Could it happen? Could it really happen? The fans have been screaming for it for ages now - a legitimate, dominating running game. According to Executive Vice President Stephen Jones, that’s exactly what will happen in the Dallas offense this season.
On Thursday, Jones gave his thoughts on what a consistent running game would have done for the Cowboys last season, and what he see’s happening for this season, regarding the running game.
“All you have to do is turn on ESPN and three of the best games of the year were all us, losing at the end after we had good leads that we could have won. We win those three games I don't have to tell you what that means.”
“I think our offensive line is better than it was last year and I think we ran the ball pretty well last year,” Jones said. “I think we’ll run it better this year and I think there will be a bigger commitment to running it.”
I’m sure a lot of Cowboys fans are saying, “we’ve heard this before.” And they would be right. Seems like after every game in 2013 Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones, or Jason Garrett would say how the team needed to commit to the running game more. But the very next game would end up like the week before - 35-40 passing attempts and 15-18 rushing attempts.
However, there is a difference hearing Jones say that now, and that is that he’s saying it now. Think about it for a second... in the last few years, before training camp, all the talk would be how the offense would be more "Tony Romo friendly," and how Romo would become more involved in the offensive game plan. And sure enough, each season the offense was laid squarely on the shoulders of Tony Romo.
But there were reasons for that way of thinking:
- Tony Romo is an elite quarterback in the NFL, and the offense should be built around him
- The team hasn’t had the ability to run the ball consistently
- The defense has been in a downward spiral for a few years now
Now you may ask yourself, what’s changed? Since Romo is still an elite quarterback, we know that hasn’t changed. The team has the ability to run the ball consistently, and they started showing that during parts of last season. And there’s something else that’s changed. The defense will be better (I guarantee it).
I felt the team had the ability to run it consistently last season. However, the offensive line really didn’t seem to gel and get the zone-run scheme down until the half-way point of the season. But you know what's worse than having an unreliable offensive line that you can't rush behind? Having a defense so bad that you don't even have the option to develop a consistent running game.
One of the biggest downfalls of having a terrible defense and not being able to run the ball consistently is not having the option to sit on a lead. The offense had to be in attack mode, staying aggressive and continuing to call passing plays, even though the team might have had a two touchdown lead in the second half of a game.
Now some people think if we would have run the ball more, it would have helped the defense, and it very well could have kept them off the field more had the offense been able to run the ball more effectively. But let’s not kid ourselves, that defense was horrible. So that meant the team could never get in grind mode and finish teams off the way the team’s from the early to mid 90’s did.
So let’s look a few things here. The team chose another offensive lineman in the first round of the draft. And not just any offensive lineman, but some are calling him one of, if not the best offensive linemen in the 2014 draft.
The Cowboys will now be running with an all-pro left tackle, a left guard that grew leaps and bounds from his rookie season, an all-pro center (yeah, that’s right, I’m calling it) a rookie right guard some are calling the best offensive lineman in the 2014 draft, and Doug Free... who seemed to turn his career around last season and started playing like this team knew he could. The other factor isn’t even on the offensive side of the ball. It’s the defense people! The 2014 defense of the Dallas Cowboys will be much improved from last season. That will be the biggest key to the Cowboys being able to run the ball this season.
All the pieces are in place on the offense. The run scheme is there, the offensive line is there, and the running backs, too.
If that defense improves, like I know it will, everyone could see something that hasn’t been seen in nearly 17 years. (No, I’m not talking Super Bowl, let’s not get too ahead of ourselves) But I’m talking about in-your-face football, shoving the ball down the opponent's throat with a dominating run game.
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4 Depth Players to Keep in Mind on Dallas Cowboys Roster
Maneuvering through the NFL offseason is a funny task for committed football fans, especially those of Cowboys Nation. Prior to the start of each new season bringing hope for all 32 clubs to reach the Super Bowl, every NFL roster enters a tumultuous state. Talent will be added through free agency and the Draft, while promising players will also be shuffled around through practice squads and training camp releases.
