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"Do you guys want to play a game on the court?" was the question the Spurs Employee asked my friend Aaron and I.
It was May 10th, 2016 and the two of us were at Game 5 of the Spurs/Thunder Series in the NBA Playoffs. San Antonio, my place of residence, was tied with Oklahoma City through four games. Tonight was pivotal.
As Aaron and I made way to our seats, an employee asked if we wanted to be on the court at the end of the first quarter for a mini game of sorts. Immediately after being asked, I turned to Aaron. It had been his idea to come to the game, this was his call. I told him I was with him 100% whatever he wanted to do.
"Uh... sure." Aaron said, "What all do we have to do?".
The employee explained the rules of the mini game and when we would have to make our way down to the tunnel (you know, the one the Spurs enter/exit from). After literally five seconds of digesting the idea, Aaron changed his mind. He told the employee we were good, and he walked away.
After I chased Aaron down I asked, "What?! We were going to go on the court! What happened?"
Aaron said that he changed his mind and "didn't want to miss any of the game." While that's a stance I can get behind, it's worth noting that the Spurs would go on to lose this game and that it would ultimately be Tim Duncan's last one in San Antonio. We could have been on the court for this, Aaron!
What's the lesson here? Never take any situation for granted. Always go for it. Always be bold. The Dallas Cowboys have what seems like a non-important game ahead of them (the Steelers play in the AFC so it really does mean less). It cannot be taken for granted.
America's Team has, stop me if you've heard this before, a chance to make a statement with this game in Pittsburgh. Go destroy one of the NFL's best. Put the league on notice. Take what's yours. Welcome to my 5 Bold Predictions. Let's roll.
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4-11 Plays A Big Part In The Cowboys Offense
4 to 11 is quite the combination these days in the NFL. The rookie quarterback has developed some great - this word has become exhausting lately - chemistry with the Saucemaster and it's showing all over the field.
Cole Beasley is the only pass-catcher that Dak Prescott has a completion percentage above 80% when targeting. This connection is a big reason why the Dallas Cowboys Offense is averaging a poetic 411.5 yards per game.
#DakAndCole are going to hook up a lot in this game. The 4-11 connection is going to be big as the Cowboys continue their offensive yardage average by the same number.
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Maurkice Pouncey Has A Bad Snap That Results In A Fumble Recovered By The Cowboys
It's really weird to hear that NFL teams have problems at the center position, because the Cowboys have Travis Frederick and never have to worry about such things.
Maurkice Pouncey, the ball-snapper for the Steelers, is currently dealing with a right thumb injury. If this were any other player, save a wide receiver, it really wouldn't be a big deal. Just slap a cast on it and do your thing; however, this is quite a troubling issue for someone who touches the football on literally every play.
Maurkice's right thumb - his snapping hand - is not going to be 100%. At some point in this game it's going to ail him just a bit too much, and he's going to have a bad snap that the Cowboys fall on top of. Close your eyes and you can see it, too.
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Ezekiel Elliott Is Going To Rush For More Yards Than Any Running Back Has This Season Against The Steelers
When the Miami Dolphins hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers a few weeks ago, Jay Ajayi carried the ball 25 times for 204 yards. That's pretty impressive.
The last time the Dallas Cowboys visited Pittsburgh was December 7th, 2008. At the time the largest performance the Steelers had surrendered on the ground was a 73-yard day by New England's Kevin Faulk. All of that changed when Cowboys rookie running back Tashard Choice dropped 88 on Pittsburgh.
Just like Tashard rushed for more yards against the Steelers than anyone had that season, Zeke is going to do the same... it's just going to be a wee bit more impressive.
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Super Bowls X, XIII, & XXX Will Be Referenced
When the Dallas Cowboys and Pittsburgh Steelers meet up it's arguably a clashing of the NFL's greatest two franchises. In 50 total, three Super Bowls have featured a matchup between the two clubs, that's incredible.
The pages of Pro Football History are filled to the brim with legendary Cowboys/Steelers tales, but obviously the Super Bowl memories carry the most pomp and circumstance. Dallas and Pittsburgh have indeed squared off three times with football's biggest prize on the line. The Cowboys lost Super Bowls X and XIII (I believe Super Bowl XIII to be the greatest game ever played) to the Steelers, but they secured victory in Super Bowl XXX.
