At this midseason point in the 2018 season, you might be wondering how some of your Dallas Cowboys are faring in the races for NFL awards and Pro Bowl spots. I thought we'd take a moment today to assess their positioning now and what some could do the rest of the way to improve it.
Before we get to the contenders, though, let's just take a moment to eliminate some from the discussion. While there may still be half a season to go, some of these awards are clearly out of reach for our team.
For example, the awards for MVP and Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year aren't going to any Cowboys in 2018. Even Ezekiel Elliott is trailing behind Todd Gurley at his own position, and those offensive awards usually go to quarterbacks anyway.
On defense, we have a lot of solid performers but nobody who's really standing out. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't had the same high volume sacks of this year, and he was probably our only shot at the DPOY award.
Two years after being the Coach of the Year, Jason Garrett is hardly in the running now. Some thought he might win the "First Coach Fired" award a few weeks ago, but the Browns settled that one earlier this week.
And unlike last season, when Jaylon Smith had a great case to be the Comeback Player of the Year, no Dallas players really have that story in 2018.
But enough with the negative.
Defensive Rookie of the Year: LB Leighton Vander Esch
He isn't the front-runner right now; that would be Colts rookie LB Darius Leonard. But Leighton is in the hunt for this award with his strong player so far in 2018.
Leonard had been more of a playmaker, adding four sacks and three forced fumbles to his high total of 88 tackles. He's one of the best linebackers in the NFL right now, rookie or otherwise.
If Darius were to get injured or have some other drop in production, though, Leighton isn't too far behind. He has 54 tackles currently and has been praised more than once for his presence in the middle of the field. He's been able to fill in the shoes of Sean Lee surprisingly well.
But Lee is coming back now, and that may be a deterrent to LVE's chances at the award. Less time on the field means less chances to make plays.
What's more, Darius Leonard is far from the only competition. Safeties Derwin James (Chargers) and Jessie Bates (Bengals), cornerback Denzel Ward (Browns), and LB Tremaine Edmunds (Bills) are also putting up strong numbers in starting roles.
So no, Leighton isn't probably getting this award. But at least he's in the conversation, which is more than most Cowboys can say this year.
Pro Bowlers: Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin
DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Brett Maher
Last year, only five Cowboys made it to the Pro Bowl. This season could be even less based on the current numbers.
Some guys have little to fear. Ezekiel Elliott should return this season, missing last year's Pro Bowl only thanks to Roger Goodell's shenanigans. Even though he's almost 200 yards behind Todd Gurley in rushing, Zeke is still the second-highest in the NFC and the league as a whole.
Zack Martin and Tyron Smith will probably get their annual invites. Cowboys offensive linemen have always had an edge in Pro Bowl voting thanks to the size of the fanbase. But if the team really tanks the rest of the way, that could change.
Even though he's not as hot as last year, DeMarcus Lawrence is still in the mix for the Pro Bowl. His 5.5 sacks this season is sixth-best among NFC players right now. There are generally six spots for defensive linemen on the team.
Even though he's been great this year, Byron Jones will need some interceptions to get the votes among other cornerbacks. His reputation isn't strong to make it without the stats, but if he gets some picks soon then he could be in the conversation.
Lastly, Brett Maher isn't unreasonable to make it as the NFC kicker. Along with the strength of the Cowboys fans voting for him, his 16-of-18 is a strong number thus far. Only Mason Crosby (Packers) and Aldrick Rosas (Giants) have made more field goals in the conference.
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It shouldn't be a surprise that a team with a 3-4 record isn't looking too good right now for end-of-year accolades. And of course, we care way more about the wins and losses than any of these awards.
But as fans of the team, we always like to see our players' names in lights. Hopefully, more Cowboys step up the rest of this season both for their own recognition and the good of the team.
REPORT: Cowboys WR Michael Gallup Out 2-4 Weeks After Knee Surgery
Two games into a seeming breakout season, Dallas Cowboys Wide Receiver Michael Gallup will now be out for the next 2-4 weeks after having surgery to repair a torn meniscus. He suffered the injury late into the Cowboys' victory over the Washington Redskins yesterday.
