Welcome to the first playoff edition of Martin's 5!
The Dallas Cowboys are probably a little bit relieved that they are playing the Green Bay Packers this week instead of the New York Giants. I'm not saying they were rooting for the Packers to win, but the Giants are the only team that have beaten them twice this season, whereas they have already beaten the Packers and relatively easily.
You can bet that there are plenty of Cowboys players that are anxiously waiting for kick off Sunday to try to revenge the controversial playoff loss they suffered at the hands of the Green Bay Packers back in 2014. Dez Bryant in particularly is likely leading the charge.
For the rookie and second year players like Byron Jones, Ezekiel Elliott, and Dak Prescott, they probably aren't as vengeful since they didn't play that game back in 2014, but I don't think for second they won't be ready for this matchup.
I don't know about you, but there is plenty of things I'm wondering about this week ahead of the Cowboys matchup with the Packers. Below are the five things I decide to share with you this week. I hope you enjoy.
One: The last time the Dallas Cowboys and the Green Bay Packers faced off against one another was earlier this season in Week 6. That matchup resulted in a victory for the Cowboys and that was in large part due to the performance of defensive lineman David Irving. Irving only played 19 defensive snaps, but sacked quarterback Aaron Rodgers once and forced three fumbles, one of which he recovered. That Week 6 performance earned him the NFC Defensive Player of the Week. I wonder if he can have a repeat performance this week with much more on the line for the Dallas Cowboys? I certainly think it's possible considering the way Irving closed out the 2016 regular season. He was arguably the best defensive lineman the Cowboys had and should receive more playing time because of his ability to get after the QB. The defense has to find some way to harass Aaron Rodgers and David Irving might just be the answer.
Two: Let's stick with David Irving here for a little bit longer. I wonder if defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will game plan ways to create favorable matchups for Irving? Irving is probably at his best when he is playing inside as the 3-technique in the Cowboys 4-3 defensive scheme. His quickness and length create problems for offensive guards and if he can win some of those matchups, it could force Aaron Rodgers into making some uncharacteristic mistakes. It is really going to be interesting to see how much playing time Irving receives with a lot of their defensive lineman returning from injuries that limited them towards the end of the regular season. #95 has had a problem staying consistent, but the game changing plays he can make should earn him more playing time.
Three: In the previous match up with the Green Bay Packers, Ezekiel Elliott rushed for 157 yards on 28 carries and had two catches for 17 yards. I wonder if Elliott can come anywhere close to repeating that performance? The good news is if #21 is even remotely close to approaching 150 rushing yards, then that means the Cowboys are probably controlling the time of possession and keeping Aaron Rodgers and his high-powered offense off the field. This is probably the way Jason Garrett and the coaching staff would like things to play out. It worked for them earlier this season, so why not lay down the same blueprint and hope that everything turns out the same when the final seconds tick off the clock at the end of the game. Isn't that why it Ezekiel Elliott was pretty much drafted so highly in the first place?
Four: After having perhaps the best seven games of his entire professional career earlier this season, Morris Claiborne unfortunately missed the remainder of the year due to a groin injury. It looks as if he will be able to play this Sunday against the Green Bay Packers, but I'm wondering exactly where he fits into the secondary? Brandon Carr has been playing pretty well since moving to the right side and Anthony Brown has simply been outstanding, especially considering he was just a sixth round rookie. I don't think Claiborne unseats either one of them on the outside, and I certainly don't think he is better than Orlando Scandrick in the slot. That doesn't leave a lot of room for Claiborne to make his way back to the field, but as much as Green Bay likes to play in multiple receiver sets, #24 will still probably see plenty of playing time. Regardless of how much playing time he receives, his return to the lineup definitely makes the Cowboys secondary better.
Five: The Dallas Cowboys haven't beaten the Green Bay Packers yet, but I wonder who they would rather face out of the Atlanta Falcons and the Seattle Seahawks? I know I'm getting a little ahead of myself here, but I don't really see the harm of looking ahead. Of course, I don't want the Dallas Cowboys doing the same. I want their full attention on the Packers this week. Personally, I think I would rather see the Seattle Seahawks than the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship if the Cowboys take care business this week. The Falcons are the one team left in the NFC that scares me the most because of how many points they can put on the board on offense. They are a well-balanced offense and can really hurt the Cowboys defense in both the running and passing game. The Seahawks however don't have the same dominating defense we have seen in years past, and I don't think their offense can keep pace with the Cowboys'. I hope that's the way things turn out at least.
