Since dominating the Seattle Seahawks in October of 2014, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line has been referred to as the best unit in football, almost by default. No matter the next opponent, everyone recognizes and acknowledges that the Cowboys have a chance to control the game on offense due to their powerful five up-front.
Well, this weekend, two of those five departed Dallas for good.
Ronald Leary, who started the entire 2014 season and much of the 2016 season, signed a nice contract with the Denver Broncos. And, Doug Free, a starting tackle for Dallas since 2009, announced his retirement.
Now, a unit which has been characterized by its continuity and dominance is facing some adversity.
Or at least it seems.
How Do the Cowboys Replace Ronald Leary?
This one is simple. Back during the 2015 NFL Draft the Cowboys made two moves which are proving to be incredibly important to their success in 2017. The second of those two moves was signing undrafted free agent offensive lineman La'el Collins.
The former LSU star tackle was projected to be taken during the first two rounds, before being tied in with a police investigation. As it turned out, Collins had nothing to do with the crime, but teams were still afraid to take him on draft day. Collins fell, and the Cowboys pounced.
After taking over the starting left guard job from Leary in 2015, Collins flashed the spectacular ability which draft pundits had predicted he'd have.
Though he certainly had his issues in year one, Collins' athletic ability and pure power put the entire league on notice, and had fans excited to watch him play in 2016. Unfortunately, Collins suffered a severe toe injury during the Cowboys' week three game against Chicago and missed the rest of the season. It has even been reported that Collins suffered this injury before the season, and he simply played until he couldn't play anymore.
If true, it would explain his inconsistent play through the first two games of the year.
While Collins was the starter for the first three games of the season, inserting Leary led to a clear improvement of the offensive line. The fact is, Leary was the better player in 2016, but that certainly doesn't mean that Collins won't surpass him next year, and beyond.
As long as he can stay healthy, I see no reason why Collins should not continue to improve and become the player everyone has envisioned he can be.
At LSU, Collins was a consistent force, and someone who rarely made mistakes. He played with incredible pass blocking technique, and ran block with an edge of nastiness that you love to see in offensive linemen. Now in year three, it's time for La'el Collins to bring that to Dallas, and become a force on the Cowboys' offensive line.
How Do the Cowboys Replace Doug Free?
This is where things get a bit trickier.
First thing's first, Doug Free's retirement frees up about $5 million in cap space in 2017. If any free agent tackles interest the Cowboys, even if just for depth/security, they will be able to make that move.
I, however, don't expect any rash decisions to be made through free agency. Apparently, the Cowboys knew of Free's plans to retire from the start of the free agency period, so if they haven't contacted any tackles by now, it is hard to imagine they're rushing to the phones at this point.
So instead, we look to two places; the current roster and the NFL Draft.
Chaz Green, Third Year, OL
The first of the two critical offensive line moves of the 2015 NFL Draft, former third round pick Chaz Green is now slated to be the starting right tackle for Dallas in 2017. Back in January, I discussed why Chaz Green was so critical to the Cowboys' roster. And, most importantly, why his health is absolutely critical.
When Tyron Smith was forced to miss some time earlier in the season, Green filled in and played rather well. The running game did not miss a beat, and in pass protection, the Cowboys remained stellar.
Of course, there was some drop off from the best tackle in football to a first-time starter, but overall I was pleased with Green's play. He seemed to be fluid in his kick steps, delivered better punches in pass protection than I had seen him deliver, and worked well with Ronald Leary on deuce blocks on zone running plays.
While he looked serviceable, Chaz Green certainly did not look like another All-Pro on the Cowboys offensive line. But that's okay. As a third round pick, however, he was drafted to be the successor to Doug Free. Now is time for him to either come through or potentially get labeled as a bust.
Emmett Cleary, Third Year, OL
After La'el Collins went down in September, the Cowboys signed little-known Emmett Cleary to fill some roster space on their offensive line. Nobody expected Cleary to ever take a game rep for the Cowboys offensive line, but when filling in for Tyron Smith during the season finale, Cleary was impressive.
Staff Writer Sean Martin reviewed Cleary's game tape from that loss to Philadelphia, and came away just as impressed as I was.
What stood out to me was Cleary’s intelligence at the position, knowing how to set up defenders when he was forced to compensate for a lack of physical skill. As a point-of-attack-blocker, Cleary controls blockers with a strong base and can move them off the line of scrimmage.
I don't need to draft a tackle in the first 4 rounds anymore. I'm perfectly happy with Cleary and whatever Green may be. Collins emergency. https://t.co/HyLpPER7eJ
To be honest, Cleary was the better of the two Cowboys tackles that day, with the recently retired Doug Free getting shredded by Brandon Graham snap-after-snap. Is Cleary going to make "top tackle" lists any time soon? No, probably not. But he can be a solid fill-in player who will be put in the perfect position to succeed here in Dallas. Playing next to three other Pro Bowlers, and directly beside Zack Martin (who may be the best offensive lineman in the entire league), the right tackle does not need to be another stud.
