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Who will Lead the Cowboys Defense in 2016?

The date was January 11th, 2015. After winning the NFC East with a 12-4 record, the Dallas Cowboys found themselves a win away from the NFC Championship game. Standing in their way was the Green Bay Packers, as the Cowboys visited Lambeau Field for the Divisional round. In a more literal sense, it was Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers that stood in Dallas’ way, as the hobbled signal caller faced little resistance from a Cowboys’ defensive line that hit him just 3 times – resulting in Rodgers completing 24 passes for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns. While this game will be remembered for the Dez Bryant catch-that-was-not, it’s important to step back and realize how much this offense carried the team through the regular season.

Sean Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Who will Lead the Cowboys Defense in 2016? 3

The date was January 11th, 2015. After winning the NFC East with a 12-4 record, the Dallas Cowboys found themselves a win away from the NFC Championship game. Standing in their way was the Green Bay Packers, as the Cowboys visited Lambeau Field for the Divisional round.

In a more literal sense, it was Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers that stood in Dallas’ way, as the hobbled signal caller faced little resistance from a Cowboys’ defensive line that hit him just 3 times – resulting in Rodgers completing 24 passes for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns.

While this game will be remembered for the Dez Bryant catch-that-was-not, it’s important to step back and realize how much this offense carried the team through the regular season.

When Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and DeMarco Murray needed their defense to step up the most and support them (yes; DeMarco’s fumble was another incredibly costly play for the Cowboys in this game) by forcing some takeaways and making big plays, they simply could not rise to the occasion.

Cowboys Headlines - Who will Lead the Cowboys Defense in 2016?

(Photo by Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

I bring up this painful date in recent Cowboys’ history merely to make a point for the upcoming 2016 season. When Jason Garrett and this team decided to draft Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth overall pick in the draft, it was a commitment to return this team to that 2014 form in the most literal form.

Put a special running back behind the best offensive line in the game, bring back a healthy quarterback to keep defenses honest, and stick Dez Bryant on the outside. Dominate the game with your offense on the field, put up points, and watch as your defense plays with the lead against offensive coordinators and quarterbacks needing points in a hurry.

We all watched this team in 2014, so it goes without saying that watching a similar team in 2016 would be a lot of fun on both sides of the ball. The Dallas defense forced 31 turnovers that year, the second-highest mark in the league.

However, after forcing the least amount of turnovers in the history of the sport in 2015, Cowboys Nation can likely envision a scenario pretty clearly where a dominant Dallas offense is once again let down in a pivotal spot by this defense.

Rod Marinelli’s unit is going to be on the field in big spots and they are going to have to make plays. With that, let’s explore some players that could emerge as leaders and help this defense thrive in 2016.

Cowboys Headlines - Who will Lead the Cowboys Defense in 2016? 1

LB Sean Lee

There’s no question that the Cowboys’ defense is a much better unit with six-year veteran Sean Lee on the field than it is without him. Unfortunately, they have been forced to play in many big games without the service of the dominant linebacker.

Lee was never on the field in 2014 after suffering a torn ACL during OTAs, and has to be ecstatic about the opportunity to lead this defense in 2016 – hopefully seeing most of his snaps in the favorable position this offense can put the entire defense in.

With 14 games and a new career high in tackles under his belt from 2015, it’s hard to look further than Sean Lee when it comes to leaders and impact players for the Cowboys 2016 defense.

CB Orlando Scandrick

While it was Lee that missed all of 2014, veteran cornerback Orlando Scandrick missed all of this past season with a torn ACL and MCL of his own – suffered in Oxnard during training camp.

While he had just 2 interceptions in 2014, the absence of Scandrick could still have been a big reason why this Cowboys defense was so starved for turnovers in 2015. As an emotional and spiritual leader, Scandrick does whatever is asked of him on any given Sunday for this Dallas secondary, while elevating the play of everyone around him.

The Cowboys have decided to roll into a fifth consecutive year with Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr as their projected starting outside corners. With Orlando Scandrick added to this mix, Rod Marinelli’s secondary has some continuity that could lead to consistency when it comes to playing sound coverage and taking the ball away in 2016.

CB Morris Claiborne

Speaking of Morris Claiborne, it will be interesting to follow exactly what this team gets from the battle-tested corner this season. Claiborne’s first four years with the Cowboys on his rookie deal certainly did not live up to the expectations placed on him when Jerry Jones traded up to the 6th overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft for the LSU product.

After struggling through his first three seasons, Claiborne seemingly miraculously figured things out for himself as a NFL defender in 2015. His campaign was good enough to earn him a new “prove-it” deal for 2016, where Claiborne has reportedly added some more weight to his frame for the season after doing so before 2015 with success.

Claiborne needs to not only focus on building his own consistency this season, but can work on inspiring others around him to play their best football for this Dallas defense.

