The Denver Broncos captured the historic Super Bowl 50 title thanks to a defense that absolutely dominated the Carolina Panthers - led by MVP Von Miller who recorded 2.5 sacks and forced a fumble that was recovered in the end zone for a touchdown.
The Broncos forced 7 turnovers this postseason, which translates to 7 extra possessions for Peyton Manning - a QB that desperately needed these extra chances on some short fields.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys 2015 defense was completely starved of turnovers. Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel very rarely saw the luxury of a short-field off an extra possession provided by the Dallas defense.
The 12-4 Cowboys of 2014 had a field day on short fields generated by 31 takeaways. In 2015, the team saw just 11 takeaways.
However, throughout the season, the Cowboys defensive unit did show some very positive signs for the future. While the impact play makers weren't there like they were for the Broncos, the Dallas defense ranked fifth in passing yards allowed per game and 22nd against the rush.
It is important to note that, with that rushing defense, the Cowboys saw the 7th most rushing attempts against them this year due to opposing offenses playing with the lead against the Cowboys. Even still, they gave up fewer yards than three teams who saw more attempts against them - one of which being the Philadelphia Eagles.
It was pointed out throughout the season that Rod Marinelli's defensive scheme is better suited to be on the field with the Cowboys ahead in the game. Assuming we see plenty of that upon the return of Tony Romo, let's examine just how close this Dallas defense could be in 2016 to the intimidating, game-wrecking force that was the Denver Broncos in 2015.
The Broncos defense starts and ends with their bookend pass rushers Von Miller and DeMarcus Ware. The two of them combined for 8.5 sacks this postseason.
The same can be said about the Cowboys defensive front. We spent much of the time leading up to this season hyping up a defensive line that could terrorize quarterbacks with the likes of Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, rookie Randy Gregory, free-agent acquisition Greg Hardy, Jeremy Mincey and Nick Hayden.
The unit was a massive disappointment overall, recording just 31 sacks - three more than the team had in 2014.
However, Randy Gregory missed four games early in the season and was never the same after returning from his ankle injury. For an edge rusher, the ability to turn on that ankle comfortably is so important. Without that, Gregory's rookie campaign was essentially derailed before it could truly get started.
DeMarcus Lawrence equally appeared to be heading towards a disappointing season, recording just three sacks through the first 12 weeks of the season before finishing the year strong with 5 sacks in his final 5 games.
While no tandem currently in the league compares to Ware and Miller, a refreshed Gregory paired with a surging Lawrence could be the makings of something special around the edges for the Cowboys defensive line.
In the middle, Tyrone Crawford will hope to see a healthy 2016 after playing through immense pain all this season, and David Irving should find a role next to him at defensive tackle as well.
Whether the team decides to resign Greg Hardy or not, the Cowboys defensive line could be a much-improved unit in 2016.
The Broncos defensive domination does not stop along the line. Linebackers Brandon Marshall and Danny Trevathan make a formidable duo, with Trevathan leading the team with 109 tackles, and Marshall not far behind with 102.
The Cowboys found their own dynamic duo at this position with Sean Lee and Rolando McClain. There is no question that this defense is a different unit with and without "The General" Lee on the field, and getting him back for 15 games was a refreshing site.
McClain benefited greatly from having Lee out there, as he put together a very solid season after serving his initial four game suspension. Anthony Hitchens took another step forward, while Damien Wilson went from a training camp star to a player that barely saw the field in 2015.
If McClain returns alongside Lee in 2016, the Cowboys have their foundation at this position. Hitchens will only see more and more playing time, while Wilson can aim to once again put together a great training camp and earn some more playing time.
There is also the strong possibility that the team will use the fourth overall pick in the upcoming draft at this position, by selecting Myles Jack out of UCLA. Jack would add even more speed and athleticism to the Dallas front seven.
The Cowboys' secondary has been a relative sore spot for a long time now. Yet, perhaps the best thing this entire team gave us in 2015 was rookie safety Byron Jones. With that said, Dallas has a long way to go to make this secondary a championship caliber unit.
Morris Claiborne put together his best season as a Cowboy in 2015, but it is uncertain as to if it was good enough to earn him another contract. The free agent corner will likely test the market, and likely encounter teams desperate enough at the position to offer much more than the Cowboys are willing to.
Across from Claiborne is Brandon Carr, who essentially needs no further introduction. Anyone following the Cowboys has known about Carr's struggles since joining the team. While he put together some solid performances this season down the stretch, the Cowboys may finally be preparing to move on from Carr.
However, Dallas does welcome back Orlando Scandrick from a torn ACL in 2016. Scandrick is the team's best cover corner, so he will certainly provide a nice boost. Assuming they find a way to bring back Claiborne, and the pass rush is as improved as it could be, the two of them could start the makings of a solid secondary.
Backing them up would be Deji Olatoye and Terrance Mitchell, who both looked impressive near the end of this season. Byron Jones and Barry Church can lock down the safety positions, while an upgrade to the secondary could also come in the draft - as high as fourth overall.
