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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.


I didn't start out as a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quickly as I could. I grew up a Joe Montana fan when he was with the 49ers and followed him to the Chiefs, until we moved to Texas. I've now been a Fan of the Boys since the Dark Days of the Post-Aikman, Pre-Romo era of abysmal quarterback play, now relishing in more than a decade of franchise quarterbacking for America's Team.

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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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Can WR Noah Brown be a Surprise Starter in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Could WR Noah Brown be a Surprise Starter in 2018?

With all of the new faces the Dallas Cowboys added to the wide receiver position it's easy to overlook someone like Noah Brown. Everyone is anxiously awaiting to find out what the "new toys" can do, but they tend to overlook an ascending player who's already on the roster. That is exactly what I believe Brown is in his second-year and why he could be a surprise starter in 2018.

Noah Brown didn't have a large offensive role as a rookie in 2017, but he did show flashes of a player whose arrow is trending upward. And now that the Cowboys have revamped pretty much the entire receiver position, Brown has a chance to climb the depth chart and become much more than just a role player.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown

There is really no way of knowing exactly where and how the Dallas Cowboys plan to deploy their WRs this season. The only thing we really know right now is that Cole Beasley will once again be the slot WR. Everything else is completely up for grabs, which is why this could be the position battle to watch throughout the remainder of the offseason.

With Dez Bryant, Ryan Switzer, and quite possibly Terrance Williams all gone, someone is going to have to catch passes from Dak Prescott in 2018. Allen Hurns, who the Cowboys signed as a free agent, is expected to replace some of that lost production as either the X or Y WR. But, behind him there's a lot of unknown.

The third-round draft pick Michael Gallup has the skill set to also play either X or Y, and should be part of the equation as well. But, you never really know how these collegiate players will transition to the speed of the NFL.

That is why I believe Noah Brown has a real shot at becoming a starter this season. This is especially true with Terrance Williams recent off the field troubles. I kind of doubt he has a job much longer.

With Williams likely on his way out, Noah Brown moves up the depth chart. I believe he can immediately step in and replace #83's production in the passing game and as a blocker in the running game as well. We got a glimpse of him doing just that last season, which might be why he's getting first-team reps in organized team activities (OTA's).

Jon Machota on Twitter

Second-year WR Noah Brown got a ton of work with the first-team. Lance Lenoir did also

It's easy to forget, but Noah Brown was mostly utilized as a blocking WR/TE last season. At 6'2", 225, Brown is now the biggest and most physical receiver on the Cowboys roster. His blocking ability is what got him on the field as a rookie, but he's no slob in the passing game if given the chance.

Brown is already a solid route runner, but he has been working during the offseason with a WR Guru, David Robinson, to improve this area of his game.

David Robinson on Twitter

@dallascowboys NFL WR Noah Brown has been in the lab 🔬 grinding hard folks! Look out for this kid he is going to be dangerous!!! "Train Like A Pro" @BobbyBeltTX @BenRogers @1053thefan https://t.co/0cDY4BJJit

Now, I may be a little biased since I was a fan of Noah Brown's before the Cowboys drafted him. I actually had a fourth-round grade on him coming out of Ohio, so I was ecstatic Dallas was able to get him in the seventh.

But, despite my favoritism, I can really envision him becoming a surprise starter when the season opens up. He not only has the skill set to do it, but a year in the system could gives him an advantage over these new additions. It could of making all the difference.

Do you think WR Noah Brown be a surprise starter in 2018?


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Creating a Monster: The Dallas Cowboys Offensive Line

John Williams

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Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, offensive line

After years of building, drafting, and retooling, the Dallas Cowboys have completed their offensive line. And in the process, they've created a monster. The addition of Connor Williams in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft has reasserted the Dallas Cowboys offensive line as the best in football -- and it may not be close.

The team has been on this path since 2011 to create an identity for their football team that starts up front on the offensive line.

What transpired in the 2009 and 2010 seasons had a lot to do with the direction the team has taken over the last 8 seasons to ensure they were great up front.

Wade Phillips, Jason Garrett

Former and Current Dallas Cowboys' Head Coaches Wade Phillips and Jason Garrett

The End of 2009

In 2009, the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East and proceeded to win their wild card game to reach the divisional round for the second time in three years, only to be beaten by the Minnesota Vikings 34-3.

What transpired in that game should have been enough for the Cowboys to address their offensive line in the 2010 draft as quarterback Tony Romo was sacked six times and threw an interception.

On the season, Romo was sacked 34 times, which is more than twice a game. Perhaps the wins on the season and the division title masked the issues the team had up front.

The Debacle of the 2010 Season

The team had lofty expectations heading into 2010. They had been to the playoffs three of the previous four seasons and, despite the drubbing at the hands of the Vikings, were still a formidable offensive team with some star power on defense in DeMarcus Ware.

Unfortunately, it was never to be.

Tony Romo only started six games and was sacked seven times in that span. Cowboys quarterbacks were sacked a total of 31 times, which would be right outside the top ten for most sacks allowed in the NFL in 2010.

Tony Romo went 1-5 in his six starts that season, getting sacked seven times in those six games before giving way to Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee for the final ten games of the season.

