Nobody saw this coming 13 weeks ago.
The 11 game win streak, the playoff birth, having a chance to clinch the NFC during the re-match with the New York Giants.
None of it.
13 weeks ago, Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott looked like rookies, for the first and last times of their careers. Dak's performance wasn't impressive, and left many of us to wonder just how quickly Tony Romo could get back. Elliott looked unsure of himself at times, making some crazed fans even call for more carries for Alfred Morris. Luckily, they both got it figured out pretty quickly.
The Improvement of Dak Prescott
Completing 25 of 45 passes for just 227 yards, Dak avoided the big mistake but also the big play. Prescott threw just 10 of those passes more than 15 yards downfield. When he did throw that far, chaos ensued, as Marty Callinan of ESPN.com pointed out earlier this week. A yards per attempt of 3.6 and a completion percentage of just 20% on his deep ball was the Achilles heel in a Cowboys loss.
Since then, Dak has been one of the best downfield passers in the entire NFL, as you can see in the graphic above.
Of course some will make the argument that Dak's struggles say more about the ability of the Giants defense to confuse and stop him than it does about his improvement over the course of the season. But, I would have to disagree.
As good as we think the Giants pass rush is, and as good as many think Landon Collins and Janoris Jenkins are, the Giant still rank just 25th in pass defense, allowing 265.3 yards per game. San Francisco, Philadelphia, Washington, Green Bay, Minnesota, Pittsburgh, and even Cleveland all rank better than New York here. And, of course, the Cowboys beat every single one of those teams.
In terms of opponents passing yards per attempt, the Giants are much better, ranking 7th in the league at 6.4 YPA. But once again, considering the development of Dak in this offense which has occurred over the last 13 weeks, this number should not scare you.
With Dez Bryant now healthy and in full swing of the offense, Dak has an arsenal of weapons at his disposal which most teams can only dream of. Maybe the deadliest of those weapons is lined up behind him in the backfield.
For Ezekiel Elliott, his first game was by far his worst game. Rushing for only 51 yards on 20 carries, Zeke could not find his stride in the Cowboys loss. A lot of this had to do with the offensive line, who struggled to block Damon Harrison and Johnathon Hankins on the inside.
Since week 2, however, Zeke leads the league in designed runs for 10 or more yards with 37. During that same time span, 28 teams do not have that many 10-yard designed runs, courtesy of ESPN Stats and Info. This number is absolutely insane, and further proves how dynamic the Cowboys run game has been all year long.
Well, all year besides this one game. What was it about the Giants which made it so difficult for the Cowboys to get going?
Of course, their run defense had a lot to do with it. Hankins and Harrison are both beasts in the middle of the defense, leading the Giants to the third best rush defense in the NFL (according to opponent yards per attempt).
The Cowboys also tried too many times to block Olivier Vernon on the backside with Jason Witten. It didn't work too well at all, and I don't expect it to be tried often this week. Let Tyron eat him, forget about tight ends.
But I also think the Cowboys own inexperience and lack of familiarity brought them down. Zeke had only played in one preseason game, and got very limited snaps there. He hadn't run against an NFL defense yet, or even behind his offensive line.
13 weeks in, with the offensive line gelling and Elliott making a push for NFL MVP, I expect them to have much more success.
Dallas Cowboys Offseason: Projecting Dak Prescott’s Extension
This week, Spotrac.com, who analyzes the salary cap, player performance, and makes projections for future contracts, released their most recent contract valuations for the big name Dallas Cowboys who will be approaching the offseason looking for a new contract. Between, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and Ezekiel Elliott, the Dallas Cowboys will have a lot of negotiating going on this offseason and will be handing out some big bucks.
Obviously, the one that we're most concerned about here in Cowboys Nation is what the Dallas Cowboys front office is going to do with Dak Prescott. Many fans and pundits aren't sold on Dak Prescott as a franchise quarterback, but he is a franchise quarterback and he's about to get paid like one.
