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Was The Cowboys Divisional Loss To Green Bay A Microcosm Of Their Season?
There are going to be a lot of long and arduous days in the coming weeks and months where we struggle moving past the 2016 Dallas Cowboys season.
If you scan the confines of Dallas Cowboys Social Media then you'll see a lot of debate as to whether this season was successful or simply deemed a failure. Obviously you can argue success because of the large discovery of talent, but unless you are holding that beautiful Lombardi Trophy in February... well you get the idea.
While trying to wrap my own head around this whole thing in the immediate aftermath, I found myself identifying a lot of my feelings about the whole season directly to the Divisional Loss against Green Bay. Sometimes that happens in instances like this, our feelings about certain events across a whole season intertwine and ultimately marry into the same thing.
When you look at this game in a vacuum, you look at a Dallas Cowboys team that put themselves in an early 21-3 hole. Hope was all but dead, it felt like we'd seen this horror movie before, and people were clamoring about the state of the backup quarterback position.
Wasn't that how the 2016 season started... in general? When Tony Romo went down with an injury during the third week of the preseason it felt a whole hell of a lot like going down 21-3 with your season on the line. We were just one year removed from understanding the ramifications of not responsibly-planning for this situation, and we scratched our heads about the backup quarterback position.
Just like he did across the entire season for Cowboys loyalists, Dak Prescott put forth a Herculean effort after this hole was dug for his team. He fought, fought, and fought some more... pulling off the damn near impossible.
Of course throughout said effort even Dak Prescott showed a sense of humanity - like he did against the New York Giants - when he threw an ill-timed and porous interception. A performance with a single blemish is pretty much the story of young Dakota whether across the entire year or in this single game.
The Cowboys weren't without their own interceptions, though. Jeff Heath - the GOAT - intercepted Aaron Rodgers. This is real life. We're not just talking about any errant Aaron Rodgers throw, either. Aaron Rodgers was in the middle - really, the end - of the longest interception-less streak of his career. Jeff Heath of all people picking him off is in and of itself the story of this defense, isn't it? A group not expected to do much, but turning in performance after performance against all realms of logic and supposed records.
What about Ezekiel Elliott? His 2016 campaign was one of the more impressive individual ones put forth by anyone in the NFL, and he continually showed us the ability to do more and more and more to help his team. This effort was seen in this game when he hit the B Button on Clay Matthews with the most incredible spin move ever. That's who Zeke is - a do-whatever-it-takes-and-do-it-in-a-flashy-way type of guy that gave us his absolute all, so much so that he almost got Jason Garrett to curse on Monday!
The narrative about Dez Bryant entering this game was that he was looking for revenge from two years ago's catch. Dez insisted all week long that he'd put that behind him and was focused on today - a Jason Garrett philosophy fully adopted by the star receiver. Dez went through a lot this season... another injury that sidelined him for a while, and the devastating loss of his father. Through it all Bryant stepped up as a leader across the year in new ways, and that was captured with a performance for the ages against Green Bay.
On the other side of the ball, when Jeff Heath wasn't ballhawking Aaron Rodgers... Sean Lee was making plays. An All-Pro season is what we've grown to expect from Sean Lee, and the ability to be fully healthy across a season cashed those expectations in for the real thing this year. It was all that and more as "The General" was the lone pillar of excellence on this defense in Sunday's loss, giving his all on every single play.
Perhaps the largest sense of the season that diluted into this game was Jason Garrett's #FinishThisFight mantra. His team fell down 21-3 to what many people believe is one of the three best quarterbacks to ever play this game. They never blinked, never doubted themselves for one second... nobody exemplified this sentiment more than Jason Garrett himself. Even when Dak Prescott threw his interception, Jason Garrett could be seen mouthing that everything was alright - a common criticism of the Head Coach many moons ago.
Everything was alright, though. Coach Garrett's team found ways to put themselves in a position to win. They - as he demands - relied on each other and almost pulled off the impossible... just like this team as a whole on the year.
