Drafted behind fellow college quarterbacks Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Paxton Lynch, Connor Cook, Christian Hackenberg, and Jacoby Brissett, Dallas Cowboys‘ rookie Dak Prescott wasn’t expected to see much action beyond his brief, yet relatively successful, stint as the Cowboys’ pre-season starter in his first NFL campaign. A few quarters here and there to ensure that injury-plagued incumbent Tony Romo would be healthy and ready for Week 1, and maybe, he could earn a little more pre-season playing time if he was lucky.
But here we are, entering the sixth week of the regular season, and Prescott is at the center of one of the NFL’s biggest story lines after out-performing all of his quarterback classmates through the first five games while leading the 4-1 Cowboys to the top of the NFC East since taking over for Romo during the third week of the pre-season.
In Week 5, Prescott added another noteworthy performance to his growing gridiron resume in the Cowboys’ 28-14 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, finishing 18-24 for 227 yards, one touchdown, and adding his third rushing score of the season. In the bigger picture, Prescott is now just eight completed passes shy of breaking Tom Brady’s record for completed passes without an interception to start a career, and that’s just one of the many reasons why some Cowboy fans believe that Romo’s successor has arrived.
Coincidentally, while the quarterback who Prescott is attempting to supplant has been nearing his return, an MRI taken just 24 hours after one of the rookie’s best games has revealed that Romo’s back has healed. And according to team owner and general manager Jerry Jones, the injury-plagued veteran will remain the Cowboys’ starting signal-caller
”Tony is our No.1 quarterback,” said Jones via ESPN following the Cowboys’ latest win.
”We’re going to have the luxury of being able to, I think, see them both,” added Jones. ”Now I don’t want to take anything—presume that Dak is going to be necessarily healthy. I don’t want to presume anything like that, but I welcome the opportunity of having Dak playing at this level and Tony back in excellent health. It’s going to be really special for the Cowboys.”
For Prescott–a rookie with absolutely no shot at the starting gig prior to Romo’s latest injury, guiding Dallas to victories in four of its first five games while working his way towards NFL history is about as good as it gets at this point in his career. Not surprisingly, some residents of Cowboy country aren’t convinced that five games and a promising pre-season is enough to know if the former fourth-rounder is truly all that he’s been thus far. But at the very least, Romo’s recent injury issues combined with Prescott’s unexpected success has forced both the team and its fan-base to acknowledge the 36-year old veteran’s looming decline.
Currently the topic of a popular Sports Illustrated cover story, Prescott’s ability to consistently gain yards on the ground has given Dallas a dual-threat option that it simply doesn’t have in Romo, and while watching him take unnecessary hits at the end of a 10-yard dash down the sidelines reminds some of a guy named Robert Griffin III, winning is still enough to overshadow any of the Cowboys’ concerns.
One of the most impressive things about Prescott’s performance through the first five weeks of the season is the fact that he’s been successful on a team that’s surrounded by distractions of every stripe. Rookie running back Ezekiel Elliot has been accused of assaulting a former girlfriend, defensive end Randy Gregory, linebacker Rolando McClain, and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence have all received recent suspensions for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, and lead wideout Dez Bryant recently made headlines for being sued by a United States Senator who claims he trashed his rental house.
But with one of the game’s top offensive lines leading the way and a rookie running back sensation by his side, Prescott has risen above all the off-field drama and distractions, totaling 1,239 yards, four touchdowns, and zero interceptions while completing 69 percent of his passes, registering a quarterback rating of 86.7 and a passer rating of 101.5.
Scheduled to play three of their next four games on the road beginning with Sunday’s contest at the Green Bay Packers, the Cowboys must now decide if disrupting the chemistry created by Prescott that’s played such a significant role in their 4-1 start just to give Romo his job back is really worth it–which it doesn’t appear to be. But regardless of the team’s decision, it sounds like Prescott’s performance under fire has left a strong impression on head coach Jason Garrett.
”Dak has done a really good job taking advantage of the opportunity,” said Garrett via USA Today Sports. ”I think our team has embraced Dak. He has come in and done what we’ve asked him to do, executes ball plays.”
Although it’s far too early to tell, some seem to believe that Prescott and Elliot are the second coming of Cowboy greats Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. But before a new generation of Cowboy legends can emerge, it looks like ”America’s Team” has already decided to needlessly roll the dice on one who’s clearly past his prime.
I was wrong about Leighton Vander Esch
On Thursday, April 26, 2018, I sat inside my friend’s dorm in Commerce, TX, and stared anxiously at his television while the NFL Draft played.
Every year since 2014, Draft Day has been a holiday of sorts for me. I request the day off from my job, find a couple of friends, get some food together and enjoy watching 32 NFL franchises attempt to build the future of their team.
The Dallas Cowboys had just come off a disappointing 9-7 season that had fans and analysts across the country pushing for the firing of head coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan.
America’s Team held the 19th overall pick in the first round. Several names flew through my head as I thought about which rookie I wanted to don the Star in 2018: Vita Vea, Derwin James, Calvin Ridley and Harold Landry just to name a few.
These players all filled glaring needs for the Cowboys. Vea and Landry would cement the defensive line that had seen major improvements in 2017. Derwin James would allow Byron Jones to move back to cornerback and would give new defensive backs coach Kris Richard an amazing slew of talent to use. Calvin Ridley would give the offense a tall, powerful receiver that could learn alongside Dez – prior to his eventual release from the team over the summer.
