Welcome to this week's edition of Martin's 5!
How many times do you get something stuck in your head and can't quite get rid of that thought? Well, that's what this space is for and why I created Martin's 5 to begin with.
Each week I come up with five different things I'm wondering about in regards to the Dallas Cowboys and their upcoming game. I use this space to share with you things that are rattling around in my head in hopes of getting some kind of answer, or at the very least throw them out there with hope that they won't return.
This week the Dallas Cowboys renew an old historic rivalry when they travel to Heinz Field and take on the Pittsburgh Steelers.
This game could come down to which offense can score more points, but the Cowboys are firing on all cylinders right now, while the Steelers seem to be sputtering just a little bit. Regardless of each team's record at this point, you can bet this is will be a fun game to watch.
Having said all of that, below are the five things I'm wondering about this week.
One: I don't know about you, but I bet defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli and the entire Dallas Cowboys organization couldn't possibly be more pleased with the way the defense has played the first half of the season. Even though the defensive unit has outperformed pretty much everyone's expectations, I still wonder when we will see DE DeMarcus Lawrence make an impact as a pass rusher? Lawrence is only played in four games after serving his four-game suspension, and only has four total tackles so far in 2016. He has come really close a number of times, but has yet to notch his first quarterback sack this year. He always seems to be a step or a halfstep too late and needs to finish when he has the QB in his grasp. Ben Roethlisberger is this week's target, but he is one of the more difficult QB's to bring down in the entire NFL. Maybe this is the week we see Lawrence get his first QB sack of the season.
Two: Let's stay with the defensive side of the ball for a little bit longer, because I'm wondering how Rod Marinelli will game plan against Antonio Brown and keep him from taking over the game? Brown is without a doubt the Pittsburgh Steelers most dangerous threat in the receiving game and if he gets going it could be a long night for the entire Dallas Cowboys defense. I think this is a game the Cowboys defense will miss not having Morris Claiborne in the lineup, but I wouldn't be surprised if Orlando Scandrick could be the one that is asked to follow Brown all over the field. Containing Antonio Brown might be the best way to shut down the Steelers offense and could possibly be the reason why the Cowboys come away with a victory at Heinz Field. Let's not forget that the Cowboys defense has yet to allow a 100 yard receiver or 100 yard rusher through the first half of the 2016 season. Hopefully they can keep that streak alive against the Steelers.
Three: There has been a lot of talk about Dez Bryant since he returned to the lineup after the Dallas Cowboys bye week. At first all you heard was how many times he was targeted and that the ball was forced to him against the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, everyone's talking about how he just had one reception for 19 yards against the Cleveland Browns. We all know that Bryant is active on social media and knows everything that's being said about him. I wonder what his mindset is after hearing all this criticism about him? Bryant is an emotional player when on the field and is known for his sideline outburst when things are going his way. With everything going the Cowboys way so far in 2016, it would really be unfortunate if Bryant has one of his meltdowns if the offense struggles and he's not being utilized the way he thinks he should be. This team has found success because they have bonded and have developed a chemistry with one another. Let's hope they can remain drama free for the second half of the season.
Four: The decision by the Dallas Cowboys not to trade Darren McFadden was a little bit surprising, especially after seeing what Ezekiel Elliott and Alfred Morris have been able to do the first half of the 2016 season. The Cowboys must envision some kind of role for McFadden once he is added to the active roster, but I wonder what kind of role that will be? I don't think he can beat Morris for that backup role behind Elliott, but he could possibly take Lance Dunbar's spot since he can't seem to stay healthy. This probably isn't the scenario that McFadden thought he would find himself in with the Cowboys this season after finishing fourth in the NFL in rushing last year, but you have to respect the way he is handled everything like a professional.
Five: As head coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Jason Garrett has been known to usually side on the eer of caution when it comes to making in game decisions, but this year he has taken on a more aggressive approach and it has paid off so far. He has already converted some key fourth and short plays in game changing situations and has even allowed trick plays to be utilized with the game on the line. I wonder if this new mindset has him as the favorite to win Coach of the Year so far through the first half the season? It will be really interesting to see if he continues to be aggressive in the second half the season like he has the first eight games.
