Dallas Cowboys Season Preview

A Sophomore Slump Isn’t Inevitable

With everyone’s eyes on Ezekiel Elliott, the Cowboys are the talk of the NFL right now. But for the wrong reason. Now that he’s likely to play the full season, they’ll be talking about the Cowboys at the end of the season- but for the right reason. As the Cowboys head into this season, they turn their focus toward repeating as NFC East champions, and as the one seed in the NFC. But the goal isn’t the same. It’s to make it a step further. To avoid a miraculous Aaron Rodgers throw. And most importantly, to avoid another early playoff loss. Dallas may not be able to repeat last season’s regular season record, but they’re in the same position, and they have the talent to compete with the NFL’s best. So forget about a sophomore slump. But don’t forget you’re watching the beginning of a new era in Dallas.

Key Off-season Losses

CBs Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne: Two of the Cowboys main contributors on the outside left for the AFC this offseason, as Carr went to the Ravens and Claiborne went to the Jets. Neither cornerback was a standout for Dallas, but their departures left Dallas without depth in the secondary, and created a need for cornerbacks in the draft and free agency. Luckily, Dallas wasn’t dependent on their playmaking skills, as each had only one interception last season. Losing two starters at cornerback is never easy, but the two are replaceable, considering Dallas was 26th last season in passing yards allowed per game.

SS J.J. Wilcox and Barry Church: In free agency, JJ Wilcox went to Tampa Bay this offseason and Barry Church went to Jacksonville. This rounded out the key losses in the secondary for Dallas, as they were left with few cornerbacks and safeties. Church led the team with two interceptions last season, but neither is as valuable as Byron Jones, arguably the most versatile defender on the Cowboys; because of how they stack up against other Dallas defenders, the two are replaceable. Church spent part of his offseason badmouthing Dallas, claiming the Jaguars have more talent than the Cowboys. I’ll believe it when Jacksonville wins more than 5 games, something they haven’t done since 2010.

OLs Doug Free and Ronald Leary: Dallas suffered a few hits this offseason, losing multiple players at the same position. Luckily, Dallas can easily re-group from the offensive line changes. Free retired this offseason after starting all 16 games last season at tackle, wrapping up season number ten in the NFL. Leary, on the other hand, went to Denver this offseason after starting 12 games at guard. This group still has Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick , and now a healthy La’el Collins. The offensive line is the last of the Cowboys worries.

Key Offseason Additions

CB Nolan Carroll: The Cowboys didn’t go out of the NFC East to make this addition, as they needed cornerback depth. Coming through free agency, Carroll helps add depth to a secondary that needed to replace four contributors. Carroll wasn’t great in Philadelphia, but the Cowboys saw his improvement last season and needed some consistency on the outside. Carroll defended ten passes last season and added one interception. He won’t stand out in the Cowboys defensive unit, but he’ll give defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli some help.

G Jonathan Cooper: Dallas lost two starters from the offensive line last season, but found enough bodies to re-shape arguably the best line in football. La’el Collins came back healthy and is taking the RT spot, leaving only the LG up for grabs. Cooper was the favorite to win the job in the preseason, and has seemed to do enough to get the start Week 1. Cooper is a great find for Dallas as he fills the remaining hole on the line, but his inconsistency may lead to Chaz Green or someone else getting snaps at that position over the course of the season. No matter who gets the start Week 1, Green’s injury past and Cooper’s experience might give him some favor down the line, even if Green plays the majority of Week 1.

DE Taco Charlton: Dallas’ number one weakness last year- and possibly this year too- was the pass rush. Dallas addressed that need in the first round of the draft, taking Charlton to help get speed off the edge. They’re being patient with him, but expect him to blossom into an every down rusher. Dallas is expecting Tyrone Crawford back from injury before Week 1, so they should have everybody ready to go on the defensive line this season once David Irving (4 games) and Damontra Moore (2 games) come back from suspension. Charlton isn’t likely to dominate opposing offensive lines, but he’s a great addition in the rotation of defensive lineman in Dallas. And he’s a hopeful project for the future.

Other Additions: S Robert Blanton  (FA), CBs Chidobe Awuzie (Round 2) Jordan Lewis (Round 3), S Xavier Woods (Round 6), WR Ryan Switzer (Round 4), QB Cooper Rush (undrafted)

Cowboys’ Strengths

Offensive Line: Dallas has the same strength they’ve had the past few years: the offensive line. Losing two starters is never easy, but La’el Collins returns from injury- and would’ve likely been a starter last year- and Chaz Green and Jonathan Cooper have both been good enough to fill in the final guard spot. With Ezekiel Elliot likely to play the season, and two 1000 yard rushers behind him on the depth chart, this line will be able to produce another great rushing season. And while the run blocking is spectacular, the pass blocking its job too, allowing minimal pressures on Prescott. The Dallas backfield will yet again stay clean.

