As Mason Crosby's second 50-plus yarder in 30 seconds went through the uprights in Dallas, I was already trying to talk my fellow fans off the cliff with one particular argument: "Did you see how those young guys played? The future is bright."
Most Cowboys fans, and football fans in general, agree with that argument, especially when it is centered around now second-year quarterback Dak Prescott.
In his rookie season, after beginning training camp in a battle for the third string QB job, Prescott was forced into becoming the week one starter after now-former franchise quarterback Tony Romo's injury late in the preseason.
We hoped that Dak could simply steer what we thought was a playoff-bound ship, and do just enough to not screw things up. Instead, he played better than any rookie quarterback has ever played before, throwing 23 touchdowns and only 4 interceptions while completing 67.8% of his passes. If his own rookie teammate didn't just so happen to be the league's leading rusher, Dak would be a shoo-in for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
There are some people in the football world, however, that suggest Dak Prescott's rookie season could be a fluke. They say "well, what about Robert Griffin and Colin Kaepernick? Defensive coordinators figure guys out after their first year."
This argument is incredibly weak in many areas, so let's break down each one.
He Could Be Another RG3...
After bursting onto the scene his rookie season, Robert Griffin suffered set back after set back in terms of injuries. Mike Shanahan ran Griffin's knee into the ground during the final few weeks of 2012, and its fair to ask if he could ever be the same after those grueling injuries. Griffin was out there on one leg against the Cowboys the final week of 2012, still running the read option and still taking hits. Then in the Wild Card playoff game against Seattle, on the awful conditions in Washington, Griffin's knee completely gave out.
So far, there have been no injury concerns whatsoever for Dak Prescott. Behind the Cowboys offensive line, and with the Cowboys run-first (with their running backs) mentality, there shouldn't be too many injuries to worry about in the future either. Of course, there is always a chance, but worrying about any slight chance of injury is not the way to view your football team.
He Could Be Another Colin Kaepernick...
Like Griffin, Kaep took the world by storm in 2012 with a dazzling running ability and a strong arm. Defenses could not figure out how to stop him, and the San Francisco 49ers rode him to a Super Bowl appearance that same season.
The narrative on Kaepernick's career as a whole, and his current skill level has changed a ton, however.
The next season, in 2013, Kaepernick and the '9ers were once again borderline unstoppable, finishing with a 12-4 record and a late loss in the NFC Championship game. This means Kaep was much more than a one-year wonder, but to be honest, he is still playing quality football.
No, the team's record wasn't good in 2016, but Kaep played arguably his best football since that 2013 season. For comparisons sake, if Kaep was surrounded by talent much like Dak is in Dallas, I believe you'd see a much better finish for the team.
How does this all relate to Dak Prescott?
Well, quarterbacks don't fall off the face of the earth as much as people would like to suggest. Injuries happen, coaches change, and sometimes slumps occur, but if a player has talent and remains relatively healthy and supported, they should continue to shine.
There's Nothing For Defensive Coordinators To "Figure Out."
While Griffin and Kaepernick ran a lot of "read option," which was new in the league at the time, the Cowboys come at you with no gimmicks. There is nothing for coordinators to figure out. They know exactly what the Cowboys want to do. Run the ball down their throats, use their big, physical offensive line to their advantage, and throw the ball to their elite weapons when necessary.
People know what Dallas wants to do, stopping it is the problem.
Dak is in the perfect situation in Dallas. He has the full support of his coaching staff and front office, something these previous "one year wonders" did not have, he has the best offensive line in football, he has a top three running back in the backfield, and he has quality weapons on the outside.
There is absolutely no reason to believe any of what we saw from Dak in 2016 was a "fluke." And to be honest, there is no reason to believe he won't continue to play great football for many years to come.
Travis Frederick’s Return Named Cowboys Biggest Reason For Excitement
Overall, Cowboys Nation feels to be in a positive mood during this year's offseason. Despite early angst over lack of action at the start of free agency, and concern over the Cowboys' draft strategy, most within the fan base seem to have high, yet realistic, hopes for the 2019 season.
Most seem to believe the NFC East will be a two team race, with the last two champions battling for the crown once again down the stretch of the season. Others can see the potential for a dark-horse candidate in Washington, but still believe the Cowboys roster has the edge.
