Watching the 2015 Dallas Cowboys was stressful.
I usually try not to tweet during Cowboys games. I don't like to overreact to things or have haste reactions. But this season, I couldn't stop. This team was particularly frustrating and I often times had to get out my frustrations by trying to figure things out with a community approach through Twitter.
My main problems were cosmetic. Just looking at the team, it didn't appear to be working. They were missing that "It" factor that made them so successful in 2014.
As the season went on I came to figure out what was different...
What went right for the Cowboys in 2014?
The 2014 Dallas Cowboys had a hunger unlike anything I've ever seen before, out of any sports team that I follow closely. That team played with determination. You could see the hunger in every single player, especially on the defense. They were a defensive unit that the mass-media was labeling as potentially a historically bad defense prior to the start of the season.
You could tell that the defense was motivated by this and what did we get? A defense that fought!
Any time there was a pass caught, you would see every defensive player flying to the ball. It didn't matter if you were a corner, defensive tackle, linebacker... EVERYONE flew to the ball. They hit hard and group tackled.
I remember, on Monday Night Football, Jon Gruden picked up on this and called the Cowboys defense "Unidentified Flying Objects." What he meant by this was that you didn't know the names of these players, but they flew to the ball.
Some of this defensive intensity that was missing comes from losing Orlando Scandrick's presence on the field.
Scandrick is without a doubt one of the most fiery players on the Cowboys defense. He likes to chirp and he leads the "fly to the ball" movement. Throw a screen in Scandrick's direction and forget about it.
What went wrong for the Cowboys in 2015?
This is where this article gets a little racy and debatable.
While I supported the Cowboys going out and getting Greg Hardy, and I thought it was a move that could potentially make the Cowboys a Super Bowl quality team, there were repercussions.
Disclaimer: I am not going to sit here and say Greg Hardy alone was the reason the Cowboys lost the group mentality as well as their fiery competitiveness. That would be completely unfair to Greg Hardy and to the Cowboys. There is no exact science to building a unit like the 2014 Cowboys had, or every team would be doing this. Cohesion is something that every successful team has and it is a key piece to successful football.
Now, when you add a big personality into a locker room, things change. This is just human nature. Even without Greg Hardy's baggage, he is an elite-level player and that changes things. Add to it the obvious baggage and its clear effects on team chemistry.
The bigger point that I am trying to make here is that when high quality players join a unit, you run the risk of other players getting even slightly more complacent.
There is a reason that the Cowboys have seen much more success with Sean Lee off the field rather than on the field. The Cowboys have done even worse when Lee and DeMarcus Ware were on the field, compared to off.
I'm not saying those players aren't good, because they are in fact great and elite players in the game today. The point is that the Cowboys have to carry that same intensity and level of effort with great players on the field that they do when they are off the field.
You can't expect Sean Lee's presence to mean you don't have to go 100 mph on every single play.
I get that players get tired. They are humans. It is human nature to try to find a break here and there. It seems pretty obvious to me that when elite players join this defense it makes other players think they now have protection.
No. Keep that intensity and work ethic and you reach even further heights.
How can Dallas replicate 2014's success?
Does this mean you should look away from players like Olivier Vernon or Mario Williams? I don't think it does. However, I want someone that is coming in hungry. The Cowboys need players that are going to motivate everyone around them. There can't be plays where anyone gives less than 100-percent.
This is the reason more and more teams are looking for youth movements. Young players are hungry. They haven't received their second contracts yet. The Cowboys defense still has a lot of these players on it and where they have players on second or third contracts, they have high work ethics.
I still prefer Olivier Vernon due to his age. Though I think Mario Williams would come in hungry. He would be returning to Texas only to join the other team there. He is coming off of a disappointing season in which he will have had to be cut in order to join the Cowboys in the first place. He would be returning to a scheme that makes him comfortable.
There also has to be more competition on the second level of the depth chart. If you don't want to give your all, it's okay, because someone behind you will and they will take your job from you.
Competition breeds success. The 2014 Cowboys defensive line was filled with players that didn't have name recognition and you could see these players fighting for playing time.
I am trying to build something new here.
While I think having great players is obviously important, I want to build a team filled with high motor players. A team filled with hungry players. A team of personalities that mesh well. A locker room that is a pleasure to enter into. I want a unit. I want a TEAM.
If that means I have to sign or draft a player with slightly less skill but a higher motor and is a better person, I will take that person every single time!
This is about team building. This is about assembling a group of men that are not just teammates, or people getting paid a lot of money, or people who want a Super Bowl... but a group of men that consider themselves brothers, and who want to share a Super Bowl with each other and fight for themselves and one another every single day of the week and on every single snap.
Is this easy to accomplish? It is the hardest thing to do in the NFL. People like Greg Hardy will always intrigue you. People like Noah Spence and Randy Gregory will intrigue you. Quite frankly, I can see a way you can add these types of players and still make my vision work. If you have a player who you truly think made a mistake and uses that as fuel to become the type of player and person I am looking for... then I'm all for it.
