The last three days have been murder for us Cowboy fans. I don't know about some of the other social networks but Twitter has been ablaze with talks of DeMarco Murray and his impending decision on where to go for 2015.
I wish I had a magic ball that would tell me where he's going to go, but I don't. No one does.
Instead, I have the good sense enough to realize that DeMarco Murray will go where the money is right for him, and that is almost certainly not the Dallas Cowboys. The hardest thing to accept seems to be that Dallas just doesn't see the running back position in the same light that many fans see while they're jumping up and down screaming as he breaks off a long run.
Nobody here is knocking DeMarco Murray.
He is a fantastic RB who has done some good things for the Cowboys. But one of the most obvious concerns is that Murray only had the success he did once the entire NFL community began to buzz about this hot new offensive line in Dallas. Yes, he was just as good in short stints before 2014, but unable to stay healthy enough for the long run.
Here are some questions being sent to us via @CowboysNation the last day or so regarding DeMarco Murray.
— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) March 12, 2015
— Cowboys Nation (@CowboysNation) March 12, 2015
And the conversations spawned from some of those tweets got even more ridiculous.
Setting aside all ideas of Adrian Peterson coming to Dallas (I know, I know, it's his lifelong dream to play for the Cowboys and everything ESPN reports is gold, but...), fans are just having a hard time understanding why Jerry Jones isn't lying down in front of DeMarco Murray's car to keep him from leaving.
I've got two words that do explain it all: defense & value.
After restructuring Tyron Smith's contract, and factoring in the tenders offered for Lance Dunbar and Chris Jones, the Cowboys are looking at around $8mil in cap space this year. How much of that would it take to keep DeMarco in Dallas? We'll know for sure once he signs a contract but smart money is on all of it.
Justin Durant and Bruce Carter have signed elsewhere already. Henry Melton has agreed to terms with Tampa Bay too. Even with all 2014 defensive players returning for 2015, the Cowboys were going to have to make some changes and bring in new people to increase that unit's performance. These departures only add to that issue because that's three fewer options the Cowboys have. And there are more free agents on defense that haven't made a move, yet.
There simply isn't enough money to cover all of the Cowboys' needs. And you can bitch and moan all you want about Tony Romo's contract and Jerry's fascination with restructuring contracts, but we've got an elite quarterback (ring or no ring), a stud wide receiver, an aging but still hall of fame bound tight end, and hands down the most dominant offensive line in the NFL. All of that costs money.
Thank goodness Frederick and Martin are still on their rookie contracts!
When money is short and needs are long, you have to harder at your prospects and make decisions about what traits are the most valuable. Right now, DeMarco Murray's biggest advantage over Randle or a rookie is his name, and the number of yards and touchdowns associated with that name in 2014. Speed, vision, burst, quickness; all things not exclusive to Murray.
But to be honest, it's the value portion of this scenario that really has people up in arms. They understand the money aspect and the large need for improvements on defense well enough, but they can't seem to grasp Murray's real value.
I've already said it, and I don't mind saying it again - DeMarco Murray is a fantastic talent. That's the truth.
Does anyone know why the Cowboys have selected offensive linemen in the first round of 3 of the last 4 drafts? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Because the best offensive line in the league can and will boost the stats of anyone playing behind them. Tony Romo is better because of that line. His attempts and yardage were lower in 2014 but his QB rating and overall efficiency were higher.
DeMarco Murray has only played one full season start to finish because of injuries, and that line is the difference between him playing all of 2014 and playing only half of 2014.
Any running back in the game would love to line up behind those big guys up front, and any running back in the league would become instantly better behind that line. Not great, but better than they would be behind a lesser line.
Murray took a beating in 2014 with more than 400 carries. Sure, he's only 27, but for a guy who has been seriously injured in 3 of his 4 seasons, even 27 is old after so many carries. The days of the workhorse back are long gone. I firmly believe that the only reason we got away with that last year is because of that line, Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten. And throw in Cole Beasley for good measure.
The Cowboys currently have Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle, and Ryan Williams secured for 2015. There are many who doubt the guy falls to #27 in the draft, but there is an outside chance they can pick up Todd Gurley as well. But even 2nd round talent would suffice (not excel) behind that line.
In truth, nobody is saying the Cowboys will have the same league leading rushing attack in 2015 without Murray. Most of us just believe we won't have that much success even with Murray.