Considering that their other four linemen don't need much help at all in pass protection, Dallas can afford to give some tight end help, or chip with a running back on the right side.
Because of this, both Chaz Green and/or Emmett Cleary should be absolutely fine at right tackle. Similar to how people called Dallas the perfect place for a rookie quarterback to shine due to the weapons and security around him, it is also the perfect situation for a new right tackle.
So, despite all the flux on this Cowboys offensive line this past weekend, there is no reason to fret. Dallas still features stars Travis Frederick, Tyron Smith, and Zack Martin. They still have one of the best running backs in the league running behind them in Ezekiel Elliott. And, they have some pretty good replacements to fill-in for Ronald Leary and Doug Free.
The Cowboys' offensive line should be just fine.
Time to see What Darius Jackson can do as Zeke’s Backup?
I hate to say it because I really like Rod Smith, but I think it may be time for the Dallas Cowboys to reevaluate the running back position as it pertains to Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup. Smith just hasn't been good this year, which is why I think it may be time to see what Darius Jackson can do if given the opportunity.
Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting the Dallas Cowboys move on from Rod Smith or demote him right now, but I would promote Darius Jackson from the practice squad to the active roster as insurance in case something were to happen to Zeke. It just seems the right time to make that move after #21's injury scare Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Eagles.
You may have forgotten, but Ezekiel Elliott had to spend some time in the medical tent Sunday against the Eagles. He was luckily able to return to the game not long after, but it did shine a spotlight on Rod Smith and the lack of depth behind him.
Despite how much I like Rod Smith, and I do, he just hasn't been the same player this season as he was last year as Zeke's fill-in. He is just not running with any kind of authority and has been too apt to run east and west instead of north and south. I think it's one of the reasons why the Cowboys have continued to give Zeke such a heavy workload, despite him being banged up.
Now, Rod Smith did look a little better against the Eagles, but I still believe it would be wise for the Cowboys to promote Darius Jackson to the active roster. Having more depth at such a physically demanding position is just smart football.
With the Dallas Cowboys playoff spot all but secured, it might be time to start thinking about lightening Ezekiel Elliott's workload just a little bit. Whether it's Rod Smith or Darius Jackson, the Cowboys have to find someone who can step in and be productive.
Rod Smith has had his opportunities this year, but hasn't really been able to capitalize like we believed he could. It might be time to turn to Darius Jackson, a fan favorite, who unfortunately just hasn't been able to prove what he can do as of yet in a meaningful game. I think it's time we change that.
As much as I like Rod Smith, I might like Darius Jackson just a little bit more. I think he is kind of like a poor man's Ezekiel Elliott. He is just as athletically gifted and can be a threat as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. He just needs the opportunity to prove it.
There's really no way of knowing if I'm right or wrong about this, but I believe he is worthy of a roster spot on game day if nothing else. I'd rather have him and not need him then need him and not have him.
Do you think it's time to see what Darius Jackson can do?
Cowboys Lassoing NFC East Title as NFC Dark Horse
Well don’t look now but the Dallas Cowboys are in control of their division and anything short of a catastrophic collapse will see them hosting the first round of the playoffs. Dallas strengthened their grip on the NFC East by knocking off a divisional rival and the reigning Super Bowl champions with a 29-23 overtime win over the Eagles.
Those who have a favorite online sportsbook and wagered on the Cowboys were ecstatic to see Dak Prescott hit Amari Cooper for a 15-yard touchdown pass in overtime, thus covering the 3 ½ point impost that oddsmakers hung on Dallas.
The Cowboys have now won five consecutive games, with three of those over divisional opponents Philadelphia (twice) and Washington. But before we celebrate, we must consider that there's still a mathematical possibility of either Philadelphia or Washington stealing the division crown away from the Cowboys.
The Giants' only hope is an outside shot at a wildcard berth if they win outright but they've been eliminated from contending for a division title due to their 1-4 record against NFC East teams.
Essentially, all the Cowboys must do is win one of their three remaining games in order to celebrate a division crown. If Philadelphia or Washington loses any of their three games they will be out due to tie breakers that go in the Cowboys’ favor.
As of this moment, the Redskins are a disaster with no one under center to captain their rudderless ship, and the Eagles must defeat the Rams in LA, which would be considered a stunning upset seeing as any reputable online sportsbook is offering the Rams as 9 ½ point favorites as of this writing; then they must win at home against Houston and on the road against the Redskins.
Of course, the Cowboys are counting only on themselves to reel in the division title and with games at Indianapolis, home against the Bucs, and wrapping their season in New Jersey against the Giants, at least one win seems likely.
The addition of Amari Cooper to the Dallas offensive arsenal has been a game-changer as the former Oakland Raider hauled in 10 of 13 targets for 217 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner last Sunday against Philadelphia. He was the top-tier receiver Prescott had been lacking and his presence on the field improves both the passing game and running game by virtue of his dynamic playmaking abilities. Ezekiel Elliott has eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards in four of the six games since Cooper has been on the Cowboys roster.
