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At the culmination of every NFL week I adjust a set of mini helmets to reflect the standings as they are at that particular point in the season. This is the most recent rendition:
NFL standings through Week 13, according to my mini helmet display.
After Week 1 of the 2016 season the Dallas Cowboys were in 4th Place in the NFC East. When Week 2 was done the Cowboys had moved up to 3rd Place in the NFC East, where they stayed through Week 3. At the culmination of Week 4 the Cowboys managed to claw their way up to 2nd Place in the NFC East. Finally, after Week 5 of the 2016 NFL season... the Dallas Cowboys sat atop the NFC East.
Since then (Week 5 ended on Sunday, October 9th) America's Team has never surrendered the title of Lead Dog in the NFC East race. When the Cowboys officially begin play against the Giants in New York this Sunday, that will mark 63 straight days of dominance in the NFL's most storied division.
There's another thing about this upcoming Cowboys game against the G-Men. While a victory would certainly extend their streak of sitting atop the NFC East, it would add permanence to it. A win in New York on Sunday wins the NFC East for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys have been holding down the NFC East for basically the entire season. It's time to write that message in stone. We hold down the NFC East, and we are going to prove it. Welcome to my 5 Bold Predictions. Let’s roll.
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Anthony Hitchens Gets The Interception That Wasn't This Time Around
Last week in Minnesota the Dallas Cowboys saw a star-studded effort by one of their up-and-coming young linebackers - Anthony Hitchens. "Hitch", as he's known, had what would have been one of the finer interceptions on the season if not for a penalty committed by his teammate, Orlando Scandrick.
Later in the ballgame Hitch almost secured another interception... it was just seemingly his night out in Minnesota. We saw Anthony Hitchens kind of catch lightning in a bottle late down the stretch of the 2014 season... this is simply the time that he has a proclivity to shine for.
Get that interception, Hitch. You deserve it.
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Jason Garrett Wins Another Challenge
Even though the Dallas Cowboys entered last week's game in Minnesota with 10 wins to their name, Jason Garrett managed to do something in the game that he hadn't all season.
With the Cowboys rocking color rush uniforms, Jason Garrett threw a red challenge flag... and won! For the first time across the entire 2016 season, Jason Garrett's red handkerchief came in handy. Oh, what a sweet season.
The nature of the NFL in 2016 is that weird calls are made all the time - by the way, how sad is that? - and coaches continually have to challenge so many things in order to make sure the correct call is made.
Warm up the arm, Jason Garrett. You're going to be tossing a red flag on Sunday Night.
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Jason Witten Has 10+ Catches On The Night
The only thing the Cowboys left in Minnesota last week was an impressive streak of Jason Witten's, 130 consecutive game with a catch. At the end of the day stuff like this is significantly less important than a win, but it still stings just a bit.
A lot of comparisons have been made about the 2016 Cowboys to the 2007 Cowboys. These are the only teams in franchise history to go 11-1 through their first 12 games, and they both dominated teams in epic fashion.
On December 9th, 2007 - nine years ago to the date, on the day this being published - the Cowboys traveled to Detroit for a game against the Lions. In the same timeless effort he exhibits almost a decade later, Jason Witten was dominant. He had 15 catches for 138 yards and a touchdown as the Dallas Cowboys clinched the NFC East.
Big Wit is going over 10 catches. It's destiny.
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Dez Bryant Channels This Night From 2014 With A 3 TD Performance
Obviously the last time the Dallas Cowboys had this level of success was the 2014 season. That year, seven days after Thanksgiving, they traveled to face an NFC North team (the Chicago Bears) and picked up an important victory.
Those Cowboys had 10 days of rest following Chicago and used it as momentum before a big-time divisional showdown in Philadelphia against the Eagles on Sunday Night Football. There was a lot of trash-talking going on before that game, but the real trash on the field was the quality of play the Eagles defensive backs exhibited. Dez Bryant caught 6 passes for 114 yards and 3 touchdowns.
