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Sean’s Scout: Early Lack of Depth In Running Game Not A Concern

Sean Martin

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There was a time when the Dallas Cowboys were preparing to begin their 2017 season without star running back Ezekiel Elliott for the first six games, ready to rely on Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, and potentially Rod Smith to carry the load in Elliott's absence. The team knew for some time prior to Sunday night though that Elliott would play against the Giants at the very least (likely on the field for the entirety of the season now) and the Cowboys responded by running Ezekiel 24 times for 104 yards against New York.

How things shook out behind Elliott in the backfield came as a surprise though, as Darren McFadden was a healthy scratch and Rod Smith did not take a single carry. The only other Dallas RB to carry the ball was Alfred Morris, who ran four times for a net gain of one yard.

It is certainly no secret that the Dallas Cowboys want to lean on their bell cow in the backfield with Ezekiel Elliott in his second season, but the capable veterans behind him should be expected to carry a bigger load in their respective roles moving forward.

This Sean's Scout will evaluate the entirety of the Cowboys' running game against the Giants in week one.

Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott Vs Giants (13) - Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

What makes Ezekiel Elliott such a special player is his ability to run the football with elite balance, power, vision, and elusiveness on every single play. Elliott's longest gain on the ground in this game was just ten yards, making his workmanlike performance even more impressive as he churned out tough yards against a very talented Giants defense.

If compared directly to Elliott, any RB on this Dallas team is going to look lackluster, and it is possible that the Cowboys are planning on playing the match ups more with how they utilize McFadden, Morris, and Smith behind #21.

Playing against a Giants front four that is in on every play, the need to take "ugly" yards while committing to zone runs throughout the night meant Morris got the nod over McFadden for limited reps.

Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott Vs Giants - Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

What the Cowboys of course missed in Alfred Morris was Zeke's ability to frequently make the first man miss, even if it is an unblocked MIKE linebacker in the backfield. The tape showed that Morris still followed all of his blocks as well as Elliott did on this night, lacking the finishing ability to maybe hit on a chunk play and change this narrative a bit.

Even Morris' -4 yard run that left him with a box score of one total rushing yard has a hidden positive for the Cowboys in it.

Cowboys Alfred Morris Vs Giants (13) - Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

On this snap, the Cowboys are in a 13 personnel package that worked very well throughout the night. The three tight ends in the game created favorable match ups for the interior linemen.

Particularly, C Travis Frederick was able to take advantage of Damon Harrison - likely the best run stopping DT in the NFL - the best he could out of 13 personnel, with Harrison forced to line up over him as a one or zero technique.

The adjustment the Giants made here to free up Harrison from the reach block of Frederick killed this play for Morris, as Harrison shifts to a penetrating 3T position. With Zack Martin going clear to the second level, Morris cannot escape "Snacks" Harrison in the backfield.

Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott Vs Giants (13) - Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

For comparison, here is Elliott carrying the ball out of 13 personnel with Frederick's reach block and seal creating a crease for a solid gain.

Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott Vs Giants - Streamable

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

If given a chance to get into a rhythm, there is little on tape that Elliott did against the Giants that Alfred Morris could not replicate to a level that will be effective throughout this season. Head Coach Jason Garrett was quick to praise the Cowboys' ability to grind down the Giants in this game with the amount of plays they ran on offense as a key to the victory, so it makes sense that entering the night with Elliott and Morris was the plan all along.

It should also be no surprise in Denver this Sunday afternoon if the Cowboys roll with Elliott, McFadden, and Rod Smith against a Denver Broncos defense that can be over aggressive defending the run.

The Cowboys have players that can exploit match ups all over the field on offense, along with the luxury of the most talented and versatile running back in the game. While the rushing attack will be fine as long as Elliott is toting the rock, it should excite Cowboys Nation that the team is potentially looking at maximizing their weapons out of the backfield with unique pairings at running back based on the defenses in front of them.

Cowboys Nation on Twitter

There's a bit of a theory going around that it might depend on the team we are playing as to who is RB2 from Week to Week. https://t.co/0kcZvLAaKb

Even if Alfred Morris proves to be ineffective with more reps, it should only open the door for fan-favorite Rod Smith to find a larger role on offense. The Cowboys will be just fine at RB.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Early Lack of Depth In Running Game Not A Concern" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. tom

    September 13, 2017 at 3:56 pm

    also gives rest of NFL look at RB2 just in case an injury presents trade value for either Morris or DMC

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Star Blog

2018 In Review: Byron Jones Emerges As CB1

Kevin Brady

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Byron Jones

Heading into the 2018 season Byron Jones was being asked to prove himself. The former first round pick had fallen out of the coaches' good graces during his third season, though many of his struggles could be attributed to those very coaches which were then questioning his ability.

