We're at the halfway point of the 2017 season for your Dallas Cowboys and there's already been plenty of drama. There are eight more games to go and no telling how the season will play out from here, but things are definitely trending in the right direction with the Cowboys winning three straight.
With that lets hand out some mid-season hardware to America's Team.
Most Valuable Player - Sean Lee
The eye test alone shows you the difference that weak side linebacker and 2016 All-Pro Sean Lee has made to this defense. His presence in the run game has been transcendent. A team that looked like a sieve while Lee was out with a hamstring injury, now looks the part of a championship defense.
They've done an excellent job rushing the passer all season, but the one weakness that's been clear was their play in the run game.
Without Sean Lee in the lineup vs the Los Angeles Rams and the Green Bay Packers, the Dallas Cowboys allowed 164 yards rushing per game, while allowing only 80.33 yards per game with Lee in the lineup. The points per game is also drastically different with (18 PPG) and without Lee (35 PPG).
He's on track for another All-Pro season at this rate, and as long as Lee's health holds up the Cowboys are on track for playoff contention.
Offensive Player of the Half Year - Dak Prescott
It's easy to make an argument for Ezekiel Elliott or one of the offensive lineman, but to me it has to be Dak Prescott.
Aside from his poor outing at the Denver Broncos in week two, Dak has been excellent this season. Even in the back to back losses to the Rams and Packers, Dak and the Dallas Cowboys went toe-to-toe with two of the best offenses in the league. Hard to fault him for losing a game while scoring 30+ points.
Dak's 16 passing touchdowns have him fifth in the NFL, tied with Tom Brady and ahead of notable players such as Derek Carr, Kirk Cousins, Jared Goff, Matt Ryan, Cam Newton, Ben Roethlisberger, Drew Brees, and Matthew Stafford. His quarterback rating now sits at a very Dak-like 97.6, which is good for eighth in the NFL.
And don't forget about his four rushing touchdowns. Expect that number to continue rising.
After turning the ball over five times in weeks two through five, Dak has returned to his ball protecting ways with zero turnovers in the last three games. He's exactly who the Dallas Cowboys thought he was. A franchise quarterback.
LG Jonathan Cooper - Despite not really "winning" the job until week four, left guard Jonathan Cooper has really helped the Dallas Cowboys offensive line and running game find their stride in the 2017 season.
In weeks 1-3, with Chaz Green as the starter at LG, the Cowboys averaged 89.33 yards rushing per game. In the five games since being inserted into the starting lineup, Dallas has averaged 183.6 yards per game.
RB Ezekiel Elliott's Lawyers - I know we are all pretty wore out on Ezekiel Elliott's legal news, but without the hard work of Zeke's legal team, it's likely Elliott isn't available for the last couple of games.
Make no mistake, if Elliott has to sit at all this season, it's going to be a huge loss for the Dallas Cowboys. He's a generational running back. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise.
Defensive Player of the Half Year - DeMarcus Lawrence
This could have been Lee as well, but to go another direction, let's go with the guy that could easily be in the discussion for team MVP, DeMarcus Lawrence. His 10.5 sacks are a half a sack behind NFL leader Calais Campbell. In the early stages of the season, there were times when Lawrence absolutely carried this defense.
With tremendous early season success, teams are now paying pretty close attention to where #90 is on the field, which predictably has opened up opportunities for everyone else.
David Irving has progressed quite nicely after an inconsistent 2016 season, and looks to be an absolute diamond in the Kansas City practice squad rough, but without the production that Lawrence gave early in the season, would Irving be having as much success as he is right now. One can never know, but Lawrence's impact can't be understated. He's a big reason why this team is 5-3 and could be 7-1.
Lawrence is the "war daddy" that the Dallas Cowboys front office has been searching for since the other DeMarcus was allowed to leave.
Honorable Mention: David Irving - David Irving's six sacks and four passes defensed are second on the team in those categories. And he's only played in four games. By the end of the year, we might be talking about Irving as an NFL Defensive Player of the Year candidate.
Offensive Rookie of the Year - Noah Brown
Noah Brown and Ryan Switzer have been the offensive rookies of note and both have had some good plays for the team. They've played the same amount of offensive snaps this season, and Brown has stood out in a positive way much more than Switzer has.
He had a big catch that set up a touchdown against the Arizona Cardinals. Against the San Francisco 49ers, his block of two defenders helped spring Ezekiel Elliott on his 72-yard touchdown on the screen pass.
Switzer hasn't really found a comfort level on returns, which is the primary thing he was brought here for.
Honorable Mention: Cooper Rush - He hasn't played much, but he gets mentioned for being the guy to push Kellen Moore out the door. Working his way onto the roster after being an undrafted free agent is a pretty awesome accomplishment though.
Defensive Rookie of the Half Year - Jourdan Lewis
Jourdan Lewis was not targeted at all vs KC according to PFF
That says a tremendous amount about the third round draft pick out of Michigan.
Jourdan Lewis has quickly become the best cornerback on the Dallas Cowboys roster. His tenacious tackling ability and sticky coverage in the slot or on the outside have been a bright spot for the 2017 draft class.