The 2014 Cowboys would end up clinching the division a week later, but these Cowboys have the chance to do it in the primetime divisional showdown with the Giants. It is, for all intents and purposes, the same set of circumstances for them. They traveled to face an NFC North team (the Minnesota Vikings) seven days after Thanksgiving, and they are now on the road against an NFC East team with 10 days of rest on Sunday Night Football.
Just like he did in this game two years ago, Dez Bryant is going to hit the hat trick of touchdowns on the night. Bam, bam, bam.
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The Dallas Cowboys Win By A Poetic Score Of 37-34
The Cowboys and Giants have squared off many a time in their long history, but they have only ever met once on December 11th (like they will on Sunday). This was December 11th, 2011, and it was the famous JPP-block game on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
We find ourselves with another December 11th Sunday Night Football game upon us, but unlike five years ago Jason Pierre-Paul won't be on the field as he had surgery tending to a groin injury.
That 2011 Giants victory in Dallas propelled New York to a run that would culminate in a Super Bowl XLVI Championship. It also propelled the Cowboys to a road that saw them finishing 8-8 on the season, a feat they'd match each of the next two seasons.
This is poetry at its finest, except this time it rhymes with Dallas. Sometimes fate circles back around, seemingly giving us another chance at what we once almost had. Here is our chance. Here is our December 11th. Let's win it exactly like we lost it five years ago, by a score of 37-34. Huzzah.
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Bonus Bold Predictions
Remember, if you want YOUR Bold Prediction featured here, tweet it at me! It’s that simple! Here are this week’s contributions, thanks to all those who shared!
@rjochoa early #boldprediction first game, cowboys won turnover battle and lost game, this week we lose turnover battle and win the game
We'll talk plenty of #DALvsNYG this week, so our bold prediction for @rjochoa is that @ninjafast22 has a special teams TD! @CowboysNation
@rjchoppy @rjochoa Bold prediction. Anthony Brown shuts down Odell. 2 INTS
@rjochoa ok so for bold predictions: Eli manning is going to throw a pick to give the Cowboys the divison and the win! As well as
@rjochoa bold prediction vs the G-men Sunday RJ, Dak throws for 320, 4 td's, Dez 120 yards 2 td's,Zeke 140 yards 1td,Beasley 100 yards n 2td
@rjochoa I got a prediction Butler and Beasley will get a td.. and Irving will get a force fumble
@rjochoa Bold prediction is that @nino9brown picks off Eli twice, one being a pick 6. And holds his matchup to less than 30 yards.
@rjochoa ...2 int's from our defense and both Dak and Zeke have rushing TD's.
Top 5 Offseason Priorities for the Dallas Cowboys
The 2018 NFL Season has come to an end for the Dallas Cowboys and now the team looks to the offseason to gear up for what should be another run toward the playoffs in 2019. As with every team heading into every offseason, they'll have some difficult decisions to make with some of their own players as well as deciding how they want to attack free agency and the draft.
The Cowboys have drafted really well over the last three seasons in particular, but have had a long track record of success in the Jason Garrett era. How we judge the draft this season should take into account what Amari Cooper has been to this team. He's been everything the Dallas Cowboys hoped for when they sent their 2019 first round draft pick to the Oakland Raiders for Cooper. The Cowboys, without a first round pick, will have less room for maneuvering around the draft, but as we've seen in the past, they are just as effective in the second round and beyond as they are in the first round.
As we get going in the offseason, let's look at the Dallas Cowboys 5 Most Pressing Priorities.
1. Dealing with DeMarcus Lawrence
The NFL is a passing league. You need players who can throw the ball and catch the ball. On the defensive side of the ball, you must have guys that can get after the passer and cover the receiver.
After moving to the 4-3 defense and the departure of DeMarcus Ware, the Cowboys struggled to find any pass rushing consistency at the defensive end position. They were led at the position by players like Jeremy Mincey, George Selvie, and Benson Mayowa. Finally, the Cowboys selection of DeMarcus Lawrence is paying off has he's had double-digit sacks each of the last two seasons and has been equally effective against the run.
