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.
Cowboys en Español: ¿Qué Safety Estará Ahí en el #58?
Por fin estamos a menos de una semana del NFL Draft 2019. El evento que define el futuro de las franquicias de la liga año tras año está a días de distancia y los rumores comienzan a tomar velocidad. Para los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys, la experiencia del Draft será un poco diferente ya que no cuentan con una selección de primera ronda. En vez de eso, tienen a Amari Cooper. ¿Lo vale? Sí. Pero, no se puede negar que el equipo estará en una posición complicada durante el Draft.
No sólo no hay un pick de primera ronda para los Cowboys, sino que no cuentan con uno dentro del Top 50. Estas son las selecciones con las que cuentan los Jones y compañía:
- Pick #58 (segunda ronda)
- Pick #91 (tercera ronda)
- Pick #129 (cuarta ronda)
- Pick #137 (cuarta ronda)
- Pick #166 (quinta ronda)
- Pick #243 (séptima ronda)
A menos que sean sorprendentemente agresivos, no habrá noticias sobre los Dallas Cowboys el próximo jueves. Más bien tendremos que esperar hasta el segundo día del Draft para ver que traman los Cowboys. ¿Qué podemos esperar sobre su primera selección?
En este momento, parece que no hay ninguna necesidad más fuerte que la de un safety. Y parece ser que el talento disponible en la segunda ronda podría beneficiar a los Cowboys. Como cada año, es difícil pronosticar quien estará en la tabla y quien no, pero hablemos de varios safeties que podrían solucionar los problemas de Dallas.
S Taylor Rapp, Washington
Algunos ven a Rapp como el mejor safety en la clase de novatos, mientras que otros están convencidos de que no podrá tener éxito en la NFL. La mayor preocupación en torno al producto de Washington es su velocidad. En las pruebas que realizó sus resultados no fueron nada satisfactorios. Sin embargo, ha probado en el campo que es bueno contra la corrida y se puede encargar de su trabajo en cobertura. Es bueno al tacklear, y podría ser justo lo que los Cowboys necesitan.
S Jonathan Abraham, Mississippi State
Abraham se proyecta como un strong safety, que es lo que los Cowboys necesitan. De todos los prospectos, parece que Abraham es el favorito a irse primero. Sin embargo, no es perfecto y sus defectos podrían costarle una caída hasta la segunda ronda. Abraham falla tackleadas ocasionalmente, pero su juego físico y agresivo lo puede compensar. Si cae hasta el #58, Abraham no puede ser ignorado.
S Juan Thornhill, Virginia
Thornhill no es mejor que los mencionados anteriormente, pero quizá sea más probable encontrarlo si los Cowboys se quedan en el pick #58. En Virginia, Thornhill tuvo tres temporadas donde fue titular en más de 10 partidos. Es todo un play-maker, consiguiendo 13 intercepciones en su carrera colegial. Lidero a su equipo en tackleadas. Puede jugar en varios puntos de la defensiva e incluso llegó a alinearse como linebacker. Dudo que eso pase en la NFL, pero podría ser un buen safety dentro de la caja y en cobertura.
S Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, Florida
Gardner-Johnson fue uno de los líderes en Florida durante toda su carrera. Jugó como safety y como cornerback, muchas veces actuando como "nickel." Chauncey no sería de mis opciones favoritas en este punto del Draft, pero es una que no se puede ignorar si los demás jugadores ya no están disponibles. Sabe romper jugadas y tiene potencial de convertirse en un titular a largo plazo.
S Amani Hooker, Iowa
En el escenario de que todos los mejores safeties ya hayan sido seleccionados y el equipo no prefiera atender otra necesidad, Amani Hooker merece un vistazo. En Iowa ganó el premio al mejor defensive back de su conferencia (Big Ten). Tuvo buenos números en sus pruebas y podría ser un buen strong safety dentro de la caja, donde se pone en posición constantemente para hacer jugadas.
Claro que los Cowboys podrían tomar otra ruta y no seleccionar a un safety hasta más tarde. Sin embargo, considero que sería lo correcto. Incluso pienso que si Taylor Rapp o su prospecto favorito está disponible en un punto de la segunda ronda, Dallas estará dispuesto a hacer un trade para subir y alcanzarlo.
