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ESPN Honors Ezekiel Elliott, Snubs Jason Garrett in 2016 Awards Poll

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys Headlines - Tweet Break: These Kids Are Rookies? Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott March Cowboys to Eighth Straight Win

Yesterday, ESPN released the picks from their “experts” for the NFL’s various annual awards. As you would expect, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott got plenty of love but there were also a few surprises. One of those has me especially peevish; Jason Garrett didn’t get nearly enough respect in the Coach of the Year #Cowbpoll.

The only awards where no Cowboys were mentioned were Defensive Player of the Year and the Comeback Player of the Year. I was a bit surprised that Sean Lee didn’t get a single vote for DPOY but it was a stacked group this year. Morris Claiborne might have qualified for the Comeback award if he hadn’t been injured again, but no other Cowboys would’ve made sense.

Here are the categories where at least one Cowboy received a vote:

Ezekiel Elliott, Giants

RB Ezekiel Elliott (AP Photo/Bill Kostroun)

Offensive Player of the Year

Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan received the logical first-place finish for this award, He was second to Drew Brees with 4,944 passing yards and second to Aaron Rodgers with 38 touchdowns. What really put Ryan over the top was his 117.1 passer rating, the fifth best in NFL history.

Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott finished in second place. He received one first-place vote, five second-place, and one third-place from the 13 ESPN panelists. That means five of the voters didn’t pick Elliott at all.

Ezekiel Elliott’s rookie season was 178 yards shy of breaking Eric Dickerson’s record for first-year running backs. This is especially impressive given that Elliott sat out the Cowboys’ last game to rest for the playoffs. In spite of this, he still led the NFL in rushing by over 300 yards.

Unlike the quarterback-dominated MVP race, running backs tend to do well with the OPOY award. DeMarco Murray won it in 2014 after his monster season with the Cowboys. Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson have also won in recent years.

The OPOY Award tends to be more about statistical production than the MVP Award. That’s why Ezekiel Elliott did so well and also why Dak Prescott didn’t get a single vote. Dak was not in the Top 10 in yards or touchdowns this year.

Ezekiel Elliott

RB Ezekiel Elliott

Offensive Rookie of the Year

The young Cowboys dominated here, as you might have predicted. Ezekiel Elliott ate up 12 of the 13 possible first-place votes. The one he didn’t get went to Dak Prescott. They also split all of the second-place votes; 12 going to Dak and one to Zeke.

The next-closest offensive rookie was Jack Conklin, a tackle from the Tennessee Titans. Saints WR Michael Thomas was close behind him. However, there really was no competition to the Dallas duo.

After starting the year well but falling off later, the Eagles’ Carson Wentz received just a single third-place vote. You’ll always have September, Philly fans.

 

Maliek Collins

DT Maliek Collins (James D. Smith via AP)

Defensive Rookie of the Year

Nobody was taking this one from the Charges’ Joey Bosa, who had 10.5 sacks in just 12 games and won in a landslide. In second place was Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, who many Cowboys fans wanted over Ezekiel Elliott during the NFL Draft.

I assume there was at least one Dallas-area writer on ESPN’s panel, because Maliek Collins managed to get one third-place vote. You could argue that it should have been more.

Collins’ five sacks this year was equal to star players like Ndamukong Suh and Timmy Jernigan. The most by a defensive tackle was nine sacks from Geno Atkins. Only a few other franchise tackles like Kawann Short and Aaron Donald had more sacks than Maliek.

Jason Garrett

Jason Garrett

Coach of the Year

Aye, here’s the rub! Jason Garrett came in second place to Bill Belichick.  Garrett received three first-place votes, five second-place, and two third-place votes. Belichick dominated with nine first-place votes.

A few things irk me here:

  1. Garrett received 10 total votes, meaning three panelists didn’t vote for him at all. That’s a slap in the face for the coach with the best record in the NFC, especially since he’d have likely tied Belichick’s 14-2 record if he’d played starters in Week 17.
  2. Garrett’s success came with a rookie quarterback. That’s not impressive enough for you? How about a rookie QB who had no expectation of starting until the last week of the preseason?  Still not enough?  Really?
  3. Belichick is getting his ass kissed for going 3-1 without Tom Brady. Jimmy Garoppolo is a former second-round pick who’s in his third year in the Patriots system.  It would be embarrassing if they didn’t win with him.
  4. That one September loss for New England was a 16-0 shutout at home to the Buffalo Bills, who went 7-9 this year. Every team can have a bad day, but that’s a pretty glaring blemish for a guy with supposed genius. I don’t care who the quarterback was.
  5. Have I mentioned that whole Tony Romo controversy that Jason Garrett had to deal with?

I’m sorry, but you can’t tell me that Bill Belichick was more impressive this season. Garrett faced greater challenges and was equally successful. His team had more internal issues to confront and a far tougher division to get out of. Whatever criteria these panelists went by to pick Belichick, Garrett matched or bettered him in every way.

Thankfully, ESPN’s occasional bozos don’t decide the award. I hope the Associated Press will have more sense.

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Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Each offseason tough decisions have to be made by teams around the NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Teams have to decide who to promote, who to demote, and who to cut ties with altogether. For the Cowboys, Terrance Williams fits into one of those three categories, but which one?

It was plainly obvious that the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers all had an extremely disappointing 2017 season.

Everybody has their own opinion as to why this happened, but one thing is for sure, the Cowboys coaching staff will definitely look at ways to get more out of their receiving core. The one player who I think could be affected most by whatever decision the coaching staff ends up making is Terrance Williams.

Williams didn’t do much to make a case for keeping his starting job in 2017, let alone sticking on the roster.

To say he had a disappointing season would be an understatement.

Williams finished the 2017 season with just 53 receptions for 568 receiving yards and absolutely zero touchdowns. The Cowboys were likely hoping for more production from someone they just signed to a four-year, $17-million contract extension back in March [2017].

Now, you can make the argument Williams took a team discount in order to stay in Dallas, but that doesn’t carry much weight when your production leaves so much to be desired. This is especially true when there might be somebody on the roster who can do just as well, and possibly be an upgrade.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Noah Brown.

I know I’m not alone here, but I think Noah Brown could easily replace Terrance Williams’ production. I understand that there’s not much evidence to back up that statement based on Brown’s rookie season, but he has all the tools required to succeed.

This is really all about potential, and Noah Brown simply has more upside than Terrance Williams.

We all know what Terrance Williams is as a receiver, and what he brings to the table for the Cowboys offense. I believe Noah Brown can do all the things Williams does and has the potential to be even better.

I already think Noah Brown is a better blocker, something the Cowboys coaching staff really values about Williams. I also think Brown is a better pass catcher. He is a natural hands catcher and has a large catching radius, something Williams obviously isn’t (body catcher).

Right now, Williams is only better than Noah Brown in a few areas. He is slightly faster, he’s more advanced as a route runner, and has more experience. That’s about it.

This will obviously be a tough decision for the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff to make. But, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see Terrance Williams playing somewhere else when the 2018 season kicks off.

Do you think Terrance Williams will be with the Cowboys in 2018?

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?

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