Hello Dallas Cowboys Nation. It’s been some time since we’ve all been so proud and full of celebratory bliss but the time now is nice. The Cowboys knocked the Eagles off the top of the NFC East to claim sole possession of it themselves, and did so not by simply being the team to make the fewest mistakes on the field, but the team that dominated the game just enough to prevail the victors.
105.3 FM “The Fan” aired the word “substance” often Monday morning. They weren’t talking about drugs or media coverage though, well they did but we’ll get to that later. They remarked that the Cowboys won that game with substance, meaning they had a plan and executed it. They saw the obstacles and overcame them. They played good and sound football to win the game.
Sure, the running game was a little weak until the fourth quarter, and you wouldn’t really expect that from the triple threat combo of Marion Barber, Tashard Choice, and Felix Jones, but it happened. In the fourth quarter though, Barber came out and did exactly what he is best at doing – dominating and punishing a worn out defense in the final 15 minutes to control the clock. That’s the role he is most suited for, the closer, and the coaches should be more mindful of that the next time he takes a first quarter handoff and runs into the dozen players waiting for him up the middle. Getting knocked on his butt isn’t really the ideal way to win games.
Miles Austin was rather absent for much of the game as well. He was thrown to maybe 4 times and had but one catch, albeit for a touchdown over 30 yards. And keep in mind that his touchdown was the game winner … again.
But perhaps the biggest story of the game as far as the players go comes down to Tony Romo and Roy Williams finally showing some signs of meshing, of finding that elusive same page, and making something happen with it.
Just as Wade Phillips said, and others … It did appear that many of the passes to Williams before Sunday were either too high, thrown behind, or simply not where he was. Most of us would likely agree, regardless of any personal feelings against Romo, that an experienced quarterback is going to know pretty well where the route goes, so does that mean that Williams has been to blame? Maybe.
Williams caught something like 5 of 7 balls for 75 yards Sunday night in Philly and while it wasn’t a spectacular performance by any means, unless you’re the Browns, it was solid and that is what we’ve needed more of from our number 1 receiver – solid play.
If he plays solid and runs good routes and even catches half of the passes directed toward him, he’ll likely continue to see enough double coverage’s to help Witten, Bennett, Crayton, Austin, Hurd, and even Ogletree. Not to mention the benefits for the running game. So while it again was nothing worthy of praise, it was a long overdue spark to the chemistry that he and Romo must develop for this team to achieve anything beyond a divisional title this year.
And let’s face it, the Cowboys only winning the NFC East this year will be considered a bust for the season, and rightly so. We’ve won the division a few times since 1996 – the last time we won a playoff game. So doing so this year wouldn’t amount to anything more than the same and maintaining status quo this year will be the only sure fire way to lose Wade Phillips his title of Head Coach.
Which brings me to a brief mention of The Fan’s topic on firing Wade. The local press around here has been calling for Wade’s dismissal as recently as the week following the Kansas City game. Granted, that game should have been a blow out, an easy win for us, even if the team was supposed to view it as anything but that – easy.
We struggled in all aspects of that game including making the fourth quarter stop to put the game away, sending it into overtime. But the one great thing that came out of that game was that in our times of trouble, Miles Austin was given a real shot to make a play, and did he ever accomplish that.
He played so good in that game, setting a franchise record or two in the process, that he booted Crayton as the #2 guy immediately. Funny thing about that though, this team has been lacking so much of what makes a team a team. But as soon as Crayton is relegated to the third spot, he didn’t just sulk and make snide comments to the media like he and others have done before when unhappy. No, he went out instead and made the most of his remaining duties.
Two weeks in a row, Mr. Consistent who usually averages only 10 yards on punt returns goes and breaks one for six. Who would have ever saw that coming? That’s a teammate right there. Basically in the dog house and he just works harder and ends up making two huge plays in an area of the game that has been seriously raunchy up until this year – special teams.
So I’m pretty happy about this team right now. So much so that I’ve had to watch myself so that I don’t get too excited. I really think we’re playing like a Team that’s ready to compete for the Lombardi Trophy. And a game into November I don’t expect anything to change right away, not until after the Thanksgiving game against Oakland – not until we hit December.