An MRI revealed the extent of the injury today. There were hopes that Gallup had only suffered a contusion, but unfortunately he will be out at least a couple of games after requiring this minor knee procedure.
Gallup is the team leader in catches (13) and receiving yards (226) after the first two weeks of the 2019 season.
Sources: #Cowboys promising WR Michael Gallup is having arthroscopic surgery to trim his meniscus, knocking him out 2-4 weeks. No structural damage besides the meniscus tear, so the return should be quick.
The Cowboys still have Amari Cooper and Randall Cobb as a strong starting duo. They also hope to get Tavon Austin back this week after he was inactive in Washington with concussion issues.
Gallup's absence could be big for Devin Smith, who had a 51-yard touchdown catch against the Redskins and should see more work in the coming weeks. It also may prompt Dallas to keep prospect Cedrick Wilson, just called up from the practice squad a week ago, on the 53-man roster a while longer.
Despite this depth, Michael Gallup will still be missed for however long he's out. Hopefully he can return on the quick side of the projection and keep his 2019 momentum going.
Robert Quinn Returns; How Will Cowboys Make Room on Roster?
Defensive End Robert Quinn, who the Cowboys traded for during the offseason, will make his Dallas debut this week after serving a two-game suspension to start 2019. To add Quinn to the 53 for Sunday's game against the Miami Dolphins, the Cowboys will need to make some kind of move to create a roster spot.
The question now is how Dallas makes that room. Who winds up leaving the team this week to create that spot for Quinn?
Ideally, the Cowboys will be able to find a trade partner for the disgruntled Taco Charlton. The former 1st-Round pick has been targeted for a while now, and trade rumors have intensified after Taco's been inactive for the first two games of the regular season.
Unfortunately, the goal of moving Charlton before Quinn comes back is something the rest of the NFL is also aware of. If a team does have interest, why trade for Taco now when you can potentially just claim him off waivers in a few more days? The Cowboys are the ones with the deadline.
Trading Taco, or releasing him if a trade doesn't materialize in the next few days, is the most logical solution here. It not only get Charlton out of Dallas and fresh start somewhere else, but it all takes place within the defensive end position. One DE out to make room for another; makes sense, right?
But let's say that the Cowboys aren't ready to just lose Charlton for nothing, or aren't satisfied with the trade offers they get. Could they elect to hang on to Taco and create that roster spot some other way?
If that's the case then the move will likely come at another position on the roster. Dallas isn't going to part with any other young prospects at DE like Dorance Armstrong or Joe Jackson. They also may have just lost DT Antwaun Woods for a while with a knee sprain coming out of the Redskins game, so the Cowboys won't like losing any additional defensive line depth right now.
The easiest move would be cutting Cedrick Wilson, who was just added last week off the practice squad. Dallas called Wilson up for punt return duties while Tavon Austin recovers from a concussion.
Assuming Austin is able to come back this week, Wilson's release is the simplest way to create a roster spot. It buys Dallas time and leverage in handling the Taco Charlton situation and doesn't force their hand.
One x-factor here is how Michael Gallup's knee is doing after yesterday's game. If there's any thought that Gallup might need a week off, especially with the hapless Miami Dolphins on the schedule, perhaps Dallas wants to keep Wilson for one more week for WR depth.
I think the Cowboys would be fine going with just four receivers in Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, and Devin Smith if they have to. But if there is a reason that they want to hang on to Cedrick for this week, that would mean looking elsewhere for a roster spot.
Another option could be on the offensive line, where Dallas is currently heavy with ten total linemen and two guys who've been inactive in both regular season games. Backups Adam Redmond and Brandon Knight haven't suited up against New York or Washington, so there is a certain level of expendability there.
Dallas went long on OL depth this year due to concerns about Zack Martin's back and the 2020 free agency of Joe Looney and Xaver Su'a-Filo. They didn't want to risk losing either Redmond or Knight from the practice squad.
But with the season now well underway, the Cowboys may feel more confident in being able to move one of those prospects and slip under most teams' radars.
A final area to consider for a roster move is safety. With Darian Thompson and Donovan Wilson both returning from preseason ankle injuries, Dallas now has five total safeties in addition to five cornerbacks.
