running back on just about every rush. It's becoming rare that Lawrence is in a true one-on-one pass rush situation.
Of course, if you are elite, offenses are going to shift protections to you in this way and you still have to find ways to be productive.
And thus far in 2018, DeMarcus Lawrence is doing just that.
Can QB Dak Prescott Steal Back His Mojo From Atlanta?
When the Dallas Cowboys last traveled to Mercedes-Benz Stadium they were completely throttled by the Atlanta Falcons. It's a game a lot of Cowboys Nation would like to forget, but no one more so than Quarterback Dak Prescott. That game could very well be where his struggles really began.
It's almost exactly a year later and the Dallas Cowboys still find themselves haunted by that brutal beating the Atlanta Falcons handed them in Week 10 of the 2017 season. The Cowboys seemed to lose all confidence in themselves after that game, but it was almost as if it was the exact point in time where Dak Prescott lost all of his mojo as well.
Before that match up against the Falcons, Prescott was still playing at a pretty high level. But since then, he has been in a slump and there have been very few signs of recapturing any of that magic he once had. Heading back to Atlanta maybe the key for him finding and stealing back his mojo.
Things could definitely go a little differently this time around. The Cowboys will have Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith in the lineup this week. Zeke missed the game last year due to the league mandated six-game suspension, and Tyron missed due to an injury. Having those two back in the lineup could pay huge dividends, especially for Prescott.
Without his starting left tackle and running back, Dak was pretty much beaten to a pulp by the Falcons defense a year ago. They applied relentless pressure, hitting and sacking him on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, I think that's where he started seeing ghost in the pocket and its haunted him ever since.
The beating he took at the hands of the Falcons has really thrown off his entire game. His mechanics, accuracy, and effectiveness as a scrambler can all be traced back to that one matchup. He just hasn't been the same QB he was prior to that game.
Prescott's stats prior to the Falcons game:
66.7 completion percentage
102.4 passer rating
Prescott's stats since the Falcons game:
63.3 completion percentage
83.1 passer rating
As you can see, that's a notable difference. His passer rating has shockingly dropped nearly 20 points since last playing the Falcons and it's really hurt the entire offensive production. It's time for that to change.
Prescott has no choice this week. He has to get back up on the horse that bucked him off and hopefully regain that mojo he left in Atlanta a year ago. Fortunately for him, his confidence might be is as high as it's been since that last meeting after pulling off the upset against the Philadelphia Eagles last week.
Now, he just has to go out and prove it!
Do you think Dak Prescott can regain his mojo against the Atlanta Falcons?
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