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Upon Further Review ~ The 2017 Dallas Cowboys

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Upon further review, my team, your team,  America’s Team and exactly how things shook out during 2017.  What went right and what did not.  “Grab your popcorn this is going to be entertaining,” – Terrell Owens.

The Dallas finished 2016 on a high note.  At 13-3 the expectations for this 2017 were Super Bowl or Bust.  The Cowboys boasted big talent with as many powerful weapons on offense as North Korea.

Something else that came with the 2016 success was a tough road to travel –  after being the NFC East Champions, the Cowboys were granted a champion’s schedule.

There were no easy games on the Cowboy’s schedule for 2017 and I was really hopeful that they would be up for the task at hand.  I still anticipated a ten win season and a run in the playoffs.

Training Camp

On review of the boys of summer, mini camps, training camp and the preseason, Dallas had a whole lot to look forward to and their biggest concern was the revamped secondary.

Dez Bryant and Dak Prescott would have all summer to develop the connection everyone expected with Dez once again healthy.  Dez made some tremendous grabs during the summer, showing nearly every one concerned, he was going to be back as an elite weapon.

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Rico Gathers was a crowd favorite at this time.  Gathers was spoken about by the media as the heir apparent to Jason Witten.  Gathers stole the show in the preseason.

La’el Collins took over for Doug Free at right tackle.  With most of a season and a full summer to perfect his craft, Collins became a bright spot, with his devotion to be the player we all expected.  La’el played through injury, some adversity and he did it was class.

Brice Butler and rookie Ryan Switzer had excellent summers.  Both of these receivers should have made major contributions to the offense.

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The secondary rookies who the Cowboys were dependent on left a lot of questions.  Both Chidobe Awuzie and Jordan Lewis did not have the start to the season they had envisioned, due to soft tissue issues.

Just before the roster is due to be cut down to 53 man roster, Kavon Frazier applied the wood to the much larger Rico Gathers causing a concussion that kept Gathers on the IR for the entire season.  I have always questioned this.

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I believe the truth is, Rico was not as polished as James Hanna, but leaving him on the practice squad would have forced Jerry Jones’ hand, bring him up now or have some other team steal him from our practice squad.

Some bombs were dropped in Texas last summer.  David “Dino” Irving would be suspended for the first four games for testing positive for “Performance Enhancing Drugs.”

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The league handed down one of its toughest suspensions yet, giving Ezekiel “Zeke” Elliott a six game suspension for a reported domestic situation that turned ugly.  Although Ohio found no evidence to the claim, Roger Goodell made up for the Ray Rice debacle.  Zeke’s legal team said they would fight this to the end, which would allow Zeke to play in 2017.  Goodell won and Zeke was forced into being away from his team for six games mid season.

Randy Gregory’s year long suspension, put this man’s future with the Cowboys in serious doubt.

The Season

The Cowboys opened with the New York Giants and won in winning fashion.  The second game of the season the Cowboys were exposed by the Denver Broncos.  Dallas’ offense played flat and vanilla.

The third game of the season had Dallas exposing the Arizona Cardinals in their own nest. It looked like our boys were back in the saddle and ready to take prisoners.

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Then came the Los Angles Rams followed by the Green Bay Packers.  The offense was good enough in both of these games; however, the defense was not.  The Cowboys scored 30 and 31 respectfully, but the defense could not stop either team.

The Cowboys won the next three games against the San Francisco 49’ers, the Washington Redskins, and the Kansas City Chiefs.

Little mentioned is the loss of Brian Price.  The defense took a step backwards when Price was injured and out for the season.  Give a healthy round of applause to Will McClay for bring in Datone Jones, also a former Packer.

The Cowboys vanilla offense was exposed in Zeke’s absence and the Cowboys lost the next three games only managing to mount up 22 points during that span.

The Cowboys needed to win out to reach the playoffs.  They beat both the Redskins and the Giants again , sweeping both NFC teams.

Dallas pulled out a close one in Oakland, defeating the Raiders 20-17.  The defense was balling out.  The new guys were getting it, forcing veteran Byron Jones to rest more than he expected.

