As the 2017 NFL season draws near, the Dallas Cowboys will be increasingly scrutinized by fans and the media. This article is the first installment of a series in which I will set out some realistic expectations for various Cowboys players.
The first player up is the face of the franchise, the newest starting quarterback to wear the Dallas Cowboys star on his helmet; Dak Prescott.
What a Rush!
Rushed into action due to injuries for the incumbent starter, Tony Romo, and first backup QB, Kellen Moore, Dak Prescott won 2016 NFL Rookie of the Year honors and turned in a rookie season for the ages.
Prescott tied Ben Roethlisberger's NFL record for wins by a rookie quarterback with 13.
His quarterback rating was third in the NFL in 2016, behind Tom Brady and Matt Ryan -- you know, the guys who played in the Super Bowl last year. Prescott was just ahead of Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers, two guys who will likely have their own gold jackets and shrines in Canton within the next decade. Dak's quarterback rating (QBR) of 104.9 set a new rookie record, besting Robert Griffin III's 2012 season.
He played with a poise that is uncommon for rookies in this league, and the determination to successfully lead the Cowboys to several comeback victories.
What he displayed in the playoff loss to the Green Bay Packers is something that should excite Dallas Cowboys fans around the world.
Getting down 25-3 early to the Packers, Dak Prescott was able to rally the team and slowly chip away at the lead. They were eventually able to tie the game and, if not for an epic Jared Cook catch that will be a feature in Aaron Rodgers' Hall of Fame highlight video, your Dallas Cowboys would have had a shot in overtime.
But the past is the past.
It's behind us.
So What do we Have to Look Forward to in Year Two?
The games in which Dak Prescott struggled most were against the New York Giants -- both losses, the Philadelphia overtime win, and the Minnesota Vikings win. In both losses to New York, Prescott had them close enough to win. It wasn't great play by him, but Dallas was there with a chance to win in the final few minutes of each game.
Against the Eagles and the Vikings, he and the offense started off slow. But as the game went on, Prescott was able to make big plays to help the team shrug off the slow start and come away with a victory.
Throughout the season, he showed he can make adjustments, battle back from slow starts, and have his team in position to win the game.
Dak Prescott seems to be a natural leader who has already won over the locker room.
Since year one was such an overwhelming success for Dak Prescott, we have to ask: just how high is his ceiling in year two?
Whatever you do, don't fall into the trap of the "sophomore slump" narrative.
Yes, defenses have more tape on Prescott entering his second season. But in turn, Prescott has more tape too, tape of himself against NFL competition and tape on that NFL competition. Prescott knows what needs to improve in his second season. And if 2016 is any evidence, we got a glimpse of the kind of work ethic and commitment he has.
I don't foresee a drop in performance from Dak. He was incredibly efficient and seemed to move the team down the field at will.
A Statistical Jump?
Statistically, he was really good.
He put up a passer rating of 104.9, threw for 3,667 yards, 23 touchdowns, only four interceptions, and he also ran for 282 yards and six touchdowns. I don't anticipate much, if any decline statistically for Prescott in his second year, and here's why...
The Dallas Cowboys are a run-first team.
They are one of the few whose goal at the outset of every game is to get the run game established. This allows them to control time of possession, get a lead, and then use the run game to keep it.
This offense caps Dak Prescott's passing output a bit.
It's definitely possible the numbers see an increase, if only because he will likely play in all 16 games in 2017 (remember he only played a drive in the season finale).
Remember that Tony Romo also played 15 games in a run-first offense -- in 2014 -- and had just over 3,700 passing yards. Romo threw for more touchdowns (34) than Prescott (23), but if you include Prescott's rushing touchdowns, his 29 total touchdowns wasn't far behind Romo's total.
Because Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys earned a first-place schedule for 2017, there's a good chance they don't see a 13-3 finish this season.
Vegas sports book, Westgate Superbook, has Dallas set at 9.5 wins for this season.
If I were a betting man, I'd take the over.
I do think that nine wins is a solid floor for a team that looks to be getting better despite several key offseason departures. While nine wins is the floor, I think that 12 wins is the ceiling, which would be a good season by anyone's standards.
Where Can He Improve His Game?
Inside The Star Staff Writer Brian Martin described three reasons why Dak Prescott will thrive in 2017. In addition to that, Prescott will improve because he has a few areas with room for improvement.
- First, Prescott showed a lack of awareness at times when facing pressure coming from the right side. He was very good at sensing pressure from his blind side, but struggled from the front side pressure (which is weird, should be the opposite). A full offseason to review 2016 film will allow him to work with quarterback coach Wade Wilson to detect that pressure with better efficiency.
- Secondly, as the season wore on, the team gave Prescott more freedom to use his legs. While I would prefer not to see many designed runs for the quarterback, such as they like to do in Carolina, I would like to see Dak scramble for yards when nothing is available down field.