Linebackers: This might be more of a prediction, but Dallas has a shot at having a great linebacker rotation. With Pro Bowler Sean Lee anchoring the defense, Dallas has consistency and production. Justin Durant is familiar with the system, and Jaylon Smith is back and ready to play. He might face a snap count early in the season, but Dallas may have found a second round gem in Smith if he returns to his prime form from Notre Dame. Once Anthony Hitchens comes back from injury, Dallas could have a defense that yet again over-performs, and it’ll be led by its linebackers.

Running Back: They have three backs who have ran for a thousand yards. Enough said.

Cowboys’ Weaknesses

Pass Rush: Dallas has never been atrocious at stopping the run, but they always rank toward the bottom of the league in passing defense. The cornerbacks might be a problem, but so is the pass rush. Dallas has a number of defensive lineman, all who will be rotational players, at least at the beginning of the season. Dallas addressed that need in the draft, but more importantly, they’ll need to prove it on the field. If the Cowboys can get to the quarterback more often, the season will look much better, as other teams won’t be able to throw for 300+ yards each week. But the pass rush is still a glaring weakness on a defense that hasn’t been spectacular.

Cornerbacks: Notice the trend of weaknesses on defense. Dallas has plenty of cover corners, yet none stand out. Scandrick may be the most consistent, but is more of a slot corner, so the outside coverage is still shaky. Bringing in Norman Carroll and drafting more bodies at the position won’t necessarily help, but it won’t hurt. It’ll be tough to sit through another season of bad pass defense, but it’s more likely than not. With more bodies, but less experience, the Dallas secondary will have an interesting look in the beginning of the season.

Prediction

The Cowboys play a first place schedule (Seahawks, Packers, and Falcons), the AFC West (Broncos, Raiders, Chargers, Chiefs), and then have to tackle their own division, one looking like it could have two, or maybe three playoff teams. This is not an easy schedule, but Dallas will likely hold up well. They won’t repeat last season’s record, but they won’t come up too short either. Dallas will likely finish around the 9-7 range, and potentially could miss the playoffs. They have few easy games this season, but don’t count out a strong record and another division title.

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The Julian Edelman Injury Will Further Prove Tom Brady’s Greatness

Don’t think Edelman’s injury will change the season outlook in New England

Forget Brady vs Belichick. Forget Deflate-gate. Forget all accusations ever leveled against the Patriots. Let’s just sit back and watch, because Tom Brady has proven time and again that he is the greatest quarterback in NFL history. Maybe not morally, but statistically. And for those who doubt him, or consider him a cheater, Brady will re-assert his greatness this season as the Patriots will flourish yet again, but this time without starting wide receiver Julian Edelman.

Edelman suffered a torn ACL in his right knee in Friday’s preseason game against the Lions, and his 2017 season is confirmed to be over. Edelman is the team’s number one wide receiver, and had 98 receptions last season on 159 targets. New England added Brandin Cooks this offseason, along with Rex Burkhead and Mike Gillislee, so there’s no shortage of talent in New England, who already have a top passing offense in the NFL. Bringing back Gronkowski and other wide receivers will give the Patriots options when throwing this season. Losing Edelman is a big blow, but with Brady, the Patriots can flourish no matter who goes down.

Tom Brady has one undeniable great characteristic: he makes everyone around him much better. Gronkowski is arguably the only natural talent that Tom Brady can work with at this point in time, as he was a second round pick out of college and is a naturally gifted athlete when measuring his size, strength, and speed. Looking through the contributors in the passing attack, there were little expectations for the players who have grown into household names. Edelman was a seventh round pick. Hogan was undrafted (and was actually a lacrosse player in college). Amendola was undrafted. And Malcom Mitchell was a fourth round pick. In the backfield, Dion Lewis was a fifth round pick and James White was a fourth round pick. Of the new additions (Cooks, Burkhead, Gillislee), only Brandin Cooks was drafted before round five. Yet, the Patriots still are at the top of the NFL year after year offensively.

