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The Dallas Cowboys Defense Can Play in January

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Film Room: Cowboys DB Byron Jones Is A Vital Piece To A Rebuilt Defense

Last Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys defense had one of the most important tests they've faced all season. Dan Bailey had just kicked a field goal to extend the lead 26-20, with 2:58 remaining. Lots of us even wanted Jason Garret to go for it on fourth down so they could score seven points and end the game, just to not put the game on the defense (probably remembering how a lot of the 2015 games ended).

When the Tampa Bay Buccaneers got the ball, the pass rush forced a quick three and out. Tampa managed to stop the Cowboys and get the ball once again, this time with 1:36 on the clock.

On fourth and 12, Orlando Scandrick sealed the win with the third INT of the night. All season long, I've been worried about how this defense will hold up against playoff teams. But as I watched that game, even though they surrendered 20 points, I realized this defense will be good enough in January.

Doug Martin (a top-tier RB) was limited to 42 yards on the ground, Mike Evans (a top-tier WR) was limited to four receptions for a mere 59 yards and Jameis Winston (a QB on the rise) ended the night with three interceptions.

The secondary has been playing good football, and have produced four INTs in the last two weeks. Byron Jones, Jeff Heath and Anthony Brown were the last players I thought could get an interception, and they each have one now.

Brandon Carr has gotten a lot of hate throughout the season, but he's actually played great against some quite good WRs. Morris Claiborne, who was playing the best football in his career will come back and give this defense a big improvement. JJ Wilcox will also be back. This secondary will be able to matchup against a playoff WR group. They won't shut the air attack down, but with these players they'll be able to do just enough.

Sean Lee is playing out of his mind, and should be in the talk for Defensive Player of the Year. He is the main reason why the Cowboys have the number 1 defense against the run. Hitchens and Durant are no Sean Lee, but they do their job and with Wilson I'd say the depth is good enough at the position. Le'Veon Bell, Doug Martin and every other running back that has faced the Cowboys defense haven't been able to surpass the 100-yard mark.

Now for the defensive line

This is truly a complicated topic. The pass rush is not great, we've known that all year. Even though, I think it'll be fine. They've been doing a good job against decent offensive lines. There are no stars in this group but the position is deep.

This week Randy Gregory is back and he's reportedly in great shape to play, and DeMarcus Lawrence is aiming to return soon. The Jack and Tyrone Crawford, Benson Mayowa, David Irving, Maliek Collins, all of these guys bring this group great depth that will be able to do what they accomplished last Sunday Night.

David Irving came late in the second half with fresh legs and he was a beast. He ended the night with two sacks, four hurries and he got a piece of Winston's arm on Jeff Heath's interception (these are Khalil Mack kind of numbers). This defensive line has great depth to make changes late in the game to get fresh legs and make plays when they really matter.

This defense has shown up all year long, and they will do the same in January.

When the Cowboys face up against the playoff teams with high-powered offenses, they'll play good enough. Rod Marinelli is a great defensive coordinator and he'll know what to do when the playoffs come. I don't think they can put the game on their backs, but with the offense working, they shouldn't have a problem.

With Ezekiel Elliot picking up first downs, and eating the time of possession, the well-rested Cowboys defense will be able to make the plays necessary to win games and get to Houston in February.

Tell me what you think about "The Dallas Cowboys Defense Can Play in January" in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



I love to write, I love football and I love the Dallas Cowboys. I've been rooting for America's team all the way from Mexico ever since I can remember. If you want to talk football, I'm in... You'll find me at @PepoR99.

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Sean’s Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory’s Impact on Cowboys Defense

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory's Potential Impact on Cowboys Defense

The Dallas Cowboys report to training camp next week, and for the first time in a long time there may be more excitement for their defense compared to a largely reshuffled offense. This hype for Rod Marinelli's defense, bolstered by the addition of Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard, was elevated earlier in the week when the Cowboys learned Defensive End Randy Gregory would be reinstated.