Updated Baseline Market Valuations for notable #Cowboys heading into 2019 Dak Prescott: $25.2M https://t.co/ShnCWjIJOM DeMarcus Lawrence: $19.6M https://t.co/3pekUoiVjQ Amari Cooper: $16.7M https://t.co/vPymDSdEeU Zeke Elliott: $9.4M https://t.co/mtFxTap892
Over The Cap is projecting the 2019 salary cap to be around $190 million this season, which would put Dak Prescott's projected salary figure of $25.2 million at around 13.2% of this season's salary cap. And percentage of the cap is the more important number to look at when judging Dak Prescott's figure. When Russell Wilson signed his four-year extension in 2015 that averaged out at $21.9 million per year, his contract took up 15.3% of the salary cap when signed. So yes, in total dollars, Prescott's salary will be higher, but in percent of the cap it will be lower. If you give Dak Prescott 15.3% of the projected 2019 salary cap, you’re looking at $29.07 million per year.
When Spotrac does their salary projections they attempt to find quarterbacks who have had similar careers to the player and use those players as a gauge for what the projection might be, including adjustments for the market rate for the position and the growing salary cap. So, Spotrac has Dak Prescott's career thus far comparable to Blake Bortles, Kirk Cousins, Russell Wilson, and Cam Newton. Below, you can see the contract numbers for those players that Dak Prescott compares to and the age when they signed their deals.
That's an interesting mix of players.
Let's also take a look at the top six quarterback contracts in the NFL.
Let's start first with Derek Carr, who has the sixth highest average annual pay rate at just over $25 million per year. He signed his deal two years ago in the 2017 offseason. Another contract I like to look at when attempting to figure Prescott's number is Jimmy Garoppolo. Garoppolo got his deal from the San Francisco 49ers after only seven NFL starts (two with New England Patriots and five with the 49ers). His contract made him the fourth highest paid quarterback at $27.5 million per year. Again, after only seven NFL Starts.
Dak Prescott has 48 starts in the NFL regular season, and a career passer rating of 96. Of the top six quarterback contracts listed above, only Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo have a higher career passer rating than Dak Prescott. If you look at the top 10 quarterback contracts in the NFL now, only Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, and Jimmy Garoppolo have a higher career passer rating than Dak Prescott. You can argue that Prescott's teams have had more success than Matthew Stafford, Kirk Cousins, and Derek Carr in his first three seasons. While QB Wins is not a stat that we should use to evaluate quarterback play, because you’re paying not only the production of Dak Prescott, but also the intangibles if Dak Prescott, you have to look at the wins.
The Dallas Cowboys have gone 32-16 in the regular season with Dak Prescott at quarterback and 1-2 with him in the playoffs. That, in only three years in the NFL. He's going to get better as a player. Even if you don't look at QB Wins, Dak Prescott has been as productive as those guys he's mentioned with, aside from Brees and Rodgers.
Dak Prescott's body of work as a 3-year starter is franchise QB level stuff. As @Marcus_Mosher pointed out on the @lockedoncowboys Podcast, Dak's last 15 games 4,100 total yards, 30 total TDs, 7 INTs. Y'all don't want to pay that? #CowboysNation
These comparisons below look at the two years before the quarterback signing their franchise quarterback contract. Here you see that Dak compares favorably to Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, and Kirk Cousins.
As you can see above, over the last two years, Dak Prescott's averaged more passing yards per game, nearly as many touchdowns per game, fewer interceptions per game, and a comparable passer rating to Newton and Wilson in the two years before they signed their big contract extensions. His completion percentage That doesn't consider his play during the 2016 season in which he won rookie of the year as the starting quarterback for a team that went 13-3.
Derek Carr became the highest-paid player in NFL History after his third season. He signed a five-year, $125M extension. Here's his first three seasons next to Dak Prescott's.
RJ Ochoa, formerly of Inside The Star and now of Blogging the Boys, provided a nice comparison between Derek Carr and Dak Prescott in their first seasons in the NFL. When Derek Carr signed his contract, he became the highest paid player in NFL history.
