Ten weeks and nine games into the 2016 regular season, the Dallas Cowboys sit at 8-1. Raise your hand if you thought that would be the case as Cliff Avril dragged Tony Romo down from behind in August...
Now put your hand down, liar.
Anyway, the Cowboys success has brought out a lot of argument over who deserves the credit. Is it the offensive line which is clearly, far and away the best unit in the entire NFL and continues to dominate the opponent's front seven each week? Or is it the 4th overall pick in the NFL Draft, Ezekiel Elliott, who leads the league in rushing and will break the Cowboys rookie rushing record sooner than later?
Sure, it could be one of those two options, but of course they have been great. Regardless of whether Romo and Dez were healthy or not, we knew that the O-line and Zeke would be on the top of their games.
This is why the title of both biggest surprise, and team MVP, have been given to quarterback Dak Prescott by many fans and media members alike. And while it is hard to argue that his performance has been surprising, I actually think one veteran's play has been downright shocking.
That player is safety JJ Wilcox.
The same JJ Wilcox who many speculated wouldn't even have a spot on this roster after the Cowboys drafted Kavon Frazier and moved Byron Jones to safety full time. The same JJ Wilcox who has been burned, embarrassed, and ran-by countless times during his time in Dallas. The same JJ Wilcox who took notoriously awful angles at times.
Forget about all of that. JJ Wilcox is balling.
After making the final roster, Wilcox was still only expected to play in certain defensive packages, and would serve as a backup to Barry Church and Byron Jones. But, as injuries to Church, Morris Claiborne, and Orlando Scandrick have continued to decimate the Cowboys secondary, Wilcox's snap count has continued to increase.
Last Sunday, Wilcox played his best professional game yet. Finishing with 12 tackles and 1 pass defensed, Wilcox delivered huge hits all over the field which made it impossible to not notice him. Surprisingly, Wilcox even earned the highest grade of any Cowboys defensive player during the game, courtesy of Pro Football Focus.
Both Wilcox and normal starter Barry Church are in contract years. Going into the season, it seemed like a no-brainer that this would be the end of Wilcox's road in Dallas, even if he is the younger option. Now, I am not so sure.
Sure there are still questions about Wilcox's coverage skills, but if he continues to play downhill and make sure tackles the way he did on Sunday, he is going to make it really hard for the Cowboys to potentially let him walk away.
Moving forward, I still believe Church is the better option, especially during this season. But all of a sudden the Cowboys have an embarrassment of riches in their secondary (when healthy). Morris Claiborne has been the best cornerback on the entire roster, Byron Jones continues to impress each week, Barry Church is the leader of the back-end, Brandon Carr is playing some of his best football, and rookie corner Anthony Brown has been even better than advertised as just a 6th round pick.
Oh, and I didn't even mention Orlando Scandrick.
Hopefully, JJ Wilcox can continue his improved play this season, as he is much needed at safety until Barry Church can return.
Cowboys Sign WR Devin Smith, Former 2nd-Round Pick
The Dallas Cowboys have reportedly signed Receiver Devin Smith, previously with the New York Jets, to a futures contract. Smith was a 2nd-round pick, 37th overall, in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Before going pro, Devin was a college teammate of current Cowboys Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and Noah Brown. They were all members of the 2014 Ohio State Buckeyes team that won the National Championship.
Smith's agent, Jason Bernstein, tweeting the following earlier today:
Congrats to WR Devin Smith @dsmithosu for signing with the #DallasCowboys! Welcome back. https://t.co/hCMYoE8fEh
Thus far, Smith's NFL career has been marred by injuries. He has suffered two ACL tears in the same knee and only been able to appear in 14 games. He was waived by the Jets last summer and was not with any team last season.
Overall, the 2015 class of receivers has been disappointing. Amari Cooper has been a star and other later-round picks like Tyler Lockett, Stefon Diggs, and Jamison Crowder have been good. But the other big names of the class, such as Kevin White, Breshad Perriman, and DeVante Parker, have not lived up to the hype.
The Cowboys are known for trying to reclaim players who once had high draft status and bad starts to their careers. They are clearly hoping to cash in on Smith's previously perceived potential, which had him projected as a possible first-round talent at one time.
For both Devin and Dallas' sake, we hope it's a success!
Breaking: Scott Linehan and Dallas Cowboys Part Ways
Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network is reporting that the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan have mutually agreed to part ways following a tumultuous season that saw the Dallas Cowboys offense finish outside the top 12 three out of his four seasons in Dallas.