The Cowboys have have always intended to keep this many total defensive backs, but it's more than they usually have in previous seasons. The general feeling at final cuts was that Kavon Frazier kept his job due to the injuries to Thompson and Wilson, and his time on the roster might be short-lived after they got healthy.
Frazier is a strong special teams player but hasn't ever broken through on defense, and his rookie deal expires at the end of this season. Assuming that Donovan Wilson is able to fill the void on kickoff and punt coverage, Kavon becomes another expendable player this week.
Again, the ideal move will be to find a new home for Taco Charlton and make the easy swap within the defensive end position. Robert Quinn comes in, boosts the first-team talent, and increases the depth via ripple effect.
But as we just illustrated, the Cowboys have other options beyond dumping their former 1st-Round pick. They could find a roster spot at receiver, safety, or on the offensive line and then keep looking for Taco trade partners for the next several weeks.
Time will tell, and ultimately the player lost is probably someone who wouldn't have been active this week or most weeks to come. Just don't assume it's going to be Taco Charlton; there are still plenty of ways this could go.
However it shakes out, we're just glad to finally see Robert Quinn out there and hopefully improving the Cowboys' pass rush.
The Brady Report: Cowboys Offense Dominant Despite Slow Start
The Dallas Cowboys followed up their dominant performance last week with yet another blowout divisional win on Sunday, defeating the Washington Redskins 31-21.
While the Cowboys controlled the game for much of the last three quarters, they actually got off to a slow start in Washington. Once again they fell behind to a lesser team 7-0 early, before scoring on nearly every possession to finish off the game.
Let's get into my game notes from the Cowboys' week two win.
- We have to start these game notes by talking about Dak Prescott. The Cowboys franchise quarterback was incredible for the second straight week to open this season. Despite the early interception, Prescott continued to look poised and calm in the pocket, allowing him to deliver a dime to Devin Smith for the team's first touchdown. Prescott was picking apart the Redskins secondary during the final three quarters to the tune of 269 yards and three touchdowns. Plus, he was very effective as a runner, including his dynamic 42 yard run on third down and one with the game still tied. If Dak is going to play like this, the Cowboys can beat anyone.
- Ezekiel Elliott looked a lot more comfortable Sunday than he did against the Giants. Not only were his raw numbers better, rushing for 111 yards and a touchdown, he was back to his ways of falling forward and avoiding the first tackler. He still didn't really explode the way we all know he can, which means opposing defenses should be scared when considering what the Cowboys offense's full potential could be.
- Which receiver didn't ball out Sunday? Michael Gallup seems to be developing an awesome rapport with Prescott, Amari Cooper continues to prove he's a legit WR1, Randall Cobb was once again effective on swing passes and in the slot, and even Devin Smith had himself a monster game. If Devin Smith is going to be the speed deep threat he was against Washington, look out.
- Ok, now that I've congratulated the majority of the offense, let's talk about the one guy who I'm sure would've liked to have a better day. Left guard Connor Williams. The second year guard was solid overall Sunday, but was abused by Daron Payne from time to time. Most notably, Payne went right through Williams both to force Prescott's interception and on the only sack of the game. Williams has to be better going forward, because he is the clear weak link across this dynamic offensive line right now. Luckily, as a whole, this line has been very good through two games.
- Defensively, things could've gone better for the Cowboys. While a lot of the production through the air came through garbage time, Terry McLaurin was still too effective down the field. Chris Thompson was also getting too much YAC against these defenders. Anthony Brown had a rough day in the slot, missing multiple tackles and not being too great in coverage either. Jourdan Lewis, however, did have himself a good game in limited snaps. Both he and Byron Jones made impressive open field tackles on third downs.
- The Cowboys run defense stepped up from a week ago. The tackling of their front seven overall improved as the game went on, and they held Adrian Peterson to just 25 yards on the ground. Part of this was because of how quickly the Cowboys got to their 21-7 lead in the third quarter, but they were solid nonetheless.
- Dallas' pass rush will benefit greatly from Robert Quinn's return next week against Miami. DeMarcus Lawrence created a couple big pressures on Sunday, but Quinn's presence should help free him up a bit to create more of a consistent pass rush.
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