The projection provided by Spotrac of $25.2 million is the floor as it would be just above Derek Carr's contract that he signed 2 years ago. It's entirely possible that Prescott signs a contract for more than Matt Ryan and could potentially become the highest paid quarterback in the NFL, but I'm going to estimate that Dak Prescott receives a five-year deal for $145 million, which would give him $29 million per year.
Jerry Jones has been adamant over the course of the season about his desire to get a long-term contract done with Dak in the offseason. Jerry Jones is the owner and the general manager, so it's only a matter of time before Dak's representatives and the Cowboys front office hammers out the final numbers. Dak Prescott is going to get a big deal and bigger than many in Cowboys Nation want to give him. But the going rate for franchise quarterbacks in the NFL is that number that Jimmy Garoppolo signed.
More Salary Cap and Contract discussion here at Inside The Star
Dallas Cowboys Fire Special Teams Assistant Doug Colman
The theme of last year's offseason in Dallas was coaching changes below HC Jason Garrett, OC Scott Linehan, and DC Rod Marinelli, and not yet through a week of this offseason it appears to be the same now. The Cowboys today have moved on from Special Teams Assistant Doug Colman.
Like current ST Coordinator Keith O'Quinn, Colman was in his first season with the Cowboys. The former sixth-round draft pick out of Nebraska held the same position with the Houston Texans for four previous seasons.
Small change on the #Cowboys coaching staff, as assistant special teams coach Doug Colman is out, source said. The only known change at this point.
With O'Quinn filling perhaps the biggest shoes left behind from last year, when Rich Bisaccia left the Cowboys after five seasons, the team has tentatively agreed they're struggles on special teams do not fall on the coordinator and will now be looking for a new assistant.
The Cowboys did successfully transition from Kicker Dan Bailey to Brett Maher, watching Bailey struggle with the Vikings as Maher finished 29 of 36 and six of seven on field goals of 50 or more yards. The always-steady Chris Jones averaged 44.5 yards a punt in 2018, up slightly from 44.1.
The return game is where Dallas struggled to find consistency. Deonte Thompson led the team in kick returns despite being released after eight games. Darius Jackson, Jourdan Lewis, and Cole Beasley all failed to make an impact from this spot once called upon - with Beasley and Tavon Austin also handling punt returns for an average of 5.7 yards a return.
With further upgrades at wide receiver being a pressing need for the Cowboys still, adding a dynamic returner should be of priority for both the current coaches and any new additions to the ST staff.
The Cowboys were also second to last in average kickoff return yards allowed this season, and 16th in punt coverage.
5 Potential Candidates Cowboys Could Target to Replace OC Scott Linehan
Should he go or should he stay!? That seems to be the question the Dallas Cowboys are asking themselves about their current Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Many of us would say it's an easy decision to make, but we really don't know what's going on behind closed doors.
The only thing we know for sure right now is Scott Linehan is still employed by the Dallas Cowboys and it might be a while before we know his fate with the organization one way or another. The Cowboys coaching staff, including Linehan, will coach the Pro Bowl in a little over a week, which is why any decision regarding Dallas' coaching staff will likely be delayed.
I know my opinion means little, but I have a hard time seeing Scott Linehan returning to the Dallas Cowboys next season. His playcalling has been pretty predictable and dated the past few years, plus there's the fact he was nearly fired earlier this season during the bye week. I don't think he's done much since then to improve his chances of sticking around. But, that's just my opinion.
That's why today I thought I'd share with you a few of the potential OC candidates I'd personally target if I were the Dallas Cowboys. Let's get started…
How elated would Cowboys Nation be if Tony Romo returned to the Dallas Cowboys as their next offensive coordinator. Everybody understands he doesn't have any formal coaching experience, especially in the NFL, but I seriously doubt that would matter.
No one would question his knowledge of the game, especially after hearing him break down the X's and O's first hand while he's commentating on game days. It's one of the reasons why he's grown in popularity as a commentator in such a short time.