Head Coach Wade Phillips was replaced by Offensive Coordinator Jason Garrett after a 1-7 start that culminated in an embarrassing loss to the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field.

More Than a Coach Was Changed

Cowboys Headlines - Cowboys on the Clock: Tyron Smith, #9 Overall

Dallas Cowboys T Tyron Smith (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

The change in coaching signaled a change in philosophy from a 3-4 defensive minded head coach to an offensive one who was rooted in the glory days of the Dallas Cowboys of the 90's.

Those teams were known for their elite offensive line play that set the tone for the rest of the team. They protected Troy Aikman, who is in the Hall of Fame, and paved the way for the NFL's All-Time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith.

The impact that the offensive line had on the Cowboys teams of the 90's can't be understated.

So in 2011, Jason Garrett's first NFL Draft as the Dallas Cowboys head coach, he convinced Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones that they needed to do more to protect their most valuable asset (Tony Romo) while becoming a team that could run the ball and control the clock.

With the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft, the Dallas Cowboys selected Tackle Tyron Smith.

That selection was history making. It was the first time in the Jerry Jones era that they had spent a first round pick on an offensive lineman. A span of more than 20 years saw the Dallas Cowboys never invest a first in the offensive line.

Mission Accomplished

With the selections of Travis Frederick and Zack Martin in the first rounds of the 2013 and 2014 NFL Drafts, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line was complete.

Jason Garrett's work to make the Dallas Cowboys in the image of the Super Bowl glory days of the 90's finally came to fruition.

The Dallas Cowboys offensive line led the way for Running Back DeMarco Murray to lead the NFL in rushing. They protected Tony Romo to have the best season of his career, leading the NFL with a passer rating of 113.2.

Everything looked to be coming together for a team that went 12-4, won the NFC East, and beat some notable teams like the Seattle Seahawks along the way.

Then the "Dez Caught It" moment happened and we all came crashing back to Earth.

That season, though it didn't end in a Lombardi Trophy, was still a success as it created a template that could be successful in the NFL. As teams attempt to spread out their formations to throw the ball, the Dallas Cowboys, while still using a lot of 11-personnel, showed the NFL that you can still be a run-first, physical football team and win.

With the template set, all the Dallas Cowboys have to do is to continue to retool.

Dallas Cowboys Have Big Hole on Offensive Line

Dallas Cowboys lineman including tackle Tyron Smith (77), offensive guard La'el Collins (71), center Travis Frederick (72) and guard Zack Martin (70) huddle up in the first half against the New York Jets at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Saturday, December 19, 2015.(Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Creating a Monster

Let's review how the Dallas Cowboys have collected this impressive group of humans to block for their football team.

  • Tyron Smith was the ninth overall pick in the 2011 draft. Though he started out as a right tackle his rookie season, he made the move to the left side in his second year and has been considered one of the best tackles in the NFL since. Back issues have slowed him down, but he's still in his prime heading into his eighth (!!!) NFL Season.
  • Travis Frederick was the 31st pick in the 2013 NFL Draft. A lot of the draft analysts around the league believed that to be a reach at the time when the Dallas Cowboys traded back to 31 to select Frederick. They don't think it's a reach now.
  • In 2014 the Dallas Cowboys, yet again, selected an offensive lineman in the first round of the NFL Draft. It was widely reported that if Ryan Shazier would have been there at pick 16, that he would have been the selection. Shazier's been a great player in the league, but I'm actually glad that they got Martin. He's considered the best guard in the NFL and will probably be so for the next ten years.
  • Right Tackle La'el Collins would have been a first round draft pick had his name not been attached to the murder of his ex-girlfriend. Instead of being a first round draft pick, the Dallas Cowboys, led by GM Jerry Jones, wined and dined Collins into signing a pretty nice deal for a UDFA. After rotating with Leary for a couple of seasons, he's now the RT for the best offensive line in football.

That brings us to the newest addition of what has been coined The OLuminati. 

Heading into the 2018 NFL Draft, the whole world knew -- or hoped -- the Dallas Cowboys would address the left guard spot early on. When the first round came and went, most of us, including this writer, thought they'd likely have to trade up in the second to still come away with a plug and play guard at pick number 50.

So when they landed Connor Williams while staying put at 50, Cowboys Nation erupted with joy.

Connor Williams is strong enough to play on the interior but comes with the movement and flexibility to get to the perimeter and the second level. Though he was good last year, Jonathan Cooper was the weak link because of his movement limitations.

Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy

I just watched season one of the YouTube Red production Cobra Kai, which follows the lives of The Karate Kid's main characters Daniel LaRusso and Johnny Lawrence as adults.

Johnny, broke as a joke, relaunched the Cobra Kai karate brand based on the philosophy, "Strike First, Strike Hard, No Mercy." While it's a harsh philosophy to be teaching a bunch of teenagers, it certainly has its place with the Dallas Cowboys offensive line.

This group has the attitude and the ability to ruin days for opposing defenses. They aren't just going to get in your way, they're going to hit you and go through you.

