Once again through the first 2 weeks of December the Dallas Cowboys were being haunted by December’s past. Fans and media alike had one phrase circling through their minds, “Here we go again”. This time however, things would be different.
As soon as the final second ticked off the clock, with the loss at home to the San Diego Chargers Sunday a week ago, Cowboys coaches, players, and front office personnel were enveloped by a storm of fans and media, calling for the dismissal of Wade Phillips, and Jason Garrett. No one and I do mean no one, gave this team a chance to knock off the “unbeatable” Saints.
Quietly however, a transformation had begun to take shape inside the locker room. That transformation was ignited, not by coaches, or by fans, or even by the owner, no this transformation was ignited by the two “Leaders” of this football team, Tony Romo and DeMarcus Ware.
The fans of the Dallas Cowboys have been screaming for several years for certain players to “Step Up” and impose their will on this football team, well guess what people? That is exactly what took place in New Orleans on Saturday night.
Coming into Saturday nights match up, the Saints offense had been lights out. In their previous 15 possessions the potent Saints offense had punted only once, yes one time! The Saints were an unstoppable machine.
In the Cowboys previous game against the Chargers, they were dealt a blow that could have been disastrous. Star outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware while trying to make a tackle, took an awkward hit to the head, and dropped him to the carpet. While Ware lay lifeless on the Cowboys Stadium floor, we all watched in horror. The next day we all heard that he would be okay, but that we should prepare ourselves for a trip to New Orleans without him.
Later in the week rumors began to circulate that the Cowboys defensive heartbeat may have a chance to play against the Saints, was this merely a stunt to keep the fans from jumping off the nearest bridge? Was this Jerry and Wade’s way of keeping the team together? Or was this simply DeMarcus Ware refusing to sit by and watch his comrades go into battle without him?
We the fans may never know, just exactly what took place, but I believe that Ware viewed this scenario like this; this is our time to prove ourselves and I will not sit idly by and let the moment slip past us. This was the beginning, this was the flame that ignited the blaze.
The Cowboys past December failures have placed upon the shoulders of one man, whether they should have been or not is debatable, but Tony Romo received the blame none the less. People have questioned his commitment, leadership skills, and decision making. They have even brought his personal life into it as a reason for the team’s failures. Tony however, has never wavered in his beliefs of himself and of his team; he has taken the abuse in stride.
The Cowboy offense has been very good and very bad, many times all of that in the same afternoon. I and many of you have questioned the game plans, play calls, who should start and who should get more carries, not because we know any better but because we believed that this team could be better than it was.
There has been something slightly off about this years Cowboy offense, not personnel wise or anything like that, there was just something missing. The team seemed to be unable to have the energy level and fierceness, to start a game at full speed to let their opponent understand that the Cowboys were in charge, and there is nothing you can do about it.
We have heard Tony Romo say many times that “individual things are not important” he does not care how many yards he throws for or how many touchdowns he has, he simply wants to win.
From the opening kick off Dallas was ready and New Orleans was not prepared for what the Cowboys had in store for them.
All week long we told of the doom that was in store for our boys. We were told how great Greg Williams was, and how he had transformed the Saints defense into this turnover creating machine, and how they would force Romo into making poor decisions. We were told of the great Drew Brees and the dynamic receiving corps. that surrounds him, and how the Cowboys secondary simply would not hold up to the pressure.
Tony Romo and the Cowboys offense took their first two possessions the length of the field for touchdowns, and put the superdome crowd in their seats. The blaze that had been started by Ware was now raging out of control, a blaze so big not even the waters that once flooded the streets of New Orleans could have contained it.
The Dallas Cowboys were now in position to pull off the unthinkable, they had the unblemished Saints on the ropes, but like any good team they were not going to just walk off into the night without one last fight. The Saints began to scratch and claw their way back into the game behind their MVP candidate Drew Brees. The ultimate stage was now set for not one, but both of the Cowboys leaders to either, (a) let another game slip through their hands or (b) stand up to the challenge.
After the Saints had brought themselves to within seven points of the boys, Tony Romo took the huddle and looked his mates in the eye and said follow me. Twice in the Cowboys final offensive drive they looked as if things would stall, but each time Romo stepped up and made a play to keep things rolling, when others were crumbling to the pressure he simply did things himself.
Tony drove his team 74 yards and put them in position for a chip shot field goal to ice the game, only to have the kicker clank it off the upright. Now there was nothing more he could do, except stand on the sidelines watch, and all of us had that disgusting December slogan run through our minds once again “Here we go again”.
Then with just seconds left in the game and the Saints driving, the man who just one week earlier had been driven off the field in an ambulance, simply looked across the line at his opponent and said, not this time, not today. We all have seen the explosiveness, and power that is DeMarcus Ware but never like this. Like something out the movies DeMarcus launched himself at the snap of the ball, with so much power that when he made contact with Jermond Bushrod it launched the Saints tackle into the air, and in a flash Drew Brees was enveloped, and the ball he once held was now rolling on the Superdome floor.
