The Dallas Cowboys took a huge blow yesterday to the defensive line when 2015 second round pick DE Randy Gregory was suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season after his fourth failed drug test post-NFL-Combine.
Gregory's position was already one of concern for the Cowboys this off season, but now that priority is greatly elevated. As far as we know, the team has yet to come any closer to a decision on the future of Greg Hardy, and should he exit in free agency it would leave DeMarcus Lawrence as the only pass rusher under contract for the upcoming season that has at least one career sack.
Even if they re-sign Jeremy Mincey and Jack Crawford, the two other free agents at the position, Dallas would be bringing back just a combined four sacks from the pair last year - all of which came from Crawford. Both have been with the team for two seasons, and have a combined 12 sacks in that time.
Enter Ronald Blair, who's name has blown up in draft talks over the past short weeks. A small school prospect out of Appalachian State, it took some time for scouts to discover this potential hidden gem. However, once they did, plenty of them fell in love with the 6' 1", 272 pound pass rusher:
Five NFL prospects I think I'm higher on than most: DE Ronald Blair CB Xavien Howard WR Pharoh Cooper WR Rashard Higgins DT Hassan Ridgeway
While his secret may become less and less well kept in the lead up to the draft, which will include Blair's Combine performance, the tape for Ronald Blair doesn't go without showing some flaws.
If the Cowboys like Blair, they may have to guarantee his selection with the 34th overall pick. I also think there may be a strong chance he falls to them in the third round, where he would then become a much less expensive solution for the pass rush.
Let's take a look at his film to further understand the impact in size, speed, and pass-rush ability that Blair could bring to Dallas:
Before taking a look at #49 in white, just notice the team in orange that he is going up against. This tape from Blair is from his visit to the Clemson Tigers - who went undefeated this season all the way up until the National Championship Game. Thus, the impact plays he makes are coming against top-end competition - which will only further improve his stock.
In it, you see the versatility that would make him a favorable prospect for Rod Marinelli. While he doesn't show a ton of explosiveness and speed, he finds a way to consistently impact the play by being in the backfield - whether he rushes from the edge or the inside.
When rushing from the edge, Blair reminds me of the Cowboys' DeMarcus Lawrence. While it took Lawrence a few seasons to put things together, he came onto the scene at the end of 2015 to be an explosive defensive end.
Blair will need to improve his overall hand-speed and bend from the edge pass-rush position, but will only benefit from playing with some of the talented defensive linemen already in place such as Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford and David Irving.
It is likely unfair to expect Blair to come into Dallas and record a high sack total in his first season, but what I think he will give this team over time is a solid tackler along the defensive line that makes his presence felt on every snap possible.
The team has no idea what they have in Randy Gregory, after an injury-washed 2015 led to his current suspension to start 2016, and it is now time they found solid, bonafide answers at this position. The hard-nosed Blair can be just that, while not forcing the team to use the fourth overall pick on this priority thanks to Gregory.
This was a popular instant reaction by fans upon the news of the suspension, as the talks of Joey Bosa to the Cowboys greatly escalated.
Randy Gregory is a player that I am pulling for not just because he plays with a star on the side of his helmet, but because he genuinely came off as incredibly grateful when drafted by the Cowboys - and appeared ready to use it to put his negative past behind him. Clearly that is now not the case, and Gregory needs help from the organization and his close support-system.
Should Gregory come back and contribute as a situational pass rusher along a defensive line consisting of Greg Hardy, Tyrone Crawford, David Irving, Nick Hayden, DeMarcus Lawrence, and rookie draft-steal Ronald Blair, the Cowboys front may finally live up to the expectations we all set for them this season.
Robert Quinn’s Return Important For Struggling Cowboys Pass Rush
Cowboys Nation spent much of the offseason praising the depth of their team as a whole. In particular, though, everyone felt good about what the Cowboys had across their defensive front.
By drafting well in recent years, and acquiring some lesser known players who have turned into solid contributors on the defensive line, the Cowboys have put together a really good group on paper. Despite this perceived depth, however, Dallas' defensive line has not created the pressure through their pass rush which was expected of them through the first two weeks.
After two games the Cowboys have just two sacks, bringing down each opposing quarterback once in each victory. Of course, each sack came at a big moment, as Tyrone Crawford got to Case Keenum on third down early in Sunday's win and DeMarcus Lawrence stripped Eli Manning on a red zone attempt during the season opener. Still, though, the lack of sack production is concerning. Especially considering how often the Cowboys have played with leads so far in 2019.
Star defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence has shouldered much of the criticism from fans the past two weeks, despite playing the best of any of the pass rushers on the team. Lawrence created a couple key pressures against Washington, and is also fresh off recovering from serious injury. He'll be fine.
The major reason for Lawrence's lack of eye-popping sack production, though, is the lack of help he's received from the rest of his rush-mates. For the most part, Crawford has looked like a guy who missed an entire preseason, and while Dorance Armstrong and Joe Jackson are promising young players, they can't be completely counted on just yet.
Insert Robert Quinn.
The former Pro Bowl defensive end could not be returning at a better time for the Cowboys. Not only should Quinn help to alleviate some of the pressure from Lawrence right away, but he gives the team a rusher who can beat one-on-one blocking more consistently than the rest of the ends currently on this roster.
Robert Quinn's return is also perfect due to the opponent. Quinn came to Dallas via trade from the Miami Dolphins this offseason, and he should be motivated to get after the tanking Dolphins this Sunday.
