Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith and defensive end Charles Tapper both made their NFL debuts on Sunday night, one year later than either would have liked. Members of the Cowboys 2016 rookie class, Smith and Tapper made impacts that continue the successful legacy of one of the franchise's all-time drafts.
Starting at middle linebacker, Jaylon Smith had seven tackles and was one of the leaders in shutting down the New York Giants' offense. The Cowboys' division rival was held to just 233 total yards and only 35 of those came on the ground. Smith showed his athleticism and reading ability on several stops. He also had a forced fumble that should have been called but the officials blew it.
Charles Tapper did not start but had one of the Cowboys' three sacks on Eli Manning. He nearly had another, getting a hand on Manning but just didn't have the right angle to finish the play. Considering the team leader in sacks last year (Benson Mayowa) only had six for the season, it's hard to not get excited anytime we see a Cowboy get to the quarterback.
Even if Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott were the only products of the 2016 draft, it would still go down as a good year. But the Cowboys defense has also benefited; DT Maliek Collins and CB Anthony Brown both started last night's game and made critical plays along the way. Jaylon Smith is now also a starter at middle linebacker, a critical position in any defensive scheme.
Unlike Brown or Collins, who have been unexpectedly good based on where they were rated coming out of college, the only surprise with Jaylon Smith is his health. Smith has had to work back from a horrible knee injury that many felt would be career-ending. That he was able to start on Sunday night and play the majority of snaps is nothing short of a medical marvel. It's a testament to the professionals who helped him, but also Jaylon for the hard work and diligence needed to make it happen.
Some have said that Jaylon Smith was the most talented player in the entire 2016 class, not just for the Cowboys but the entire draft. Consider that; Joey Bosa has been one of the most instantly productive DE prospects to come out in a long time. RB Ezekiel Elliott and CB Jalen Ramsey were both about as highly rated at their positions as you can get. For Smith to even be considered on their level, if not superior, is special.
Charles Tapper also lost his rookie season for health reasons; a spinal defect that was detected after he joined the Cowboys and had to be surgically repaired. It not only stole the 2016 season from him but limited Tapper's work during the last offseason and preseason. It's impressive that he could come out and make an impact so quickly after so much missed time.
A fourth-round pick in 2016, taken at the start of the round 34 picks ahead of Dak Prescott, Tapper was considered a potential steal after being misused at Oklahoma as a 3-4 defensive end. Many felt he could blossom with more freedom to go after the quarterback in the 4-3 scheme, and it only took one game for Charles to show why.
Don't forget, Charles Tapper set a record at the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine. His 4.59 time in the 40-yard dash was the fastest ever for a player listed at 270 pounds or more. Fourth-round picks aren't spent lightly and Rod Marinelli is assuredly picky about who he adds to his defensive line. If Tapper keeps making plays, it will be yet another testament to this scouting department.
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Indeed, the 2016 draft class is already the crowning jewel of the brain trust headed by Will McClay, Stephen Jones, and Jason Garrett. It's perhaps the single greatest haul of talent that the Dallas Cowboys ever brought in, even eclipsing the work of Jimmy Johnson in the early 90s.
What's so amazing is how much better it can still get. Charles Tapper could be on his way to joining Maliek Collins and Anthony Brown as key defensive contributors. And if Jaylon Smith reaches his full potential, he may be as much a star on defense as Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott are on the other side of the ball.
It's just one week, of course, but it's a debut that both players and all Cowboys fans and followers have waited over a year for. Despite all of the anticipation, Jaylon Smith and Charles Tapper didn't disappoint.
Jaguars Waive Barry Church; Could Cowboys Bring Him Back?
Veteran safety Barry Church was released today by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Could he return home to the Dallas Cowboys, where he spent his first seven seasons?
Despite his leadership and consistency on defense, Dallas allowed Church to leave in free agency when Jacksonville gave him a lucrative deal. But if he clears waivers, could the Cowboys consider bring him back for depth and support during their likely playoff run?
