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The 2016 Dallas Cowboys Were Built On The Number 15
On Monday Bart Starr, the legendary long-time Green Bay Packers Quarterback who is in the Hall of Fame, celebrated his 83rd birthday. Happy belated to Mr. Starr.
Bart was the first (and second) ever Super Bowl MVP, earning the honor while wearing the white #15 on his green-and-gold jersey. This number has been on my mind a lot as of late, especially with this week's Cowboys/Packers Divisional Game looming.
You see, numbers are kind of my thing. If you follow me on Twitter then you're aware of my proclivity to tweet fun math equations that show a series of numbers culminating in one that implies some sort of destiny.
So what's fun about the number 15? Mr. Starr's birthday is a fun reminder that he's the greatest person to ever wear it in NFL History, but this number has a lot to do with the present... specifically the Dallas Cowboys.
You see, the Dallas Cowboys are trying to get to the NFC Championship Game. This is territory that has been foreign to America's Team since 1995. There are a lot of narratives hanging in the air and, if you look closely, you can connect most of them by the number that falls after 14 and precedes 16.
The 2016 Dallas Cowboys - and all of their aspirations - were built on 15, in more ways than one. Here's all of them.
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2016 Is Literally Built On 2015
Thanks to this handy-dandy little deal called a calendar, we all know that 2016 is the year that comes after 2015... so 2016 is literally built on 2015 as far as time is concerned.
While this sounds silly, it's true for the Dallas Cowboys as well. When you think about the experience that was the 2015 season, you think about all of the lessons that were learned and gleaned from it. In 2015 the Cowboys learned the steep price of not having a properly equipped back-up quarterback.
Dallas brought back Kellen Moore, but it was the drafting of Dak Prescott that we owe to 2015. An eye was on the future with the 135th pick of the Draft, and the future arrived in Week 3 of the Preseason when Tony Romo went down. Thank you for your lessons, 2015.
Bonus 15 Factoid: The 2015 Dallas Cowboys played the standard 16 regular season games all NFL teams do, but with the final one happening after the New Year they played exactly 15 games that season on the 2015 side of the calendar.
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Dak Prescott And Ezekiel Elliott Both Wore #15 In 2015
While an eye was on the future in the 4th Round of the Draft, all hands were on deck with the 4th Overall Pick. Dallas elected to take Ezekiel Elliott out of The Ohio State University, and he wound up leading the league in rushing. Pretty solid pick, I'd say.
It's no secret that Dak and Zeke have gravitated towards one another, jolting the future of the Dallas Cowboys and giving Cowboys Nation a great sense of optimism about it. There is a high level of 15 in both Dak and Zeke's past, though.
The horror that was 2015 brought forth two #DallasCowboys that used to wear #15. Amazing coincidence.
In the same way that 2016 was built on 15, this point is built on my previous one. The Cowboys learned how to be better in 2015, and the answer dictated that they acquire the services of both Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott.
2015 gave us two #15s, the greatest ones that we could have ever asked for.
Bonus 15 Factoid: Ezekiel Elliott had 15 rushing touchdowns in the regular season, and the fewest completions Dak Prescott had when playing for an entire game was 15.
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The Difference Of 15 Is The Power Of 4
Back in the early days of May, I wrote here at Inside The Star about The Power of 4 concerning the 2016 Dallas Cowboys Draft Class. That little 'ol class has done pretty well for themselves, don't ya think?
The current crop of Cowboys rookies has definitely solved a lot of problems. Beyond the obvious in Dak and Zeke, Anthony Brown has been fantastic, Maliek Collins has shown up a ton, Kavon Frazier has made a play or two, and we haven't even seen Jaylon Smith yet!
After going 12-4 in 2014 how does The 214 fix next year's 4-12? With 21 & 4.
There are a lot of people who are ready to crown 2016 as the greatest Dallas Cowboys Draft Class of all-time. I'd advise pumping the brakes for a bit as 1964 (Mel Renfro, Bob Hayes, and Roger Staubach) and 1975 (The Dirty Dozen) can't be caught in just one year, regardless of how great it is.
This rookie class may be about The Power of 4, but as 4 is the difference of 15 it all works for us.
Bonus 15 Factoid: If you add up those three draft classes (1964, 1975, and 2016) by their 12 individual numbers you get 51... which is 15 reversed.
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Sunday, January 15th, 2017
Let's just say it. This Sunday is going to be epic.