The buzz around Jalen Ramsey out of Florida State has been enormous, and the prospect of playing him alongside Jones (or moving Jones down to corner) certainly adds an element of excitement to a Cowboys secondary that could desperately use it.
So, how close is the Cowboys defense to replicating what the Broncos just put together?
Not far off. While the answer will surprise some people, I feel that this team is one more elite pass rusher away from being very similar to Denver's unit.
The Broncos secondary is very solid, but not an all-world secondary by any stretch. They did get the luxury of playing behind a defensive front that was constantly forcing rushed throws - much like the Cowboys secondary could be doing in 2016. With the front seven leading the way, I think a resurgence from Orlando Scandrick can go a long way in turning this Dallas defense into a unit that can single handily win games.
Obviously, elite pass rushers don't grow on trees in Jerry Jones' backyard, but there are some interesting names available through free agency and the draft. If the Cowboys can find whatever it takes to add that final piece along the defensive line, we could be talking about a team that plays in Houston for Super Bowl 51 - thanks to it's defense.
So, what do YOU expect from the Dallas Cowboys defense in 2016? More turnovers, sacks? Let me know by leaving a comment below! Also be sure to tune into "Upon Further Review" tomorrow at 1 ET! (Click the banner above for more info).
Upgrading the Offensive Line Cowboys Top Offseason Priority?
Despite the displeasure by the majority of fans, the Dallas Cowboys continue to hold things close to the vest with their approach to free agency. It's definitely not the most popular approach and tends to drive fans crazy, but things could start heating up now that the free-agent market is starting to settle.
Looking from the outside in, we can only speculate as to which positions the Dallas Cowboys may prioritize in free agency and in the draft that matter. Earl Thomas and the safety position has been the most popular topic of discussion throughout the free agency process, but it looks as if the Cowboys are narrowing their focus on upgrading and adding depth to their offensive line.
This is just speculation of course, but it's based on the fact that the Cowboys are rumored to be bringing in free-agent offensive lineman Marcus Martin and Cameron Fleming. And on top of that, it was announced that two of the Dallas Cowboys 30 pre-draft visitors are also offensive lineman, Will Hernandez, who is popular among Cowboys fans already, and offensive tackle Kolton Miller.
I don't know about you, but it looks as if the Dallas Cowboys are certainly focused in on upgrading the offensive line. This absolutely makes sense after what they went through last season with the carousel at the left guard position and Tyron Smith's struggles to stay healthy.
More than anything, the Cowboys need OL depth heading into the 2018 season. There is only really one spot up for grabs at left guard, but the depth across the OL is absolutely depleted unless you want to rely on Chaz Green again.
This is where Marcus Martin and Cameron Fleming make a lot of sense. Marcus Martin has the versatility to play center and guard, and has done so already in his NFL career. He could compete for the starting LG position, but if nothing else, could replace Joe Looney as the backup C/OG.
Cameron Fleming could be the more important of the two free agents the Cowboys are rumored to be interested in. At the worst, Fleming would be an upgrade as the swing tackle, something he's done with the New England Patriots throughout his career. But, he could compete to become the starting right tackle, which would kick La'el Collins back inside to left guard.
That's all speculation right now, but the Dallas Cowboys would do what's best for the entire team in order to get the right starting five offensive lineman on the field.
The same can be said about rookies Will Hernandez and Kolton Miller. Hernandez would likely be a plug-and-play left guard if he ended up being the Dallas Cowboys first-round draft pick. That would keep the offensive line from shuffling and hopefully solidify the unit for years to come.
Kolton Miller on the other hand would be a lot like the Cameron Fleming situation mentioned above. He can probably tackle on the left or right side the NFL, although some draft analysts believe he will struggle as a LT at the next level.
Of course, there is no way of knowing how much interest the Dallas Cowboys have any of these players right now. But to me, it looks as if upgrading the offensive line is certainly one of their top priorities this offseason.
Is upgrading the OL the Dallas Cowboys top offseason priority?
Cowboys Free Agency: The Thin Line Between Frustration and Comprehension
For die-hard NFL fans, the free agency period is as fun as any other week in the regular season. It's always a fun experience knowing what team is interested in which player and who's visiting who. Heck, there are websites with "free agents trackers" for people who don't want to miss a single thing.
Seeing the huge contracts some players get and discussing whether it's well-deserved money or an overpaid salary provides football fans all around the league with fun football conversations in the middle of March.
This is a period in which, despite not being on the field, every NFL team is doing the same thing. Trying to get better. Which is exactly why most Dallas Cowboys fans are frustrated with how things have gone for their favorite team in this 2018 NFL offseason.
Right now, less than a week after the free agency period officially began, they're the only team left in the NFL that hasn't signed a single free agent.
Surprising? Not at all.
Whether we like it or not, we know how this team likes to operate. A quiet free agency isn't out of the ordinary for the Cowboys. For many years, the NFL Draft has been the priority for them, and they've done a good job at it.
