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Where Will Dallas Cowboys Search for “Fresh Ideas” Begin?

Sean Martin

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Where Will Dallas Cowboys Search For "Fresh Ideas" Begin? 5

Following a 9-7 season, the effectiveness of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff has once again come into question. Changes at head coach, offensive coordinator, or defensive coordinator have felt imminent on the heels of a 13-3 NFC East-winning campaign just a year ago.

Through the highs and lows this coaching staff again endured, and after clearing the air of reports surrounding the likes of WR Coach Derek Dooley's future in Dallas, Jerry Jones has all but reassured Cowboys Nation that Jason Garrett, Scott Linehan, and Rod Marinelli will still lead the Cowboys in 2018.

The Cowboys have also made it known that the coaching changes they do make will occur below Garrett and his two play callers, in an overdue admission of stubbornness.

Cowboys en Español: Dallas No Debería Jugar Con Sus Titulares VS Eagles

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott, HC Jason Garrett, and OC Scott Linehan

The first of these more minor changes became official yesterday, as Jason Garrett announced in his season-concluding press conference that TE Coach Steve Loney is retiring.

Mike Leslie on Twitter

No #Cowboys coaching decisions have been made by Jason Garrett or the front office, yet. The only change that is known - TE Coach Steve Loney is retiring.

Loney filled the shoes of long-time TE Coach Mike Pope in 2017, his first at this position for the Cowboys. He served as the Assistant OL Coach and as Senior Offensive Assistant in 2016.

There is, of course, a larger theme here.

With the lasting image of the 2017 Dallas Cowboys being a hard-to-justify 6-0 win in Philadelphia, Rod Marinelli's defense has earned rightful praise for their performance this season. The same cannot be said about Scott Linehan's "predictable" offense.

It comes as no surprise that this is where the Cowboys' ongoing search for new perspectives begins.

What we do know so early into this offseason process is that the Cowboys have at least backed Linehan's approach for QB Dak Prescott's third year.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Dak Prescott on Scott Linehan: "I have 120 percent belief in him, 200 percent belief in him. He [deserves] a lot of credit for my success in this league. Everything that I've done, teaching the game, breaking the game down...He means a lot to me.

Retaining Scott Linehan is a move to keep Prescott's successful support system around him.

After so many important voices to their rookie QB departed ahead of his 2017 slump, the Cowboys can justify keeping their play caller. Not only will Linehan remain in place at offensive coordinator, but WR coach Derek Dooley is considering jobs elsewhere in the NFL and NCAA.

This is a pretty strong indication of the confidence this organization has in Scott Linehan.

Where Will Jerry Jones' Promised Changes Come From?

As Linehan continues in the same role, with him again comes QB Kellen Moore -- who may be in consideration to change roles and join the offensive coaching staff. Should this be the most team-efficient way to keep Moore in support of Prescott, it is a smart move by the Cowboys.

mike fisher ✭ on Twitter

FishTips #Cowboys Coaching Carousel 5) Want evidence of Linehan shifting from hot seat to throne? Sources tell me he's already working to examine ways to fill some of the six spots on staff, and that practice-squad QB Kellen Moore is among the names to watch.

Current Cowboys QB Coach Wade Wilson is one of the Cowboys assistants on an expiring contract. He is reportedly considering his retirement after starting his coaching career with the Cowboys in 2000.

He has served in his second stint as the team's quarterbacks coach since 2007.

Where Will Dallas Cowboys Search For "Fresh Ideas" Begin? 2

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott with QB Coach Wade Wilson

This leaves RB coach Gary Brown as the only other coach on offense with an expiring contract that would entice change. This is not to say that any positions on this Cowboys staff below the "big three" are irreplaceable.

Yes, it was ultimately the constant uncertainty surrounding RB Ezekiel Elliott's status prior to serving his six-game suspension that will define this team's frustrating season. Short of Brown going rogue and calling plays for his RBs himself though, there is little reason to think that he won't return.