The Cowboys have the option of using the franchise tag on Lawrence again this offseason, which is a possibility as it would prevent other teams from negotiating with the Cowboys best defensive player. While the Cowboys need to continue to build the team through the draft and extend a few players, there isn't a bigger offseason priority than getting DeMarcus Lawrence's deal done.
Jason Garrett on soon-to-be free agent DeMarcus Lawrence: He's certainly as big a priority as there is
2. Making Big Adjustments to the Offense
There was a lot of consternation yesterday at the comments Jason Garrett made to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas-Fort Worth about Scott Linehan's future with the team. It's obviously a possibility that he returns in 2019, but as Stephen Jones mentioned later in the day, it's too early to begin discussing those things as they haven't really began to review the season.
Scott Linehan has been good as an offensive coordinator and he's been a part of Dak Prescott's progression, but there are certain areas of this offense that need to be reworked or shaken up. Whether the Cowboys decide to move on from Linehan or they decide to make adjustments to the scheme, something needs to change. In particular, the team's insistence on using jumbo packages on every short yardage situation has made them predictable.
On 4th and 1 on Saturday, the team went to the Ezekiel Elliott in jumbo formations one too many times. In an era when most of the NFL is attempting to spread things out with 11 and 10 personnel, the Cowboys continue to force two and three tight end formations.
This offseason is just getting started and the Cowboys have a lot of decisions to make about their offense, but none is bigger than figuring out who the play caller is going to be. While the team may be publicly supporting Scott Linehan at the moment, it would be highly unlikely for the team to bring him back for another year.
3. Continue Building the Wide Receiver Corp
The Dallas Cowboys began the process of overhauling the wide receiver corp last offseason when they released Dez Bryant, signed Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, drafted Michael Gallup and Cedric Wilson, and traded for Tavon Austin and most importantly Amari Cooper.
Generally, when the Dallas Cowboys have attempted to rebuild a position, they've done it over a few seasons, like they did with the offensive line, the defensive line, and the linebackers.
This offseason, the Cowboys will have a few decisions to make at the wide receiver position. Do they bring back Cole Beasley? What about Tavon Austin? Allen Hurns would have likely been a player the Cowboys could have used in the slot to replace Cole Beasley, but he's hurt and possibly won't be ready for training camp.
On offense, the passing game began to take shape in the second half of the season as Dak Prescott began to get more comfortable with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. They'll make a nice 1-2 punch heading into 2019, but there is still room for adding a player or two. Depending on the type of contract he'd want, it would be great to bring back Cole Beasley. It's become clear that he's not as big of a focal point in the offense since Amari Cooper has emerged, but he's still a good player that can make some big catches for you.
If the team looked to the draft, one player that is high on my list is Oklahoma Wide Receiver Marquise Brown. He's a home run hitter in every stretch of the imagination. With speed for days, he could be the field stretcher that the team has struggled to find. Not only does he have speed, he's an excellent route runner and has excellent hands and spends the offseason training with Steelers Wide Receiver and cousin Antonio Brown.
If the Cowboys wanted to go the free agency route to add a wide receiver, they should look at Jamison Crowder of the Washington Redskins or Adam Humphries of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to fill their slot wide receiver role. If you remember back to the Bucs game, Humphries was giving the Cowboys fits totaling 10 catches on 12 targets for 79 yards. Crowder struggled with injuries this season and had a down year, but that could mean he'd be cheap to sign, which is the way the Dallas Cowboys do free agency.
There are some nice players in the draft and free agency that the Cowboys could look to add to their wide receiver group, but they'll also be getting back Cedric Wilson, their sixth round pick from last season. The team really liked the production that Wilson had at Boise St. and Wilson was playing well in training camp and was pushing for a roster spot before his season ending injury.
