For the first few games of the 2017 season, the Dallas Cowboys running game hasn't looked like the world-beaters they were in 2016. They've had a hard time creating any consistency, even though they've had their moments of effectiveness.
If we take a look back at the early part of that 2016 season, it's easy to see that they didn't get off to a hot start there either.
As a team the Dallas Cowboys rushed for 100 and 101 yards to start the season against the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins, respectively.
Here at InsideTheStar.com two of our very own writers have joined the chorus of many expressing concern over our run game in this short season.
"Through three weeks, it’s not an exaggeration to say that the offensive line has been the worst position group on the team. Trust me, I can’t believe I’m saying that either."
Staff Writer, Kevin Brady's (@KevinBrady88) criticism is a bit more focused on this week's film review; he's stated that Chaz Green has sabotaged the running game. To me that's a bit strong, but when Kevin talks OL, you can bet I'm paying attention.
If you follow Twitter during the game, you can see Cowboys Nation self-destruct with each Ezekiel Elliott carry that goes nowhere. Here are a couple of reasons why you shouldn't be worried about the Dallas Cowboys running game after only three weeks.
It Takes Time to Develop Chemistry
The biggest basis for Connor's concerns is my number one reason why we shouldn't worry at this point in the season. It takes time playing together to develop the chemistry that is so vital to an elite offensive line.
After an offseason where the team was trying to figure out who would be the starting right tackle and left guard, the current starting five for the Dallas Cowboys didn't play together all that much.
Remember Jonathan Cooper and Chaz Green were battling it out for the entirety of training camp with several other names mixed in.
While competition is a good thing, aspects of offensive line play like chemistry and cohesiveness go underrated. Understanding what the guys on either side of you are going to do and being able to trust the player next to you to do their job are both things that take time.
Being only three games into real football with a new left guard and a new right tackle, it may take a some time to get everyone on the same page for a full 60 minutes.
Now with Chaz Green being hampered by injury, it's possible that it could take longer if he's forced to sit out.
Really Good Defenses
In 2017, the Dallas Cowboys have faced three tough defenses to start the season. The New York Giants, the Denver Broncos, and the Arizona Cardinals are pretty good on the defensive side of the football.
In 2016, we saw what the New York Giants were able to do to this Dallas Cowboys team and they started off strong yet again in week one. Dallas was able to run for 129 yards, Dak Prescott accounting for 29 of those on three carries.
Elliott ran for 104 on 24 carries. An average of 4.33 yards per carry. A pretty good day against a pretty good defense if you ask me. They tried to take the running game away, but the team was able to wear them down and win on the ground when it mattered most.
We all remember what Denver did to Dallas. That is one of the three best defenses in the NFL, if not the best. Sometimes good defenses like that are gonna take you out of your game plan. Denver certainly did that by getting ahead early and making Dallas a one-dimensional passing team. Denver is first in the NFL in rushing yards allowed this season.
Check out Kevin's film breakdown of what went wrong vs the Denver Broncos.
Against the Arizona Cardinals, a team that came into the game only allowing 2.8 yards per carry, the Dallas Cowboys got back on track.
Despite Chaz Green's struggles, the team was able to make enough happen on the ground to allow Prescott to be effective in the play action game.
It wasn't pretty in the first half, but Dallas didn't get the ball much. In the second half though, Dallas was able to grind away with the running game as Elliott ran for 49 of his 80 yards. His yards per carry wasn't great but at 3.63 yards per carry, it was nearly a yard better per carry than what Arizona was giving up through two games.
After Elliott's sub par weeks one and two in 2016, he went on to run for 1,497 yards over the last 13 games (Elliott didn't play in the last game of the 2016 season).
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The Dallas Cowboys have faced some really strong defenses to start the year. Now they get the Los Angeles Rams, who have given up 139 yards per game on the ground. I imagine that the game plan will feature Ezekiel Elliott early and often.
After Los Angeles, the Cowboys get the Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers, two teams that aren't doing a lot against the run themselves.
The point of all this is that we need to relax about the running game for now. It hasn't been pretty, but aside from the Denver game, it's been effective. By Monday, we will all realize that panicking over the running game was a bit premature.
