They say history repeats itself, and we could be looking at a rerun in Dallas.
The Cowboys of the nineties were lead by three future Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, and Michael Irvin on offense. An accurate passer, elite level runner and a clutch receiver. Now the modern-day version is lead by three top-shelf players in their own right. Dak Prescott has won more games than any quarterback since 2016 not named Tom Brady. Ezekiel Elliott has two rushing crowns in his first three years. And Amari Cooper is a multiple time pro bowler and one of the best receivers in the game. The similarities, however, don't end there.
First, let's look at the quarterbacks, Aikman and Prescott.
In 1989, the Cowboys were looking to solidify the quarterback position and snatching up the former Oklahoma Sooner and UCLA Bruin was a no brainer. Aikman went number one in the NFL Draft because of his prototypical size and accurate arm. However, his career didn't get off to a Canton, Ohio type start. He threw just nine touchdowns while simultaneously doubling that number in interceptions. The team would lose all eleven of Aikman's starts and finished with the leagues worst record at 1-15.
When 1991 rolled around things started to change when Aikman lead the Cowboys to a 6-4 record but unfortunately got hurt against the eventual Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins. Backup Quarterback Steve Beuerlein would lead the Cowboys to a 5-0 record to finish the season and a road playoff win in Chicago. The next week in Detroit the Cowboys were down 17-6 at halftime and Aikman was brought in to maybe provide a spark but it was unsuccessful. After the 38-6 beatdown and uncertainty, if he had the trust of coach Jimmy Johnson, Aikman thought about demanding a trade. But soon after he would get his vote of confidence and the keys to the franchise.
In 1992 Aikman was entering year four and took full advantage of this new belief in him. He had career highs in completions (302), yards (3,445), and touchdowns (23). The Cowboys finished a 13-3 and were the number two seed in the NFC Playoffs. The former first-round pick would have his finest hour in Super Bowl XXVII. Going 22-30 for 273 yards and four touchdowns. A performance that landed him a well deserved Super Bowl MVP.
Dak Prescott, however, wasn't as celebrated as Aikman coming out of college in 2016. He would be drafted in the fourth round as the potential heir the Tony Romo's throne. The third string rookie got a few breaks heading into his inaugural season. When Kellen Moore and Tony Romo both suffered injuries, Prescott was thrust into the starting lineup. After losing his first start against the Giants, he would run off 11 straight wins on his way to leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and the top seed in the NFC.
He would struggle in 2017, especially with Ezekiel Elliott missing six games. The Cowboys went 9-7 and missed the playoffs. Some wondered if Prescott was really as good as his rookie season indicated or did he have to have the ideal situation in order to perform. But in 2018 however, not only did Prescott improve, but he would get his first playoff win against the Seahawks. Now, similar to Aikman nearly three decades earlier, Prescott is entering year four in 2019 and currently in negotiations for a major contract extension. Will his fourth campaign end in Super Bowl glory as well?
Next, we look at the running backs, Smith and Elliott.
In 1990 Emmitt Smith and his now infamous polka-dot vest came to Dallas to solidify the running game. He would have a solid rookie season with 937 yards and the Cowboys improved their win total by six games. In 1991 Smith ran for 1,563 yards and won his first of four rushing titles, and the Cowboys went 11-5 and made the playoffs.
When his third season rolled around in 1992 the former Florida Gator would firmly establish himself as the NFL's top ball carrier. Winning his second consecutive rushing crown with a then-franchise record 1,713 yards. He would cap off the season with 108 yards in Super Bowl XXVII as the Cowboys won the franchises third title.
Ezekiel Elliott was a lock as a top 5 pick heading into the 2016 NFL Draft. Names like Joey Bosa and Jalen Ramsey would be linked heavily to the Cowboys. However, they decided to go in another direction, and with the fourth pick, they got their bell cow in the backfield taking Elliott out of Ohio State. He wasted no time setting his mark on the NFL by leading the league in rushing with 1,631 yards in only 15 games.
2017 would have plenty of headaches for Elliott as he dealt with the possibility of a six-game suspension for domestic violence allegations. After a long battle with the league, he would ultimately accept his punishment but still managed to rack up 983 yards in ten games. With no off the field distractions weighing him down, he bounced back with another All-Pro season in 2018 and added his second rushing title to his resume with 1,434 yards. Now, Elliott enters year four in 2019, just a year further along than Emmitt in 1992. Is there another rushing title and a Super Bowl victory on the horizon?
