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Cowboys Must Keep Pushing Towards the Next Era

Jess Haynie

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[WATCH] Ezekiel Elliott Celebrates NFC Win in Pro Bowl Skills Showdown Dodge Ball
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

After a disappointing 9-7 season and a narrow miss of the playoffs, the Dallas Cowboys are having to ask themselves tough questions. This is a critical offseason for making sure the next generation of Cowboys players don't suffer the ongoing disappointments of the last one. To accomplish that, the Cowboys need to keep looking ahead when it comes to their roster.

Emotional attachment to veteran players will not help us going forward.

The impetus for this article came from a tweet I got last night, in response to an article I wrote about Orlando Scandrick's future with the Cowboys:

Kevin Ramon on Twitter

@CowboysAddicts why do beat writers always try to get ride of cowboy players? Dez, Scandrick Hanna. Tyron smith. Like damn. Can we keep our good players?!

First off, I would love to legitimately call myself a beat writer someday. If any of you work for a major media outlet, get at me.

To Kevin's point, though, the idea of "good players" is one fans seem to struggle with. Many of the same people who complain about ongoing disappointing seasons, and the Cowboys not being in the Super Bowl since Tom Brady was a freshman in college, seem desperate to cling to the players who are part of those failures.

Dez Bryant has dominated the headlines this week after Stephen Jones' comments indicated the team may be taking a hard stance on Bryant's contract in the coming months. It's clear the Cowboys' front office isn't happy with the return they're getting on the franchise-receiver money that Dez is making.

The thought of Dallas actually releasing Dez Bryant bothers many, and understandably so. Whether it's your #88 jersey or throwing up the "X," Bryant is one of the true faces of the team.

But that team hasn't been to the playoffs much during his time. The few times it has, Dallas hasn't made it past the second round.

That's not to say Dez, Orlando Scandrick, Tyrone Crawford, or even Jason Witten have been part of the problem. Football is too big a game for that kind of simple analysis. However, veteran players with big contracts are very dangerous in the salary cap era.

Is Jason Witten Looking At A Lesser Role In 2017?

Dallas Cowboys TE Jason Witten (Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Every team has to find the right balance between veteran leaders and their higher salaries, and the young guys on rookie deals or otherwise low contracts. They also have to make sure the development of those young players -- who could emerge as leaders in third and fourth seasons, if not even sooner -- isn't being stunted by lost playing and practice time because of those lingering veterans.

Let's take the greatest current Cowboy, Tight End Jason Witten.

Easily the best TE in team history and a worthy Hall of Famer, Witten is far from the offensive weapon he once was. He can still get open with his impeccable route running, but those windows are smaller now, and his ability to make plays after the catch is almost entirely gone.

Thankfully, Witten hasn't been a burden to the team's salary cap, thanks to some smart contract work and cooperation on both sides. Jason continues to accept restructured deals that keep him well paid and allow the team to not carry much of a cap hit.

That said, Dak Prescott is losing the opportunity to develop chemistry with a guy who he could rely on for the next decade. None of James Hanna, Geoff Swaim, or Rico Gathers are probably that guy. Even if they were, they wouldn't be on the field enough because Witten still commands so much respect and deference from the organization.

That is the inherent problem with veteran leaders. You want their experience and influence, but many times what they actually offer on the field isn't as good as you'd like. They can still flash greatness at times, but those flashes become fewer and a little dimmer every year.

The young core with Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, their offensive line, and a rising number of young defensive stars is a wonderful foundation for the next era of Dallas Cowboys football. But as this season proved, the Cowboys have plenty of work left to do. They can't do that work without the cap space that some of these veterans are eating up, or the depth chart positions they occupy.

We all love Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and other longtime favorites. We appreciate what they've done and we hate that they didn't get to bring a sixth Lombardi Trophy to Dallas. But in all honesty, that trophy's never coming until the Cowboys truly move on from the last generation, and embrace the future.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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5 Comments
  • http://www.facebook.com/DallasCowboyBooksBlog fgoodwin

    “Emotional attachment to veteran players will not help us going forward”. True but you could just as well have written:

    Emotional attachment to the current head coach will not help us going forward, or

    Emotional attachment to the current GM will not help us going forward.

    Players come and players go (same for HCs), but in the case of the Cowboys, GMs are forever. In the last 22 seasons of playoff futility, we’ve had different players, different coaches, different scouts, etc. But the one constant has been the GM. That ought to tell you something.

    • Tamzombren Lauderdale

      Well said bruh !!!!!

  • John Williams

    Your Witten example is what makes me sad about them passing on Mark Andrews at some point in this draft. Andrews is the guy you want learning from and taking over from Witten after Witt calls it quits, but they won’t draft him and we’ll still be watching Witt run 8 yards on 3rd and 10.

