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Despite 2017, the Dallas Cowboys are Contenders in 2018

John Williams

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Cowboys Planning

No, the 2017 season didn't go as planned for the Dallas Cowboys. In fact, it finished with a bit of a whimper. The injuries, suspensions, drop off by your WR1 and starting QB, the lack of creativity by the coaching staff, and the lack of execution by the players left many fans -- me included -- frustrated at the culmination of it all.

The fact remains, though, that they were a 9-7 team despite the problems. 9-7!!!

Dallas Cowboys Have Big Hole on Offensive Line

Dallas Cowboys LT Tyron Smith, RT La'el Collins, C Travis Frederick, RG Zack Martin (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

If you interact much with the Cowboys fan base in forums, comment sections, Twitter or Facebook, you'd think that this was a repeat of the disastrous 2015 4-12 season. While it has flaws, this team is still much closer to a contender than it is to being a cellar dweller like the Cleveland Browns.

Remember, we still have a quarterback who will be entering just his third year in the NFL in Dak Prescott. If the first two seasons are any indication, he will continue to grow and show improvement.

Dak Prescott, to me, is more the dude we saw in 2016 and the first-half of 2017 than the guy we saw in the last half of 2017. He got annihilated in the Falcons game and didn't trust his protection after that. An offseason to refresh and a healthy Tyron Smith will have him moving the chains with the efficiency we became accustomed to in 2016.

The running game is still in its prime with an offensive line anchored by Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, and Tyron Smith. La'el Collins will have a second full offseason to work at tackle after a solid first year at the position. Tyron Smith will be healthier, though back issues tend to linger. Rest is his biggest ally right now, and by missing the playoffs, he's getting more of it. The other day Tyron claimed to be in the best shape he's been in a long time.

Ezekiel Elliott should be fairly fresh given his league mandated, midseason six-game vacation. Having upward of 80 fewer carries on his ledger is no small thing for a workhorse running back. With another offseason under his belt, it should only prepare him to be a better runner and player as he enters his third season in the NFL.

Dez Bryant still has game changing ability, though some drops, injuries, emotional outbursts, and mental lapses are what everyone remembers. He'll need to be better in 2018, but I think his 2017 is an outlier. Right now, I stand about 99% certain that Dez will be back.

Where Will Dallas Cowboys Search For "Fresh Ideas" Begin? 3

Dallas Cowboys CBs Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

The unit that has me the most excited for 2018, however, is the defense, especially the secondary.

Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Xavier Woods were all rookie revelations in their first year in the NFL. Now, they're being coached by the guy who helped lead the Seattle Seahawks into the "Legion of Boom" era, Kris Richard. With a lot to work with already, Richard should be able to take their games to another level.

In addition to those guys, Byron Jones, who is a lot better than many want to admit, is moving to what could be his best position, cornerback. Many, including myself, are excited to see what Byron could do as a boundary corner with his athleticism, length, and sticky-coverage ability.

Kavon Frazier found himself a role in the last half of the season, and the defensive backfield is beginning to take shape. Let us not forget the GOAT, Jeff Heath. He isn't the best safety in the world, but he will make some plays for you.

The secondary is full of ascending players and solid depth. Can't wait to see them take the field.

DeMarcus Lawrence and David Irving will be retained and continue to be the monstrous pressure producing, quarterback sacking, line of scrimmage disruptingDuo of Destruction. They torment quarterbacks and ball carriers, and make life a lot easier for Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton, and whoever else gets snaps on the defensive line.

With another year of growth for the secondary, this group of defensive linemen will get many more opportunities to put quarterbacks on their backsides.

Speaking of Taco, he was a much more productive player in the second half of the season than he was the first half.

As you can see here, most of Taco's production happened week eight and later in his rookie season. I expect that progression to continue.

Jaylon Smith is another year removed from his knee injury and was making a lot of progress in getting his mind, body, and spirit back into the football swing of things. 2018 should be just another year of progress. He still has a long way to go, but the further he gets from his injury, and another offseason to prepare for a full NFL Season, the better he'll be.

They've made some nice additions so far in free agency, as I discussed the other day in my Pre-NFL Draft Offseason Review.

It seems with each draft they get a bit closer to completing their identity as the smash-mouth, run the football and play defense kind of team that they've been trying to become.

The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, scouting department, and front office have really found their stride when it comes to the draft. At this point, anything less than three or four day-one contributors seems like a draft failure.

With a lot of options at 19 to fit the bill, whether it be a guard in Isaiah Wynn, James Daniels or Will Hernandez, or an EDGE player like Harold Landry or Marcus Davenport, the Cowboys will be able to improve their football team with good football players.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

Despite the way 2017 ended, this team is a lot closer to contending for a Super Bowl than you might think. Who thought that the Philadelphia Eagles would be contenders after the 2016 season? Not many.

