As the Dallas Cowboys get training camp going this week, the drama surrounding the team is as high as it's ever been.
From suspensions to injuries, America's team brings a lot of newsworthy items as they get ready to embark on what many of us hope will end with a 6th Lombardi Trophy.
Will the Hammer Drop on a Certain Running Back?
Ezekiel Elliott's name has been in the news a lot this offseason, and that is rarely a good thing.
For Elliott it's been a mixed bag.
There's been a lot of speculation on his and quarterback Dak Prescott's ability to repeat their remarkable rookie seasons.
Most of the news surrounding the NFL's leading rusher from a year ago has been predominantly troubling.
From speeding to alleged bar fights, Elliott has been in the news a lot for making bad choices or being in the wrong place at the wrong time a lot lately.
With a lot of the focus for the Cowboys offense surrounding Elliott and the running game, the latest news has been particularly troubling to Cowboys Nation. He is the focal point of an offense that hopes to lead this team to a championship in 2017, but if he isn't on the field, those aspirations diminish.
Darren McFadden and the rest of the running back depth chart is solid, but no one would confuse them for Ezekiel Elliott.
With the latest news suggesting that the NFL has wrapped up its investigation into the domestic violence allegation from more than a year ago, some resolution should be coming shortly.
Whether that's in the form of a suspension or a fine remains to be seen. Many who cover the team seem convinced that at least a one-game suspension is coming, but nobody can be certain.
What hasn't been talked about much lately is what Elliott is capable of on the field. Let's not forget that Elliott nearly led the league in Total Yards in 2016 despite playing one less game than Arizona Cardinals runner David Johnson. If he's on the field for 16 games this year, he's going to have a chance at 2,000 rushing yards and possibly 2,500 total yards.
He was amazing as a rookie and will continue to get better if he's got his head on straight.
Dak Prescott's Draws Rave Reviews Ahead of 2nd Season
As Jess Haynie noted here, Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott is receiving some pretty amazing comparisons heading into his second season.
"Sophomore slump" is a phrase that gets thrown around a ton by people who are more than likely part of Cowboys Hater Nation. When people talk about Carson Wentz, are we hearing discussion about a slump? Not to my knowledge. It seems people are expecting him to make marked improvement.
But for Prescott, most national analysts expect him to have some sort of regression. Because... just because.
Don't buy it.
We've seen enough of Dak's work ethic to know that he hasn't rested on his 2016 success. In his second season, I fully expect Prescott to be in the MVP conversation yet again as he leads the team deep into the playoffs.
Players Returning from Injury Offer Glimmer of Hope
Much has been made this offseason over the recovery of Jaylon Smith's nerve. The star college linebacker has made a ton of progress in his recovery from the knee injury he suffered in his final collegiate game.
Hope is great and the positive news coming from inside The Star can't be ignored. That said, there is still no telling what the team will get from Smith in 2017. The other day I predicted that Jaylon would likely start the season on the physically unable to perform list.
Charles Tapper, on the other hand, looks healthy and ready to go.
He was sidelined to injured reserve in 2016 with a bad back that needed some rehab time.
Now declared healthy, he offers some hope on the right side of the Dallas defensive line that is filled with a bunch of guys who can play the left side. Tapper has a lot of athletic tools that can be useful to a defense. We still need to see him practice and play in some preseason games to get an idea of what he could bring to the team.
Just to remind you what he's capable of, check out Kevin Brady's scouting report on Tapper.
2016 Draft Class Looks to Add to Their Legacy
There hasn't been a Cowboys rookie class that has had as big of an impact as the 2016 rookie class did in more than two decades. Elliott, Prescott, Maliek Collins, and Anthony Brown all played significant snaps for the team.
All four of these guys will be counted on again in 2017.
Kavon Frazier was a solid special teams contributor and began seeing some late season snaps. He'll compete with Jeff Heath, Robert Blanton, and Xavier Woods for snaps at strong safety.
Smith and Tapper--coming back from injury--will look to make their debuts in 2017 and both could start at some point this season.
Rico Gathers offers the last mystery to the 2016 draft class. Drafted as a project out of Baylor, Gathers is competing for a role on the depth chart. He has to prove he's ready to hold up in his blocking assignments.
2017 Rookie Class Aiming for 2016 Rookie Impact
It's unlikely the 2017 draft class can match the impact of the 2016 class, if only because it's hard to match the impact of a franchise quarterback. For what the 2016 rookie class was on offense, completely franchise changing, the 2017 class can be that for the defense.
