Over just three weeks of the 2018 season, the NFL's new rule about hitting quarterbacks has stirred up as much controversy and angst as any amount of anthem kneeling ever did. Tyrone Crawford and the Dallas Cowboys can now add themselves to the list of perplexed victims of the league's misguided legislation.
On the Seattle Seahawks' first offensive series yesterday, Crawford made what in past years would have been a clean, textbook hit on Russell Wilson just as the ball was released. But out came the flag, claiming that Tyrone didn't make enough effort to avoid putting all his weight into the quarterback as he brought him down.
This flag came on a 3rd-down play with Seattle backed up on their own 12. Instead of punting, and likely giving Dallas excellent field position for their next series, the Seahawks got to continue the drive and eventually punt it from midfield.
That consequence may not sound like a big deal, but it robbed the Cowboys of their earned opportunity to get points on the board early. It changed the tone of the game early, and who knows what ripple effect that had the rest of the way.
The real issue here, though, is that that call can even be made. The NFL has finally taken QB protection too far, to the point that defensive players are left with no logical or physically possible way to do their jobs.
Before the Dallas game came on, I watched as the Packers' Clay Matthews got flagged yet again for the same type of call. It was the second time in as many games that Matthews has been given a foul for a clean hit.
Matthews' frustration after he saw that flag was clear. He looked disheartened, and part of me wondered if he might just walk right out of the stadium. In fact, I almost wanted him to pull a Vontae Davis just to help make the point to the league.
The NFL wants the best of both worlds. They want these players to go max effort when the rules allow and then pull it back in very specific, split-second situations. It's more than the human mind and body can do.
You can't ask these defenders to use everything they've got to get through a blocker, and then immediately rein it in once they get their hands on the quarterback.
You can't ask them to avoid going high on the QB, and then always know when the ball has been released. They don't have eyes in the top of their heads.
You can't ask them to come full force on a blitz or rush and then cool their jets within a second or less. Forget mind and body, even the basic laws of inertia don't work that way.
The NFL is asking for the impossible; a safe form of violence. That's like asking for non-toxic poison.
I understand the league's current global dilemma. They are looking down the barrel of rising CTE awareness, lawsuits from former players, and the diminishing participation in youth football. They're trying to save the game from extinction, or at least from falling off the throne as America's modern pastime.
But this rule isn't about that. This is about trying to keep star quarterbacks healthy so that fan engagement and TV ratings don't go down when an Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady gets injured.
The NFL is in the entertainment business, so I get their concern. Quarterbacks are the lead actors of the sport. You'd be disappointed if the next Mission Impossible movie was mostly Ving Rhames.
Protecting quarterbacks, given their vulnerability at times on the field, has its place. Some of the rules make sense, even if at times they lead to frustrating penalties.
But now they're messing with the core formula of football. If the Colonel got rid of one of his eleven herbs and spices, KFC chicken might not taste the same anymore. Coca-Cola might suddenly be worse than Pepsi (hard to imagine, I know) if they started changing the syrup.
The NFL isn't tweaking here. They're changing games and putting the burden on defensive players, in the heat of battle, to try to have machine-like precision.
Again, they're asking for the impossible.
Tyrone Crawford is no Vontaze Burfict. He's not a loose cannon. He's one of the genuine good guys in the NFL, who does everything the right way on and off the field.
You can only imagine his frustration right now, or that of Clay Matthews and anyone else hit with one of these penalties. Imagine what some of these guys, who aren't a Crawford or Matthews, might do if that frustration boils over.
You could hear it even in the commentary yesterday. Troy Aikman and Joe Buck were clearly disgusted by the calls, both in the Cowboys-Seahawks game and what's been happening so far this year. This was FOX's premier broadcast team openly bashing the NFL in a nationally televised game.
And if you think the players and commentators are frustrated, imagine how that translates to fan response.
The league is trying to avoid losing viewers from quarterback injuries. In the process, they may lose a lot more by damaging the game we love.
Playing football is an accepted risk. Players get it. Fans get it.
The NFL has to get it, and soon, before this conversation takes over in a way that past controversies haven't. The anthem kneeling was an overblown, media-driven story that never hit the bottom line they way they wanted you to believe. None of it mattered once the ball was kicked off.
