If you’re reading this, you’re not likely the fan the NFL is after. You already consume it with both hands. You love this game, you know what it’s about, and you know what it’s supposed to look like.
They know you know, and they don’t care. You’re already in the bag anyway.
You’d probably agree that the most compelling games we’ve seen in the past decade were those 10-7 fistfights between Pittsburgh and Baltimore. And the best recently have come from San Francisco and Seattle, among the rare teams playing a lick of defense the past two years.
Oh, the NFL agrees with you in principle, but again, they don’t care.
No, the NFL wants a lot more Denver-Dallas of last September, and they’re determined to get it. Sundays are now lightning-speed scoring fests, chock-full of big plays and commercials, fully by design. Such entertains the maternity ward of newly arriving casual fans, who suddenly showed up front-and-center not long ago despite a sad inability to name five NFL coaches out loud.
New money. Nothing smells quite like it.
The NFL can’t and won’t openly cater to gambling (although we all know it does because it’s a billion-dollar industry). But unexpectedly, from thin air, appeared this money angel called Fantasy Football, which inexplicably converted mind-numbingly ignorant football folk into some of its most ardent Sunday squatters. Ever since, the NFL has slobbered all over itself to accommodate them.
There’s no fantasy-football value in a 3-and-out. Punts equal blasphemy unless they get returned the distance. Five-yard runs are yawningly meaningless, as are incomplete passes and offensive penalties. Who wins is irrelevant to these yahoos, because it’s all about individuals, not teams.
Yes, fantasy Football is the perfect metaphor for the times we live.
Now, activate code red panic mode. Seattle ruined the Peyton Party a few months ago, ingloriously reducing him to defensive fodder, and re-establishing defense as a viable way to win at football. The Commissioner’s Office just won’t stand for it.
The mistake the Seahawks made was that they were too in-your-face about it. Pete Carroll and crew arrogantly decided to foul on virtually every play last season, challenging officials to throw flags at an alarming rate. They didn’t, and instead adjusted their calls during Seahawks games. Others rightly complained that all games should be called the same.
I say “rightly” not because Seattle should be penalized more, but because other teams should be penalized less. Let them play, please. Why this movement to abolish defense? If every real football fan wants more defense, then why this petulant denial to accommodate? I don't understand...wait, yes I do.
The answer is scarily simple. Such does not suit the National Fantasy Football League, which seemed to hijack the NFL in the middle of the night a decade ago. The NFFL cash machine will not be denied, and 17-10 games might run off the short attention spans of the easily distracted.
This preseason has been marred by countless contact and holding penalties on the defense. Countless is not much of an exaggeration. I’ve watched several teams march down the field on the strength of four or more contact/holding calls on a single drive. Teams seem almost embarrassed to score because they know it didn't earn it.
This, of course, is on the heels of years of offensive-oriented rule changes. Can’t hit a quarterback virtually anywhere. Interference calls that wildly favor the receivers. New rules about hitting “defenseless” receivers. Some of these rules are logical and good for safety, but far too overreaching. They certainly can keep a drive alive, which is the underlying point, it seems.
These contact/holding calls are taking this inequality to a new level. The league claims it’s going to call more offensive pass interference, too, especially when the receiver initiates the contact and pushes off. It also says it's going to watch closer for pick plays (hey, Denver!) and blocking downfield too early on quick screens. I’m all for that, but I’ll believe it when I see it.
General opinion is that this onslaught of penalties will ease when the real games start. I’d like to believe that, but I’m afraid it’ll be too much like gas prices. They crank you up to $5.00 a gallon so that you’ll feel like you’re getting a bargain when they drop it to $3.50. Such is the game of human conditioning.
Touchdowns are now eerily similar to three-pointers. Sure, it’s still exciting to see Dallas get in the end zone, but it feels more like holding serve than it does a truly impactful moment in the game. If a team has a good quarterback, touchdowns come with astonishing ease these days.
Unfortunately, that’s exactly what the receptionist at your office wants. She spent a couple of sleepless nights deciding on Foles versus Rivers, and she needs about 420 yards of passing to move into fourth place in her league. She’ll be watching for sure, and dropped $350 for the NFL Ticket so she can watch Red Zone and set up her Fantasy Player Tracker.
Cha-ching. After all, that’s what football is about now, right?
Fantasy football, in and of itself, is fine and good fun for many real fans. However, I've grown to hate it because once it became profitable, it changed the spirit of how football is consumed, presented, and celebrated. The NFFL has discovered a new revenue stream, and it seems intent on maximizing it, even at the expense of lessening the game itself.
So I wait patiently and hopefully for this fad to die. That's my fantasy.
Tony Pollard, Supporting Cast or a Co-lead with Ezekiel Elliott?
Since the Dallas Cowboys drafted Running Back Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in the first-round of the 2016 NFL Draft he's been the star of the show. Any of their other offensive weapons have been nothing more than supporting cast the past three years, but rookie RB/WR Tony Pollard could prove to be more than just supporting cast and become more of a co-lead in Zeke's show.
Suggesting Tony Pollard has a chance to be more than just supporting cast with Ezekiel Elliott is a lot to put on a rookies shoulders, but that's the kind of hype he's receiving already. He hasn't even put on the pads yet with the Dallas Cowboys, but he's already receiving Alvin Kamara type comparisons due to the versatility he's expected to bring with him to the NFL.
Living up to those Alvin Kamara comparisons might be even more difficult than becoming anything more than just an extra behind Zeke anytime soon, but it's doable. After all, Kamara immediately stepped in as a rookie and became a costar with Mark Ingram in New Orleans. It's certainly feasible to think Pollard can do the same.
