Welcome to this week's edition of Martin's 5!
The Dallas Cowboys have won nine games in a row and hope to continue that streak a few hours from now against the Washington Redskins.
Yes, it's a quick turnaround after defeating the Baltimore Ravens Sunday afternoon, but you won't hear anybody making excuses or feeling sorry for the Cowboys.
These divisional games are always hard-fought battles. They usually are decided in the final few seconds of the game, and I would expect nothing else when these two teams square off against one another Thursday afternoon.
You would think that with all of the holiday goings-on my mind would be preoccupied with other things, but you would be mistaken.
There are still a lot of things stuck in my head that I can't quite get rid of, so luckily I have this space to throw them out there for all of you, with the hopes that they don't return.
Below are the five things I'm wondering about this week.
One: I thought it was really interesting that the Dallas Cowboys activated both Darren McFadden and Jaylon Smith from the NFI list. Well, not so much McFadden. The last official news about Smith was that he was continuing to rehab from his knee injury, while waiting for the nerve to start to fire once again. Apparently, the nerve in his knee is starting to regenerate, which makes me wonder if we might see him suit up for the Dallas Cowboys at some point in 2016? Jaylon would have been a top-five draft pick if not for suffering a devastating knee injury. The Cowboys have already gotten more production from their rookie draft class than they could have ever imagined, and Smith would just be icing on the cake. I still think it's a long shot for him to play in 2016, but the news that the nerve in his knee is starting to regenerate is great news. The Cowboys have three weeks to evaluate him before having to make a decision about whether or not they add him to the active roster.
Two: The Dallas Cowboys seem to be set at the running back position, so I wonder where Darren McFadden fits in the picture when/if he is added to the active roster? I don't think we will see him stealing any carries away from Ezekiel Elliott, and I'm not sure that he is better than Alfred Morris. So, that leaves Lance Dunbar as the logical odd man out. Dunbar has struggled staying healthy since entering the NFL, so maybe McFadden is just an insurance policy in case someone gets injured. McFadden could possibly be a valuable asset as the season progresses. He has fresh legs and has already proven that he can be successful running behind the Cowboys talented offensive line.
Three: I've learned not to bet against Dak Prescott, but I wonder if he is as mentally and physically prepared as he usually is for this week's matchup against the Washington Redskins after such a quick turnaround? Prescott has been simply amazing this season and his performance is a big reason why the Dallas Cowboys have won nine consecutive games in a row. In all honesty, I don't worry too much about him being mentally prepared, but he did take quite a few big hits last week against the Baltimore Ravens and could be feeling the aftereffects. I personally think that he will be okay, but this is a lingering thought that I just can't quite shake for some reason.
Four: The Dallas Cowboys have gotten out to a slow start the past couple of games, but somehow have been able to play from behind and come away with the victory. I personally wouldn't be surprised if they start slowly once again, especially having to play after such a quick turnaround with so many rookies contributing at key positions. Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Prescott, and the rest of the Cowboys 2016 rookie draft class are unaccustomed to playing two games in less than a weeks time, so it makes me wonder if they're getting any help with their preparation. Let's just hope that veteran players like Jason Witten and Tony Romo have shared their knowledge with these young players about how to best prepare for these Thursday night games. Everyone will need to be on top of their game to sweep the Redskins this year, because I don't know if they can continue to fall behind opponents and still hope to win.
Five: You can call it a gut feeling if you want, but I wonder if Lucky Whitehead makes a key play in the game to help the Dallas Cowboys beat the Washington Redskins? I don't know what it is, but I think Whitehead has a game changing play this week. We haven't really seen him involved in the offense very much lately, so maybe the coaching staff gives him a jet sweep in a key situation that catches the Redskins defense off guard. The Redskins defense is aggressive and their defensive ends like to crash down to help stop the running game. The use of the jet sweep will not only keep them from crashing down, but also helps open up running lanes for Ezekiel Elliott. Then again, maybe we will see him finally take one to the house as a returner. Regardless, I just have the feeling that Lucky Whitehead will have a game changing moment against the Redskins.
Is there anything you're wondering about this week?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to share with all of us anything that might stuck in your head this week.
Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches
Lamentablemente, la temporada 2018 de los Dallas Cowboys ha llegado a su fin. Lo hizo cuando el equipo visitó Los Angeles para intentar sorprender a los Rams en su propio campo en la Ronda Divisional de los playoffs. Ni siquiera con una invasión exitosa de la afición de Dallas pudieron ganarse un pase al Campeonato de Conferencia. En vez de eso, los Cowboys estarán viendo desde casa y la afición estará preguntándose: ¿qué sigue para los Dallas Cowboys?
