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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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Dallas Cowboys

7 Free Agents the Cowboys Should Target

Shane Carter

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Are the Dallas Cowboys in for Another Quiet Free Agency in 2018?
Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Dallas Cowboys' focus after losing in the second round of the playoffs is likely going to be contract extensions, sealing up their best players now before getting ready for the draft. They're likely to lose a few free agents but their priority will be their big name free agent, DeMarcus Lawrence, and extending contracts of Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper and probably Byron Jones, in a year where they’ll see more cap room than they have in a long time.

Free agency, to Dallas, has been really almost entirely about re-signing their own and not dipping into the free agency pool like Jerry Jones used to do. However, in today’s NFL, a bit of the old Jerry may need to come back.

If we look at the success of Philadelphia, the L.A. Rams, Kansas City, Cleveland or Chicago, all these teams re-signed their own and drafted well, but also went out of their way to either trade for or sign other players. Free agency helped refuel all these teams and all saw success in the same capacity as the draft did.

The Cowboys don’t need to break the bank but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to consider some players who will be available. This team has nowhere to go but up, so take that next step. The more help, the better.

Anthony Sherman

A bit of an underrated name, Anthony Sherman was another Pro Bowl player this season for Kansas City. Being brought back on a one-year "prove it" deal, he more than outplayed his contract.

The Cowboys' current fullback, Jamize Olawale, did play as well as people had hoped. He played well on special teams, but as a blocker for Ezekiel Elliott and a receiver out of the backfield (see the Colts game). Olawale was a very valuable player to Oakland but he wasn’t able to replicate the same success in Dallas.

Sherman might want to come back to Kansas City but not only do the Cowboys have more cap room in 2019 but the possibility of playing with arguably the best running back in football might be too big to pass up. Just imagine the next Daryl Johnston and Emmitt Smith.

Randall Cobb

Cowboys Headlines - Who will Emerge from the Cowboys Linebackers? 2

(AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

See how many quarterbacks there are in the NFL and then which teams gave them a plethora of weapons: Jared Goff, Patrick Mahomes, Matt Ryan, Baker Mayfield, Deshaun Watson, etc.

Amari Cooper appears to have re-established himself among the NFL’s elite receivers, Tavon Austin looks like a cheap re-sign who could be used in rotation both in the slot and outside, and Michael Gallup in the last four games of the season finally meshed with Dak Prescott and looks like a great number two receiver. Throw in Blake Jarwin and a likely second-round pick to be a tight end, and the Cowboys look like they’ve got plenty of weapons.

We need to consider now the other receivers Dallas has. Cole Beasley is hitting free agency and it doesn’t look like they’ll be able to keep him, Terrance Williams’ future is up in the air, Allen Hurns is coming back from a devastating injury, and Noah Brown is much more of an H-Back/sub-tight end option. Ideally, Dak Prescott’s next receiver will have good hands, run routes well and have plenty of speed.

Randall Cobb is not likely to return to Green Bay, and according to spotrac.com, his estimated value is currently a little under $8 million a year. Whether that’s too rich for the Cowboys’ taste or not, they should consider this. Cobb is only 28 years old and still can be productive on the right team, and given the right quarterback, one of the better slot receivers in the game.

K.J. Wright

The Legion of Boom is dead and, with it, the remnants of Seattle’s Super Bowl defense. K.J. Wright might not be on the same level as Bobby Wagner but he might be just what the Cowboys need in the linebacker rotation.

It looks like Sean Lee might have played his last down as a Cowboy. He’s never completed a full 16-game season, and with rising stars Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch back there, Lee is a likely cap casualty. Damien Wilson is a solid linebacker and often played up to the level that both Smith and Vander Esch played at but Wright might be an upgrade.

He’s 29 years old but won’t command a high price in the open market. His familiarity with Kris Richard also makes this an intriguing option. Knowing his success with Richard, it would make sense that Wright wants to finish his career in a system that he can thrive in and possibly make it back to the Super Bowl.

Matt Slauson

Depth was seriously tested on the offensive line in 2018. Travis Frederick missed all season with Guillain-Barré syndrome, Zack Martin missed time with knee issues, and Tyron Smith as well, for his neck.

Connor Williams looks like the future at right guard but Xavier Su'a-Filo filled in for most of the season. Going forward, the Cowboys need better, more veteran depth.

Matt Slauson has played for four different teams, playing in 114 games and starting in 111 of them. While he’s probably not the player he once was, Dallas really needs him for quality depth across the interior offensive line and veteran leadership.

He only cost the Colts $3 million last season, and that would be worth the price to bring him in. Depending on the health of the offensive line, any sort of upgrade on the second team is worth it.

Jalen Richard

Lee, Green Standouts on Cowboys Injury Report 1

(Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

It’s always good to have a full backfield. You need your lead dog, a solid number two and a speed receiver option to come out of the backfield. The Cowboys lacked the last one, and they could really use it.

