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.
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.
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 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 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.
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.
Dallas Cowboys vs the New York Giants: Stock Up and Stock Down
The Dallas Cowboys bounced back in a big way against the New York Giants in week two. Several players bounced back as well after struggling a bit in week one against the Carolina Panthers. Other players continued to struggle or saw a drop in play from week one to week two.
Here are the Dallas Cowboys who saw their stock rise and some who saw their stock fall this week.
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
Jaylon Smith has been really good to start the season and had an excellent game against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. Every day Smith is removed from the devastating knee injury he suffered in his final game at Notre Dame is a day closer to realizing the elite play that many expected of him before the injury.
Pro Football Reference credited the starting middle linebacker with seven solo tackles and three assists. Pro Football Focus had Jaylon Smith with 3 stops -- plays that were a "loss" for the offense -- while becoming a stabilizing force for the linebacker position.
Byron Jones, Cornerback
The fourth year player who has made a successful move from safety to cornerback, Byron Jones has been everything the Dallas Cowboys hoped he'd be when they made him their first round pick back in 2015.
Shame that it took so long to get him to cornerback.
Against a potent New York Giants receiving corp, Jones only allowed one reception on five targets on Sunday night. He also had six solo tackles and three stops, per Pro Football Focus.
The one reception that Pro Football Focus credited to Byron Jones was by Running Back Saquon Barkley and that catch went for zero yards.
So on the night, Byron Jones allowed zero yards into his coverage areas. He's really good at cornerback and is taking to Kris Richard's coaching quite nicely.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
After much gnashing of teeth after the week one loss to the Carolina Panthers, Dak Prescott rebounded with a strong, confident performance in the Dallas Cowboys week two win over the Giants.
He completed 64% of his passes for 160 yards and ran for 45 yards on seven carries. The passing yardage isn't huge, but on a night in which the defense was absolutely dominant, Dak Prescott made the plays that needed to be made for the Dallas Cowboys to win the game.
He was great in the read-option on Sunday night, perfectly executing it for several really good runs.
The throw to Tavon Austin on the third offensive play from scrimmage was a great throw that set the tone for the Dallas Cowboys the rest of the night. His yards per attempt and passer rating were both improved from week one and he just looked better.
If Dak Prescott can continue to put together performances like this, the Dallas Cowboys will win a lot of games this season.
Connor Williams, Left Guard
After getting pushed around for much of last week's game by Kawann Short, rookie Connor Williams rebounded with a really nice game.
Williams didn't allow a pressure all night and the offensive line was much better as a whole. The unit didn't allow a sack against the New York Giants.
According to Pro Football Focus, Elliott's biggest run of the night came behind Connor Williams at left guard.
Williams is an important piece to the puzzle and if he's playing well, it will provide better pockets for Dak Prescott.
Tavon Austin, Wide Receiver
After seeing only 10 snaps in week one, Tavon Austin was on the field for nearly twice as many and made them count as he ended with two receptions for 79 yards and had one rush for 15 yards.
That's 94 total yards on three touches. The "Tavon Effect" was in full force last night as the team used his speed to their advantage. Even when the ball didn't go his direction he had an effect on the game.
Damien Wilson, Linebacker
Seemingly the odd man out after the Dallas Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Damien Wilson had an excellent game in his limited playing time.
Wilson played 17 defensive snaps and 22 snaps on special teams and was credited with three solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He's was excellent on Sunday night in the snaps he was given.
It's unlikely that we'll see a big snap increase for him with the talent ahead of him on the depth chart, but he provided very valuable snaps when given the opportunity.
Terrance Williams, Wide Receiver
Terrance Williams who has been a starter for several years now with the Dallas Cowboys, and even started week one, saw his snap count drop from week one to week two. After seeing 19 snaps against the Carolina Panthers, he was onlyon the field for 10 snaps in week two.
There's been speculation as the Dallas Cowboys have resigned former Wide Receiver Brice Butler that Terrance Williams could be the odd man out of the wide receiver room. That snap count is either an indication of his status on the team or the game plan they had against the New York Giants.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Williams moving forward.
La'el Collins, Right Tackle
A week after allowing four pressures, most along the offensive line, La'el Collins allowed three more pressures on Sunday night against the New York Giants. He was the only offensive lineman to allow multiple pressures and appeared to struggle with the Giants blitz and stunt schemes.
The New York Giants had rushers go unblocked at times on Sunday night.
Dak Prescott wasn't sacked against the Giants, but he had to avoid some pressure on that side to throw the ball away.
Collins has to be better against the pass rush going forward to keep Dak Prescott clean and able to play better.
Dallas Cowboys Tight Ends
The Dallas Cowboys' tight end group of Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers did not have a single catch to their name on Sunday night. There were opportunities that were missed, like the Dak Prescott overthrow to Rico Gathers in the end zone. However, not being able to come up with a single catch against the Giants is a bit surprising.
Speaking frankly, their isn't a receiving threat on the TE depth chart. They need to become a factor at some point to help take pressure of Dak Prescott and give him another option in the passing game. The Dallas Cowboys prefer to run most of their formations with a tight end on the field. They need to be a factor
The Cowboys Nation Twitter account asked David Helman from DallasCowboys.com to look up when the last time the Dallas Cowboys tight ends finished a game without a reception.
Mark Lane from WFAA.com and the Texans Wire found the information.
@HelmanDC @CowboysNation @SullyBaldHead @Marcus_Mosher @CHQ_Jordan @FO_ScottKacsmar When you do, Dave, tell them that Mark Lane found it at 1:15 a.m. Central Time. It was Dec. 1, 2016 at the #Vikings. https://t.co/XS3FVrWhT8
It's unbelievable that there was a game played in which Jason Witten was around for that he didn't have a reception, and yet, there it is.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Were there any players that moved the needle in either direction for you?