I'm not ready to make a prediction just yet, that will come later, but I do believe the Dallas Cowboys will contend for the playoffs once again in 2018.



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could.

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5 Comments
  • Chuck Wright

    Well done article. No question Da Boys are serious play off contenders in 2018. Of course as pointed out, keys are things like keeping key players healthy (especially Smith) but have FAR more confidence in Fleming as a back up than Green/Bell.

    Really like the 2 new WRs, they both bring things that are lacking. Both DE’s are effectively in “contract years” so we’ll see their best.

    And really excited about the 2018 draft, especially if we add a 1 Tech (think there is 1 available every round through 4) but as it builds for 2019-21.

    Dallas has an excellent young team.

    • John Williams

      Hey Chuck, Thanks for the feedback.

      I agree that health is a key for this team in 2018, as it is for a lot of teams. You’re right that Flemming provides a bit more solid footing if something were to happen to Tyron or Collins at Tackle.

      I think we see a long term deal for Lawrence and possibly Irving as well.

  • Edward Teo

    I’m worried about that Oline and whether Dak can trust them again. Really feel like that will make or break him as a QB.

    • John Williams

      That’s what the offseason is good for. A chance for everyone to reset.

  • Chuck Wright

    Sorry to put this here but the system is not allowing me to comment on your Salary Cap article. Excellent work and summation of an often convoluted issue.

    The one comment I will make is to your 16 players in 2020 comment, this is why I see it is so important for the Cowboys to load up on young talent in teh 2018 and 2019 drafts. That 16 needs to go to about 30-35 and Dallas has the chance to be a talented and young team entering teh 20’s.

    Again, thanks for the read.

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Is WR Cole Beasley Being Underutilized?

Brian Martin

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Is WR Cole Beasley Being Underutilized?

Like any competitor, Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Cole Beasley wants to play and be as heavily involved as possible when the lights come on and the game is on the line. He's become accustomed to to being heavily involved in the game plan, that is until WR Amari Cooper arrived in Dallas.

Since the arrival of Amari Cooper, Cole Beasley has seen his offensive role dramatically reduced. He is no longer Quarterback Dak Prescott's favorite target in the passing game and it even looks as if he is taken a stumble down the Cowboys WR depth chart. At best, he is their WR3 now behind Cooper and Michael Gallup.

That's quite a fall from grace for a player who was Dallas' top receiver the last few seasons and the most targeted in the first half of this year. I can almost guarantee he's not happy about not being utilized more in the passing game, but he's a team player and will do what it takes to win.

Unfortunately for Beasley, Cooper's arrival has changed the Cowboys offense. He is back to his old role of working the short intermediate routes now with Cooper and Gallup playing on the outside. Because of that his stats have taken a hit. His targets, receptions, and the chance to help his team win has dropped off significantly.

Cole Beasley

Dallas Cowboys WR Cole Beasley

In the two games before Cooper joined the team, Beasley had 16 receptions for 157 yards and two touchdowns on 19 targets. The six games since he only has 17 catches for 138 yards on 26 targets. That's a huge drop in production and has nothing to do with his performance. It's how he's being utilized.

Beasley has been forced to take a backseat in the Cowboys aerial attack. Amari Cooper has been highly targeted, and rightfully so, and Michael Gallup is seeing more passes thrown his way as well. Not to mention, Ezekiel Elliott has been used more as a receiver also.

There are just too many mouths to feed and unfortunately Cole Beasley is the odd man out. The sad thing is, that might not change anytime soon with the way the Cowboys offense is playing right now. It's one of the reasons why they currently have the league's best winning streak going for them.

It's to hard make an argument for Beasley receiving more looks in the passing game with the way the offense is playing, with the exception of in the red zone, but I do believe he needs to be more involved. After all, he is still one of the Cowboys best WRs and can't be covered by anyone in the league one-on-one.

I don't know about you, but I'm hoping things will circle back around and he will once again be more involved in the passing game. His ability to get open is uncanny and it's a shame to not take advantage of that God-given gift.

What do you think, should Cole Beasley start being utilized more?



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Time to see What Darius Jackson can do as Zeke’s Backup?

Brian Martin

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Will RB Darius Jackson Stick With Cowboys Second Time Around?

I hate to say it because I really like Rod Smith, but I think it may be time for the Dallas Cowboys to reevaluate the running back position as it pertains to Ezekiel Elliott's primary backup. Smith just hasn't been good this year, which is why I think it may be time to see what Darius Jackson can do if given the opportunity.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting the Dallas Cowboys move on from Rod Smith or demote him right now, but I would promote Darius Jackson from the practice squad to the active roster as insurance in case something were to happen to Zeke. It just seems the right time to make that move after #21's injury scare Sunday afternoon against the Philadelphia Eagles.

You may have forgotten, but Ezekiel Elliott had to spend some time in the medical tent Sunday against the Eagles. He was luckily able to return to the game not long after, but it did shine a spotlight on Rod Smith and the lack of depth behind him.

