Cautious optimist or stubborn curmudgeon? Half full or half empty? Building momentum, or just teasing?
Where do you stand? I'm still fuzzy on the whats and whys, but I’m leaning positive as I peck away right now.
Amidst a sudden urge to run and a surprising ability to play make-believe defense here and there, our Cowboys remain a mystery wrapped in an enigma inside a puzzle.
Hardly the only NFL team shrouded in questions – hello Packers, 49ers, Saints, Bears, Colts, Broncos, Ravens, Lions, and Patriots – the Cowboys seem unable to jump off the 8-8 treadmill. I believe it’ll happen this season, but I’m not sure if they’re headed for the stairmaster or the trap door. Something’s gotta tip this thing one direction or the other.
I think three looming games will do just that, this weekend against the Saints, and two weeks later in Seattle, wrapped around a you'd-better-win game against Houston.
No, that doesn’t mean Dallas has to beat both New Orleans and Seattle to be real. In fact, the Cowboys don’t have to beat either, although a split would be advisable. It's critical that Dallas belongs in both games for this season to be anything more than a dress rehearsal for 2016.
There's reason to be optimistic, and here’s why.
The best addition this off-season wasn’t Zack Martin or Rolando McClain. It was Scott Linehan, and not just because he calls running plays. Linehan didn’t call running plays in Detroit because the Lions weren’t that good at it, much like the Cowboys for so long. Garrett, too, would have run more this year because, as he’s stated, it doesn’t require smoke and mirrors to do so like before. This offensive line can block however you want now, and to either side without deception.
What Linehan brings is a tempo to his play-calling and a different look to his playbook. Romo isn’t perched in the shotgun nearly as much, and when he is, there’s a newness and multiplicity to what develops from there. Play-action from under center is much more of a staple, too, which is extremely effective with DeMarco Murray pounding away as he has.
Linehan also isn’t hesitant to feed a beast his food. Much like with the aptly named Megatron, Linehan will wear Dez out with the ball if it’s there. Forget balance and spreading the ball around. If it’s working, do it. Can’t stop Murray? Here he is again. Can’t cover Dez? Prepare for a blitzkrieg of footballs that direction.
As we go on, I hope Dunbar, Escobar, Beasley, Williams, and even Witten become a bigger part of the offense. But first, somebody’s going to have to stop Murray and Dez because Linehan won’t stop until they do.
The other side of the ball remains a chemistry lab, and Rod Marinelli's juggling Bunsen burners as fast as he can. It isn’t great, but it’s a much tastier concoction than that slime we fought through last year.
The defense needs edge rushers in the worst way, and Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Lawrence can’t get here quickly enough. It needs consistency, and it’s obvious that coaches are growing impatient after Mo Claiborne was unceremoniously told he’s fighting with Tyler Patmon for the fourth corner spot. I suggest J.J. Wilcox take careful notice.
Concerns flow through the linebacker corps, which is going through what the defensive line did last year with musical chairs in the M*A*S*H unit. A healthy Rolando McClain, Justin Durant, Bruce Carter, and Kyle Wilber would calm the storm quite a bit.
Special teams continue to shine on the leg of Dan Bailey and the stylish locks of Dwayne Harris. Where would this thing be without those guys?
So this begs for a prediction, so here goes. I have a good feeling about Sunday night and a Cowboys win, and if that pans out, I also feel like Dallas will play well in a loss in Seattle. An ugly game Sunday would hint of an 0-3 run, but I don't see that happening. The key is to get to 4-2 with three home games to follow, and the season will head in the right direction from there; 3-3 doesn’t bode well going forward with a heavy road schedule waiting late.
My optimism lies in the starkly different approach of Linehan, which helps Marinelli and the defense. My pessimism comes from multiple and repetitive blind-folded kicks to the groin in recent years. Injuries, of course, will have a mighty say in it all.
The season truly begins Sunday. Dallas 31, New Orleans 30.