At the end of the day, waiting for the first wave of free agents to pass is smart unless you're looking for a QB or have a huge amount of cap space. When you look at what players are getting, you realize most of them are overpaid. Sammy Watkins got a $48M three-year deal, when he hasn't really proved to be worth it.
I don't think Cowboys Nation would've liked to see the Jones family bring Watkins for that kind of money. Personally, I don't mind the Cowboys' front office letting those first expensive signings occur without them participating in them.
I mean, they've already made a splash, when you think about it. DeMarcus Lawrence was the biggest non-QB free agent of the year and they managed to keep him for at least next season. It's not exactly a free agent signing, but they are paying one of the NFL's best pass rushers more than $17M to wear the Star one more year.
Yes, the Cowboys' team-building philosophy is comprehensible. But when do fans like you and me stop understanding their offseason approach and get bothered by it? To me, that frustration came in the form of Tyrann Mathieu signing with the other NFL team in Texas.
If the Honey Badger had signed a super expensive contract, I'd be fine with the Cowboys passing on him. But Houston was able to get him for just seven million dollars on a one-year prove-it deal.
Mathieu is one of the best defensive talents in the league and will be just 26 years old when next season begins. Why didn't the Cowboys tried to land him, if safety is a position of need? I mean, we've been talking about a potential trade for Earl Thomas all year!
Were they hesitant just because the Honey Badger isn't your traditional safety? Are they so conservative that their reason to not go after him was he wasn't a scheme fit? When you're talking about a talent like his, I think you make things work to see him thrive along young and promising cornerbacks like Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie.
The Cowboys can still look at Tier-2 free agents such as TE Eric Ebron or S Kenny Vaccaro over the following days. It could end up working for them, or it could end up just like Nolan Carroll's horrendous game versus the Broncos in week 2 of the 2017 NFL season and his $2M in dead money for this year.
When it comes to the Cowboys' approach to free agency, there's a very thin line between comprehension and frustration. Maybe, just maybe, they make us understand next season when we see results on the field.
For now though, it's tough to stay in the "comprehending" side of things.
Cowboys en Español: El Futuro Incierto de David Irving
En una agencia libre muy callada de parte de los Dallas Cowboys, como es costumbre, lo más interesante hasta ahora se revuelve alrededor de un talento increíble en la línea defensiva: David Irving. El joven de la línea defensiva de Dallas recibió un tender de segunda ronda (con un costo de casi tres millones de dólares) de parte de los Cowboys, lo cual significa que vestirá la Estrella Solitaria un año más... ¿o no?
No, no es tan sencillo.
A diferencia de la etiqueta franquicia que recibió DeMarcus Lawrence hace unas semanas, un tender permite a un jugador recibir ofertas de otros equipos. Si Irving llega a recibir una oferta externa, sin embargo, los Cowboys tienen la oportunidad de igualarla.
Pero no sólo eso, sino que si no quieren igualar la oferta, pueden dejar ir al jugador y en cambio, el otro equipo tiene que compensar a los Cowboys con una selección de segunda ronda. Así como el tender de segunda ronda que se le otorgó a David Irving, hay tender de primera ronda o tender de "selección original."
Sin embargo, Irving no fue seleccionado en el NFL Draft, así que esta última opción hubiera tenido poco sentido.
Ahora, pensando en el 2018 y una temporada ya incierta, nos sentamos preguntando: ¿No valía la pena cubrir a Irving con un tender de primera ronda? Al final de cuentas, sólo hay aproximadamente un millón de diferencia entre ambos. Irving es un jugador lleno de talento, y podría llegar a estar entre los mejores en su posición próximamente.
Sin embargo, si somos honestos, es una buena decisión de la administración. Irving ha tenido sus cuantos problemas y quizá este tender ayude a definir su valor en el mercado. Si ningún equipo alrededor de la liga se atreve a ofrecerle un contrato, los Cowboys mejoran su posición en las negociaciones y quien sabe, quizá consigan un acuerdo más amigable para el equipo.
Además, si un equipo decide llevárselo... ¿qué tan malo sería?
Con el pick #19 en la primera ronda del Draft de la NFL, no están en una posición muy cómoda. Como bien algún jugador talentoso como el DT Vita Vea o el WR Calvin Ridley pueden caer a las manos de Stephen Jones, Will McClay y compañía, bien puede estar vacía la tabla.
Con jugadores como el S de Florida State Derwin James o el LB de Georgia Roquan Smith, deberían considerar realizar un trade para subir algunas selecciones y llevarse a uno de estos talentos que no estarán disponibles en el #19.
Con las selecciones globales 19, 50 y una segunda ronda extra que conseguirían por Irving, es fácil visualizar a este equipo dispuesto a hacer un movimiento así el día del Draft.
A pesar de una mala temporada en el 2017, los Dallas Cowboys son un equipo que están cerca de ser contendientes.
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