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Dominating on the Ground: A Blueprint for Dallas

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Cowboys Headlines - Dominating on the Ground in 2016: A Blueprint for Dallas

The Dallas Cowboys want to emulate their 2014 season.

To do so, they will need to boast a dominant ground game.

Make no mistake, this team wants to run the ball thirty times a game.

If their backfield was short on depth, Ezekiel Elliott may have been looking at the ninety plus percent carry hold that Demarco Murray had on the running game in 2014. But this is a new-look backfield in 2016.

The fact that the team signed free agent running back Alfred Morris and added Darius Jackson in the sixth round of the draft got me to thinking.

What exactly will be the plan for this backfield?

Here is what I would like to see happen.

Ezekiel Elliott

The Dallas Cowboys selected Elliott fourth overall in the draft to have an immediate impact.

Tony Romo is 36 and injury prone. He is still the key to this team’s success, and everything must be done to increase his chances to stay on the field. The window for winning in the Romo era is closing.

With that in mind, the team needs to validate taking Elliott as high as they did in the draft. He needs to see most first and second down work, as well as some third down action if he proves to continue the strong pass protection skills he displayed in college.

Despite a recent hamstring tweak, I fully expect Elliott to be the lead feature back this year, and hope he touches the ball 20 times a game. That total may seem high, considering rookie running backs typically do not exceed 300 touches in a season anymore, but he is in a unique situation.

In taking a look at rookie running back success in the past decade, Elliott warrants an even higher volume than that of others if the team truly wants to maximize the situation. He has at his disposal what many others have not, which is a dominant offensive line, great surrounding talent on offense, and a talented quarterback -- when healthy.

Lance Dunbar

When people think about the Dallas offense, names like Lance Dunbar typically don’t come up. But he adds another element to this offense that needs to be valued this season. If you need some validation, roll tape on him and Romo singlehandedly stealing a win from the New York Giants on opening weekend last year.  When healthy, Dunbar was also a nice third down security blanket for Romo at times.

Dunbar’s job is clearly unsafe, as he sits on the PUP list as a crowded backfield takes to camp. However, I hope to see Dunbar get 5-8 targets a game, hauling in those third down conversions, half back screens, and the occasional sweep play they used effectively in 2014.

Darren McFadden

Darren McFadden quietly finished fourth in the NFL in rushing yards last season, and managed to post a respectable per carry average. He exceeded many expectations that others had about his production and ability to last a full season. Despite accomplishing both, the team still brought in three new running backs, which speaks volumes about their confidence in him moving forward.

McFadden displays consistency, but lacks any explosive burst that both Elliott and Dunbar possess.  Breaking his elbow in the offseason is not helping his cause either. The team will almost certainly not be holding five backs this year, so McFadden would get my vote for a cut.

Alfred Morris

Alfred Morris was scooped up for cheap in the offseason, and he is an underrated back that can play a small role in the Dallas offense moving forward. He does not have the wow factor of Elliott, but he is a proven veteran that can act as a nice change of pace back, and fill in for Elliott if that hamstring flairs up.

I would like to see Morris’ large frame used in short yardage situations and on the goal line from time to time.

Darius Jackson

I’ll admit, I was a little puzzled when the Cowboys drafted Darius Jackson, but now he is turning some heads.

Jackson is one of the bright spots in camp currently as a few other backs are out with injuries. If the team decides to hold four running backs on the current roster, Jackson has flashed some potential to etch out a small role in the backfield.



Die hard Dallas Cowboys fan behind enemy lines here in New Jersey. CBS Sports employee and contributor for InsideTheStar.com.

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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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