All of that to say, despite criticism for appearing stagnant so far this offseason on the heels of a 9-7 campaign, nobody knows what the Dallas Cowboys will actually look like in 2018. This is why I've decided to feature four under the radar players on the current Cowboys' roster below, all of which provide depth at positions of need.
TE Blake Jarwin
An undrafted free agent out of Oklahoma State, Blake Jarwin found his way onto the Cowboys' practice squad for 2017.
Jarwin showed enough promise early in his Cowboys career to earn fans on the coaching staff and throughout the organization, as he was promoted to the active roster in week eight. The Philadelphia Eagles were reportedly in position to snatch Jarwin from the Cowboys - who protected their versatile tight end.
The TE position remains unsettled for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond, with Jason Witten's production clearly declining. The Cowboys will also be on their third TE coach in three seasons this year, transitioning to Doug Nussmeier.
Nussmeier brings no previous experience as a TE coach specifically, meaning the team's overall philosophy on the position will still be determined heavily by Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan. Favoring tight ends that can block in the running game over those with higher upside as receiving threats, Jarwin is a name to keep in mind as a tenacious blocker that plays with sound technique.
WR Lance Lenoir
This past summer, I had the chance to interview Dallas Cowboys WR Lance Lenoir following his signing with the team out of Western Illinois. In that interview, Lenoir shows off the confidence he took into training camp as a receiver that would have a hard time making the team.
By the end of this long season, the Cowboys went from being perceived as deep and talented at WR to in need of new play makers on the outside.
Perhaps pressing a bit through the preseason, Lenoir did provide practice depth as a reliable pass catcher and punt returner, struggling on special teams in live action and ultimately spending the season on the practice squad.
The 2018 NFL Draft features a deep class of talented receivers, and the Cowboys would be wise to draft one with real potential that can push up the depth chart in a hurry. As far as current options on the roster to fill this position, WR Lance Lenoir can't be overlooked as an athletic target with NFL size and strength - entering his second season in Dallas.
DT Datone Jones
A mid-season acquisition from the Green Bay Packers, Datone Jones flashed as a defensive tackle in the limited opportunities he received. A five-year league veteran, Jones showed the ability to play with power and leverage at the 1T position - a spot the Cowboys are thin at right now.
Jones' versatility also suited him well, playing with impressive burst and disruptive ability as a pass-rushing 3T.
The addition of one more starting caliber DT could truly put this Dallas defensive front over the edge. With how much Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli believes in his DL rotation though, players like Datone Jones can prove immensely valuable.
DT Lewis Neal
Similarly to Jones, Lewis Neal is a fan-favorite defensive tackle for the Cowboys. Neal has absolutely earned the attention he's gotten, a UDFA out of LSU that plays the 1T position better than expected given his size.
The Cowboys have gotten by in recent years with smaller, more mobile players at this interior DT spot, with Neal being their latest post-draft steal to make an impact.
Lewis Neal appeared in seven games for the Cowboys this season, finding ways to help those around him by anchoring the line of scrimmage and disengaging with active hands and a quick base. This is a player that should be a valuable part of the team's depth on the defensive line.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The year-to-year nature of the NFL can be a wonderful thing (unfortunately, ask any Eagles fan right now). Part of this reality is understanding that none of the players listed above may actually stick with the Dallas Cowboys for 2018.
Next week's NFL Scouting Combine will kick "draft season" into full gear however, as the Cowboys will be working to better understand their teams needs and how they can be addressed.
Jarwin, Lenoir, Jones, and Neal all contributed or showed the promise to do so at positions the Cowboys must improve at this season - warranting a closer look through this dull portion of the offseason.
Cowboys 2018 Free Agents: RB Alfred Morris
After two seasons of providing veteran depth for the Dallas Cowboys, running back Alfred Morris is about to be a free agent again. Does the 29-year-old still have value for the club, or will Dallas go with younger options in 2018?
