Many people in the media, football fans, and even Dallas Cowboys fans never gave the 2014 Cowboys team much of a chance to be successful. Not only were the Cowboys not given much of a chance, but they were being dubbed as one of - if not - the worst teams in the league coming into the season.
The team was horrific on defense last year; bad play calling on offense and the refusal to run the ball consistently were some of many reasons why the 2014 Cowboys were given no chance.
And on top of it all the team lost it's best three defenders from that dreadful defense of 2013 - Jason Hatcher wasn’t resigned, DeMarcus Ware was released, and then in May, Sean Lee tore his ACL; not to mention Tony Romo was trying to come back from having his second back surgery in as many years.
No doubt about it, nothing but misery and despair were to come for America’s Team.
But looking back on it now, was that really the case? Remember last season when the Cowboys defensive line had 19 different players take snaps? Let that sink in a little bit. 19 DIFFERENT PLAYERS.
Now, also take into consideration that the majority of those players were not playing football when the Cowboys gave them the call. Some were busy opening up an ice cream shop or selling insurance and I think a couple might have worked at home depot.
Yes, the defense still had DeMarcus Ware, Jason Hatcher, Nick Hayden and George Selvie. But only Selvie was able to remain mostly healthy of the four. As for the other defensive positions, linebacker Sean Lee missed a lot of time again; Justin Durant missed games as well. The cornerback position stayed healthy, but the safety position continued to struggle through injuries and inexperience.
Throw all that in with a defensive scheme that didn’t allow the players to play at their strength, and what you got next was a recipe for disaster.
Yet, after all that, through all the injuries, that revolving door on the defensive line and the coaching miscues; somehow, someway this team managed to finish with a .500 record at 8-8.
During the offseason, the team didn’t make any free agent splashes. If anything they made more noise by letting people go.
Jason Hatcher left, as did DeMarcus Ware. The team replaced them with Terrell McClain, Jeremy Mincey and Henry Melton - who was coming back from a torn ACL. The biggest move of the offseason was arguably during the summer when the Cowboys traded with the Baltimore Ravens for the linebacker Rolando McClain.
Making a return to the team was DE/DT Tyrone Crawford - who tore his Achilles tendon during the 2013 training camp - but at the time, people were saying, “Yeah, so, what’s the big deal?”
In my eyes it was huge and here’s why.
The coaches and staff were able to get players that they thought would fit the system, especially on the defensive side of the ball. The team wasn’t forced to take players who were sitting on the couch at home, like they had been for the 2013 season. The team was also going into the second year of the Kiffinelli scheme, albeit now with Rod Marinelli at the head of the table.
With the player transactions, coaching changes, the return of a few key players on defense, and the maturation and experience at the safety position, a big improvement for this team wasn’t out of the question. As a matter of fact, I expected it. I felt that if this team was able to stay healthy, they would indeed improve and fight for a playoff spot. Why the so-called “pros" in the industry couldn’t see it is beyond me.
Think about it, this team is fresh off three consecutive 8-8 seasons. In each of those years the Cowboys led the league in number of players put injured reserve or missing playing time. And yet they remained competitive and had a chance to make the playoffs.
This season, the team has still had to fight through injuries. Sean Lee was lost for the year before it even began and Justin Durant was gone midway through the season. Even Bruce Carter and Rolando McClain have missed time due to injury and illness. But the difference is they weren’t all missing at the same time. Plus, their backups were actually chosen during the offseason and those same backups were able to stay healthy.
Let’s face it folks, when you get down to your third string and fourth string players having major playing time, you’re going to experience a drop off in production. But that hasn’t happen this season, has it?
I’m not going to sit here and give all the praise to the defense and their improved play as to why this team is heading into their first playoff game in 5 years. The offense has played a major role, as most expected they would have to.
The team said they were going to run the ball this year and they have. DeMarco Murray stayed healthy and has played out of his mind. Dez Bryant continued to prove he is one of the best wide receivers in the league. The emergence of second-year wide receiver Terrance Williams, as well as Cole Beasley, has been huge. The ever consistent Jason Witten and up and coming tight ends James Hanna and Gavin Escobar have played a huge role, too.
The offensive linemen have proved to be the best unit in the league while Tony Romo fought to come back from back surgery to have a MVP type of season (which he should be in my biased opinion).
So was it really that big of a shock that this team turned things around once they stayed healthy and got back some players from injury? I don’t see it that way, and haven’t seen it that way. Even the young men on this team showed improvement throughout the season.
I can’t sit here and say I saw a top 5 team in the league, I would be lying if I did. Matter of fact, I had them winning 10 games and sneaking into the playoffs as a wild card. Heck, I was one of the people who gave them no shot to win in Seattle.
But what I can say is people were pointing at signs why the 2014 Cowboys were going to be bad, when what they should have been looking at signs of why they were going to be good in 2014.
If they had, their success this season wouldn’t really be that big of a shock.
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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