The NFL offseason can be a hard time to get through. July is the month when I'll randomly watch any replay of any Cowboys game. It's also the time of the year when, out of nowhere, I'll look up stats from any NFL player just because I'm curious how many tackles he had, or how many touchdowns he scored.
Last week, I was looking through Cowboys stats. This left me wondering, which players would lead each category this year, as the Cowboys try to compete for a Super Bowl.
I thought it would be a fun exercise to predict the Cowboys team leaders for 2017 in each category.
Predicting The Offensive Leaders
Note: I skipped both passing and rushing categories. Even with all the suspension talk going on lately, I still see Ezekiel Elliott leading the team, and frankly, I don't know who wouldn't. As for the passing categories, we all know who Dak Prescott is, right?
Dak's Best Friend: WR Cole Beasley, Receptions
- 2016 receptions leader: WR Cole Beasley (75)
- Honorable mention: TE Jason Witten (69)
Last year, Beasley led the team for most receptions with 75. He was a fundamental piece for Dak's development as a rookie and he will step up again this year. For Prescott's sophomore season, I'm picking Beasley to lead the team in this category once again.
I expect the 5'8" WR to have an even better year when it comes to receptions. Dak Prescott will throw a lot more than last year, and there's no reason to believe his favorite target won't remain being Beasley.
Besides, the QB-friendly receiver now has a clone of himself in Ryan Switzer, which could help his game even more. I don't know how defenses will come up with a game plan to stop such a loaded offense.
However, I don't expect him to lead the team in yards as he did in 2016.
Throw Up The X: WR Dez Bryant, Receiving Yards/Touchdowns
- 2016 receiving yards leader: WR Cole Beasley (833)
- 2016 receiving TDs leader: WR Dez Bryant (8)
Remember when Dez had an awesome season in 2014?
88 catches, 1,320 yards, and 16 touchdowns. Then 2015 happened, which ended up knocking him out of the top-5 WR conversation. 2016 though, was not ideal at first, including the fact that he suffered another injury.
When he came back though... well, he came back.
A quick look at the numbers is more than enough. (If the chart below seems familiar to you, that's because you read fellow writer Christopher Wätjen's great article on Dez Bryant. And if you haven't, you should.)
For Dez, it's all about remaining healthy. This time his quarterback is not a rookie. This time, defenses will respect Cole Beasley way more. And well, we all know you can't forget about the running game when you're facing Ezekiel Elliott.
Only reason why he didn't lead in these categories last year, is the fact that he missed three games.
This year, no one will stop him. ('Specially not you, Josh Norman).
Predicting The Defensive Leaders
Inside Pressure: DT Maliek Collins, Sacks
- 2016 sacks leader: DE Benson Mayowa (6)
This was a tough one. And you may think this is a bold prediction, but is it really?
Collins didn't miss a single game last year. After a very good rookie season, I expect him to be the Cowboys defensive lineman with the most snaps played at the end of the year. Collins had five sacks last year as a rookie. This year, he will be on the field most of the time and is arguably the best DL on the team.
If David Irving hadn't been suspended for four games, he would definitely be my pick. Missing four games may be a little bit too much though.
With such uncertainty among the edge rushers, however, it wouldn't come as a surprise if a defensive tackle ends up leading the sack category. I don't expect the Cowboys to have a great pass rush, but I do see Collins getting 8-10 sacks as well as an improved DL.
CB Anthony Brown, Interceptions
- 2016 INTs leader: S Barry Church (2)
Intercepting the ball is something our defense has struggled to do these past years. Right now, our secondary is without a doubt promising. After heavily addressing the position this offseason, the Cowboys now have a group of athletic and young DBs.
However, lots of these players have a lot to prove before we consider them a great secondary.
After being drafted in the sixth round of the 2016 NFL Draft, Anthony Brown looks to become the CB1 for the Dallas Cowboys. Throughout his rookie year, he made a lot of plays in big moments and was consistently good in coverage. After losing Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr this offseason, Brown will need to step up.
He is the best outside corner on the roster right now. This year, a projected starter, Brown will be around the ball more often and hopefully, he will produce the takeaways this defense so desperately needs.