There's of course only one problem with this way of thinking. Mark Ingram is no Ezekiel Elliott. And, no RB on the depth chart behind Zeke the last three years has been good enough to cut into #21's heavy workload. Is the hype surrounding Tony Pollard justified? Is he talented enough to cut into Zeke's playing time?
Those are some really big questions we don't have an answer to as of yet. Training camp could help determine the type of role Tony Pollard will have with the Dallas Cowboys in 2019 and beyond, but even that can be thrown out the window once games start to matter in the regular season.
Personally, I think Tony Pollard will be part of a supporting cast behind Ezekiel Elliott this year. I just don't think he's ready to step in and costar with Zeke just yet. I think he will be more of a comedic relief that will be used from time to time to keep things interesting. That's not necessarily a bad thing though considering his versatility to contribute in the running or passing game.
In time though, Pollard could prove worthy of an increase in playing time and become more of a co-lead with No. 21. It may very well be in his rookie season, but he's really going to have to prove himself and that will need to start this week when the Dallas Cowboys kick off their training camp in Oxnard, California.
What do you think? Is Tony Pollard supporting cast or a co-lead with Zeke?
Randy Gregory can Make the Perimeter Pass Rush Extremely Formidable
Randy Gregory showed flashes last season of the potential he has as a pass rusher. Even though he only managed one start he did see action in 14 games. Had registered 6 sacks, 2 forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 7 tackles for loss and 15 hits on the quarterback. That's very good production with limited opportunities. Now, this sets up the Dallas Cowboys on the edge getting to the quarterback, and here's how.
The Cowboys acquired Defensive End Robert Quinn via trade from the Dolphins back in March. He is set to start at right defensive end opposite All-Pro DeMarcus Lawrence. Gregory, who lines up on the right side as well, can potentially make said side a huge problem for offenses on 2019.
Let's just take a typical season from Quinn which is between 8-9 sacks. If Gregory can give at minimum what he did last season, that's around 15 sacks just between the two of them alone. Now, as we all know, Lawrence can be penciled in for double-digit sacks routinely at this point. So given this information that's a potential 25-30 sacks just from these three players. This is without including guys such as Taco Charlton, Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, and rookies Joe Jackson and Jalen Jelks (assuming they make the final roster).
Why is Gregory's potential impact so important? For me, it's simply where he lines up at defensive end, on the right side. Most quarterbacks are right-handed, which means when they drop back to pass they face left side defensive ends, with their backs to defensive ends coming off the right side. If you can consistently pressure a quarterback from his blindside the opportunities for sacks and fumbles increase. Regardless of how skilled a quarterback is you can't avoid what you can't see.
Of course, this all depends on what the NFL does regarding the reinstatement of Gregory. He was suspended indefinitely in February for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, a situation he is all too familiar with. My guess is Gregory and the Cowboys will ask for a conditional reinstatement like he was given by the NFL in 2018. What this would do is allow Gregory to participate in meetings and condition work until he's a full participant. He is set to apply for that reinstatement within the next few days.
The only thing Randy Gregory can do now is play the waiting game. The league is currently considering the possibility of softening their stance on marijuana use. If they are serious about it I can see Gregory getting reinstated even if it's on a conditional basis. If this is granted the Cowboys will be getting big-time pressure off the edge with Lawrence, Quinn, and Gregory in 2019.
CB Jourdan Lewis Getting Ready For Bounce-Back 2019 Season
For a third round pick, cornerback Jourdan Lewis sure did come to Dallas with his fair share of hype.
In fact, much of Cowboys Nation was more excited about Lewis joining the Cowboys than they were about either of the team's first two selections in that same draft, Taco Charlton and Chidobe Awuzie. But while Awuzie has soared to starting cornerback levels with Dallas during his first two seasons, Jourdan Lewis has been forced to take a back seat.
After a promising rookie season, Jourdan Lewis didn't get much playing time at cornerback in 2018. Anthony Brown took over as the starting slot corner, while Byron Jones and Awuzie manned the outside. This left Lewis as the odd man out, despite what many consider to be impressive cover skills.
Lewis is not allowing this down season to eat away at him too much, though. While speaking with the media last week at SportsCon in Dallas, Lewis gave his thoughts on how his year spent behind the other young Cowboys corners is only fueling him for the future.
"As a competitor it's always tough, especially as a rookie and you're playing all of the time. It's definitely when you take a step back it humbles you. Sometimes you gotta understand that you have to wait your turn and work on your craft. Understand that you always have to stay a professional no matter your situation. And that's what I learned last year."
Considered undersized by the standards typically used by Cowboys secondary coach Kris Richard, some have argued that Lewis was never given a fair shot to earn playing time once Richard took over in 2018. Whether or not this is true can't ever be said for sure, and the level of play Anthony Brown exhibited from the slot in 2018 didn't leave much room for substitutions either.
Still, Jourdan Lewis says he appreciates that time he spent on the bench, and he hopes that it will only drive him towards bigger and better things down the road.
"I appreciate the time that I sat last year honestly...Because it made me a better player, maybe a better person honestly."
The Cowboys cornerback situation didn't get any less crowded this offseason. Not only is Dallas bringing back all three of the aforementioned starters from a year ago, but they also drafted Miami's Michael Jackson in the fifth round of the 2019 draft.
That cornerback room is full of talent. Not only does this create a luxury for the Cowboys at one of the league's most important positions, but it also breeds immense competition between the corners come training camp.
Which, if you didn't know, begins on July 26th.
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