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The formula for success that the 2016 Dallas Cowboys had to follow was written long ago. Trust the offensive gameplan and rely on the defense to "bend but not break." That gameplan has led to a 4-1 record and impressive play in the process.
We've seen this play out over the first five games, four of which the Cowboys have ended in the win column, so we're not exactly surprised. What we are right now... is curious. There's more to this story than simply saying "the Cowboys offense is winning games for them," and I have found that more. Let's discuss.
All of these are facts regarding the 2016 Cowboys:
- They have more rush yards than anyone in the NFL (776).
- Ezekiel Elliott is leading the NFL in rushing (546).
- They average 3:31 per drive (longest in the NFL).
- They average 33:49 total time of possession in each game (2nd longest in the NFL).
- Four of their games, 80%, have had them hold the ball for at least 30:00 (tied for 2nd in the NFL).
- Of their 48 offensive possessions, 15 have been over five minutes in length. 14 of these have resulted in scores, eight of them being touchdowns. This is a 93.3 scoring efficiency.
- They have more first downs than anyone in the NFL. 52 have come via run, 59 via pass, 9 via penalty.
- They have the best conversion rate (50%) on third down in the NFL. They also are tied for first with the most games with 50% third down conversion (3) with New England and Pittsburgh.
This is exactly what the Cowboys want. This is the winning formula. This is the gameplan that has allowed them to be so successful on offense, defense, and in the #VictoryPoloMonday department.
Milking The Clock
It's obvious how the Cowboys have managed to drain time off of the clock in their first five games. When they hold the ball they typically do so for a long time. They run, they gain first downs, they lather, rinse, repeat.
The 33:49 time of possession that the Cowboys are averaging is one of the most essential ingredients here. In 2015 Dallas was tied for 11th in the league in this statistic, averaging 30:59. Those three minutes are gigantic. Considering that the Cowboys average 3:31 per drive this season, you're talking about almost a whole extra opportunity to hold the ball this season versus last. That is also one entire less opportunity for the opposing offense to be on the field, leaving our defense off of it as well.
It's also worth mentioning that in 2014 the Cowboys averaged 32:26 time of possession per game (best in the NFL that season). It feels like, because it's true, that this season's defense is far better than the division-winning one of two years ago. A lot of that is due to the fact that they are on the field less. It's amazing that the Cowboys have actually minimized how long the defense is on the field even further than what they miraculously did in 2014.
Putting It All In Perspective
The short answer here is that the Cowboys are holding onto the ball forever and capitalizing on it when they do. This is evidenced by their league-leading first/third down conversion rate.
It feels like the Giants loss was so long ago, but the reason it happened was because these opportunities were wasted. Dallas only converted one of their massive drives into touchdowns, and due to how much time they drain off the clock that left little at the end to really work with. They've managed to reach the endzone multiple times in every game since.
Another key element to what the Cowboys have done defensively has come via turnovers by the other team. These happen when your defense, our defense, is playing fresh. The time that is afforded to them by the offense keeps them that way and in a position to consistently make a play. The Bengals win was a microcosm of this entire idea.
The Cowboys are playing games exactly like they want to. The key to beating them is to get them out of that element, which is very difficult to do because Dallas can control the time of possession far more often than they cannot. When a team is able to put enough of a lead on them that they can't play their style is when things will get spicy. For now though, things are looking good around these parts.
Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper 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.
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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