You can make a legitimate case - I'm not going to, but you can - that this Sunday's contest against the Green Bay Packers is the most important football game played by the Dallas Cowboys in 21 years.
It was January of 2015 when the Cowboys saw their 2014 season end at the iconic Lambeau Field on a blown call... this makes Sunday bigger than a normal playoff game. There's an air of "not this time" hovering around this particular Divisional Playoff Game.
Beyond all of that narrative there's the fact that this game occurs on January 15th. Both the Dallas Cowboys and Green Bay Packers hold this day highly in regard, as they have both won Super Bowls on it.
The Packers won Super Bowl I on this day - Bart Starr was obviously there - and the Dallas Cowboys won Super Bowl XII. While 12 obviously isn't 15, there is something neat to the notion that the Cowboys won Super Bowl XII with a stud rookie running back... just like they have now.
Bonus 15 Factoid: Sunday will mark 735 days since Dez Bryant's heroic catch in Green Bay during the 2014 Divisional Round of the Playoffs. 7 + 3 + 5 = 15.
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This Season Ends In Super Bowl LI, Which Is 15 Flipped, Where We Will Finish This Fight
As a student of NFL History I'm partial to referring to Super Bowls by their Roman Numerals, which is why I supremely hated Super Bowl 50.
Thankfully the NFL is back on track and we are approaching Super Bowl LI, aka 51 for the non-fans of Roman Numerals. It's obvious that 51 is the reverse image of 15, which suggests that things are destiny for our Cowboys.
The truth of the matter is that all of these are just a long line of fun coincidences. The real meat and potatoes of what the Dallas Cowboys are built on isn't the number 15... they're built on the guidance, vision, and discipline of Head Coach Jason Garrett.
Coach Garrett has preached a mantra to his team as they gear up for what is God-willing the ride of their lives - #FinishThisFight.
Is it a coincidence that "FinishThisFight" is 15 characters? Who knows. What I do know is that if anyone can do it, it's this team. Let's finish this fight. Huzzah.
Bonus 15 Factoid: Super Bowl LI will mark the 15th Super Bowl to occur in the month of February.
Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?
Despite their insistence that upgrading the safety position was a top offseason priority, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really done much to improve the backend of their secondary. They did sign former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals Safety George Iloka as a free agent and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth-round in this year's NFL Draft, but neither player looks like a clear-cut upgrade at this point. Fortunately, there's still time to find Xavier Woods' counterpart for 2019.
Xavier Woods is the only clear-cut starter at safety currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who starts opposite him this season. With that in mind, the Cowboys should be keeping all of their options open, including acquiring players who get released or even making a trade for someone they like. The latter is what I want to talk about today.
A potential safety who could be put on the trade block that I'm kind of intrigued with is Josh Jones, who has reportedly requested a trade from the Green Bay Packers.
Packers safety Josh Jones is skipping the voluntary OTAs and working out in Florida because he's hoping to be traded, a source told ESPN. The source said the 2017 second-round pick believes it would be best for both parties if they parted ways. Story coming on ESPN shortly.
Josh Jones clearly sees where he stands with the Green Bay Packers after they signed Adrian Amos in free agency and drafted Darnell Savage Jr. 21st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, thus his absence from OTA's and trade request. He understands the business and knows he's not going to see the field much behind those two, meaning his best chance for playing time would be in a different uniform.
It's not all that shocking Jones has requested a trade. Even before the Packers added Amos and Savage he wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. He's just never seemed to fit into what Green Bay was trying to do on the backend of their defense. It may be in the best interest of both parties to mutually part ways. This is where the Dallas Cowboys come in.
I believe Josh Jones is exactly the type of safety Kris Richard would like to pair Xavier Woods with on the backend of the Cowboys defense. He fits the criteria Richard likes in his defensive backs as far as size, length, and speed are concerned. And, he also has the kind of skill set/mindset to become that Kam Chancellor "enforcer" type of strong safety.
Josh Jones is at his best when he can play around the line of scrimmage, much like Chancellor was during his time with the Seahawks. But, Jones also has the ability to be a factor in coverage as well. The only real question here is whether or not he's an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Heath, George Iloka, and maybe even rookie Donovan Wilson?
In all honesty, I don't have the answer to that question. Josh Jones really hasn't received a fair opportunity to prove himself in his first two years in the NFL. I believe the skill set is there to start in the league, but there's not much there to back up that belief.