Seven selections went to the defensive side of the ball, including four defensive backs.
Taco Charlton headlines a group of defensive players who could literally determine how late into the season the Cowboys are playing.
If Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, Marquez White, Joey Ivie, and Jordan Carrell can have a similar impact as the 2016 rookie class, watch out. This defense will be ready to take the team to the next step.
Offensive Line Turnover
Gone are Ronald Leary (Denver Broncos) and Doug Free (retirement).
Replacing Free at right tackle appears to be La'el Collins, who is making the transition back to the position he manned pretty effectively in college.
Left guard will have to settle itself out during training camp. It is the most highly anticipated position battle on the offensive side of the football.
At the moment it seems that Jonathan Cooper has the leg up, but Chaz Green, Byron Bell and others will definitely get their opportunity to run with the first team.
The Cowboys will have a lot to say about who hoists the Lombardi Trophy come February 2018. The way these training camp storylines play out will write the story for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys.
QB Dak Prescott Continues To Come Through In Clutch Situations
Dak Prescott is possibly the most criticized quarterback in all of football.
Of course, this comes with the territory of being the Cowboys starting quarterback, but each throw Prescott attempts is placed under an intense microscope, even by NFL standards. We analyze every snap of every game, looking to find where Dak was right or wrong with this reads.
There's no question, though, that Prescott has been inconsistent throughout his young career. Week to week, drive to drive, and even play to play, we seemingly have no gauge on just how Dak Prescott will perform.
One scenario where we can say with confidence he will come through, however, is when it matters most. Last Sunday, in yet another must-win game for the Dallas Cowboys, Prescott orchestrated a game winning drive to lead his team over the favored Atlanta Falcons.
The Cowboys offense was pedestrian for much of the afternoon, but when Prescott got the ball in a tied game, I felt confident he would give Brett Maher a chance to win the game. Even on the road, and even after the offense had struggled a bit through the air all day.
Prescott got the ball late in the fourth quarter, looking to answer former NFL MVP Matt Ryan's game tying touchdown strike to Julio Jones. Dak went for it all on the first play, looking for Michael Gallup deep down the sideline, but the ball fell incomplete. After that throw, Prescott went 4/5 for 45 yards, including a huge completion to Cole Beasley, putting Dallas in game winning field goal range.
This confidence in Dak Prescott is justified, as is shown by his numbers in late game situations. Prescott now has 12 game winning drives, tying him for the league lead over the last three seasons. For comparison sake, Eagles starter Carson Wentz has just 3 game winning drives over that same stretch.
Overall the box score shows a rather quiet day for Prescott, but it was exactly the kind of Sunday they need from him. He completed over 60% of his passes, ran for a touchdown, and avoided the key turnover which could have sung this close game.
He played efficient football, and gave the Cowboys a chance to win it late. Then, he did what he does best, making plays in clutch situations and coming through in the 2 minute drill.
For all of Dak Prescott's flaws, those end-of-half and end-of-game situations have been a clear strength for the young quarterback, and continued to be this week.
Cowboys en Español: Evaluando la Administración
Entre los aficionados de los Dallas Cowboys, pocas cosas son criticadas tan frecuentemente como la administración de la franquicia que no ha ganado ningún Super Bowl en más de dos décadas. Se ha convertido en un equipo que, a pesar de ser el más valioso en el mundo deportivo, no ha sido nada relevante en el emparrillado. Lo que alguna vez fue una dinastía se ha convertido en una unidad que rompe frecuentemente los corazones de los fans.
Jerry Jones y Stephen Jones, siendo los operadores del ámbito deportivo del negocio familiar, son criticados semana tras semana y en gran parte por justa razón. Pero en gran parte, por cosas no muy válidas.
Cambios de Coach
A mi parecer, lo más criticable para la administración de este equipo viene cuando hablamos de los coaches. Muchos se burlan de los Cincinnati Bengals y de la manera en la que están atascados con el Head Coach Marvin Lewis. Con Jason Garrett al volante, la situación para los Cowboys no es nada diferente.
A mediados de la temporada 2018, no parece que esta narrativa vaya a cambiar. Una vez más, los Cowboys arrancaron de una manera muy inconsistente y ya no sabemos que esperar de ellos. Gran parte de las derrotas, la mayor parte, es el coacheo.