The 2009-10 Dallas Cowboy season has been a roller coaster ride, was this, the game that they needed to get them to believe enough in themselves to become the team they aspire to be? Or was this just one special night? We do not know the answer to these questions yet, but at least for now, we can be proud of this team, and of what they accomplished. No longer should they be subject to statements like these,
The Dallas Cowboys have zero chance!
History Suggests a Contract Extension for Ezekiel Elliott is a Crapshoot
If rumors are true, Running Back Ezekiel Elliott and Melvin Gordon could be following in the footsteps of Le'Veon Bell by threatening to hold out not only training camp, but the 2019 season if they're not rewarded with contract extensions from their respective teams. It's a bold strategy, especially considering the history of long-term extensions previously given to running backs.
Contract extensions for running backs is always a controversial topic. It's not only one of the easier positions to replace, but the shelf life for a NFL RB is a short one due to the physical nature of the position. Players bodies break down quicker, meaning their lifespan in the league on average is between just 3 to 5 years.
For the most part, the market value for running backs around the league would suggest the position isn't one teams like to invest a lot of resources in. Although, there was an uptick in the market last year when Todd Gurley signed a four-year deal worth $14.375 million a year and then David Johnson signed for three years worth $13 million a season. Those two contracts could be the starting point for Ezekiel Elliott.
Ezekiel Elliott's camp knows all of this and so do the Dallas Cowboys. But, handing out upwards of $14 million to a position that has such a short shelf life in the league is a crapshoot at best, even to a player as talented as Zeke. History hasn't been kind to running backs who receive a long-term extension. In fact, it's really hard to put a finger on one single RB who has lived up to their contract extension.
Take Todd Gurley and David Johnson for instance. Gurley already has long-term concerns about his health, and Johnson missed nearly all of the 2018 season due to an injury. Both players are currently the top paid at the position right now, but they're not the only examples of why the Cowboys should be cautious offering Zeke a contract extension.
The RB tier below Todd Gurley and David Johnson are making around $8 million a year after receiving a contract extension. Unfortunately, the results are about the same. Devonta Freeman ($8.25 M) and Jerick McKinnon ($7.5 M) missed nearly all of the 2018 season due to injuries after being rewarded with long-term deals. Only LeSean McCoy ($8.01 M) has come close to living up to his deal, but even he has struggled off-and-on with injuries.
Need more convincing?
Let's take this back a little bit further. Chris Johnson, Johnathan Stewart, DeMarco Murray, DeAngelo Williams, Ray Rice… I can go on and on. Even players such as Arian Foster who remained productive after receiving an extension struggled with injuries. If you haven't yet, you may start to see a trend here.
Now, I'm not saying the Dallas Cowboys shouldn't extend Ezekiel Elliott. Personally I'm on the fence about it and would be fine with them going either direction. But, they absolutely have to be cautious with the way they handled this. History is a good indicator they may not get the same kind of production from Zeke as they have previously.
Do you think the Cowboys should give Ezekiel Elliott a contract extension?
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Linebacker
The linebacker position went from liability to luxury in 2018, thanks largely to the emergence of a pair of dynamic young talents. Now seen as one of the strengths of the Dallas Cowboys' defense, what questions remain for the linebackers as we await the start of the 2019 training camp?
Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are the nucleus now at linebacker, if not the the Cowboys' defense as a whole. The days of worrying if Sean Lee can stay healthy are over; we now have two players capable of elite play and the versatility to handle multiple spots.
Lee isn't gone; the longtime defensive captain accepted a pay cut and a lesser role to stay in Dallas this year. He is still expected to start in the base defense, moving to the strong-side LB role that Damien Wilson vacated.
Indeed, the top-three linebackers for 2019 are easy to project. Jaylon and Leighton are the new leaders and Sean will get as much playing time as his body can handle.
This year, which is unusual for reserve players, the second team is almost just as predictable.
Here's the projected Linebacker Depth Chart for the 2019 training camp:
- Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith, Sean Lee
- Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard, Chris Covington
- Kyle Queiro, Andrew Dowell, Luke Gifford, Nate Hall
There may not be a position on offense or defense with less x-factors than linebacker. Almost just as likely as the starters, Joe Thomas, Justin-March Lillard, and Chris Covington should have the second-team spots locked down.
Thomas is especially valuable, having the skills to step into a larger role if Sean Lee suffers from age or injury. If Lee were to go down, we might see Jaylon Smith move into the SAM spot and Thomas playing as WILL in the base defense.
Dallas re-signed Justin March-Lillard this offseason. He played in all 16 games last year as a backup and special teamer, and his experience will make him hard to oust.
Chris Covington was a 6th-round pick last year and has the body to play SAM but also experience at other spots in college. Dallas would love to see him grow into a larger role the way other recent 6th-rounders like Anthony Brown and Xavier Woods have.