Personally, I'd be willing to part way with a late round pick if I were the Cowboys to acquire Josh Jones. I like the idea of bringing him in to work with Kris Richard and allowing him to compete for the starting job next to Xavier Woods. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward move Dallas likes to gamble on, and it could potentially pay off in a big way.
Where do you stand? Should the Cowboys consider trading for Josh Jones?
How Can The Cowboys Force More Turnovers In 2019?
2018 seemed like the beginning of a new era. A defensive era. For the first time in years the Cowboys were able to consistently lean on their defense during games, staying alive even as their offense sputtered and limped through stretches early in the season.
The defense was downright prolific some weeks. They carried the Cowboys to an inspiring home victory over the New Orleans Saints to put them in prime position to make the playoffs. They dominated the Wild Card game in key moments, making key stops and holding the Seahawks to just 22 points in the win. They featured one of the league's best individual pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, an All Pro cornerback in Byron Jones, and one of the league's most exciting young linebacker duos.
For all of this success, this defense still lacked one thing. Takeaways.
The Cowboys forced only 9 interceptions in 2018, ranking 26th across the league. In fact, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually tied with Xavier Woods for the team lead in interceptions with just 2. When it comes to total takeaways the Cowboys' defense was a little better off, though, finishing 16th in the NFL.
Part of the "problem" seems to be their philosophy. The Cowboys have finished 26th, 24th, 27th, and 31st in interceptions dating back to 2015. They've also finished 9th, 25th, 18th, and 19th in team defense DVOA over that same stretch. Clearly there was an improvement in total defense in 2018, but neither their team defense nor ability to take the ball away has been strong since 2015.
The bigger problem, really, is a lack of luck. While this sounds like a cop-out, takeaways often do come down to just that. Of course putting yourself in the right place at the right time to benefit from a batted pass or overthrown ball matters, but those bounces finding the right hands is usually a matter of luck.
Turnovers are incredibly volatile year to year, and as much as you'd like your players to "make their own luck," randomness does play a part here.
You can certainly argue the Cowboys have done their best this offseason to increase their chances at takeaways, however. By trading for defensive end Robert Quinn, re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence, and adding talented players to the middle of their defensive line as well, Dallas has put an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and corralling the opposing running game. Putting pressure on quarterbacks can force them into quick decision making or bad throws, which could in turn breed interceptions.
This is far from guaranteed, though. Plus the Cowboys play against some of the league's top quarterbacks this year, which hurts their chances of taking the ball away further.
In the end the Cowboys will need both the skill of their pass rushers and defensive backs to put them in good positions, and luck to smile down on them, if they'd like to turn around their takeaway numbers in 2019. And after all, this demoralizing trend has to reverse itself at some point, doesn't it?
Will It Be The Cowboys, Or Another Team, Who Pays Byron Jones After 2019?
After having his fifth year option exercised for the 2019 season, cornerback Byron Jones enters a contract year this Fall.
Jones inarguably had the best year of his career in 2018: earning not only his first Pro Bowl selection but also Second Team All Pro honors for his performance. Doing it all without an impressive stat sheet, Jones was able to let his film speak for itself throughout most of the year, and he became the number one cornerback we'd all hoped he could be when the Cowboys decided to take the freakishly athletic defensive back in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
This contract year is quite unique for Byron Jones, however. Next offseason the Cowboys will be forced to re-sign and extend just about all of their key contributors on both sides of the ball. DeMarcus Lawrence already got his contract, but Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and others still await their deals. Deals which the front office has all-but explicitly promised will come.
This leaves Jones, the former first round pick and now former All Pro, generally considered to be the odd man out. So while 2019 is a contract year for Byron Jones, he may be earning himself a contract from a completely different team.
Jones has had an interesting road to this contract season. One which would be a shame for the Cowboys to waste. Moving between cornerback and safety during the first three years of his career, Jones fell out of the coaches' good graces while playing out of his most natural position. Under Kris Richard's new regime, though, Jones had his best season to date. He looked to finally be comfortable in his role, and was now playing for a coach who believed he could be a special player.
Now that Byron Jones has found his place in the Cowboys defense, and has earned his way into conversations with the league's top cornerbacks, he's likely priced himself out of the Cowboys' future plans.
It's funny how that works out. Of course, Jones should go get paid, and I'd never fault a guy for maximizing his value on the market. But there's a good chance the Cowboys make the mistake of allowing a premier cornerback to walk out of their building next offseason. But if they want to retain players like Elliott and Cooper, they may not have any other choice.
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