Tony Pollard is Just What the Doctor Ordered in Dallas
The Dallas Cowboys have what many believe to be the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott. However, you can never undervalue the importance of depth at any position. When the fourth round of the 2019 NFL Draft came around, the Cowboys added another weapon to the backfield by selecting Tony Pollard out of Memphis.
If you’re looking for a dynamic player maker with the ability to take it to the house at any given moment, Pollard is your man. The former Tiger averaged a touchdown every 13 touches in college. That’s an absolutely insane statistic when you think about it. He also tied an NCAA record with seven kick returns for touchdowns. Long story short, he can get you six points at the blink of an eye.
The versatility in his game is outrageous and undoubtedly the reason why he was drafted. In addition to running for 941 yards on 6.8 yards per rush, he also had 104 receptions for 1,292 yards. New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has to be salivating about the possibilities with his new toy. Having a running back that can not only carry the load as a runner but also line up at receiver keeps the defense honest. You never know what angle the offense is going to come from.
This has to be a sigh of relief for Ezekiel Elliott. Now, the Cowboys don’t have to overexert him and can bring Pollard in on third downs if need be. Not just to give Elliott a breather but to change the pace of the offensive attack. You can hand the ball off, throw it to him or run jet sweeps when he is on the field. This sets up a potential combo at running back that could be the leagues very best shortly.
Speed, quickness, and agility are all wrapped up in the Tony Pollard package. The Cowboys now have a running back that can line up at multiple positions if need be. Also, this prevents a lot of unnecessary wear and tear on the body of Ezekiel Elliott. This combination has all the potential to set the NFL on fire in 2019.
CB Byron Jones Not Expected To Return Until Week 1 Against NYG
Coming off what was clearly the best season of his career thus far, Cowboys cornerback Byron Jones underwent surgery to hopefully fix a nagging hip injury.
While he earned both his first All Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 2018, his first season as a full-time cornerback, Jones still has a lot to prove in the upcoming season. Some still criticize him for his lack of interceptions, and there's no doubt his stellar play slowed down a bit towards the end of the year.
I'm willing to wager that the slight decline had a lot to do with his hip troubles, but nonetheless he must come up with his elite level play once again to earn himself a nice contract somewhere in 2020.
Oh, did I forget to mention it's also a contract year for Byron Jones? As it is for so many important Dallas Cowboys, it seems.
So when will Byron Jones be able to return to the Cowboys' lineup? Well, the initial date reportedly set by Jones and the team was late July, giving him a chance to practice and play a bit before the season opener in September. But, according to the Team Site this week, that date may be pushed back a bit, and we might not see Byron Jones until that season opening game against the Giants.
"As for Jones, all along the Cowboys have been targeting his return for the season opener, but hopefully at that. So, don’t expect to see much of Jones in training camp, and if so, certainly no more than individual and walk-through drills." - Mickey Spagnola
Ultimately, as long as Byron Jones is good to go when the regular season starts, that's all that matters, but the fear of rust when Jones returns is a real one.
It's tough to go from no live football straight to the meaningful games, but if anyone would be able to do it it would be the guy with the freakishly athletic traits. The guy who can get out of the bed in the morning and set athletic records at the Combine.
And, of course, that guy is Byron Jones.
Dak Prescott: Calm Under Pressure
When the 2016 NFL Draft came around the Dallas Cowboys were in search of the heir apparent to Tony Romo. Unfortunately, coming off an injury-plagued 2015 season, Romo would find himself on the shelf again after suffering a broken bone in his back during a preseason game against the Seahawks. However, the Cowboys had an ace in the hole, in the form of Dak Prescott who they drafted in the fourth round.
The idea was the groom him for a few years before taking the keys to the car so to speak from Romo, but fate had another idea in mind. Prescott would be thrust into the starting lineup against one of the Cowboys most hated rivals to start the season, the New York Giants. Added to that, was the pressure of living up to Romo's stellar resume as the franchise's all-time leading passer. After struggling in a tough 20-19 loss, no surprise there for a rookie quarterback, Prescott began to take flight.