Lastly, let's look at the wide receivers, Irvin and Cooper.
Michael Irvin was a part of Tom Landry's final draft class in 1988. In 1989, the future Hall of Famer torn his ACL which would cause him to miss the remainder of the season and the first four games of 1990. After extensive rehab, he would finally put it all together in 1991. He had his second-best season in both receptions (93) and yards (1,523) and started a string of five consecutive Pro Bowl selections and his only first-team All-Pro honor.
Irvin would follow that brilliant season with another in 1992. With 78 receptions for 1,396 yards, he had firmly established himself as one of the leagues best at his position in his fifth season. But on the biggest stage, he would have his most legendary performance. He scored consecutive touchdowns in the second quarter that essentially blew the game wide open, and the Cowboys won 52-17 in Super Bowl XXVII.
Amari Cooper came into the NFL with big expectations coming out of Alabama in 2015, and he wasted no time living up to them. In his first two seasons, he would rack up over 1,000 yards in each and be selected to the Pro Bowl. After a slightly down year in 2017, Cooper's days in Oakland were numbered when the team brought in Jon Gruden to be the head coach in 2018. He cleaned house with Raiders which included trading Cooper to the Cowboys for a first round pick, and life changed dramatically in Dallas.
His immediate chemistry with Dak Prescott couldn't be denied as the offense would open up immensely now that it had a true number one receiver. Cooper would reach 1,000 yards for the third time and receive a third Pro Bowl selection, as the Cowboys would make the playoffs after a year absence. Now like Irvin in 1992, year five is approaching for Amari Cooper. Can his impact be enough to help the Cowboys win the Super Bowl in 2019? Time will tell.
Prescott, Elliott, and Cooper are at the same points in their careers as Aikman, Smith, and Irvin were in 1992 when they started their run of three Super Bowls in four years and their paths to Canton. Is this the start of another Cowboys dynasty? Are we witnessing the new Triplets? Now, of course, the jury is still out if this present day version can carry that title, but I'm not saying that they can't, or that they won't.
Tony Pollard is Just What the Doctor Ordered in Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys have what many believe to be the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott. However, you can never undervalue the importance of depth at any position. When the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft came around, the Cowboys added another weapon to the backfield by selecting Tony Pollard out of Memphis.
If you’re looking for a dynamic player maker with the ability to take it to the house at any given moment, Pollard is your man. The former Tiger averaged a touchdown every 13 touches in college. That’s an absolutely insane statistic when you think about it. He also tied an NCAA record with seven kick returns for touchdowns. Long story short, he can get you six points at the blink of an eye.
The versatility in his game is outrageous and undoubtedly the reason why he was drafted. In addition to running for 941 yards on 6.8 yards per rush, he also had 104 receptions for 1,292 yards. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has to be salivating about the possibilities with his new toy. Having a running back that can not only carry the load as a runner but also line up at receiver keeps the defense honest. You never know what angle the offense is going to come from.
This has to be a sigh of relief for Ezekiel Elliott. Now, the Cowboys don’t have to overexert him and can bring Pollard in on third downs if need be. Not just to give Elliott a breather but to change the pace of the offensive attack. You can hand the ball off, throw it to him or run jet sweeps when he is on the field. This sets up a potential combo at running back that could be the leagues very best shortly.
Speed, quickness, and agility are all wrapped up in the Tony Pollard package. The Cowboys now have a running back that can line up at multiple positions if need be. Also, this prevents a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the body of Ezekiel Elliott. This combination has all the potential to set the NFL on fire in 2019.
CB Byron Jones Not Expected To Return Until Week 1 Against NYG
Coming off what was clearly the best season of his career thus far, Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones underwent surgery to hopefully fix a nagging hip injury.
While he earned both his first All Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2018, his first season as a full-time cornerback, Jones still has a lot to prove in the upcoming season. Some still criticize him for his lack of interceptions, and there's no doubt his stellar play slowed down a bit towards the end of the year.
I'm willing to wager that the slight decline had a lot to do with his hip troubles, but nonetheless he must come up with his elite level play once again to earn himself a nice contract somewhere in 2020.
Oh, did I forget to mention it's also a contract year for Byron Jones? As it is for so many important Dallas Cowboys, it seems.
So when will Byron Jones be able to return to the Cowboys' lineup? Well, the initial date reportedly set by Jones and the team was late July, giving him a chance to practice and play a bit before the season opener in September. But, according to the Team Site this week, that date may be pushed back a bit, and we might not see Byron Jones until that season opening game against the Giants.