We talked so much about how the 2016 Dallas Cowboys weren't real in a sense. It isn't real - a reality we're now being forced to accept - for two rookies to come into the NFL at running back and quarterback and just go win the Super Bowl. It was the stuff of movies and a classic Hollywood blockbuster.
Isn't that who the Cowboys were all season long, though? They always have been the top one, but in 2016 they were undeniably the NFL's only blockbuster as they saved ratings that were otherwise down week after week. The Cowboys were the heroes everyone wanted to root for.
Sometimes in Hollywood blockbusters the heroes don't win, but isn't that what makes the story riveting and powerful? If the heroes always won, things would be predictable. We have to see the hero fall in order to understand just how heroic he is - just ask Tony Romo.
The Dallas Cowboys almost pulled off something miraculous this season, and it's going to hurt for a long time that they didn't. That's exactly what happened on Sunday. A season's worth of drama, rise, fall, intrigue, sorrow, and joy was condensed into four quarters of high-octane action. This one didn't go our way, but if we're to follow the course laid out for us... it certainly feels like the next one will.
The Cowboys are the heroes, and ultimately the heroes win. We will win. We are Hollywood.
Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?
Despite their insistence that upgrading the safety position was a top offseason priority, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really done much to improve the backend of their secondary. They did sign former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals Safety George Iloka as a free agent and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth-round in this year's NFL Draft, but neither player looks like a clear-cut upgrade at this point. Fortunately, there's still time to find Xavier Woods' counterpart for 2019.
Xavier Woods is the only clear-cut starter at safety currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who starts opposite him this season. With that in mind, the Cowboys should be keeping all of their options open, including acquiring players who get released or even making a trade for someone they like. The latter is what I want to talk about today.
A potential safety who could be put on the trade block that I'm kind of intrigued with is Josh Jones, who has reportedly requested a trade from the Green Bay Packers.
Packers safety Josh Jones is skipping the voluntary OTAs and working out in Florida because he's hoping to be traded, a source told ESPN. The source said the 2017 second-round pick believes it would be best for both parties if they parted ways. Story coming on ESPN shortly.
Josh Jones clearly sees where he stands with the Green Bay Packers after they signed Adrian Amos in free agency and drafted Darnell Savage Jr. 21st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, thus his absence from OTA's and trade request. He understands the business and knows he's not going to see the field much behind those two, meaning his best chance for playing time would be in a different uniform.
It's not all that shocking Jones has requested a trade. Even before the Packers added Amos and Savage he wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. He's just never seemed to fit into what Green Bay was trying to do on the backend of their defense. It may be in the best interest of both parties to mutually part ways. This is where the Dallas Cowboys come in.
I believe Josh Jones is exactly the type of safety Kris Richard would like to pair Xavier Woods with on the backend of the Cowboys defense. He fits the criteria Richard likes in his defensive backs as far as size, length, and speed are concerned. And, he also has the kind of skill set/mindset to become that Kam Chancellor "enforcer" type of strong safety.
Josh Jones is at his best when he can play around the line of scrimmage, much like Chancellor was during his time with the Seahawks. But, Jones also has the ability to be a factor in coverage as well. The only real question here is whether or not he's an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Heath, George Iloka, and maybe even rookie Donovan Wilson?
In all honesty, I don't have the answer to that question. Josh Jones really hasn't received a fair opportunity to prove himself in his first two years in the NFL. I believe the skill set is there to start in the league, but there's not much there to back up that belief.
Personally, I'd be willing to part way with a late round pick if I were the Cowboys to acquire Josh Jones. I like the idea of bringing him in to work with Kris Richard and allowing him to compete for the starting job next to Xavier Woods. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward move Dallas likes to gamble on, and it could potentially pay off in a big way.
Where do you stand? Should the Cowboys consider trading for Josh Jones?
How Can The Cowboys Force More Turnovers In 2019?
2018 seemed like the beginning of a new era. A defensive era. For the first time in years the Cowboys were able to consistently lean on their defense during games, staying alive even as their offense sputtered and limped through stretches early in the season.
