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How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?

Kevin Brady

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Will Cowboys' Offense Improve With Ezekiel Elliott's Return?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.

Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.

Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.

With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?

To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.

Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.

Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.

In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.

Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?

Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.

The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.

Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.

If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?

We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.

But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.

Once again, at least it is for now.



Die-hard Cowboys fan from the Northeast, so you know I am here to defend the 'boys whenever necessary. Began writing for a WordPress Cowboys Blog, and am currently a college student. Lets get going.

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3 Comments
  • Ethan Chazin

    last team to win the super bowl with a league leader in rushing? 1998…Denver Broncos. Just sayin’

  • Fighter15

    You missed the primary reasons why the position is not as valuable.

    1. It’s not about RB by committee. It’s because there is an abundance of talent. Pure supply and demand. The sheer number of elite RBs available every year is staggering.

    2. You gave passing mention about average career lengths, but even more so is the number of super productive years. Few RBs dominate past year 5. Paying rookie salaries and the lowest franchise tag for the prime years is smart business.

    Scheme, glut of serviceable veterans at minimum cost, and dependance on OLine are all contributing factors as well.

    But the absolute truism of the salary cap era is that you don’t pay for past performance and you can’t have steak on every plate.

    • https://kevinrobertbrady.wordpress.com Kevin Brady

      I don’t think there is an abundance of talent if your measuring stick is the top guys in the league. Sure you can rotate through replacement level players, and with the right fit around them you’ll be fine. That’s a smart way of running your team for sure, but it isn’t the only smart way in my opinion.

Star Blog

The Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle is Heating Up

Brian Martin

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Dallas Cowboys WR Position Battle Heating Up 1

Earning a spot on the Dallas Cowboys final 53-man roster is going to be a lot tougher in 2018 then it has been in years past. There is no shortage of position battles taking place right now to earn one of those coveted openings, but it's the battle taking place at receiver that's gaining steam and starting to heat up.

The ultimate unknown right now is how many wide receivers the Dallas Cowboys choose to carry on their 53-man roster this season. Last year they decided to carry six, but they have been known to carry just five. Unfortunately, this means they will have to release some talented players and risk losing them to another team.

As things stand right now there may just be one, possibly two, roster spots up for grabs. I think the only thing we know for sure right now is Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, Michael Gallup, and Tavon Austin are the only WRs who can feel secure their jobs are safe for 2018. Everybody else is playing a game of Survivor, just hoping their name isn't the one written down and their torch isn't snuffed out.

Terrance Williams' flame may be safe due to his current contract. The Dallas Cowboys can't save anything by releasing him, but it doesn't cost them that much either. It's unlikely he has a future with the team, so if someone were to prove themselves more worthy, his flame could be extinguished.

Terrance Williams

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrance Williams

Last season I thought Noah Brown was ready to unseat Williams, but that never really materialized. Unfortunately, Brown hasn't really shown up as much as I thought he would this offseason, and missing the game against the San Francisco 49ers last week didn't do him any favors either. This doesn't bode well for him moving forward.

Deonte Thompson was signed as a free agent to provide some veteran experience and speed to the passing game, but that in no way means his job is secure. He needs to do something to show up a little more because his age and salary means a younger up-and-coming WR could make him expendable.

Second-year WR Lance Lenoir Jr. might just be the receiver who has stirred things up the most. He has not only created a buzz for himself in offseason practices, but he was able to carry it over into the preseason last week against the 49ers. His arrow trajectory is definitely pointing upwards.

I'd definitely hate to be the one to decide who stays and who goes when final cuts are made. It's not going to be an easy decision to make, because the outcome will definitely have an impact on the team's success this year.

All of these players were brought into help Quarterback Dak Prescott and the passing game reach new heights, so making the wrong move could be detrimental. The number of wide receivers and who the Dallas Cowboys decide to keep might be the most important decision they make before the season starts.

How would you predict the Dallas Cowboys WR position battle turning out?



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Star Blog

Any Concern About Dan Bailey Not Playing Against 49ers?

Brian Martin

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Decision not to Play Dan Bailey against the 49ers a Concern? 1

With all the excitement of the Dallas Cowboys finally playing in a game last week against the San Francisco 49ers, it may have escaped your attention that Dan Bailey remained on the sideline the entire time. He didn't attempt one field goal or kick off once last Thursday, which in my opinion is a little concerning.

Dan Bailey joined Ezekiel Elliott and Sean Lee on the sideline as a healthy scratch last week. The decision to sit both Zeke and Sean Lee makes sense due to the physical demands of their positions, but sitting Bailey was a bit of a head scratcher. After all, it's not like he plays a physically demanding position like the other two.

I know. I know. Dan Bailey is an integral part for the Cowboys success moving forward. I'm not arguing that he's not, but after sitting out the majority of the 2017 season with a groin injury and lingering concerns about his health this year, not playing him at all against the 49ers is a bit confusing.