Where Will Dallas Cowboys Search For "Fresh Ideas" Begin? 3

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

Another area where the Cowboys' future looks bright is in their young secondary, where rookies Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie played major roles as starting CBs. This is still a Rod Marinelli defense in need of starting caliber players, but finding cheap talent to shine in his scheme this year was a great start.

The Cowboys will have another great opportunity to further their defensive depth at the NFL Draft.

Joe Baker has coached in this Cowboys' secondary since 2012, switching to safety coach in 2014 before being named the secondary coach in 2016. When Baker was promoted, Michigan secondary coach Greg Jackson was brought in to coach the team's safeties.

The contributions that both Baker and Jackson have made on this defense will be weighed by the Cowboys to decide who will lead this secondary into 2018.

Where Will Dallas Cowboys Search For "Fresh Ideas" Begin? 4

Dallas Cowboys LB Coach and Passing Game Coordinator Matt Eberflus

Also having a say in all of this is the widely respected Matt Eberflus, who has served as the Cowboys' LB Coach since 2011. Developing talent at LB ever since then for the Cowboys, Eberflus also became the team's defensive passing game coordinator in 2016.

He is another coach that denied an extension with the team last season, as his stock continues to rise around teams that may consider him for a Defensive Coordinator position.

Again, the Cowboys appear to be locked into Rod Marinelli in this position, something that hasn't stopped them from retaining Eberflus thus far -- a task that will remain a priority in Dallas.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

To summarize, the Cowboys' "fresh ideas" will come from a new TE coach along with potential replacements at WR, QB, RB, LB, CB, and S coaching positions. Whether or not this is enough to justify the level of consequence expected on a team that missed the playoffs following a season they reached it in for the second time in three years is entirely subjective.

There is plenty of time upcoming for every team in the NFL to evaluate their rosters and coaching staffs, as the Cowboys are already doing. Assessing the coaching talent that may be available is the most immediate way for the Cowboys to improve their outlook for 2018.

That is, if you're ready to buy into the Dallas Cowboys truly returning to where they want to go -- lacking an NFC Championship Game appearance since 1996 -- in year number nine of HC Jason Garrett.

Such is another offseason with America's Team -- so far.

Tell us what you think about "Where Will Dallas Cowboys Search for “Fresh Ideas” Begin?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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5 Comments
  • Guadalupe Chavarria Jr.

    2018 Dallas Cowboys Mock Draft: Updated 01/03/2018
    Final Mock!

    1)DT – Da’Ron Payne 6-2 320 Alabama

    2)LB – Jerome Baker 6-1 232 Ohio State

    3)OG – Isaiah Wynn 6-2 310 Georgia

    3)WR- Tre’Quan Smith 6-1 210 UCF 4.45

    4)CB – Adonis Alexander 6-3 196 Virginia Tech

    5)SS – Damon Webb 5-11 195 Ohio State

    6)DE – Cavon Walker 6-2 285 Maryland 4.78

    7)LB – Joel Lanning 6-2 235 Iowa State

    ** CFA – TE Jordan Thomas 6-5 280 Mississippi State
    *Sign Free Agent OT – Joe Staley 6-5 315 San Francisco 34 years

    • https://InsideTheStar.com Sean Martin

      I haven’t studied all of these guys yet, nor do I see this team breaking their mold to draft a DT at 19, but Payne would be a great pick. I personally wouldn’t wait until the third round to draft a WR either.

      Thank you for your response though, I will sure have my own mock drafts in the coming weeks!

  • Carlos

    Fire all coaches

  • boyscout

    If you do not recognize the real problems than all you are doing is moving the cups around in hopes of finding the coin in one of them. At the base of the breakdown on offense is you need at least one stud tackle on the right side and someone studly to back up tyrone when he is hurting. A stud guard where cooper is might help as well. You lost two on your “best” offensive line and did not fully address that. Fix that first. Then find more lee type player linebackers. You also need a home run receiver with speed size and hands for deep balls to open the field back up. But dak has to be able to throw those balls too. There are some ideas that will make a not great but pretty good coaching staff look like mvp and geniuses again……….well maybe mvp anyway. Oh also jason garrett and marinelli and linehan need to learn to make on field adjustments during games on the fly not just at halftime or after the game

    • https://InsideTheStar.com Sean Martin

      Thank you for reading. You are correct about a lot of things here. Seeing the offensive line get back on track as they prepare to play a full season with Ezekiel Elliott in 2018 would be the most foolproof way to improve this team. Finding another Sean Lee is a big ask, he’s a special player, but Jaylon Smith can be just as good when fully healthy – something he is close to. As of right now, my top need on this team is WR. Specifically, the kind you mentioned – a route runner that fits Dak’s strengths.