The defense was downright prolific some weeks. They carried the Cowboys to an inspiring home victory over the New Orleans Saints to put them in prime position to make the playoffs. They dominated the Wild Card game in key moments, making key stops and holding the Seahawks to just 22 points in the win. They featured one of the league's best individual pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, an All Pro cornerback in Byron Jones, and one of the league's most exciting young linebacker duos.
For all of this success, this defense still lacked one thing. Takeaways.
The Cowboys forced only 9 interceptions in 2018, ranking 26th across the league. In fact, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually tied with Xavier Woods for the team lead in interceptions with just 2. When it comes to total takeaways the Cowboys' defense was a little better off, though, finishing 16th in the NFL.
Part of the "problem" seems to be their philosophy. The Cowboys have finished 26th, 24th, 27th, and 31st in interceptions dating back to 2015. They've also finished 9th, 25th, 18th, and 19th in team defense DVOA over that same stretch. Clearly there was an improvement in total defense in 2018, but neither their team defense nor ability to take the ball away has been strong since 2015.
The bigger problem, really, is a lack of luck. While this sounds like a cop-out, takeaways often do come down to just that. Of course putting yourself in the right place at the right time to benefit from a batted pass or overthrown ball matters, but those bounces finding the right hands is usually a matter of luck.
Turnovers are incredibly volatile year to year, and as much as you'd like your players to "make their own luck," randomness does play a part here.
You can certainly argue the Cowboys have done their best this offseason to increase their chances at takeaways, however. By trading for defensive end Robert Quinn, re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence, and adding talented players to the middle of their defensive line as well, Dallas has put an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and corralling the opposing running game. Putting pressure on quarterbacks can force them into quick decision making or bad throws, which could in turn breed interceptions.
This is far from guaranteed, though. Plus the Cowboys play against some of the league's top quarterbacks this year, which hurts their chances of taking the ball away further.
In the end the Cowboys will need both the skill of their pass rushers and defensive backs to put them in good positions, and luck to smile down on them, if they'd like to turn around their takeaway numbers in 2019. And after all, this demoralizing trend has to reverse itself at some point, doesn't it?
Will It Be The Cowboys, Or Another Team, Who Pays Byron Jones After 2019?
After having his fifth year option exercised for the 2019 season, cornerback Byron Jones enters a contract year this Fall.
Jones inarguably had the best year of his career in 2018: earning not only his first Pro Bowl selection but also Second Team All Pro honors for his performance. Doing it all without an impressive stat sheet, Jones was able to let his film speak for itself throughout most of the year, and he became the number one cornerback we'd all hoped he could be when the Cowboys decided to take the freakishly athletic defensive back in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
This contract year is quite unique for Byron Jones, however. Next offseason the Cowboys will be forced to re-sign and extend just about all of their key contributors on both sides of the ball. DeMarcus Lawrence already got his contract, but Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and others still await their deals. Deals which the front office has all-but explicitly promised will come.
This leaves Jones, the former first round pick and now former All Pro, generally considered to be the odd man out. So while 2019 is a contract year for Byron Jones, he may be earning himself a contract from a completely different team.
Jones has had an interesting road to this contract season. One which would be a shame for the Cowboys to waste. Moving between cornerback and safety during the first three years of his career, Jones fell out of the coaches' good graces while playing out of his most natural position. Under Kris Richard's new regime, though, Jones had his best season to date. He looked to finally be comfortable in his role, and was now playing for a coach who believed he could be a special player.
Now that Byron Jones has found his place in the Cowboys defense, and has earned his way into conversations with the league's top cornerbacks, he's likely priced himself out of the Cowboys' future plans.
It's funny how that works out. Of course, Jones should go get paid, and I'd never fault a guy for maximizing his value on the market. But there's a good chance the Cowboys make the mistake of allowing a premier cornerback to walk out of their building next offseason. But if they want to retain players like Elliott and Cooper, they may not have any other choice.
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