Vea and James both went before Dallas was on the clock, leading to those of us in the room to argue over whether Ridley or Landry would get their name called. I was pulling for Landry, as I knew he was one of the best defensive talents in the game and our offense would be fine without a cat like Ridley.
One name did not come to mind, however, and that was the name that was announced by Roger Goodell.
“With the 19th pick in the 2018 NFL Draft, the Dallas Cowboys select Leighton Vander Esch, linebacker, Boise State,” Goodell said.
First, there was shock. Then, there was disgust. Finally, there was sadness. Over the course of the next hour, I ignored the television and instead went to Twitter to let everyone know how upset I was.
I wasn’t alone, either. Most Cowboys writers, fans and analysts were upset with the pick. It seemed like a stretch.
Surely Vander Esch could’ve been drafted at a lower spot, right? What if they traded back a few spots and grabbed another second rounder? This was the third year in a row I was disappointed with Dallas’ first-round draft pick.
I didn’t like the Ezekiel Elliott pick at the time, but he proved me wrong very quickly, leading the Cowboys to a 13-3 regular season record alongside fellow rookie Dak Prescott.
I still don’t like the Taco Charlton pick. His production has been disgustingly low for a first-round draft pick, tallying four sacks, 25 tackles and a forced fumble in 24 games.
And now Leighton.
I didn’t want to blindly hate the guy, so I went to watch some film, and I found one glaring constant – he played softly. He couldn’t get off blocks, and if he did, he got trucked by the ball carrier. Exactly what the Cowboys needed: another soft defender.
I was unhappy about the pick for the next 5 months. When the season came around, he didn’t start, which I expected as much. Vander Esch’s first start came in Week 4 against the Detroit Lions. The Cowboys were 1-2 heading into the game and were without starting linebacker Sean Lee.
Prior to this game, Dallas was 1-7 in the past three years when playing without defensive captain Lee. That’s how big of an impact he has on this defense. Vander Esch’s six-tackle stat line wasn’t jaw-dropping, but it got the job done. The Cowboys won the game 26-24 and improved to .500 on the season.
In the following week’s loss to the Houston Texans, Vander Esch led the team in tackles with 14. This caught my eye. In Dallas’ second straight game without Lee, Vander Esch balled out.
Through the Washington Redskins game on Thanksgiving, Vander Esch has tallied 93 total tackles, two interceptions with 56 return yards, six pass deflections and two stuffs. He currently leads the Cowboys in tackles, 15 ahead of fellow linebacker Jaylon Smith. He is the NFL’s leader in solo tackles with 72. According to @BobbyBeltTX on Twitter, Vander Esch has only played 73.6% of Dallas’ snaps, making this even more impressive.
He is tied for the lead with safety Xavier Woods in interceptions AS A LINEBACKER. His two interceptions lead safety Jeff Heath, cornerback Anthony Brown and defensive lineman Demarcus Lawrence.
But, the stat lines don’t reflect just how well Vander Esch has played this season. His ability to recognize the play, change directions and make the tackle in open space is incredible. He’s much more powerful than his college film showed, stopping offensive players running full speed in their tracks.
Vander Esch has the potential to be the next General Lee, but hopefully with better hamstring and ACL health. If he can stay on the field, Vander Esch could be the best player wearing the Star for years to come.
So, this is my official statement on the matter.
I was wrong about Leighton Vander Esch.
Troy Aikman Rips Cowboys Organization, Calls for Overhaul of Organization
Former Dallas Cowboys signal caller, Hall of Famer, and current color commentator Troy Aikman has seen enough of the Cowboys ineptitude following Monday night’s embarrassing loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Aikman, who won 3 Super Bowl titles with the Cowboys, is calling for a major organizational overhaul in order to get things right.
“Go through the list and this team, over a long period of time, has been what it’s been,” Aikman said Tuesday on 1310 The Ticket, according to ESPN’s Todd Archer. “It hasn’t always mattered who the head coach has been. So to me, if you’re asking me, I’d say there has to be a complete overhaul of the entire organization.”
Aikman is probably like a lot of fans, and even analysts, who believe that changes are needed in Dallas, particularly along the sidelines that head coach Jason Garrett currently roams.
Change beyond that seems unlikely as Jerry Jones still rules supreme and has since the late 1980s.
Cowboys Cut Dan Bailey From Team
Over the weekend, when teams are finalizing their 53-man roster, the Dallas Cowboys makes Cowboys fans say… why? Why did you cut Dan Bailey?
Eight-year veteran kicker out of Oklahoma State Dan Bailey was released from the Dallas Cowboys. When Bailey arrived in 2011 as an undrafted free-agent, he became the highest scoring Cowboys player in multiple games. Also, during those six seasons, he has made at least 95 percent of his kicks becoming the second most accurate kicker in the NFL.
In 2017 during the San Francisco 49ers game, Bailey injured his groin and had to miss four games. When he returned he would miss at least one kick dropping his accuracy to about 70 percent.
During the 2018 off-season, the Cowboys cautiously signed Kicker Brett Maher. Maher kicked for the Hamilton Tiger-Cats and Ottawa Redblacks from 2014-2017. Since he is the only kicker on the roster, he is expected to start in week 1 when the Cowboys travel to Charlotte, NC to battle against the Carolina Panthers.
Now that Bailey is on the market and has cleared waivers, he is on the free-agent market. With that, he is expected to work out with the New York Jets this week.
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