While I have no power and I don't want to pretend like I do, I think this is exactly what Jason Garrett is looking for and is why I admire him so much. Jason Garrett gets it. Few coaches in the league do. Jason Garrett understands that it takes a group effort to attain success and he understands what it takes to build that type of group effort.
If the Cowboys can combine my philosophy for the defense and the philosophy I prescribed for the running attack yesterday, that gives the Cowboys an offensive and defensive identity. That is what leads teams to succeed.
I'm ready for 2014 on steroids (Not literally).
Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de los Coaches
Lamentablemente, la temporada 2018 de los Dallas Cowboys ha llegado a su fin. Lo hizo cuando el equipo visitó Los Angeles para intentar sorprender a los Rams en su propio campo en la Ronda Divisional de los playoffs. Ni siquiera con una invasión exitosa de la afición de Dallas pudieron ganarse un pase al Campeonato de Conferencia. En vez de eso, los Cowboys estarán viendo desde casa y la afición estará preguntándose: ¿qué sigue para los Dallas Cowboys?
Parece ya una tradición anual que no podemos dejar pasar. Este momento en el que comenzamos a cuestionar, una vez más, que entrenador es digno de quedarse en la franquicia y cual debe irse. En esta edición de "Cowboys en Español," hablaremos específicamente de los tres principales coaches en el equipo.
Coordinador Defensivo Rod Marinelli
El futuro del coordinador defensivo de los Dallas Cowboys no se puede tratar sin mencionar a Kris Richard. Fue la defensiva la que llevó al equipo hasta la postemporada y fue la unidad que cargó al equipo en muchas de sus victorias. Incluso con la llegada de Amari Cooper a Dallas, la defensiva fue siempre el pilar de la franquicia esta temporada.
Jaylon Smith y Leighton Vander Esch sorprendentemente se perfilaron como uno de los mejores duos de linebackers en toda la liga, la línea defensiva fue muy exitosa con Randy Gregory y DeMarcus Lawrence en los extremos y con la grata sorpresa que fue Antwaun Woods en el centro. La secundaria vio la mejor temporada en la controversial carrera de Byron Jones e hizo un excelente trabajo con un talento decente, pero no genial.
Todo esto, y el haber terminado como la sexta mejor defensiva en puntos permitidos (20.2) y la quinta mejor contra la corrida (94.6), hace a Rod Marinelli merecedor de una ronda de aplausos. Sin embargo, Richard probablemente merezca más aplausos.
Fue Richard quien revolucionó la defensiva de los Cowboys y la convirtió en un grupo mucho más agresivo. Fue él quien implementó jugadas de "blitz" en el equipo (algo no común con Marinelli) y quien en un punto de la temporada, comenzó a seleccionar las jugadas desde la banda.
En esta posición, me parece que los Dallas Cowboys tienen que enfrentar la dura decisión de decirle a Marinelli que es tiempo de dejarle el puesto a Kris Richard. Si bien no se llevó un trabajo de head coach, es muy probable que le llovieran ofertas a Richard si no se hace con el título de coordinador defensivo en Dallas.
Coordinador Ofensivo Scott Linehan
Con un equipo tan polémico como este, la afición de Dallas no concuerda en muchas cosas. Sin embargo, lo hacen al hablar del pésimo trabajo que Scott Linehan ha realizado mandando las jugadas en ofensiva. Realmente ha sido doloroso de ver y es en mi opinión, el mayor problema que tiene el equipo actualmente.
Semana tras semana, fuimos testigos de pésimas decisiones en la ofensiva de los Cowboys. Vimos como el equipo se aferraba a llenar la caja de defensivos antes de correr el balón con Ezekiel Elliott. Vimos incontables pases pantalla en tercera oportunidad y largo. Pero no solo es lo que vimos, sino lo que no vimos.
A pesar de la innegable habilidad para correr el balón de Dak Prescott, Linehan se rehusó a explotar esta versatilidad de su QB. Vimos pocos "QB sneaks," jugada donde el mariscal toma el balón bajo centro y consigue poco yardage detrás del empuje de su línea ofensiva.
Siendo honestos, los Cowboys llevan dos años sufriendo por este coordinador. Dejarlo volver en el 2019 sería una decisión ridícula. Los comentarios en la radio de Jason Garrett no lucen prometedores, pero realmente sería una sorpresa que fueran ciertos. Linehan no debe volver... punto.
Head Coach Jason Garrett
El futuro en esta posición será muy debatido durante los próximos meses, pero de los tres que hemos mencionado es sin lugar a dudas el más seguro de todos. Nos guste o no, Jason Garrett estará al frente del equipo la próxima temporada.