2018 In Review: Byron Jones Emerges As CB1
Heading into the 2018 season Byron Jones was being asked to prove himself. The former first round pick had fallen out of the coaches' good graces during his third season, though many of his struggles could be attributed to those very coaches which were then questioning his ability.
Being asked to play out of position, or at least in a spot which did not maximize his natural ability, Jones struggled in 2017. Too often he was playing in the box as a safety where his lack of physicality was exposed by the opponent's run game. This was mostly due to the coaching staff falling in love with his tight-end-erasing ability in man coverage, but backfired when overused as a safety.
Once hired the following offseason, Kris Richard and company decided to move Byron Jones to cornerback full time, allowing him to utilize his excellent coverage skills and athletic ability to the fullest, rather than putting him at a disadvantage in the box.
The results? Well, Jones had one of the best seasons of any cornerback in football, earning All Pro and Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his young career.
Byron Jones had a dominant season for Dallas
Pro Football Focus graded Jones as the sixth best cornerback in all of football last season, allowing just 0.79 yards per coverage snap. Despite not having an interception on the season, Jones still earned national recognition as one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league.
Down the stretch of the season, Chidobe Awuzie started to play up to the level which fans had hoped for during the preseason. He had been sticky in coverage most of the year, but now he was making plays on the ball at a much better rate, forcing incompletions. This led to an increase in targets to Jones' side, and though the increase resulted in more catches given up by the number one cornerback, I don't think Jones' play faltered as much as some will have you believe.
The fact is, when you get targeted more you are bound to give up more catches and yards. The key is to force them into contested catches, and make things as difficult for the receiver as possible when targeted.
Byron Jones continued to do this all season long, and fans should be excited for the next step of his growth in 2019.
Cowboys en Español: Comentando el Tope Salarial
Por muchos años, el tema del tope salarial ha sido un tema sensible para los Dallas Cowboys. Entre dinero muerto y otros problemas, el equipo ha tenido una situación delicada en este aspecto. Sin embargo, para la temporada del 2019 tienen más espacio de lo que estamos acostumbrados.
Según Over The Cap, los Cowboys tendrán aproximadamente 48 millones de dólares disponibles en 2019. Es importante recalcar que este número no es definitivo y puede cambiar. Año tras año, esta administración ha sido aficionada de reestructurar los contratos de ciertos veteranos para liberar espacio salarial constantemente. Además de esto, hay varios jugadores bajo contrato que el equipo podría decidir cortar para liberar aún más dinero.
Al ver sólo 48 millones disponibles, es complicado imaginar un escenario en que el equipo logre satisfacer todos sus objetivos. Hay bastantes candidatos a grandes extensiones en el equipo, principalmente dos jugadores. En una liga en la que quarterback es la posición más importante, la segunda más importante podría ser la del caza cabezas, cuyo objetivo es ir tras el quarterback contrario.
Pues en Dallas, hoy dos jugadores en estas posiciones que hay que extender. El más urgente sin duda es el defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence se puso el jersey del equipo cuando este lo designó a jugar bajo la etiqueta franquicia. Afortunadamente, el atleta de 26 años la hizo de soldado y jugó sin amenazar con faltar a entrenamientos ni pretemporada.
Lo que sí comentó es que no pasaría por lo mismo en 2019. Ahora, el momento está aquí y es tiempo de que los Cowboys lo extiendan. El valor de Lawrence es difícil de predecir, pero es bastante seguro que se acercará a los números de Khalil Mack. Mack hizo historia ganando un contrato que en promedio gana 23.5 millones al año. Si bien no anticiparía que lo supere, la cifra estará cerca al contrato del defensivo de los Chicago Bears.
Además está Dak Prescott, cuyo contrato probablemente estará por encima de los 25 millones anuales. Son contratos caros, pero son piezas fundamentales para el equipo. Definitivamente se les tiene que pagar a ambos. Son pilares que año tras año buscan equipos en toda la NFL.