- The final thing that he can improve on is his accuracy. Don't get me wrong, he was an accurate passer in 2016, but he can be better. Has to figure out how to lead his receivers better so that they will have opportunities for yards after the catch.
The Great Expectations for Dak Prescott
Dak Prescott improves upon his 2016 season and is in the conversation for NFL MVP honors, while leading Dallas to its first Super Bowl victory in more than 20 years.
Realistic Expectations for Dak Prescott
Prescott repeats his 2016 campaign, statistically speaking, while Dallas makes the playoffs as a division winner. The team advances to at least the NFC Championship Game.
The sky is the limit for Dak Prescott in his second year with the Cowboys. A few years down the road we may be talking about the organization shelling out the money to make him the top paid quarterback in the NFL.
What kind of expectations do you have for Dak Prescott in 2017?
Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense
For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.
Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.
He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.
During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.
Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.
With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.
Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.
Amari Cooper Wins 2nd NFC Offensive Player of the Week Award of 2018
For the second time in just three weeks, Dallas Cowboys receiver Amari Cooper has been named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.
Cooper scored three touchdowns, including the game winner in overtime, to lead the Cowboys to victory last Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles. He has 10 catches for 217 yards, which led all NFL receivers last week.
After his record-setting performance during week 14, @AmariCooper9 is the FIRST #DallasCowboys to win NFC Player of the Week twice in a season! → https://t.co/kvBDIeOgBd #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote #ProBowlVote
As the official website stated, Cooper is the first Cowboy to win the award twice in the same year. He's also the first Cowboy to be named Offensive Player of the Week since Ezekiel Elliott in 2016.
Before this year, Elliott was the only Dallas player to win the Offensive award in three seasons. Cooper has now done it twice in three weeks.
Since being traded to the Cowboys, Amari Cooper has amassed 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns.
His wasted time in Oakland may keep Cooper out of the Pro Bowl this year, but he's already become a fan favorite in Cowboys Nation. Congratulations to Amari for another well-deserved award!
David Irving Out Again for Cowboys, Does Defense Need Him?
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Tackle David Irving, once a key member of the team's defense, will not make his return after all against the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. For the second straight week, Irving was reportedly trending towards suiting up before being ruled out. The Cowboys haven't missed his unique presence for 13 weeks (playing against the Jaguars and Redskins), including through an ongoing four game win streak that began with a win against these Eagles on the road.
In that road win, veteran Tyrone Crawford recorded a sack and three tackles, while Antwaun Woods added two for a Dallas defense that held Philadelphia to 23 first downs and 71 rushing yards. The Eagles managed to cross the Cowboys' 30-yard line just four times.
There are many scenarios in which the Cowboys could have cut ties with Irving for not being worth the off-field trouble he's caused - beginning the season with a four game suspension. The absolute best case scenario is what they've realized amidst this turnaround, with other defensive linemen taking advantage of the opportunity left behind by Irving.
While it can still be true that Irving would make more splash plays than the likes of Crawford, Woods, Maliek Collins, and Caraun Reid, this defensive tackle group deserves praise for their ability to step in. Pass rush ability is one thing teams can't have enough of, and the Cowboys are missing some with Irving, finding ways to win thanks to the other traits these defenders bring to the table.
Cowboys Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard may effectively be the team's defensive coordinator with an emphasis on the back seven, but DC Rod Marinelli's impact is still felt - particularly up front. Regardless of where they're lined up and deployed, the Cowboys front four is expected to be disruptive on every snap, something this scrappy unit excels at.
Prepared once again to play on the edge this season, Crawford is thriving at his original position of 3T-DT. Crawford has two sacks, nine total tackles, and three other hits on the quarterback over the past four weeks. Leading by example with a relentless spirit on every play, Crawford has meant just as much to the Cowboys defensive ends as Irving could.
In a short period of time, the Cowboys have gone from building up Irving thanks to his transcendent ability to make those around him better to simply -- and importantly -- being better across the defense.
Led by DeMarcus Lawrence as their premier rusher, the Cowboys defensive line is a lot for opposing offenses to contain. The "Hot Boyz" work up front has allowed Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch to play fast and make plays all over the field.
Maliek Collins, battling back from his second broken foot in three years, is proving again he's a patented Marinelli guy. Collins' play speaks for itself when considering if the Nebraska product is best as a 3T or 1T tackle. Wherever he's asked to play, Collins creates penetration with an explosive first step and can finish at the quarterback with an array of power rush moves.
At 7-5 and fighting for their playoff lives, the Cowboys are done making excuses on the 2018 season. Their strides on defense speak for themselves, and with a group that keeps Dallas in every game they'll play, the door remains open for David Irving to earn snaps again when ready.
The Cowboys don't know any better than their play without Irving right now, and as winners of four straight, it's worth questioning if we'll see Irving over the last three weeks of the regular season.
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