When you see or hear of the Golden State Warriors the first thing that comes to mind is probably super-team or dynasty. While that is true, that's not exactly what I'm getting at. Last year the Dallas Cowboys made a lot of noise in the NFL.
It started with taking a running back with the fourth overall pick in the NFL Draft, Ezekiel Elliott. Some fans absolutely loved the pick, along with most of the media that cover them, but some fans and a lot of the national media absolutely hated the pick.
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For those who don't know him, that's @VoiceOfTheStar (Pat Walker) when Zeke was selected in the 2016 NFL draft. He thought it would go another way (Jalen Ramsey), as did many fans.
How does that compare to the Golden State Warriors?
Well when the Warriors are doing good, which seems to be happening on a regular basis the past few years, the haters, hate. You'll hear a lot of "Kevin Durant isn't even that good" and "Draymond Green is a thug," or "Steph Curry is overrated."
Cowboys Nation hears similar stories surrounding most of their young talented players.
It seems that even finishing the season 13-3 and winning the NFC East can't shut some of the haters up. When you look at why the Cowboys were so successful last year you have to turn to the two rookies, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott, that's obviously no surprise.
Dak Prescott was the leagues Rookie Of The Year and Ezekiel Elliott won the league rushing title.
You would think that having so much success from both player's rookie years would earn them some respect from opposing fans and the media, but it didn't. Even after the performances Prescott and Elliott put on in 2016, people are still using words such as overrated, system-player, or mediocre to describe both players.
You can't spell "Dak Prescott sucks" without Dak Prescott.
Not surprised, considering the source.
Fellow NFL running back calls out Ezekiel Elliott as overrated https://t.co/rnBU0CaHeS
Somehow, someway after two NBA Championships in the last three years these same words surround the Golden State Warriors.
Why am I using Golden State as an example?
Two reasons. One, because when a team -- no matter the sport -- is either so loved or so hated by so many people, false opinions follow said team no matter how much they succeed.
And two, the success of said team can drive teams, General Managers, and even fans crazy.
From a personal stand point I think the Warriors are little bit overrated.
In every professional sport there is some sort of copy cat mentality in all of these owner's and general manager's heads. If another team does something and succeeds, a different team is going to try to do that same thing just to beat you. If you're still unsure where I'm going with this, maybe this will help.
All 32 teams saw how effective Ezekiel Elliott was last year and all 32 teams I think began to realize how important a good running game is.
The Jacksonville Jaguars didn't hesitate when they were on the clock with the fourth overall pick in the 2017 draft. The Jaguars had plenty of holes on both sides of the ball, but took Leonard Fournette, a player who a lot of people called a "bad pick."
We can even look in the Cowboys' own division to see how they are already driving some of these teams crazy. All three teams in the division spent a lot of money and multiple draft picks on ways to target the Dallas Cowboys' weakness, their defense.
- The Washington Redskins signed Terrelle Pryor and Brian Quick early in free agency after having one of the worst defenses in the league last year.
- The Philadelphia Eagles did almost the same thing, signing Alshon Jeffrey and Torrey Smith via free agency and adding Mack Hollins and Shelton Gibson via the draft.
- The New York Giants? Same thing. The Giants signed Brandon Marshall in free agency and used their first round draft pick on Evan Engram, a pass catching tight end.
So instead of getting better at the things each team struggled at last year, it seems to me that each team was thinking something along the lines of "how can we beat the Dallas Cowboys?" on their mind going into free agency and the draft.
Very similar to what is going on in the NBA right now.
Not long ago the NBA was all about the big man. DeMarcus Cousins, Zach Randolph, Dwight Howard, and DeAndre Jordan used to be the faces of the NBA, and what all teams wished they had. Now, all the NBA wants is a guy who can shoot threes and handle the ball. The center position in basketball is almost nonexistent and it's all about who can shoot the basketball.
Why is that? Because, that's what's worked for the Warriors.
Having five guys on the floor for a majority of the game who aren't limited to where they can shoot. Having Draymond Green play as the "center" but taking shots from beyond the arch more than an easy layup.
And the NFL is doing the same thing.
A lot of teams are looking at the Cowboys and trying to copy what they have done. Drafting offensive lineman and running backs extremely high and signing and drafting players that can help you beat the teams within your division.
It's an interesting way to look at it if you ask me, and some people will say "the Cowboys haven't won anything yet to be compared to the Warriors," but how teams are implementing what the Cowboys have been doing for years, and the amount of negativity that is thrown at teams for simply being good sure does raise the question,
Are the Dallas Cowboys the Golden State Warriors of the NFL?
Linebacker Group Key to Cowboys’ Defensive Success in 2018
In 2017, it was evident just how much the Dallas Cowboys were hurt by their lack of linebacker depth. When Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens were injured, especially Lee, the defense struggled. Look to the games against the Green Bay Packers and Los Angeles Rams and it's easy to see just how ineffective the defense was without their top two linebackers.