Sin duda el equipo no será exactamente el mismo en 2019, pero ¿serán suficientes los cambios como para decidir quedarse con el mismo capitán que no ha podido mantener el barco navegando por años?
A diferencia de como se manejan muchos equipos en la liga, los Jones fungen como general managers de su propio equipo. Con la ayuda de Will McClay han logrado superar varios de los fracasos de los Jones de antaño, pero actualmente, siendo sinceros no han hecho un mal trabajo.
A pesar de las critícas de Abril, Leighton Vander Esch está probando haber valido más que la pena. Siendo objetivos, aparte de Taco Charlton en el 2017, todas las selecciones de primera ronda de los Cowboys han sido valiosas. La línea ofensiva, el corredor, un cornerback que por fin se está perfilando como uno de los mejores en la liga.
En cuanto a la segunda ronda, ha habido varias críticas, muchas con razón. Pero el mejor caza cabezas del equipo, DeMarcus Lawrence, el linebacker Jaylon Smith, Randy Gregory y más están teniendo un impacto muy fuerte en el equipo.
La administración se ha visto en la necesidad de tomar decisiones bastante difíciles después de una temporada de nueve victorias en 2017. El LB Anthony Hitchens fue liberado, Dan Bailey se fue inesperadamente, se confió en Byron Jones para tomar su opción de quinto año.
Hasta ahora, pura decisión digna de aplaudirse. Pero ninguna como la más reciente de todas: Amari Cooper.
Por más caro que haya salido, los Cowboys merecen bastante crédito por haber mejorado muchísimo su posición de WR. Si el equipo llega a tener una oportunidad esta temporada, será en gran parte por él.
No cabe ninguna duda en mi cabeza de que los Jones han cometido errores a lo largo de los años, el más evidente siendo la resistencia de dejar ir a Jason Garrett. Pero a pesar de esto, la administración ha tomado excelentes decisiones y ha realizado el draft muy bien. En ese aspecto en específico, les aplaudo.
Sack Numbers Don’t Tell DeMarcus Lawrence’s 2018 Story
Coming off of a career year in 2017, many fans expected DeMarcus Lawrence to continue his ridiculous sack production this season. After all, he is once again in a "contract year" due to the franchise tag, and fans are hoping the Cowboys can secure him longterm this offseason.
Through the first four games of 2018, Lawrence looked as ridiculous and unstoppable as ever. He had 5.5 sacks, tied for the league lead, and was dictating the pass protection schemes of every offense the Cowboys were facing.
Since that hot start, though, DeMarcus Lawrence has recorded just 1 sack, falling behind some of the league leaders he was once ahead of. This has some people scratching their heads and wondering if Lawrence's career year in 2017 was just that, a career year. One which he will never replicate again, and one which the Cowboys should factor out when talking contract extensions.
Here's why those people are wrong.
Let's first talk about what makes DeMarcus Lawrence so good, and then we'll get into the full context of the Cowboys defense and how that explains some of the drop in sacks.
Lawrence, unlike some of the league's other top pass rushers, is a complete 4-3 defensive end. He is one of, if not the best run defending defensive ends in football, as shown by his 12 tackles for loss on the season (only Aaron Donald and Danielle Hunter have more).
Much of the year, the Cowboys run defense has boiled down to Lawrence making splash plays, as we saw against the Washington Redskins. Adrian Peterson was gashing the Cowboys during that game, and the only one who did anything to stop him was DeMarcus Lawrence, as indicated by his 3 tackles for loss that Sunday.
There's also the point that 6.5 sacks through half the season is, well, good. It's really good! And when you couple his sack numbers with his solid pressure and QB hit stats, you can see that Lawrence is having a very good season.
Then there is the context of this entire Cowboys defense, specifically their defensive line and pass rush. To put it bluntly, DeMarcus Lawrence has been their only consistent rusher this season. Though we came into the year with high hopes for Randy Gregory, and cautious optimism about first round pick Taco Charlton, neither have been all that impressive this season.
Somebody, anybody, has to step up and become a threat opposite of Lawrence. David Irving could help matters with his interior pass rush ability, but he has been unavailable for basically the entire season.
Without another pass rusher for offense's to even think twice about, Lawrence is getting double teamed and/or chipped by a tight end or running back on just about every rush. It's becoming rare that Lawrence is in a true one-on-one pass rush situation.
Of course, if you are elite, offenses are going to shift protections to you in this way and you still have to find ways to be productive.
And thus far in 2018, DeMarcus Lawrence is doing just that.
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