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QB Controversy Is Not Dallas Cowboys Biggest Problem

Jess Haynie

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DeMarcus Lawrence, #90

The Dallas Cowboys come out of their bye week with a lot of "good problems to have." For example:

  • Deciding between Dak Prescott and Tony Romo.
  • Finding a role or trade partner for Darren McFadden.
  • Not wanting to take CB Anthony Brown off the field.
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

At 5-1 and with arguably the most momentum of any team in the NFC, the Cowboys don't have much to complain about. However, there is one large problem that could stand in the way of championship aspirations. Unfortunately, it's also a very familiar one.

The Cowboys defense is still one of the worst at rushing the passer. As our last trip to the playoffs proved, this can be a fatal flaw.

Many point to the bad call on Dez Bryant's near-touchdown catch as what cost Dallas their 2014 playoff game in Green Bay. However, the defense's inability to get to Aaron Rodgers was the far larger culprit. Rodgers had clean pockets to work from and carved up the Dallas secondary throughout the game, despite playing with a lower leg injury.

Two weeks ago, the Cowboys again faced Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field. The same lack of pressure was there, but they got away with it as Rodgers was having a bad day in an atypically rough season.

It is unlikely that the Cowboys can survive three or four playoff games without pressuring quarterbacks. If they meet Rodgers again, or the likes of Russell Wilson and Matt Ryan, those quarterbacks can make plays and counter Dallas' ball-control offense with quick answers and matching touchdowns.

Is 10 games enough time for Dallas to find a solution before the playoffs?

demarcus-ware-tackle-rgiii

You have to go back to 2011, with Rob Ryan and the 3-4 defense, for a time that Dallas wasn't in the bottom half of the NFL in sacks. DeMarcus Ware had 19.5 that year and was helped by Anthony Spencer and Jason Hatcher.

Since then, the Cowboys have ranked 20th or worse in sacks every season. The transition from the 3-4 defense to the 4-3 has had mixed reviews, but the glaring negative has been less ability to attack quarterbacks.

Right now the Cowboys have just 11 sacks, a little less than two per game. They are allowing opposing quarterbacks to have an average passer rating of 95.0, another bottom-half number in the NFL. It's especially bad when you consider that Aaron Rodgers is the above-average QB that they've faced so far this season.

These problems are especially frustrating given the many failures in personnel moves. You can't say Dallas hasn't invested in the pass rush. The problem is that they've been risky investments.

The signing of Greg Hardy was the Cowboys' single biggest, and most risky, attempt find improve. Hardy debuted with a bang but quickly went silent, and his personal problems and poor character did far more to hurt the organization than help. He was gone after one year.

Cowboys Blog - Dallas Cowboys Defensive End Randy Gregory Suspended 4 Games

The Cowboys likely won't get help from Randy Gregory this season

Dallas spent their 2014 and 2015 second-round picks on defensive ends DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory. Lawrence just recently returned from a PED suspension and Gregory is out until Week 15 for repeated drug violations. Neither is a lost cause, but so far the returns have not been good.

Dallas has even been pass-rush focused with their defensive tackles. They gave Tyrone Crawford a long-term deal on the faith that he would blossom as a disruptive DT under Rod Marinelli. Crawford has yet to be a consistent force and now has one of the worst contracts on the team.

Thought not on the same scale of investment, the Cowboys recently gave Benson Mayowa a solid contract paying roughly $3 million per year despite his limited opportunities with the Oakland Raiders. They thought he could emerge with a larger role, but Mayowa has yet to do so.

The Cowboys' best hope is that DeMarcus Lawrence will come out of the bye week ready to live up to the hype. Lawrence had seven sacks over the final eight games of 2015, but that was with Greg Hardy drawing attention. Lawrence has to emerge as the catalyst now for his teammates.