Is there anything you are wondering about this week?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to share with all of us anything you're wondering about this week.
Tyron Smith Named Most “Underpaid Veteran” On Dallas Cowboys
Counting the pockets of Cowboys star players has become a favorite activity of the national media this offseason, as everyone tries to figure out how Dallas will structure the deals for their young players over the course of the next year.
While trying to figure out what the new deals will look like, it's worth reflecting on how well the team did on some of their past negotiations. The Ringer released an article this week naming the most underpaid veteran on each NFL roster, with Tyron Smith earning that honor for the Cowboys.
Smith, who signed his extension with the team back in 2014, is under the deal until the 2024 season. That 8 year extension was lucrative at the time for sure, but as the salary cap rises and other offensive tackles have gotten paid, it looks more like a bargain deal for Dallas by the second.
"A long contract is a bad deal for an elite player in a league in which revenue grows handily. The salary cap was $133 million in 2014, but it’s $188.2 million for 2019. So while the Cowboys have 41.5 percent more money to spend, Smith hasn’t had a raise in five seasons. The Cowboys essentially locked up one of the best tackles of his generation for his entire career."
When put like this, you can see just what a steal of a contract the Cowboys signed Tyron Smith for. Smith is inked for the entirety of the prime of his career, and has very little leverage for a holdout given how many years still remain on this deal.
On the field, Tyron Smith remains one of the best left tackles in all of football, even if back issues have forced him to miss some time over the last two seasons. Smith should remain a top contributor for the Cowboys for at least a few more years, all of which will come at a bargain for a Cowboys team looking to execute some salary cap gymnastics next offseason.
PFF Ranks Cowboys Run Defense 13th In The NFL
The Cowboys duo of young linebackers took the NFL by storm in 2018.
Rookie Leighton Vander Esch and former second round pick Jaylon Smith played well above expectations, as for the first time in years Dallas did not face a significant drop off in defensive production when Sean Lee was out and injured.
These young linebackers are the cornerstone of a run defense which should be among the league's best going forward, and Pro Football Focus agrees. Well, somewhat agrees.
PFF ranked all 32 run defenses heading into the 2019 season, slotting the Cowboys 13th overall. Better than half the league, but not quite top 10.
PFF's reasoning behind this ranking certainly makes sense, as they credit the young linebacker duo without mentioning much of what will be in front of them helping to stop opposing running games.
"The Cowboys’ run defense begins and ends with the league’s best young linebacker duo. Leighton Vander Esch ranked third in run-stop percentage as a rookie while Jaylon Smith checked in at 29th."
The playoff loss in Los Angeles has left a bad taste about the Cowboys' interior defensive line in a lot of mouths, but I do think they've improved the unit this offseason. Signing Christian Covington and drafting Trysten Hill was a nice start to do so, but having Maliek Collins healthy and Antwaun Woods back for a full season will also go a long way.
Interestingly enough, two of the Cowboys divisional foes came in ranked above them on this list. Washington was slotted as the 12th best run defense, while Philadelphia was placed at number 8. Both teams' units deserve respect, of course, but this further highlights how difficult it could be to run the ball in the NFC East this season.
While I hate simply throwing this term around, analytics suggest that passing is what wins games in the NFL. Passing and stopping the pass, I should say.
With strong run defenses in their division, the Cowboys will need to maximize their passing game efficiency if they want to repeat as NFC East champions.
3 Reasons Amari Cooper is Primed for an All-Pro Season
Amari Cooper changed life for the entire Dallas Cowboys offense in 2018. Finally, Quarterback Dak Prescott has the number one option at wide receiver he's desperately needed since his rookie campaign. Now, after half a season and multiple playoff games under his belt in Dallas, Cooper is set to have a monster year. Here are three specific reasons why.
