All last week I'd been planning on jumping on the 1s and 2s to mix up a little ditty here at Inside The Star concerning the 2016 Dallas Cowboys Defense.
They're a rag-tag group of misfits, born and bred to wreak havoc on the NFC East. They deserve a nickname, and I'm in the business of handing them out. RJ is a nickname, shout out to my Auntie for coming up with it way back when, and this RJ in question suggested the "Space Cowboys" as a moniker for the Cowboys Offensive Line.
What to call the defense, I wondered. It needed to be something that fit, something that made sense, and something culturally relevant. I put off summoning the creativity day after day and night after night last week as I binged through my latest Netflix obsession... when suddenly it hit me.
The 2016 iteration of defenders for America's Team is unlike anything we've ever seen, and we're hoping that they jump right off the screen to captivate our attention. They've taken the most unique path possible up to this point with several suspensions, and a paintball or two, derailing the intended makeup of this unit. Weird doesn't appropriately cover what we've seen from them, no we've seen Stranger Things.
Stranger Things: The 2016 Dallas Cowboys Defense
Warning: From this point on there are spoilers for the Netflix series "Stranger Things." Do not read on if you care about those things, except read on pretty please. If you care and decide to read then you're likely a masochist, which makes sense since you're a Cowboys fan.
What makes the 2016 Cowboys Defense strange? Dude, a player got hit in the eye with a paintball! Seriously! Is that not proof enough?
Their top two pass rushers are missing time to start the season. The team's starting Middle Linebacker is supposedly addicted to purple drank and is absent from Training Camp. The best cornerback on the team is coming off of a season-ending injury suffered a year ago. The recipe is undoubtedly a strange one.
Who do these Cowboys measure up to from Stranger Things, though? If we're going to nickname the unit then we have to match up the personalities! You came to the right place, friend.
Eleven: Byron Jones
It's appropriate that we begin with Eleven since, at all times unless things are going really really wrong, there are 11 defensive players on the field at once.
Let's talk about Eleven. She's holy crap crazy awesome. SHE HAS TELEKINESIS AND CAN TRANSPORT HERSELF TO ALTERNATE DIMENSIONS OR WHATEVER. This girl is the scariest and most lethal weapon in the Stranger Things universe! If that's not Byron Jones then I don't know what is.
Byron basically has telekinesis when it comes to his body because he can fly. Literally. He can fly all over the field. He's the most versatile and lethal person on the field for the Cowboys, and he does Eleven justice.
Jim Hopper: Sean Lee
Did you wonder what kind of judicial system went on in this town? I mean little 'ol Will goes missing and the town is in a state of panic, but Barbara does and it's no big deal. What?!
The Sheriff in town is Hopper, Grade A badass. He's not afraid of anything and is the unquestioned leader on the show. He's got a bit of an emotional side to him, which can be his weakness, that reminds us of The General.
Sean Lee is the heart and soul of the Cowboys Defense. Where he goes, they go.
Mike Wheeler: Brandon Carr
Here's the thing about Mike in Stranger Things... he's there all the time and his annoying-ness never goes away. But he's there all the time.
Brandon Carr, who took a paycut this offseason, is there all the time. The dude has never ever missed an NFL game in his career, so he can be counted on. Like Mike (that movie was weirdly awesome) took in Eleven, Carr has taken in Byron Jones in the secondary.
More important than anything here is that Mike is always trying to do the right thing, which can absolutely be said about Brandon Carr. For whatever faults he may have, he's always trying to help in whatever way he can. And exactly like Mike with his pals, Carr believes that his team can do things together.
Jonathan Byers: Morris Claiborne
Did anybody else go through an emotional rollercoaster with Jonathan? I never fully figured out if I liked him or couldn't get over the photos at the party incident. Whatever.
Jonathan Byers is an interesting cat. He's obviously got some self-confidence issues that exert themselves in the form of pretentiousness. A particular Dallas Cowboy, who's had a great Training Camp, that has struggled with confidence issues is none other than Mo Claiborne.
