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.
Was Sunday A “Wake Up Call,” Or Were Cowboys Exposed?
Entering last Sunday's game in Indianapolis, the Dallas Cowboys were riding high. Having won five straight games, including key victories over the top seeded Saints and division rival Eagles, everything seemed to be breaking right for the Cowboys heading into the home stretch.
Their defense was playing like one of the best in football, and after firing Paul Alexander and trading for Amari Cooper their offense was clicking just as they'd hoped. They needed (and still need) just one win to officially close out the division and clinch a home playoff game in January.
Instead, the Cowboys got absolutely demolished by the Indianapolis Colts. Of course, there's no shame in losing a road game to an 8-6 team in the NFL, but the way in which they lost certainly deserves some shame. Not even the 23-0 score can encapsulate the complete butt-kicking Dallas received at the hands of the Colts, and it was the type of loss that can sometimes make you question the blueprint.
The Cowboys, however, are not looking at it that way. Multiple leaders in the locker room have spoke this week about how they "needed" to lose like that. Running back Ezekiel Elliott called the loss embarrassing, but also said it is better for Dallas in the "grand scheme of the season."
Clearly, the leaders and coaches are calling the putrid performance a wake up call, something that will galvanize them and reset their win streak heading into the postseason. But is this really the case, or was the shutout defeat more of a sign of things to come?
Obviously it's too early to say for sure, but I do think it can be a little bit of both.
No, the Cowboys are not the class of the NFC, despite beating what can be called the best team in the same conference a couple weeks ago. There probably will prove to be some drop-off from the top 3 seeds in the conference and the Cowboys, if for no other reason than Dallas will have to go on the road to play those teams in the playoffs. It's really hard to win on the road in the NFL, especially with the increased wackiness of 2018.
The Cowboys offense is far from perfect or prolific, though if clicking they now have the skill talent to drop 30+ points any given Sunday. Their defense is talented, has a high ceiling, but is still very young and inexperienced. Though they've played elite level games before, they've also had some stinkers against the Colts and Titans during the same season.
All of this can be true. The Cowboys can be a team deserving of the playoffs, a team we should not be panicking over, but still a very flawed football team. They can be a team that if "hot" could make a run through the postseason, but also will have to answer some tough questions about coaches and players during the next two offseasons.
After all, who isn't greatly flawed in today's NFL? Hell, we just saw the beloved Rams lose two straight games.
Is it Too Late For Dallas to Fire OC Scott Linehan?
Grab your pitchforks and your torches, it's time to run the Dallas Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan out of town. His playcalling has been absolutely atrocious season and it's time for him to hit the road, even if there are only two regular-season games left on the schedule.
It's completely unorthodox for an NFL team to fire an offensive coordinator this late in the season, but just last week we saw the Minnesota Vikings do just that when they parted ways with John DeFilippo. It was definitely a bold move to make considering the Vikings are still in playoff contention, but it was something they believed was in the best interest of their team.
I believe if the Dallas Cowboys want to do what's best for their team right now and not later, then they should go ahead and cut ties with Scott Linehan. His predictability and un-creativeness as a play caller is holding back a talented offense, which is hurting the overall team as a result. He's been given every opportunity to turn things around, but enough is enough.
I'd personally be on board with Jason Garrett taking over the playcalling duties. He has the experience and held the position with the Cowboys from 2007 until Linehan was hired. I'd even consider giving Kellen Moore a shot as the OC. He knows the system and has worked closely with Quarterback Dak Prescott. Regardless, the Cowboys need to find some way to increase their offensive productivity.
Right now the Cowboys offense is the 26th scoring offense in the NFL and are averaging just 19.7 points per game. To make matters worse they are the 31st ranked Red Zone offense in the league. I don't know about you, but I think that is completely unacceptable with the talent they have on the offensive side of the ball.
Firing Linehan has been a long time coming. The Cowboys flirted with the idea earlier this season during the bye week and should've pulled the trigger then, but for some reason or another decided to let him stick around. They are definitely still paying for that mistake now.
The Cowboys mistake not to replace Linehan could mean yet another early exit in the playoffs, something we have unfortunately become accustomed to. Scoring just 19 points a game isn't going to get them very far, which is truly unfortunate considering the talent they've acquired this season.
Unfortunately, as much as we would love to see Scott Linehan tarred and feathered and run out of town, I just don't see the Cowboys doing that before their season is officially over. But, in no way should he be allowed to retain his position beyond this season. He clearly isn't the answer any longer.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys should fire Scott Linehan?
Despite Embarrassing Showing, Health Remains Biggest Cowboys Concern
What is it about the AFC South with these Dallas Cowboys?
Dallas' five game winning streak came to a close on Sunday, as they got straight-up embarrassed by the now 8-6 Indianapolis Colts on the road. The loss was the first since the Cowboys were embarrassed by a different AFC South competitor, the Tennessee Titans, on Monday night football earlier this season.
Though the final was 23-0, and not a single phase (or really even a single player) showed much fight or promise, the biggest concern I have for the Cowboys moving forward didn't change because of the putrid performance. It didn't change because the defense was gashed play after play or the offense failed to finish a single drive. And it didn't even change because both the Redskins and Eagles secured season-saving victories on the same day Dallas was dismantled.
The biggest concern is still their health, particularly across the offensive line.
That was not a playoff caliber interior offensive line the Cowboys put out their on Sunday. Not even close.
With their backup center in Joe Looney, backup guard in Connor Williams, and the very last interior offensive linemen on their roster in Adam Redmond playing for basically the entire game, this offense never had a chance. Dak Prescott wasn't any more inaccurate or indecisive than normal, but all those who like to scream "step up in the pocket" whenever he is sacked did not seem to have an argument this week.
There often was no pocket to step into, as those interior three, specifically Looney and Redmond, failed to provide much protection or confidence for Prescott at all. Joe Looney has actually been rather solid this season, but Sunday felt like one of his worst games of the entire year.
The Cowboys absolutely need Zack Martin to get healthy if they are to make any noise whatsoever in the postseason. At the very least, the need Xavier Su'a-Filo to come back and replace Redmond, and regain the form he displayed during his debut against the Eagles back in November.
Prescott already has issues with his pocket presence and footwork when pressured, so throwing three backup-level linemen right in front of him is not a recipe for success for the Cowboys.
I'm not jumping out of the window over this loss, and I don't think any of you should be either. Dallas had won three straight incredibly emotional and important home games to extend, save, and solidify their season respectively before this loss. They had also just about clinched the NFC East a week ago with their win over Philadelphia, and they played like a team that was due a flat performance
A letdown loss on the road, against a good team I might add, is not the end of the world. The bigger issue here is their health, because if Martin can return to anchor this offensive line, the offense should look a whole lot better than they did against Indianapolis.
It's time to move on from Sunday, go beat Tampa Bay, officially clinch the division, and get ready for Wild Card Weekend.
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