Morris was signed in March of 2016. At the time, it was assumed he would be the backup to incumbent starter Darren McFadden and perhaps even split carries.
But a month later, Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott and drastically changed the landscape at the running back position.
If Alfred suddenly seemed expendable, that quickly changed in June when McFadden broke his elbow. Morris wound being the number-two back after all, but he was rarely used as Elliott immediately became the workhorse RB and held that role for all of his spectacular rookie season.
Last year, we all know what happened with Ezekiel Elliott. Morris became the primary RB during Zeke's suspension and had solid numbers, averaging 4.35 yards on his 99 carries during that six-week stretch.
By Week 16, though, not only had Zeke returned but Rod Smith had started to break out from the depth chart. In the Cowboys' pivotal game that week against the Seattle Seahawks, Alfred didn't even get a touch behind Elliott and Smith.
Considering Smith's emergence last year, and him only being 26, it's easy to see why Dallas may not be looking to bring Alfred Morris back. They seem to have their one-two punch already set at the top of the RB depth chart.
What's more, Morris isn't likely to settle for a likely third-place role. He may not be interested in coming back to Dallas given the situation.
Thankfully for Alfred, he enters the free agent market with some good tape from 2017 showing that he can still produce. It's not a loaded crop of free agents this year and, despite his age, Morris could still find a good job somewhere. He's earned an opportunity to compete, if nothing else.
That opportunity likely won't come in Dallas, though. As I wrote about last month, the Cowboys have enough power already and need to add a speed option in their RB rotation.
That said, Alfred Morris spent the last two years giving Dallas good value for the money. He was a solid free agent pickup and his time as a Cowboy should be remembered fondly. At this point, though, I doubt that relationship will continue.
Though Promising, We Need To Relax About Safety Kavon Frazier
With the addition of former Seattle Seahawks defensive coordinator Kris Richard to the Cowboys' defensive coaching staff, fans are hoping that Dallas will create their own "Legion of Boom." Of course this is a lofty goal, but one worth pursuing nonetheless.
If the Cowboys are to recreate the Legion of Boom they will need their version of two vital pieces: Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor.
The Seahawks defense works, in many ways, because of these two players. Thomas' ability to play centerfield and literally defend sideline to sideline gives the Seahawks the freedom to use Chancellor where he's best, as a box safety. Chancellor is a big, physical safety who defends the run effectively in the box and can blanket tight ends in man coverage with his size and athleticism.
These safeties are arguably the most critical pieces to the Legion of Boom, though having a shutdown corner in Richard Sherman certainly doesn't hurt.
Realizing Chancellor's importance, Cowboys fans are hoping that current safety Kavon Frazier can fulfill this role in Dallas. Since being drafted by the Cowboys in 2016 Frazier has made his home on Special Teams. As an impressive tackler in both punt and kick coverage, Frazier earned himself time at safety down the stretch of the 2017 season.
All in all, Frazier played rather well. Against the Washington Redskins he stepped in and made a few splash plays at the line of scrimmage, causing Cowboys Nation to lose their minds. After that impressive Thursday night game, however, Kavon Frazier didn't really reach that same level of performance.
Frazier is still a liability when asked to cover, especially when asked to play as a two deep safety. He also struggles when taking angles at times, though playing downhill as a tackler is his best attribute. Frazier actually reminds me a bit of Barry Church, though over time Church became more refined in coverage than Frazier currently is.
Some have argued that Kavon Frazier's presence should stop the Cowboys from considering a first round safety. I would disagree, and actually believe that if Florida State's Derwin James is available, the Cowboys should consider making that pick.
If you could combine the athleticism and coverage abilities of Byron Jones with the physicality and "box safety" qualities of Kavon Frazier, you'd have a fantastic safety. Unfortunately, this isn't the Marvel Universe and we are left without any super heroes in the back-end.
Hopefully Kris Richard will figure out how to correctly place all of these pieces in the Dallas Cowboys secondary going forward.
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