Dallas' Week 5 win over the Cincinnati Bengals gives some hope for this. Despite not having a sack himself, Lawrence's presence seemed to open things up and allowed the Cowboys to get four sacks on Andy Dalton.

Cowboys Headlines - Who Could Be Interested In Trading For Darren McFadden?

Could Darren McFadden help the Cowboys as a trade option?

Another possibility for help is a trade. The deadline is next Tuesday and the Cowboys have a piece in Darren McFadden that some RB-needy teams could be interested in. They also could look at moving tight end Gavin Escobar, another former second-round pick, if there's a team that still remembers him fondly from the 2013 draft.

Even if teams don't want these players, future draft picks could also be moved. The Cowboys could look to bring in a quality, veteran pass rusher from a struggling team for a 2017 pick. With championship potential now very much in the conversation, the Cowboys wouldn't be foolish for pulling from these future assets.

The worst thing the team could do is get complacent about their pass rushing issues because of current success. The 2014 Dallas Cowboys were 12-4 and went into the playoffs with plenty of hope and confidence, only to get tossed out two weeks later.

The 2016 Cowboys are on a similar trajectory; pushing for the postseason while overcoming a critical flaw. But even if it doesn't come until facing Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger in the Super Bowl, the lack of pass rush could easily prove fatal once again.

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The Cowboys offensive stars can only do so much.

"Dak Prescott or Tony Romo" may be the team's biggest question right now, but either answer is a positive. Still, even if Romo comes back and plays at his MVP-level best, or if Prescott continues to grow and put together one of the great rookie seasons of all time, it could all be for nothing.

There's no question about it; Dallas has a big problem on defense. If they don't fix it, arguing about which QB could take us to the Super Bowl may be a moot point.



Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de Earl Thomas, la NFL Sigue Equivocándose
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.

In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond

It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.

Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.

Considering an Earl Thomas Extension, Age is just a Number

The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.

Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond 1

Click image to view at full size.

The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.

Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.

Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time.  I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.

Back to the chart.

Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.

So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.

Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.

When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.

At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.

If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.

Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III." 

Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!



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Dallas Cowboys

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN

John Williams

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A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.

The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.

Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPNAnd here is the ESPN list:

SportsCenter on Twitter

43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.

I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.

But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.

Ridiculous.

Shameful even.

The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.

Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.

Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.

I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.

I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.

"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.

Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.



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Player News

Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp

Sean Martin

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Will the Dallas Cowboys "Get Lucky" at Defensive End?

The Dallas Cowboys patience with Defensive End Randy Gregory has paid off. Suspended for the better part of 2016 and all of 2017, Gregory has officially been reinstated to join the team for their 2018 training camp. The projected starter at RDE, Gregory will report to Oxnard with the rest of the team on July 25th.

From here, it will be all hard work for Gregory to reconnect with Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli and get his promising career back on track. The last time Gregory suited up for the Cowboys, he managed to sack Philadelphia Eagles Quarterback Carson Wentz in a week 17 win. The Cowboys will be expecting much more of this from a player they've supported through multiple violations of the league's heavily criticized substance abuse policy.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Cowboys pass-rusher Randy Gregory's petition for reinstatement was not opposed, according to lawyer Daniel Moskowitz. He's back. "I've never been more proud of any individual in my life. I'm very excited for Randy and his daughter and the rest of the his family.

Among this support staff for Gregory were a number of teammates that wrote formal letters to the NFL as part of his bid for reinstatement. These last few days of preparation before the Cowboys are together again as a team will surely be uplifted by Gregory's presence.

They say no news is typically good news at this point in the offseason, something the Cowboys have come to realize far too often. Today's news shouldn't be confused with a pleasant surprise however, rather something the Cowboys were committed to in getting another premier pass rusher on the field.

Here is the NFL's official press release on their reinstatement of Randy Gregory:

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

Sean Martin ✭ on Twitter

https://t.co/za0u3lWgaY

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys DE Randy Gregory Reinstated, Will Join Team for Training Camp" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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