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How the Cowboys Can Survive 2017 Without Ezekiel Elliott

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Jon Machota - Dallas Morning News

After what has seemed like an eternity, the NFL has seemed to reach its final verdict in the Ezekiel Elliott domestic violence case. After being found legally innocent and filing appeal after appeal, it looks like the case might be a lost cause, as Elliott is on course to serve his 6-game suspension from Week 9 through Week 14, and be eligible to return on December 12th.

So far, the Dallas Cowboys are sitting at 4-3, good enough for second place in the NFC East, with a matchup against the Kansas City Chiefs this Sunday. Elliott has run himself into third place in the rushing title race, even with only getting 8 yards against a stout Denver front line.

Now, the Cowboys are without their most valuable offensive weapon and need to find a way to carry on. With nine games left on the schedule, the Cowboys play 3 top-16 defenses, and with 4 divisional matchups left, the season is far from over, even without Zeke.

During the 6-game suspension, the Cowboys play a home game against Kansas City, an away game in Atlanta, a home game against the Philadelphia Eagles, two back-to-back home Thursday games against the Chargers (Thanksgiving) and the Redskins, and their second game against the rival Giants in New York.

There are two key things that the offense needs to focus on if it wants to continue its dominance in these 6 games:

First, do not abandon the run. Even with Elliott, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan loved to completely abandon the run and trust Dak Prescott around halfway through the third quarter. Without Elliott, it is even more crucial that the Cowboys stay on the ground. Defenses are expecting them to be pass-heavy now, so catching them off guard and running the ball straight up the gut is exactly what Linehan needs to do to be successful. It won’t be a difficult feat, considering the offensive line is just starting to hit their strides and that the backfield still has two 1,000-yard rushers, one of which accomplished this in just 10 games as a starter. Ground and pound, and there’s no one who can stop Dallas.

Second, look for Dez Bryant deep. In 23 games as a starter, Dak Prescott has yet to get comfortable throwing downfield to Dez, despite the wide receiver being able to gain separation on cornerbacks and safeties much younger than him. If Dak can rely on the run, and lull the Chiefs defense into a sense of security, one fake handoff brings up the safeties, and Dez is gone for six. Get the ball to Dez, but don’t force it. One of Prescott’s key issues is not looking to Bryant, or overthrowing him when he does. Just get the ball in Dez’s hands, and magic is sure to follow.

On the other side of the ball, the defense needs to find a way to contain Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt. Hunt has had himself quite the rookie year, with 763 rushing yards and 4 touchdowns. This offensive line will be the best unit the Cowboys defensive line has faced all season, so it’s time to see if David Irving and DeMarcus Lawrence really are the EDGE defenders they are chalked up to be.

The Chiefs don’t exactly have a spoil of riches at wide receiver, but tight end Travis Kelce could cause some issues. Remember when Byron Jones held Rob Gronkowski to 4 catches as a rookie? If Jourdan Lewis or Orlando Scandrick can manage to do the same, and the Dallas front 7 plays up to its potential, then Alex Smith will have nowhere to go, except into the ground behind the line of scrimmage.

Despite the hole the Dallas Cowboys apparently have found themselves in, they can make it through this stretch with little dropoff in production. All it takes is focusing on the fundamentals of football.

Currently a senior in high school in suburban Dallas, avid fan of the Dallas Cowboys and TCU Horned Frogs.

Dallas Cowboys

I was wrong about Leighton Vander Esch

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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.

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Troy Aikman Rips Cowboys Organization, Calls for Overhaul of Organization

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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.

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Cowboys Cut Dan Bailey From Team

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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?

Dan Bailey

Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Brett Maher

Credit: Ottawaredblacks.com

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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