Mo needs to feel like everything is going great for him to be great. When Jonathan was holding hands with Nancy, like when Mo is dominating, everything was cool. When his camera was smashed to smithereens he lost it, just like Mo has done occasionally.
Nancy Wheeler: DeMarcus Lawrence
This show brought back such great memories of Freaks and Geeks, and I think Nancy Wheeler was a big reason why.
Little Miss Perfect went through the classic 80s rebellion phases, and got called out on it by the way, before ultimately becoming someone useful at the very end. It was obvious from the jump that she was going to be a main character, but she certainly went through a lot of tribulations (that part inside the tree of death or whatever still haunts me).
DeMarcus Lawrence has suffered some setbacks like Nancy. His rebellion has cost him four games this season, but there's no denying his enormous potential. He just wants to be cool and has ditched his own version of Barbara in Randy Gregory.
Steve Harrington: Justin Durant
Anybody else shocked that Nancy and Steve ended up together? Anybody? Bueller?
Steve the wonder boy was a weird character for the glorious eight episodes that Stranger Things afforded us. He went from jerk to not really a jerk to WHOA JERK to wow get beat up much to hey he's kind of nice to YEA BEAT UP THE MONSTER to I'm cool with him.
The important thing here is that Steve left and suffered for it, like Justin Durant did. Durant defected to the Atlanta Falcons about 15 months ago in Free Agency, and now he's back to save us from the bad monsters. Hooray!
Lucas Sinclair: Barry Church
I'm not going to lie to you guys. I sort of hated Lucas for a long time.
He was obnoxious and despised Eleven for no specific reason other than he was, apparently?, jealous. How stupid is that?
Either way Lucas was someone who could be counted on in the end, which makes him great. He's an essential part of the gang and brings a little bit of swagger to it. The same can be said about Barry Church as he's one of the leaders of the defense.
Oh and Church can knock people as far as Eleven knocked Lucas so that's cool.
Dustin Henderson: Jack Crawford
Jumpin' Jack Crawford is one of the coolest Dallas Cowboys there is, so you know his character had to be fitting. Say hello to the enigma that is Dustin Henderson!
Dustin is the ultimate peacemaker. He's arguably the smartest of the bunch. What's most important here is that he's the most unique character on Stranger Things and that's evident in everything that he does.
Jack Crawford hails all the way from the UK and brings a ferocity to the Cowboys that certainly helps him stand out. Get that pudding, Jack.
Joyce Byers: Tyrone Crawford
The main character for a show in 2016 is played by Winona Ryder. That's the strangest thing overall, but I'll move on.
Joyce Byers is the motivation for everything. She refuses to ever give up as she searches for her missing son. She does not know how to quit.
The Cowboys are very fortunate to have a Defensive Tackle like Tyrone Crawford. This is a guy who works (WorkK as he'd have you say on Twitter) all the time. He will not rest. He cannot rest. He'll line up an alphabet on his wall if he has to.
The Demogorgon: Rod Marinelli
The whole inspiration for Stranger Things revolves around this insane monster called a Demogorgon. This is a thing that can destroy, eat, ruin all things in the world or something very similar. The point is it's not something you want to pet.
Rod Marinelli is the shot-caller of all these ballers. This is his universe and his toys to play with. Like the Demogorgon, he destroys everything in his path.
Stranger Things's Demogorgon was unstoppable for eight episodes. Rod Marinelli's version is going to last 19 games. Huzzah!
Xavier Woods Among Cowboys with Something to Prove in Seattle
The Earl Thomas trade rumors have been relentless this offseason. We've heard about them. I've written about them, and for better or worse, they just won't stop. No doubt Dallas Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods has heard them as well.
When Woods went down with his hamstring injury and as Earl Thomas continued his hold out, the clamor for Thomas grew louder and louder.
Per reports, it looks like Woods is set to make his 2018 debut. With a good game against the Seattle Seahawks, he can put a silence to the trade rumors.
I've been a proponent of making the deal for Earl Thomas all offseason. From the time he came running down the tunnel toward the Dallas Cowboys locker room, I've been all aboard the Earl Thomas hype train. Opportunities to add All-Pro players don't come along very often and if you're hoping to win football games in the short term, like the Dallas Cowboys are, you make the move.