Considering this is America's Game of the Week on FOX and that the color analyst on call, Troy Aikman, was the winning quarterback of Super Bowl XXX... you can bet your bottom dollar these iconic games will be mentioned.
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Sean Lee Will Have The Game-Defining Play On Defense
Many people believe that linebackers are forged in the steel mills of Pittsburgh, PA. A lot of those people believe that they play for the Steelers, or Penn State. Either way... Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania in general knows how to breed a good linebacker.
Sean Lee was in fact forged in Pittsburgh... literally. "The General" was born in Pittsburgh and attended Penn State - he's a linebacker down to the bone.
It really is amazing how unnoticed Lee's 2016 campaign is going. The best defensive player on the Cowboys is putting together quite the season, but part of the reason people haven't totally caught on is because he hasn't made his trademark big plays... that changes on Sunday.
This is the first time in his NFL career that Sean Lee will play the Steelers in Pittsburgh. He's going to make it a memorable event.
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Bonus Bold Prediction #1
Remember, if you want YOUR Bold Prediction featured here, tweet it at me! It’s that simple! Here are this week’s contributions, thanks to all those who shared!
Monsieur Cook always strings together quite the nice set of bold predictions, and this one is no different. If you buy my Zeke bold prediction then Donny hit the nail right on the head here, plus it looks like we're going to have a party on defense.
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Bonus Bold Prediction #2
Hey @rjochoa here's a fun Bold Prediction. Anthony Brown picks a pass intended for Antonio Brown... Somehow...
Mauricio is getting creative! I dig it!
Anthony Brown has played lights out as a rookie in the Dallas secondary. Considering that they're still adjusting to life without Morris Claiborne and Barry Church, Anthony will need to have a big day with the NFL's best receiver on the other side of things. Get that pick, Anthony! Huzzah!
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Bonus Bold Prediction #3
This is a big plate for Dez Bryant to step up to.
Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are far and away the Steelers most potent weapons. It would take a pretty huge effort from Dez Bryant to have to top both of them in these three statistical categories, and the Cowboys gameplan doesn't really lend itself to that.
The only way I see this unfolding is if the game turns into a shootout of sorts, in which case the Cowboys are likely in trouble. Yikes!
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Bonus Bold Prediction #4
@rjochoa bold prediction: cowboys hold AB under 100 yards AND Leveon bell as well. And dak throws a long TD at some point
It seems like Chase and Zeke-and-Deztroy are hanging out, doesn't it?!
Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell are going to have to show up if the Steelers have any chance. The Cowboys still have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher on the season, but this is arguably the best one that they've faced. I do believe Dez gets a big play at some point, so maybe that optimism will spill over!
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Bonus Bold Prediction #5
A cowboy will score his first TD of the season (Swain, Lucky, Smith or Defense) @rjochoa
I really, really, really like this Bold Prediction from Tony.
Here's the thing... if Gavin Escobar can score a touchdown then anyone can. This really does feel like Jeff Swaim's week. Book it for the Swaim Train!
Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches
Lamentablemente, la temporada 2018 de los Dallas Cowboys ha llegado a su fin. Lo hizo cuando el equipo visitó Los Angeles para intentar sorprender a los Rams en su propio campo en la Ronda Divisional de los playoffs. Ni siquiera con una invasión exitosa de la afición de Dallas pudieron ganarse un pase al Campeonato de Conferencia. En vez de eso, los Cowboys estarán viendo desde casa y la afición estará preguntándose: ¿qué sigue para los Dallas Cowboys?
Parece ya una tradición anual que no podemos dejar pasar. Este momento en el que comenzamos a cuestionar, una vez más, que entrenador es digno de quedarse en la franquicia y cual debe irse. En esta edición de "Cowboys en Español," hablaremos específicamente de los tres principales coaches en el equipo.
Coordinador Defensivo Rod Marinelli
El futuro del coordinador defensivo de los Dallas Cowboys no se puede tratar sin mencionar a Kris Richard. Fue la defensiva la que llevó al equipo hasta la postemporada y fue la unidad que cargó al equipo en muchas de sus victorias. Incluso con la llegada de Amari Cooper a Dallas, la defensiva fue siempre el pilar de la franquicia esta temporada.
Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch sorprendentemente se perfilaron como uno de los mejores duos de linebackers en toda la liga, la línea defensiva fue muy exitosa con Randy Gregory y DeMarcus Lawrence en los extremos y con la grata sorpresa que fue Antwaun Woods en el centro. La secundaria vio la mejor temporada en la controversial carrera de Byron Jones e hizo un excelente trabajo con un talento decente, pero no genial.
Todo esto, y el haber terminado como la sexta mejor defensiva en puntos permitidos (20.2) y la quinta mejor contra la corrida (94.6), hace a Rod Marinelli merecedor de una ronda de aplausos. Sin embargo, Richard probablemente merezca más aplausos.
Fue Richard quien revolucionó la defensiva de los Cowboys y la convirtió en un grupo mucho más agresivo. Fue él quien implementó jugadas de "blitz" en el equipo (algo no común con Marinelli) y quien en un punto de la temporada, comenzó a seleccionar las jugadas desde la banda.
En esta posición, me parece que los Dallas Cowboys tienen que enfrentar la dura decisión de decirle a Marinelli que es tiempo de dejarle el puesto a Kris Richard. Si bien no se llevó un trabajo de head coach, es muy probable que le llovieran ofertas a Richard si no se hace con el título de coordinador defensivo en Dallas.
Coordinador Ofensivo Scott Linehan
Con un equipo tan polémico como este, la afición de Dallas no concuerda en muchas cosas. Sin embargo, lo hacen al hablar del pésimo trabajo que Scott Linehan ha realizado mandando las jugadas en ofensiva. Realmente ha sido doloroso de ver y es en mi opinión, el mayor problema que tiene el equipo actualmente.
Semana tras semana, fuimos testigos de pésimas decisiones en la ofensiva de los Cowboys. Vimos como el equipo se aferraba a llenar la caja de defensivos antes de correr el balón con Ezekiel Elliott. Vimos incontables pases pantalla en tercera oportunidad y largo. Pero no solo es lo que vimos, sino lo que no vimos.
A pesar de la innegable habilidad para correr el balón de Dak Prescott, Linehan se rehusó a explotar esta versatilidad de su QB. Vimos pocos "QB sneaks," jugada donde el mariscal toma el balón bajo centro y consigue poco yardage detrás del empuje de su línea ofensiva.
Siendo honestos, los Cowboys llevan dos años sufriendo por este coordinador. Dejarlo volver en el 2019 sería una decisión ridícula. Los comentarios en la radio de Jason Garrett no lucen prometedores, pero realmente sería una sorpresa que fueran ciertos. Linehan no debe volver... punto.
Head Coach Jason Garrett
El futuro en esta posición será muy debatido durante los próximos meses, pero de los tres que hemos mencionado es sin lugar a dudas el más seguro de todos. Nos guste o no, Jason Garrett estará al frente del equipo la próxima temporada.
Garrett está lejos de ser un gran coach y aún le hace falta demostrar que puede cumplir las aspiraciones de los Cowboys de traer un sexto Trofeo Lombardi a casa. Pero siendo honesto, este equipo debería tener suficiente con Garrett y un par de buenos coordinadores. ¿El problema? No hay un par de buenos coordinadores en el equipo.
Sin embargo, Garrett ha demostrado que cuenta con el amor y apoyo de sus jugadores. Ha demostrado que efectivamente, puede ganar la división (lo ha hecho en tres de los últimos cinco años). Este año el equipo le dio la vuelta a la temporada después de comenzar 3-5.
Lo más preocupante en mi opinión, es la falta de urgencia para despedir a Linehan, por ejemplo. Quizá a puerta cerrada Garrett quiere un cambio en su staff, pero nunca lo sabremos.
Jason Garrett no es un coach excelente, pero podría ser suficiente para llevar a los Cowboys a un Super Bowl si tiene un equipo adecuado. Todo parece indicar que su trabajo está seguro (incluso más de lo que pensamos) así que es tiempo de esperar que se arreglen sus coordinadores.
2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch
As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.
It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.
Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.
No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.
This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.
There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.
Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.
Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.
What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?
Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.
Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.
They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?
Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.
Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.
Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.
Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.
Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.
This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.
The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.
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