Sólo queda esperar este gran e impredecible evento. ¿Qué esperas del NFL Draft? Hazme saber en los comentarios o por medio de Twitter en @MauNFL.
Cowboys Look To Be In For Brutal December Slate In 2019
All sixteen regular season games count the same. A win in September means exactly the same as a win in December. Just as a touchdown in the first quarter counts for the same number of points as a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
While factually accurate, we know these statements aren't totally true. Championship teams often "hit their stride" in November and December, as they close out divisions, clinch playoff births, and prove they can stay cool and claim victory when the pressure mounts to its highest peak.
Under Jason Garrett, and Wade Phillips before him, the Cowboys have developed the reputation of not "winning the big one." In particular, they've been labeled as a team that "chokes" in December. Tony Romo dealt with his fair share of December/January demons during his career, but overcame them towards his final seasons. Dak Prescott has yet to advance past the Divisional Round of the postseason himself, but the narrative around the Cowboys has seemed to change.
Now, due to their late season run and victory over the Seattle Seahawks last season, people see Prescott and the Cowboys as a team that can find ways to win. A team, and a quarterback, who may not be as prolific as some of the other top squads in the conference, but one that you can never count out. I'd argue this has been the case with Dallas for quite some time under Garrett, but it is only now the narrative has changed.
Their late season fortitude will be tested again in 2019, however.
The NFL released the official schedule for the 2019 NFL season earlier this week, with the Cowboys getting some favorable (and some not-so-favorable) draws. What jumped off the page immediately to me, however, is how tough their final four games will be. And, of course, how critical victories in those games will be to gaining an NFC playoff spot.
Among those four December games are trips to Chicago and Philadelphia, two playoff teams a year ago who present problems in different ways. The Bears, known for their talented defense and innovative play-caller, and the Eagles, the always tough divisional foe.
Dallas also gets two home games during this stretch, hosting the Los Angeles Rams week 15, and finishing out the year against the Washington Redskins. The Rams, of course, eliminated the Cowboys from the postseason a year ago, and are expected to be one of the conference's best again.
The Cowboys will face a first-place schedule in 2019, and will have to prove that they are playoff-worthy down the stretch in December.
Dallas Cowboys: 3 Schedule Predictions Ahead Of Wednesday’s Release
Wednesday night the official 2019 NFL schedule will be released, and we will know the exact times and dates of each of the Cowboys' upcoming games.
We already know the opponents, however, and we know how the NFL typically likes to schedule games week to week. Based on both prior history and future opponents, here are 3 predictions for tonight's schedule release.
1. Cowboys Open Up With The Giants
I didn't say the predictions would be bold, did I?
The NFL loves to have the Cowboys open up against the New York Giants, and I see that being the case here again. Dallas/New York will always bring about solid ratings, but scheduling this game before the Giants (likely) fall out of contention is a smart move as well.
This game will be in Dallas at 4:25 eastern time, occupying that "America's Game of the Week" slot during the opening weekend. Because as much as everyone says they hate watching these NFC East games, the numbers bear out a different story.
2. Cowboys Play @ Saints Thursday After Thanksgiving
We know the Cowboys will play in an extra Thursday or Saturday night game this season. They always do.
Lately the league has liked to schedule them as the Thursday night game following Thanksgiving, and I don't see them breaking that trend this season. Dallas has played the Vikings, Redskins, and Saints in this game the last three years, with the Cowboys/Saints game being one of the best of last year's Thursday slate.
Why not run it back at the Superdome this November?
3. Cowboys Close The Season With A Brutal December
This is broad prediction, so let's narrow it down a bit. I think the Cowboys will play three critical NFC games in December, at the very least. These games will include NFC East battles with the Washington Redskins (week 17) and Philadelphia Eagles, as well as a game at Chicago to face the Bears.
It's likely the Cowboys, Bears, and Eagles will be fighting for playoff positioning (or playoff births) down the stretch in December. Plus, anytime a combination of these three teams play, ratings will be drawn. I think they'll have Prescott battle Mitchell Trubisky and Carson Wentz this December, as he and the Cowboys look to clinch a consecutive playoff birth.
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