The Dallas Cowboys are currently leading the NFC East division with a 7-1 winning record through their first eight games of the 16 game season. Yes, that means that we are officially at the midway point of the 2016 season.
It's funny how time flies when your team is winning. It is the complete opposite of what we all experienced last year during the miserable 2015 season.
So far, the 2016 season for the Dallas Cowboys has been an enjoyable roller coaster ride that has fortunately had more ups than downs. Let's just all be hopeful that they can carry this impressive performance all the way through the second half of the season as well.
Since the Cowboys are officially halfway through their season, I thought it would be a good idea to share with you who I believe should receive mid-season awards.
Please feel free to agree or disagree with any or all of my choices.
It would be easy to say that Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott has been the offensive MVP so far for the Dallas Cowboys, but their transition into the NFL has gone smoothly in large part due to the Cowboys offensive line.
It may be cheating a little bit, but I'm going to make this a group award and name the entire O-line for the Cowboys as MVPs.
The Cowboys have invested heavily in the offensive line and it is paying off big time. They are opening up running lanes for Elliott, as well as keeping Prescott upright with their pass protection.
Honestly, I don't know what more you can ask of them.
Defensively the Dallas Cowboys have performed better than anyone could have possibly predicted through the first half of 2016 season. They have yet to allow a 100 yard rusher or a 100 yard receiver.
That's pretty impressive considering that they only have one Pro Bowl player on the defensive side of the ball. That would be none other than linebacker Sean Lee, my defensive MVP.
To date, Lee has 77 tackles and is on pace to finish the year with 150+ tackles. If that is the case, you can bet he will earn his second trip to the Pro Bowl. Of course, that all depends on if he can stay healthy the entire season.
I thought it was worth mentioning that Morris Claiborne was a strong consideration. He has been playing like one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL. The time of his injury is truly unfortunate.
There been quite a few surprises halfway through the 2016 season, but I don't think anyone could have guessed Cole Beasley would be the leading wide receiver for the Dallas Cowboys.
Beasley may be one of the smallest receivers in the entire NFL, but he is making a big-time impact on the field for the Cowboys offense.
Beasley's best year in the NFL was in 2015 when he caught 52 passes for 536 yards and five touchdowns. Through eight games this year he has already caught 43 passes for 499 yards and four touchdowns.
If he can keep this up, he will be close to doubling his 2015 production and will finish the year as one of the best wide receivers in the entire NFL.
Being a huge Tony Romo fan, the most disappointing thing for me this season was seeing him get injured once again in the third preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks.
Don't get me wrong, Dak Prescott has been phenomenal the first part of the 2016 season, but Romo is still the better QB of the two.
I'm not going to sit here and speculate about what the coaching staff should do once Romo is back to 100%, but I do believe that he makes this offense better.
I would love to see what he could do with this dominant running game to help him out. He had his best season in the NFL in 2014 when they followed the same type of blueprint.
Unfortunately, it will remain a mystery for now though.
Rookie of the Year
Honestly, how can I go wrong choosing either Dak Prescott or Ezekiel Elliott?
Both players have been among the best at their respective positions in the entire NFL, and that is good news for the future of the Dallas Cowboys.
I decided to give the mid-season Rookie of the Year award to Ezekiel Elliott though.
Although Prescott has been playing above anyone's expectations, Elliott gets the nod because not only is he leading the league in rushing yards, but is on pace to break Eric Dickerson's rookie rushing record.
Elliott has been everything the Cowboys had hoped for when they drafted him #4 overall and is a HUGE reason why they have only lost one game through the first half of the 2016 season.
Who would win your Mid-Season Awards for the Dallas Cowboys?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to share with all of us your thoughts and opinions on this topic.
Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?
Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.
Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire
In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.
But in reality, is there?
For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.
The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.
First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.
The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.
In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.
Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?
Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.
That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.
Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support
Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.
According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.
A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:
“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”
Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.
As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:
“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”
While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.
The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.
Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.
Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch’s Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion
The Dallas Cowboys know what they're doing when it comes to the NFL Draft. Not to be outdone by Philadelphia, the Cowboys brought the 2018 Draft to AT&T Stadium, marking the first time the event's been held in an NFL stadium. This made Boise State Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch the first player to be drafted on the field he now calls home. Returning home this week after two straight interceptions against the Eagles and Falcons, Vander Esch is far from the controversial pick that drew jeers inside AT&T Stadium on draft night and every bit the star the Cowboys projected him to be.
The ascension of Leighton "Wolf Hunter" Vander Esch as one of the best young linebackers in the game has happened rapidly. LVE played eight man football in high school, tasked to do everything on both sides of the ball before settling into defense as a walk onto the blue turf.
For the first time in what seems like forever, the Cowboys have more than just a plan to play defense without Sean Lee. Thanks to their 19th overall pick they're thriving as one of the best units in the league, making Lee an afterthought.
Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have changed the entire makeup of the Cowboys defense, two young and athletic linebackers that should be roaming the middle of the field for a long time in Dallas.
This is exactly what LVE was able to do on his interceptions of both Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan. Vander Esch defending well against the pass is probably the least surprising part of his development, as his coverage skills always overshadowed his strength against the run in college.
It just so happens that Vander Esch tallied 63 tackles in eight games before recording his first career interception, establishing himself as an all-around linebacker with no true weakness. Vander Esch has played with the power and block shedding ability that matches his sideline to sideline range and instincts, as opposing offenses have done little to slow the Cowboys new leader on defense.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
This is Vander Esch's first interception, which set up a Cowboys field goal against the Eagles. Watch as Leighton reads the eyes of Wentz through the play, first angling towards his check down throw and then gaining depth to intercept the pass.
The subtle yet effective movements from Vander Esch to undercut Wentz's throw is a fine example of how quickly LVE has picked up on Kris Richard's defense, as well as the next level game speed.
Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.
Sunday's interception from Vander Esch was the type of game breaking play the Cowboys needed to separate from the Falcons in hostile territory. Although the Falcons would rally to tie the game after this point, the Cowboys defense became the first to hold Atlanta under 20 points at home this season, thanks in large part to LVE as always.
The smoothness from Vander Esch on this play is exceptional, stepping up into coverage against the running back before sprinting back in position for the turnover. Calvin Ridley, drafted seven picks after Vander Esch, helps Leighton by letting Ryan's pass go through his hands.
Give Vander Esch credit for being in the right place at the right time and finishing the play. Every week, the rookie finds a way to do something memorable, and in helping the Cowboys earn their first two road wins of 2018 he finally flashed in pass coverage.
The next challenge for the Cowboys defense comes on a short week, against the division leading Washington Redskins. Though they lost starting Quarterback Alex Smith for the season on Sunday, expected to start Colt McCoy on Thanksgiving, it was Running Back Adrian Peterson that gashed the Cowboys for 4.13 yards a carry and 99 total yards in the Redskins week six win over Dallas.
Given what not only Leighton Vander Esch but the rest of the Cowboys defense has shown against the run in recent weeks, all without David Irving and most recently without either Antwaun Woods or Daniel Ross, the Cowboys should certainly be prepared to play for first place in the NFC East on Thursday.
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