2016 was a fantastic year for Ol’ Double J’s squad of plucky heroes. After the 2015 4-12 debacle they added a new RB in Ezekiel Elliott, who ran roughshod over the league to the tune of 1,600+ yards, 15 TDs and more reps of that goddamn “feed me” motion than I ever want to see again. After Tony Romo’s inevitable Week 1 injury they accidentally discovered that the QB they drafted/stole in the 4th round, Dak Prescott was actually pretty damn good. In fact he played so well that Tony never got his job back and has moved on to the TV booth, where he will replace Phil Simms, who will still show up in the booth in Week 1 because no one told him he’s being replaced, and will show up in Weeks 2-16 as well, because he isn’t going to remember what he was told in Week 1.
It may be Tony’s greatest accomplishment in his NFL career, although it’s still tough to see Romo have to move on from a career he was so obviously dedicated to staying in shape for and prolonging to the fullest extent possible.
With Tony out of the way the Cowboys stormed into the play-offs and…
promptly lost their first game, 34-31 to the Packers. But hey, they had a bye so technically they made it through the first week of the play-offs right? Progress! Also it was actually a really good game, entertaining to watch and Dak Prescott, after having slumped through the last 4-5 games of the season, (I wouldn’t say slumped so much as the rest of the league made adjustments), matched everything Rodgers did late in the game. So basically the exact opposite of what Romo would do, except for the result, which was exactly the same.
So whither 2017 for the America’s Team?
Offensively they’re fine, assuming that Ezekiel Elliott doesn’t get suspended for (allegedly) hitting that one woman, or (allegedly) hitting that other woman, or allegedly doing whatever that thing in that bar was the other week. Look, I’ve been practicing law long enough to have a great appreciation for the whole “innocent until prove guilty” thing, but during that time I have also burned enough evidence to know that where there’s smoke there’s fire, and there is a whole lotta smoke around Elliott these days. He may or may not get suspended, (or be guilty, a far secondary concern in the NFL, as long as you’re any good), because Jerry Jones is one of the most powerful owners in sports and Ol’ Rog knows who butters his bread. Not that being buddies with Rog helped the Krafts out any.
Based on past prior NFL history, and absent some horrible video popping up, something that would not at all surprise me because OH MY GOD WHY DO I STILL WATCH THE NFL!?!?, he won’t get more than 2 games and Cowboys, with Dak, McFadden, Morris, and possibly even me can run all over the place because their offensive line, already one of the best, got even better with La’el Collins coming back from toe surgery and taking over for Weakest Link Ron Leary and with Tyron Smith allegedly back to full health after being hampered by a back injury, which will happen when you’re 6’5″, 320 lbs. There’s some concern about who’s going to play left guard, with the current favorite being former 2013 7th overall pick Jonathan Cooper. Although he was the 7th overall pick by the Cardinals in 2013 and they gave up on him so maybe the Cowboys run to the right for a while.
The receiving corps didn’t change much. Lucky Whitehead didn’t live up to his promise, or his name, and is gone. Dez Bryant is back and while he’s probably still one of the best WRs in the game he’s coming off his second straight season where he was hampered by injuries and that’s generally not a good sign for WRs, especially ones like Dez who rely on physically overwhelming defenders as much as anything else. Cole Beasley stepped up as a nice second option last year and Terrance Williams did pretty much what he does every year, which is drop every third ball thrown to him. Honestly how Terrance Williams still has a job is one of life’s great unsolved mysteries. The Cowboys also seem very excited about their 4th round pick, North Carolina’s Ryan Switzer. If nothing else they’re trying to out-gritty the Patriots. Jason Whitten will, again, start as the TE. I thought he’d have a down season last year because he was 34 and takes a beating every year but instead he had a very nice season, coming up with 69 receptions for 673 yards, although only 3 TDs. I’d be concerned about the TDs if, last year, every time the Cowboys got within 5 yards of the end zone they didn’t just give it to Elliott or Prescott or McFadden or me or Morris and have them run it behind that ridiculous line. Whitten will be fine and if the biggest problem the Cowboys have is that his production drops a bit they’re going to be measuring their fingers for rings.
Of course, that won’t be the only problem the Cowboys have, which brings us to the defense. I was surprised to learn that they were 5th in in scoring defense. They were a more middling 14th in yards against. Having watched most of their games I suspect that those stats are more-than-somewhat affected by the Cowboys’ offense keeping the ball for long periods of time and keeping the other offense off the field.
In the draft the Cowboys went for defense with 4 of their first 6 picks. They got a sliding Taco Charlton with their 1st pick, who should help the line. The line did manage a respectable 36 sacks last year but anything that takes more pressure off the secondary is A-OK with me.
As for the secondary Dallas lost two of their best, Barry Church and Morris Claiborneto free agency. But since Church led the team in interceptions with 2(!) that doesn’t seem to be saying all that much, especially to anyone who watched the end of the Green Bay game. Jesus fuck, just make one goddamn stop! One! To replace them they drafted Chidobe Awuzie,
a DB, with their second pick and I think that might have been a steal, as most mock drafts had him going 20-25, at least the ones I saw. Hey, did I mention that I went 4-4 to start my mock draft? I didn’t? Well, probably just as well, since I went 1-fortherestofit. Goddamn trades. They got another first round talent in the third round in Michigan CB Jourdan Lewis, who was helpfully recently acquitted of domestic violence charges, so that’s awesome. Better get his jersey now while you still can! The Cowboys also get their second pick from 2016 back, Jaylon Smith, a top 5 talent who fell into the second round because he didn’t have a knee. Well now he has a knee, albeit one with a brace, and he’s expected to play. Accounts out of training camp are that he’s still not 100% so this is a case where things probably sound better than they are.
Seriously, look at that picture and tell me it doesn’t remind you of Napoleon McCallum. But, if Smith comes back they got a steal last year, Charlton probably should have gone a little higher than he did but dropped due to trades and Awuzie and Lewis got some first round talk as well. Of course the last guy they stole in the draft won’t be making much of an impression this year, so let’s not start getting blow-jobs from hookers just yet.
All of which is a long way to say that the Cowboys are pretty much the same team they were last year, when they went 13-3. The offensive line might be slightly better, assuming everyone’s healthy and no one has to sit for 2-4 games because the graduated the The Ohio State University of Dipshittery & Coverin’ Up, and the defense could be better if all of the considerable questions about them are answered correctly, or they could be pretty much the same if those questions aren’t answered quite so correctly. It’s hard to improve on 13-3 and I doubt the Cowboys will. They’ll win the NFC East, because the Giants are in between two generations of players, (Scothnaut’s preview did give me pause here), Washington is run by baboons and the Eagles…might actually be pretty good. They sort of worry me this year, although I can’t put a rational reason together for it. Dallas also goes on the road against the Falcons, Raiders and Broncos, (Hippo’s preview made me happier about that one), and they have the Packers and Chiefs at home. That’s a harder schedule than they had last year and that’ll probably show at the end of the year. I think they go 10-6 or 11-5. They’ll fight the Eagles and maybe the Giants for the NFC East. If not they probably get a wild card*.
And then they’ll get bounced in the first round. Again.
*I don’t see two wild cards coming out of the NFC East so if the Giants, Eagles and Cowboys are all their at the end only two of them are going, but if I went to that lengthy explanation then the “lose in the first round again” line loses its punch, so just keep your comments to yourself, OK?