My opinion isn't a knock on Xavier Woods, who was good as a rookie last year. He was especially good when asked to play in the slot early in the 2017 season. It has more to do with Woods still being a bit of an unknown and Thomas being a known quantity.
Xavier Woods has shown potential to be a really good safety in this league. In college, he played a lot of single high safety and played it very well. He has a knack for making plays on the football and can be a game changer for the Dallas Cowboys.
If the Dallas Cowboys can come away with a victory in Seattle, facing the player that the Dallas Cowboys have been linked to for months, and Woods has a good game in the process, then all of this will go away.
Heading into Sunday, Xavier Woods isn't the only player on the Dallas Cowboys roster who has something to prove.
Two Wide Receivers
The Cowboys added another wide receiver this week when they resigned free agent Brice Butler. I agree with Inside The Star Staff Writer Jess Haynie that adding Butler doesn't make a ton of sense, but it definitely adds question marks to the wide receiver room, in particular wide receivers Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns.
These two wide receivers were expected to be the starters on the outside and the primary targets, aside from Wide Receiver Cole Beasley, and yet, they've failed to have much of an impact in either of the two games in the 2018 season.
Take a look at their stat lines.
- Allen Hurns: 5 targets, 2 receptions, 29 yards, 0 touchdowns, on 55% of the team's offensive snaps.
- Terrance Williams: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 18 yards, 0 touchdowns on 25% of the snaps.
Those two are tied for fifth in receptions through two weeks of the season. Wide Receiver Deonte Thompson has found himself as a favorite target of Quarterback Dak Prescott through the first two games and has seven receptions for 60 yards.
With now seven wide receivers on the roster, there are less snaps to go around and with the increase in playing time for Tavon Austin and Michael Gallup, Terrance Williams may have already found himself as the odd man out. Brice Butler complicates things further for Williams and may eat into Allen Hurns snap count as well.
Now it looks like Terrance Williams is facing a suspension. If the suspension comes down before Sunday, he's going to really have a hard time finding a role on this team when he comes back.
Sources: Cowboys WR Terrance Williams faces suspension stemming from May arrest for public intoxication https://t.co/of11Xlb7wD via @sportsdaydfw
If he comes back.
Defensive End Making a Comeback
Things started out really well for returning Defensive End Randy Gregory. During the preseason he flashed the tools that made him a highly coveted player before his failed drug test at the NFL Combine.
Unfortunately the start of his 2018 season was derailed due to a concussion early in the Carolina Panthers game forcing him to miss week two.
In his place, Taco Charlton emerged as an impact player on the right side of the defensive line. Charlton has played the most defensive snaps of any defensive end through the first two games of the season; DeMarcus Lawrence included. Taco went from a 73% snap share in week one to an 83% snap share in week two. It's obvious that he's earned his snaps and the coaching staff wants to get him on the field.
This doesn't even begin to mention the contributions by rookie fourth round pick Dorance Armstrong, who like Charlton, saw a 10% snap increase from week one to week two and played really well when in the game.
This is a bit of a problem for Randy Gregory. Yes, he flashed in the preseason and early in the Carolina game, but the NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league and Gregory hasn't done much of anything in the regular season, yet.
Coming into the Seahawks game, Gregory is going to have to earn back some of those snaps. By all accounts he has a chance to be an elite defensive end on the right side of the Dallas Cowboys defense, but he has to prove that he can stay on the field and effective when on it.
He needs to shine in week three.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Who are your players with something to prove heading into the week three matchup with the Seattle Seahawks? Let us know in the comment section.
How The Seattle Seahawks Have Increased Importance In Cowboys’ Lore
You can't talk about this decade's Dallas Cowboys without discussing the Seattle Seahawks.
In 2012, when Golden Tate took out Sean Lee on a crack-back block and the Seahawks embarrassed a Cowboys team who had just defeated the defending champion New York Giants, we saw which of the two teams was truly ready for the big stage.
In 2014, as Rolando McClain intercepted Russell Wilson and the Cowboys clinched a critical road victory, we knew that Dallas was a legit contender.
