Several fierce battles are ahead for the 2016 Dallas Cowboys training camp. Typically, a team's most anticipated position battles center around spotlight roster spots, but this Cowboys team is either already set or has their bed made in all the most high profile positions.
The quarterback position is set in stone. Tony Romo is the starter. However, if someone comes along and breaks that stone, much like Tony Romo's clavicle in 2015, then Cowboys fans could be looking at yet another dismal rotation of sub-par signal callers. Here's what the 2015 quarterback situation looked like:
Tony Romo: 4 games, 5 TD / 7 INT, 221 yards per game
Brandon Weeden: 4 games, 2 TD / 2 INT, 184 yards per game
Matt Cassel: 8 games, 5 TD / 7 INT, 159 yards per game
Kellen Moore: 3 games, 4 TD / 6 INT, 259 yards per game
Hardly spectacular numbers, by any stretch of the imagination.
Some of 2015's woes can be attributed to Dez Bryant being injured, others to Tony Romo's multiple injuries. In either case, the players backing up Romo and Bryant played significant roles in the team's 4-12 season.
The team heads into their 2016 training camp with Kellen Moore, Jameill Showers, and newly drafted QB Dak Prescott. Each vying for one of the coveted 53 roster spots available and each toting their own baggage.
Kellen Moore was the fan-favorite after just a handful of games with Matt Cassel under center. He was an unknown with a grassroots following and a mountain of untapped potential in the NFL. Cowboys coaches stuck with Matt Cassel for far too many games, leaving Moore just three starts to wrap up the season and show off what he could do.
Here's how he did in his three starts in Dallas:
Week 15 vs NYJ: 1 TD, 3 INT, 158 yards = 16-19 loss
Week 16 at BUF: 0 TD, 1 INT, 186 yards = 6-16 loss
week 17 vs WAS: 3 TD, 2 INT, 435 yards = 23-34 loss
In spite of his improving numbers from one game to the next, Moore was unable to provide the spark needed to win games.
Personally, I don't put this all on Kellen Moore. Dez Bryant ran routes for Moore, but it's well known that Bryant was still struggling due to injury. The #2 WR in 2015, Terrance Williams, managed to haul in eight catches for a substantial 173 yards in the final contest of the season, but it was #3 WR Cole Beasley and the always-reliable TE Jason Witten who scored on three passes from Moore.
But beyond that, beyond the injuries and missed opportunities, Moore came in at a time when the fight was already over. This sort of circumstance tends to inspire extra fight in a team, and that showed against Washington, but it also deflates confidence. And confidence is important.
So as the 2016 campaign kicks off, the Dallas Cowboys are looking to find a suitable backup to Tony Romo with more urgency than in years passed.
Kellen Moore has the upper hand on his competition due to his regular season experience, but Jameill Showers will look to bolster his noteworthy performance during the 2015 preseason. Showers didn't have a lot of opportunity but when he did, he made it interesting. It's a far cry from a starter's persona, but nevertheless, it's a base he will attempt to build on.
And then you have rookie Dak Prescott. His pro football abilities are entirely unsubstantiated, but he's a prospect that fans are hopeful can change the backup QB game in Dallas.
Backup Running Back
Make no mistake about it; Ezekiel Elliott is the starting running back for the 2016 Dallas Cowboys. That's not even a question, and only an injury could change that reality (knock on wood).
There are two RBs returning from the 2015 try, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar.
Dunbar, viewed as the team's very capable third string RB and ultimate passing threat out of the backfield, suffered an injury during kickoff return duties that sidelined him, not only for the bulk of the 2015 season, but also through at least the 2016 preseason. While the position is stacked with competent backs, Dunbar holds a special place in the hearts and minds of coaches and fans alike. So don't count him out just because he's still recovering.
More to the point, and in addition to McFadden returning, the Cowboys picked up free agent RB Alfred Morris in the offseason, and added some competition for the second/third RB spots through the draft.
