Welcome to this week's edition of Martin's 5!
The Dallas Cowboys put together an impressive performance against the Pittsburgh Steelers last week on the road and improved to 8-1. This week they will face another AFC North division team when they take on the Baltimore Ravens at AT&T Stadium.
The Ravens quietly have one of the better defenses in the NFL, so it could be a tough test for the Cowboys offense if they aren't careful.
Honestly, the Baltimore Ravens don't really scare me that much, but you can't underestimate any team in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys have the momentum on their side and I look for them to come out and dominate once again.
Even though I'm nearly 100% confident they will beat the Baltimore Ravens this week, there are still quite a few things that are rambling around my head that I can't quit thinking about.
Luckily, this was the sole purpose of Martin's 5 and now I get to share them with you to hopefully get some answers, or at the very least get them out my head.
Below are the five things I'm wondering about this week. I hope you enjoy.
One: Tony Romo addressed the media Tuesday afternoon with a statement he prepared before hand. He didn't answer any questions, but he did speak from the heart. You could tell that he was visually shaken up and emotional while reading his statement, and the only thing I could think of while watching was whether or not his career in Dallas is over? I'll personally go on record as saying that I believe that Tony Romo is without a doubt the best quarterback on the Cowboys roster, and that in no way meant as a slap in the face to Dak Prescott. I'll even take this a step further and say that I don't think Prescott performs as well as he has been without Romo's help preparing him week in and week out. I would hate to see Romo's career end like this with the Dallas Cowboys. He has done so much for this organization and probably doesn't get the respect that he deserves.
Two: Let's stick with Tony Romo here for a little bit longer. If he is indeed active this week against the Baltimore Ravens, I wonder if offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will have some packages ready for Romo in the game plan for certain situations? Where Tony Romo improves this offense the most is in the passing game, so it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility see him brought in if the coaching staff believes he gives the offense the best chance to convert. I truly believe that Tony Romo makes this team better, but I'm not ready to hand the reins over with the way Dak Prescott has been playing. Maybe Romo can get a series or two in trash time because the Cowboys are completely dominating the Ravens late in the game.
Three: Ezekiel Elliott has been simply outstanding for the Dallas Cowboys this season and is still on pace to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record. I wonder if he has now become the favorite to win NFL MVP. Elliott joins the likes of Eric Dickerson and Adrian Peterson as the only running backs to break the 1,000 yard mark in the first nine games of the season. If he continues to play this way, I don't see how he isn't the unanimous selection to win NFL MVP. Of course, Dak Prescott could have something to say about that if he continues to start and play the way he has been. Take a look people. This is our future for the Dallas Cowboys.
Four: When is enough enough? News broke a few days ago that Randy Gregory has failed yet another drug test, but somehow he is still on the Cowboys roster. I wonder if Jerry Jones and Company should make an example out of Gregory or if they will continue to stand by him while he works through his problems? Jones has shown in the past that he's willing to stick with talented players despite their off the field problems, but does Jason Garrett feel the same way? Garrett is still the head coach and should probably have the ultimate say in these types of decisions, but that's not the way Jerry Jones operates. This team is performing really well, and that has a lot to do with the fact they have been relatively drama free this year. The situation will definitely be worth keeping an eye on.
Five: Geoff Swaim tore his pectoral muscle in the first half against the Pittsburgh Steelers and could possibly miss the remainder of the season. I wonder if his absence on the field will have a bigger impact on the offense then we would expect? Swaim has been reliable in the passing game when his number has been called, but his biggest impact on the offense is blocking in the running game. James Hanna isn't ready to rejoin the team after his knee surgery, so it looks like Gavin Escobar will replace Swaim in the lineup. Escobar is more of the receiving type of tight end and really struggles securing blocks in the running game. That is one of the reasons why he hasn't been utilized as much on offense. It will be really interesting to see how the coaching staff accounts for Swaim's absence and if it has a negative impact for the team. Maybe they activate Rico Gathers from their practice squad?
What are you wondering about this week?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to share with all of us anything you have on your mind this week.
Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?
Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.
Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire
In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.
But in reality, is there?
For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.
The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.
First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.
The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.
In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.
Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?
Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.
That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.
Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support
Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.
According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.
A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:
“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”
Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.
As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:
“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”
While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.
The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.
Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.
Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch’s Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion
The Dallas Cowboys know what they're doing when it comes to the NFL Draft. Not to be outdone by Philadelphia, the Cowboys brought the 2018 Draft to AT&T Stadium, marking the first time the event's been held in an NFL stadium. This made Boise State Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch the first player to be drafted on the field he now calls home. Returning home this week after two straight interceptions against the Eagles and Falcons, Vander Esch is far from the controversial pick that drew jeers inside AT&T Stadium on draft night and every bit the star the Cowboys projected him to be.
The ascension of Leighton "Wolf Hunter" Vander Esch as one of the best young linebackers in the game has happened rapidly. LVE played eight man football in high school, tasked to do everything on both sides of the ball before settling into defense as a walk onto the blue turf.
For the first time in what seems like forever, the Cowboys have more than just a plan to play defense without Sean Lee. Thanks to their 19th overall pick they're thriving as one of the best units in the league, making Lee an afterthought.
Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have changed the entire makeup of the Cowboys defense, two young and athletic linebackers that should be roaming the middle of the field for a long time in Dallas.
This is exactly what LVE was able to do on his interceptions of both Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan. Vander Esch defending well against the pass is probably the least surprising part of his development, as his coverage skills always overshadowed his strength against the run in college.
It just so happens that Vander Esch tallied 63 tackles in eight games before recording his first career interception, establishing himself as an all-around linebacker with no true weakness. Vander Esch has played with the power and block shedding ability that matches his sideline to sideline range and instincts, as opposing offenses have done little to slow the Cowboys new leader on defense.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
This is Vander Esch's first interception, which set up a Cowboys field goal against the Eagles. Watch as Leighton reads the eyes of Wentz through the play, first angling towards his check down throw and then gaining depth to intercept the pass.
The subtle yet effective movements from Vander Esch to undercut Wentz's throw is a fine example of how quickly LVE has picked up on Kris Richard's defense, as well as the next level game speed.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
Sunday's interception from Vander Esch was the type of game breaking play the Cowboys needed to separate from the Falcons in hostile territory. Although the Falcons would rally to tie the game after this point, the Cowboys defense became the first to hold Atlanta under 20 points at home this season, thanks in large part to LVE as always.
The smoothness from Vander Esch on this play is exceptional, stepping up into coverage against the running back before sprinting back in position for the turnover. Calvin Ridley, drafted seven picks after Vander Esch, helps Leighton by letting Ryan's pass go through his hands.
Give Vander Esch credit for being in the right place at the right time and finishing the play. Every week, the rookie finds a way to do something memorable, and in helping the Cowboys earn their first two road wins of 2018 he finally flashed in pass coverage.
The next challenge for the Cowboys defense comes on a short week, against the division leading Washington Redskins. Though they lost starting Quarterback Alex Smith for the season on Sunday, expected to start Colt McCoy on Thanksgiving, it was Running Back Adrian Peterson that gashed the Cowboys for 4.13 yards a carry and 99 total yards in the Redskins week six win over Dallas.
Given what not only Leighton Vander Esch but the rest of the Cowboys defense has shown against the run in recent weeks, all without David Irving and most recently without either Antwaun Woods or Daniel Ross, the Cowboys should certainly be prepared to play for first place in the NFC East on Thursday.
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