Jalen Richard is a modest 5’8 200 lbs but has given the Raiders plenty of quality play, both as a change of pace back and especially at receiver. In fact, he had more receptions (68) than he did rushes (55) in 2018.

Since he’s likely to be mostly used as the Lance Dunbar-type of back that Jason Garrett misses, it's better that he catch passes than run the ball.

Richard shouldn’t cost very much and having him there would allow Elliott more rest, not having to force him out there on passing downs. Obviously Ezekiel Elliott is one of the best running backs in the game, at both running and catching, but quality depth with Jalen Richard might be what keeps him healthier, longer.

Jason Verrett

Health has been the biggest issue for Jason Verrett. His first two seasons looked like he was going to be a star in this league. However, in the last three seasons, he’s only played in five total games. It’s unlikely that he’ll be retained by the Chargers.

Jerry Jones has shown from time to time that he’ll give a player chances, despite off-field or injury issues (see Rolando McClain). A one-year "prove it" deal would make a lot of sense, especially if it improves the Cowboys' secondary depth.

Having played at TCU, Verrett is familiar with DFW and would probably be welcomed. There’s still plenty of time for Verrett to return his career back to where it once was. At a discount, the Cowboys might want to take advantage.

Earl Thomas

Kam Chancellor's Seahawks Career Ends, Will Earl Thomas be Next to Leave? 2

At last! We’ve come to THE name everyone has expected: Earl Thomas.

Leader of the Legion of Boom and future Hall-of-Famer, Earl Thomas broke the internet last season when he ran toward the Cowboys locker room, telling coach Jason Garrett to come and get him. Cowboys and Seahawks fans went crazy.

It was a move that was thought could happen before or during the draft, or possibly before the 2018 season started. But Seattle never budged.

Instead, Earl Thomas broke a bone in his leg, the game after he played the Cowboys and was placed on injured reserve. Now, Earl Thomas is a free agent, and Seattle is likely to lose him and get nothing back.

Earl Thomas has been to a pair of Super Bowls, winning one, and along with Kris Richard helped create one of the greatest secondaries in NFL history. This should be a no brainer. Earl Thomas could be the missing piece to the already elite Cowboys defense. Let’s make everyone’s wishes come true and make this happen Jerry Jones!



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Dallas Cowboys

3 Reasons Why Kellen Moore Should Not Become Offensive Coordinator

Jess Haynie

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Kellen Moore

The notion that current Quarterbacks Coach Kellen Moore will be promoted to Offensive Coordinator has divided many Cowboys fans. The idea is growing on some, but others remain very opposed. Is he really the right guy to help Dallas' offense get to the next level?

Yesterday, one of my fellow Inside The Star writers gave his reasons why Moore's promotion could be a positive for the Cowboys. I decided to play devil's advocate today and give three reasons why it would not be a good move.

For the record, I'm not opposed to the move. I don't want some retread like Todd Haley or Mike McCoy, who have been fired from more than one NFL team in their past. What innovation can they offer at this point?

But at the same time, do you really want a guy whose never held the job at any level before now? That leads us to my first reason for being against Kellen Moore.

1. Inexperience

Even Sean McVay spent three seasons as the Redskins' OC before he got his job in Los Angeles. Moore was playing QB just a year ago and has spent one season in a true coaching role. I know he was credited for being an assistant to the coaches during his playing career, but you'd still like a guy whose spent a little more time with a clipboard in hand.

Kellen could be a genius, and there are often reality checks that come whenever you step into a larger role. We often see something being done and think we understand, even thinking we could do it better, but then discover nuances and challenges that we didn't recognize before.

Most of the greatest QBs to ever play the game didn't have strong rookie seasons.

Of course, there's talk that Moore's role as OC would be supplemented by a lot of experienced assistants. Tight Ends Coach Doug Nussmeier has been a coordinator on the college level for high-profile programs like Alabama, Florida, and Michigan. We could even see Jason Garrett gets more hand-on with the offense again.

Perhaps Kellen would give a fresh approach and outlook that would push the Cowboys' offense forward in 2019. But you have to be concerned about his lack of experience, regardless of how highly you rate his potential.

3 Reasons Why Kellen Moore Should Not Become Offensive Coordinator

Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, QB Kellen Moore, and former OC Scott Linehan

2. Scott Linehan's Influence

If you didn't like Linehan's work with the Cowboys then you may be concerned that he's had a lot of influence on Kellen Moore's offensive philosophy. Between Dallas and Detroit, they have been together for all but one of Moore's seven years in the NFL.

Linehan was the Lions' OC when Moore signed with them following the 2012 draft. When Scott was fired by Detroit after the 2013 season, he came to Dallas while Kellen played one more year with the Lions. In 2015, Linehan played a key role in getting Moore signed by the Cowboys.