Brady has a great track record of turning low level draft picks into consistent offensive contributors. He even fits that description himself, being a six round pick who gained playing time only due to injury. So now that we’ve settled the situation of who Brady has to work with, we can analyze his greatness. At age 40, Tom has shown no signs of slowing down. He’s rarely dealt with receivers who have been considered some of the best in the league, and he’s rarely had a single featured running back. Brady’s always ran offenses that feature many players. Both big names and unknowns have thrived with Brady, and his production levels have never dipped. And yes, he has five Superbowl rings to prove it.

Who will replace Julian Edelman? 

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There’s no real answer to this question. No receiver has the same chemistry with Tom Brady. No receiver has the exact same skill set as Edelman. But New England will find players to cover for his absence.

Reports coming out of New England say Chris Hogan won’t be in line to exactly “replace” Edelman, but he’s likely the next man up. Hogan serves as a more effective deep threat than the other Patriots receivers, so it’s unlikely he’ll take Edelman’s slot position, but it’s very likely he’ll be on the field more often. The most likely player to step into Edelman’s role is Danny Amendola. After seasons plagued by injuries, Amendola has settled down in New England and filled a slot role in the offense.

Hogan will likely stay New England’s number one deep threat at wide receiver, and many of his targets come 21+ yards down the field. Don’t be surprised if Hogan and Brady connect on deep balls as well as more passes underneath. Amendola, on the other hand, has never seen more than 90 targets in New England. If healthy, Amendola could see upwards of 100 targets and reach a level he played at with he Rams a few years back. Both will receive more targets in the offense this year, but only Amendola will lineup where Edelman was so effective. But, the truth is, everyone is a beneficiary of the Edelman injury because of how well Brady spreads the ball around.

What’s the Patriots ceiling without Julian Edelman?

I shouldn’t really have to answer this question. As long as Brady is under center, the Patriots are a Superbowl contender. He won last year without Gronk, so there’s no reason he can’t win without Edelman. I’m not trying to downgrade Edelman’s value in New England. He’s a great wideout, and the best one the Patriots have. But if you think his injury will derail the Patriots season, you are underestimating Brady’s ability to win with whoever is out on the field.

Photo Credits: SB Nation

What does Roger Goodell’s Extension Mean for the Future of the NFL?

A New Five-Year Extension for Roger Goodell Might Keep Him in the NFL Longer than Necessary

Roger Goodell stands alone amongst all NFL employees when looking for someone to blame for all that is wrong in the sport of football. He is at the heart of every controversy and every decision, and because of it, he has become a target for both fans and players. Goodell has served as NFL commissioner since 2006, and he has had his highs and lows like any professional sports commissioner, but receives (and welcomes) more hate than any other commissioner.

Goodell’s power is questioned after every decision, and fans wonder what the NFL would look like without the him. The hatred Goodell endures is ubiquitous, and could not have been more apparent the last few seasons, as fans have begun to call the NFL the “No Fun League”. Yet, the NFL is reportedly nearing a five-year extension with Goodell that will last him through the 2024 season, keeping him through the expiration of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Barring a few minor setbacks, football will persevere through seven more years of Goodell. He has been booed. He has been protested. And most importantly, he has been hated. But Goodell will make the big decisions of the future. And it is our responsibility to question whether that is best for the NFL.

How have past decisions undermined Goodell’s legitimacy?

Roger Goodell has always received backlash for the way he’s handled many situations and for the decisions he’s made regarding controversies and suspensions. For years, fans have complained about the harshness (and lack of) when looking at Goodell’s decisions, whether they pertain to player celebrations, domestic violence, marijuana, or any other policy dispute. Goodell receives criticism for his on-the-field rules regarding touchdown celebrations and the legality of hits. But where he takes most of the heat is on his treatment regarding off-the-field issues.

Beginning with domestic violence, Goodell’s decisions have been all over the place. But we can be sure about one thing: Goodell hasn’t punished it harshly enough to further deter it. Back in 2014, news and a video of Ray Rice hitting his wife in an elevator had surfaced, and the NFL had to hand out consequences while also taking into consideration its public image. No organization or business looks good with criminals, so the NFL and Goodell began to search for a solution. The decision was a fairly lenient one, as Ray Rice was suspended for 2 games. In August of 2014, the NFL admitted its mishandling of the situation, and would institute a benchmark of a 6 game suspension for domestic violence. Rice, after being dropped by the Ravens, was suspended indefinitely by the NFL (and eventually reinstated) but he would never play another down of football. Goodell just couldn’t get this one right on the first try. He mishandled the first decision and over-compensated to fix it. Fast forward to 2015, and Goodell had to deal with Greg Hardy. Another player accused of domestic violence, Hardy saw a ten game suspension be cut down to four games. Goodell showed leniency in this case as well, putting Hardy’s suspension two games under the set benchmark. And most recently, former Giants kicked Josh Brown had an incident pertaining to domestic violence in the beginning of the 2016 season. The Giants made a well-received move by cutting him, but Brown only received a one game suspension. But in the latest case regarding Ezekiel Elliot, Goodell stuck to the benchmark, and it seems that he’s been able to figure out how these situation should be handled. It’s easy to see Goodell’s wrongdoings, because in the past, he repeatedly under-delivered on promises to crack down on those accused of domestic violence, and deservingly was criticized for it.