Darren McFadden might have churned out some impressive numbers for a back fighting an expectant defense each week, but it's no secret that the zone rushing scheme employed in Dallas is not his forte. Add to that his fool-headed injury protecting a cell phone this offseason and you have one less viable contender in the mix. But McFadden is a known commodity, and perhaps one of very few saving graces from Dallas' 2015 season.
Alfred Morris isn't known as well, yet.
Morris was selected in the sixth round of the 2012 draft pick by the Washington Redskins. In four seasons with Washington, he amassed 4,713 yards on 1,078 attempts, scoring 29 touchdowns and recording 11 fumbles. As the starter, Morris saw steady gains from one year to the next in both attempts and yards, with 2015 culminating in his best year to date with 1,613 yards and 13 TDs.
Unlike most backup position battles in the NFL, the Cowboys are in the fortunate position of having three solid starters at running back. This isn't a position to watch because of need, but because it makes us feel like a kid let loose in a candy shop.
A lot can change between now and the September 11 home-opener against the New York Giants, but it's generally shaping up to be one of, if not the most prolific ground attacks in the NFL. All anchored by the Cowboys' remarkable offensive line.
Second String Wide Receiver
Getting back to needs for a bit, the 2016 Cowboys look to benefit from the return of a healthy Dez Bryant. With Bryant at 100-percent, he's among the most capable leading wide outs in the game today.
But what about the group he leads?
Terrance Williams has been a point of frustration for fans - and likely coaches as well - since he entered the league. Heading into his third pro season, expectations were high for good Ole T-Will, but those expectations were never met (unless you count his season-best outing in week 17 as more than just one game). And even still, he only scored three TDs all year.
Meanwhile, number three WR Cole Beasley suffered something of an off year compared to seasons passed, and yet still managed to be one of the foundation components of the offense all year. Sure, he sheered his golden locks, and the excitement of his play, but his presence was felt.
A new variable introduced in 2015 was WR Brice Butler, picked up early in the season from Oakland, Butler quickly became an electric deep threat. That is until hamstring injuries sidelined him.
The situation at WR in Dallas is one I'm personally keeping a close eye on. After years of frustration with the performance of the number two wide out, I saw Butler's arrival as a welcomed challenge to Terrance Williams for that second spot on the depth chart. For all the good Williams has done, and there are plenty of highlight reels featuring his abilities on YouTube, Butler might have just matched him in 2015 and that bodes well for both Butler and the Cowboys.
We need a go-getter behind Bryant, someone who can run solid routes and high-point the deep ball for crucial yards. Williams seems to be limited to passes that hit his chest. So a top story line for this year's camp will be how well Butler competes against Williams, and this team - and its fans - will be all the better for it.
Backup Tight End
It's an unpopular opinion, but one that I feel will only continue to become more common with each game, that Jason Witten is not the young man he once was.
Having just turned 34 years old in May, Witten seemed to have lost a step in 2015. A strong case can be made that his declining stats were the result of no Dez Bryant and no Tony Romo for much of 2015. He was clearly targeted more by opposing defenses, but there's some merit to the argument that his stats have been declining for the past couple of years, however slight it may be.
When you have a guy like Jason Witten, who is Mr. Reliable and a security blanket for his QB, it's easy to take his production for granted. I try not to do that. If his days of high-level performance are coming to an end, then it stands to reason that the hunt for the next great tight end in Dallas should be underway.
Geoff Swaim (#SwaimTrain) was picked up on a late round trade in the 2015 NFL draft, but his 2015 production left him entering this year's training camp much like a rookie still. This is clear in his lone non-zero stat of one reception for no yards.
Gavin Escobar is still rehabilitating a torn right Achilles suffered last last season, and James Hanna is considered a lock for the 53 man roster this year.
The Cowboys took a flyer on a 6-foot 8-inch basketball forward named Rico Gathers in the 2016 NFL draft. There is a certain level of novelty in his potential, and lord knows what such a tall receiving threat could do in the current NFL, but Gathers is a long-shot to have any real impact on the position.
All-in-all, the Cowboys' most dramatic competitions on the offense are more about finding the best of the best than finding good solutions to troubling issues.