Seattle came to town and the Cowboys defense stood its ground.  The defensive unit only allow 14 points, which would still not have been enough to secure a victory.  Dak and Dez gave the game away between bad passing and failure to catch the ball when targeted.  The Cowboy offense only managed 12 points at home and that was with Zeke in the line-up.

The finale sent Dallas to the most unfriendly place on Earth, Philadelphia.  The weather was so cold the majority of the Eagles boo-birds stayed at home leaving the stadium quite empty for the last game of the season.

Philly had won the East and home field advantage.  Dallas was determined not to get swept by their rival the Eagles. The Eagles sent the practice squad out to play in the cold after the first quarter.  Dak could NOT find Dez most of the game.

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Brice Butler had the only score of the game.  With full extension, Brice caught two Dak passes, in review, Butler was seriously underused all season, exception, the two of the last three games he missed with a foot injury.

Dan Bailey shanked an extra point and a 23 yard field goal.  In review, Dan lost his rhythm after his groin injury.  We all hope he returns to form next season.

Standouts

Special teams were outstanding all season.  Coach Rich Bisaccia did another fine/outstanding job with his teams.

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Next season, Chris Jones deserves to be a Captain.  His work ethic along with his kicking ability made him  standout.  I would not take “any” punter over Chris Jones.

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Ryan Switzer took a while to get his game going, but he did.  Look for more playing time next season for this kid.

Jeff Heath came in for Dan Bailey and was our place kicker for one game.  Heath made a believer out his teammates who doubted his story about winning his high school championship with a field goal.

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Jeff has devoted himself in the weight room, each off season, and it has really shown this season.  His versatility and sure tackling on defense and special teams made him invaluable in 2017.

5’10” rookie cornerback Jourdan Lewis became one of the most dependable cornerbacks on the team.

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He struggled a little, early on, just as Darren Woodson predicted, but his game was up to bar by the 12th game, just a Woodson also predicted.

Zeke played only ten games and missed a thousand yard season by 17 yards.

Jason Witten played in his 15th season.

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No need to say more about the most complete tight end in the NFL.  Witten shall be the standard all tight ends will be measured by and he is coming back for year 16.

DeMarcus Lawrence played like a man who was about to become richer after playing in a contract season.  D-Law played at an MVP level this season.  His services WILL remain in Dallas, when his agent agrees to the final paperwork.

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Without Sean Lee and Tyron Smith the Cowboys weren’t the same team.  Sean Lee led the team in tackles, even after missing several games.  Lee played what I considered to be one of his best seasons.  Sean’s ability to read and react are unequaled.

The team just could not protect Dak with Tyron out of the game.  Most of that was due to Tyron absence, but a huge portion was the coaching staff FAILED to adapt.

Dak suffered from sophomore slump and body aches.  Look for him to rebound in 2018 and lead this team.

Anthony HItchens never lost heart.

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He suffered a bizarre knee cap fracture in the final preseason game.  Hitchens came back early and performed.  Expect management to retain Anthony’s services.

Jaylon and Rod Smith, brothers who really had each other’s back.  Jaylon Smith was thrown in the fire when Hitchens went down.

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By mid-season, he was splitting time with Hitchens and improving each week.  It will be hard to unseat Jaylon from the starting Mike position next season.

Rod Smith was a huge surprise to Cowboys fans but not to his brother.  Rod balled out each time he touched the ball.

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Give him credit, especially when his main job was special teams contributor, for becoming a touchdown machine in Zeke’s absence.

Looking Forward

To be successful in this league, you have to have vision, heart and a touch of humility.

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Rod Marinelli and Matt Eberflus made a defense last year that is going to dominate in 2018.

The same can NOT be said about Scott Linehan.  His play calling was so vanilla that they could not score like a team with so many weapons should.  Scott’s job is in peril.

That is exactly what is in store for the 2018 season.  The Cowboys have not learned to play at home, for whatever reason.  They are 12-4 on the road over the last two seasons.  The inability to produce wins at home must be in review.