In 2015, when Seattle finally came to Dallas and rendered the return of Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant meaningless in a 13-12 win, the then 2-5 Cowboys were sent further into a Romo-less abyss.
And, in 2017, Dez Bryant's key drops and Dan Bailey's missed field goals during a horrendous home loss to the Seahawks on Christmas Eve might have sealed each of their fates for the following offseason.
The most important moment in this Cowboys/Seahawks history, however, occurred during a preseason game. A meaningless preseason game which turned out to be the most meaningful day in recent Cowboys history.
Cliff Avril dragging Tony Romo down from behind, effectively ending his career, and kicking off the roster massive turnover we have seen the last two offseasons. From Dak Prescott, to a brand new secondary, to the retirement of Jason Witten, and the cutting of Dez Bryant. All of this change, which put an end to the Romo era rosters in Dallas, began with that hit in Seattle.
Since 2012 the Cowboys, and the rest of the NFC really, have been judged by how they play against two teams: the Packers and the Seahawks.
They have been the class of the NFC, and while we like to think that if the "Dez Caught It" game went how it should have Dallas would've handled Seattle, that will forever be an unknown.
Sunday's game is not expected to carry the franchise-changing implications that some of these other match ups have had. The Seahawks are 0-2 and reeling, with a shaky offensive line and reported distrust throughout the organization.The Cowboys, however, can jump-start their season with a big road win over a winless team that they should beat in the minds of many.
But knowing how things between these teams tend to go, Sunday afternoon may end up having major implications on the rest of the Cowboys' season.
Where this could be the case is in a potential Earl Thomas trade. It's been speculated that Seattle has been hesitant to deal Thomas to Dallas before their week 3 match up, but could be more willing to do so after the game.
Especially if that game is a loss which sends them to 0-3. The Cowboys have been actively pursuing Earl Thomas, and Thomas has certainly made it clear that he wants to be in Dallas. The only party not willing to make it happen thus far, are the Seahawks.
So, this weekend, there is a chance another chapter is added to those franchise-changing moments in Cowboys/Seahawks lore.
A Look Around The NFC East: Week 3
Week two didn't go as planned for much of the NFC East, with only the Dallas Cowboys reigning victorious last Sunday.
Now, three teams are locked in a tie for first place at 1-1, with the New York Giants lagging behind with a winless record. Week 3 is shaping up to be a potential early turning point, however, with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz returning and each team facing a very beatable opponent.
Let's take a look around the division and see what the Cowboys' foes will be facing this week.
The Eagles fell victim to one of the more surprising upsets of the weekend last Sunday, as Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the Eagles 27-21. While their defense got off to a shaky start in the loss, it was the offense which proved too little too late in their push down the stretch.
Carson Wentz is expected to not only return but to start on Sunday in the Eagles' match up against the Colts. Indianapolis upset the Washington Redskins last week, but will be 6 point underdogs when the game kicks off in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Wentz should give the defending champs an extra boost, and while they haven't looked as dominant as many expected through the first two games, this could be the game to spring them the rest of the way.
As mentioned earlier, the Redskins fell in Indianapolis last week, and are now tied for first place in the division with a 1-1 record. As dominant and impressive as Washington looked in their opener against Arizona, Washington's week two loss featured lethargic offensive play for four quarters.
This week the Redskins are three point home underdogs as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers come to town. Green Bay tied Minnesota a week ago, but behind Rodgers and their potent offense, they have the chance to take advantage of Washington's suspect secondary down the field.
Sunday will be a tough test for the Redskins as they look to get back above .500 against a tough conference opponent.
New York Giants
The Giants' season is on the brink this week, and that really isn't a dramatic statement at all. Now at 0-2 with a division loss to the Cowboys last week, the Giants have to beat the 0-2 Texans on Sunday to get some confidence and keep pace within the conference.
Lucky for them, the Texans haven't looked impressive whatsoever through two games. Unlucky for them, the Texans have strong pass rushers like JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney ready to abuse their weak offensive line.
Houston is a six point home favorite over the Giants, proving it will be an uphill battle for New York to save their season.
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