The 2014 Dallas Cowboys closely resemble the team ahead for 2016 and it was a season that came down to a single fourth-quarter catch in the divisional round of the playoffs. If that is any indication of what's to come, fans better get their popcorn ready.
Dallas Cowboys May Sit Atop NFC East for a While
If there's one thing we've learned in the past, it's that NFL seasons are unpredictable. Unknown factors, injuries and unexpected "breakout" players can shift the way we saw the league just a month ago, when we were still watching preseason games on TV. After two weeks of regular season action, Cowboys Nation might be surprised to see their Dallas Cowboys sitting on top of the NFC East, but that's precisely the case. Not only that, but they could remain division leaders for a while...
Now, let's not get carried away here. While the team might be on top right now, they're not even 2-0 and it's only week 3. The Cowboys' offense played well on week 2, but terribly on week 1. It's way too early to judge how this season will go based on what we've seen.
However, there is no denying that they seem to be in a very good position to remain the NFC East front runners in the coming weeks. The Cowboys had more reasons to celebrate last Sunday besides their victory over the New York Giants. Both the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins suffered losses in their respective games, giving Dallas the opportunity to control their destiny.
As previously mentioned, though, it's only week 3. But the team's next three opponents aren't as scary as they seemed prior to the season's start. Through two weeks of the NFL season, the Cowboys' next three opponents are winless, sharing a combined record of 0-6.
Starting by the Seattle Seahawks, who have been a dominant team in the NFL landscape for a few years now but that simply don't seem like a very threatening opponent right now. The main reason why is their weak offensive line, which I expect the Dallas Cowboys to exploit just like they did with the Panthers and Giants. Russel Wilson is a tougher guy to contain, being one of the best playmakers in the NFL right now, but I trust the defense to handle him. They've done such a good pressuring quarterbacks, I'll trust they will continue to do so.
Next in the calendar will be the Detroit Lions. Through two weeks, they've struggled more than we expected under the reigns of their new head coach, Matt Patricia. On week 1, Matt Stafford threw four interceptions in a game that was in control of the New York Jets all night long. But it's not the Lions' offense that I think the Cowboys will take advantage of, but their poor run defense. They gave up 169 yards on rushing against the Jets on week 1 and 190 last Sunday, when they faced the San Francisco 49ers.
Ezekiel Elliott will have that defense dreaming nightmares before their matchup in week 4.
Finally, on week 5, the Cowboys will face their in-state rival, the Houston Texans. Surprisingly, the Deshaun Watson-led team is 0-2 after facing the New England Patriots and the Tennessee Titans. This might be the team that hands the Cowboys their second loss of the season. They have a balanced offense that will pose no challenge for the Cowboys' defense, but this could be a dangerous game for the offense.
The Cowboys will rely on Ezekiel Elliott for this one as well. On the defensive side of the ball, Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie will have to replicate their success versus Odell Beckham, only this time they will be facing Deandre Hopkins, one of the best wide receivers in the league.
Even though the Cowboys were terrible in Carolina when they opened their season, the defense has been looking so good that I don't doubt their ability to carry the team to victories for the time being. If the offense continues to improve, then this team might be able to take full advantage of the unexpected head start it got in the NFC East.
I can't say it enough; it's only week 3... but look out. It could take some time before the Cowboys give up that #1 spot in the division.
#SEAvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
The Dallas Cowboys found a way to get their first win last Sunday, defeating the New York Giants from start to finish, 20-13.
Now at 1-1 and locked in a three way tie for 1st place in the NFC East, Dallas is looking to string together a few victories and create some early separation. Seattle is now sitting at 0-2, and while that's typically a hole teams cannot climb out of in the NFL, the Seahawks will be desperately fighting to avoid an 0-3 start.
The Seahawks opened up as 3 point home favorites against the Cowboys, with the over/under set at 44.5 points.
After an abysmal season opener against Carolina, the Cowboys came out firing against the Giants on Sunday night. Dallas led by as many as 17 points in the fourth quarter, and ended up holding on as the Giants made a late garbage-time run.
Dak Prescott looked as comfortable in the pocket as he as in weeks, finding Tavon Austin for a 64 yard touchdown pass on the opening drive. Ezekiel Elliott scored another rushing touchdown, and the Cowboys defense was straight up dominant.