Head Coach Jason Garrett has established a certain way of doing things in Dallas since taking over in 2010. His constant search for the RKG or "Right Kinda Guy" as he puts it has the culture in the locker room at a very positive and productive place. As criticized as he is, justifiably or not, he has his team all on the same page. This is something Cooper has been trying to find since he entered the league in 2015. An organization with the right mindset in order for him to perform and maximize his skill set. After being traded to Dallas, Cooper opened up in November about being unhappy during his days in Oakland.
"I wasn't really happy in Oakland or anything like that. But when I sat and thought about it [Monday} night, I thought about the fact that they traded me away. I don't know how to feel about it," Cooper told Yahoo Sports.
This may seem small to others considering these players make millions of dollars right? Well, it doesn't change the fact that they're human. When you feel unappreciated you don't play to the best of your abilities. Shortly after the trade, Cooper talked about how he's been different since putting a star on his helmet. "I feel like it did change me, as far as having that chip on my shoulder. Not that I wasn't passionate before, but playing with more passion, trying to intentionally have fun out there. It definitely has changed me, in terms of me going out there and just having fun with it," Cooper said. A change of scenery was just what the doctor ordered for Cooper and the Cowboys.
2. The other weapons around him
The Cowboys aren't just Amari Cooper or bust at the wide receiver position. Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb provide more challenges for defenses on a weekly basis. Gallup has firmly locked down the number two spot on the depth chart. It took a while for him to establish chemistry with Dak Prescott, as they would misfire on several big plays during the first half of the season. Nonetheless, by seasons end things started to pick up, and he finished with 33 receptions for 507 yards and 2 touchdowns. In the playoffs, he scored a touchdown in the Cowboys Wild Card win over Seattle. The next week against the Rams he performed well even in defeat, with 6 receptions for 119 yards. He's got speed, size, and versatility. Now with a full season and two games of playoff experience under his belt, I look for even more production from Gallup, as a possible breakout star.
Randall Cobb is a much-needed upgrade in the slot for the Cowboys. Unlike former receiver Cole Beasley, Cobb can line up inside or outside. Giving new Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore a bigger bag of tricks at his disposal. Now, he can lineup Cooper inside or outside and play with a plethora of different looks, keeping defenses off balance because of the uncertainty of how the Cowboys will attack through the air.
Then, of course, there's Ezekiel Elliott. The two-time rushing champion is the tone-setter on offense and dictates how defenses will attack. With Cooper being such a threat in the air you basically have to pick your poison. 8-9 man fronts against the run can make you vulnerable to play action down the field or quick slants with Cooper's exceptional route running. The more productive Elliott is the more honest it keeps opposing defenses, opening up more opportunities in the passing game. Averaging 101.2 yards per game for his career, second all-time to Hall of Famer Jim Brown, Elliott can make create even more opportunities for Cooper in 2019 with a full season of playing time together.
Amari Cooper is currently looking to sign a long-term deal with the Cowboys. Preferably, both sides would like to get this deal done before the season starts considering he's in the last year of his rookie contract that is set to pay him 13.9 million in 2019. However, it isn't just a new deal that motivates Cooper heading into the new season.
"It's kind of a weird situation, just being that I've never been in this situation before, talking about a contract. But also, I'm under a fifth-year option, so I'm not too familiar with it. I really don't ask my agent many questions. I'm not really worried about it that much. I'm more focused on actually playing and really earning the respect and then the contract," Cooper said.
Being motivated by earning respect is a very mature approach from Cooper. Now, add that to the fact that I'm sure he wants to firmly put his name alongside Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins, Odell Beckham Jr, and Michael Thomas as the best receivers in the game, you have a fully motivated number one option heading into the new season.
Amari Cooper has already made three pro bowls, but now there's another level for him to reach. In just nine games last year with the Cowboys he caught 53 passes for 725 yards and 6 touchdowns. Also, he caught another 13 on 18 targets in the playoffs for 171 yards and a score. He's in the right culture, he has a number of other weapons around him and he has multiple reasons to be motivated heading in the new season. With a full offseason of building chemistry with Dak Prescott, I see Cooper taking that leap to the All-Pro level in 2019.
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