Despite how much I like Rod Smith, and I do, he just hasn't been the same player this season as he was last year as Zeke's fill-in. He is just not running with any kind of authority and has been too apt to run east and west instead of north and south. I think it's one of the reasons why the Cowboys have continued to give Zeke such a heavy workload, despite him being banged up.

Rod Smith

Dallas Cowboys RB Rod Smith

Now, Rod Smith did look a little better against the Eagles, but I still believe it would be wise for the Cowboys to promote Darius Jackson to the active roster. Having more depth at such a physically demanding position is just smart football.

With the Dallas Cowboys playoff spot all but secured, it might be time to start thinking about lightening Ezekiel Elliott's workload just a little bit. Whether it's Rod Smith or Darius Jackson, the Cowboys have to find someone who can step in and be productive.

Rod Smith has had his opportunities this year, but hasn't really been able to capitalize like we believed he could. It might be time to turn to Darius Jackson, a fan favorite, who unfortunately just hasn't been able to prove what he can do as of yet in a meaningful game. I think it's time we change that.

As much as I like Rod Smith, I might like Darius Jackson just a little bit more. I think he is kind of like a poor man's Ezekiel Elliott. He is just as athletically gifted and can be a threat as both a runner and a receiver out of the backfield. He just needs the opportunity to prove it.

There's really no way of knowing if I'm right or wrong about this, but I believe he is worthy of a roster spot on game day if nothing else. I'd rather have him and not need him then need him and not have him.

Do you think it's time to see what Darius Jackson can do?



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Cowboys Lassoing NFC East Title as NFC Dark Horse

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Cowboys Lassoing NFC East Title as NFC Dark Horse

Well don’t look now but the Dallas Cowboys are in control of their division and anything short of a catastrophic collapse will see them hosting the first round of the playoffs. Dallas strengthened their grip on the NFC East by knocking off a divisional rival and the reigning Super Bowl champions with a 29-23 overtime win over the Eagles.

Those who have a favorite online sportsbook and wagered on the Cowboys were ecstatic to see Dak Prescott hit Amari Cooper for a 15-yard touchdown pass in overtime, thus covering the 3 ½ point impost that oddsmakers hung on Dallas.

The Cowboys have now won five consecutive games, with three of those over divisional opponents Philadelphia (twice) and Washington. But before we celebrate, we must consider that there's still a mathematical possibility of either Philadelphia or Washington stealing the division crown away from the Cowboys.

The Giants' only hope is an outside shot at a wildcard berth if they win outright but they've been eliminated from contending for a division title due to their 1-4 record against NFC East teams.

Essentially, all the Cowboys must do is win one of their three remaining games in order to celebrate a division crown. If Philadelphia or Washington loses any of their three games they will be out due to tie breakers that go in the Cowboys’ favor.

As of this moment, the Redskins are a disaster with no one under center to captain their rudderless ship, and the Eagles must defeat the Rams in LA, which would be considered a stunning upset seeing as any reputable online sportsbook is offering the Rams as 9 ½ point favorites as of this writing; then they must win at home against Houston and on the road against the Redskins.

Of course, the Cowboys are counting only on themselves to reel in the division title and with games at Indianapolis, home against the Bucs, and wrapping their season in New Jersey against the Giants, at least one win seems likely.

The addition of Amari Cooper to the Dallas offensive arsenal has been a game-changer as the former Oakland Raider hauled in 10 of 13 targets for 217 yards and three touchdowns, including the game-winner last Sunday against Philadelphia. He was the top-tier receiver Prescott had been lacking and his presence on the field improves both the passing game and running game by virtue of his dynamic playmaking abilities. Ezekiel Elliott has eclipsed the century mark in rushing yards in four of the six games since Cooper has been on the Cowboys roster.

Furthermore, Dallas has averaged 24.4 points per game over their last five wins with Cooper in the lineup, which is more than five points improved from where they were prior to their winning streak without him in a Dallas uniform.

In addition, Prescott has morphed from a game manager at 202 passing yards per game to a game breaker as evidenced by his 285.7 passing yard average in six games with his new target at his disposal.

Ultimately, the Cowboys will be tasked with turning all of this good mojo into a deep run into the postseason. We can now confidently say that there is one other team to consider besides the Rams, Bears, and Saints as this year’s NFC entrant into the Super Bowl. However, Dak Prescott will need to eliminate turnovers and interceptions if Dallas is truly going to contend against the powerhouses they will face in the playoffs.

Last Sunday, Prescott caught fire in the fourth quarter and ended with 455 yards passing, connecting on 42 of 54 passes with three touchdowns, but his two interceptions were converted into nine points by Philadelphia. As we move forward, Prescott will need to lead right from the get-go and understand that one poor decision can cost his team what is now a realistic shot at a championship season.



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