Also, rookies Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie both show a lot of promise and were known for their takeaways in college. This could end up being a very productive secondary, and a dominant one for years to come.
Defense General: LB Sean Lee, Tackles/Tackles For Loss
- 2016 tackles and tackles for loss leader: LB Sean Lee (93/13)
Sean Lee might not be the MIKE of this defense, but he is the most important linebacker on the team.
Last year he led the team with 93 tackles and 52 assists, combining for 145 tackles. He also was the best in tackles for loss, leading the team with 13. Lee was all over the field last year. Not only was he the best LB on the team, but one of the best in the NFL.
In a Cowboys defense which is full of question marks, Sean Lee is one of the most important players on the roster, and the most important on defense.
Picking any other player from the Cowboys to lead this category is an absolute bold prediction.
Completion Denied: S Byron Jones, Passes Defended
- 2016 passes defended leader: S Byron Jones (10)
Perhaps Byron Jones hasn't lived up to the hype in the INT department, but he is still one of the best defenders on the team and is an essential piece to this secondary.
He has led the team in passes defended both in 2016 and 2015. Last year he had 10, which is a number that can be improved a lot, and with a group of young and athletic DBs, it's fair to think it will.
Byron Jones is one of my favorite Cowboys right now, as he appears to save the team from a lot of big plays. I expect Jones to have his best season this year and hopefully, he can even add a few interceptions.
Life After Doug Free: Jason Witten, Penalties
I added this as a little bonus.
Discussing this article with Inside The Star Staff Writer, Jess Haynie, he came up with including the penalties category. Doug Free seemed to draw a flag every week and after his retirement, we wondered who would be the player with the most penalties this year.
We said the same name at the same time.
Jason Witten is my favorite Cowboys player of all time, I love the guy. But to be honest, he is not the same athletic tight end he once was, and he did draw yellow flags once in a while.
Be it false starts or offensive holdings, I'm picking Mr. Reliable to make Doug Free the most proud. This doesn't mean I expect him to have a bad year at all.
Is September here yet?
Do you agree or disagree with these predictions?
Is Confidence Eroding in Cowboys Offensive Centerpieces?
The Dallas Cowboys dropped to 1-2 on the season after a 24-13 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday afternoon. It was a game that many thought the Cowboys could win as the Seahawks looked to be floundering, having started the season 0-2. However, yet again, we sit here with questions about the coaching staff, particularly Head Coach Jason Garrett and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan.
As one of the more optimistically minded fans out here in Cowboys Nation, even I am beginning to have doubts that the key offensive pieces aren't going to cut it anymore. Yes, that even includes Quarterback Dak Prescott.
I've held all offseason that we should be looking at Dak Prescott's first 24 games as a sample of the potential franchise quarterback he could be instead of the final eight games of 2017. In six of the eight games in that span, he looked more like a fourth round pick. Yes, the offense wasn't good around him for those eight games, but he hasn't done much in 2018 to show us or the front office he's going to be worth investing in moving forward.
While I get that Dak Prescott isn't a perfect quarterback and am starting to concede that he may not be the long-term answer for the Dallas Cowboys, I still believe he's a quarterback that can win you a lot football games.
Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan, however, I'm not so sure anymore.
I've always been a Jason Garrett fan. I know many out there would disagree with me when I say he's a good NFL Head Coach. Is he great? No. However, you're going to be really hard pressed to find a great head coach. It's going to require you taking a chance on someone with no head coaching experience and hoping that guy turns into a great coach.
The biggest strength of Jason Garrett as a head coach has always been his ability to get his team ready to play mentally and get the best out of them. Garrett's teams typically came to play and even when they were bad on defense (2011-2014), the offense kept games close. On the flip side, when the offense was bad in 2015, they still found a way to keep games close with really good play on the defensive side of the football.
They've lost by an average of 9.5 points this season and have a negative point differential.
Though I'm a fan of Garrett, it's getting harder and harder to defend him as the long-term answer for this team at head coach. Loyalty is an admirable quality, and he's not going to throw Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan under the bus, but that loyalty -- or stubbornness -- is going to cost him his job.