One potential challenger could be Jalen Jelks, the 7th-round defensive end that Dallas just drafted last April. Jelks has the body and athleticism to play a hybrid LB/DE role, and could challenge as the backup SAM. We don't know if the Cowboys will give Jelks a chance at LB, but it may be the only way to keep him on the 53 given all the talent at defensive end.
It will be hard for any of the remaining LB prospects to work their way onto the roster. The top six have experience and upside that undrafted rookies will need to be exceptionally good to overcome. Only Kyle Queiro, who was on the practice squad last year, brings a little NFL experience to the table.
Of course, unexpected things can happen. The talent margin between late-round picks and undrafted guys can be slim; who knows if one of these prospects pushes March-Lillard or Covington out of the way?
But barring a surprise, we already have a good idea who the Cowboys' six linebackers will be in 2019. Will this year's training camp solidify that projection, or will we get some new evidence to consider?
~ ~ ~
OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS
Tony Romo: Cowboys TE Jason Witten Will “Pick Up Right Where He Left Off”
There's no denying that the future holds a gold jacket for Dallas Cowboys Tight End Jason Witten. With everything he's done in his career, he'll go down as one of the three best tight ends in the history of the NFL when he finally hangs up his number 82 for good.
Most of the questions that have come surrounding the offense have focused on the tight end position this offseason. Even prior to Jason Witten announcing his return from the broadcast booth at ESPN to the NFL, tight end was one of the areas that was considered a draft need by most analysts. Since coming back, the questions may have altered, but they're there all the same. Now, we're wondering how much Jason Witten will play? Will Blake Jarwin and/or Dalton Schultz see significant playing time in the offense? Will Jason Witten be able to return to his pre-retirement form?
It's that last question that was answered pretty directly by Witten's former quarterback and NFL on CBS Analyst Tony Romo when he was on with Ben and Skin of 105.3 The Fan. In the way that only Tony Romo can, he illustrated what exactly will allow Jason Witten to return to the game without missing a beat.
"He'll pick up right where he left off. I don't think it's a big challenge for Jason (Witten). The reality of it is as long as, if you know the game the way he does, there are certain positions -- he plays one of them at tight end -- he's always going to have the nuance to get open. Let's say he runs the exact same he always did, to me , it's just that at that position, your ability to use leverage against somebody, make you think this and then do that. It's like the back pick in basketball. Just all of a sudden it gets you and you didn't even know it was coming and that guy is wide open. He's very intelligent with the game of football. I think he's going to pick up right from when he retired. I think you're going to see the same guy."
Tony Romo on 105.3 The Fan via Jon Machota of SportsDay DFW
Jason Witten has been one of the best route-running tight ends in the NFL during his time with the Dallas Cowboys. He's always been able to win with his intelligence and route running despite not ever being the quickest or most athletic tight end in the NFL.
Because of Jason Witten's knowledge and feel for the game, it's easy to see why a player like that could walk back into the NFL after taking a year off and remain a productive player for the Dallas Cowboys. It's why they didn't hesitate to bring him back in the offseason. Though it's been relayed that he'll have a somewhat reduced role, he'll be the starting tight end week one against the New York Giants.
While it's uncertain exactly how much Jason Witten can play, you know that he'll be available to play. Prior to his retirement, Witten played in 235 straight regular-season games. Not only is Witten's availability great to have, but so is his ability to win on third down and in the red zone. It will be a welcomed addition to a Dallas Cowboys offense that struggled in both of those areas in 2018.
In 2018, they were 10th in third-down conversion percentage in the NFL at 41.4%. That's down from ranking fifth in the NFL in 2017 at 42.9%. 1.5% may not seem like a huge difference, but that's two to three more first downs on the season. Being able to convert on third downs increases your chances of scoring. Scoring more helps you win.
They were 29th in red-zone scoring rate at 48% in 2018. The only teams in the NFL that were worse than the Dallas Cowboys were the New York Jets, Jacksonville Jaguars, and San Francisco 49ers. Only one other team in the bottom 10 in the league in red-zone scoring rate made the playoffs; the Houston Texans. In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys were sixth in the NFL in red-zone scoring percentage at 59.6% and that was without Ezekiel Elliott for six games and without Tyron Smith for three games.
Having Jason Witten's ability to get open in confined spaces will help everyone on the offense. Even after having a year off, Witten is a player that will have to be accounted for in those high-leverage situations.
There isn't a person in the world that knows Jason Witten the football player better than Tony Romo does. Their careers have been so intertwined that it's hard to think of one without thinking of the other. It's why one day when they're inducted into the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor, that it would be fitting for it to happen together.
If, as Romo believes, Jason Witten can pick up right where he left off, his veteran presence, leadership, and on-field ability are going to be a huge asset for a team that has Super Bowl aspirations in 2019. For the Cowboys to reach the Super Bowl and win their sixth Lombardi Trophy, they're going to need "Gold Jacket" Witten to return to his pre-retirement form.
And if Tony Romo believes he will, there's no reason to doubt Jason Witten. Do so at your own peril.
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