With more and more teams employing RPO and read-option concepts, more is expected of linebackers as they read the quarterback.
With teams like the Carolina Panthers, Philadelphia Eagles, Houston Texans, Washington Redskins, Seattle Seahawks, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans all on the 2018 schedule, the Dallas Cowboys' linebacker corp is going to have their hands full each and every week defending quarterbacks who are really good at utilizing these concepts.
While the edge defenders are instrumental in containing the run concepts in the read-option and RPO, the linebackers are the next line of defense against the run and their discipline in the run-pass action is monumental to defending the passing concept of the RPO.
Jeff Ratcliffe from Pro Football Focus broke down who the best and worst teams using RPOs were in 2017 by quarterback yards per attempt and quarterback yards per carry.
The Philadelphia Eagles ran the most RPOs and, as Ratcliffe described in his article, "For Doug Pederson, no run concept could not have an RPO attached to it."
The Kansas City Chiefs were second in the NFL in the amount of RPOs utilized with quarterback Alex Smith, now with the Washington Redskins, under center. Speaking of the Redskins, with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, they accrued the highest yards per attempt of any team in the NFL when throwing out of an RPO.
So, if you do the math, you can bet that the Washington Redskins will utilize a lot of RPO and read-option concepts in their offensive game plan.
Cam Newton and the Carolina Panthers, the Cowboys' week one opponent, ran RPOs the fourth most of any team in the NFL and had 5.5 yards per carry when Cam Newton kept the ball himself. Cam is one of the best running quarterbacks in the history of the NFL. Newton is the only quarterback since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to rush for double-digit rushing touchdowns twice in his career. Before he did it in 2011, no quarterback had accomplished the feat since Daunte Culpepper in 2002. The Dallas Cowboys and their front seven will have their hands full containing Newton in week one.
Also according to PFF's Ratcliffe, the New York Giants were the fifth best team in 2017 when the quarterback decided to keep the ball and run as they averaged 5.5 yards per carry out of RPOs. That has to be the most shocking element of his post. When you think of Eli Manning, you don't think of a running quarterback.
That just shows you how effective the RPO and read-option can be in the NFL.
With the speed of the game light years faster than it was 20 or 30 years ago, teams are having to use more and more misdirection to gain an edge in the run and pass game.
Another team on the Dallas Cowboys schedule was very effective throwing out of RPOs: the Jacksonville Jaguars. In the AFC Championship Game, they made a lot of headway against the New England Patriots using this concept.
Will be interesting to see how the Pats gameplan for the Eagles RPOs. Jaguars shredded them with same RPO 4 times in first half last week https://t.co/gYJWIPYIjj
In 2017, the Jaguars averaged 8.2 yards per attempt, the fifth best number in the NFL, just 0.3 yards per attempt behind the Philadelphia Eagles, who were fourth in the league when throwing out of RPOs.
This note from Jeff, I found particularly interesting:
"When the quarterback did pull, league-wide last year, the average yards per attempt was 6.52 and there was a 78.8 completion percentage. Once again, easy money."
Jeff Ratcliffe - Pro Football Focus
Most of the NFL is beginning to employ more and more RPO and read-option concepts into their offensive game plans, making the defense's job a lot more challenging. Especially at the linebacker level.
No longer can the linebacker just simply read run or pass based on the way the quarterback drops or turns to hand off, but they have to determine:
- Is the quarterback giving the ball to the runner?
- If the quarterback kept it, is he looking to run?
- If he's going to pass, where's the ball going?
All of that has to be decided within one to two seconds of the play. A linebacker is taught to read and react to the play as quickly as possible, which can create a significant advantage for the offense if the linebacker reads wrong.
The whole point of the read-option and the RPO is to create a lose-lose situation for the defense.
No matter what they do, it's a wrong choice.
If they read pass and drop into coverage, the ball carrier gets an advantage as he begins to go downhill. If the linebacker reads run and begins to attack the line of scrimmage, the QB pulls it and throws it to the spot vacated by the linebacker.
Having linebackers with elite athleticism, range, and coverage ability, like the Dallas Cowboys do in Sean Lee and potentially Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, will help them minimize the damage potential as they face increasing RPO usage.
Even if we talk about standard run and pass play calls, the defense was a much better unit when Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens were in the game. Points per game, rushing yards per game, and passing yards per game were all lower when those two were available. When the team had to rely on Jaylon Smith and Damien Wilson as their top two linebackers, they were lit up like a pinball machine.
The Cowboys hope Jaylon Smith can return to the All-American type of player he was with Notre Dame, but if he doesn't, Vander Esch is a good insurance policy for 2019.
