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?
Where In The World Is DE Taco Charlton?
Over pretty much the last decade, the Dallas Cowboys have been rock solid with their first round picks. With selections of Ezekiel Elliott, Travis Frederick, Byron Jones, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Leighton Vander Esch (just to name a handful), Dallas has rebuilt the core of their roster through the NFL Draft.
It's nearly impossible to bat .1000 in any round of the draft, however, and this appears to be the current case with the Cowboys' 2017 first round pick.
Defensive end Taco Charlton has not had the sophomore season that he, or anyone, had hoped for. A healthy scratch last Sunday, Charlton has only been active for 1 of the Cowboys' last 5 games, and has not recorded a sack or tackle since week 9.
Prior to disappearing with injuries and "attitude issues," Charlton had only recorded 1 sack on the season and was beginning to fall behind his Hot Boy-brethren. Defensive end Randy Gregory has reached his form over the last few weeks, Tyrone Crawford is having arguably a career year, and DeMarcus Lawrence is one of the best ends in all of football.
This doesn't leave much room for Charlton, who's now having issues even getting on the gameday roster. Rod Marinelli dodged questions about Taco Charlton earlier this week, vaguely saying they are "moving forward" and that he'd like to talk about other players on his defensive line who are performing.
Rod Marinelli on Taco Charlton's benching and being inactive last week: "We just keep moving along keep going forward. It's kinda been out there I'd leave it at that. I'd rather talk about our two tackles.
Charlton has not been quiet about his displeasure as of late, either. He's taken to Twitter to voice his frustrations, saying that not only is his shoulder fine but that the Dallas media is making up stories about his absence. He's also posted some cryptic tweets such as this one, with a picture of Allen Iverson and a caption reading "Every players needs that one coach to believe in them."
Maybe Taco is right. Maybe he just needs increased opportunity and a support system/coach that believes in him whole-heartedly. After all, Charlton has faced nothing but doubters and detractors since the second he was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys.
But in the NFL, the ultimate "what have you done for me lately" sport, it's hard to imagine he'll get that unwavering support anywhere in the league. He's going to have to "earn" his playing time, as head coach Jason Garrett spoke to earlier in the week. But with the plethora of talent the Cowboys are already putting out there on the defensive line, it's becoming difficult to see exactly where Taco Charlton can fit in on this defense.
It's possible, and fine, if it is simply not a fit between Charlton and the Cowboys at this point. But I'd also be wary of giving up on your first round pick in just his second NFL season. Another offseason with the team, working on his craft and getting fully healthy, should do Charlton wonders, and hopefully allow us to get a better read on his future with the Cowboys going forward.
Until then, we are all left to scratch out heads and wonder what in the world is going on with the Cowboys and Taco Charlton, and if the former first round pick will have a future in Dallas at all.
Cowboys, Bears Proving Defense Can Win the NFC
2018 has seen the emergence of high-powered offenses in both NFL conferences. The Kansas City Chiefs sit atop the AFC and the NFC is spearheaded by the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams. Through 14 weeks, these three teams are the top three offenses in the NFL, each averaging over 30 points per game. This year, for the first time in NFL history, two teams scored more than 50 in the same game.
Thanks to this consistent impressive offensive performances, you would think "offense" is the name of the game for the 2018 NFL season. Well, not so fast, my friend. Despite sitting atop the NFC, the Saints and the Rams have recently suffered losses that indicate hope is anything but lost for defensive teams in the league.
The Chicago Bears were able to bring down the Rams last Sunday Night 15-6. The same offense that averages 33 points per game was limited to six points. Sean McVay's remarkable offense went home with no touchdowns to talk about on the plane back home. Instead, they probably discussed Jared Goff's four interceptions.
Weeks earlier, the Dallas Cowboys shocked the world when they brought down the Saints. Drew Brees, Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas simply couldn't move the ball against Leighton Vander Esch, DeMarcus Lawrence and Byron Jones. 13 points were all the Cowboys needed to score to beat an offense that was averaging 37 per game heading into week 13 but was only able to put up 10 in Dallas.
The Cowboys are the #4 seed with the Bears slightly ahead of them as the #3 seed in the NFC. Together, these teams have defeated the top two in the conference. Now granted, playoffs will definitely be different.