Player News

Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch’s Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion

Sean Martin

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Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch's Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion 1

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.

Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch's Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch

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.

LVE2

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.

LVE1

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.

Tell us what you think about "Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch’s Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Player News

Sean Lee: Time for the General to Surrender

John Williams

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REPORT: Cowboys LB Sean Lee to Miss Games with Hamstring Injury

“Football is a meritocracy,” said Tony Romo about this time two years ago. He’d just been told that Dak Prescott would remain the Dallas Cowboys quarterback, though Romo was deemed healthy enough to return to action. Well, the Cowboys face a similar situation with another rookie playing excellent football with a veteran on the sideline. The rookie is Leighton Vander Esch and the veteran is Sean Lee.

When Romo stepped aside he issued the words that have become synonymous with who Tony Romo is, “Football is a meritocracy.” As sad as it is when it comes to the end of a player’s career, the time has come for General Lee to wave that white flag as a full-time player in the NFL.

Lee has been one of the best linebackers in the game during his tenure with the Dallas Cowboys, but has always been limited by his body’s inability to stay healthy. In most seasons, the Cowboys haven’t had an adequate replacement for Lee on the depth chart and that led to disastrous outcomes like the Green Bay and Los Angeles games in 2017.  Most years, we’d sit around for weeks telling ourselves, “if the Cowboys can hang in there until Sean Lee gets back, then they’ll be alright.” 

That all seems to be over now. The Dallas Cowboys finally have a player on the depth chart who can adequately, and perhaps more than adequately, replace Sean Lee’s production at the weak side linebacker position in Vander Esch. You don’t have to be a film grinder to see that the 19th overall pick has become a difference maker for the Cowboys and someone you can’t take off the field. He’s the future, but he’s also proving to be the now at WILL for the Dallas Cowboys and the coaching staff as well as Sean Lee need to recognize that. 

Vander Esch has two interceptions in the last two games, won defensive player of the week for his play against the Philadelphia Eagles. Per Pro Football Focus, Vander Esch is second in the NFL among linebackers in tackles and fourth in the NFL in stops. 

He’s been one of the best players on the team this season and shouldn’t come off the field, even for an All-Pro like Sean Lee.  

So the coaches have a difficult decision to make, but with the Dak Prescott-Tony Romo decision as a template, it’s not really a difficult decision. 

It’s time for Sean Lee to take a step back. He’s a leader on the defense whether he’s on the field or on the sideline. He’s a huge asset to the linebacker room in-game preparation, and he can still make plays for you when asked to do so. Lee, however, doesn’t need to see a full-time compliment of snaps when he returns unless we see a drop off in play for Leighton Vander Esch. Vander Esch’s play and Lee’s body are telling us that the time is now to make the transition to life on defense beyond Sean Lee.

Lee is still an important player to have around and he’ll get some snaps, but the WILL linebacker spot needs to be Leighton Vander Esch’s moving forward. 

Because, after all, “football is a meritocracy.” 



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Game Notes

Ezekiel Elliott’s Excellence Elevates Cowboys in Road Win

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: El Reto VS Texans, Porque Bryant No Volverá

For the first time this season the Dallas Cowboys have won back to back games moving to 5-5 on the year with a 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons in a game that they had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive. The defense was the story for most of the game, forcing the Atlanta Falcons to kick four field goals before allowing the game-tying touchdown with less than two minutes to play. The offense had trouble getting going until they leaned heavily on their star running back, Ezekiel Elliott.

Elliott, who went over the 200 total yard mark for the second time this season and the fourth time in his career was dominant in the second half, getting hard-fought yards en route to his fifth 100 yard game of the season.