Being asked to play out of position, or at least in a spot which did not maximize his natural ability, Jones struggled in 2017. Too often he was playing in the box as a safety where his lack of physicality was exposed by the opponent's run game. This was mostly due to the coaching staff falling in love with his tight-end-erasing ability in man coverage, but backfired when overused as a safety.

Once hired the following offseason, Kris Richard and company decided to move Byron Jones to cornerback full time, allowing him to utilize his excellent coverage skills and athletic ability to the fullest, rather than putting him at a disadvantage in the box.

The results? Well, Jones had one of the best seasons of any cornerback in football, earning All Pro and Pro Bowl honors for the first time in his young career.

Pro Football Focus on Twitter

Byron Jones had a dominant season for Dallas

Pro Football Focus graded Jones as the sixth best cornerback in all of football last season, allowing just 0.79 yards per coverage snap. Despite not having an interception on the season, Jones still earned national recognition as one of the best cornerbacks in the entire league.

Down the stretch of the season, Chidobe Awuzie started to play up to the level which fans had hoped for during the preseason. He had been sticky in coverage most of the year, but now he was making plays on the ball at a much better rate, forcing incompletions. This led to an increase in targets to Jones' side, and though the increase resulted in more catches given up by the number one cornerback, I don't think Jones' play faltered as much as some will have you believe.

The fact is, when you get targeted more you are bound to give up more catches and yards. The key is to force them into contested catches, and make things as difficult for the receiver as possible when targeted.

Byron Jones continued to do this all season long, and fans should be excited for the next step of his growth in 2019.



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Star Blog

Cowboys en Español: Comentando el Tope Salarial

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Time to Stop Making Excuses for QB Dak Prescott?

Por muchos años, el tema del tope salarial ha sido un tema sensible para los Dallas Cowboys. Entre dinero muerto y otros problemas, el equipo ha tenido una situación delicada en este aspecto. Sin embargo, para la temporada del 2019 tienen más espacio de lo que estamos acostumbrados.

Según Over The Cap, los Cowboys tendrán aproximadamente 48 millones de dólares disponibles en 2019. Es importante recalcar que este número no es definitivo y puede cambiar. Año tras año, esta administración ha sido aficionada de reestructurar los contratos de ciertos veteranos para liberar espacio salarial constantemente. Además de esto, hay varios jugadores bajo contrato que el equipo podría decidir cortar para liberar aún más dinero.

Al ver sólo 48 millones disponibles, es complicado imaginar un escenario en que el equipo logre satisfacer todos sus objetivos. Hay bastantes candidatos a grandes extensiones en el equipo, principalmente dos jugadores. En una liga en la que quarterback es la posición más importante, la segunda más importante podría ser la del caza cabezas, cuyo objetivo es ir tras el quarterback contrario.

DeMarcus Lawrence, Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks

Pues en Dallas, hoy dos  jugadores en estas posiciones que hay que extender. El más urgente sin duda es el defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Lawrence se puso el jersey del equipo cuando este lo designó a jugar bajo la etiqueta franquicia. Afortunadamente, el atleta de 26 años la hizo de soldado y jugó sin amenazar con faltar a entrenamientos ni pretemporada.

Lo que sí comentó es que no pasaría por lo mismo en 2019. Ahora, el momento está aquí y es tiempo de que los Cowboys lo extiendan. El valor de Lawrence es difícil de predecir, pero es bastante seguro que se acercará a los números de Khalil Mack. Mack hizo historia ganando un contrato que en promedio gana 23.5 millones al año. Si bien no anticiparía que lo supere, la cifra estará cerca al contrato del defensivo de los Chicago Bears.

Además está Dak Prescott, cuyo contrato probablemente estará por encima de los 25 millones anuales. Son contratos caros, pero son piezas fundamentales para el equipo. Definitivamente se les tiene que pagar a ambos. Son pilares que año tras año buscan equipos en toda la NFL.