Let us know in the comment section.
Will Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods Return This Week?
The Dallas Cowboys have been without one of their defensive starters for the first two weeks of 2018; safety Xavier Woods. A preseason hamstring injury has kept him in street clothes so far, but Woods could make his season debut this week against the Seattle Seahawks.
The positive update on Woods' status was provided by Owner Jerry Jones in his regular radio appearance this morning.
Jerry Jones on @1053thefan said it appears Randy Gregory (concussion) will be available to play Sunday at Seattle. Jones also thinks Xavier Woods (hamstring) has a chance to play this week after missing the first two games
Gregory has already played this year, suffering his concussion and leaving the season opener against the Carolina Panthers. Even in his absence last week, the Cowboys got six sacks on Eli Manning in their victory over the Giants.
That's not to say getting Randy back isn't noteworthy, but the real news here is the potential for Xavier Woods to take his place as the team's starting free safety.
While Woods has been out, Jeff Heath has been the free safety while Kavon Frazier has started at strong. The plan going into 2018 was for Heath to play strong safety, putting him closer to the line of scrimmage where his skills are best suited.
Xavier was one of the team's most exciting rookies last year, flashing the potential to be a game-changing presence.
Woods' upside is one of the reasons some fans haven't been as desperate about the Earl Thomas situation. While Thomas would be an upgrade in almost any defense, including the Cowboys, the chance to see what Xavier has mitigated disappointment over not acquiring the All-Pro safety.
If Woods can provide what the team hopes for at free safety, it has a positive ripple effect for the roster. Not only do you upgrade at FS, but Heath moving to his ideal role at SS is another improvement.
It also moves Frazier, who's been solid in his playing time, into a valuable bench role. It gives Dallas depth at safety which, up til now, they've lacked in Xavier's absence.
The loser in this deal would likely be either veteran backup Ibraheim Campbell, who Dallas signed two weeks ago to deal with their depth issues, or undrafted rookie Tyree Robinson. Robinson has been with the team since they signed him immediately after the 2018 NFL Draft.
With talk that the Cowboys are looking to bring back WR Brice Butler, a roster spot will be needed. Xavier Woods' return could allow for that spot to come from safety rather than receiver, where Dallas is hesitant to part with any of its current players.
In the end, all we have right now is a "maybe" about Woods' status. But with Dallas' defense already performing well this year, the thought of getting even better is enticing. With the tough road environment of Seattle and Russell Wilson coming up this Sunday, getting Xavier back could be timely.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for Cowboys Against Giants
I don't know about you, but I feel a lot better this week about the Dallas Cowboys after they thoroughly controled the game against the New York Giants last Sunday night. It amazes me how much better they played in the second week of the 2018 season as opposed to what they put on the field Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers.
The Dallas Cowboys performed better in all three phases of the game. The defense was simply outstanding, the offense looked much improved, and the fact that there weren't any breakdowns on special teams is an added plus. Overall, it's hard to be too disappointed with the way the overall team performed Sunday.
With all of that in mind, I want to share with you what I believe is The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys from the primetime matchup with the division rival New York Giants. I know you may disagree with what I decided to go with in each category, but that's part of the fun of it.
If you watched the Dallas Cowboys against the New York Giants Sunday night then you pretty much know what the good was. How could I not go with the Cowboys defense? They were simply phenomenal against the Giants and are starting to become the identity of this year's team.
The Cowboys pass rush continuously put pressure on Quarterback Eli Manning and ended the game with six QB sacks. Nearly every defensive lineman got in on the action, which is hopefully a sign of things to come. The secondary was also really impressive. They played man-to-man coverage nearly the entire game and shut down the Giants aerial attack, including Odell Beckham Jr.
I was also really pleased to see the Cowboys linebackers playing much better. You may not have noticed, but the coaching staff is going with a rotation of sorts with the LBs, and it really looked as if it's helping keep them fresh. This could pay huge dividends moving forward, especially with Sean Lee's injury concerns.
I debated several different things to put in this section, but ultimately I decided the bad for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night was Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game. Yes, it was better than what we saw from them in Week 1 against the Carolina Panthers, but there is still a lot of work that needs to be done from both Prescott and his receivers.
Unfortunately, Prescott only completed 16 of 25 passes for 160 yards and one touchdown against the Giants. Those are nearly identical numbers to what he put up against the Panthers, the only difference is he was much more successful on the ground, rushing for 45 yards on seven carries. If you take away his long TD completion to Wide Receiver Tavon Austin, those numbers are even more depressing.
The passing game and Dak Prescott needs to improve dramatically. The Cowboys simply aren't going to be able to continue to win games like this. The offense should've been able to put up a lot more points on the Giants Sunday night. Hopefully, things will continue to get better because if not, the Cowboys are in trouble.
There was a number of different directions I could've gone here, but for me the ugly for the Dallas Cowboys Sunday night against the Giants was the penalties. Penalties became a problem for the Cowboys in Week 1 against the Panthers and once again reared their ugly head against the Giants. Unfortunately, this has continuously been a problem under the tutelage of Head Coach Jason Garrett.
The Dallas Cowboys were lucky that the untimely penalties didn't have much impact on the outcome of the game. If they would have been playing a better team than the Giants, they probably wouldn't have overcome the long down and distances. I want to believe this can be cleaned up, but Jason Garrett's going to have to start holding his players accountable, which at this point seems a little unlikely.
The Cowboys players are going to take it upon themselves to cut down the penalties. Most of the time it's just mental mistakes, so there is reason to believe they can accomplish this task. But, they are really going to have to buckle down and focus on remaining consistent down after down.
What is your good, bad, and ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the Giants?
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