Is there anything you are wondering about this week?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to share your thoughts and opinions on this topic.
Are the Dallas Cowboys Distancing Themselves from HC Jason Garrett?
Training camp is always an exciting time for the Dallas Cowboys, with 2018's proceedings being no exception. A major difference this year is the hype carrying over to the Cowboys coaching staff, featuring newcomers at the positional level everywhere but running back, safety, and defensive tackle.
Experienced coaches like Kris Richard, Paul Alexander, and Sanjay Lal will have a big impact on the Cowboys development as a 9-7 team that's only gotten younger this offseason. Still likely in need of a playoff appearance to save the job of Head Coach Jason Garrett and his coordinators, one can't help but question Garrett's effectiveness with this year's team.
The Cowboys appearance on NFL Films' latest All or Nothing series offered Cowboys Nation a rare look inside this team's day-to-day activities, including Garrett's role as a motivator and leader to many coaches no longer with the team.
Garrett's walk through a proverbial hall of mirrors at The Star reflects much deeper though. Ultimately, it's the players that decide games on Sundays, and the Cowboys didn't have enough of their blue chip ones on the field together for 2017. Whether or not this changes in 2018, the Cowboys can do little to shake the truth that conditions must be perfect for Garrett to captain this team to success.
If having a future Hall of Fame tight end like Jason Witten around wasn't enough for Garrett, going all in on this team in their first year without not only Witten but Dez Bryant feels foolish.
This underdog status and youthful nature may very well bring the Cowboys back to their 2016 form. I've already mentioned mirrors however, and how about the smoke? Garrett's best year out of eight full seasons, that 13-3 campaign was surely not all 'smoke and mirrors', but it is now far enough in the past to expect improvement from the Cowboys head coach.
Garrett must overcome massive changes on the offense he once coordinated to see third-year Quarterback Dak Prescott put this team back in the playoff picture, or the Cowboys will only continue to change face even more dramatically for 2019.
Long gone are the innocent days of Garrett playing catch under the California sun with a rookie Prescott, who had no idea the impact he'd make on the entirety of this franchise so quickly. Now, the Cowboys may have to quickly separate this duo if looking to preserve a window of contention under Dak's rookie contract.
It truly will be fascinating to see the new points of emphasis this revamped Cowboys coaching staff brings to the team not only on the field in Oxnard but through their team meetings and into the regular season. As Garrett allows the likes of Richard and Lal to oversee important changes at CB/S and WR respectively, his overarching message of character, competition, and respect will still echo throughout the team.
Whether or not the slew of new players Garrett has to coach can inspire him to implement this message effectively, or if his days are numbered given the slack the Cowboys have already provided, is the most important story line for the Cowboys in 2018.
By most team's standards, a 9-7 season given the circumstances around the Cowboys a year ago is acceptable -- which it ultimately was for Dallas as they kept Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli.
This team's shortcomings through a disappointing season was enough for the Cowboys to begin reevaluating the coaches below this trio though, leaving only their ninth year head coach to fall victim to the level of turnover NFL teams are experiencing on the fly right now.
The Cowboys roster has received this message loud and clear. Will Garrett's carry the same impetus, and will it truly matter for the 2018 season?
Is WR Cedrick Wilson the Player With Most to Gain in Training Camp?
Within the Dallas Cowboys' uncertain wide receiver core, is sixth-round pick Cedrick Wilson. Considered a draft steal by many, Wilson's name is often lost in the mix among Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley and third round rookie Michael Gallup. Just days away from the start of the 2018 training camp, Cedrick Wilson might be the player with the most to gain on the team.
Wilson comes from the Boise State Broncos, where he set the school record for receiving yards in a season with 1,511 last year. As a sixth-round rookie, the young 22-year old receiver has an uphill battle ahead of him to earn a spot on the Cowboys' 53-man roster.
It shouldn't come as a surprise if he emerges victorious in this battle, though.
