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.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
When it Mattered Most, Cowboys Offensive Line Protected Dak Prescott
Throughout the 2018 NFL season, one of the major story lines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys was how frequently Dak Prescott was taking sacks. It's an area that the Cowboys will have to look at in the offseason to better protect their franchise quarterback moving forward. In the playoffs, however, Dak Prescott and the offensive line were much better at keeping their prized possession upright than they were in the regular season.
In the regular season, Dak Prescott was sacked 56 times for an average of 3.5 times a game. There was only one game where he wasn't sacked at all, way back in week two against the New York Giants. Four times this season, the Cowboys' quarterback was sacked five or more times. The New Orleans Saints got him for a season high seven times.
According to Pro Football Focus, Dak was "kept clean" -- not pressured -- on 63% of his drop backs during the regular season, which ranked 25th in the NFL. When kept clean, Prescott completed 74.1% of his passes, which was good for 5th in the NFL during the regular season. He was under pressure 37% of the time, which was the sixth highest rate in the NFL and his completion percentage dropped to 52.6%, still good for 10th in the NFL. It was better than Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson, Patrick Mahomes, Jared Goff, Carson Wentz, and Baker Mayfield.
During the playoffs, Prescott's "kept clean" percentage rose from 63% to 68% and he was only sacked once in each game. The one sack against the Los Angeles Rams probably shouldn't have been called a sack as the referee blew the whistle because Prescott was "in the grasp"...
...of his offensive lineman.
During the playoffs, the Cowboys offensive line kept the pressure off of Prescott at a better rate, allowing him to be pressured on only 31.9% of his drop backs. Meaning he was kept clean at an improved rate from the regular season at 68.1% of his drop backs. This while playing against two teams that are really good at rushing the passer. The Los Angeles Rams and the Seattle Seahawks both finished in the top half of the league in sacks this season and feature players like Aaron Donald, Jarran Reed, and Frank Clark who all had double-digit sacks.
As we know, pressure rates and sacks aren't all completely on the offensive line. The quarterback, wide receivers, and the play calling all factor in, but the Cowboys are trending in the right direction with their pass protection. A full offseason for Connor Williams in the Dallas Cowboys strength and conditioning program, better health for Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and -- fingers crossed -- Travis Frederick, should all help the offensive line play at a higher level heading into the 2019 season.
It can't be overstated how important it will be to get Travis Frederick back into the fold this season. Joe Looney was good, and that might be overstating it a bit. He was not noticeable on most plays during the season, but getting your All-Pro center back will tremendously help the offense in every facet of the game. Frederick's one of the smarter players in the NFL, who helps everyone on the offense to see the blitzes and calls out the protections. Both his mental and physical ability will be a welcomed site when the Cowboys begin practicing in the offseason.
With another year of growth for the quarterback and for the young pieces along the offensive line, and with a full offseason for Dak Prescott to grow with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Blake Jarwin, the Cowboys should be better next season at keeping the quarterback clean.
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