    • Tamzombren Lauderdale

      This team shouldve put Witten on the bench last season & used more 4 wide sets with Switz & Beasley, it wouldve made it tougher 4 teams 2 load the box, & got Switz plenty of valuable gm exp

      • John Williams

        While it’s hard to take Witten off the field because of his veteran savvy, I’m beginning to wonder if he’s becoming a “progress stopper.”

Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.

Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.

Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.

  • A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.

The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.

Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.

If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.

  • Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.

The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.

On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.

Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.

  • Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.

Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.

I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.

  • The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.

Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.

Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.

His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.

Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.

Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.

Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.

  • Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.

Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.

Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.

Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.

It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.

Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.

This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose

Mauricio Rodriguez

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3 Reasons Why RB Ezekiel Elliott Will Dominate in 2018

The Dallas Cowboys looked great on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. There were very few things to complain about their last showing and now that they're back at .500, the season doesn't seem lost as previously thought. After all, the NFC East has been a mediocre division so far in 2018 and the division title is not that far from the Cowboys' grasp.

In fact, if they win this Thursday on Thanksgiving, the Dallas Cowboys would become the NFC East's division leader. The Washington Redskins were off to a great start on the season but after falling to the Houston Texans on Sunday, they only hold a one game-lead over the Cowboys.

This will be the second time of the year these two teams face each other. Back in week 7, the Cowboys played one of their worse games on the year in Washington. Many times the Cowboys shot themselves on the foot until they failed to get to overtime as Brett Maher's FG attempt bounced off the goalpost.

This time though, things should be different.

The team is on a two-game winning streak on the road against the last two NFC Champions. Of course, neither of these teams are the same than they were in previous years, but Dallas has done a good job these past two weeks. Some staff members might be coaching for their jobs as the team approaches "now or never" territory to contend in 2018. Although play-calling and execution haven't been perfect, at least the offense is showing signs of life.

Both the Cowboys and the Redskins suffered key injuries on Sunday. Towards the end of the game, Cowboys' LT Tyron Smith went down injured and headed to the locker room. With his injury history and a short week on deck, it's tough to imagine Smith will suit up on Thursday.

David Helman on Twitter

Tyron Smith, as only he could say it: "It didn't feel good, but I'll be alright." #cowboyswire

However, the more serious injury came for the Redskins. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibia and will end his season due to surgery. With Colt McCoy playing at QB for Washington, winning the NFC East will become an easier task for the Cowboys.

But they can't take the win for granted. This is a flawed, inconsistent team we're talking about. On a short week, it'll require a lot of effort to beat their hated division rivals.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

DAL 22, ATL 19: Elliott, Maher Carry Cowboys to Season-Saving Win

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott

A last-minute field goal by Brett Maher lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. On the strength of 201 yards of total offense out of Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas improved to 5-5 and arguably saved their 2018 season.

Elliott had 122 yards rushing and 79 receiving today, plus scored one touchdown, to make up well over half of the team's offensive production. Dak Prescott was also solid, throwing for over 200 yards and committing no turnovers.

Dallas and Atlanta traded field goals in the first half, and the Falcons took a 6-3 lead into the locker room. But the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal on their first second-half possession, then scored a touchdown on their next drive.

Maher was 3/3 on his field goals today, which included a 50-yarder. A missed extra point created concern, but the Cowboys kicker delivered in the biggest moments.

Once again, Dallas' defense was impressive and played a major part in the win. The Falcons never got into the endzone until their last possession.

Game Notes

  • Leighton Vander Esch had another interception, securing a tipped ball that lucked its way into his grasp. He also made some big tackles and continued last week's exceptional play.
  • DeMarcus Lawrence was credited with 1.5 sacks, getting him back among the league leaders with 8.0 on the year.
  • Elliott was Dallas' leading receiving today. Next up was Cole Beasley with five catches for 51 yards, and Cole's day could've been better if not for a dropped touchdown pass.
  • Jeff Heath nearly had his second interception of the year, but Falcons WR Julio Jones made an impressive play to hit Heath and break up the catch.
  • Tyron Smith left the game on the final drive with an injury, but Cam Fleming came in and the team didn't suffer for it. We'll have to see what the short Thanksgiving week means for Smith's status against the Redskins.
  • Speaking of Washington, the NFC East leaders fell to 6-4 today at home against the Houston Texans. Even worse for them, QB Alex Smith suffered a nasty ankle injury is almost assuredly out for weeks to come. Colt McCoy will be their starting QB on Thursday against Dallas.
  • If Dallas wins next week, they will pull even with Washington in overall record, division record, and split the head-to-head series. With the Eagles facing a tough road game today in New Orleans, and with Alex Smith going down for Washington, the NFC East may have just become the Cowboys' to control.



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