The National Football League is a team game, perhaps the ultimate team game. It takes 53 players and coaches to have success, have it consistently, and have it at the highest levels. The defense can't control what the offense does and vice versa. You've heard people say, "teams win games." It's a true statement. Not one player can "carry a team." And while the NFL is a team sport in the truest sense it also remains a quarterback-driven league.
You don't have to look any further than the salaries being paid out to quarterbacks this offseason to see just how valuable quarterbacks are to the success of an NFL franchise. You get a good to great one and you have a chance at having consistent success over the course of their career. You get stuck with an above average or average quarterback and your team will be just good enough to finish middle of the pack most seasons, but never good enough to contend and never bad enough to draft the top quarterback in the draft. Finding yourself in the quarterback churn or quarterback purgatory is a terrible place to be as a franchise. The 2000-2006 Dallas Cowboys know that feeling all too well.
Teams win games, no doubt, but no position has as much impact on the outcome of football games than the quarterback position.
In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys face some of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game on their regular season schedule. Let's look at the top five quarterbacks the Dallas Cowboys will face in 2019.
1. Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints
Like Tom Brady, Drew Brees is in his 40's but continues to have a ton of success for the high scoring New Orleans Saints. Brees put up the highest completion percentage of his storied career at 74%, which led the league, and his 8.2 yards per attempt were the highest he's had since 2011 (8.3). His 9 air yards per attempt were second in the NFL only to NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes. Only Aaron Rodgers had fewer interceptions than Drew Brees five among players who played all 16 games.
Though the Dallas Cowboys dominated the Saints at home on Thursday Night Football in 2018, playing in New Orleans is going to be a much different story. I'd be absolutely floored if they were to hold the Saints under 20 in that game in week four.
Drew Brees has some of the best pass catchers in the NFL to throw to in Wide Receiver Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara. The addition of Dallas Cowboys killer Jared Cook makes their offense look even more dangerous.
Drew Brees and Sean Payton have been a match made in offensive heaven for 13 seasons and there's no reason to believe it's going to slow down in 2019.
Brees gets the nod over Brady, because I think he's playing at a higher level right now and will be a tougher game for the Cowboys in 2019.
2. Tom Brady, New England Patriots
In 2018, Tom Brady finished with a passer rating less than 100 for the first time since 2014. It was only the third time since 2010 that the six-time Super Bowl champion has thrown for fewer than 30 touchdowns.
It may have been a down season by Tom Brady's standards, but he still finished the season seventh in passing yards, 10th in passing touchdowns, and ninth in QBR.
Tom Brady will be 42 when the Dallas Cowboys travel to New England in 2019, but he's found a way to stave off the age-related decline that befalls most NFL players and especially quarterbacks. As long as Tom Brady and Bill Bellichek continue to represent the New England Patriots on an NFL sideline, you are going to be in for a tough contest.
Brady isn't going to have future Hall of Fame Tight End Rob Gronkowski this season as his favorite pass catcher went off and retired after winning the Super Bowl. On the flip side, the Pats should get back Josh Gordon, if the league does, in fact, change its stance on marijuana as an adjunct therapy for pain and mental health.
Gordon combined with James White and Super Bowl MVP Julian Edelman give the Patriots some really good weapons in the passing game. Throw in first-round pick N'Keal Harry and this group of pass catchers might be one of the best they've had in a while.
The Dallas Cowboys will be in for a test and the Patriots game is one of the toughest games on their schedule as we sit here in July. Limiting Brady's impact on the game will be the most important factor to the Cowboys success.
3. Aaron Rodgers, Green Bay Packers
There are some who argue that Aaron Rodgers is the greatest quarterback of all-time. It's easy to see where they're coming from on that, though I'd disagree. He's been amazing throughout his career. It's a testament to Tom Brady and Drew Brees that Rodgers ranks only third on this list.
Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers have had a down couple of years as they've finished outside the playoffs and with a losing record in two straight seasons. Those two straight losing seasons and the frustration that accompanied them led to the firing of Head Coach Mike McCarthy this offseason.
Despite a down season, Rodgers did throw for 4,442 yards and had a 25:2 touchdown to interception ratio. It was the first time that Rodgers had thrown for fewer than 30 touchdowns when he's played all 16 games since 2008. That was his first full season as a starter.
During the regular season, the Cowboys have had mixed results against the Packers going 1-1 since 2016. The 2017 loss was a 35-30 shootout. It was one of two games that season where the Cowboys scored 30 points and lost.
The Cowboys have had difficulty getting to the elusive Rodgers in years past, but with an upgraded pass rush and secondary, the Cowboys will have a really good chance to get a win against the Packers at home the first Sunday in October.
4. Kirk Cousins, Minnesota Vikings
"You like that!!!"
Kirk Cousins is an interesting quarterback to rank. He had a good season in 2018 for the Minnesota Vikings, but was ultimately disappointing as the Vikings missed the playoffs. This after being a couple plays away from going to the Super Bowl the previous year with Case Keenum at quarterback.
Cousins was second in completion percentage and finished ninth in touchdown passes. His 7.1 yards per attempt was 24th in the NFL, which leaves a lot to be desired.
Consistency at the end of games was the biggest issue for Cousins in 2018 and the Vikings hope that he'll improve in that area. They've invested a lot in Cousins to be the guy to get them to their first Super Bowl win in franchise history.
The Cowboys will have a lot to deal with when they play the Vikings this season. Cousins has an excellent group of weapons to throw to in Stefon Diggs, Adam Theilen, Kyle Rudolph, and Irv Smith, Jr. The running game, led by Dalvin Cook, should continue to improve with the improvements they've made along the offensive line.
5. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles (Twice)
Dak Prescott vs Carson Wentz aside, Wentz is still a really good quarterback. Sometimes, that fact can get lost in the Cowboys-Eagles rivalry and the quarterback debate.
Wentz was having an MVP season in 2017 before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Nick Foles took over the team and led them to the Super Bowl. Again in 2018, Foles had to replace an injured Wentz and was able to lead them to the playoffs.
Yes, the Eagles played better when Foles came in and that could say more about Foles leadership than Wentz's ability. Remember, like Dak, he's still a young quarterback and despite the interceptions has the ability to put up some big numbers. As we saw in 2017.
Though the Cowboys have Wentz on the schedule twice this season, if the past two seasons are any indication, he may not play in both games.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
After Wentz, the next best quarterbacks would be Jared Goff, Matthew Stafford, Mitch Trubisky, and perhaps Ryan Fitzpatrick (if he's still the starter at that point). The rest of the schedule is filled with first and second-year players at the position or Eli Manning.
Unlike most seasons, this year isn't necessarily a murderer's row of quarterbacks for the Cowboys to face. They'll have their challenges throughout the schedule and it will take some work to get to 10 or 11 wins, but if they can come out on the winning side of the ledger against these five quarterbacks, that will go a long way to getting them where they want to be.
Hoisting that sixth Lombardi in February.
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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