Parece ya una tradición anual que no podemos dejar pasar. Este momento en el que comenzamos a cuestionar, una vez más, que entrenador es digno de quedarse en la franquicia y cual debe irse. En esta edición de "Cowboys en Español," hablaremos específicamente de los tres principales coaches en el equipo.
Coordinador Defensivo Rod Marinelli
El futuro del coordinador defensivo de los Dallas Cowboys no se puede tratar sin mencionar a Kris Richard. Fue la defensiva la que llevó al equipo hasta la postemporada y fue la unidad que cargó al equipo en muchas de sus victorias. Incluso con la llegada de Amari Cooper a Dallas, la defensiva fue siempre el pilar de la franquicia esta temporada.
Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch sorprendentemente se perfilaron como uno de los mejores duos de linebackers en toda la liga, la línea defensiva fue muy exitosa con Randy Gregory y DeMarcus Lawrence en los extremos y con la grata sorpresa que fue Antwaun Woods en el centro. La secundaria vio la mejor temporada en la controversial carrera de Byron Jones e hizo un excelente trabajo con un talento decente, pero no genial.
Todo esto, y el haber terminado como la sexta mejor defensiva en puntos permitidos (20.2) y la quinta mejor contra la corrida (94.6), hace a Rod Marinelli merecedor de una ronda de aplausos. Sin embargo, Richard probablemente merezca más aplausos.
Fue Richard quien revolucionó la defensiva de los Cowboys y la convirtió en un grupo mucho más agresivo. Fue él quien implementó jugadas de "blitz" en el equipo (algo no común con Marinelli) y quien en un punto de la temporada, comenzó a seleccionar las jugadas desde la banda.
En esta posición, me parece que los Dallas Cowboys tienen que enfrentar la dura decisión de decirle a Marinelli que es tiempo de dejarle el puesto a Kris Richard. Si bien no se llevó un trabajo de head coach, es muy probable que le llovieran ofertas a Richard si no se hace con el título de coordinador defensivo en Dallas.
Coordinador Ofensivo Scott Linehan
Con un equipo tan polémico como este, la afición de Dallas no concuerda en muchas cosas. Sin embargo, lo hacen al hablar del pésimo trabajo que Scott Linehan ha realizado mandando las jugadas en ofensiva. Realmente ha sido doloroso de ver y es en mi opinión, el mayor problema que tiene el equipo actualmente.
Semana tras semana, fuimos testigos de pésimas decisiones en la ofensiva de los Cowboys. Vimos como el equipo se aferraba a llenar la caja de defensivos antes de correr el balón con Ezekiel Elliott. Vimos incontables pases pantalla en tercera oportunidad y largo. Pero no solo es lo que vimos, sino lo que no vimos.
A pesar de la innegable habilidad para correr el balón de Dak Prescott, Linehan se rehusó a explotar esta versatilidad de su QB. Vimos pocos "QB sneaks," jugada donde el mariscal toma el balón bajo centro y consigue poco yardage detrás del empuje de su línea ofensiva.
Siendo honestos, los Cowboys llevan dos años sufriendo por este coordinador. Dejarlo volver en el 2019 sería una decisión ridícula. Los comentarios en la radio de Jason Garrett no lucen prometedores, pero realmente sería una sorpresa que fueran ciertos. Linehan no debe volver... punto.
Head Coach Jason Garrett
El futuro en esta posición será muy debatido durante los próximos meses, pero de los tres que hemos mencionado es sin lugar a dudas el más seguro de todos. Nos guste o no, Jason Garrett estará al frente del equipo la próxima temporada.
Garrett está lejos de ser un gran coach y aún le hace falta demostrar que puede cumplir las aspiraciones de los Cowboys de traer un sexto Trofeo Lombardi a casa. Pero siendo honesto, este equipo debería tener suficiente con Garrett y un par de buenos coordinadores. ¿El problema? No hay un par de buenos coordinadores en el equipo.
Sin embargo, Garrett ha demostrado que cuenta con el amor y apoyo de sus jugadores. Ha demostrado que efectivamente, puede ganar la división (lo ha hecho en tres de los últimos cinco años). Este año el equipo le dio la vuelta a la temporada después de comenzar 3-5.
Lo más preocupante en mi opinión, es la falta de urgencia para despedir a Linehan, por ejemplo. Quizá a puerta cerrada Garrett quiere un cambio en su staff, pero nunca lo sabremos.
Jason Garrett no es un coach excelente, pero podría ser suficiente para llevar a los Cowboys a un Super Bowl si tiene un equipo adecuado. Todo parece indicar que su trabajo está seguro (incluso más de lo que pensamos) así que es tiempo de esperar que se arreglen sus coordinadores.
2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch
As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.
It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.
Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.
No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.
This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.
There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.
Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.
Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.
What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?
Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.
Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.
They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?
Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.
Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.
Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.
Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.
Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.
This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.
The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.
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