The Boise State product is good in the run game, but he excels in the passing game when he drops into coverage.
Having three linebackers that can play the run and pass like these three potentially can will be a huge key to the Dallas Cowboys success on defense in 2018. They will make life a lot easier for the rest of the defense if they are able to maintain play discipline against the read-option and the run-pass option.
Having these three linebackers and their dual-threat ability in the run and pass game will help the Dallas Cowboys be in far less lose-lose situations than they might otherwise be. And for the Dallas Cowboys to achieve the goals the hope to achieve, namely a sixth Lombardi Trophy, these three will be the key to that success.
Can TE Rico Gathers be More Than a Just Receiving Threat?
Rico Gathers is trying to follow in the footsteps of Tony Gonzales, Antonio Gates, and Jimmy Graham as someone who has successfully made the transition from college basketball player to tight end in the NFL. Unfortunately, that transition hasn't gone quite as smoothly as he probably would've hoped.
To date, Gathers really hasn't been able to put a lot on tape. He spent his rookie season on the practice squad with the Dallas Cowboys, but did gain some valuable experience working with Tony Romo. Last year he was just beginning to show what kind of threat he could be in the passing game when he unfortunately sustained a concussion in practice, pretty much ending his season.
As you can imagine, Rico Gathers still has a lot to prove heading into the 2018 season. In no way is his roster spot guaranteed right now. He may still be the most talented and physically gifted TE on the Cowboys roster, but that will only get him so far.
I for one think Gathers can be a tremendous threat in the passing game. I think the flashes we saw in preseason a year ago are exactly the kind of weapon he can turn into for Dak Prescott. He is even working a route running guru, David Robinson, to become even better in the passing game. But, we all know the Cowboys coaching staff demands a lot more from their tight ends.
In the Cowboys offensive scheme, the tight end is an important position. They have to be able to block in several different areas depending on the formation, especially at the point of attack as an in-line blocker, sometimes being left one on one against a defensive end. That means they have to be assignment sound pre and post snap, with the ability to make the right adjustments in a split second.
For Rico Gathers, this is the area of his game holding him back the most right now. We all know what kind of threat he can be in the passing game, but the Cowboys coaching staff wants someone they can trust to leave on the field down after down. This is where Gathers will have to prove himself the remainder of the offseason.
The Dallas Cowboys knew Rico Gathers was a developmental prospect when they drafted him in the sixth-round of the 2016 NFL Draft. They didn't know how long it would take for him to be be able to contribute, but that time may be running out. Year 3 could be his last chance to prove himself in Dallas.
Gathers is a mismatch player in the passing game against smaller defensive backs, but that might not be enough for the Cowboys coaching staff to keep him around. I would personally get him involved in the receiving game, especially with all the new faces Prescott will be throwing to this season, but unfortunately I'm not making those decisions.
Do you think Rico Gathers is more than just a passing game threat?
Tony Romo Documentary in the Works
If you've missed seeing Tony Romo on the field, an upcoming documentary may be the cure. The former Dallas Cowboys quarterback is reportedly the subject of a film chronicling his football career going all the way back to high school.
"Now or Never" will tell Romo's incredible story, going from undrafted to one of the top passers in the history of the Cowboys' storied franchise. It's being produced by a Texas-based company run by Christian Hanna (no known relation to James).
According to an article from MyRacineCounty.com, Romo's hometown newspaper, the tale of Tony's football career will be told going back to his days at Burlington High School in Wisconsin. It will follow him to Eastern Illinois University, the same QB hotbed that more recently produced Jimmy Garoppolo.
But what most of us will want to relive is Tony's amazing NFL career, which stands out among the most unexpected rises to stardom of any player in league history.
Romo, who was an undrafted free agent signed by the Cowboys in 2003, didn't play in a game for three seasons. He rose the QB depth chart through practice and preseason play, eventually becoming the backup and earning the respect of then-coach Bill Parcells.
In Week 7 of 2006, Parcells pulled struggling starter Drew Bledsoe at halftime and went with his intriguing young prospect. Tony's first pass in the NFL was one to forget; an interception.
About a decade later, Romo would retire as the Cowboys' all-time leader in passing yards and touchdowns. He currently ranks fourth all-time in NFL history for passer rating.
Tony's career never saw the playoff and Super Bowl success of predecessors Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach, but he remains a beloved figure in team history. The controversial end to his football career, losing his job to rookie phenom Dak Prescott in 2016, created a major rift among Cowboys fans.
While no longer playing, Romo remains one of the hottest names in football. His charisma and football acumen have him in a featured role with CBS Broadcasting.
From obscurity to "anointing oil" to one of the most discussed names in sports, Tony Romo's story is fascinating. This documentary crew picked a great subject, and we look forward to enjoying their work and revisiting the Romo Era once the film is released.
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