Garrett está lejos de ser un gran coach y aún le hace falta demostrar que puede cumplir las aspiraciones de los Cowboys de traer un sexto Trofeo Lombardi a casa. Pero siendo honesto, este equipo debería tener suficiente con Garrett y un par de buenos coordinadores. ¿El problema? No hay un par de buenos coordinadores en el equipo.
Sin embargo, Garrett ha demostrado que cuenta con el amor y apoyo de sus jugadores. Ha demostrado que efectivamente, puede ganar la división (lo ha hecho en tres de los últimos cinco años). Este año el equipo le dio la vuelta a la temporada después de comenzar 3-5.
Lo más preocupante en mi opinión, es la falta de urgencia para despedir a Linehan, por ejemplo. Quizá a puerta cerrada Garrett quiere un cambio en su staff, pero nunca lo sabremos.
Jason Garrett no es un coach excelente, pero podría ser suficiente para llevar a los Cowboys a un Super Bowl si tiene un equipo adecuado. Todo parece indicar que su trabajo está seguro (incluso más de lo que pensamos) así que es tiempo de esperar que se arreglen sus coordinadores.
2018 Draft Class Season Review: LB Leighton Vander Esch
As the first round draft pick of America's Team, any player would be under a ton of pressure from all angles. Whether it's from the fans on the outside or the organization on the inside, the expectations around being a first round pick for the Cowboys are immense. But the pressure placed upon linebacker Leighton Vander Esch, from the second he was announced as the 19th overall draft pick, was second to none.
It felt like Cowboys Nation let out a collective groan when Vander Esch was taken, with fans hoping for a more glamorous first round selection. Someone like wide receiver Calvin Ridley or edge rusher Harold Landry would've done the trick, but after Vander Esch's rookie season it's hard to imagine either of those players would have had the impact Vander Esch did in 2018.
Though he didn't start a game until week 4, and didn't become the unquestioned full-time starting WILL until week 10, Vander Esch earned Pro Bowl honors for his rookie season. Tallying 140 total tackles and 2 interceptions, Vander Esch made his presence felt week in and week out.
No counting stats can fully measure Leighton Vander Esch's impact as a rookie, however.
Prior to the 2018 season, the Cowboys defensive success often came down to the health of Sean Lee. When available and playing at his best, Lee led an overachieving Cowboys defense to solid performances each week. But, when Lee went out (as he often did), the entire Cowboys defense seemed to fall apart.
This year, though, that all changed. When Sean Lee was out with injury the Cowboys defense got better. Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith became a versatile, hard hitting tandem the NFL immediately feared, and helped to direct the Cowboys defense to signature wins throughout the 2018 season.
There are arguments against taking any off-ball linebacker in the first round, as the value of the position has been questioned due to the new style of offense in the NFL. Nowadays linebackers are relegated to two-down players, taken off the field in favor of faster defensive backs on critical passing downs.
Leighton Vander Esch is athletic enough to be both an old school run stopper, but also a three down linebacker in today's fast paced NFL.
Despite the doubts which surrounded the pick, the Cowboys absolutely nailed their first round selection in 2018. And Leighton Vander Esch made Dallas' front office look like geniuses each and every Sunday.
What Is The Cowboys Most Pressing Offseason Need?
Finishing their season with a Division Round loss, Dallas Cowboys fans are getting a somewhat late start on the 2019 offseason. Of course, we'd much rather a later start, but the results are what they are.
Now Dallas must get better, and re-tool before heading into Dak Prescott's fourth season, and the Cowboys' 2019 campaign. Though they didn't feel all that close to a championship this season, looking around the roster, it's actually tough to identify one key need the Cowboys must address.
They are filled with young, talented players that they have high hopes for across the board. And in the places they are "older," such as across the offensive line, they have established veterans who aren't going anywhere anytime soon.
So what is the Cowboys' most pressing offseason need?
Well, despite already using their 2019 first round pick to address it, the answer very well might be wide receiver.
Adding Amari Cooper midseason provided a massive jolt to the Cowboys previously anemic passing attack, but on his own he is not enough to take this passing game to where it needs to be to compete in this new NFL.
Third round pick Michael Gallup is going to be a very good pro, and progressed really well as his rookie season went on. I think he can play opposite Amari Cooper nicely, and be the number two option in the passing game going forward.
Though arguably their best wide out against man coverage, Cole Beasley is a free agent, and if the reports are true about Scott Linehan returning in 2019 it could very well mean Beasley will not be opting to sign back with Dallas.
Regardless of Beasley's decision, however, the Cowboys need to seriously evaluate their pass catchers heading into next season.
This is a passing league. The rules have dictated that you must be able to pass the ball efficiently if you want to compete with the best of the best around the NFL. To take the next step in their progression, and reach an NFC title game and/or Super Bowl, Dak Prescott will need to have as explosive a group of pass catchers as possible.
The Cowboys have already taken solid steps to making this a reality, but another move or two this offseason could go a long way to putting Dallas in the conversation with teams like the Rams and the Saints in 2019.
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