So while Cowboys fans may not think they need a singular reason to look forward to the Fall of 2019, Bleacher Report's Brent Sobleski gave them one this week.
NFL Brent Sobleski @@brentsobleski Twitter Logo NFL Analyst The offseason can be as thrilling for NFL fans as the regular season. Player movement constantly refreshes rosters-whether through free agency, the draft or trades. Significant changes inject excitement into franchises, personnel and fanbases. A one-time league doormat can become the league's "it' team simply through a string of acquisitions.
Brent identified the biggest reason for each team to look forward to 2019, with the return of center Travis Frederick being the Cowboys' submission. There's no question that when healthy, Frederick is one of the best centers in the game, and anchors an offensive line many still consider to be at the top of the league.
"A full year with wide receiver Amari Cooper and re-signing Demarcus Lawrence to a long-term deal are both reasons for the Dallas Cowboys to be excited. However, the return of Travis Frederick to man the middle of the offensive line is far more pertinent."
Frederick missed all of the 2018 season after being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare disease that I am not nearly qualified enough to discuss. What I do know is that it can be very serious, and it kept Frederick out for the entire year.
The Cowboys offensive line suffered during the early part of 2018, largely due in part to Travis Frederick's absence. Yes, Joe Looney filled in and played as well as anyone could have hoped for, but the disconnect in communication across the offensive line was clear without their usual center. Especially during the first couple months of the season.
If Frederick is fully back and healthy, his presence alone will take the Cowboys offensive line back towards their peak. Combine his comeback with a healthy Zack Martin, and a now bulked up Connor Williams, and the interior of this line has the chance to be special.
3 Dallas Cowboys Who Could Make Pro Bowl Debuts this Season
Every year, the Dallas Cowboys send quite a few players to the Pro Bowl. This year, the Cowboys sent eight players to the Pro Bowl with Leighton Vander Esch and Byron Jones being selected to their first Pro Bowl squad.
There is a lot of talent on this year's roster and the Cowboys will likely send someone to the annual all-star game that hasn't been there before. Here are three I think will make a push for Pro Bowl recognition in 2019.
Chidobe Awuzie, Cornerback
In the first half of the season, Chidobe Awuzie got picked on a bit. His coverage was always pretty good, but he allowed a ton of receptions. Awuzie allowed the ninth highest passer rating in coverage, the 12th most receptions, the 10th most yards, and tied for the sixth most touchdowns allowed weeks 1-9 of 2018.
In the second half, including the playoffs, Awuzie was much better and showed a higher level of comfort. His passer rating allowed dropped 50 points and was the 17th lowest in the league among corners who played at least 197 coverage snaps. He allowed fewer receptions, yards, and touchdowns in the 10 games over the second half than he allowed in the first eight games of the season.
Awuzie is one of the tougher players on the team. He plays with a similar edge that DeMarcus Lawrence does on the defensive line.
After spending part of his rookie season injured and rotating in, Awuzie found his stride in the second half of 2018 and was one of the Cowboys better cover players. Going into his third season in the NFL, the Cowboys 2017 second round pick looks to be an ascending player that could make some noise for postseason awards.
Tony Pollard, Running Back/Kick Returner
The Dallas Cowboys went into the 2019 NFL Draft looking to find a gadget player they could use on offense, but just as important, they wanted a player who could contribute in the return game. They got him in Rookie Tony Pollard.
Over the course of three seasons and 87 returns, Pollard averaged 30 yards per kick return and returned seven kickoffs for scores. In 2017, Pollard averaged an insane 40 yards per return. He's an incredibly dynamic player with the ball in his hands and though he wasn't used much on punt returns, shows an ability to make people miss and read his blockers.
As Stephen Jones said, "he's got a little Alvin Kamara to him." As a ball carrier, Pollard averaged 7.7 and 7.1 yards per carry over his final two seasons at Memphis. He was dynamic as a receiver as well averaging more than 12.4 yards per reception over three seasons in college.
With Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys may not give Pollard enough snaps and touches to have an Alvin Kamara like rookie campaign (120 carries for 728 yards, 8 touchdowns and 81 receptions for 826 yards and 5 touchdowns), but if he's given half that workload, plus what he could do on returns, he'll make noise for Pro Bowl consideration.
