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Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017?

Sean Martin

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Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017?

The Dallas Cowboys’ defense is set to look entirely different than it did a year ago, with all of the buzz on Rod Marinelli’s side of the ball being generated by young and exciting draft picks like Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Xavier Woods, or Marquez White.

The Cowboys’ rookie class of 2016 performed so well that the seemingly bold proposition of expecting all these new starters – especially in the secondary – to gel together instantly is warranted. Helping in these young player’s transition will be some defensive centerpieces like Sean Lee and Byron Jones.

With LB Sean Lee being a finished product in terms of his development and sustainability, and Byron having also already taken great strides with his game at FS, the question of “who will actually be the Cowboys’ most improved defender this season?” is a fascinating one.

My Pick: Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins

Maliek Collins, Redskins

DT Maliek Collins (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

Interestingly enough, my decision for this spot came down to two players at the same position – with Maliek Collins beating out veteran and second-year Cowboy Cedric Thornton. Going with a true second-year player reinforces the youth movement for Dallas defensively, and Maliek Collins is set up for a monster season.

Collins emerged as a third round pick to become the Cowboys’ starting three technique in 2016, effectively leaving the highly paid Tyrone Crawford without a position. This 3T spot is the focal point of Rod Marinelli’s scheme, so finding a younger and more athletic starter there this past season was hardly a negative.

Tyrone Crawford ended up moving to LDE as Collins took hold of the 3T DT spot, a position that I now expect to be filled in 2017 by first-round pick Taco Charlton. This means that the penetrating and rangy athlete in Collins will have even more opportunities to flash playing alongside some rotation of Crawford, Thornton, FA addition Stephen Paea, and eventually David Irving.

All of these tackles should be terrific compliments to Collins, as they’ll technically be lining up as the one technique next to Maliek – yet all have the ability to get into the backfield and make plays.

Collins logged more snaps than any of the Cowboys’ defensive linemen last season, making up quickly for the time he lost during OTAs and training camp recovering from a broken foot. An injury that was once thought to likely limit Collins’ rookie contributions, the Nebraska product translated his college game to the next level with ease.

Beating guards with quickness and power comes easy for Collins, who has taken full advantage of a healthy offseason so far by reportedly continuing to make plays in practice, even against the best guard in football Zack Martin.

When it comes to areas of improvement for Collins in 2017, I’d like to see Maliek transition into his counter moves faster to cleanly beat blockers and chase down plays. The down-the-line efforts from Collins certainly weren’t a problem in his rookie campaign, but there were enough snaps where #96 was around the ball but getting stacked up or turned thanks to his initial get off being held inside.

Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017? 1

(Paul Spinelli via AP)

To even be talking about a very technical refinement like this for a second-year defensive linemen that will be entering his first training camp with the Cowboys is an amazing feat, especially considering Maliek Collins’ draft status.

The Dallas Cowboys’ pass rush may not improve vastly this season, but they certainly have no shortage of athletes at all four positions now, led by a natural and developing 3T DT in Maliek Collins.

Tell us what you think about “Who Will Be Cowboys Most Improved Defender in 2017?” 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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5 Comments
  • Dustin Harweger

    I’ve got to go with the g.o.a.t Jeff Heath. He should finally get his chance to start and fully show his ability. Even tho his snaps will be fewer than Maliek or even Byron (due to heaths ST snaps) I believe he will show he belongs and develop into a playmaker and star for this Defense. I can’t wait!

    • https://InsideTheStar.com Sean Martin

      This is a really good pick actually, Dustin. Like you, I am fully expecting Heath to take a big step up and not only earn the snaps he deserves but make the most of them by helping this entire secondary make more plays on the ball. Going to be a lot of fun, thanks for reading!

      (If you’re interested, I wrote more on Heath as well right here: https://insidethestar.com/cowboys-properly-evaluate-jeff-heath-offseason/)

  • John Williams

    I agree with you Sean. Maliek will be the force we’ve been looking for in the middle since the witch to the 4-3.

    My honorable mention is Anthony Brown. His 2016 has me psyched for 2017.

    • https://InsideTheStar.com Sean Martin

      I legitimately think Brown doesn’t have many areas that he needs to improve on, he’ll only need to repeat his 2016 performance to do his job. Which is why I went with Collins. Love the honorable mention though.

      • John Williams

        Yeah, I agree with Collins, but also think he showed a ton in the second half of 2016. He even has me interested in seeing him and Crawford line up next to each other on passing downs to get the best out of their best 3-techs.

Star Blog

Should Cowboys Be Concerned About Ezekiel Elliott Long-Term?

Brian Martin

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Should Cowboys Be Concerned About Ezekiel Elliott's Future?