Now, the Cowboys defensive line has another chance to increase their sack total against the Seahawks' weak offensive line. And you know DeMarcus Lawrence is salivating.
Dallas improved to 1-1 straight up and against the spread, covering the 3 point spread set by Vegas a week ago. Both Cowboys games have gone under thus far as well.
The Seahawks fell to 0-2 on Monday night with a tough road loss to the Chicago Bears. Khalil Mack dominated the Seahawks offensive line, dictating protections and keeping Russell Wilson uncomfortable all night long.
The Seahawks haven't been able to get much of a run game going this season, despite their insistence upon doing so. Russell Wilson is their offense, and if the Cowboys can pressure him and force him into hero-ball throws, they should have success on Sunday. After all, this was the Bears recipe for success on Monday night.
Seattle is 0-2 straight up and 0-1-1 against the spread this season.
- The score total has gone under 5 straight Cowboys' games.
- Dallas is 2-4 against the spread their last six times playing at Seattle.
- Seattle is 1-5 against the spread their last six games at home.
- The under has hit 4 of the last 5 Cowboys/Seahawks games.
While I've thought hard about picking the under for the third straight week (I'm 2-0 doing so), I'll pick the actual game for you guys this time. I think the Cowboys will get this road win and improve to 2-1 behind dominant defensive line play and a strong running game.
This match up favors Dallas in multiple ways and I expect them to take advantage of Seattle's weak spots.
I like the Cowboys +3 a lot this Sunday.
Kris Richard, the Cowboys X-Factor Against the Seahawks
In the NFL, wins are hard to come by. That is why teams do their due diligence each and every week to try to come up with some advantage, however slight. This week, the Dallas Cowboys may have the biggest advantage they could possibly hope for over their opponent, the Seattle Seahawks, and he goes by the name of Kris Richard.
The hiring of Kris Richard may have been Dallas' biggest offseason move. We have already seen in the first couple of games of the 2018 season the impact he's had on the Cowboys defense. The entire defensive unit has been playing possessed and has pretty much dominated their opponents. I believe Richard deserves the majority of the credit.
But this week is different. The Dallas Cowboys travel to Seattle for a Sunday afternoon game against the Seahawks, who are a tough opponent when playing at home. History hasn't always been kind to the Cowboys when playing on the road in Seattle.
In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if Tony Romo doesn't still have nightmares about playing in Seattle. A mishandled snap on a routine 19 yard field goal attempt ended up costing the Cowboys a playoff victory in 2007. Then he sustained the back injury that would ultimately end his career in a meaningless preseason game against the Seahawks in 2016.
To say history hasn't been kind to the Cowboys in Seattle would probably be an understatement. But still, that's where they're heading for this Week 3 matchup.
Luckily, I believe the Dallas Cowboys have an ace in the hole in 2018. I think their new Passing Game Coordinator and Defensive Backs Coach, Kris Richard, is going to be the X-Factor. Who could give you more inside information than someone who spent the last eight years with Seattle as both a coach and a player than Richard?
Kris Richard should know just about all of the ins and outs about the Seattle Seahawks, especially on the defensive side of the ball since he served as their Defensive Coordinator the previous two seasons before joining the Cowboys. But, his knowledge of their offense could prove to be invaluable as well.
Richard has seen the Seahawks offense and Russell Wilson on a daily basis in practice firsthand. He should have a very good understanding of not only their tendencies, but what types of plays they run out of different formations. It should be just like having a spy within their own huddle.
Now, having inside information is one thing, but executing the game plan is something different entirely. Kris Richard can possibly predict with high probability exactly what the Seahawks plan on doing, but it falls on the Cowboys players as to execute the game plan.
In the end, this game will ultimately come down to which team executes better on the field Sunday afternoon. The Dallas Cowboys may have an X-Factor in Kris Richard, but he's not the one suiting up against the Seahawks. It all falls on the player's shoulders, as it always has.
Do you think Kris Richard can be the Cowboys X-Factor against the Seahawks?
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