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.
DL Christian Covington Could Be Rod Marinelli’s Next Great Find
Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli has earned the reputation for finding and developing lesser-known defensive linemen over the years, and turning them into productive players for his defense.
It seems like every year the Cowboys have at least one defensive tackle who entered the season with no-to-limited hype, and finished it as a hard-nosed, productive player in the middle of their defensive line rotation.
Christian Covington could very well be that guy in 2019.
The former Houston Texan has had an interesting NFL career thus far. Overall, his raw numbers are decent on paper, appearing in 50 games over four seasons and tallying up 7.5 sacks and 65 tackles. Not bad for a rotational defensive lineman, to be sure.
As a Texan, Covington was mostly asked to play out of position, however. In their 3-4 scheme Covington played as the defensive end, whereas he'll be a 3-technique lining up over the guard in the Cowboys system. This should suit Covington much better, allowing him to be more comfortable in his position and hopefully produce at a higher clip.
Christian Covington is expected to be heavily involved in a defensive tackle rotation which is becoming quite crowded due to the Cowboys' busy offseason. Not only did Dallas draft UCF tackle Trysten Hill in the second round of the draft, but they are also bringing back the likes of Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, and Antwaun Woods just to name a few.
Still, Covington should be able to compete for (and win) significant playing time by the middle of the season if all goes according to plan.
Covington is a solid interior pass rusher that can push the middle of the pocket and make quarterbacks uncomfortable. He has experience occupying blocks on the inside to free up elite edge rushers in Houston, which is exactly what he'll be doing for the likes of DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn in Dallas this season.
Don't be surprised if he does more than simply "occupying" blocks, though, and steals some sack production for himself this upcoming season.
Everything You Need to Know About Cowboys Madden 20 Ratings
Madden 20 is scheduled to release in August and the moment has arrived for both fans and players to be excited or outraged about this year's ratings. Madden ratings are constantly updated once released, but it's always fun to overreact when the launch ratings are announced. Even the "Madden 99 Club" has become an exciting social media dynamic with players being announced one by one.
Today, we'll dive into everything you need to know about the Dallas Cowboys' Madden 20 ratings!
The Second Best Team
It may come as a surprise that the Dallas Cowboys own the second highest overall in this year's game. With 86 on both offense and defense, America's Team ultimately amounts to an overall rating of 88. Second only to the Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys' ratings in the upcoming EA game should have fans excited to play.
While it is surprising to see Dallas over the current NFC champions, the L.A. Rams, or the the New England Patriots, the rating makes sense.
The Cowboys are very talented (Brandt actually named them the second most talented team in the NFL) and are loaded in the trenches. Offensive linemen Tyron Smith (94 OVR), Zack Martin (96 OVR) and Travis Frederick (94 OVR) really boost the team's overall rating. Not to mention a talented defense, specially at LB and DE.
Top 5 Cowboys in Madden 20
Only five Dallas Cowboys got a 90+ rating in this year's edition of Madden.
RG Zack Martin - 96 Overall
I cannot disagree with Martin being the highest-graded player on the Cowboys. This guy might be the best OL on the team and he hasn't missed serious time throughout his career. He's been the best right guard since arriving to the NFL in 2014 and hasn't showed any signs of slowing down.
Martin is the second best offensive lineman in the game (Packers LT David Bakhtiari is 97) and the best guard.
C Travis Frederick - 94 Overall
The Cowboys' center will be back on the field after missing the 2018 season and EA holds him at the top of his game. Although there is uncertainty about his health in real life, it doesn't affect his numbers on Madden. Frederick definitely deserves to be tied with Eagles' Jason Kelce for the throne among centers.
LT Tyron Smith - 94 Overall
Smith's injuries have cost him the title for best LT in football, but when healthy, #77 still dominates on the field. Hopefully, the Cowboys are able to get him for 16 games this season. After missing time in three consecutive seasons, Smith has something to prove this year.
RB Ezekiel Elliott - 94 Overall
Lucky for you and me, we don't have to worry about any potential holdouts in Madden (that'd be an interesting yet annoying feature). Ezekiel Elliott is the second best RB in the game (Gurley is #1), which seems fair to me. With a 94 overall rating, my only complaint would be Zeke's elusiveness being a mere 85.