It’s funny how quickly some players are able to establish themselves as professional athletes and grow their fan base. That is exactly what Ezekiel Elliott has done in just a little over a years time since becoming a member of the Dallas Cowboys. Unfortunately, given his current situation, it’s that fan base that might be starting to turn on him a little and doubt his long-term future in the NFL.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you are fully aware of the six-game suspension the NFL slapped Ezekiel Elliott with based on nothing more than accusations of possible domestic violence. Right or wrong, guilty or innocent, it happened and there is no taking it back. But unfortunately, because of the suspension Elliott will now have to walk the straight and narrow if he wants to have any kind of career in the NFL.

I honestly don’t think Ezekiel Elliott is a bad guy, but the slightest slip up will more than likely put his career in jeopardy. It doesn’t matter how big or small the infraction, the NFL has already decided they are going to make an example of him.

RB Ezekiel ElliottFrom here on out, Elliott is going to have to live like he is under a magnifying glass. Any kind of slip up, big or small, will likely cause the league to suspend him an entire season. This unfortunately has been weighing on the minds of a lot of Cowboys Nation and has to be at least a little bit concerning for the Cowboys organization.

You see, the Dallas Cowboys have Elliott under contract for at least three more years after this season. He has already proven how important he is to the offense and how much production dips without him in the lineup. They absolutely want him on the field because he makes them better. But, any kind of slip up would pretty much erase one of those three years. Look no further than what has happened with Randy Gregory.

I’ve heard many fans voicing their concerns about Ezekiel Elliott’s long-term availability with the Cowboys. They are afraid Elliott’s immaturity will end up getting the best of him and Zeke unfortunately has done nothing to ease those concerns so far.

I for one am not all that concerned about Zeke’s future in the NFL. I think his six-game suspension has served as an eye-opening experience and that he will do better from here on out to put himself in better situations and surround himself with better/more trustworthy people.

Dak Prescott, Ezekiel ElliottYou can see anytime Zeke is on the field his passion for the game and how much he enjoys it. I don’t think he’s going to put something he cares so much about in jeopardy. But unfortunately, he already has a bull’s-eye on his back and can’t afford to take a misstep. That will without a doubt put his future career in jeopardy.

I personally can’t wait to see how #21 responds when he is able to suit up once again next week against the Seattle Seahawks. I think he is going to play with a chip on his shoulder and run angry. That is the best way he can stick it to the league for suspending him based on accusations and another reason why I’m not concerned about his future in the NFL.

I know if it was me, my mindset would be to turn myself into the best player possible and once again become one of the more popular athletes in the league. That is about the only way he can say “F U” to the league, and I think that’s exactly what he will do.

Are you concerned about Ezekiel Elliott long-term?

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Star Blog

A Cowboys Win vs Giants Can’t Be Taken For Granted

Mauricio Rodriguez

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A Cowboys Win vs Giants Can't Be Taken For Granted 1

The Dallas Cowboys are coming from a bounce-back win versus the Washington Redskins in which they blew out their divisional rivals 38-14. The New York Giants are coming from a week in which Head Coach Ben McAdoo and General Manager Jerry Reese were fired. The former is 6-6, and the latter is 2-10. You tell me which organization is getting the W this Sunday.

Easy, right? Well, no. Not really.

All week long, most of Cowboys Nation has been taking this win for granted. Understandably so, since New York is only a two-win team. However, this is certainly one of those games with a “trap game” feel to it.

It wouldn’t be the first time we see a football team being led by a new coach to a surprise victory. Hell, we saw a very similar situation when Jason Garrett debuted as the Cowboys interim head coach in 2010… against the Giants. 

 Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee, New York Giants QB Eli Manning  Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

On top of that, you have Eli Manning back at the wheel after he was benched for Geno Smith a week ago. Even though the guy who made that decision is out of the picture, you have to imagine the veteran quarterback will go out to play with a chip on his shoulder.

And if we’re being completely honest with ourselves, this Cowboys’ team still has a lot to prove. Let’s not forget the fact that they lost three consecutive weeks. That’s why we´re trying to find which NFC teams need to lose certain games. Because the Dallas Cowboys put themselves in this position.

Dak Prescott is the future for this franchise, and despite having some tough games this year, I still believe he’s the guy. However, as Staff Writer Kevin Brady recently wrote here at Inside The Star, Dak Prescott must overcome his struggles when facing the Giants:

“Prescott played his worst game of that spectacular rookie season when he traveled to East Rutherford, New Jersey as the Cowboys prolific offense was only able to score 7 points during their key loss.”

Although they have a 2-10 record, the Giants’ defense shouldn’t be underestimated. They still have personnel that can give the Cowboys’ offense a bit of trouble, especially without Ezekiel Elliott running the ball.

Sean Lee should be ready to go this week, and while many discuss whether or not the coaching staff should give him an extra week of rest, the truth is that’s something the Cowboys can’t risk to do. At the end of the day, lose one game and forget about playing in January.