Cowboys Headlines - Who will Lead the Cowboys Defense in 2016? 2

DT Tyrone Crawford

We opened this article talking about the Cowboys inability to get to Aaron Rodgers with their pass rush, which brings us right to a hot topic for this current off season – the lack of established talent along the Dallas defensive line.

Even in week 5, when the team will welcome back Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence at defensive end, there is reason for concern when it comes to the overall effectiveness this defensive line can have in helping this team make a deep playoff run.

Crawford, although a quieter leader, has emerged as a veteran for this scrappy group – and should be in store for a dominant season. Crawford enters 2016 at full strength after being no where close to 100% healthy in 2015.

Not only does he have his full health and strength back, but Crawford will get to play next to free agent acquisition Cedric Thornton, as well as the likes of rookie Maliek Collins, David Irving, Jack Crawford, and Terrell McClain.

At times in 2014, it was evident that the Cowboys ball-control style of offense helped the pass rush come up with sacks that weren’t available in 2015. If that’s the case again in 2016, it will be in large part because of the interior push Tyrone Crawford can provide.


Who do YOU want to see step up as a leader for this defense in 2016? Let’s talk about it! Comment below to start the conversation, or take it to Twitter and find me @ShoreSportsNJ

You can also email me at sean.martin@insidethestar.com. 

Tell us what you think about “Who will Lead the Cowboys Defense in 2016?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Pleasant NJ, no we're not how you think we are. Host of "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. You may @ me: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Orlando Scandrick Talks Cowboys’ Disappointing Season on FOX Sports

Mauricio Rodriguez

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Cowboys Headlines - Forget the Triplets: Cowboys Need The Underrated to Shine in 2016
Ashley Landis / The Dallas Morning News

For better or worse, the Cowboys don’t even need to play football to be all over national TV. I guess it’s just part of being the one and only America’s Team. For the second consecutive week, Fox Sports had a Dallas Cowboys’ player on set for Fox’s “Undisputed.”

Just a week ago, Brice Butler made waves with some controversial comments that failed to make him look like a “great teammate.”

This time, Fox’s guest was Cowboys’ Cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Unlike Butler, I really think we should give Scandrick credit for being a very good teammate, and acting like one on his TV appearance.

Throughout the segment, it feels as if Orlando is being tricked into saying something against his teammates. Skip Bayless and Shannon Sharpe start bashing on Dez Bryant‘s performance and the fact that he should be replaced.

Of course, this is the kind of stuff fans in Cowboys Nation are thinking about. Heck, I really wouldn’t even mind if Dez isn’t wearing a star next season. However, I really disliked Butler’s comments when asked if he would’ve done a better job if given the same opportunities as Dez.

Scandrick’s responses were awesome though. When asked if he would defend Dez, he didn’t even hesitate.

“I don’t think he’s lost any confidence. He’s one of the most confident players I’ve ever been around. I think it can all be fixed. I think he just needs to get back to work and get back to the basics.” – Orlando Scandrick on Dez Bryant.

Scandrick also answered questions about what went wrong with the Cowboys this season by pointing out the fact they lost one of their best players because of a suspension, and some injuries. But he also said what’s been in our minds for a long time. When asked what was the biggest reason they struggled, he said some painful, yet truthful words: “We played some bad football against some very good teams.”

Later, he was asked about how Sean Lee’s absence affected the defense, he insisted they didn’t step up. At the end of the day, the NFL is a league in which you can’t be that dependent on a single player.

Sean Lee is an awesome player, but I think we’d all like to see this defense be a little less dependent on him.

Scandrick even had to defend Dak Prescott.

Dak was highly criticized after a sophomore season in which he struggled, alongside the entire team. But in the words of Orlando, we should “give him time.” Dak had a lot on his plate, but he made a lot of progress for the Cowboys.

You can listen to the entire interview here.

Orlando Scandrick’s time in Dallas may be coming to an end, especially with young guys like Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis taking over. He’s signed through 2019, so who knows; maybe we see him wearing the star for a bit longer.

“It’s always a possibility.” – Orlando Scandrick on potentially not returning to Dallas next season.

Even still, it’s nice to see him support his football team and his friends on a show which featured a non-starting Cowboys’ wide receiver taking shots against his team. Orlando Scandrick deserves an applause.

Tell me what you think about “Orlando Scandrick Talks Cowboys’ Disappointing Season on FOX Sports” in the comments below, or tweet me @PepoR99 and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!

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Dallas Cowboys

Should Cowboys Pursue Veteran Backup at Quarterback?

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys en Español: Cooper Rush
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys only have two quarterbacks under contract right now, starter Dak Prescott and backup Cooper Rush. With only three years of combined experience between them, one could argue that a veteran presence would be useful. Should Dallas make a veteran QB a free-agent priority in the 2018 offseason?

Of course, there’s plenty of other QB experience on the Cowboys staff. Head Coach Jason Garrett played professionally from 1989-2004, and started his coaching career with quarterbacks.

