Position changes are far more common in Madden than the real NFL, but they can happen. This year, it looks like the Cowboys will "edit" La'el Collins and switch him from left guard to right tackle. If they're like me, they'll also add about five points to Strength and change his Development trait to "Superstar."
The other day, fellow staff writer Brian Martin asserted that Collins' move to right tackle is a mistake. Brian made several solid points to back up his opinion, but I find myself on the other side of this issue. If you haven't already, I invite you to read his article and then come back to check out my counterpoints.
"I’m a firm believer that La’el Collins’ best position in the NFL is at offensive guard. In fact, if not for the foot injury that wiped out nearly his entire 2016 season, he likely would have been named to his first Pro Bowl."
I actually don't disagree with Collins' best position being guard. However, I disagree with the premise that this means it's the only position he should play.
Offensive and defensive lines are all about stability. Their effectiveness is often a composite of the ability of all players involved. You can say the same of most NFL positions but it's especially true here, where one weak spot can quickly undermine the entire group.
Consider the Cowboys' defensive line. The lack of a single catalytic pass rusher has neutered that group for several seasons. They're trying to find one guy who can consistently make opponents nervous and create more opportunities for everyone else.
Similarly, a liability on the offensive line can be damning. We have seen this too often with Doug Free's penalties or breakdowns in pass protection. Big plays getting called back for flags kills the effort of 10 other guys, and often the drive itself. All it takes is one loose pass rusher to blow up a drive and maybe your quarterback.
The Cowboys aren't making this move for the fun of it. They must see Collins as the best option at right tackle or else they'd leave him where he is. It's about preserving the greatness of the offensive line from one end to the other.
"I think at best, Collins is probably an average right tackle in the NFL. I’m not even sure if he will be an upgrade over Doug Free. Collins couldn’t unseat Free before, but now he’s the best option?"
This is probably where I disagree most with Brian's logic. Doug Free, 31-years-old in the in 2015 offseason, was a better player than Doug Free last year at age 33. And really, was Collins ever really considered as a potential Free replacement? Was competition even open at right tackle, with Free coming off a record-breaking season for the Cowboys running game?
La'el got moved to guard for the same reason that we just discussed; he is likely a more dominant player there than at tackle. However, it was also based on the circumstances of the team at the time. Doug Free was a fixture and leader, while Ronald Leary was a guy with ticking time bombs in his knees and a shorter contract. At that point, the more immediate need for Collins was at guard.
"Chaz Green was drafted to take over for Doug Free. He is likely the best option if he can remain healthy."
Remember, Collins became a first-round draft prospect playing offensive tackle at LSU. Chaz Green was a third-round pick that many felt was a reach. Collins' pedigree is superior, so assuming Green is better suited to play the position now is faulty.
We have seen that La'el Collins is very athletic and has the physical skills to play tackle. He may need work on his technique, but that's why you make the move now instead of being forced into it later in the offseason, or even during the regular season. Get him comfortable and solidified at tackle now so that one position, left guard, is your only real question mark.
"Collins is the only player on the Cowboys roster who can play left guard and improve the position after Ronald Leary’s departure. Anyone else is probably a downgrade..."
I'm not here to bash Leary, but I think it's easy to overestimate how hard he'll be to replace. Much of Leary's success came from being part of this great line and positioned between maybe the best left tackle and center in the entire league.
Don't get me wrong; Leary had ability. He went undrafted in 2012 because of the fear about his knees and was likely a mid-round pick otherwise. Leary was way better than most undrafted players.
Still, is it that hard to imagine Jonathan Cooper having success in his place? Cooper, a former seventh-overall pick in 2013, has bounced around the league because of health problems and difficulty finding the right fit. There is no easier spot to play left guard in the NFL than between Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, so could this be where he finally gets to settle in and realize his potential?
Cooper is still just 27 and was once a coveted draft prospect by most teams, including the Cowboys. The same coaches and scouts who liked him four years ago are here now, which is why Cooper landed in Dallas to begin with.
The same logic goes for Byron Bell, Emmett Cleary, or even Chaz Green. Simply, guard is an easier position than tackle. Even the great Cowboys line of the 90s had John Gesek, a former 10th-round pick, starting for two Super Bowls championships.
~ ~ ~
Obviously, this is mostly conjecture and speculation at this point. We're basing analysis on the unseen; be it Collins' ability to play NFL tackle or Cooper, Green, and anyone else's ability to be a full-time starter with this line. Training camp and preseason will give us way more evidence on which to base more substantive opinions.
Dallas will continue to tweak and experiment with different lineups to find the best five guys for 2017. Three positions are set and we know La'el Collins will occupy one of the other two. However it shakes out, Dallas has given themselves good options to maintain the greatness of their offensive line as the foundation for championship contention.