Jason Garrett at this point is tied to Scott Linehan and Dak Prescott. For better or worse, Garrett's future hinges on the success of his offensive coordinator and quarterback.
It's hard to argue that Scott Linehan has been good for the Dallas Cowboys this year. The Dallas Cowboys offense is averaging just over 13 points per game in 2017. That ranks 31st in the NFL. The only team worse is the Arizona Cardinals who are averaging less than seven points per game.
Though I'm typically able to see the bright side with the Dallas Cowboys, the light is being dimmed by the offense's performance to start the season. Even the most optimistic fan is having a hard time finding the silver lining with this team.
For the center pieces of the Dallas Cowboys offense, Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Dak Prescott, time is running out for them to cement themselves as the future of a Dallas Cowboys team still searching for their sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Cowboys Bow to Seahawks – Hoping to Tame Lions in Week 4
The Cowboys are now sharing space in the NFC East cellar with the Giants but are hoping to move out next week with a win against the Detroit Lions. Before they can do that, there is quite a bit that needs to be fixed and most of it comes on the offensive side of the ball.
Dak Prescott was 19-of-34 for 168 yards and it was the ninth time over the past 11 games, dating back to last season, that Dallas failed to pass for 200 yards. In a league where 300-yard passing games are not uncommon, and young guns like Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes are tossing four touchdowns a game, it's quite concerning that Dallas’s aerial attack is more like a mild affront.
Ezekiel Elliott has done his fair share of the heavy lifting for the offense this season and chewed up 127 yards of real estate in Sunday’s game with an almost eight yards per carry average. But even Elliott is experiencing his share of brain cramps in this offense after he was flagged for stepping out-of-bounds before making what would have been a touchdown reception, and then coughing up the ball in the fourth quarter causing a momentum-killing shift that sealed the deal for the Seahawks.
After three weeks of play, Dak Prescott has just two touchdown passes and both were to Tavon Austin. The offensive line, once regarded as the league’s gold standard, has struggled with rookie Guard Connor Williams, a second-round pick out of Texas, getting schooled more than a few times thus far after making the shift from college tackle to NFL guard.
Center Travis Frederick’s absence is being felt as well but the glimmer of hope is that once he gets back to feeding the ball to Prescott, the offensive line will more closely resemble the impenetrable unit to which we’ve become accustomed.
Dwelling on a bad loss and wringing our hands about a lack of offensive production will only get us so far, therefore, whenever we look ahead to what awaits we check over a review of Bovada one of the most trusted and reliable online sportsbook in the industry. The oddsmakers are already dealing lines on next week’s game with the Lions and despite Detroit’s impressive win over New England and Dallas’s disappointing defeat to the Seahawks, we see that the Boys are 3 ½ point home favorites in the early betting.
That’s an odd number considering the Week 3 results but the Dallas passing attack has to get better because it can’t get much worse.
As long as Zeke can move the chains the Cowboys have a chance, but their offense has become too predictable, as has their play calling. Head Coach Jason Garrett has to get more creative and make his players accountable for bone-head penalties of the variety that Defensive End Randy Gregory took when he shoved Seahawks’ Center Joey Hunt’s head directly in front of the referee’s line of vision. It was a 15-yard flag shortly before the first-half and allowed the Seahawks to tack on another three points instead of punting the ball away.
"You have to keep your poise regardless of what anybody did to you, said to you. You cannot respond like that. Typically what the officials see is the second thing and obviously that drew the flag. That was a poor play for us prior to the half."
Hopefully the line next week at Bovada is a good omen for the Cowboys. Dallas is back at home and the last time they met the Lions, December of 2016, the Cowboys won in a romp by the score of 42-21. In addition, let’s not forget that Detroit may get caught in a letdown situation after a huge win over the Patriots and a game looming with divisional foe Green Bay after their Week 4 showdown in Dallas.
It’s a good spot for the Cowboys in what is shaping up as a trap game for the Lions. Expect a big bounce back performance from Dallas as they roll over their Motown rivals this Sunday afternoon.
Next Day Rant: NFL is Killing Football to Protect Quarterbacks
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.
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