We should be fair in our expectations of Robert Quinn this week, but don't be surprised if this Cowboys pass rush wakes up quickly Sunday, as he provides a spark on the opposite end of DeMarcus Lawrence.
Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott Should Be Rid of all Rust
The Dallas Cowboys were engaged in a very eventful and sometimes nauseating holdout with All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott this summer. After all the speculation and jabs through the media, the two sides finally agreed on a six-year 90 million dollar extension with 50 million in guarantees just prior to the season opener. With his financial future secured it was time for Elliott to get whatever fieldwork he could before playing the New York Giants. With limited practice time, Elliott had a slow start to the season with a 53-yard performance on 13 carries. However, after watching the Cowboys win against the Redskins it's clear that he's slowly but surely getting back to form.
Elliott came into Sunday's game averaging just under 89 yards per game on the road against the Redskins, including one of his best career rushing performances in 2017 with 150 yards. His 484 yards and 6 touchdowns against Washington prior to Sunday's game were both career highs for Elliott versus a single opponent.
This wouldn't be your typical Elliott game of consistent ten-yard runs and leaping over would-be defenders. Instead, it was a steady dose of Elliott as his workload from week one increased from 14 touches to 25. By halftime, he had 48 yards on 11 carries as the Cowboys held a 14-7 lead.
The Cowboys held a 24-14 lead late in the second half until Elliott capped off a ten-play 54-yard drive that put them up 17, and the game essentially out of reach. In the second half, he had just 36 yards on 11 carries until a 27-yard run late in the fourth quarter gave him 111 yards on 23 carries for the game. Now, Elliott averages 94.3 yards a game on the road for his career against the Redskins, and an amazing 99.2 yards overall.
Going into week three Elliott has almost 40 real game carries under his belt. What this means is now he's gotten the necessary reps and taken the necessary hits needed to get him in football shape, which is something he couldn't fully simulate working out in Cabo. Even with a reduced role in the season opener Elliott is currently on a 1,300-yard 16 touchdown pace as we speak. Those are the kind of numbers that get you the NFL's highest paycheck for running backs, an honor Elliott took over recently, and rightfully so.
Elliott himself can feel things coming back to form with a couple of games out of the way. He spoke about where he was postgame after this past Sunday's win over the Redskins.
“I think slowly and surely, I’m getting back in my rhythm, knocking that rust off,” Elliott told Michael Gehlken of the Dallas Morning News. “I feel good about the game. I feel good about where I am right now. I feel good about everything going forward.”
The Cowboys are off to a 2-0 start for the first time since 2015, and more importantly, they have their All-Pro running back in football shape and fully confident coming off a 100-yard performance. Next up is the Miami Dolphins at home who have a defense that has given up 102 points and 391 yards rushing in the first two weeks. Another opportunity for Elliott to get his legs under him even more and produce at a high level as the Cowboys look for their first 3-0 start since 2008.
Dak Prescott not Only one to Roast CB Josh Norman on Sunday
Thanks to Cornerback Josh Norman the Dallas Cowboys 31-21 victory over the Washington Redskins on Sunday was a little extra sweet for Quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott's goal of course entering this Week 2 matchup was to seal the win for the Cowboys, but doing that and being able to make Norman eat his words had to make the moment a little extra special for him.
You may have forgotten, but Josh Norman pretty much said he wasn't all that impressed with Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys performance in the season opener against the New York Giants. Prescott of course had a career day completing 25 and 32 passes 405 yards and four touchdowns, but to that Norman replied "anybody can do that".
Josh Norman has since said those comments about Prescott were misconstrued and taken out of context, but that could just be him crawfishing and trying to save face after the Cowboys QB roasted him on more than one occasion Sunday afternoon.
Almost fittingly, some of Prescott's best plays against the Redskins were to Josh Norman's side of the field. The first was the 51 yard bomb to WR Devin Smith that resulted in a touchdown. And then Dak was able to get a little physical with a stiff arm to No. 24's face on his long run. It could have even been a little worse for Norman if Michael Gallup could've corralled the deep pass down the sideline from his QB. Anyway you slice it though the Redskins mouthy CB got roasted.
As much as I liked Dak Prescott's roasting of Josh Norman, it fails in comparison to how he's getting slammed on social media. It's downright demoralizing, but comical at the same time.
Here are a few examples:
Can you find Josh Norman?
TOAST! LOL Food humor for the win! @Pseudo_RGIII wasn't the only one roasting Josh Norman on social media though.
What type of coverage does Josh Norman calls this? https://t.co/P74jkY3ut5
Someone got caught looking in the backfield. That's gotta be embarrassing. That's not all though, there's more…
Had enough yet!? No… How about one more just from the beautiful Jane Slater for fun?
Dak with a stiff arm to Josh Norman and a 42 yard run. Michael Gallup helping block. Think he heard Norman say "anybody can do that" https://t.co/3JARYX5cII
Out of the numerous tweets I went through roasting Josh Norman, Jane Slater's is probably my favorite. That is exactly the kind of face I made on Prescott's long run that ended in him stiff arming Norman.
It's not a very day you get the opportunity to make someone eat their words, but I'm truly happy Dak Prescott was able to make Josh Norman eat his. The social media roasting was just icing on the cake. All in all, Norman probably got what he deserved and made think twice about what he says when he opens his mouth in the future.
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