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Unity & Identity: Differences Between 2014 & 2015 Dallas Cowboys

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Cowboys Blog - Unity & Identity: Difference Between 2014 and 2015 Dallas Cowboys

Watching the 2015 Dallas Cowboys was stressful.

Forget about barely seeing Tony Romo and seeing a clearly hobbled Dez Bryant; things just didn’t seem the same as they did in 2014 and it was maddening.

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.

Cowboys Blog - Unity & Identity: Difference Between 2014 and 2015 Dallas Cowboys 2

In 2014 look at the Cowboys tackling Marshawn Lynch. There are four players there! All three linebackers and a defensive lineman

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.

Cowboys Blog - Unity & Identity: Difference Between 2014 and 2015 Dallas Cowboys 3

Boy do I miss this sight! Scandrick plays with so much aggression to his game. Notice how many other Cowboys are in the shot still. This is from 2014.

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.

Cowboys Blog - Unity & Identity: Difference Between 2014 and 2015 Dallas Cowboys 1

Compare this to 2014 and you see just one player there tackling Marshawn Lynch. That is Byron Jones, a safety, alone on Marshawn Lynch. The contrast from this picture and the one from 2015 is telling

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).

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I've been blogging about sports and music for almost eight years now. I also work in media relations for a New York sports team, so I understand the bridge between the outlets writing about a team and the team monitoring content. I hope to bring something new to Inside The Star, getting deep into draft work, breakdowns and I always come with a strong and passionate opinion. I'm very active on Twitter, so ask questions, comment on stuff, etc. and I will almost definitely respond to you in some sort of debate!

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Will Ryan Switzer see an Increased Offensive Role in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Ryan Switzer see an Increased Offensive Role in 2018?

The Dallas Cowboys clearly had a specific role in mind for Ryan Switzer when they drafted him 133rd overall in the fourth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. Come to find out, that role didn’t include being involved much on the offensive side of the ball, at least not as a rookie.

After watching the way the Cowboys utilized Ryan Switzer in 2017, it’s pretty obvious the sole purpose he was drafted was to improve the special-teams play in the return game.

They clearly didn’t envision him being a part of the game plan on offense, despite the continuous outcry from fans.

Like most rookies, Ryan Switzer didn’t really get off to a fast start, and took a while to get used to the speed of the NFL. But, once he calmed his nerves and regained his confidence, he proved to be an upgrade in the return game.

Switzer ended up ranking third in kickoff returns, averaging 25 yards per return in 2017 and 12th in punt returns with almost 9 yards per return.

He also became the first Dallas Cowboys player to return a punt for a touchdown since 2013. He accomplished this against the Washington Redskins, in Week 13 when he took an 83-yarder to the house.

Surprisingly enough, using Ryan Switzer solely as a return specialist wasn’t enough for a lot of Cowboys Nation. A lot of fans wanted to see his talents utilized more on the offensive side of the ball as well, but were only left disappointed.

Ryan Switzer

Dallas Cowboys WR Ryan Switzer

Getting Switzer involved in the offensive game plan just wasn’t in the cards in 2017.

He only managed to catch six passes for 41 yards and rushed four times for 5 yards. This isn’t exactly what Cowboys fans envisioned after hearing Switzer was opening a lot eyes in training camp and organized team activities (OTAs). That was the main problem.

He was hyped up so much heading into the season that fans expected to see him involved much more on offense.

The Cowboys, on the other hand, had something else in mind, but I doubt that’s the case for the upcoming 2018 season.

I really think we’re going to see an increased role for Ryan Switzer next season.

The Cowboys coaching staff should have a much better understanding of his strengths and weaknesses now that he has a year in the system under his belt. And, they’ve seen firsthand how explosive he can be with the ball in his hands.

What the Cowboys coaching staff will have to determine this offseason is just how big of a role Switzer will have next year.

Should Switzer take Cole Beasley‘s job?

Cole Beasley, like the rest of the Cowboys receivers, had a down year in 2017. We shouldn’t assume that his job is safe, especially with someone like Ryan Switzer waiting in the wings. But, is Switzer ready to take over full-time?

Tough decisions will have to be made eventually, but such is life in the NFL.

Will Ryan Switzer see an increased offensive role in 2018?

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Brian Martin

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Will Terrance Williams be Back with Cowboys in 2018?

Each offseason tough decisions have to be made by teams around the NFL, and the Dallas Cowboys are no exception. Teams have to decide who to promote, who to demote, and who to cut ties with altogether. For the Cowboys, Terrance Williams fits into one of those three categories, but which one?

It was plainly obvious that the Dallas Cowboys wide receivers all had an extremely disappointing 2017 season.

Everybody has their own opinion as to why this happened, but one thing is for sure, the Cowboys coaching staff will definitely look at ways to get more out of their receiving core. The one player who I think could be affected most by whatever decision the coaching staff ends up making is Terrance Williams.

Williams didn’t do much to make a case for keeping his starting job in 2017, let alone sticking on the roster.

To say he had a disappointing season would be an understatement.

Williams finished the 2017 season with just 53 receptions for 568 receiving yards and absolutely zero touchdowns. The Cowboys were likely hoping for more production from someone they just signed to a four-year, $17-million contract extension back in March [2017].

Now, you can make the argument Williams took a team discount in order to stay in Dallas, but that doesn’t carry much weight when your production leaves so much to be desired. This is especially true when there might be somebody on the roster who can do just as well, and possibly be an upgrade.

Noah Brown

Dallas Cowboys WR Noah Brown (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Yes, if you haven’t guessed it yet, I’m talking about Noah Brown.

I know I’m not alone here, but I think Noah Brown could easily replace Terrance Williams’ production. I understand that there’s not much evidence to back up that statement based on Brown’s rookie season, but he has all the tools required to succeed.

This is really all about potential, and Noah Brown simply has more upside than Terrance Williams.

We all know what Terrance Williams is as a receiver, and what he brings to the table for the Cowboys offense. I believe Noah Brown can do all the things Williams does and has the potential to be even better.

I already think Noah Brown is a better blocker, something the Cowboys coaching staff really values about Williams. I also think Brown is a better pass catcher. He is a natural hands catcher and has a large catching radius, something Williams obviously isn’t (body catcher).

Right now, Williams is only better than Noah Brown in a few areas. He is slightly faster, he’s more advanced as a route runner, and has more experience. That’s about it.

This will obviously be a tough decision for the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff to make. But, I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if we see Terrance Williams playing somewhere else when the 2018 season kicks off.

Do you think Terrance Williams will be with the Cowboys in 2018?

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship 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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