But now the game is being damaged. Football is becoming less fun; a game of rules and penalties rather than action and intensity.
If something doesn't change, the NFL's self-preservation efforts just might lead to its demise.
How The Tables Have Turned for 2019 Dallas Cowboys
The 2018 season was a two-part tale for the Dallas Cowboys. The first is the story of a mediocre 3-5 team that couldn't get it going offensively. The second part is about a football team that turned its season around, made the playoffs, got a win in the postseason and ultimately lost to the team that ended up representing the NFC in Super Bowl LIII, the Los Angeles Rams.
Surely, 2018 didn't go as planned. The storylines leading to last season are actually very different from the ones we're hearing today. Let's take a look at a few examples of how the tables have turned for the Dallas Cowboys.
The need for a true WR1
Last season, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys preached the philosophy of not needing a #1 wide receiver. While that could've sound encouraging at the time, once the season began the team was proven wrong. They did need a WR1. Fortunately, this season we won't have to worry about it. This year, Dez Bryant shouldn't be a discussion topic among Cowboys' fans.
Amari Cooper is in the house. And he's been pretty good since he started playing with a Star on his helmet. If we have conversations about the WR position, they will not be about who's the #1 guy. With Michael Gallup showing up late in the season, it probably won't be about who is #2 either.
Back on top of the NFC East
Last year, the Dallas Cowboys were not really the favorites to win the NFC East. The Philadelphia Eagles had just made history by winning their first Super Bowl ever and it seemed like the Cowboys would have to get a wildcard spot to play in January. Now it's the Cowboys back on top after sweeping the Eagles and turning their once 3-5 season around.
That of course, means a tougher schedule next season. However, it's nice to be back on top of the division. These two teams will surely have an intense race for the division title next season. Maybe we even see them both in the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
Sean Lee's uncertain future
I'm pretty sure no one expected Sean Lee to be considered a potential cap casualty for the 2019 season. Even if he was, it would've probably been anticipating an injury or something like that. No one would've imagined that Leighton Vander Esch would be so good to take Sean Lee's job.
The Cowboys' first round rookie truly earned the starting role as the defense's weak linebacker and he should keep it. With Sean Lee set to return to the field, I'm sure we didn't expect him to be a backup by now. We'll have to wait and see if the Cowboys decide to part ways with him. As a fan, it would certainly be painful. But we can't deny it would be a move that makes sense.
It's a crazy franchise on a crazy league. Who knows how things will go from now on, but the Dallas Cowboys certainly look like a promising team heading into the 2019 offseason. Here at Inside The Star, we'll continue to update you with the latest on your favorite NFL team.
Cowboys en Español: Volviendo a la Idea de Earl Thomas
El año pasado, Earl Thomas fue uno de los temas de conversación más frecuentes para los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys. Después de que los Seattle Seahawks no le dieran su deseada extensión de contrato, Thomas se convirtió en un candidato a ser intercambiado de su equipo. Entre los favoritos estaban los Cowboys, quienes tenían una necesidad en su defensiva secundaria. Ahora que la temporada 2018 llegó a su fin, la misma necesidad por un safety de calidad está presente en Dallas.
Sólo que en esta ocasión, Earl Thomas no está bajo contrato con ningún equipo. Su último momento con el uniforme de los Seahawks fue en un carro de lesiones, donde salía lesionado en dirección a su vestidor. Esto mientras se despedía de su equipo con el dedo de en medio extendido hacia sus entrenadores y compañeros. Así concluyó su temporada y su carrera en Seattle.
Ahora, listo para cumplir los 30 años en mayo, Earl Thomas probará la agencia libre cuando comience en marzo. Y sin lugar a dudas, uno de los equipos candidatos a firmarlo serán los Dallas Cowboys. Es un equipo que a pesar de tener una de las mejores defensivas la temporada pasada, se vería muy beneficiada con la llegada de un profundo del calibre de Thomas.
A pesar de su edad y las lesiones, Thomas continúa siendo uno de los mejores en la liga. Su talento es innegable y tendrá toda la disposición de demostrar lo que vale cuando tome el campo la próxima temporada. Cuando llegue el momento, podríamos ver una guerra de ofertas entre varios equipos de la NFL para llevarse al veterano a sus respectivas ciudades.