CB Byron Jones - 91 Overall
Coming in to finish off the Cowboys' Top 5 is your second-team All-Pro CB Byron Jones! After a breakout year in 2018, it's nice to see Madden give him credit. We don't know if he'll stick around in Dallas for long, but when you play franchise mode, it'll be up to you.
DeMarcus Lawrence Got a What, Now?
You probably noticed a name missing in the Cowboys "90+ Club," didn't you?
Somehow, someway, EA Sports decided DeMarcus Lawrence was only worthy of an 89 overall rating. To which I say, and I'm sure Cowboys Nation echoes me: that's ridiculous!
I'll go ahead and list the pass rushers that are ranked above Lawrence:
- Aaron Donald - 99 OVR (Fair, he's the best defensive player in the game)
- Khalil Mack - 99 OVR (Fair)
- Von Miller - 97 OVR (Fair)
- J.J. Watt - 97 OVR (I can live with it, he did have an All-Pro season and 16 sacks)
- Calais Campbell - 92 OVR
- Jadeveon Clowney - 92 OVR
- Myles Garrett - 91 OVR
- Cameron Jordan - 91 OVR
- Brandon Graham - 89 OVR (Tied with D-Law)
Man, I think the folks over at EA Sports are hugely underrating Lawrence. He might be the best EDGE rusher against the run and is among the best in the NFL rushing the passer. I get why he's not in the top 4, but he should be somewhere between Myles Garrett and Calais Campbell without a doubt.
Oh, by the way, DeMarcus Lawrence is asking Cowboys Nation to start a "Madden Strike."
HOLD UP @EAMaddenNFL you not just going to disrespeck me like that with an 89 and get away with it....PUT. SOME. RESPECK. ON. https://t.co/ndDkGvo7gx. UNTIL THEN COWBOYS NATION IS ON MADDEN STRIKE! RT @dallascowboys Nation show em we ain't playin bih. https://t.co/okVXyooI3l
I love you as much as the next fan, Lawrence, but I'm getting the game. My bad. I'm sure it won't be long before they upgrade your stats.
A Few More Notes...
Dak Prescott got an 81 OVR rating: I won't complain about this one. It sounds low, but looking at the QBs listed above him, it makes sense. Mayfield, who has an 83, might be the one guy I'd like to see below Dak. He has a lot of potential, but we've seen more from Prescott so far.
Jason Witten's 83 rating seems high: #82 is the reason I fell in love with football, but I'll question this rating. Witten is 37-years old and is coming back from retirement. He was slow when he stepped back, who knows how he'll do now. But I love the idea of playing with him once more.
Michael Gallup is being slept on: I understand Gallup's 78 OVR rating. I really do. He didn't play that much on the first half of the season but improved on a weekly basis. I believe that his rating will change quickly with Gallup poised for a breakout year.
Antwaun Woods' rating is way too low: Woods should have a higher rating than 73. Although he is a DT and his stats don't jump out of the page, he proved to be a great one-tech for the Cowboys and made impact plays constantly when on the field. But hey, at least he's not complaining.
Honestly I'm just happy to be on Madden. A video game I've been playing my whole life. @EAMaddenNFL #Thankful
Cowboys LB are strong: Leighton Vander Esch (86 OVR), Jaylon Smith (85 OVR) and Sean Lee (84 OVR) all got a strong, well-deserved rating. These guys will be fun to watch on the field on Sundays and on your gaming console on a daily basis.
Amari Cooper's rating is spot on: Many have complained about Cooper having a 89 OVR, but I believe they nailed it. As much as we love Amari, he isn't in the top tier of NFL wide receivers. Let Hopkins, Beckham, Brown, Jones be on the 90s. 89 feels just right for Amari.
At the end of the day, these ratings are all subject to change. And with so many ups and downs in an NFL season, you better believe they will change. In the meantime, we can only wait. The game we annually wait so much for is just around the corner!
Cowboys Nation Mailbag: Tank’s Madden Rating, Rookies on the Roster?