You need 50 on the field. If at some point in the second half they manage to get a big-lead, securing a win, then let’s hope they take him off the field and let the guy rest. But until then, Sean Lee should be playing.

Will Chidobe Awuzie's Return Benefit The Cowboys Defense?

Dallas Cowboys’ Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Woods (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Dallas is expected to start three rookies at cornerback. Jourdan Lewis, Chidobe Awuzie and Xavier Wood could be the guys who line up to start the game in New York. Naturally, this is the case because they’ve proven to be solid players.

But it’s inevitable to be a bit scared of this situation when you’re facing Eli Manning. Say what you want about him, but you never know what might happen when a player like that is on the other side of the field.

I’m picking the Cowboys to win this football games for at least a touchdown. But let’s not think of this game as if it were the Browns. If this ends up being a trap game and the Cowboys manage to get their seventh loss of the year, it’s over.

We’re 14 weeks into the season and it feels like we don’t know what this team is capable of doing with Sean Lee, Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott starting at the same time. But this week will prove a lot of things about the Cowboys and their quest for the Playoffs.

Tell me what you think about “A Cowboys Win vs Giants Can’t Be Taken For Granted” 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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Star Blog

Week 14 Playoff Projection: Cowboys Still In Striking Distance

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys en Español: Dak Prescott #14 Según los Jugadores, ¿Realmente Lo Es? 1

The Cowboys are one of three 6-6 teams still hoping to find a way into the NFC playoffs. Even if they win out and get to 10-6, they will need help based on tiebreakers and the superior records of the teams ahead of them.

Last night, Dallas’ hopes took a kick in the teeth when the Atlanta Falcons defeated the New Orleans Saints. Atlanta not only moved to 8-5 but also holds a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cowboys, making them a major threat in the Wild Card race. The Falcons need to start losing, fast, for Dallas to have a shot at overtaking them.

Atlanta’s not the only team that Dallas should be concerned about, though. Here are the current NFC playoff standings, including last night’s result:

  1. Minnesota Vikings (10-2)
  2. Philadelphia Eagles (10-2)
  3. Los Angeles Rams (9-3)
  4. New Orleans Saints (9-4)
  5. Seattle Seahawks (8-4)
  6. Carolina Panthers (8-4)
    ————————————–
  7. Atlanta Falcons (8-5)
  8. Detroit Lions (6-6)
  9. Green Bay Packers (6-6)
  10. Dallas Cowboys (6-6)

TIEBREAKERS

  • The Vikings are ahead of the Eagles thanks to the common game tiebreaker, since they are both 8-1 against NFC opponents.
  • Seattle (6-3) is ahead of Carolina (4-4) thanks to a better record in NFC games.
  • Detroit has a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Packers and a common games tiebreaker over the Cowboys.
  • Green Bay has a head-to-head tiebreaker over the Cowboys.

With the Falcons’ win over New Orleans already in the books, here are the other playoff-relevant games for the NFC in Week 14.

Dallas Cowboys @ New York Giants

This is the easiest game let on Dallas’ schedule (assuming Philly doesn’t rest starters in Week 17). The Giants will have a new coach and have changed back to Eli Manning as the starting QB. Will they be galvanized by these changes or only in even greater disarray? We certainly hope for the latter.

Green Bay Packers @ Cleveland Browns

At 6-6 and with Aaron Rodgers potentially returning next week, the Packers are looming as a real threat. They have the head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas from a win earlier this year. The hapless Browns winning this one is certainly faint hope, but it’s still Brett Hundley out there at QB instead of one of the league’s MVPs.

Detroit Lions @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The other team in the 6-6 tie, Detroit needs to go away. The Bucs are 4-8 and a non-factor now, so we can root for the pirate people without hesitation.

Minnesota Vikings @ Carolina Panthers

The Panthers are another key target for us in the Wild Card race. Minnesota should run away with the NFC North, so they’re a non-factor for Dallas’ concerns. A Carolina loss is clearly better for Dallas, dropping the Panthers to 8-5 and within reasonable range with three weeks left to go.

Philadelphia Eagles @ Los Angeles Rams

Last week, Dallas fans were put in the unfortunate position of having to root for the Eagles against the Seahawks to help our playoff chances. We’re back in that same boat this week as a Rams’s loss would be more damaging for the Cowboys than Philly losing.

Because L.A. has a head-to-head tiebreaker over Dallas, our best bet is for them to win the NFC West and stay out of our way. We have a much better shot at catching the Seahawks, especially since we get to play them in Week 16 when Ezekiel Elliott returns.

Seattle Seahawks @ Jacksonville Jaguars

So yeah, as just said, the Seahawks are one of the teams we have the best chance of beating out for a playoff spot. Last week’s win over Philly hurt, but a road loss against the 8-4 Jaguars is certainly possible and would go a long way to helping our cause.

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