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?
Oakland Raiders’ Wide Receiver Amari Cooper On the Trade Block
Aside from Wide Receiver Cole Beasley, the Dallas Cowboys haven't received much production from their wide receiver group outside of the occasional big play from fellow wide outs Michael Gallup or Tavon Austin. Well, the Oakland Raiders apparently are willing to listen to offers for Wide Receiver Amari Cooper and, according to Michael Rapaport, are asking for a first round draft pick in return.
Raiders want a first round pick for Amari Cooper, per @RapSheet.
The Dallas Cowboys could use someone with Cooper's ability, even if he has been a drop machine through his first four seasons. In his first two seasons in the NFL, 2015 and 2016, Cooper averaged 77 receptions on 131 targets, for 1,111.5 yards, and 5.5 touchdowns. Through his first three seasons in the NFL, Cooper averaged 11 drops a season, including 18 in his rookie season.
Any time you start a discussion about whether you should trade for someone, the question always begins with "what are you paying?" What would you be willing to pay for Amari Cooper? After back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons to start his career, he only went for 680 yards in 14 games (48.6 yards per game). Though the yardage wasn't great last year, he did catch seven touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders.
So far in 2018, Cooper is averaging 46.7 yards per game on 3.67 receptions per game and has only scored one touchdown.
I wouldn't send a top 60 pick for Amari Cooper. He's a good player, but is he better than what Michael Gallup could be? Because if you trade for Cooper he's going to likely eat into Gallup's snap count and we need to find out if Michal Gallup is a player that the Dallas Cowboys could rely on in the future. But, if the Cowboys coaching staff brought Cooper in to replace Allen Hurns, then I'd be very happy to talk about acquiring the former first round draft choice.
A starting wide receiver group of Cole Beasley, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup would be a very difficult group to cover and Quarterback Dak Prescott showed on Sunday that he has what it takes to get the ball down field to his receivers.
The Cowboys probably wouldn't make this trade, unless Jerry Jones got involved, because they value their draft picks too much, but if the Dallas Cowboys could get him for a third round pick I'd do it in a heart beat. For a second round pick, I'd have to get a fifth or sixth back from Oakland in that deal. Cooper's a good player, but hasn't shown to be one of the best at his position.
There are a couple other players from Oakland that I'm more interested in trading for.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
What do you think? Would you trade for Amari Cooper, and if so, what would you be willing to give?
David Irving Ready to “Be Put Through Ringer” in First Action with Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys patience in Defensive Tackle David Irving is set to pay off on Sunday, as Irving will play in his first game of 2018 after being suspended for the first four weeks. Irving was eligible to play last week in the Cowboys overtime loss at the Texans, but did not make the trip to Houston as he dealt with off-field concerns.
The Cowboys defense has performed admirably without Irving, but in a needed game against the Jaguars, it could be up to this defense to win the game for Dallas - something a disruptive player like Irving has the ability to do on any given snap.
While the plan is for the Cowboys to ease Irving into this game, his impact from the DT position might be enough to leave him on the field as much as needed in a tight game.
Irving said the coaches want to play him 10-15 snaps Sunday. "That's what they say now but if it's a close game, I know good and well Marinelli is going to be sending me out there & putting me through the ringer. I'm ready for it.
Like a good left-handed pitcher in baseball or three-point specialist in basketball, the Cowboys have afforded Irving a long leash despite his unreliability thanks to a 6'7" and 290 pound frame that makes him a menace for opposing guards.
The 3T-DT position is a pivotal one in Marinelli's scheme, and one the Cowboys have afforded Irving every opportunity to fill, yielding results whenever the former Chiefs practice squad steal suits up.
Filling in for Irving through the Cowboys first five games of the season has been reliable veteran Tyrone Crawford. Expected to play at defensive end this season, Crawford has recorded 14 tackles and one sack from the 3T position.
With Irving back in the "Hot Boyz" rotation, it will be interesting to see if Crawford once again goes out to right defensive end, where Randy Gregory has struggled to make the most out of his own return from suspension.
Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli is not expecting similar struggles from Irving, prepared to put him "through the ringer".