The Cowboys will need to keep their defense intact while managing to  get a reliable swing tackle and a speedster who can catch the ball ~ to spread the field.  Without getting these three needs filled ~ the Cowboys of 2108 are in jeopardy of becoming another Jason Garrett’s 8-8 team.


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Regulators Welcome in Young Guns

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Out with the old  –  in with the young guns!  This has been the strategy in Dallas for many seasons and for many good reasons.  With leader Orlando Scandrick sitting this one out, the whole personality of the defense changes.

Once Scandrick played his way onto the starting unit, he became an inspiration leader.  We are going to see how the future looks, without him on Sunday.

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Barry Church, Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne were sent packing leaving a lot of questions about what this team was going to do.  Let’s face it, those two corners weren’t worth the coins the were paid by the Jones’ family.

Barry Church is another story.  He played his way onto the roster and never failed to play with confidence.  He could play in the box and for a safety, he was very good at it.  He tore his Achilles tendon and broke his forearm, twice.  Barry never left 10% on the field, he played all sixty minutes.  For his efforts and dedication as a member of the Dallas Cowboys, he is the one I hated to see go the most.

Brandon Carr played his heart out, never missing a single start; however,  he was NEVER a shut-down corner, but he was paid like one during his tenure in Dallas.  He was also the best we had during his time.

Morris Claiborne was a swing and a miss, in baseball terms.  Morris never got healthy as a member of the team and he failed to become the player the Cowboys moved up in the draft to get – to help out our secondary.

So, this season management went all out in the draft.  Hoping, to replace a much miss-aligned secondary unit.

First, the Cowboys went to Colorado and snagged Chidobe Awuzie.  Chido has a lot of versatility just like three year man Byron Jones.  Awuzie has spent too much time off the field suffering from the notorious Cowboy Hamstring Plague.

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Chido is back to full health and he showed his ability to play corner  last week.  He played the like a shut-down corner in his first start against Washington.

Jourdan Lewis was pretty much an unknown factor (to the fans) as he donned the Star. Once Lewis had settled his off-season legal affairs and was able to join the team,  two days later, Hamstring Plague.  Lewis was drafted from Michigan.

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He is slight in build at 5’10” 170 pounds.  To his credit, he has played the most consistent out of our corners, excluding Orlando Scandrick.

These two will start at the cornerback positions against Eli Manning and the New York Giants’ offense.

Bryon Jones’s job should be what it has been, slot cover man.  Carrying a tight ends across the field is one of his best attributes.  Let’s leave this part of his game alone!

Byron Jones has had his role reduced because of the outstanding play by safety Kavon Frazier.

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Frazier brings something Jones does not possess.  Frazier carries a big stick and he knows how to use it.  He fires off the line like a linebacker and he is developing a real feel for the run game.  Frazier has shown his guns and he is getting noticed around the league and not just for his special teams prowess.

 Number 25,  Xavier Woods was drafted from Louisiana Tech and will replace one of the safeties,  on occasions.

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He may see time rotating with Kavon Frazier.  Woods is another player who can cover the slot receiver or move up in the box.  And, Woods is a special team member.

Leaving Jeff Heath to play his free safety position is something that has proven to be a winning decision.

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Heath does NOT replace a man like Barry Church (strong safety), but he does play with as much inspiration.  Heath will be our oldest secondary player against the Giants on Sunday.  At 26 he will be our senior man chomping at the bit for playing time.

Anthony Brown, from Purdue, was a steal last season, but he really has not taken that second year leap.  Brown would have drawn the starting role this Sunday, whether in the slot or on the outside, had his technique not suffered most of this season.  He has shown flashes of a Star, but then he shows he is not ready to hold down a starting job, also.

The combination of these young guns are the future, or they will not last long in Cowboy country.  This game is going to be a proving ground for these young men against a gun-slinger like Eli.

These regulators are going to have to go to the Meadowlands with guns blazing.  This game will show what the new look secondary possess in intestinal fortitude.