Probably one of my favorite things about this time of the year is attempting to figure out which rookies from the most recent draft class will have the opportunity to make a statement during their first season in the NFL. As an NFL franchise, you hope that several, if not all of your draft picks are able to make your opening week 53-man roster and make significant impacts during the regular season.
With the way the Dallas Cowboys have drafted in the last four or five years, we've grown accustomed to first-year players showing out in their rookie seasons. This time of year creates all kinds of speculation toward that end.
The downside to this time of year is that there isn't a ton to talk about. Most of what is going on is speculation into how the team will look when they take the field week one.
It's that time of the NFL year when there's not a whole lot going on and EA Sports drops their Madden ratings out for the world to peruse and criticize. Like every year, there are always ratings that make you go, "huh?" and this year is no different.
Tank is 89 rating on Madden, how? 😳 pic.twitter.com/NoGNXDvM3E
— mike crum (@cdpiglet) July 15, 2019
The fact that DeMarcus Lawrences is rated only an 89 on Madden 20 is just further evidence to how underappreciated he is around the NFL and those who follow the NFL. Even in the Dallas Cowboys fanbase, Lawrence isn't considered to be the same level of player that Khalil Mack or Von Miller is, but if you look at the totality of the numbers, you find that Tank's been every bit as productive and disruptive as those guys have been.
As you can see from the chart above, in fewer snaps, DeMarcus Lawrence had a greater playmaking EPA over the course of the 2018 season than Khalil Mack and Von Miller. Aaron Donald had a higher playmaking EPA and should be rated higher than Lawrence, but I have a really hard time with Lawrence being rated anything less than a 95.
Though he may not have had as many sacks as Mack or either of the Watt brothers, Lawrence finished tied for fourth among edge rushers in Pro Football Focus' "stops" metric, which is defined as a play that results in a loss for the defense. Could be a tackle for a loss, a tackle that didn't achieve the expected yards for the down and distance, a sack, a batted pass, an interception, a tackle that forced a fourth down.
Lawrence is one of those players that does everything really, really well. He's one of the most well-rounded players on the defensive side of the football as he doesn't lack in his ability to play the run or rush the passer.
His ability to disrupt the run and pass game at an equally elite level goes beyond what you see in a boxscore. Oh, and his boxscore is really really good too. Though many Cowboys' fans were unsure if Lawrence was worth the $21 million per year and $60 million guaranteed that he received this offseason, I've never wavered in my belief that you should feel comfortable paying DeMarcus Lawrence like an elite edge player, because he's an elite edge player.
Do you have any rookies besides Hill and McGovern making the team?
— Carbon Fiber Supplement ✭ (@mikecarbon22) July 8, 2019
Mike followed up this question by also including Tony Pollard, so I won't touch on that one much except to say that I'm really excited to see what Pollard could do with 5-10 touches per game behind this offensive line. He's such an explosive player with the ball in his hands that you want to work to get the ball in his hands.
So, besides Trysten Hill, Connor McGovern, and Tony Pollard, which rookies do I see making the team in 2019? Well in my most recent 53-man roster projection, I included Mike Jackson, the cornerback out of Miami who the Dallas Cowboys selected in the fifth round as well as Donovan Wilson, the Texas A&M safety, their sixth-round draft pick.
I think both of those players will have an excellent shot to make the roster out of training camp and Wilson, in particular, could find himself with a significant role with the defense if he's able to translate his collegiate playmaking ability to the NFL. He was an excellent tackler and ball-hawking safety and if there's one thing that was evident in 2018, the team needs better tackling from its other safety not named Xavier Woods.
It's going to be very difficult for any of the rookie defensive linemen or wide receivers to make the roster out of training camp because there is already tremendous depth there.
Training camp generally leads to the hype machines getting out of control for undrafted free agent wide receivers and this year will be no different with playmakers Jalen Guyton and Jon'vea Johnson ready to shine. The difficulty is that they'll have to be significantly better than veterans Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns, and Noah Brown to force the team to move on from players they covet and trust.
It's possible, it's just not very likely.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Training camp is now less than two weeks away and as it draws closer, the excitement of Cowboys Nation will begin to boil over. This is a squad that has the talent and depth to be a contender. We're finally getting closer to being able to see that talent on the field instead of just talking about it.
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