This group of lineman has no weaknesses and if we talk about the signing of Cam Fleming, now you have a guy that played tackle for the New England Patriots during the Super Bowl as your tackle off the bench if you need him.

No weaknesses.

The Dallas Cowboys are going to be able to run inside and outside and to both sides of the offensive line with regularity because of the strength, physicality, and movement ability of their starting five. Opposing defenses aren't going to be able to load up on one side of the line because of a perceived weakness on the other side.

With Ezekiel Elliott running behind them, who's shown the ability to stretch a play outside and make a big run or find a crease in the middle of the line for a huge play, this is the Dallas Cowboys running game that Jason Garrett has been looking for since he took over in 2011.

While they've had success in the past, I have huge expectations for this group in 2018. 1,600 rushing yards for Elliott if he plays 16 games should be the floor. There's no reason he shouldn't flirt with a 2,000 yard season.

Now, whether that leads to a Super Bowl Championship remains to be seen, but we've seen in the past that when the Dallas Cowboys have success in the run game, it usually leads to wins, and lots of them.


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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: ¿Qué Pasará con el WR Terrance Williams?

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Takeaway Tuesday: What We Learned From Cowboys Loss To Packers
AP Photo / Ron Jenkins

El receptor de los Dallas Cowboys Terrance Williams tiene una tarea difícil durante este offseason: mantenerse en el roster del equipo. El sábado pasado , Williams hizo de esa (relativamente sencilla) tarea, un reto mucho más difícil. El receptor fue llevado a la cárcel bajo cargos de intoxicación pública después de que la policía encontró su Lamborghini estrellado con un poste y abandonado.

Después de salir bajo una fianza de $369 dólares, T-Will está bajo investigación y enfrentando un futuro muy incierto en su carrera en la NFL.

A pesar de despedirse de Dez Bryant en abril, el cuarto de los receptores está repleto de jugadores listos para competir por puestos en el roster. Williams, quien no ha podido practicar debido a su lesión en el pie, no estaba en una buena posición para competir por su puesto antes del incidente.

Ahora, con una posible suspensión de por medio, la administración seguramente considerara despedirse del receptor de cinco años.

Vaya que Williams no es indispensable. Durante el Draft, los Cowboys seleccionaron a los wide receivers Michael Gallup (Colorado State) y  Cedrick Wilson (Boise State). Semanas antes, el ex-Jaguar Allen Hurns llegó a Dallas. Eso sin mencionar a Cole Beasley y a un puñado de receptores jóvenes como Noah Brown y Lance Lenoir quien han volteado cabezas en los entrenamientos.

Francamente, no es nada descabellado pensar que aún sin el incidente, Williams no estaría entre los tres titulares en la semana uno. Para Dallas, una ofensiva con Gallup, Hurns y Beasley como titulares podría resultar muy efectiva.

A pesar de destellos por aquí y por allá, Williams no ha podido demostrar una consistencia que avale su titularidad. Una semana hace una recepción increíble, a la siguiente es incapaz de salirse del campo para parar el reloj o para utilizar sus manos a la hora de atrapar el balón.

Eso sin mencionar que cuando se le pidió ponerse en los zapatos de Dez cuando este estaba lesionado en el 2015, Williams no pudo hacerlo. Tal fue el caso, que cuando Bryant volvió a caer en el 2016, Brice Butler tomó su lugar.

Tanto Gallup como Hurns pueden ser receptores "X." Williams, lamentablemente, no.

¿El defecto de una ofensiva sin Williams? Sinceramente, lo único que podría salir mal para los Cowboys si se deshacen del veterano, es que Dak Prescott perderá a tres de sus objetivos que ha tenido en su carrera en una sola temporada: Bryant, Witten y Williams.

Sin embargo, todas las contrataciones de nuevos WRs se han realizado para construir la ofensiva amigable para Dak, ¿no es así? Cowboys Nation debe confiar en el plan de la administración.

Incluso antes de ser arrestado, Terrance Williams estaba en Dallas simplemente por su contrato. Por ser apenas su segundo año, para los Vaqueros (desde un punto de vista financiero) no es viable cortar al receptor.

Una suspensión de la NFL podría hacer las cosas un poco más sencillas, pues si está suspendido, el equipo puede olvidarse del dinero garantizado y decirle adiós sin dudarlo. La NFL no ha mostrado ser muy consistente a la hora de asignar suspensiones, pero cualquiera que haya escuchado las declaraciones de Williams y visto el video imagina que una suspensión llegará inevitablemente.

Si es suspendido, Williams seguramente no vestirá la estrella en el 2018. De otra manera, las cosas se complican. Pero si el equipo llega a un punto en el que no están interesados en traer a nadie al equipo y no están preocupados por el tope salarial de la temporada, no veo porque se quedarían con él si prefieren utilizar el puesto de roster en cualquier otro jugador.

Terrance Williams tenía una oportunidad de oro para competir por la titularidad tras la partida de Dez Bryant. Lamentablemente, parece que soltó el último balón que pudo haber soltado.

¿Crees que Williams esté en el equipo este 2018?

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: ¿Qué Pasará con el WR Terrance Williams?" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!


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