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Dallas Cowboys Training Camp Preview: Part Two

The defense may be a little meaner and the offense a little more disciplined. The turnovers have to stop, and Romo can’t throw his customary one interception a game just to get it out of his system.

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In part one of this two-part series, I discussed how the departure of Greg Ellis, Terrell Owens, and Zach Thomas will affect the team going forward.

There are a ton of questions facing the Cowboys, as with any offseason, but this seems to be a make-or-break year for a team that is expected to make a Super Bowl run every season.

Part two of the series discusses how the Cowboys will fare in the "NFC Beast" this season, and addresses those pesky rumors about Garrett and Bum Phillips’ son.


With the departure of Plaxico in New York, the Eagles spurning Dawkins and allowing him to walk to Denver, and an owner in Washington who has no confidence in his quarterback, how will the Cowboys fare in the NFC East?

For the first time in a long time, the Cowboys seem to be one of the most stable teams in NFC East. Terrell is gone and the focus has shifted to Romo, but the circus atmosphere that surrounded the ‘Boys the past few years isn’t as prevalent this season.

The New York Giants running attack will be strong, but not as potent without Derrick Ward. Sack machine Osi Umenyiora will be back from a knee injury, but the offense will be without its lightning rod, Plaxico Burress.

While I believe that the Giants will having a winning record and make a run at the playoffs, I don’t see another improbable Super Bowl run like a couple years ago.

Heading south to D.C., the Redskins have a huge question mark at quarterback. I’m not questioning the skills of former Auburn man Jason Campbell, but his owner seems to have lost all confidence in the kid.

Campbell was left out to dry when the team unsuccessfully tried to trade for quarterback Jay Cutler and then attempted to draft former USC quarterback Mark Sanchez.

The team may not have much faith in Jason, but from all accounts, he still thinks that he can get the job done.

Washington’s only hope at the playoffs this year may be the mental stability of its “star” quarterback. If Campbell can hold steady and Clinton Portis remains healthy, an 8-8 season isn’t that far out of reach.

Over in "Illadelphia," Donovan McNabb has a new contract, Brian Dawkins is now a Bronco, and blitzing defensive coordinator Jim Johnson is out indefinitely due to a battle with cancer.

As much as I disdain the Eagles, the team seems to be poised for another playoff run as their skill position players are still in place.

The battle for 1-2-3 in the NFC East will be between the Giants, Cowboys, and Eagles. The Cowboys ran away with the division in 2007, and they have the chance to do so again this year.

The ‘Boys have a dastardly tough schedule to end the year with road games against the Giants, Redskins, and Saints. Like last season, the team will face off against the Eagles in the last game of the year, but this time it will be in Texas.

History will be the judge of the future in this case, and I can’t defer from where the ‘Boys have finished the last few years. Their schedule in December is daunting, and the team hasn’t had a winning record during that part of year in over a decade.

Look for the Cowboys to finish second in the NFC East to the Giants or Eagles, but make a serious playoff run in January.


Will this be Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett’s last season in Dallas?

Wade Phillips is entering his third season as head coach in Dallas, and I’m not sure if Jerry will continue to make excuses for Phillips.

As many were calling for Wade’s dismissal after last season’s debacle, Jerry stood by his head coach. Instead of feeding him to the wolves, Jerry decided to give Bum’s son another shot.

If Tony Romo has taken the reigns of the team, the same must be said for Wade Phillips. After last season’s shootout against the Eagles early in the year, which ended with the cowboys winning 41-37, Phillips defended his defense by saying the Eagles were just receiving good breaks and capitalizing off of a few turnovers.

That type of explanation will not fly this season. Wade either has to lead this team deep in the playoffs or to a Super Bowl birth in order to keep his job. His defense has to stand up in the latter months of the season against teams like Pittsburgh and Philadelphia.

A few years ago, when Jerry brought back former back-up quarterback Jason Garrett to serve as offensive coordinator, it seemed a match made in Heaven as Romo flourished under Garrett’s tutelage.