You see, the lack of a #1 receiver has been one of the main story lines for the Cowboys and for good reason. Heading into the preseason, there is no clear-cut "#1." But even though there isn't a big name such as Dez Bryant, I'm sure we'll feel way better about the wide receivers once the season starts and the offense manages to sustain a good passing attack led by Dak Prescott.
Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup seem like the two front-runners for being the "X" receivers on offense, the position in which Wilson lined up at Boise State during his last year in college football. It's tough to imagine a sixth round rookie being the starting "X" receiver in his rookie season, but that doesn't mean he can't earn an important role at some point of the year.
In 2017, the offense struggled due to the receivers failing to create separation downfield. Wilson, although a raw route-runner, was a very dangerous vertical threat in Boise State and could be just that for the Cowboys down the road.
He needs to improve as a player, but with Sanjay Lal focusing hard at route-running with his receivers, Cedrick could become an important target for Dak earlier than expected.
In order to do so, the young wide receiver will have to find success in training camp. Wide receiver will undoubtedly be one of the most intriguing position battles on the team, with many young yet unproven talent.
There's too many receivers that will be fighting for a roster spot over the following weeks, so Cowboys Nation is bound to be disappointed with so many so-called "pet cats." One or two of these guys will be released and I bet it'll hurt, just as it happens every year.
In all seriousness, though, with his ability to stretch the field and be a vertical threat plus his experience as an "X" receiver, Cedrick Wilson might not only make the roster, but become a significant piece for this new-look offense in Dallas during his rookie season.
Will DeMarcus Lawrence Be Franchise Tagged Again in 2019?
The deadline for extending players under the franchise tag has come and gone last Monday, in a day in which none of the remaining tagged players reached an agreement with their respective teams. That includes Dallas Cowboy Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, who's set to earn $17M in 2018.
The front office and the 26-year old defensive end failed to agree to a new contract before the season's start, but we saw that coming. After all, there was never a point in which we had the classic "X player and his team are close to a new deal" headline.
All of this makes the future of the Cowboys' promising "War Daddy" very uncertain. What lies a head of the player that put on an impressive show in 2018?
Since 2017 was Lawrence's breakout year, racking up 14.5 sacks trough the season, we have leaned towards the narrative of last season being his only good one. His performance last season was impressive and clearly his best one yet, but we tend to overlook 2015.
In his sophomore season, the only other year in which he has played 16 games, he finished the campaign with eight sacks and 35 tackles (55 combined). Really, the idea of 2017 being his only good year is not as accurate as we might think.
That being said, I think it's more likely that we see another great year from him this upcoming season than seeing a disappointing one. This, of course, will end up being the main thing that determines his future in Dallas.
The Dallas Cowboys front office really took a risk by tagging Lawrence this offseason. #90 was reportedly asking for an average of $17M per year in his long-term contract, which is Olivier Vernon kind of money.
So what if he puts a similar season or an even better one? Lawrence and his agent could end up asking for even more money. Perhaps in the 18 or 20 million dollars per year range. If that ends up being the case, the team will find itself in a tough position when trying to reach an agreement with its promising pass rusher.
Which leads us to the possibility of seeing the Cowboys franchise tagging Lawrence for the second consecutive season. Dallas will already be negotiating a contract extension with QB Dak Prescott, and things will get complicated. Even more if they decide to pursue a big-time free agent in March, such as Earl Thomas.
It would make sense, from a financial perspective, to hand the tag twice in consecutive years to D-Law. However, it shouldn't be the priority. If he plays like he did in 2017, the front office will be more than wise to extend him for good.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Cowboys will have approximately $50.6M. Seemingly, the team's cap woes will be over soon.
Fortunately, Lawrence didn't become a headache by threatening to holdout for offseason programs and even training camp. However, don't expect that to happen if he finds himself under the tag next year.
Careers in the NFL are short, so DeMarcus will surely want to get paid. If he keeps it up, he'll deserve it. As much as he deserves it, though, football is a cold business. If the Jones need to tag him, they will.
Do you think the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence in 2019?
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