Además de esto, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, Cole Beasley y más podrían tener un impacto en el tope salarial. Algunos buscan un contrato nuevo, otros una extensión. Pero honestamente, me parece que habrá más espacio en el tope salarial de lo que pensamos. Sólo es cuestión de tiempo para que los Cowboys comiencen a reestructurar a sus veteranos para ahorrarse unos cuantos millones para utilizar en agencia libre.
Tyron Smith, Tyrone Crawford entre otros pueden ser buenas opciones para comenzar este proceso. Antes era Jason Witten uno de los candidatos favoritos para este proceso, pero él ya se encuentra comentando partidos para ESPN. En Inside The Star, continuaremos actualizándote con contenido al día de los Dallas Cowboys.
Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason?
Super Bowl LIII is in the books, and the Dallas Cowboys can look back on a better-than-expected 2018 campaign. Having won the NFC East with a 10-6 record and bowing out to eventual finalists Los Angeles Rams, the Cowboys' young team can look ahead to 2019 as a chance to take another step forward.
The offseason is now upon us, with the NFL free agency period opening in the middle of March and the NFL Draft coming around at the end of April. Until those times, experts, pundits, and fans are left to assess their teams and predict their activities in the running to the start of next season.
The Dallas Cowboys are in a precarious position, with the team exceeding expectations, still being very young and having plenty of cap space, but also having many top-end players set to become free agents and being without a first-round pick in this year’s draft. There does, however, appear to be a way for the team to make improvements and solidify their place atop the NFC East and potentially go on to win in the Conference Finals.
Lock Down the Big Guns
Many see DeMarcus Lawrence as the top potential free agent this spring, so the Dallas Cowboys need to do everything in their power to lock down the 26-year-old defensive end.
Vice President Stephen Jones has emphasized the team’s target of retaining their own stars, per Star-Telegram, with Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and perhaps Byron Jones being in the discussion for long-term deals.
As it stands, the team will have roughly $48.5 million in cap space for next season, which leaves plenty of space to re-sign their top players. They look set to let go of Tavon Austin, David Irving, and quite possibly Cole Beasley, among others, leaving a need to add reinforcements.
Adding New Talent
One of the most heavily rumored moves for Dallas in this free agency is picking up native Texan and former Legion of Boom linchpin Earl Thomas, per Forbes.
Against the Rams in the playoffs and throughout the season, the Cowboys lacked a defenseman who could make plays on the pass. Thomas is one of the notorious ball hawks in the league, boasting 28 career interceptions, three of which came in just four games of last season.
If the Cowboys can re-sign their stars while keeping some space for an Earl Thomas-sized contract, which clocked in at $10.4 million in 2018 for the Seattle Seahawks, their odds of going all the way next season will significantly increase.
Right now, the expected names of the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs lead the odds to win the next Super Bowl at +750. Behind them, the Rams sit at +900 having suffered a suffocating defeat in this year’s Super Bowl. Much further down are the Cowboys at +2500 right now with redbet. If they re-sign Lawrence, pay their young stars, and bring in Thomas, they’ll shoot up the table of favorites.
Then, there’s also the additions in the draft to consider.
The Cowboys may be without a first-round selection, but that may end up working in their favor. Round one of the 2019 NFL Draft is set to be laden with defensive selections according to most mock drafts, with a few quarterbacks sprinkled around and a minimal selection of offensive weapons. If the Cowboys re-sign Lawrence, they’ll be looking good at defensive end, so should then turn to giving Prescott another weapon in the passing game, which will also help to keep defenses honest and give Elliott more room to operate.
As stated, the NFL is a passing league, and Prescott exploded once he was given a viable option in Amari Cooper. Michael Gallup is expected to take another step forward next season, but just in case, the Cowboys can add another strong receiving option in the draft thanks to the strength of the defensive class. A.J. Brown of Ole Miss will almost certainly go in the first round, but exciting talents in D.K. Metcalf, Parris Campbell, Marquise Brown, and Deebo Samuel could all still be available when Dallas rings in during the second round.
Improving Dallas' pass options and pass defense will go a long way toward improving the team and allowing them to push on to a bigger and better campaign in 2019.
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