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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!
Does Darius Jackson Have A “Puncher’s Chance” Of Landing On Final Roster?
Remember Darius Jackson?
The sixth round running back was an instant fan favorite of Cowboys Nation, as the fanbase hoped Dallas had found the explosive RB2 behind Ezekiel Elliott they needed in the very same draft. Jackson, however, had an up-and-down preseason in 2016 and ended up being waived from the team to make room for Darren McFadden later in the year.
Jackson has bounced around the league a bit since then, joining both the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers at different points. He's back with the Cowboys, however, looking to fight his way onto the team's final roster.
But does the fourth year running back have more than a puncher's chance to do so?
The Cowboys spent much of the 2019 NFL Draft rebuilding their running back depth. First, they drafted Memphis back Tony Pollard hoping to find a versatile and dynamic threat to compliment the workhorse that is Ezekiel Elliott. Then, in the seventh round, Dallas took another Ohio State running back in Mike Weber who fits more of the "traditional" running back form.
So with two new touted rookies behind the veteran Elliott, and fullback Jamize Olawale more than likely having a roster spot as well, there doesn't seem to be room for Darius Jackson on the Dallas Cowboys.
That didn't stop him from competing at OTAs, however. DallasCowboys.com named Darius Jackson one of their top ten "head turners" from the OTA practices, and considering that Mike Weber is banged up at the moment, Jackson will certainly have his opportunities to fight for that spot.
Still, the odds suggest that Darius Jackson will not be with the Cowboys come the Fall of 2019. Though he entered the league with some fanfare for a day three pick, his production has been more fitting of his draft grade than of his fan hype.
Jackson hasn't been the explosive player/receiving back that they're hoping Tony Pollard will be, nor has he been the every-down type backup runner that they seem to hope Mike Weber will be.
In the end, the Cowboys-Darius Jackson story is likely to close during this year's training camp.
Cowboys Camp: Strong Safety Battle One to Watch
When the Dallas Cowboys head to Oxnard, California for the start of training camp in late July, they'll have most of the roster settled. On paper, they're a team that doesn't have many holes on the depth chart.
They've added depth at every position and added playmakers on both sides of the football. On defense, there appears to be only one position where the starter heading into training camp may not be the starter come week one. Strong safety.
Veteran Safety Jeff Heath is currently running with the first team defense through the offseason portion of practices. George Iloka and Donovan Wilson were added to the strong safety depth chart featuring Heath and special teams ace Kavon Frazier.
While most teams would be excited about having a returning starter at the position, Heath's 2018 left a lot to be desired. Per Pro Football Focus, Heath missed 19 tackles on the season, which was second in the NFL. It seemed that Heath became more interested in attempting to strip the ball out of the ball carrier's hands than actually making the tackle, which became increasingly frustrating as he forced only a single fumble all season long. Though he had a lot of missed tackles, Heath did finish 15th in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops," which are defined as a "play that results in a loss for the defense." Heath was third on the team in total tackles with 85 and tied with Jaylon Smith for third in tackles for loss with six.
The biggest competition for Heath at strong safety will be veteran George Iloka.
Signed to a one-year contract after spending time with the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, Iloka comes to the Dallas Cowboys adding depth at free safety behind Xavier Woods. He also creates competition for Heath at strong safety, which should help Jeff Heath raise his game and get more consistent with his tackling. Iloka has experience and brings good size and length to the secondary, which should help them defend tight ends in the passing game.
Because of his injury, Kavon Frazier could see his playing time evaporate heading into 2019. If he's unable to get healthy and make an impression early, Frazier could miss out on the 53-man roster when the team makes their final roster cuts.
The player that stands to benefit the most from Kavon Frazier's injury, and the one I'm most interested in watching in the Dallas secondary the rest of the preseason is sixth-round draft pick, Donovan Wilson. The rookie from Texas A&M has made several plays in the secondary that stood out during OTAs. Here's what Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com had to say about Donovan Wilson during last week's minicamp.
"I haven’t written much about Donovan Wilson since rookie minicamp, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to mention a nice play he had during the two-minute drill. Kris Richard came with a blitz, which forced Cooper Rush to throw “hot” to Dalton Schultz. Wilson, from several yards away, saw Schultz look up and drove on the ball, arriving at the exact time it hit Schultz’s hands. With his left hand Wilson was able to drag the ball away, knocking it to the ground."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Wilson will be a player to watch in training camp. The Cowboys have had success finding defensive backs in the late rounds of the draft. Anthony Brown was a fifth-round pick in 2016 and Xavier Woods was a sixth-round selection in 2017. Now Wilson, with his aggressive and physical demeanor will have an opportunity -- this year or next -- to carve out some playing time in a secondary that needs more players who can create turnovers.
Strong safety is one of the few starting spots where there is actual competition for the incumbent starter. Pretty much every other position has returning starters locked into the starting lineup or, in Travis Frederick's and Robert Quinn's cases, a significant talent upgrade that makes them day-one starters.