Jane Slater of the NFL Network reported on this potential reunion:
Cowboys haven't reached out to S Barry Church but I'm told they are discussing the possibility of bringing him back to Dallas according to a source informed. Church, 30, was released by the Jags today and is familiar with the system having played there from 2010-2016.
The Cowboys have had solid play from their current starting safeties, Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods. Neither is a star, but the duo has not been a liability during the team's current five-game winning streak.
Church was a similar player, reliable if never exceptional, during his time in Dallas. He could be a nice insurance policy for the playoffs if something happened to one of the starters.
Barry knows the system. He never played for Kris Richard, but he was with Rod Marinelli for three seasons before leaving in free agency.
According to reports out of Jacksonville, Church is being released because the team wants to go with younger, cheaper players now that their season is over. There is no known injury keeping Barry from playing.
Of course, Dallas would have to make room on the roster to pick Church up. They could third-year prospect Darian Thompson, who is the current fourth man at safety.
Barry Church must now go through the 24-hour waiver process. A team may claim him, including the Cowboys. We'll see what the future holds.
How the Dallas Cowboys Can Win the NFC East This Week
It's only Week 15, but the Dallas Cowboys could become the 2018 NFC East Champions this week through a couple of scenarios. I thought we'd take a moment today to break down how the Boys can win their division and assure their spot in the playoffs.
With three weeks left in the regular season, most of the divisional games have already been played. The only two left to play are the Week 17 finales; Cowboys at Giants and Eagles at Redskins.
Here are the current standings:
- Dallas Cowboys 8-5 (4-1 in division)
- Philadelphia Eagles 6-7 (3-2 in division)
- Washington Redskins 6-7 (2-3 in division)
- New York Giants 5-8 (1-4 in division)
The Giants have been scrappy lately, winning four of their last five, but it's too late for them to try to win the division. Even if the Cowboys were to fall to 8-8, the best New York could do is tie them in overall record. They would have also split their head-to-head series, negating that tiebreaker.
At that point, it would come down to the record within the division. New York would improve to 2-4 with a win over Dallas in Week 17, but the Cowboys would still be 4-2 against the NFC East. Dallas would still be the division champion.
So, that knocks out New York. Technically, the Eagles and Redskins are still alive. But their margin is about as slim as it gets.
Both Philadelphia and Washington need the Cowboys to lose their last three games, and then to also win out themselves, to steal the NFC East crown.
For the Redskins, it's about their record against division opponents. The best they can finish is 3-3, assuming they'd win their last game against the Eagles. With the head-to-head series against Dallas split this year, they would have to finish 9-7 overall and have the Cowboys drop to 8-8 to become NFC East Champions.
The Eagles also need to finish one game ahead of Dallas, but for a different reason. Philadelphia lost both their games with the Cowboys this year, so Dallas has the head-to-head tiebreaker.
So that really makes thing simple for Dallas; win just one of your last three games and you're the division champion.
Not only that, but even if Dallas were to fall this week against the Indianapolis Colts, they could still clinch the division with losses by the Eagles (@ Rams) and Redskins (@ Jaguars).
It would certainly behoove the Cowboys to get the division locked up now. They could then use the last two weeks of the season to get ready for the playoffs.
Dallas would have the freedom rest banged up players like Ezekiel Elliott and Zack Martin. It would also allow them to work in returning players such as Sean Lee and Tavon Austin and figure out their new rotations without pressure to win.
Beating the Colts on Sunday isn't a given; they're at home and desperate to stay alive in the AFC playoff picture. They are the toughest opponent Dallas has left until January.
But despite that, with the Eagles facing a juggernaut team and Washington trying to play football without a quarterback, there's a great chance that the Cowboys will be the NFC East Champions by Sunday night.
#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone
In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.
This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.
In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.
For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.
Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.
I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.
Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.
Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.
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