Noah Brown is also a player in line to see more snaps moving forward. He's played well when called upon, using his superior blocking to make an impact in the running game while displaying nice route running and hands in the passing game. If Cole Beasley didn't return to the Cowboys this offseason, I could see the Cowboys giving Brown an expanded role on the outside or using him as a big slot receiver, similar to how the Arizona Cardinals use Larry Fitzgerald or how the New Orleans Saints use Michael Thomas. He has the size to be a mismatch for slot corners and the route running to be a mismatch for linebackers. They could also use Brown on the outside, put Cooper in the slot and then when they want to use Brown as a blocker, could motion him in-line.
Wide receiver will be a big question this offseason as teams must have three or four solid receivers to run their offense. The Cowboys have some players that could be given expanded roles, but should continue to add to the position through the draft.
Most of 2018 was spent discussing the possibility of trading for Seattle Seahawks Safety Earl Thomas, and I imagine that much of this offseason will be spent discussing him again. If you got tired of Earl Thomas talk last year, get ready, it's about to pick up.
Earl Thomas will be a free agent this offseason, so he'll be free to sign with any team he chooses and he's made it known that he'd like to play for the Dallas Cowboys. There are several question marks when it comes to Earl Thomas that the Cowboys will have to consider.
When will he be ready to go? What kind of money will he demand? Has health become a concern?
All legitimate questions for a player that will be coming off a broken leg suffered this season. He should be ready for offseason training as there have been videos posted to his Instagram showing him running stadiums. If he's ready to roll by free agency and is able to pass his physical, I bet they take another long look at adding him to the roster.
They have another free agent option that they can look into though in New York Giants Safety Landon Collins. He's a different type of safety than Earl Thomas, but Collins is a player. He's more of a "box" or strong safety that you could use to play the Jeff Heath role, which would leave Xavier Woods playing the free safety spot.
5. Defensive Tackle
Antwaun Woods, Maliek Collins, Tyrone Crawford, Caraun Reid, and Daniel Ross played well for the Dallas Cowboys defense, but as we saw on Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams, they were lacking as a group. In Woods, Collins, and Crawford, you feel good with what you have as you approach free agency and the draft, but they need to add a player that can help them with their interior pass rush.
Much of the pass rush that the Cowboys received this season came from their defensive ends and linebackers. The tackles were good, but inconsistent in their ability to collapse the pocket and not allow any room for opposing quarterbacks to step into.
This is a draft that is deep on defense and the Cowboys will have a chance to add to their defensive tackle spot with their second round pick. With Rod Marinelli likely returning to the Dallas Cowboys next offseason, we know his ability to find diamonds in the rough. I wouldn't be surprised if they go practice squad diving again this offseason and find a player that can have a significant impact like David Irving did in 2017 and Antwaun Woods did in 2018.
It's unlikely that David Irving will be back and Tyrone Crawford could be a cap casualty if the Cowboys no longer want to carry his $10 million cap number.
The Cowboys are likely to bring back DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory is still under contract, as well as Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong. They are pretty solid at defensive end, but could still add a player to compete with Taco and Armstrong. Defensive tackle though, is a place where they need to make a move to upgrade the position. The defense was really good last season, but needs to look for ways to improve heading into 2019.
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The Dallas Cowboys will do as they always do this offseason as they approach the roster; sign inexpensive veterans with the hope that they outperform their contracts and attempt to draft well yet again. It's a formula that has worked for them and there's no reason to think it won't continue moving forward.
Dallas Cowboys Re-Sign OL Coach Marc Colombo Through 2019
Hiring six new positional coaches and a special teams coordinator prior to the 2018-19 season, the Dallas Cowboys saw plenty of success with this turnover - rebounding from a 3-5 start to reach the Divisional Round before having their season end at the LA Rams. At arguably their most important position, the Cowboys admitted to hiring the wrong fit when Paul Alexander was fired mid-season. Very fortunately, Alexander's assistant was ready to step up and become one of the most respected coaches on the staff, with former Cowboys Tackle Marc Colombo receiving a new contract as OL Coach through next season.