"As for Jones, all along the Cowboys have been targeting his return for the season opener, but hopefully at that. So, don’t expect to see much of Jones in training camp, and if so, certainly no more than individual and walk-through drills." - Mickey Spagnola
Ultimately, as long as Byron Jones is good to go when the regular season starts, that's all that matters, but the fear of rust when Jones returns is a real one.
It's tough to go from no live football straight to the meaningful games, but if anyone would be able to do it it would be the guy with the freakishly athletic traits. The guy who can get out of the bed in the morning and set athletic records at the Combine.
And, of course, that guy is Byron Jones.
Dak Prescott: Calm Under Pressure
When the 2016 NFL Draft came around the Dallas Cowboys were in search of the heir apparent to Tony Romo. Unfortunately, coming off an injury-plagued 2015 season, Romo would find himself on the shelf again after suffering a broken bone in his back during a preseason game against the Seahawks. However, the Cowboys had an ace in the hole, in the form of Dak Prescott who they drafted in the fourth round.
The idea was the groom him for a few years before taking the keys to the car so to speak from Romo, but fate had another idea in mind. Prescott would be thrust into the starting lineup against one of the Cowboys most hated rivals to start the season, the New York Giants. Added to that, was the pressure of living up to Romo's stellar resume as the franchise's all-time leading passer. After struggling in a tough 20-19 loss, no surprise there for a rookie quarterback, Prescott began to take flight.
Over the next eleven games he wouldn't suffer a single loss as the Cowboys were sitting pretty at 11-1. What made this streak more impressive was the efficiency of Prescott. He threw 19 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions over that span. In the process, he set an NFL record for the most passing attempts to start a career without an interception with 176. This broke the previous record held by Tom Brady of 162. It didn't stop there, as he also set a rookie record for completion percentage (67.8), was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Cowboys would finish 13-3 and win the NFC East. With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the franchise only winning two postseason games in 21 years, Prescott was definitely under the microscope. After the offense struggled to produce points in the first half and fell behind 21-3, Prescott lead a furious comeback. Helping the team storm all the way back to tie the game at 28 and again at 31. He finished with 302 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first playoff start against future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. Even though the team lost 34-31, Prescott proved how much of a gamer he was as he basically went yard for yard and point for point with one of the NFL's elite signal-callers. It was clear the Cowboys were in good hands going forward.
2017 started off well as the Cowboys were 5-3 and firmly on pace for another playoff run. Unfortunately, All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott lost his fierce battle with the NFL over domestic violence allegations, and Dak along with the offense struggled. After a 9-7 season and falling one game short of a Wild Card berth, the pressure on Prescott heading into the next season was immense.
Once 2018 came about Prescott had more pressure than ever with Elliott back for a full season. After a slow 3-4 start the Cowboys traded for Pro-Bowl Wide Receiver Amari Cooper, providing the team with it's first true number one receiver since Dez Bryant. Putting even more expectations on Prescott to turn things around, and boy did he ever.
He would complete 71.6% of his passes in the final eight games of the season, and the Cowboys won seven to finish 10-6. Now, with another division title under his belt, came a playoff matchup with Super Bowl-winning Quarterback Russell Wilson.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were hanging on to a 17-14 lead. They faced a 3rd and 14 inside the redone with just over two minutes left. After dropping back a few steps, Prescott scrambled for 16 yards setting up a first and goal from the one-yard line. The team held on for a 24-22 victory but here's why that scramble was so important.
If the Cowboys don't convert that 3rd and long that would've set up a field goal attempt. Assuming it would have been successful, that would've only put them up 20-14. Giving Seattle a chance to more than likely win with a touchdown and an extra point or two-point conversion. Prescott essentially won the game with that 3rd down run. Proving once again there's no situation he can't handle.
He's set an NFL record for completion percentage in the first three years of a quarterbacks career at 66.1 percent. No quarterback has won more games than him since 2016 except Tom Brady. No one has more game-winning drives than him since he entered the league. His 13 primetime victories are tops in the NFL over the last three seasons. Simply put, Dak Prescott is a winner and doesn't fold under pressure, instead, he embraces it. There are no bigger lights in the NFL than the ones that shine in Dallas. With those lights come huge expectations and pressure, and it's clear this young man is made of the right stuff to handle it.
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