That said, we have no way of knowing how much Linehan has shaped Moore's ideas about football. It's only a hypothetical, but one that shouldn't be ignored.

It's entirely possible that Kellen may have learned some good things by observing Linehan, too. "What not to do" can be valuable experience. Perhaps Moore was shaking his head at some of Scott's calls and decisions as much as the rest of us.

I take some confidence in the fact that Jason Garrett, who knows offense, would be willing to make this move. His job is on the line and the willingness to give Kellen Moore increased responsibility means Jason must see something he likes.

It also would mean he doesn't blame Kellen for our third reason.

3. QB Regression in 2018

This is the clearest and most concerning evidence against Moore's ascension on the coaching staff. In his one year as Quarterbacks Coach, there was no sign of development in Dak Prescott's performance from his rookie season. Also, Cooper Rush's play in the 2018 preseason was a clear regression from last year.

But only insiders know how much of this is about the coach as opposed to players and other factors around them. Was Kellen wanting to coach things that didn't align with Linehan's offensive strategy? Was Moore really getting to do things his way?

Most would agree that Prescott's play got better as the season went on, and perhaps that's a feather in Moore's cap. In fact, it could be a sign that Kellen also improved in his role over time.

As for Rush, we've seen plenty of one-hit wonders in sports. Guys can get hot and cool off, and perhaps what we saw last August was closer to reality than his 2017 play.

But as smart and savvy as Kellen Moore has been praised to be as an offensive mind, there's no denying that it didn't seem to rub off on the Cowboys quarterbacks this year. Communicating and teaching what you know to others is a separate skill.

~ ~ ~

Ultimately, we don't know what kind of offensive coordinator Kellen Moore could turn out to be. But there's evidence on both sides of the argument, and the Cowboys will be taking a serious gamble if they elect to promote such an inexperienced guy to such an important role.

But in this era when everyone is looking for the next creative and innovative offensive mind, maybe it's the exact move this team needs.



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Dallas Cowboys

How Joe Looney Saved the Cowboys Season and Protected Their Future

Brian Martin

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Joe Looney Saved Cowboys 2018 Season and Protected Their Future

I can't really express enough how important Center Joe Looney was to the Dallas Cowboys 2018 success. His play was kind of lost in the shuffle of all of the ups and downs that took place throughout the year, which is why I wanted to try to set the record straight today.

Joe Looney is better known around Cowboys Nation and the outside media as the guy who dressed up as a 6'3", 315 pound Ezekiel Elliott earlier in the offseason. You may have forgotten, but he wore Zeke's No. 21 jersey with his mid-drift showing while miming the "Feed Me" sign during practice. It's hard to imagine a jokester like that could be such an integral part to the Cowboys 2018 season, but he was.

Despite his jocularity, Joe Looney more than adequately replaced Travis Frederick in the middle of the Cowboys offensive line this past season. In fact, he was really the only consistent thing about the starting five, which in itself deserves more attention than it's actually received.

The Cowboys OL was a mess this season. Tyron Smith and Zack Martin, Dallas' other Pro Bowl offensive lineman, battled injuries throughout the year and missed time because of it. Add that to the revolving door at left guard between Connor Williams and Xavier Su'a-Filo and La'el Collins up-and-down season, and Looney's play looks all that more impressive.

The fact that Joe Looney was pretty much an afterthought this past season really speaks volumes to the level of his play. One of the things that really made him so important to the Cowboys success though in 2018 was his availability.

Joe Looney, Travis Frederick

Dallas Cowboys C Joe Looney

It may surprise you to know, but Looney played every single offensive snap (1,076) in 2018. That's up from just 94 snaps in 2017 as the Cowboys backup guard/center. I don't know about you, but I find that really impressive. To go from basically not playing to starting every single game is a huge jump to make.

As impressive as it was for Joe Looney to play every single offensive snap in 2018 for the Cowboys, what he did with that opportunity is even more inspiring. If not for him, Dallas wouldn't have won the NFC East division or made the playoffs. But, he did more than save their season. He protected their future.

Just imagine for a second if Looney would've been a disaster taking over for Travis Frederick in the middle of the Cowboys OL. It shouldn't take too much imagination on your part, just think back to what happened in 2017 with Tyron Smith out of the lineup, forcing Chaz Green and Byron Bell to start at left tackle.

Quarterback Dak Prescott was forced to run for his life in 2017 with backups at LT, causing him to regress as a pocket passer and develop "happy feet". If not for Looney, it could've destroyed Prescott's confidence altogether. Instead, Prescott continued to improve throughout the 2018 season and looks to be the future at the position once again.

I don't know what you think about all of this, but for me Joe Looney was the Dallas Cowboys MVP in 2018. I believe it's time to give credit where credit is due, because he's definitely not receiving the kind of recognition he deserves.

Do you think Joe Looney saved the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season?



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