Elliott averaged 5.3 yards per carry, on 23 carries, but was also the leading receiver for the Dallas Cowboys. Ezekiel Elliott on the day caught seven passes on eight targets for 79 yards as well.

The Cowboys first touchdown drive was reminiscent of who the Dallas Cowboys were in 2016. That season, and seemingly rarely since, the Cowboys would go on these long 10-15 play drives in the second half of games and take control of the game.

On Sunday in Atlanta, they did it again.

Trailing 6-3 in the second half with the defense playing an excellent game, the Cowboys went on a 14 play drive for 75 yards that took nearly eight minutes off the clock. It was a huge drive to give the Cowboys a lead and to give their defense a much deserved rest.

On that drive, Ezekiel Elliott saw the ball seven times and set the tone picking up several first downs that helped set up Dak Prescott's four yard touchdown run that took the lead. After Leighton Vander Esch's interception on the ensuing drive, Elliott once again made a huge impact taking the ball twice for 31 yards including the 28 yard touchdown run that put the Cowboys up 19-9 with a little more than 12 minutes to play in the game. And on the final drive of the game, Ezekiel Elliott caught a pass and picked up a first down just inside Falcons territory.

Over the last two weeks, you can see a big difference in the effectiveness of the run game. Elliott spoke about Amari Cooper being one reason they've had more success in the run game.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Ezekiel Elliott on Amari Cooper: "It's just one more guy they have to worry about. It seems like he kind of was the missing piece, just because when he got here this offense started rolling. It's great having him. He's a phenomenal player. He's going to have a great future here.

Amari Cooper's presence is a big reason for the offense and you can tell they've been a more complete offense the last two weeks. The addition of Cooper puts more stress on a defense in the passing game. Like Elliott said, he's a player that has to be accounted for, making his and the offensive line's jobs easier.

The play of the offensive line has also been really good the last two weeks since Marc Colombo took over as offensive line coach and coincidentally Xavier Su'a-Filo was inserted into the starting lineup for an injured Connor Williams.

Whatever the reason, Ezekiel Elliott seems to be on an upward trajectory.

Ezekiel Elliott is now averaging 129.4 total yards per game, which sits right at his career average heading into the 2018 season. He's on pace for 1,524 rushing yards, eight rushing touchdowns, 545 receiving yards, and 3 receiving touchdowns. The touchdown totals are down from his career pace, but he's still on pace for 2,000 total yards this season. If the last two weeks are any indications, that pace could see a huge bump in the second half of the season.

NFL Research on Twitter

Since entering the NFL, Ezekiel Elliott has: * 17 games with 100+ rush yards * 24 games with 100+ scrimmage yards * 4 games with 200+ scrimmage yards * 3,567 rush yards The one similarity between these numbers? Elliott leads the NFL in each since 2016 #Cowboys

If you needed a singular note to tell you how great Elliott's been for the Dallas Cowboys, that's the one. It's amazing that Elliott leads the league in all of those categories including rushing yards considering he sat out six games last season and had a game where he rushed for only eight yards against the Denver Broncos in week two of 2017.

And then there’s this one.

NFL345 on Twitter

@dallascowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott had 201 scrimmage yards and a TD in the team's Week 11 victory. Elliott (4,540 scrimmage yards & 32 TDs) became the third player in @NFL history with 4,500+ scrimmage yards & 30+ TDs in their first 35 career games.

The two other players to accomplish that feat were Eric Dickerson and Edgerin James. That’s some legendary company.

Ezekiel Elliott is a big-time player for the Dallas Cowboys and someone who they can lean on the rest of the season. If the Cowboys are going to make the playoffs it will be because the run game continued to play at a high level, which opened everything else up for the offense. While many people will tell you that running backs don't matter, Ezekiel Elliott certainly proved on Sunday that he matters.

And if you watch opposing defenses on Sunday's, they act like Elliott matters. Like Sunday, Ezekiel Elliott will continue to be a threat each week and big things are coming for him and the Dallas Cowboys.



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