Furthermore, Dallas has averaged 24.4 points per game over their last five wins with Cooper in the lineup, which is more than five points improved from where they were prior to their winning streak without him in a Dallas uniform.
In addition, Prescott has morphed from a game manager at 202 passing yards per game to a game breaker as evidenced by his 285.7 passing yard average in six games with his new target at his disposal.
Ultimately, the Cowboys will be tasked with turning all of this good mojo into a deep run into the postseason. We can now confidently say that there is one other team to consider besides the Rams, Bears, and Saints as this year’s NFC entrant into the Super Bowl. However, Dak Prescott will need to eliminate turnovers and interceptions if Dallas is truly going to contend against the powerhouses they will face in the playoffs.
Last Sunday, Prescott caught fire in the fourth quarter and ended with 455 yards passing, connecting on 42 of 54 passes with three touchdowns, but his two interceptions were converted into nine points by Philadelphia. As we move forward, Prescott will need to lead right from the get-go and understand that one poor decision can cost his team what is now a realistic shot at a championship season.
Cowboys en Español: Sí, Amari Cooper Lo Valió
Cuando los Dallas Cowboys sorprendieron a la NFL mandando una selección de primera ronda por el receptor Amari Cooper de los Oakland Raiders, la respuesta fue muy dividida. Al final de cuentas, Cooper estaba pasando por una temporada bastante mala junto a su equipo. Sus números iban en decline y muchos habían perdido la fe en la ex-estrella de la universidad de Alabama y cuarta selección global en el NFL Draft del 2015.
Pero sorpresa, sorpresa. Desde que se unió a las filas de los Dallas Cowboys, Amari Cooper ha demostrado que la decisión que tomaron los Jones fue una muy buena.
En esta liga, es muy complicado justificar el deshacerse de un pick de primera ronda.
Estamos hablando de la oportunidad de tomar a un novato joven con muchísimo potencial para convertirse en un jugador calibre All-Pro en algún punto de su carrera. No es fácil renunciar a una posibilidad así en esta liga. Sin embargo, Amari Cooper no ha hecho más que justificar el trade por parte de los Cowboys. Si continúa así, al final de la temporada podríamos estar hablando de que Dallas pagó de menos por él.
Es importante recalcar que Amari Cooper tiene 24 años de edad. Para el NFL Draft del 2019, los mejores prospectos en esta posición tienen a lo mucho cuatro años menos. A.J. Brown de Ole Miss tendrá 21 años cuando pise el emparrillado por primera vez en la NFL.
Y no, ninguno de estos receptores está cerca del nivel de talento con el que cuenta Cooper.
¿Qué tan grande ha sido el impacto de Amari Cooper?
Desde la semana 9, cuando los Cowboys consiguieron a Cooper, este ha tenido 30 recepciones. 23 de las cuales han resultado en un primer down o en un touchdown. Es el receptor con más atrapadas en tercera oportunidad. Podríamos hablar de las grandes estadísticas que el wide receiver ha conseguido vistiendo la estrella individualmente. Pero realmente, ha tenido un impacto en la ofensiva entera.
Desde su llegada, los Cowboys son el tercer mejor equipo en porcentaje de pases completos, el segundo en yardas después de la recepción y el tercero a la hora de convertir terceras oportunidades y mover las cadenas.
Simple y sencillamente, ha tenido un impacto que ningún otro novato del 2019 hubiera tenido en este equipo. Si, los Cowboys tendrán que pagarle una extensión cara en el futuro, pero cuando este sea el caso, lo habrá valido.
Amari Cooper es el ejemplo perfecto de porque la NFL es un deporte de equipo. Con los Raiders, todos lo tachaban como un jugador que ya no era bueno e iba para abajo. Pero bajo los Dallas Cowboys, se ve como un jugador que promete mucho para esta joven franquicia que necesitaba un verdadero #1 en la posición de wide receiver.
La ofensiva de los Cowboys tiene mucho talento. Es cuestión de mejorar en zona roja para que Dallas sea una amenaza bastante considerable en los playoffs de la NFL.
Star Blog1 week ago
Should Cowboys Address TE Injuries and Inexperience With This FA?
Star Blog1 week ago
Why is Jerry Jones “keeping a very close eye” on the Kareem Hunt Case?
Player News2 weeks ago
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch a Dominant Defensive Duo
Star Blog1 week ago
Will Kris Richard’s Success End Jason Garrett’s Era in Dallas?
Player News2 weeks ago
Cowboys Reinforcements on the Way, How Should Dallas Deploy Them?
Star Blog1 week ago
Randy Gregory Is Looking Like We Always Thought He Could
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
David Irving’s Return Could Make Cowboys’ Defense Even Scarier
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
Wide Receiver Michael Gallup Making a Huge Impact for Dallas Cowboys