Scott Linehan has been coaching offense with an emphasis on the passing game for 30 years.

Kellen Moore, who is taking over for the departed Wade Wilson as quarterbacks coach, has played very recently and will bring a fresh perspective.

However, losing Wilson’s experience from the room, and the lack of any veteran player at QB, shouldn’t be dismissed.

Dak Prescott has said veteran Mark Sanchez — who was with Dallas in 2016 — was a major help during his whirlwind rookie season. Tony Romo enjoyed veteran advice from guys like Brad Johnson, Jon Kitna, and Kyle Orton throughout his playing career.

This isn’t to say Dallas would want to bring in a veteran to knock Cooper Rush down the depth chart. After a surprising preseason, Rush took the backup job from Kellen Moore and certainly has intriguing upside.

If the Cowboys were to add a veteran, that player would have to come in with the understanding he’s competing with Cooper and may not be guaranteed a job.

The good news is that it’ll be a buyer’s market for veteran quarterbacks this offseason.

Guys like Ryan Fitzpatrick, Josh McCown, and Matt Moore could all be available. Even a player with more pedigree, such as Sam Bradford, may have trouble finding starting work with many jobs taken among the NFL’s 32 teams.

Dallas could even consider bringing back Mark Sanchez, given his previous relationship with Dak Prescott. He only had a one-year deal with the Chicago Bears.

Given Prescott’s seeming durability, Dallas will likely only keep two quarterbacks on the 53-man roster in 2018 and for years to come. Because of that, they may be content to focus on Dak and Cooper Rush, and just get through the offseason with training camp bodies.

However, the case can certainly be made for adding another veteran player with the desire to teach to help these young quarterbacks develop. Prescott was not the same guy in 2017 that we saw as a rookie, and perhaps the absence of guys like Sanchez and Tony on the sideline had something to do with that.

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Why WR Coach Sanjay Lal is a Good Hire for Cowboys

Kevin Brady

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Why WR Coach Sanjay Lal Is A Good Hire For Cowboys

Yesterday, it was announced that the Dallas Cowboys will hire Sanjay Lal to be their new wide receivers coach. Lal spent 2017 with the Indianapolis Colts in the same position, but has made multiple stops around the NFL prior to joining the Cowboys staff.

Most recently and arguably most notably, Sanjay Lal was the receivers coach for both the New York Jets (2012-2014) and the Buffalo Bills (2015-2016). This means he coached on Rex Ryan’s staff for two different teams, with two very similar offensive philosophies.

Run the football.

As seen in the video below, Sanjay Lal has experience working as the wide outs coach for an offense with a run-first philosophy. He even says himself that their offense in New York was “ground and pound,” but notes that “without a pass game there’s no pound.”

Cowboys fans became all too familiar with the truth behind that statement during the 2017 season, as even solid efforts in the run game were rendered meaningless by their lack of explosion through the air.

Jets Nation Inside Camp: Sanjay Lal Mic’d Up

Jets wide receivers coach Sanjay Lal is mic’d up during training camp, and also discusses trying to play pro football before becoming a coach in the NFL.

A lot has been made of Sanjay Lal’s lack of 1,000-yard receivers during his time as a coach. The offensive philosophies of the teams which he coached for, however, show why this criticism is flimsy.

It’s quite possible the Cowboys will once again be without a 1,000 yard pass catcher this season, but if Ezekiel Elliott and the run game are clicking, and Dak Prescott is spreading the ball to different targets, this stat won’t mean a thing.

Lal was also the coach in Buffalo when Sammy Watkins had the best years of his career, including a 1,000-yard season.

During that stint he coached Robert Woods to productive seasons as well. Now Woods is a dangerous target for the Los Angeles Rams after being coached by Lal for multiple seasons.

These were also the same years that quarterback Tyrod Taylor was at his best.

While in New York, with the Jets, Lal’s most productive receiver was Jeremy Kerley, who finished with 827 yards in 2012 and 523 in 2013. What’s important to note here is that Kerley played as a slot receiver for much of his time as a Jet.

The Cowboys lacked any type of production from the slot in 2017, but maybe Lal can change that by getting the best out of Cole Beasley and Ryan Switzer, as he did with Kerley.

Bryan Broaddus on Twitter

Know that some believe he had a real shot to be an OC in this league one day. https://t.co/1s21w2jZGR

All indications from those “in the know” suggest Sanjay Lal is on his way to becoming an offensive coordinator soon. Many believe he has the smarts and the football IQ to command an offense himself, as soon as he gets the right opportunity.

Maybe that opportunity will come down the line in Dallas, where he can continue to coach within that “ground and pound” style, which he has done for many years while also implementing elements of his own passing game expertise.

Everyone has been critical of the Cowboys’ inability to bring in external hires, and to spark up new/creative offensive ideas. Lal has spent time among some of the smartest offensive minds in football.

Maybe he’s the man to bring in that outside creativity this offense seems to lack.

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