La pregunta es: ¿estarán los Dallas Cowboys en esa guerra de ofertas?
Los Cowboys tienen espacio en el tope salarial. Sin embargo, este no durará mucho considerando que DeMarcus Lawrence está esperando su merecida y cara extensión después de jugar bajo la etiqueta franquicia en 2018. Además, jugadores que aún están bajo contrato también estarán buscando ofertas este offseason.
Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, y Byron Jones están en la lista de quehaceres de la administración. Eso sin mencionar a Cole Beasley, cuyo contrato ya expiró y podría llegar a la agencia libre en marzo.
A pesar de esta complicada situación, los Dallas Cowboys deberían buscar conseguir a Thomas. Siendo sinceros, la defensiva tiene mucho talento y podría mantener su nivel en 2019. Pero hace falta un jugador en la posición de safety para llevar a esta unidad a otro nivel. Un nivel realmente capaz de ganar en postemporada enfrentándose a cualquier tipo de ofensiva. Sin importar que tan explosiva sea. Y además de esto, un jugador que sea capaz de robar el balón y hacer jugadas de impacto constantemente.
Cuando los Cowboys se enfrentaron a Seahawks en temporada regular, Thomas dio un buen ejemplo de esto interceptando en dos ocasiones a la ofensiva de Dak Prescott.
A pasos de un equipo de campeonato, un movimiento agresivo para obtener a Earl Thomas sería algo genial para Dallas. Vimos como los Rams de Los Angeles fueron agresivos al construir su equipo y llegaron hasta el Super Bowl este febrero. Quizá es tiempo de que Jerry Jones y compañía sean igual de agresivos y vayan por ese safety elite que la afición lleva pidiendo desde el offseason del año pasado.
Slot Machine: Amari Cooper in the Slot Could be Even More Dangerous
Amari Cooper was a dangerous man with the Dallas Cowboys after he arrived via trade from the Oakland Raiders last season. He was one of the big reasons why they were able to turn around a season that looked as if it was circling the drain and I don't think anybody would argue the point. But, I think he could be even more dangerous in 2019, especially if Cole Beasley departs via free agency.
Unless you've been living under a rock, you pretty much know the topic of the Cowboys offseason so far has centered around Cole Beasley and his future with the organization. He has been invaluable in Dallas since arriving as an undrafted free agent in 2012, but it's looking more and more as if he could be taking his talents elsewhere in 2019.
With Beasley more than likely moving on, the Cowboys will need to find someone who can replace his production in the passing game, especially in the slot. Everybody assumes Dallas needs to go outside the organization to find that player, but I'm not so sure. I think they already have a wide receiver more than capable of stepping in, and he just so happens to be there first-round draft pick this year.
In case you haven't figured it out already, I'm talking about Wide Receiver Amari Cooper. He has mostly been used as an outside receiver in his professional career, but he does have the skill set and route running ability to be a really dangerous out of the slot. I'm not talking about a full-time move into the slot or anything, just a marginal increase in snaps.
According to Rotounderworld.com, only 12.6% of Amari Cooper's snaps in 2018 were out of the slot. For comparison sake, Cole Beasley's snaps in the slot was 85.9%, the highest of any receiver in the NFL last season. That's a huge difference, not one the Cowboys should try to match with Cooper or any other potential slot WR replacement.
Personally, I'd like to see Cooper's snaps playing out of the slot increased to around 20%. That would put him in Odell Beckham Jr. territory (19.9%), and we all know how difficult he is to cover all over the field. It would likely do the same for Amari Cooper.
I just really like the idea of him having the entire field to work with and the favorable matchup it creates with slot/nickel cornerbacks around the league. Can you imagine opposing defensive coordinators trying to figure out how to contain a player that has the kind of speed and route running ability that Amari Cooper has? They better stock up on Tylenol, because that is a surefire way to get a headache.
This is course is just speculation at this point, especially since we don't know what the Cowboys offense will look like with Kellen Moore taking over the playcalling duties. But if it was me, I'd be doing everything in my power to get the ball in the hands of my best WR, Amari Cooper, and that might mean increasing his snaps out of the slot.
What do you think about using Amari Cooper out of the slot more often in 2019?
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