The Dallas Cowboys regular season schedule kicks off on Sunday Sept 9th as they travel to North Carolina to face the Carolina Panthers in week one of the NFL season. We made it y'all. Real football starts.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers are two teams that have a lot in common.
- Both the Carolina Panthers and the Dallas Cowboys have quarterbacks (Cam Newton and Dak Prescott) who are as dangerous with their legs as they are with their arms.
- Both, though some talent there, have question marks at wide receiver.
- Both CAR and DAL will use the running game to get their offense going.
- Between Luke Kuechly and Sean Lee, each team has a linebacker considered one of the best in the NFL.
- And both teams have had to deal with the absence of their respective player (Kuechly and Lee) due to injury over the years.
As the Dallas Cowboys look to make a run toward the playoffs and hopefully a sixth Lombardi Trophy, the Carolina Panthers are the first hurdle along the way.
As we get ready for the first real football game of the season, let's dig into the numbers that will make this a great week one matchup.
The last time these two played was in the 2015 season - the infamous game in which Tony Romo made his return from a broken collarbone he suffered earlier in the season. He probably shouldn't have come back as he was hit a lot and threw three interceptions before being knocked out of the game with another injury to the same shoulder.
Prior to that, the Dallas Cowboys had won the nine previous regular season meetings and own a 9-4 record over the Carolina Panthers. The Panthers have had the Cowboys' number in the playoffs as America's Team has gone 0-2 over the history of the matchup.
The number of seasons in which Carolina Panthers Pro Bowl Quarterback Cam Newton has been sacked less than 30 times in a season. 0. For his career he's been sacked at an average of 36.6 times at a rate of 16 games per season. That would be more than two sacks per game.
With the Carolina Panthers down a lot of offensive line assets to start the season, it would appear that Cam is ripe for the picking.
Only one quarterback since Dante Culpepper did it in 2002 has rushed for double-digit touchdowns in the last 16 seasons; Cam Newton. He's also the only player to do it twice since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Along with Cam, Michael Vick and Steve McNair are the only quarterbacks to have multiple seasons of eight rushing touchdowns. Newton has three of those seasons. Vick and McNair only did it twice.
Keeping Cam Newton contained is a huge key to victory on Sunday.
The amount of times Cam Newton has finished a season with a completion percentage above 60%.
He hasn't accomplished that feat since 2013 -- a streak of four seasons with a completion percentage under 60%. No, completion percentage isn't everything, especially for a player who's just as dangerous with his legs as he is with his arm.
A lot of times when you look at a quarterback with a low completion percentage you might think it's because he's taking deep shots down the field. With Newton that isn't the case. According to Pro Football Focus, who tracks number of "deep passing attempts," Newton ranked 19th in deep attempts in the NFL with 57. He only threw deeper than 20 yards on 11.6% of his passes, which was 20th in the NFL. Newton's 35.1% completion percentage on these throws was 22nd in the NFL and he had a quarterback rating of 60.6 on such throws.
What's to be gleaned from this?
Newton isn't a very accurate passer and he lives in the short to intermediate parts of the field. Take that away and it's going to be a long day for Cam.
For a bit of reference: Dak Prescott has had completion percentages over 60% in both of his first two seasons. Newton has played seven years in the NFL.
Prescott attempted 43 deep attempts, which was 25th in the NFL, but completed 44.6% of those passes for over 500 yards and a 4:1 touchdown to interception ratio. Dak had a quarterback rating of 106.2 on throws over 20 yards, which was the 5th best number among quarterbacks with at least 40 attempts.
The Dallas Cowboys averaged 4.5 yards per attempt in 2017, which was third in the NFL and just a touch better than the Carolina Panthers 4.3. The big difference being that the Cowboys rely far less on their quarterback to make things happen with his legs than the Panthers do.
Cam Newton led the Panthers in rushing in 2017 with 754 yards and six touchdowns, while averaging 5.4 yards per attempt. Christian McCaffrey and Jonathan Stewart -- the only other Panthers runners to have more than 100 carries on the season -- averaged 3.7 and 3.4 yards per attempt.
With the Carolina Panthers being decimated on the offensive line, it could be tough to get their running game going week one. Even against a depleted Dallas Cowboys interior defensive line.
No, this isn't a reference to former Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Tony Romo, this is where Dak Prescott ranked in total pressures in 2017.
