The calling card for the Dallas Cowboys offense in 2018 - amidst all of the changes this unit has gone through - will be the same as it was the last time the Cowboys reached the playoffs. Winning 19 of 25 games that both Quarterback Dak Prescott and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott have played in, Elliott's return for a full season warrants plenty of excitement.
It took the loss of not only Elliott but Left Tackle Tyron Smith last season for Prescott to regress in his second season, leading to the worst win total of his young career at 9-7. Ever since Dak took the starting job in 2016, the Cowboys have done nothing but instill confidence in their quarterback of the future, expecting Elliott to be reliably alongside him at all times.
Leading the league in rushing with 1,631 yards on 322 carries as the fourth overall pick two seasons ago, Zeke Elliott will be looking to remind everyone how dominant of a back he truly is. Prior to serving his six game suspension, Elliott was averaging 24 carries a game (up from 21.5 in 2016) with 783 yards to show for it on the ground.
While his quarterback will be most affected by the turnover the Cowboys are experiencing at wide receiver, Elliott is joined by Tavon Austin and potentially Bo Scarbrough in a new-look RBs room as well. Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan and the Cowboys are hopeful that their newfound versatility on offense will allow them to be less predictable.
This is what also makes Ezekiel Elliott such a special player. It is expected that he will lead the way for the Cowboys offense, and is still able to control a game behind Dallas' star-studded line. The Cowboys absolutely can't lose sight of what a motivated Elliott can do in 2018.
If using the 24 attempts per game figure from above through a full 16 game schedule, Elliott would tote the rock 360 times. This number would have led the league by 39 carries in 2017, with Le'Veon Bell going for 321 attempts.
Exactly what constitutes an "attempt" in the Cowboys diverse offense has been a highly debated topic as of late, based on Stephen Jones' comments on another RBs usage - Tavon Austin. Acquired from the Rams during the draft, the Cowboys view Austin as a running back that will reportedly get up to a dozen such "attempts" per game this season.
Never carrying the ball more than 10 times in a game over his five years in the league, Austin's chances to use his speed will likely come in ways that Elliott is not as adept at. With one roster spot, the Cowboys have a player to handle jet sweeps, C.O.P back touches, receptions, and punt returns in Austin.
It's very possible we see both Elliott and Austin on the field together in select packages for the Cowboys this season. Where Austin can come off the field though, Elliott can always be trusted as a dominant blocker and underused receiver.
I have my own doubts about Zeke's role as a pass catcher expanding in 2018, as the Cowboys will also have to justify keeping Rod Smith as another backup RB - outside of his special teams contributions. Even new Fullback Jamize Olawale has shown the ability to catch the ball comfortably out of the backfield.
This is all the more reason to prepare for Elliott to absolutely hammer defenses on the ground.
The Cowboys are prepared arguably better than ever to control games with their rushing attack, using this year's 50th overall pick on Left Guard Connor Williams. Watching this team adapt on offense each week while still relying on a bell cow runner is going to make Dak Prescott's third-year a fascinating one.
This is an offense that should absolutely be good enough to get the Cowboys back into playoff contention. It always has been when Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott are on the field. Scott Linehan may have a lot more to worry about this year around these cornerstones, along with the pressure to keep his job long-term, but it should be easy for him to call his best player's number early and often in 2018.
Ezekiel Elliott himself will see to it.
Michael Gallup Showing Signs of a Breakout
We're only six games into the career of Rookie Wide Receiver Michael Gallup who was selected 81st overall by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2018 NFL Draft. It's been a slow start to his career, mostly because of usage. On Sunday, he took a step toward what many thought he could be for the Cowboys when he was drafted; Wide receiver one.
The numbers, one reception on two targets for 27 yards, may not indicate a breakout is coming, but if you look at the two targets he saw and the quality of the corner he faced, they're more impressive.
Look at this catch by #Cowboys rookie WR Michael Gallup https://t.co/lD1xJ2WemD
On the Dallas Cowboys first drive of the day, Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott looked Michael Gallup's way down the left sideline and hit him on a nice back shoulder fade that looked an awful lot like a Dez Bryant-like contested catch. It was a key play on 3rd-and-9 to get the Dallas Cowboys into Jacksonville territory on a drive that led to a Brett Maher field goal and a 3-0 lead.
Later in the game with the Cowboys driving to score a touchdown, Gallup made a tremendous catch when he got perfect depth behind All-Pro Corner Back A.J. Bouye and in front of the safety help. It looked to be an impressive touchdown catch just inside the end zone, but was overturned on replay. On review, Gallup wasn't able to get his second foot down after he made contact with the defender. Though the touchdown didn't stand, it was an impressive effort for Michael Gallup.
Michael Gallup with a near circus catch to ALMOST haul in his first NFL TD. Ruled incomplete. #cowboys #jags @CSUFootball https://t.co/SePSc3n1Yp
Michael Gallup led the Dallas Cowboys wide receiver group in snaps (81% of the offensive snaps) on Sunday, and according to Mike Clay from ESPN, he led the Dallas Cowboys in routes run as well. Both of Gallup's targets came against Bouye, showing an ability to beat one of the best corners in the NFL.
Michael Gallup paced the Cowboys in pass routes (25) for the first time in his career on Sunday.
As Michael Gallup sees more opportunities to play, his opportunities to make plays are going to continue to grow. With news coming down that Tavon Austin is unlikely to play for several weeks because of a groin injury, more snaps are opening up at the wide receiver position. Tavon played 18 snaps before getting injured on Sunday, so there will be increased opportunities for Gallup moving forward.