Ezekiel Elliott Productive in Cowboys Blowout Loss to Colts
It was as ugly of a performance as we’ve seen from the Dallas Cowboys in the Jason Garrett era. For the first time in a decade and a half, the Cowboys were shut out and it was a game full of bad pretty much everywhere you looked. Everywhere accept Ezekiel Elliott.
What a waste!
Elliott and the Cowboys offensive line played well for much of the game even with All-Pro Right Guard Zack Martin missing his first career start and losing starting Left Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo went out with an eye injury.
On the day, Ezekiel Elliott carries the ball 18 times for 87 yards and added another seven receptions for 41. 25 touches for 128 total yards is a good game, but with nothing else going right for the Cowboys it was a game that ultimately didn’t matter.
The one play where Elliott and the offensive line failed to come through was early in the game in a fourth and one that the Colts defense seemed to have snuffed out and blew up from the start. Elliott was able to convert a fourth and one later in the game. It looked like Elliott was close to breaking one for a long run several times but got tripped up at the end of the runs. He was his typical self this week. Taking runs that looked to be going for a loss and turning them into positive gains.
In the race for the NFL's rushing title, Elliott has extended his lead on Todd Gurley to nearly 100 yards rushing. At 1,349 rushing yards on the season, Elliott will have a great shot to set a career high in rushing yards with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants remaining on the schedule. The Bucs have allowed the sixth most rushing yards and the fourth most rushing touchdowns in the NFL this season while the Giants have allowed the fifth most rushing yards and the seventh most rushing touchdowns in 2018.
It was a horrendous loss at a time when the Cowboys could have locked up the NFC East and there is zero excuse for it. They got out coached, out played, and were beaten physically on both sides of the ball and that doesn't happen very often, especially to the defense.
But if we're looking for something positive to take away from this game, it's that with all the offensive line injuries and the poor play of the passing game, Ezekiel Elliott and the running game continues to find ways to shine. With as bad as the loss was, that's something to hang your hat on.
All the Cowboys need to do moving forward is Feed Zeke!
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Can’t Finish Drives, Division Clinch with Shutout Loss at Colts
What is there to say about the Dallas Cowboys week 15 performance? After five straight wins, the last three coming at home, the Cowboys have only a return home to look forward to, facing the 5-9 Buccaneers on Sunday after a 23-0 defeat at the Colts.
Shutout for the first time since 2003, the Cowboys playoff hopes didn't take a hit despite the Redskins and Eagles winning on the road. Washington's last-second win went final just before the Colts ran the clock out on a game the Cowboys simply weren't ready for.
The Cowboys moved the ball well at times but failed to ever come away with points, opening the door for the Colts to expose this defense like it hasn't been all season. The Cowboys front four was hardly a factor on defense, allowing Colts Running Back Marlon Mack to average 5.1 yards a carry. Scoring the Colts only touchdowns, Mack and Andrew Luck assured the Cowboys running game wouldn't be a factor with their 10-0 halftime lead. Down to three backups at LG, C, and RG, Quarterback Dak Prescott stood little chance to bring the Cowboys back as the second half quickly got away from Dallas.
Internally, the Cowboys will have much more to say about their effort on Sunday, but here are just a few of my observations in the first somber edition of Sean's Scout since week nine.
- The Cowboys defensive problems up front extended well into the second level, with Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith both playing one of their worst games of the season.
The Colts took a blocked Brett Maher field goal 44 yards for the game's opening score. Mack accounted for 34 of these yards and the touchdown. On his seven yard run to set up first and goal, Smith was caught taking a poor angle on Mack. The Cowboys were aggressive rushing up the field on the play, with Smith ending up being in the best position to slow Mack.
Vander Esch was sealed and couldn't fight to get off, which happened again three plays later on third and goal. Leighton looking like a rookie for the first time was just the start of the Cowboys problems, and with Sean Lee being active yet conceding starting snaps to him, it shouldn't take long for Vander Esch to figure things out again.
- Jamize Olawale's dropped touchdown on third and goal to bring up a failed fourth and one was the moment the Cowboys were taken out of this game.
This sequence was particularly deflating because the Cowboys did a great job getting down the field to have an opportunity to score. The fourth down decision to run out of a heavy formation, inviting extra defenders to the line of scrimmage, looks especially egregious when stacked against the Amari Cooper rush that picked up the Cowboys initial first down. Rookie Tight End Dalton Schultz got involved, Elliott ripped off a 24 yard run, and the Cowboys still came away empty on this drive.
A year removed from coaching the Cowboys linebackers, Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus had his way with Scott Linehan's offense all afternoon, stymieing their most promising drive after Olawale should have scored easily.
- The Cowboys only chance to get back in the game was taken away from them by a Joe Looney holding call, just another example of players that had carried them through a winning streak not playing up to standard.