He hasn't been perfect, but rookie cornerbacks rarely are. He's been really good though and looks the part of a top flight cover corner for years to come.
Jaylon Smith - Let's be honest, Jaylon Smith has been bad at times. But his presence alone has been important for the team. Imagine what the defense would have looked like without him during Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens' absences. Smith has found a role recently as a blitzer and has done that effectively. Less is more for the 2016 second round pick and the Dallas Cowboys.
Xavier Woods - Xavier Woods was the steal of the 2017 NFL Draft in many pundit's minds. Slowly but surely he's begun to work his way more and more into the lineup and is impressing with his ability to cover multiple spots and show great range as a deep safety. While the team is still in love with Jeff Heath, it's clear that Woods is the future at safety.
Surprise Players of the Half Year
The Good - Terrance Williams
Despite a couple of underwhelming games, Williams has been pretty good throughout the first eight weeks of the season. He's now on pace for 60 receptions on 80 targets for 714 yards. Those aren't elite wide receiver numbers, but they are pretty solid for a number two receiver in a run-first offense. Considering the weapons at Dak Prescott's disposal, 60 receptions is a good year.
The Bad - Anthony Brown
Anthony Brown's second year has been a disappointment after his solid rookie season. He's getting beat an awful lot and without an improved second half of the season, will probably have the Dallas Cowboys looking at CB again in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Who are you handing hardware to at the midway point?
Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense
For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.
Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.
He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.
During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.
Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.
With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.
Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.
Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018
For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.
After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote
As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.
Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.
Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.
His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!
David Irving Out Again for Cowboys, Does Defense Need Him?
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle David Irving, once a key member of the team's defense, will not make his return after all against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. For the second straight week, Irving was reportedly trending towards suiting up before being ruled out. The Cowboys haven't missed his unique presence for 13 weeks (playing against the Jaguars and Redskins), including through an ongoing four game win streak that began with a win against these Eagles on the road.
In that road win, veteran Tyrone Crawford recorded a sack and three tackles, while Antwaun Woods added two for a Dallas defense that held Philadelphia to 23 first downs and 71 rushing yards. The Eagles managed to cross the Cowboys' 30-yard line just four times.
There are many scenarios in which the Cowboys could have cut ties with Irving for not being worth the off-field trouble he's caused - beginning the season with a four game suspension. The absolute best case scenario is what they've realized amidst this turnaround, with other defensive linemen taking advantage of the opportunity left behind by Irving.
While it can still be true that Irving would make more splash plays than the likes of Crawford, Woods, Maliek Collins, and Caraun Reid, this defensive tackle group deserves praise for their ability to step in. Pass rush ability is one thing teams can't have enough of, and the Cowboys are missing some with Irving, finding ways to win thanks to the other traits these defenders bring to the table.
Cowboys Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard may effectively be the team's defensive coordinator with an emphasis on the back seven, but DC Rod Marinelli's impact is still felt - particularly up front. Regardless of where they're lined up and deployed, the Cowboys front four is expected to be disruptive on every snap, something this scrappy unit excels at.
Prepared once again to play on the edge this season, Crawford is thriving at his original position of 3T-DT. Crawford has two sacks, nine total tackles, and three other hits on the quarterback over the past four weeks. Leading by example with a relentless spirit on every play, Crawford has meant just as much to the Cowboys defensive ends as Irving could.
In a short period of time, the Cowboys have gone from building up Irving thanks to his transcendent ability to make those around him better to simply -- and importantly -- being better across the defense.
Led by DeMarcus Lawrence as their premier rusher, the Cowboys defensive line is a lot for opposing offenses to contain. The "Hot Boyz" work up front has allowed Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to play fast and make plays all over the field.
Maliek Collins, battling back from his second broken foot in three years, is proving again he's a patented Marinelli guy. Collins' play speaks for itself when considering if the Nebraska product is best as a 3T or 1T tackle. Wherever he's asked to play, Collins creates penetration with an explosive first step and can finish at the quarterback with an array of power rush moves.
At 7-5 and fighting for their playoff lives, the Cowboys are done making excuses on the 2018 season. Their strides on defense speak for themselves, and with a group that keeps Dallas in every game they'll play, the door remains open for David Irving to earn snaps again when ready.
The Cowboys don't know any better than their play without Irving right now, and as winners of four straight, it's worth questioning if we'll see Irving over the last three weeks of the regular season.
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Should Cowboys Address TE Injuries and Inexperience With This FA?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Why is Jerry Jones “keeping a very close eye” on the Kareem Hunt Case?
Player News2 weeks ago
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch a Dominant Defensive Duo
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Will Kris Richard’s Success End Jason Garrett’s Era in Dallas?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
David Irving’s Return Could Make Cowboys’ Defense Even Scarier
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Randy Gregory Is Looking Like We Always Thought He Could
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Wide Receiver Michael Gallup Making a Huge Impact for Dallas Cowboys
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Tavon Austin’s Return Should Make Cowboys Offense More Dangerous