Gallup's only seen about 3 targets a game, but with the increased snaps he saw in week six and the potential for even more with Austin coming, the opportunities should grow. As he continues to come down with impressive catches like he did on Sunday (even if only one of them counted), it's going to increase Dak Prescott's and the coaching staff's level of trust in the rookie.
It's safe to say that more big time catches are coming for Michael Gallup and a breakout is coming sooner than later.
Oakland Raiders’ Wide Receiver Amari Cooper On the Trade Block
Aside from Wide Receiver Cole Beasley, the Dallas Cowboys haven't received much production from their wide receiver group outside of the occasional big play from fellow wide outs Michael Gallup or Tavon Austin. Well, the Oakland Raiders apparently are willing to listen to offers for Wide Receiver Amari Cooper and, according to Michael Rapaport, are asking for a first round draft pick in return.
Raiders want a first round pick for Amari Cooper, per @RapSheet.
The Dallas Cowboys could use someone with Cooper's ability, even if he has been a drop machine through his first four seasons. In his first two seasons in the NFL, 2015 and 2016, Cooper averaged 77 receptions on 131 targets, for 1,111.5 yards, and 5.5 touchdowns. Through his first three seasons in the NFL, Cooper averaged 11 drops a season, including 18 in his rookie season.
Any time you start a discussion about whether you should trade for someone, the question always begins with "what are you paying?" What would you be willing to pay for Amari Cooper? After back-to-back 1,000 yard seasons to start his career, he only went for 680 yards in 14 games (48.6 yards per game). Though the yardage wasn't great last year, he did catch seven touchdowns for the Oakland Raiders.
So far in 2018, Cooper is averaging 46.7 yards per game on 3.67 receptions per game and has only scored one touchdown.
I wouldn't send a top 60 pick for Amari Cooper. He's a good player, but is he better than what Michael Gallup could be? Because if you trade for Cooper he's going to likely eat into Gallup's snap count and we need to find out if Michal Gallup is a player that the Dallas Cowboys could rely on in the future. But, if the Cowboys coaching staff brought Cooper in to replace Allen Hurns, then I'd be very happy to talk about acquiring the former first round draft choice.
A starting wide receiver group of Cole Beasley, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup would be a very difficult group to cover and Quarterback Dak Prescott showed on Sunday that he has what it takes to get the ball down field to his receivers.
The Cowboys probably wouldn't make this trade, unless Jerry Jones got involved, because they value their draft picks too much, but if the Dallas Cowboys could get him for a third round pick I'd do it in a heart beat. For a second round pick, I'd have to get a fifth or sixth back from Oakland in that deal. Cooper's a good player, but hasn't shown to be one of the best at his position.
There are a couple other players from Oakland that I'm more interested in trading for.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
What do you think? Would you trade for Amari Cooper, and if so, what would you be willing to give?
David Irving Ready to “Be Put Through Ringer” in First Action with Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys patience in Defensive Tackle David Irving is set to pay off on Sunday, as Irving will play in his first game of 2018 after being suspended for the first four weeks. Irving was eligible to play last week in the Cowboys overtime loss at the Texans, but did not make the trip to Houston as he dealt with off-field concerns.
The Cowboys defense has performed admirably without Irving, but in a needed game against the Jaguars, it could be up to this defense to win the game for Dallas - something a disruptive player like Irving has the ability to do on any given snap.
While the plan is for the Cowboys to ease Irving into this game, his impact from the DT position might be enough to leave him on the field as much as needed in a tight game.
Irving said the coaches want to play him 10-15 snaps Sunday. "That's what they say now but if it's a close game, I know good and well Marinelli is going to be sending me out there & putting me through the ringer. I'm ready for it.
Like a good left-handed pitcher in baseball or three-point specialist in basketball, the Cowboys have afforded Irving a long leash despite his unreliability thanks to a 6'7" and 290 pound frame that makes him a menace for opposing guards.
The 3T-DT position is a pivotal one in Marinelli's scheme, and one the Cowboys have afforded Irving every opportunity to fill, yielding results whenever the former Chiefs practice squad steal suits up.
Filling in for Irving through the Cowboys first five games of the season has been reliable veteran Tyrone Crawford. Expected to play at defensive end this season, Crawford has recorded 14 tackles and one sack from the 3T position.
With Irving back in the "Hot Boyz" rotation, it will be interesting to see if Crawford once again goes out to right defensive end, where Randy Gregory has struggled to make the most out of his own return from suspension.
Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli is not expecting similar struggles from Irving, prepared to put him "through the ringer".
Where Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard calls the Cowboys defense, Marinelli is still one of the most respected coaches at The Star, demanding a lot of his defensive line in particular. It's the pairing of Marinelli's motivation and Irving's intangibles that have the Cowboys defense on the brink of taking another step toward's one of the league's best.
With their own offense set to line up against perhaps the best overall defense in Jacksonville on Sunday, Irving's return is just in time. The NFC East is far from out of reach for the Cowboys, who will be at full strength on defense once Sean Lee returns as early as next week.
The Cowboys have never lost a game in which Lee, Irving, and Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence play at least 20% of the team's snaps on defense. Perhaps this stat will have to be adjusted to include rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in short time, but for now the Cowboys are hours away from fighting for a 3-3 start to 2018, doing so with one of their most important defenders back in the lineup.
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