It’s time to see if this team finding some of its identity and unity is enough to not only win games, but win in December and beyond. Let us hope.
Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: OT Byron Bell
Offensive tackle became a problem position for the Dallas Cowboys in 2018. One guy who helped the situation was veteran backup Byron Bell. He is now a free agent, but Dallas could may be interested in bringing him back next year.
Bell was signed last March to provide depth and insurance on the offensive line. He had experience at both guard and center, starting almost every game since entering the NFL in 2011. Byron had missed all of 2016 with an ankle injury while a member of the Tennessee Titans.
After spending the first part of the year at the bottom of the depth chart, Bell was called into duty after a disastrous performance by Chaz Green in the team's Week 10 game against the Atlanta Falcons. With starting left tackle Tyron Smith injured, Green got the start and was obliterated by Falcons defensive end Adrian Clayborn to the tune of six sacks.
Byron got the start the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles, and he was clearly better than Green. He would remain the team's swing tackle the rest of the season and got another start in the meaningless Week 17 finale.
Now Byron Bell is a 29-year-old free agent. With Chaz Green seemingly a failed experiment, Dallas has to figure out what to do about their depth behind Tyron Smith and La'el Collins. Could they be in the market to re-sign Bell?
Given his vast starting experience and position flexibility, Byron may have some other suitors in free agency. Offensive linemen age slower than other positions, so 29 isn't the same mark of death that a running back or corner might deal with.
A likely scenario here is that Dallas, assuming they'd like to have Bell back at all, would let him test free agency and then hopefully re-sign him later in the offseason to a minimal contract. Like last year, he would make sense for insurance at the position and especially if the team is going to part ways with Green.
What's more, Byron has increased value after a year in the Cowboys system. Also, in 2017 he was coming off an entirely missed season with the ankle injury. He's a more attractive asset in 2018.
That increased value could be seen by other teams, too. While Bell has had his ups and downs, he's accomplished enough that his name will be noticed among other free agents. A team with major needs on the offensive line might even consider him to compete for a starting job.
We don't know what the Cowboys' interest level is in bringing Byron Bell back, but they may have competition for his services. Given the role he filled to finish 2017, he could wind up an underrated free agent departure this offseason.
4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster
Maneuvering through the NFL offseason is a funny task for committed football fans, especially those of Cowboys Nation. Prior to the start of each new season bringing hope for all 32 clubs to reach the Super Bowl, every NFL roster enters a tumultuous state. Talent will be added through free agency and the Draft, while promising players will also be shuffled around through practice squads and training camp releases.
All of that to say, despite criticism for appearing stagnant so far this offseason on the heels of a 9-7 campaign, nobody knows what the Dallas Cowboys will actually look like in 2018. This is why I've decided to feature four under the radar players on the current Cowboys' roster below, all of which provide depth at positions of need.
TE Blake Jarwin
An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Blake Jarwin found his way onto the Cowboys' practice squad for 2017.
Jarwin showed enough promise early in his Cowboys career to earn fans on the coaching staff and throughout the organization, as he was promoted to the active roster in week eight. The Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly in position to snatch Jarwin from the Cowboys - who protected their versatile tight end.
The TE position remains unsettled for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond, with Jason Witten's production clearly declining. The Cowboys will also be on their third TE coach in three seasons this year, transitioning to Doug Nussmeier.
Nussmeier brings no previous experience as a TE coach specifically, meaning the team's overall philosophy on the position will still be determined heavily by Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Favoring tight ends that can block in the running game over those with higher upside as receiving threats, Jarwin is a name to keep in mind as a tenacious blocker that plays with sound technique.
WR Lance Lenoir
This past summer, I had the chance to interview Dallas Cowboys WR Lance Lenoir following his signing with the team out of Western Illinois. In that interview, Lenoir shows off the confidence he took into training camp as a receiver that would have a hard time making the team.
By the end of this long season, the Cowboys went from being perceived as deep and talented at WR to in need of new play makers on the outside.
