With Cowboys Nation still reeling from the Ezekiel Elliott suspension news yesterday, the team hopped down from Oxnard to Los Angeles to face the Rams in their second of five preseason games. In a fumble-filled game that felt more like hot potato than football, the music finally stopped on the Cowboys as they fell short 13-10.
The story of this game for the Cowboys wasn't the fumbling (four for Dallas, five for Los Angeles) or a meaningless preseason loss. The major takeaway was the play of undrafted rookie quarterback Cooper Rush, who was easily the most impressive Cowboys passer on the night.
Outplaying both of his veteran teammates, Kellen Moore and Luke McCown, Rush entered the game to start the third quarter and put up 104 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-11 passing. His touchdown throw to Rico Gathers was perfection; a 25-yard beauty dropped over the defender and right into Gathers' arms as he entered the endzone.
While Moore and McCown both looked rattled at times and had poor delivery on some throws, Rush built on last week's decent debut with a far stronger showing. This isn't to say that he's anywhere close to taking someone's job, but Cooper may be changing our assumptions about how many quarterbacks the Cowboys will keep in 2017.
- It was very encouraging to see how Darren McFadden performed tonight after last week's slow start, especially given what's happening with Elliott. McFadden showed the same athletic ability we remember for 2015 as he got 28 yards on six carries and had one 8-yard reception. It probably helped that Travis Frederick and Zack Martin were playing to start the game, as opposed to last week.
- Rico Gathers continues to make noise, finishing the night with four catches for 47 yards and the aforementioned touchdown. We saw him playing out of the typical tight end spots but also lining up in the slot, and his mismatch problems for the opposition were clear. The question for Rico isn't if he'll make the team this year, but just how high up the TE depth chart he'll be.
- Taco Charlton got to unburden himself a little with a nice sack on Sean Mannion during the first quarter. Taco had little trouble powering through the offensive tackle and getting a free run at Mannion, taking him just in front of his own goal line. After all of the negativity coming from the Hall of Fame game, it was great to see Charlton get some positive attention.
- Sixth-round rookie WR Noah Brown was having a nice showing on three catches for 41 yards but lost some points for an unforced, open-field fumble. With the top-five WR spots seemingly decided for Dallas, Brown and the other prospects can't afford many bad steps if they want to force the team to keep six guys.
- Another sixth-round guy, safety Xavier Woods, led the team with seven tackles and was visible through the game. Teammate Kavon Frazier wasn't far behind, though, with five tackles and a nice return on a fumble recovery. We've yet to see anything out of veteran Robert Blanton, giving the younger players the edge right now for the backup roles.
- While we're excited for Ryan Switzer's debut for many reasons, perhaps my biggest one right now is to see a new kick and punt returner. Lance Lenoir is just a camp body, and he plays like it.
- While his pass protection left much to be desired, QB Luke McCown's play wasn't far behind. He didn't look good on the throws that weren't affected by pressure. Granted, he's only been with the team for less than two weeks. However, he still takes up a roster spot that could be going to a younger guy with upside.
- Rod Smith did not get to build on last week's performance, only getting one carry and one catch in the game. There weren't a lot of carries to go around anyway; McFadden and Alfred Morris combined for just 11 rushing attempts themselves. This was more likely an anomaly due to the flow of the game than any issue with Smith.
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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