Last season, though, Romo floundered a little under Garrett’s system and seemed to criticize Jason’s play calling.

Garrett probably has a longer leash than Phillips, simply because he isn’t the head coach.

Heading into training camp, Phillips may have a little sense of urgency because the Cowboys haven’t won a playoff game this decade.

The defense may be a little meaner and the offense a little more disciplined. The turnovers have to stop, and Romo can’t throw his customary one interception a game just to get it out of his system.

If Phillips and Garrett are to remain in Valley Ranch, they both must turn the Cowboys into a more streamlined outfit.

The Dallas Cowboys have one of the most talent-filled rosters in the league. Of course T.O. is gone, and so is Greg Ellis, but the team is still poised to make a serious run at the Super Bowl.

I predicted that the Cowboys will finish second in their division this season, but that could bode well for them. Flying under the radar isn’t something they're accustomed to doing, and this season just may be the one where they do so.

Overall, I think the team will finish 11-5 with losses against the Giants and Eagles in the division. But, we have to get past training camp to enter into a total season preview.

-JH



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Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke

John Williams

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New York Giants are 2-1 Against Cowboys With Ezekiel Elliott

It's a debate that has raged on social media for some time now and it likely won't slow down as the offseason progresses and the Dallas Cowboys begin to hand out massive contracts to their top players. Pay Ezekiel Elliott? Pay Byron Jones? If you could only pay one, which would you pay?

This week fellow Inside The Star Staff Writer, Kevin Brady took to Twitter to poll the populous and his results were a bit surprising to me.

Kevin Brady on Twitter

if you can only pay one it should be

The results inspired me to see what would happen if I put the same poll on my timeline.

John Williams ✭ on Twitter

Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?

On Monday, Kevin wrote a piece looking at one of the difficult decisions facing the Dallas Cowboys this offseason or next. If the Cowboys could only extend Byron Jones OR Ezekiel Elliott, who should they choose? Kevin, as am I, is a firm believer in Byron Jones ability and says the Cowboys should extend them, and I agree. But let's look at the other side of the argument.

To begin, the Cowboys should and probably will get both guys contract extensions either this offseason or next. It's not impossible with the cap continuing to increase at a rate of about $8-12 million per year that the Cowboys will have the space to get the deals done that they need to get done. Ezekiel Elliott and Byron Jones included.

Byron Jones settled in nicely at cornerback during his first full season at cornerback and knowing what we know about Jones, he won't be satisfied with a second team All-Pro appearance. Expect him to get better. However, if there's a single player that represents the current identity of the Dallas Cowboys, it's Running Back Ezekiel Elliott.

The Cowboys made him the fourth overall pick in 2016 and haven't looked back in their plan to establish the running game. For his career Elliott has averaged 26.9 touches per game over the course of his 40 games.

Here's a look at what Elliott's per game and per 16 game paces look like through the first three seasons of his career.

As you can see from the table above, Ezekiel Elliott is averaging 131.2 total yards per game for his career. In his rookie season he had 1,994 total yards and he sat out the week 17 game against the Philadelphia Eagles when the Cowboys had the NFC and home field advantage locked up. In 2017, Elliott sat out six games and still had nearly 1,000 yards rushing. In 2018, Elliott broke through the 2,000 total yard barrier after seeing a huge increase in his targets and receptions.

Ezekiel Elliott has been everything the Dallas Cowboys could have hoped for and more. With the leadership role he's taken with the team, he's a player that leads both vocally and by example. There are few players on the Dallas Cowboys that give as much effort as he does each snap. How many times has it looked like Elliott was about to get dropped for a two or three yard loss only to grind through tackles to pick up a four yard gain? How many times has he bounced off tacklers to get to the first down marker? Ezekiel Elliott is the human personification of dirty yards, but don't let that fool you into thinking that Elliott can't take it to the house every time he touches the ball. Elliott's is a game breaker who threatens the defense every time he steps on the field.

In 2018, Elliott led the NFL in yards after contact, per Pro Football Focus. His 949 yards after contact in 2018 would have ranked 13th in the NFL in rushing, which was better than David Johnson's 940 yards rushing last season.