Where Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard calls the Cowboys defense, Marinelli is still one of the most respected coaches at The Star, demanding a lot of his defensive line in particular. It's the pairing of Marinelli's motivation and Irving's intangibles that have the Cowboys defense on the brink of taking another step toward's one of the league's best.
With their own offense set to line up against perhaps the best overall defense in Jacksonville on Sunday, Irving's return is just in time. The NFC East is far from out of reach for the Cowboys, who will be at full strength on defense once Sean Lee returns as early as next week.
The Cowboys have never lost a game in which Lee, Irving, and Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence play at least 20% of the team's snaps on defense. Perhaps this stat will have to be adjusted to include rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in short time, but for now the Cowboys are hours away from fighting for a 3-3 start to 2018, doing so with one of their most important defenders back in the lineup.
Dak Prescott is the Leader the Cowboys Need Right Now
The Dallas Cowboys (2-3) get set to face a Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2) squad that has one of the best defenses in the NFL, which leaves few believing that America's Team will see a turn around on Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium. Every game is different and this team is 2-0 at home in 2018. There is a possibility that Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys can come away with a win to even their record at 3-3.
I know I shouldn't be spreading hope and cheer about the Dallas Cowboys after what we've seen this season, but I just can't help myself. There are several reasons I believe this team can still make a run at the playoffs and one of those reasons is Dak Prescott.
While the wide receiver group and the coaching staff attempt to deflect criticism, Dak Prescott, the leader on the offense is willing to accept it.
Speaking to the media on Thursday, Dak let everyone know that he still has confidence in this team despite the start to the season and knows that there are things that he needs to work on for this offense to move forward.
“Obviously I haven’t had my best showing of that here recently. Getting my feet right, making sure it’s all in line, feet and eyes in line, and just making sure the ball’s coming out of my hand earlier.”
Dak Prescott - via Rob Phillips of DallasCowboys.com
You can find plenty of people on Twitter or Facebook to tell you what's wrong with Dak Prescott. Shoot, I wrote a piece looking at how long Dak has had in the pocket and how long he's held onto the football. Whether it's his footwork, throwing technique, processing speed, or accuracy, there are a lot of things to point to for reasons not to believe in Dak Prescott. However, there are intangibles to Dak's game that don't necessarily show up on film or in the stat book.
The most important intangible, to me, is leadership. A leader always believes that the best is yet to come. Yes, they are willing to take a personal inventory of where they and those they lead are at, but they always believe that people can be more than what they've shown. Even themselves.
Even though there isn't a lot of belief left in the Dallas Cowboys' offense right now, Dak Prescott still believes.
On Thursday, he told reporters, "I don't think we're far off."
Dak Prescott has always exhibited leadership qualities. From the first snaps he took as a rookie in his 2016 opener against the New York Giants, he's always showed an ability to rally when the deck seemed stacked against him. If you need more evidence, look to the Green Bay Packers divisional playoff game in 2016, when they got down 21-3 -- largely due to errors by others on the offense -- and he rallied the team to nearly pull off a miraculous comeback.
Prescott's not a perfect quarterback. He has things that he has to get better at if he wants to be the franchise quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys. The positive take away is Dak Prescott isn't unwilling to look at the things he needs to do to get better or to work on those things.
I know most of us are down on Dak at this point and things are looking bleak, but that doesn't mean that he's finished as a starting quarterback in this league or even for the Dallas Cowboys. And sitting a half game back of the Philadelphia Eagles, after their win over the New York Giants Thursday night, Dak Prescott has a chance to keep the Dallas Cowboys in the playoff hunt.
They're right in the thick of this thing and while there's plenty of reasons to doubt this team, one thing you should never doubt is Dak's resolve. He will continue to play hard and fight to rally the rest of the offense around him to go and get the job done.
Don't forget that just two weeks ago against one of the better pass defenses in the NFL, the Detroit Lions, Dak Prescott led the Cowboys on a game-winning drive with under two minutes to play in the fourth quarter.
There is a lot of criticism coming at Prescott and the Cowboys' offense, but leadership means standing tall in the face of adversity and Dak Prescott has that in spades.
He may not be the leader you want right now, but with everyone telling the Dallas Cowboys that they aren't good enough, he's the leader you need.
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