Over the next eleven games he wouldn't suffer a single loss as the Cowboys were sitting pretty at 11-1. What made this streak more impressive was the efficiency of Prescott. He threw 19 touchdowns and only 2 interceptions over that span. In the process, he set an NFL record for the most passing attempts to start a career without an interception with 176. This broke the previous record held by Tom Brady of 162. It didn't stop there, as he also set a rookie record for completion percentage (67.8), was named Offensive Rookie of the Year and was selected to the Pro Bowl.
The Cowboys would finish 13-3 and win the NFC East. With home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and the franchise only winning two postseason games in 21 years, Prescott was definitely under the microscope. After the offense struggled to produce points in the first half and fell behind 21-3, Prescott lead a furious comeback. Helping the team storm all the way back to tie the game at 28 and again at 31. He finished with 302 yards and 3 touchdowns in his first playoff start against future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. Even though the team lost 34-31, Prescott proved how much of a gamer he was as he basically went yard for yard and point for point with one of the NFL's elite signal-callers. It was clear the Cowboys were in good hands going forward.
2017 started off well as the Cowboys were 5-3 and firmly on pace for another playoff run. Unfortunately, All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott lost his fierce battle with the NFL over domestic violence allegations, and Dak along with the offense struggled. After a 9-7 season and falling one game short of a Wild Card berth, the pressure on Prescott heading into the next season was immense.
Once 2018 came about Prescott had more pressure than ever with Elliott back for a full season. After a slow 3-4 start the Cowboys traded for Pro-Bowl Wide Receiver Amari Cooper, providing the team with it's first true number one receiver since Dez Bryant. Putting even more expectations on Prescott to turn things around, and boy did he ever.
He would complete 71.6% of his passes in the final eight games of the season, and the Cowboys won seven to finish 10-6. Now, with another division title under his belt, came a playoff matchup with Super Bowl-winning Quarterback Russell Wilson.
Late in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys were hanging on to a 17-14 lead. They faced a 3rd and 14 inside the redone with just over two minutes left. After dropping back a few steps, Prescott scrambled for 16 yards setting up a first and goal from the one-yard line. The team held on for a 24-22 victory but here's why that scramble was so important.
If the Cowboys don't convert that 3rd and long that would've set up a field goal attempt. Assuming it would have been successful, that would've only put them up 20-14. Giving Seattle a chance to more than likely win with a touchdown and an extra point or two-point conversion. Prescott essentially won the game with that 3rd down run. Proving once again there's no situation he can't handle.
He's set an NFL record for completion percentage in the first three years of a quarterbacks career at 66.1 percent. No quarterback has won more games than him since 2016 except Tom Brady. No one has more game-winning drives than him since he entered the league. His 13 primetime victories are tops in the NFL over the last three seasons. Simply put, Dak Prescott is a winner and doesn't fold under pressure, instead, he embraces it. There are no bigger lights in the NFL than the ones that shine in Dallas. With those lights come huge expectations and pressure, and it's clear this young man is made of the right stuff to handle it.
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
5 Cowboys Players Who Could Steal Someone’s Job in 2019
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
How Chidobe Awuzie Could Help Solidify the Cowboys Safety Position
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Jason Garrett: It’s Time for the Process to pay off
Player News2 weeks ago
3 Reasons Why Byron Jones May Not be in Dallas Cowboys Future
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Dallas Cowboys 2019: Projecting Dak Prescott’s Production
Star Blog1 week ago
Forget “Slump,” OL Connor Williams Looking To Make Sophomore Jump In 2019
Star Blog7 days ago
The Ringer Names Byron Jones, La’el Collins As Potential Trade Bait
Player News2 weeks ago
Taco Charlton: The Next Step has to be Taken now