We know that things broke down for Dak in the second half of the season when Tyron Smith was out and struggling with injuries. Here's hoping that Dallas keeps the pressure off so Dak can work his magic.
Carolina finished the 2017 season 11th in the NFL in points allowed. That's a pretty tremendous feat considering they played the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons twice each, the New England Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, Green Bay Packers, and Philadelphia Eagles (before Carson Wentz was injured) and the Detroit Lions.
In those nine games, the Panthers allowed 26 points per game. They went 5-4. In the other seven games they only allowed an average of 13.28 points per game and went 6-1. That against the likes of the San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills, Chicago Bears (in a loss), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (twice), Miami Dolphins, and the New York Jets. The New York Jets, who weren't very good last season, were able to score 27 points on the Panthers in week 12 last season.
They were a Jekyll and Hyde defense, and the better offensive teams took advantage. Make no mistake, the Dallas Cowboys are one of the better offenses in the NFL.
Luke Kuechly finished second in the NFL in run-stop percentage, according to Pro Football Focus. Only Reuben Foster of the San Francisco 49ers had a better run-stop percentage (11.4%) of players who played at least 50% of their team's run snaps. Kuechly played 53 more snaps than Foster.
Pro Football Focus defines a "run stop" as, "tackles that constitute a 'loss' for the offense." Sean Lee had a run stop percentage of 13%, but wasn't on the field for 50% of the Dallas Cowboys' defensive run plays.
Where the Carolina Panthers ranked in points per game in 2017, just a couple of spots ahead of the Dallas Cowboys at 14. In 2016, the Panthers finished 15th. That's a huge drop off from leading the league in 2015 when they were the only team to score more than 500 points.
The Dallas Cowboys were top-5 in the NFL in 2016, but there was also a big difference in QB, receiver, and OL play in 2017.
The two teams that will face off this Sunday tied for 16th in the NFL in turnover differential with -1. The Cowboys hope that by protecting Dak Prescott better that he'll return to protecting the ball with the same efficiency we saw in 2016.
Cam Newton has never had a season in which he threw less than 10 interceptions, averaging 13.4 interceptions per season.
The Dallas Cowboys, with the addition of Kris Richard as defensive backs coach and passing game coordinator, hope Richard will be the key to seeing the Cowboys become a ball-hawking turnover machine.
The Dallas Cowboys' 18 rushing touchdowns were second in the NFL only to the New Orleans Saints' high-powered rushing attack. Remember that Ezekiel Elliott missed six games.
Defensive Ends Julius Peppers and Mario Addison each had 11 sacks last season. Their average age going into 2018 is 33.5 years of age.
These two prove that age is just a number.
The amount of touchdowns Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott has scored through his first two seasons in the NFL. That's 25 touchdowns in 25 games.
Only Earl Campbell, Eric Dickerson, Clinton Portis, Curtis Martin, Edgerrin James, Billy Sims, and David Johnson played at least 25 games in their first two seasons and averaged at least a touchdown a game.
Dak Prescott and Cam Newton had the same amount of combined passing and rushing touchdowns last season - 28. They both had 22 passing touchdowns and six rushing touchdowns. Both of these guys will use their legs to make things happen, though Carolina likes to call designed runs more for Newton than Dallas does for Prescott.
The Carolina Panthers' 50 sacks as a team ranked them third in the NFL last season, while the Dallas Cowboys finished 15th in total sacks with 38.
Dallas will have a good shot to improve on that number this year with Randy Gregory back and the depth they have in Taco Charlton and Dorance Armstrong. Hopefully David Irving will be back and unleashing his pass rush prowess week five. But in regular season terms, week five is a long way off.
Last season the Carolina Panthers finished third in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game at 88.1. They only allowed seven rushing touchdowns in 2017, tied with the Dallas Cowboys for third in the NFL. They only played six games against teams in the top-10 in rushing in 2017.
The Dallas Cowboys, on the other hand, averaged 135.6 rushing yards per game in 2017, which was second in the NFL. That's particularly amazing given that Ezekiel Elliott missed six games in the middle of the season and rushed for only eight yards in the week two contest against the Denver Broncos.
Probably the biggest key to the Dallas Cowboys success is going to be how well they run the ball against the Carolina Panthers front seven.
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So, what do you think? Given the numbers mentioned above, who has the edge when these teams kick off on Sunday. Stay tuned for our predictions here at Inside The Star, later this week.
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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