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
It was a bit surprising to go back and look at which linebackers made the Pro Bowl and not see Jaylon Smith's name. As good as Rookie Leighton Vander Esch was, Jaylon Smith might have been better. By standard metrics -- tackles, interceptions, tackles for loss -- Vander Esch totaled more. Advanced metrics like defensive EPA (expected points added) and playmaking EPA, favored Jaylon Smith's season.
Overall playmaking EPA rank among all NFL defenders: 5. DeMarcus Lawrence 7. Jaylon Smith 58. Leighton Vander Esch
Jaylon Smith didn't rack up the tackles like Vander Esch, but he was far more impactful over the course of the season. That's not to diminish Vander Esch's contribution to the Cowboys success in 2018. It's important to show Jaylon Smith his due, though.
Smith recorded four sacks, two forced fumbles, four passes defended to go along with his 120 combined tackles in 2018. And that was just his second full season back from the devastating knee injury he suffered in college.
Another season removed from the injury should make Jaylon Smith more confident and more explosive in 2019, which should lead to another outstanding season for the Dallas Cowboys Middle Linebacker.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Don't let anyone tell you that Pro Bowls don't matter. They do. Sure, All-Pro awards are the more highly coveted recognition, but to the players and to their agents, Pro Bowl selections matter. It's not as exclusive, but in a league with 1,696 players being one of 88 is still a really nice honor. To be a Pro Bowl player mean's you're in the top 5% of NFL players.
Obviously, we'd all prefer none of the Dallas Cowboys play in the Pro Bowl. Because that would mean they'd be preparing to play for that elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy. The Cowboys have always provided quite a few participants to the Pro Bowl game, but if the participation was zero in 2020, it wouldn't be all bad.
Will “Rumored” Position Change Help Keep LB Sean Lee Healthy?
Rumors and speculation. That's the point of the offseason we have reached with the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL. That's not necessarily a bad thing because it means players are staying out of trouble, but it's still a slow time nonetheless.
Today, I'd like to dive into some of the rumors and speculation surrounding the Dallas Cowboys right now. I thought I'd start off with Linebacker Sean Lee, and his "rumored" position change heading into the 2019 season. I think it's something worth discussing, as it is just about anything involving General Lee.
If rumors are correct, the Dallas Cowboys are considering a position change for Sean Lee in 2019. He's been their starting weak side linebacker (WILL) pretty much ever since they went to a 4-3 defense, but could be making a move to the strong side (SAM) to replace Damien Wilson. If true, this is interesting on so many different levels.
Sean Lee was initially moved to WILL in the Cowboys 4-3 defense years ago in order to hopefully protect him from the reoccurring injuries he was sustaining year after year. The thought was he would be better protected by not having to fight through so much trash or take on as much contact on the weak side. This was true to some degree, but unfortunately the injury bug continued to bite.
With that in mind, it seems strange the Cowboys are considering moving Sean Lee to SAM since it's considered to be a more physical position to play than he's use to. There is a lot more physicality and contact involved playing on the strong side, which you would think would make him more susceptible to the problem that's plagued his entire career, injuries.
The thought process of having Sean Lee switch to a more physical position seems like a strange one on the surface. A player who has struggled to remain healthy his entire career moving to play a more physically demanding position seems odd, but not if you were to look beyond the obvious.
Yes, the SAM LB position is more physically demanding, but doesn't receive a lot of playing time in the Cowboys 4-3 defense. Damien Wilson only played 30.72% of the defensive snaps in 2017 and 27.93% in 2018. Playing less snaps could actually play in Sean Lee's favor and potentially keep him healthy. That would make the move a win-win for No. 50 and the Cowboys.
A healthy Sean Lee playing SAM would be an upgrade over Damien Wilson. It would also give the Dallas Cowboys arguably the best starting 4-3 linebackers in the entire NFL. You may disagree, but I challenge you to find a better starting trio. I don't think it's possible.
Of course, all of this is just a rumor we are forced to speculate about right now, but it's still interesting to discuss nonetheless. I don't know how all of this will play out in the end, but I can't really think of any reason why Sean Lee shouldn't get the first crack at replacing Damien Wilson as the strong side linebacker in 2019.
Maybe, just maybe this will be the move that will finally keep him healthy.
What do you think? Do you like the idea of Sean Lee making a position change?
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