For starters, if they are to advance to the divisional round, they'll be on the road. Chicago was surely benefited by playing in such a cold weather versus a Los Angeles team. As far as the Cowboys are concerned, few times has AT&T Stadium been as loud as when they beat the Saints.
Hopefully, we'll get to see both of these elite defenses advance to the Divisional Round to square off against this couple of high-powered offenses again. We will not only be witnessing amazing football games, but a great discussion regarding the everlasting debate between offense and defense.
For years, "defense wins championships" has been a widely accepted statement in football. The Cowboys and Bears have made that same statement resound recently with their impressive wins.
Can they do it again in January football? Can they do it on the road?
Cowboys en Español: Los Colts No Son Cualquier Rival
Al igual que el resto de la afición de los Dallas Cowboys, parte de mí se siente confiada respecto a este equipo visitando a Indianapolis Colts y resultando victoriosos. ¿El problema? Los Colts no son un rival sencillo de vencer. Si crees que la racha de los Cowboys los intimidará, piensa de nuevo. Los Houston Texans llevaban nueve victorias al hilo antes de enfrentarse a este equipo.
Siendo objetivos, este puede ser el partido que evite que los Cowboys cierren su temporada con ocho victorias al hilo para terminar el año con un récord de 11-5. Ni los Tampa Bay Buccaneers ni los New York Giants deberían presentar amenaza alguna contra Dallas. Lo mismo no se puede decir de Indianapolis.
Por primera vez en mucho tiempo, Andrew Luck está realmente de vuelta. Gracias a una reconstrucción de su línea ofensiva, su nivel de juego a regresado al nivel que conocíamos de él desde que llegó a la NFL. Afortunadamente para los Colts, Luck se ha mantenido sano toda la temporada y no se ve rastro alguno de sus lesiones anteriores en el emparrillado.
T.Y. Hilton está teniendo un muy buen año y sin duda alguna presentará un reto para Byron Jones y el resto de la secundaria de los Cowboys. Eric Ebron en la posición de tight end también será un dolor de cabeza para la defensiva.
Lo más interesante se dará en las trincheras. Los Cowboys han hecho un muy buen trabajo presionando quarterbacks opuestos en la temporada, pero si el centro de los Colts, Ryan Kelly está sano el domingo, se enfrentarán al mejor duo de centro-guardia en la liga actualmente. Con Quenton Nelson al lado, Luck estará muy bien protegido.
Sin embargo, Kelly no ha jugado debido a una lesión y aún está por verse si tomará el campo el domingo por la mañana. Los Cowboys hicieron un muy buen trabajo a la entonces ofensiva #1 de la liga, los New Orleans Saints, pero eso no significa que la ofensiva #8 que tienen los Colts no los retará.
Promediando 27 puntos por juego, la defensiva necesitará ayuda de Dak Prescott y compañía para ganar el partido. Dallas continúa moviendo el balón efectivamente, pero es tiempo de anotar touchdowns y no goles de campo.
Ezekiel Elliott será, una vez más, clave para la victoria. Enfrentándose a una defensiva Top 10 contra el juego terrestre, mover las cadenas con Zeke no será tan fácil. El novato Darius Leonard como linebacker ha sido algo espectacular otra temporada al igual que Leighton Vander Esch. Liderando a toda la NFL en tackleadas, estará listo para recibir a los Cowboys al Lucas Oil Stadium.
Lo más importante de este partido...
Por más impresionante que sea la racha de cinco victorias consecutivas, los Cowboys tienen que demostrar que pueden ganarle a un equipo fuerte estando de visita. Porque hay que admitirlo, Jason Garrett y su equipo no han tenido éxito fuera de casa. Claro, le ganaron a un equipo debilitado de Philadelphia Eagles y a unos Atlanta Falcons que va 4-9.
Este equipo "nuevo" de los Cowboys no ha ido contra un rival de calidad siendo el visitante. Es tiempo de demostrar que lo pueden hacer, ya que si quieren contender en postemporada, es justo lo que necesitarán... jugar bien de visita.
Sinceramente creo que los Cowboys ganan este partido. Principalmente gracias a su defensiva, pero también veo a la ofensiva dominar el tiempo de posesión en un juego de pocos puntos. Es tiempo de mantener esa racha.
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