The Colts took the second half kickoff down the field to extend the lead to 17-0. On fourth and two on the ensuing possession, Prescott hit an injured Cole Beasley for 18 yards to the Colts' 23-yard line. The Cowboys red zone offense certainly doesn't provide the confidence that Dallas would finish the drive, but Looney's hold negated Beasley's catch and forced a punt.
The Colts tacked on a field goal and finished out the game without the Cowboys threatening again. Looney played down to the level of Adam Redmond to his left, who replaced Xavier Su'a-Filo, and Connor Williams in for Zack Martin - though I thought Williams held up fairly well and should be in play to earn more snaps wherever needed.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys can regroup and still accomplish everything they set out for this season, forced to make this loss to the Colts and afterthought like their last one to the Titans became. A five game win streak as a response is out of reach, but a streak of just one is all Dallas needs to clinch the NFC East and focus on improvements for the playoffs.
Next Day Rant: Too Many Letdown Games Under Jason Garrett
Yesterday's 23-0 shutout in Indianapolis was one of the ugliest losses the Dallas Cowboys have had during Jason Garrett's tenure as head coach. Even though it probably won't cost them a playoff spot this year, let alone the NFC East title, it still reminds us of a painful history with Garrett's teams.
It takes me back to those 8-8 seasons during Jason's first three years as head coach, when playoff hopes were dashed time and again by that inevitable letdown loss in December.
In 2011, the Cowboys were 8-6 with two games to go. The NFC East was all bunched together, with the division title and playoffs in reach. Dallas fell flat in a 20-7 home loss to the Eagles, then got walloped 31-14 in New York.
2012; Dallas is again 8-6. They lost at home, in overtime, to a Saints team that finished the year 7-9. It robbed them of the chance to make their Week 17 finale against Washington, the eventual division winner, a meaningful game.
2013; Dallas is 7-5 after Thanksgiving. They go 1-3 to finish the year, losing to two teams who finished the year with just 8 wins each.
This loss reminded me of those years, where the team just didn't look hungry or emotionally prepared to play despite having everything to play for. For as much as we've credited Jason Garrett for his work as a motivator and leader, these blemishes can't be ignored.
To be fair, yesterday's game was a recipe for a loss. The Cowboys were riding high on their five-game win streak. They knew that all they needed was one win in their next three games to clinch the NFC East.
Meanwhile, the Colts are part of a cluster of teams vying for the last Wild Card spot in the AFC. One loss could be the difference between playing football in January or preparing for the offseason.
One team was comfortable and maybe a little complacent, and the other was desperate. Throw in home field and having a better quarterback, and Indianapolis was rightly favored to win the game.
But that 3-point spread was one thing, and Dallas losing 23-0 is another.
Other than their upset win over New Orleans, the Cowboys haven't exactly been taking on the cream of the NFL crop during this win streak. Atlanta is 5-9 and the Eagles and Redskins are both just 7-7.
This Colts game was a chance for Dallas to show its mettle against a legitimate playoff contender. They'd failed throughout the year, losing to Carolina, Seattle, Houston, and Tennessee. But that was before they got hot and got Amari Cooper going.
This game needed to be different. But instead, it was very familiar.
Once again, Jason Garrett's Cowboys couldn't seal the deal. They got outclassed by a team which, by all appearances, is equal to them in talent.
Panic mode is silly when it comes to Dallas making the playoffs. If they can't get a win over the next two weeks with the Bucs and Giants on the schedule, they don't deserve to be there anyway.
The Cowboys should still win the NFC East regardless of what happened yesterday, but now the concern is if this team is really ready for the playoffs. Because a legit playoff team just made us look like hot garbage.
In the 2014 and 2016 seasons, we've taken solace in how close those games have been. If the Dez catch had been called correctly, or if Aaron Rodgers hadn't pulled that throw to Jared Cook out of his butt, the Cowboys might have very well advanced to the NFC Championship. They were contenders, and they took those games down to the wire.
But is this Dallas team a contender, or are they going to be the champions of a weak division? Will they compete in January?
That's the scary thought that yesterday's disaster leaves me with. On average, Jason Garrett has these guys motivated to play. Even when you question the X's and O's, the team almost always seems to play hard.
But they didn't in Indianapolis. They appeared to be resting on the laurels of their win streak and seemingly inevitable division title, and that's concerning with playoff games on the horizon.
Maybe this game was exactly the kind of wake-up call that this young roster needed. This isn't 2016 again; you're not rolling into the playoffs as a 13-win juggernaut.
A good coach uses a game like this to help his team learn and grow. It's actually great for them if it eradicates any potential complacency that had set in.
But that means Jason Garrett has to overcome his history. We've been let down too many times already.
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