There are no guarantees in football. Murray could go down week 1 - for whatever team he's with in 2015 - or he could survive 30 carries a game straight to the Super Bowl.
His chances are just as good as any other back available, only his price tag is any different.
At this point (about noon on March 12th), the Dallas Cowboys need to secure a running back to replace DeMarco Murray and address many holes on the defense. Whether DeMarco Murray is the back they sign or it's someone else via free agency or the draft, the Cowboys have the same personnel situation to address.
But without Murray, the Cowboys can fill his hole for less money and still have a reasonable expectation of performance from their backfield, and still have some money to address needs on the defense.
Like it or not, the Cowboys have greater potential without Murray, thanks to his price.
Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip
Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.
After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.
The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.
Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.
Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.
The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
For Cowboys to Beat the Rams, Dak Prescott must Lead the Way
In the NFL wins and losses often come down to quarterback play. That isn't to say that if a team wins, it was all because of the quarterback and inversely, if a team loses that it was all on the quarterback. Teams win or lose games. Generally speaking, however, the quarterback has the highest amount of influence on the outcome of an NFL game. This will be no different for the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum. For America's Team to make their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since 1996, Dak Prescott has to have a good game.
This looks to be a good matchup for the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should allow Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to take advantage in certain areas.
A few Rams Passing Game Notes
- The Los Angeles Rams were middle of the pack against the pass this season, allowing the 14th fewest passing yards in the league this season.
- The Rams allowed 7.7 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt since week 10 of the season.
- The Rams allowed the eighth most passing touchdowns in the NFL this season. They and the New Orleans Saints are the only teams in the top 10 of passing touchdowns allowed in the playoffs this season.
- The Rams were 15th in the NFL in sacks, with 41, but Aaron Donald accounted for half of that with 20.5 sacks on the season. No other player had more than five sacks.
- They were third in the NFL in interceptions, collecting 18.
- The Rams allowed the ninth highest yards per completion on the season at 11.8. So on average, every completion went for a first down.
Dak Prescott is playing as well as any quarterback in the playoffs at the moment. Over the last nine games, he's averaging 272 passing yards, two total touchdowns, was only intercepted four times, and was sacked on average 3.2 times per game.
On Saturday night, we saw Scott Linehan put the ball in his hands on a couple designed runs that nearly scored touchdowns. It was an excellent addition to the offense that could help fix the Cowboys red zone woes. Getting Dak Prescott running on some designed runs or quarterback draws could help slow down Aaron Donald and the pass rush.
The Cowboys needed every bit of Dak Prescott magic to overcome a stingy Seattle Seahawks defense in their Wild Card win and they'll need him to step up again this week against the Rams. Every team is going to attempt to take away the running game to make Dak beat you and as he continues to mature, he's getting more and more comfortable doing that. He's comfortable with the big stage and the big moments.
Dak Prescott Since 2016, including playoffs * 15 game-winning drives (Most in NFL) * 13 primetime QB wins (Most in NFL) * 19 rush TD (Most in NFL by QB) #DallasCowboys @dak
No Quarterback in the NFL has more game winning drives, rushing touchdowns, or wins in primetime than Dak Prescott. When we talk about Dak Prescott, we talk a lot about the things that he can't do as a passer and deservedly so, he still has some growing to do in that area, but in the things that you can't objectively quantify -- mental toughness, resiliency, clutchness, will, determination -- Dak is one of the best in the NFL. He's as mentally tough as they come in the NFL and he doesn't let the spotlight or the game situation phase him. He has that stuff that's hard to put your finger on.
The Dallas Cowboys will need more of that on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams can score and can score in bunches and if the Cowboys defense starts sluggish or has an off night, they'll need Dak Prescott to keep them in the game. Even if the defense has a good game, Dak still has to come through in the passing game and on the ground to give the Cowboys a chance to pull off the upset.
The Dallas Cowboys are going to try to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday. That's their identity; run the ball, control the clock, and be efficient in the passing game. Prescott, either with his legs or with his arm will have to make some plays to extend drives and keep the Rams offense on the sideline. He'll need to be sharp in the red zone to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. Settling for field goals against the Rams is how the Cowboys get beat.
This matchup with the Rams looks to set up nicely for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, yet how things look on paper doesn't mean much when the lights go on and the whistle blows. It's a big stage and it's another win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys (like every game has been over the last nine weeks). In a big game, you need big time players, and the Cowboys have one in quarterback Dak Prescott.
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