Honestly, bringing in Romo as the OC could be the match made in heaven for the Cowboys. He already knows the system Jason Garrett likes to use offensively and his coaching philosophy. It would likely be a seamless transition, especially since he's already so familiar with the personnel. But, there's really no way of knowing if he's ready to leave his cushy commentating job to become a coach.
As much as I'd like to see Tony Romo make his return back to the Dallas Cowboys in a coaching capacity, bringing back Todd Haley to the organization would be a close second. He spent 2004-2006 with the Cowboys as their wide receiver coach before moving on to become the offensive coordinator for several teams (Cardinals, Steelers, Browns) and the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Unlike Romo, Haley has a proven track record as a play caller in the NFL. I personally like what he would bring to the table if made the new OC in Dallas. He is an aggressive play caller with a fiery attitude. I think his addition to the Cowboys offense could have the same kind of impact as Kris Richard's did to the defense this past season.
There is a downside about Haley though. He can be a bit abrasive with those he's working with. He's known for not always getting along with some of his players or with his coaching staff. It's one of the reasons why both he and Hue Jackson were fired this past season by the Cleveland Browns. I don't think it would be a problem with Dallas, but it is something to think about.
I'm grasping a little bit here because it would take quite a bit to lure Eric Bieniemy away from the Kansas City Chiefs, but it's not completely impossible. Jerry Jones would have to really put on his business hat to get Bieniemy's attention, especially after he was in the running for a few head-coaching jobs here recently. But, we all know how persuasive Jerry Jones can be when he wants to.
First off, the Dallas Cowboys would have to make Bieniemy their assistant head coach as well as their offensive coordinator. He is already the OC with the Chiefs, just not the playcaller. Andy Reid still handles those responsibilities. He does however handle the majority of the game planning, which is raved about because of his attention to detail.
His players have also raved about his personality and aggressiveness as a coach. This is something that has endeared Cowboys players to Kris Richard in a short amount of time and it could be the same if Eric Bieniemy comes aboard. Unfortunately, I think this is a longshot. He's probably is eyeing a head-coaching job that could come as soon as next season. Jason Garrett replacement?
Joe Lombardi, the grandson of Hall of Fame coach Vince Lombardi, isn't on a lot of people's list as a potential offensive coordinator candidate, but probably should be. He does have one year of experience as an OC in the NFL, but that was with the Detroit Lions in 2014-2015 and we shouldn't count that against him. No play callers last long in Detroit since Matthew Stafford took over as their starting QB.
The reason I really like Lombardi as a potential Scott Linehan replacement is because of the time he spent with Sean Payton and Drew Brees in New Orleans. Minus the one year in Detroit, he's been with the Saints since 2007. The majority of that time was spent as the QB coach to one of the best ever played the game.
I've been trying to figure out a way to get Sean Payton back as a Cowboys coach for the past several seasons without any success. Turning to someone he's personally groomed could be the next best thing. He was there through all of Drew Brees' numerous passing records and his Super Bowl victory. He has also help develop Taysom Hill into the playmaker he's become this season. He could just be the guy to take Dak Prescott's game to the next level.
Doug Nussmeier (In-house Candidate)
If the Dallas Cowboys do indeed decide to move on from Scott Linehan, it doesn't necessarily mean they will look outside the organization for a new offensive coordinator. They could quite possibly already have his replacement on the team in Doug Nussmeier, who served as their tight end coach this season.
Nussmeier's coaching background mostly consist of him being a QB coach or offensive coordinator at the collegiate level. In fact, those are the only two coaching titles he's held throughout his career until this year when he became the Cowboys TE coach. I don't know about you, but I find that pretty impressive, especially after seeing Dallas' young tight ends progress through the season.
Promoting Nussmeier to OC would virtually be a seamless transition for everybody involved. He knows the system, the players, and has been involved in the game planning this past season. I don't know however if he would be an upgrade over Scott Linehan. The two have known one another for years and have worked together in the past. Not exactly a ringing endorsement in my opinion.
Do any of these Dallas Cowboys OC candidates intrigue you? If not who?
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