Gregory's presence as a potential starting right defensive end is an uplifting one for the Cowboys as they depart for Oxnard. Above all else, this is a rare turn of fortunes for a player the NFL can now tote as a success story.

Once Gregory's focus shifts towards taking hold of that starting DE position for good and giving the Cowboys a pass rush of him and DeMarcus Lawrence off the edge, his impact could change the entire complexion of this defense.

After watching Gregory's last game for Dallas, a week 16 win in Philadelphia back in 2016, here is what I saw from the Cowboys "Christmas in July" addition to their defensive line.

Gregory3

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This first clip is probably Gregory's most memorable play through three seasons with the Cowboys. Two teams going in opposite directions since this game, the Cowboys have cycled through their rotation of pass rushers to play the weak side -- with nobody coming close to the athleticism and bend Gregory displays here.

Already planning on attacking the offensive tackle to the outside with his long arm approach, Gregory regains his balance avoiding the low block to get even with Carson Wentz and finish the play. This type of relentlessness is a signature of the Cowboys defense under Marinelli, now fielding a deep group of defensive ends around Gregory and Lawrence.

Gregory1

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Just how much Gregory comes off the field for the likes of Tyrone Crawford, rookie Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper, or Taco Charlton will be determined by his ability to hold up against the run. This was a strength for Gregory against the Eagles, as his cornering ability helped him chase down plays all over the field.

It's hard to understate just how important Gregory's speed and range from this RDE spot could mean to the Cowboys, especially given their changes at linebacker for the 2018 season.

This is a team that's also added plenty of range to the second level of their defense with rookie Leighton Vander Esch and another year of Jaylon Smith.

These linebacker's ability to shoot gaps and be disruptive in the backfield will be aided by the depth Gregory is capable of gaining with ease against left tackles.

Gregory2

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Gregory does have a tendency to play upright at times and offer a larger blocking area than needed. As you see above, this can help him as an all-around player, as chasing down the run to the outside comes easy for him.

The Cowboys won't be at full strength at defensive tackle to start the season, with David Irving suspended for the first four games again. Maliek Collins is also coming back from another broken foot, as him and Gregory will be important to watch progress through training camp.

The overall potential for a Cowboys defensive line featuring all three of these players, and the rotational pieces behind them, is incredibly high for a team just looking to get back to their roots this season.

For the Cowboys in 2018, this means running the ball effectively, limiting turnovers on offense, and protecting the lead on defense. Randy Gregory significantly helps the Cowboys do the latter here, improving an already fearsome pass rush in ways that few players are capable of.

This is ultimately why the first-round talent fell to the second round for the Cowboys, who took the risk on Gregory and are now on the long path back towards seeing this gamble pay off, something a very thankful Gregory must see through on the field.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory’s Impact on Cowboys Defense" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Why Patience Is Key In Evaluating Randy Gregory

Kevin Brady

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Will the Dallas Cowboys "Get Lucky" at Defensive End?

The Cowboys were fully aware of the risks involved when they drafted prolific edge rusher Randy Gregory in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft.

They were also well aware of the potential rewards too.

Gregory has spent much of his NFL career away from the Dallas Cowboys, dealing with suspension after suspension and rarely playing actual football. Now, Randy Gregory has gained reinstatement into the league, and all signs point to positivity around his future.

As expected, both the Cowboys and their fan base are excited about the return of Gregory to the roster. And, of course, they should be. Gregory possesses all the traits necessary to be a top tier pass rusher in the NFL, even if we haven't seen it on full display thus far.

At his best Gregory is the prototypical RDE that Cowboys Nation has been yearning for. But it's probably unfair for him to reach that potential as early as this season. Pass rushers coming off suspensions, particularly lengthy suspensions, are rarely able to find their way quickly after returning.

And if you want proof of this, you only have to look across the way at DeMarcus Lawrence. After a strong 8 sack 2015 season, Lawrence was suspended the first four games of 2016. Once he returned, Lawrence battled injuries all season and only appeared in 9 games. Over those 9 games Lawrence tallied just 1 sack and made a minimal impact.