The team announced that Colombo would return on Tuesday. The day prior, Head Coach Jason Garrett said he expects Center Travis Frederick to be ready for the entirety of the offseason program. The two-time 1st Team All-Pro missed the entire season dealing with Gillian-Barre Syndrome.
Source: Cowboys have signed offensive line coach Marc Colombo to a new contract
There's still work to be done this offseason for the Cowboys to maintain their usual standard on the offensive line. Just days removed from the end of the season, in which the Cowboys became the first playoff squad since 1988 to start all players under the age of 30, the Dallas OL is in great position and should remain an overwhelming strength under Colombo.
With Joe Looney set to return to a backup role and Xavier Su'a-Filo under contract, even the Cowboys depth up front is built up nicely well before free agency or the Draft. Cam Fleming and Marcus Martin are the Cowboys offensive linemen with expiring contracts.
The Cowboys averaged 136.9 rush yards per game under Alexander, who introduced an unfamiliar scheme to established veterans like Tyron Smith and Zack Martin. Alexander's time as the Cowboys OL Coach also stunted the growth of rookie Left Guard Connor Williams, who finished the season strong once returning to the starting lineup.
The Cowboys allowed 56 sacks this season, 23 of which (41%) came in the six games under Alexander. Colombo had served as Alexander's assistant, believed to be a candidate to run his own OL room at some point.
When that opportunity came sooner than expected, the Cowboys brought back former offensive line coach Hudson Houck to assist Colombo.
A projected starting lineup of Smith, Williams, Frederick, Martin, and La'el Collins is what Colombo and Houck will have to look forward to when the Cowboys offense takes the field in 2019 - along with rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott and fourth-year Quarterback Dak Prescott.
Colombo described himself as the "luckiest guy on the planet," when asked about his opportunity to continue coaching with his former team.
Leighton Vander Esch To Top Rookie Season With Pro Bowl Trip
Dallas Cowboys' rookie Leighton Vander Esch has done enough to prove every single doubter wrong. When Roger Goodell called his name during the 2018 NFL Draft in Arlington, Texas, many in Cowboys Nation rejoiced at the thought of having a young linebacker for a defense surrounded with uncertainty. However, many analysts doubted the draft pick. For a lot of people (sadly, I include myself in this category), the pick should've been used on another player. For most, despite acknowledging his raw talent, Vander Esch wouldn't be able to provide the Cowboys with an instant impact player. Ah, well.
After a remarkable season, Vander Esch (a.k.a. Wolf Hunter) has earned a spot on this season's second-team All-Pro. When the Pro Bowl voting began, Vander Esch was snubbed from the ballot itself. It didn't took the NFL long to realize their mistake and add the Cowboys' linebacker to the list. Despite missing the cut at first, Vander Esch will be heading to Orlando to play in this year's Pro Bowl on January 27th.
DallasCowboys linebacker @VanderEsch38 has been added to the 2019 Pro Bowl Roster. 🐺 Congratulations, rookie! → https://t.co/AYqEUy2tZx
The former Boise State Bronco will be replacing Carolina Panthers' LB Luke Kuechly, who won't be participating because of an injury.
Vander Esch racked up 140 tackles (per Pro Football Reference), ranking third in the league in this category. He finished the season as the fifth best linebacker in Pro Football Focus' rankings.
But numbers aren't really enough to fully appreciate what Vander Esch did for the Dallas Cowboys. A team that was used to seeing its defense break when veteran Sean Lee went down injured, did not only get someone to fill in for Lee. Vander Esch actually upgraded the Cowboys' defense. It didn't matter where the ball went, he was always around when opponents were tackled. His speed and chance of direction allowed him to run sideline to sideline, covering a huge portion of the field.
Along Jaylon Smith, Dallas managed to have one of the best linebacker duos in the NFL.
The last time a defensive rookie from the Cowboys went to the Pro Bowl was in 1981, when Everson Walls made the team. Vander Esch is the 11th rookie in team history to be selected to the Pro Bowl. This year, the rookie will be accompanied by DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin and Ezekiel Elliott.
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