Perhaps pressing a bit through the preseason, Lenoir did provide practice depth as a reliable pass catcher and punt returner, struggling on special teams in live action and ultimately spending the season on the practice squad.
The 2018 NFL Draft features a deep class of talented receivers, and the Cowboys would be wise to draft one with real potential that can push up the depth chart in a hurry. As far as current options on the roster to fill this position, WR Lance Lenoir can't be overlooked as an athletic target with NFL size and strength - entering his second season in Dallas.
DT Datone Jones
A mid-season acquisition from the Green Bay Packers, Datone Jones flashed as a defensive tackle in the limited opportunities he received. A five-year league veteran, Jones showed the ability to play with power and leverage at the 1T position - a spot the Cowboys are thin at right now.
Jones' versatility also suited him well, playing with impressive burst and disruptive ability as a pass-rushing 3T.
The addition of one more starting caliber DT could truly put this Dallas defensive front over the edge. With how much Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli believes in his DL rotation though, players like Datone Jones can prove immensely valuable.
DT Lewis Neal
Similarly to Jones, Lewis Neal is a fan-favorite defensive tackle for the Cowboys. Neal has absolutely earned the attention he's gotten, a UDFA out of LSU that plays the 1T position better than expected given his size.
The Cowboys have gotten by in recent years with smaller, more mobile players at this interior DT spot, with Neal being their latest post-draft steal to make an impact.
Lewis Neal appeared in seven games for the Cowboys this season, finding ways to help those around him by anchoring the line of scrimmage and disengaging with active hands and a quick base. This is a player that should be a valuable part of the team's depth on the defensive line.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The year-to-year nature of the NFL can be a wonderful thing (unfortunately, ask any Eagles fan right now). Part of this reality is understanding that none of the players listed above may actually stick with the Dallas Cowboys for 2018.
Next week's NFL Scouting Combine will kick "draft season" into full gear however, as the Cowboys will be working to better understand their teams needs and how they can be addressed.
Jarwin, Lenoir, Jones, and Neal all contributed or showed the promise to do so at positions the Cowboys must improve at this season - warranting a closer look through this dull portion of the offseason.
Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: RB Alfred Morris
After two seasons of providing veteran depth for the Dallas Cowboys, running back Alfred Morris is about to be a free agent again. Does the 29-year-old still have value for the club, or will Dallas go with younger options in 2018?
Morris was signed in March of 2016. At the time, it was assumed he would be the backup to incumbent starter Darren McFadden and perhaps even split carries.
But a month later, Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott and drastically changed the landscape at the running back position.
If Alfred suddenly seemed expendable, that quickly changed in June when McFadden broke his elbow. Morris wound being the number-two back after all, but he was rarely used as Elliott immediately became the workhorse RB and held that role for all of his spectacular rookie season.
Last year, we all know what happened with Ezekiel Elliott. Morris became the primary RB during Zeke's suspension and had solid numbers, averaging 4.35 yards on his 99 carries during that six-week stretch.
By Week 16, though, not only had Zeke returned but Rod Smith had started to break out from the depth chart. In the Cowboys' pivotal game that week against the Seattle Seahawks, Alfred didn't even get a touch behind Elliott and Smith.
Considering Smith's emergence last year, and him only being 26, it's easy to see why Dallas may not be looking to bring Alfred Morris back. They seem to have their one-two punch already set at the top of the RB depth chart.
What's more, Morris isn't likely to settle for a likely third-place role. He may not be interested in coming back to Dallas given the situation.
Thankfully for Alfred, he enters the free agent market with some good tape from 2017 showing that he can still produce. It's not a loaded crop of free agents this year and, despite his age, Morris could still find a good job somewhere. He's earned an opportunity to compete, if nothing else.
That opportunity likely won't come in Dallas, though. As I wrote about last month, the Cowboys have enough power already and need to add a speed option in their RB rotation.
That said, Alfred Morris spent the last two years giving Dallas good value for the money. He was a solid free agent pickup and his time as a Cowboy should be remembered fondly. At this point, though, I doubt that relationship will continue.
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