Not many running backs effect a football game like Ezekiel Elliott does.

Few players outside of the quarterback position are as much of a focal point for their offense while being an attention grabber for opposing defenses like Ezekiel Elliott is. In 2018, he saw eight or more men in the box on nearly 25% of his carries in 2018. Some of that is related to the Dallas Cowboys insistence on using two tight ends on 50% of their running plays (per Sharp Football), but the other aspect is related to how much they respect the Dallas Cowboys running game. Since the 2014, the Cowboys have been synonymous with running the football. DeMarco Murray, Darren McFadden, and now Ezekiel Elliott have been the faces of that running game behind the Cowboys elite offensive line.

Even in a down year for offensive line play from the Dallas Cowboys, Elliott still managed to lead the NFL in rushing for the second time in three seasons. Elliott made the Pro Bowl for the second time in three years as well. Were it not for the railroad job done by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in 2017, there's a really good chance that Elliott leads the league in rushing three years in a row and that the Dallas Cowboys make the playoffs all three seasons.

Sure, the running back position is undervalued in the NFL and rushing yardage can be replaced, but there are intangibles to Elliott's game that are very difficult to replace. His ability to grind out the dirty yards, break big plays, create yards after contact, pass protect, be a threat as a receiver, and his leadership make him a player that is difficult to replace.

Yes, Byron Jones was really good in 2018 and deserves to get paid by the Dallas Cowboys as well, but you'd be hard pressed to find a player on the Cowboys roster who has been as consistent and dominating week in and week out as Ezekiel Elliott has been over the last three years.



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BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb

Brian Martin

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BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb

According to multiple sources, the Dallas Cowboys have signed former Green Bay Packers Wide Receiver Randall Cobb to a one-year deal to help bolster their depth at the WR position and potentially become Cole Beasley's replacement.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

Cowboys are giving former Packers' WR Randall Cobb a one-year, $5 million deal, per source. https://t.co/8KWFPjSP8T

The Dallas Cowboys met with Randall Cobb earlier this week, but he eventually left Dallas without a contract. He must've had a change of heart or just needed time to ponder the Cowboys offer, but regardless of what transpired in that short time he is now part of America's Team.

During his time with the Packers, Cobb accumulated 470 receptions for 5,524 receiving yards and 41 touchdowns. The eight-year veteran will now be expected to replace some of Cole Beasley's production out of the slot for the Dallas Cowboys.

After years of watching Beasley as the Cowboys slot WR, it will be really interesting to see Randall Cobb in that role. He's not as quick twitched as No. 11, but can be just as dangerous due to his ability to be more of a down the field receiver. He also brings added value in the return game and could compete with Tavon Austin to become the return specialist.

This could mean the Cowboys forgo drafting a wide receiver early in the 2019 NFL Draft, but I wouldn't put it past them. Regardless of what happens, this is an excellent addition.

Welcome to Cowboys Nation Randall Cobb!



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REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur

Jess Haynie

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L.P. Ladouceur

L.P. Ladouceur is returning for his 15th season as the Cowboys' long snapper. The veteran free agent was re-signed by Dalals today to a one-year deal.

Thanks to Jason Witten's one-year sabbatical with Monday Night Football, Ladouceur has now been with the Cowboys for more consecutive seasons than any current player. He just turned 38 last week, but Louis-Philippe remains one of the top long snappers in football.

Todd Archer on Twitter

The Cowboys have signed long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur to a one-year deal worth $1.03 million and $90,000 in bonus money, but he will count $735,000 against the cap. This will be Ladouceur's 15th season with the Cowboys, tying Ed "Too Tall" Jones, Mark... https://t.co/2iDsi6RX7e

Retaining Ladouceur is an underrated move for the Cowboys given their situation at kicker.

Brett Maher was only 80% accurate overall on field goals last year. The team could be considering an upgrade in free agency.

Whether they bring Maher back or try someone new, having a long snapper with Ladouceur's performance perfection will make things much easier for them.



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