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Learning Opportunity: Cowboys Play to Lose, Escape Minnesota 11-1

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - Learning Opportunity: Cowboys Play to Lose, Escape Minnesota 11-1

Last night's narrow 17-15 victory over the Minnesota Vikings was tough to watch. Though any win's a good one, it was arguably an even uglier performance for the Dallas Cowboys than their Week One loss to the New York Giants.

Michael Irvin

Michael Irvin, former Cowboys WR

For one former Cowboy, though, it may have been the best of both worlds.

Before the Cowboys' Thanksgiving rematch with Washington, the legendary Michael Irvin said that he hoped Dallas would lose the game. In a radio interview on 105.3 The Fan, Irvin actually advocated losing to our greatest rival.

"I need a loss in here on the way to the playoffs. To re-identify, refocus."

This obviously sounds funny coming from The Playmaker, a guy who Stephen Jones recently said was his favorite player from the 90s dynasty. However, Irvin made it clear that he had the Cowboys' best interests in mind.

"YOU WANT TO HANDLE THIS KIND OF ADVERSITY AND GET REFOCUSED. I DON'T WANT TO GO INTO THE PLAYOFFS WITHOUT THAT. BECAUSE THEN WHEN YOU WIN NINE, 10, 12 GAMES YOU ALMOST FORGET HOW BAD IT FEELS TO LOSE."

As we all know, the Cowboys did not lose to Washington. I wouldn't be surprised if, as he watched that game, Michael Irvin got caught up in the moment and forgot about his original position. Losing on Thanksgiving Day to a NFC East rival would've been a high price to pay for a chance to refocus.

You don't always have to lose to be disappointed in your performance. Regardless of what the scoreboard said, the game tape shows mistakes just as vividly in victory as in defeat.

Last night's win over the Vikings wasn't a loss, but it really should have been. The Cowboys had four fumbles, losing two of them, to go along with several foot-shooting penalties. They allowed Dak Prescott to be sacked three times, the most he's been hit since Week 2. It was also the most frustrated that running back Ezekiel Elliott has looked in a long time; his lowest rushing total and worst average per-carry since Week 2.

The defense had its own problems. The NFL's worst rushing offense, missing its starting center, averaged over 4.6 yards per carry. The return of Barry Church did little to stop Sam Bradford from completing throw after throw.

Despite their 6-5 record going into the game, the Minnesota Vikings were not a good team. Last night was their sixth loss in seven games. Their head coach wasn't even there as Mike Zimmer recovered from eye surgery.

Dallas set the table for a loss. Fortunately, the Vikings just were't good enough to take advantage.

Michael Irvin should be happy. That game was full of frustration and flaws; plenty of fodder for Jason Garrett and his staff to work with in getting this team ready for the postseason. The Cowboys may get all of the benefit of a loss without actually feeling it in the standings.

The timing was also ideal. Dallas has ten days to get ready for a critical Week 14 showdown with the New York Giants. The extra rest is big, but now they also have the negatives from the Minnesota game to use as teaching points and motivation.

"I want a searching of ourselves one time before the playoffs; 14-2 is a great record."

I think Mike will get his wish this week. A rematch against the only team to beat you is a cause for searching. The week following an ugly, almost even embarrassing performance is a cause. The compound effect should have a hungry, focused, and rested Cowboys team headed to New York next week to clinch the NFC East.

If the Cowboys do end up 14-2, let it be because Mark Sanchez was the starting quarterback in Week 17. Just a few more wins and Dallas will likely have their division and conference all locked up. This isn't the time for a backwards step.

The Cowboys stumbled last night but ultimately fell forward. Coach Garrett will make sure that it's all the wake-up call that they need.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Dallas Cowboys

Ezekiel Elliott vs Byron Jones Part II: The Case For Paying Zeke

John Williams

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New York Giants are 2-1 Against Cowboys With Ezekiel Elliott

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.

Kevin Brady on Twitter

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.

John Williams ✭ on Twitter

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.



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BREAKING: Cowboys Sign Ex-Packers WR Randall Cobb

Brian Martin

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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.

Adam Schefter on Twitter

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!



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REPORT: Dallas Cowboys Re-sign Long Snapper L.P. Ladouceur

Jess Haynie

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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.

Todd Archer on Twitter

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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