There are officially 80 days until the toe meets the ball at AT&T Stadium where the Dallas Cowboys will host the New York Giants on NBC’s Sunday Night Football.
There are officially 11 weeks until we’ll be getting ready for the NFL Kickoff game featuring the World Champion New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers. After that the real fun begins, as Dallas Cowboys football will be back in the swing of action! That glorious day is 80 moons away, so to celebrate we’re going to crown the Greatest 80 in Dallas Cowboys History.
The following players have all worn 80 for the Dallas Cowboys:
- Rod Barksdale, WR
- Gary Barnes, WR
- Martellus Bennett, TE
- Anthony Fasano, TE
- Lee Folkins, TE
- Bernard Ford, WR
- Everett Gay, WR
- Alvin Harper, WR
- Rod Harris, WR
- Tony Hill, WR
- Dave McDaniels, WR
- Tony McGee, TE
- Ernie Mills, WR
- Lee Murchison, WR
- Sean Ryan, TE
- O.J. Santiago, TE
- Sebron Spivey, WR
- Reggie Swinton, WR
- Stepfret Williams, WR
It’s pretty interesting that a Dallas Cowboy hasn’t worn the number 80 in the regular season since Martellus Bennett in 2011. Marty B wasn’t exactly the torchbearer that we’re looking for in an 80, but two guys do stand out above the rest.
The Cowboys took Alvin Harper with the twelfth overall pick in the 1991 NFL Draft. There are many people who believed then, and still do, that he had more talent than fellow wideout Michael Irvin. He played four seasons as a Cowboy wearing #80 (Harper came back for an encore in 1999 and wore #82) and caught 124 passes for 2,486 yards and 18 touchdowns. Harper’s most notable reception though, came in 1992 at the famed Candlestick Park.
With approximately four minutes to go in the NFC Championship game, up by 4 against the San Francisco 49ers, with a trip to Pasadena and Super Bowl XXVII on the line…Alvin Harper stepped into Cowboys History. Offensive Coordinator Norv Turner called “896 F Flat” which called for one receiver to run a curl route and one to run a post route. Harper had run the curl all day, and had been thrown the ball repeatedly. With the game on the line The Playmaker made his way to the curl route to take it over, leaving Harper to the post. Troy Aikman read blitz and knew where the ball had to go. He delivered the ball perfectly, as Norv Turner recalled in Troy Aikman's Hall of Fame induction, to Alvin Harper between the numbers. Harper sprinted 70 yards downfield and the Cowboys dynasty was born.
While Harper’s 1992 NFC Championship play is one of the all-time greats, it’s not enough to give him the nod as our best 80. There’s somebody else that earned it long ago.
Taken in the third round of the 1977 NFL Draft out of Stanford University, Tony Hill began his path to becoming the Greatest 80 in Dallas Cowboys History. The 1977 Dallas Cowboys are arguably the greatest team that the franchise has ever fielded, and rookie Tony Hill helped them on their way to winning Super Bowl XII against the Denver Broncos.
“The Thrill” really came into his own in 1979 and, amazingly, 1980. He began to blossom into a big-play receiver. The late, great Tom Landry even said of Tony, “Our Home Run Hitter. I’ve never seen a guy who could adjust to a ball in mid-air like Tony. He is a very explosive player---the type who can turn a short play into a big play in a hurry, because he has excellent running ability and speed.”
In 1979 “Dial 80” helped the Cowboys etch their place in NFL History as he, Drew Pearson, and Tony Dorsett became the first team in NFL History to have two receivers top 1,000 receiving yards and a running back rush for over 1,000 yards. This was also the first time in franchise history that two receivers both hit four digit marks. In his career Tony has 479 catches for 7,988 yards and 51 touchdowns. He is without question the Greatest #80 in Dallas Cowboys History.
Check back tomorrow to find out who the Greatest 79 in Dallas Cowboys History is!
Warts And All, Dak Prescott Shows Why It’s Not So Easy To Move On
Dak Prescott was far from perfect Sunday night in Philadelphia. In fact, at times, he was downright bad.
Prescott missed two potential touchdown passes to Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup on fly routes down the sideline, and might have left points on the board when he badly missed Ezekiel Elliott in the flat in the red zone early in the game. Prescott continued to panic in the pocket a bit during the first half, and took an absolutely horrendous sack on what would end up being the Cowboys' first touchdown drive of the night.
All of this is true. All of this is indisputable.
Where things get tricky, however, is that while these flaws continue to show up in Prescott's game, so do his strengths. A particular set of strengths and skills that the can be highly valuable in today's NFL, especially if deployed correctly.
Beginning with the final drive of the first half, Dak Prescott played the type of football we've rarely seen from him over the last calendar year. He was comfortable in the pocket, seldom abandoning clean looks or running into sacks. He utilized his legs and ability to extend plays when necessary, and delivered some absolute strikes to help the Cowboys offense get into scoring range multiple times. Prescott also picked up some key third downs with his arm to answer Eagles' scoring drives, something we haven't seen from these Cowboys in quite some time.
Dak was far from perfect on Sunday night, but he did show why he is so hard to move on from. When the offensive line is clicking and Prescott can have that comfortability (that is all-too-rare in the NFL), he looks like his Rookie of the Year self. But, we all know that when things really break down, he isn't able to put the offense on his back the way the true "top" quarterbacks are.
I am a Dak Prescott fan. I'll make no mistake about it. But what do we call it when a quarterback is good enough to keep you competitive, can have wildly impressive plays/drives/games while also having wildly frustrating and bad plays/drives/games?