Además de esto, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, Cole Beasley y más podrían tener un impacto en el tope salarial. Algunos buscan un contrato nuevo, otros una extensión. Pero honestamente, me parece que habrá más espacio en el tope salarial de lo que pensamos. Sólo es cuestión de tiempo para que los Cowboys comiencen a reestructurar a sus veteranos para ahorrarse unos cuantos millones para utilizar en agencia libre.

Tyron Smith, Tyrone Crawford entre otros pueden ser buenas opciones para comenzar este proceso. Antes era Jason Witten uno de los candidatos favoritos para este proceso, pero él ya se encuentra comentando partidos para ESPN. En Inside The Star, continuaremos actualizándote con contenido al día de los Dallas Cowboys.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys en Español: Comentando el Tope Salarial" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Star Blog

Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason?

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Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason? 2

Super Bowl LIII is in the books, and the Dallas Cowboys can look back on a better-than-expected 2018 campaign. Having won the NFC East with a 10-6 record and bowing out to eventual finalists Los Angeles Rams, the Cowboys' young team can look ahead to 2019 as a chance to take another step forward.

The offseason is now upon us, with the NFL free agency period opening in the middle of March and the NFL Draft coming around at the end of April. Until those times, experts, pundits, and fans are left to assess their teams and predict their activities in the running to the start of next season.

The Dallas Cowboys are in a precarious position, with the team exceeding expectations, still being very young and having plenty of cap space, but also having many top-end players set to become free agents and being without a first-round pick in this year’s draft. There does, however, appear to be a way for the team to make improvements and solidify their place atop the NFC East and potentially go on to win in the Conference Finals.

Lock Down the Big Guns

Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason?

@Randy81MossRetires, via Twitter

Many see DeMarcus Lawrence as the top potential free agent this spring, so the Dallas Cowboys need to do everything in their power to lock down the 26-year-old defensive end.

Vice President Stephen Jones has emphasized the team’s target of retaining their own stars, per Star-Telegram, with Lawrence, Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, Ezekiel Elliott, and perhaps Byron Jones being in the discussion for long-term deals.

As it stands, the team will have roughly $48.5 million in cap space for next season, which leaves plenty of space to re-sign their top players. They look set to let go of Tavon Austin, David Irving, and quite possibly Cole Beasley, among others, leaving a need to add reinforcements.

Adding New Talent

Can the Cowboys Become Legitimate NFC Conference Contenders this Offseason? 1

@brkicks, via Twitter

One of the most heavily rumored moves for Dallas in this free agency is picking up native Texan and former Legion of Boom linchpin Earl Thomas, per Forbes.

Against the Rams in the playoffs and throughout the season, the Cowboys lacked a defenseman who could make plays on the pass. Thomas is one of the notorious ball hawks in the league, boasting 28 career interceptions, three of which came in just four games of last season.

If the Cowboys can re-sign their stars while keeping some space for an Earl Thomas-sized contract, which clocked in at $10.4 million in 2018 for the Seattle Seahawks, their odds of going all the way next season will significantly increase.

Right now, the expected names of the New England Patriots and Kansas City Chiefs lead the odds to win the next Super Bowl at +750. Behind them, the Rams sit at +900 having suffered a suffocating defeat in this year’s Super Bowl. Much further down are the Cowboys at +2500 right now with redbet. If they re-sign Lawrence, pay their young stars, and bring in Thomas, they’ll shoot up the table of favorites.

Then, there’s also the additions in the draft to consider.

The Cowboys may be without a first-round selection, but that may end up working in their favor. Round one of the 2019 NFL Draft is set to be laden with defensive selections according to most mock drafts, with a few quarterbacks sprinkled around and a minimal selection of offensive weapons. If the Cowboys re-sign Lawrence, they’ll be looking good at defensive end, so should then turn to giving Prescott another weapon in the passing game, which will also help to keep defenses honest and give Elliott more room to operate.

As stated, the NFL is a passing league, and Prescott exploded once he was given a viable option in Amari Cooper. Michael Gallup is expected to take another step forward next season, but just in case, the Cowboys can add another strong receiving option in the draft thanks to the strength of the defensive class. A.J. Brown of Ole Miss will almost certainly go in the first round, but exciting talents in D.K. Metcalf, Parris Campbell, Marquise Brown, and Deebo Samuel could all still be available when Dallas rings in during the second round.

Improving Dallas' pass options and pass defense will go a long way toward improving the team and allowing them to push on to a bigger and better campaign in 2019.



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