I don't believe there is any kind of kicking competition between Dan Bailey and Brett Maher, who handled all of the kicking duties against the 49ers last Thursday. Bailey will be the Cowboys kicker when the 2018 season gets underway in just a few short weeks. But, the question remains… Why didn't he receive any playing time?

Dan Bailey

Dallas Cowboys K Dan Bailey

Dan Bailey was never quite the same last season once he returned from his injury. Something was off and I don't know if it was more mental or physical, maybe a little of both. He just wasn't splitting the uprights like his normal self.

Unfortunately, we have seen this kind of thing happen in the past with one of the Cowboys kickers. Nick Folk went through a similar situation with an injury and never really bounced back. I'm just hoping history doesn't repeat itself.

Obviously, the Dallas Cowboys know more about what's going on with Dan Bailey than I do. But, you would think they'd have allowed him to attempt a field goal or at least an extra point in a game situation to build up his confidence once again. It's what I would have done.

Hopefully I'm just being a little paranoid and I'm reading more into this than there actually is. But, the fact I haven't heard any reasoning as to why Dan Bailey was held out last week is sitting a little uneasy with me. I'm just hoping it was precautionary in order to keep him as healthy as possible for the upcoming season.

Should we be concerned Dan Bailey was a healthy scratch last week?



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Star Blog

Week 1 NFC East Predictions and Cowboys Season Outlook

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Week 1 NFC East Predictions and Cowboys Season Outlook

Let me start this article with a strong opening statement: The Cowboys will be better in 2018 than they were in 2017. There's been a lot of talk about the lack of a true No. 1 receiver. But when we break it down, the current setup will most likely play out better for Cowboys QB Dak Prescott.

The Dak Stats

Certain quarterbacks shine when they have that go-to playmaker. We're talking about guys like Randy Moss, Terrell Owens, Calvin Johnson, Ocho Cinco, Tim Brown, Jerry Rice, and Dez Bryant. But other QBs do better at reading the defense and quickly adapting to what is given. Dak Prescott is the latter breed of QB.

Let’s do a quick numbers exercise to prove this.

When Prescott is targeting 8 or more receivers throughout the game, his passer rating jumps from 86.1 (targeting less than 8) to 104.5. He passes for almost 50 yards more per game and his touchdown to interception ratio drastically improves from 21-13 to 24-4.

Most importantly, when he targets at least 8 different receivers, the Cowboys are 14-2. When he targets less than 8, the team is just .500 at 8-8.

Without a doubt, Prescott is much better at adjusting to what the defense is giving him. He just isn’t one of those guys who can successfully "force" the ball (like Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees). Not feeling the pressure of having to get the ball into the hands of the star playmaker will give this offense a new kind of depth in 2018.

Yes, losing Jason Witten hurts, much more so in my opinion than not having Dez.

Questions Still Loom

This is still the Cowboys' biggest concern on offense. There is some great depth. We have Rico Gathers, Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, and the young stud out of Stanford, Dalton Schultz. But between the three who have any NFL experience, there are only 9 catches between them. I must say that Dalton, with his 4.75 40-yard dash, has a legitimate shot at seeing a lot of playing time in his rookie campaign and could become an impact player with his size (6’5”, 244-lbs) and speed.

But despite the battle for TE being wide open, and debates about whether or not the team needs a No. 1 receiver, the Cowboys are still expected to give the Eagles a run for their money in the NFC East. Here are the odds on the defending NFC East champions and how (although early) it is expected to shake out:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles -167
  2. Dallas Cowboys +350
  3. New York Giants +650
  4. Washington Redskins +750

NFC East Week 1 Predictions

The Cowboys open the season in a difficult road game against the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have been listed as 2.5-point favorites (follow the Cowboys NFL Odds here all season long) which isn’t surprising considering they are a tough team playing at home. You might be thinking, "crap, we're opening up as underdogs?" Don’t worry too much; it actually bodes fairly well because the lines-makers generally give a 3-point advantage to the home team. This means that they actually handicap the Cowboys to be a half-point favorite on a neutral field and a 3.5-point favorite in Arlington.

The Redskins open their season in Arizona against the Cardinals. The line is set at a pick ‘em (meaning there is no point spread; it's anyone's game). But, looking at the 'Skins and Cardinals, I think Washington gets disappointed in Week 1 and starts their season with a loss.

The Giants get to test their new offensive line and see if they were right in continuing to place their faith in Eli Manning against the best defense in the league. The Jags are 3-point favorites at MetLife stadium. This means the Jags are actually 6-points better. I do think that the Giants will be vastly improved this season, but they are also going to open with a loss.

The Eagles don’t have it easy either, but they will probably pull out the win at home as 4-point favorites against the Dirty Birds on Thursday Night Football. Their defense is just too good. Atlanta's road offense scored just 21 points per game last year while Philly scores 28 on average at home. The Eagles' home defense has been downright nasty, only allowing 12 points per game in Philadelphia.

This will be a two-horse race for the division between the Eagles and Cowboys. And even if the Eagles win the East, the Cowboys will wildcard into the playoffs.



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