The competition at strong safety should help everyone be better for the Cowboys in 2019. If Heath is able to hold off Iloka and Wilson to remain the starter, then he will have once again earned it. With the depth they have this season, including two guys who won't be liabilities in pass coverage, the Cowboys have options if Heath misses tackles in 2019 as he did in 2018.
Dallas Cowboys Shouldn’t Add a Veteran Backup Quarterback
With offseason training activities and minicamps coming to a close, now begins the wait for July 27th and the first day of training camp practice in Oxnard, California for the Dallas Cowboys. In my nearly 20 years following the Dallas Cowboys, this is the deepest and most talented roster I can remember the Cowboys taking to training camp.
Of course, there are areas of weakness, especially when you compare them to other position groups. Unfortunately, there isn't always a simple fix to said area of weakness. If you're looking for one area of complaint, you could point to backup quarterback.
Cooper Rush and Mike White have a combined three regular season attempts between the two of them. I wouldn't hold that against them though, because the reason they only have three attempts between them -- and really it's just Cooper Rush has three attempts -- is because Dak Prescott has been such a durable quarterback that those other guys aren't getting into games.
The only time Cooper Rush has appeared in a game was during lopsided wins against the San Francisco 49ers in 2017 and the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2018 and a blowout loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017.
The reports coming out of OTAs and minicamp are that Cooper Rush and Mike White haven't had very good practices. Reports of interceptions have a portion of Cowboys Nation concerned about the quarterback position after their franchise quarterback.
Those reports can offer some insight into how things are going, but they should hardly be taken completely at face value. Remember what Allen Iverson said, "We talkin bout practice." Just like we shouldn't get too hyped about what Dorance Armstrong or Dak Prescott are doing in practice, we shouldn't overreact to some bad practices by your backup quarterbacks. Remember, they're largely throwing to guys who are undrafted free agents and are likely to be released when the team trims their roster to 53.
So much of where the concern about the backup quarterback position comes from is because of the recent history this team has had with losing its starting quarterback to injury. Tony Romo missed games in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016. That's six out of 11 seasons where he was the starting quarterback heading into training camp in which he missed at least one game in a season.
Dak Prescott hasn't missed a start since his sophomore season at Mississippi State in 2013. That's five straight seasons between college and the NFL that Dak Prescott has been available for his team. In 2013, he was splitting snaps with the Bulldogs senior quarterback, but since 2013, has been available for 88 of his team's 90 games. Dak's started 51 straight games for the Dallas Cowboys in three seasons and has the strength and durability to continue to do just that.
Dak Prescott isn't Tony Romo. According to DallasCowboys.com, Dak Prescott measures at 6-2, 238 pounds. That's huge for an NFL quarterback. Romo was 6-2, 230. Romo, however, never looked as strong or thick as Dak Prescott. He always looked more slender playing the quarterback position and his durability was a concern. So far in Dak's career, durability hasn't been an issue, therefore the quarterback position is less of an issue.
The recent history of 2015, when Tony Romo went down and the season went with it, has many leery of going into a season with unproven commodities. But in that 2015 season, they had "proven" commodities at the quarterback position and those players went 2-11 in the starts that Tony Romo missed.
The free agent quarterback market doesn't look all that enticing at this point in the offseason. And that should be obvious. Any quarterback that was worth signing is already on a team. What you're left with is a who's who of bad quarterback options that wouldn't give you much more confidence in that Rush or White if necessary.
- Matt Cassell - Been there, done that.
- Brandon Weeden - See above.
- Mark Sanchez - See Above.
- Brock Osweiler - Miami, Denver, and Houston did that, chose to go another direction.
- Derek Anderson - not a terrible option, but not necessarily better than what you have.
- Josh Johnson - Pass.
- Geno Smith - The New York Giants didn't want him. Very Hard Pass.
There isn't a free agent quarterback that makes sense. They're either old descending quarterbacks or young retreads that have been through a few different organizations and haven't been able to find a landing spot. Let's get into training camp and the preseason and see what Mike White and Cooper Rush do in a game-like situation before making a definitive evaluation.
With Kellen Moore and Jon Kitna as Dak Prescott's main coaching influences in 2019, there's no need for a veteran backup quarterback to "mentor" Prescott at this point in his career. Moore was always considered a very smart player that was viewed as a future coach. Kitna was one of the better backup quarterback options during his career and has spent time coaching in the high school ranks. Dak couldn't have two better guys in his ear during the week or on gameday. A veteran quarterback doesn't really add anything to what these two already bring.
The Cowboys are content to see how the backup quarterback battle plays out between Mike White and Cooper Rush. Let these guys get as many snaps as they can in training camp and the preseason and if, for some reason, neither guy steps up and you feel like you need to add a veteran, then go grab Mark Sanchez since he knows the offense and has a good relationship with Dak Prescott.
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