The next season, though? DeMarcus Lawrence was back to playing fully healthy and engaged, en route to a team leading 14.5 sacks and the best overall season of his career.

Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence are different players, and this is obviously a different situation, but the need for patience remains the same. To expect Gregory to be a dominant pass rusher in 2018 is more-than-lofty, as he deserves time to work back into playing shape and perfect his craft off the edge.

Unlike Lawrence, Gregory will have a full offseason and 16 game slate ahead of him. Plus, we haven't heard of any lingering injuries affecting Gregory going forward.

So while we may need to temper expectations at least a little bit, I still expect Randy Gregory to become the RDE we all hoped he could be with time.



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How Should The Cowboys, And The NFL, Value RBs?

Kevin Brady

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Will Cowboys' Offense Improve With Ezekiel Elliott's Return?
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

There is no one, stand-alone "best" strategy for winning in the NFL. There are, of course, common themes and ideals which run true year in and year out among the top teams.

Strategy in the NFL is dynamic, or at least it should be. Running in place for too long under the same leadership often breeds mediocrity, and refusing to move with current trends can put you at a severe disadvantage.

Succumbing to those trends without fully analyzing the confounding factors your situation presents, however, can also ruin a team building exercise.

With that being said, should teams pay elite running backs top dollar? Or are those running backs expendable, replaceable, and often forgettable within the NFL machine?

To be honest these aren't very fair ways to pose legitimately interesting questions. You can acknowledge that a running back is important to your offense while also acknowledging that you don't want to break the bank for a position with such injury risk and high turnover year-to-year.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are currently facing this dilemma, as their star running back Le'Veon Bell asks to be paid like an elite "weapon," not as a normal running back. And when you examine how the Steelers deploy Bell within their offense, he clearly has a point.

Bell is not your traditional "running back." He lines up on the boundary, in the slot, and is a passing threat out of the backfield as well. On top of all of this versatility, Bell is an excellent pass protector, something which is often lost among other "versatile" backs.

Bell can quite literally do it all for an offense, but the idea of paying that position elite-level money makes teams cringe. As The Athletic's Marcus Mosher pointed out on Twitter, teams like the New England Patriots have been able to replicate Bell's production by using multiple speciality backs rather than one workhorse.

In theory, this takes away the injury risk component to a certain extent. Rather than giving one player 350-400 touches per season, you spread those touches out and allow for players to do what they do best.

Lately, the NFL has seemed to agree that this is the most efficient way to play offense. But when you have a player like Bell or Ezekiel Elliott, in what way is taking the ball out of their hands "efficient" at all? In addition, how is using three players to mimic the skill set of one efficient?

Yes, the NFL is a passing league, but when you have a playmaker who is of the caliber of a Bell or an Elliott, it is up to the offense to deploy in him ways that maximize his value. Teams should be using the Bells and Elliotts of the world as pass catching threats and as weapons all over the field. Force the entire defense to account for your running back rather than just jamming him between the tackles like it's 1975.

The movement towards "running back by committee" rather than the traditional one-back system can also be credited to the lack of workhorse-worthy backs entering the league.

Ezekiel Elliotts don't grow on trees, they are rare and special players. And when you have one, especially when you spend a premium pick on him, you should get the most out of him that you can. Playing winning offense in the NFL is about more than just "do you run or do you pass," and it often hinges on creating splash plays of 15-20 yards.

If you can get those plays through the use of an elite running back, that player becomes intrinsically valuable to your team. No matter what "position" he is labeled as. Of course you want to be able create mismatches in the passing game all over the field, so when you are able to do this with a running back, shouldn't that be deemed as highly valuable?

We can't say just yet if the Cowboys should re-sign Ezekiel Elliott once he enters free agency. After all, five seasons (and a franchise tag year) where he touches the ball more than most players in the league will almost certainly bring about some wear and tear.

But with the way the Cowboys have chosen to play offense, and the way in which they've built their roster, a workhorse back like Elliott is necessary for success.

Once again, at least it is for now.



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