Sources: The #Cowboys are firing OC Scott Linehan. Taking their offense in a new direction. An announcement is coming.
Scott Linehan was brought in prior to the 2015 season and saw his offenses finish 31st, fifth, 14th, and 22nd in his four years as the Cowboys play caller. The 2015 season can be excused as the Cowboys rolled out Kellen Moore, Matt Cassell, and Brandon Weeden for 13 starts after Tony Romo was injured twice during the season, but the team 2-11 in those 13 starts and the Cowboys failed to make the playoffs despite a strong performance on the defensive side of the football.
The Cowboys saw an offense that finished fifth in the NFL in points in 2016 decline each of the last two offseasons and Linehan has been continually criticized by analysts, fans, and players as well.
Many believe that the reason that Dez Bryant and Brice Butler weren't brought back in the offseason was because of the public criticism of the offense and the play caller instilling the offense and that criticism has carried over to this season when Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper acknowledged that the Philadelphia Eagles were sitting on the slant routes that they had run all game. Dak mentioned that he changed Amari's route to a go route, which led to a 75 yard touchdown that helped open up the offense.
Cole Beasley has been frustrated with his role for much of the season and deservedly so. He was often non-existent in the offensive game plan until the final five minutes of football games.
In the running game, the offense had become too predictable and reliant upon jumbo formations that led to Ezekiel Elliott having to run against eight in the box anywhere from 25-30% of the time. For perspective, Todd Gurley only ran against eight-man fronts around eight percent of the time. Scott Linehan never looked to attempt to take players out of the box, instead insisting on motioning more players into the box for the offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott to run against. It's amazing when you think about it, that Ezekiel Elliott was able to win the rushing title when facing loaded fronts as often as he did.
This was a move that needed to happen and the Dallas Cowboys didn't need to waste anymore time to make it happen. The offense had become stale and frustrating for the players as well as the fans. While Jason Garrett started the offseason saying he "didn't expect any changes," this was a move that absolutely had to happen for the offense to take a step forward. Below, you can read Jason Garrett's announcement on the move.
Cowboys have fired Scott Linehan
Even after the move for Amari Cooper, the offense looked better, but it still struggled at times to move the football.
The Cowboys have a young team with especially young players on the offensive side of the football. They have a quarterback who can throw from the pocket, but has excellent movement skills and capabilities of throwing the ball on the run. He's an excellent runner on designed runs. Despite us knowing all that, Scott Linehan looked reluctant to use him on designed quarterback runs that weren't read options or speed options. What you saw on designed runs in the Seattle game is what this team should be doing five times a game.
Now the question becomes, who should the Cowboys next offensive coordinator be? Our own, Staff Writer Brian Martin, laid out 5 Options to be the Next Offensive Coordinator earlier this week. I suggest you give it a read.
DeMarcus Lawrence Named Top Free Agent Of The 2019 Class
Much has been made about the Dallas Cowboys 2019 free agent class. Dallas has a ton of cap space moving forward, but they are going to "have" to pay many of the key players on their roster over the next two offseasons in order to keep their young core together.
Of course, when you're drafting, that's the goal. To draft so well that when your own players become free agents, you go ahead and pay them to keep them around, rather than overpay on the free agent market for external players.
One of the major pieces the Cowboys will have to retain this offseason is defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. And while Cowboys Nation often thinks of Lawrence as underrated around the league, the NFL has caught onto his importance as he enters free agency this Spring.
ESPN.com ranked their top 10 free agents for 2019, with DeMarcus Lawrence clocking in at number one, over elite players like Jadeveon Clowney and Le'Veon Bell.
ESPN's top 10 free agents for 2019 and what Le'Veon Bell should be looking to command based on previous measures. https://t.co/aJ7H1n001t
DeMarcus Lawrence is going to command big time money, likely even Khalil Mack-type money. But the fact of the matter is that he has earned it. Lawrence has been the heart and soul of the Cowboys defensive line the last two seasons, and the most consistent edge player on the team as well.
Not only has he been an effective pass rusher, but DeMarcus Lawrence also plays with a relentless motor against the run that can sometimes be rare to find in those premier pass rushers. He really is a jack of all trades at defensive end, and should be priority number one for the Cowboys this offseason.
Thankfully, I can't imagine the Cowboys not retaining DeMarcus Lawrence and extending him in the coming months.
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