We call that quarterback purgatory. We call that the Cincinnati Bengals.
The only thing which separates Dak and Dallas from being in full purgatory mode, to be quite frank, is Prescott's youth. Because of that youth we can still hope that he can develop as a passer and quit being so gun-shy and timid to make tight window and anticipation throws.
But how long can a team truly wait before they become Marvin Lewis and Andy Dalton losing by 30+ points at home?
It's a question which is tough for every team to answer. Dak Prescott is too good to easily replace with a random quarterback off the street, but it's hard to imagine he's good enough to get your team over the hump without significant help around him.
So, in the end, here we are. With the Cowboys at 4-5 fighting with an Alex Smith-led team for what will most likely prove to be a rather irrelevant division title.
But hey, it's always fun to win in Philly isn't it?
Leighton Vander Esch Is A Stud, And Should Be For A Long Time
The Cowboys took their fair share of heat for selecting linebacker Leighton Vander Esch 19th overall in the 2018 NFL Draft. But through just over half a season, Dallas is looking vindicated in their decision.
Vander Esch was arguably the best defensive player on the field during Dallas' 27-20 win in Philadelphia Sunday night, and made the two biggest defensive plays of the game as well. Finishing with a game-high 13 tackles, Vander Esch was all over the field in both run and pass defense.
The first of his two massive plays came in the first quarter. After the Cowboys offense stalled deep in their own territory, the Eagles looked to be in prime position to strike first with a short field. On Carson Wentz' first pass attempt of the drive, however, Leighton Vander Esch was there to intercept him and return the ball back 28 yards.
Those return yards proved key as well, giving the Cowboys the short field and an easy path to their first three points of the night. And with the way their offense looked early in this game, Dallas could use all the help they could get.
The biggest play of the game, though, came late in the fourth quarter. With the Eagles facing a third and short and down seven points, they absolutely needed a conversion to keep pace with the surprisingly hot Cowboys offense. Philadelphia tried to beat Dallas with a running back screen to the backside, inviting the pass rush and getting blockers out in front.
There seemed to be nothing but blockers and green grass ahead for the Eagles on this play, with "Next Gen Stats" expecting a 22 yard gain after the catch. Then, Leighton Vander Esch eluded two blockers and tracked down the running back for a loss of 3.
Leighton Vander Esch made a game-saving tackle late in the 4th quarter to preserve the Cowboys 27-20 win. Corey Clement was expected to gain 22 yards after the catch (gained 3), -19 YAC Below Expectation, the most yards saved on a pass play this season. #DALvsPHI #DallasCowboys https://t.co/0DF7jhPQzH
If not for this tackle, who knows how both that Eagles' drive and the game would have ended. Vander Esch saved the day for Dallas, and forced the Eagles into a tough fourth and long situation with the game on the line.
I know it is still early in Vander Esch's career, and even relatively early in this season as well, but it's become clear the Cowboys hit a home run with their 2018 first round selection. Vander Esch is fitting in beside Jaylon Smith with ease, and with those two athletic freaks together, the Cowboys look to have one of the brightest defensive futures in all of football.
Of course, there are now legitimate questions about what the Cowboys should do with their captain Sean Lee. But as of right now, it should be Leighton Vander Esch's job to lose.
Can Cowboys LB Vander Esch Do Enough to Win DROY?
At 3-5, there are very few positive things to point out when discussing the 2018 Dallas Cowboys. One of those few things has been first-round rookie Leighton Vander Esch, whose play at linebacker has taken the league by surprise. Seen as a raw talent who could develop into an elite player with time as a prospect, Vander Esch's impact on the field has been immediate.
Through nine weeks in the NFL season, the Boise State product should definitely be in the Defensive Rookie of the Year discussion. As much as Sean Lee's injury will hurt the Cowboys' defense, it will get the rookie more playing time and a big opportunity to put his name in the minds of NFL Honors voters.
Sean Lee will miss some time after re-injuring his hamstring for the second time this season. Earlier in the year, Jaylon Smith and Vander Esch were able to keep the defense from crumbling without their veteran captain. Even with all the offensive struggles, that should continue to be the case for the linebackers.
Vander Esch has only played in 65% of the Cowboys' defensive snaps, yet he's tied for ninth place in solo tackles in the entire league with 49. He's at 64 total tackles and two pass deflections and has been a magnet to opposing ball carriers every time he's been on the field.
He's the third highest graded rookie LB for Pro Football Focus. Most times, rookies find success like this by being rotational players or simply splitting snaps with other players. But as previously mentioned, Lee has already been out for a handful of games in 2018 and Vander Esch has lived up to the hype.
Simply put, Leighton's play as a rookie has already put Sean Lee's future on the Cowboys in question. With such an injury history and a two young studs ready to take over the reigns, Dallas could very well release Lee prior to the 2019 season.
Now granted, the race for Defensive Rookie of the Year will not be an easy one to win for Vander Esch. Fourth overall pick Denzel Ward has been an impressive cornerback for the Browns and fifth-overall pick Bradley Chubb has been one of the best pass rushers on Sundays. Not to mention the NFL leader in solo tackles, Colts' LB Darius Leonard.
Despite a great start to his season, the Cowboys young LB will have to play way better for his name to be called when the Defensive Rookie of the Year is revealed at the NFL Honors event in February. There are some pretty big names he has to catch up with in order to make this happen.
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