Goodell’s lack of consequences for Rice, Hardy, Brown, and others were only some of the reasons for Goodell’s tainted reputation. Goodell recently struggled with coming to a decision on Deflate-gate, and was again criticized for the time it took to make the decision and for how the situation was handled. Goodell suspended one of the league’s biggest stars for 4 games on circumstantial evidence. It wasn’t necessarily the suspension that was the problem, but rather the process. His credibility was questioned as the Patriots were upset with how the investigation was handled, and Patriots owner Robert Kraft, who has a great relationship with Goodell, was outraged. The mere fact that Brady was willing to take the NFL to court proved that the legitimacy of the NFL being judge, jury, and executioner should be questioned.

Goodell’s final main area of concern is marijuana. The NFL has held its ground on its strict anti-marijuana rules, and has levied ruthless suspension against players for smoking. Take Josh Gordon for example. His first drug offense earned him a two game suspension, but his second offense sidelined him for ten games (originally a season-long suspension, but was appealed and reduced). His third offense then knocked him out for an entire season. Gordon is no doubt a repeated offender, but originally getting a year-long suspension for a second drug offense seemed beyond harsh. Again, there’s a common theme: lack of consistency.

There’s no doubt we can question Goodell’s power, as he sits on a throne with ability to make decisions without limitations. We question this rightfully so, because Goodell’s decision making has been inconsistent and erratic, and his behavior has, on occasion, been inexcusable. This week, DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA, claimed Goodell lied to the player’s union. And an image of a lying commissioner is not a good one for the image of the NFL. Goodell has made plenty of poor decisions in his past. And while he’s owned up to them, he can’t erase the fact that the fans don’t have confidence in him to make the right choice.

With Ezekiel Elliot’s suspension, is Goodell taking steps in the right direction?

The NFL can’t change the past, but it can look toward the future. The unusual leniency or ruthlessness of punishments can change, and Goodell can enhance the league’s image by punishing wrongdoers as we look down the line. Goodell’s latest big decision- regarding America’s Team- looks to be a step in the right direction. For the first time in a big, media-covered case, Goodell has stuck to the suspension benchmark. He’s showed no signs of backing down yet, and the NFL seems to be standing its ground on committing to harsher consequences for future wrongdoers. He used facts and evidence to make an informed decision. While the process took longer than most expected, Goodell has stood by the decision, which has been especially encouraging considering it pertained to a team in which his relationship with the owner is great.

Goodell’s punishments never seem to fit the crime. But for the first time, he has begun to understand the significance of sticking to a benchmark. He isn’t pitying Elliot, and he isn’t over-suspending him. This decision has more far-reaching implications, and if he can finally get it right, it may be a sign of a better future for the NFL. In fact, it’s a great sign that Goodell has held his ground on this situation. Let’s hope the step in the right direction isn’t a one-time occurrence.

Is Goodell actually bad for the league?

Even in the darkness surrounding Goodell, the NFL seemingly hasn’t been hurt (yet). Goodell has done a good job improving the safety of the players. Moving the kickoff up five yards has eliminated many kickoff returns, and in turn, lessened the number of high speed collisions. His rules protecting defenseless players and eliminating hits to the head have reduced the number of concussions. He’s increased the streaming options on NFL games, and has given fans better access to their respective teams. He’s put games in London and Mexico to increase international interest in the NFL. He’s even appeased the fans by exploring the idea of shortening the preseason. Goodell is  great for the popularity of the NFL. In fact, since taking office in 2006, the NFL’s net revenue has nearly tripled according to the Forbes. Roger Goodell runs the NFL like a business, and a very successful one to say the least. When it comes down to it, the NFL’s popularity has surged with Goodell at the helm, and the owners still seem to have no problem with him in charge. So we have to ask ourselves: Is it really as bad as we think?

 

Photo Credits: Bleacher Report