June 22, 2020
|Media outlet||Cowboys' NFL rank||Cowboys NFCE rank|
Ezekiel Elliott has only been in the league for four years, and he's still only 24 years old (he turns 25 in July), and yet, there are only five running backs currently on NFL rosters with more career touches than him. Trust me, that's accurate. Five. They are Frank Gore, Adrian Peterson, Le'Veon Bell, Mark Ingram, and Todd Gurley.
So that's what happens to running backs who get the ball a lot in the modern NFL. Note that none of the above five players remain on the team that originally drafted them.
In his four years in the league, Elliott has racked up 1,358 touches, or 340 per season. The next closest player over that span was Gurley, who had 125 fewer touches. And again, this is with Elliott missing eight games. Add in three playoff games, and he's up to 1,433, or 358 touches per season.
Anecdotally, Elliott just doesn't look as explosive as he did when he entered the league. The following video is of Elliott from his rookie season. He still runs with power, but does he still have this kind of explosiveness?
The numbers back up the eye test. In 2019, Elliott had a grand total of four rushes of 20+ yards, and a long rush of 33 yards. 23 NFL players had at least five rushes of 20+ yards. Some of the guys who had the same number of 20+ yard rushes include a slow quarterback (Jameis Winston), a wide receiver (Deebo Samuel), and Elliott's backup (Tony Pollard).
If your rebuttal is that big plays were never part of Elliott's game, that's incorrect. In his first three seasons, he had 30 rushes of 20+ yards, or 0.75 per game. Obviously, his four rushes of 20+ yards would be 0.25 per game, or a third of his previous career average.
It's OK. You can admit it. He's not as good as he used to be. The falloff is already underway. The only question is whether it's coming fast or slow.
Anyway, let's go ahead and update Elliott's Zelda-esque life meter:
A yearly cause for celebration among Eagles, Giants, and Washington team fans was the announcement that Jason Garrett would remain the head coach of the Cowboys. Those days are over, as Dallas finally fired Clappy McClapperson, and replaced him with former longtime Packers head coach Mike McCarthy.
However, Dallas has the misfortune of making a coaching change during a year in which there were no rookie camps, no OTAs, no minicamps, and likely some bastardized version of training camp as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.
McCarthy compiled a 125-77-2 (0.618) record over 13 years in Green Bay, and won a Super Bowl in 2010. If you're a "glass half full" type, you might say, "Oh hey, that's great!"
If you're a "glass half empty" guy/gal, you might be concerned with the following:
I don't know. Maybe those massages cleared McCarthy's head and he'll come up with fresh material.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys also have a new defensive coordinator in Mike Nolan, who has been coaching in the NFL since 1987. The last time Nolan was a defensive coordinator was from 2012 to 2014, when he ran the Falcons' defense. His unit went from the 24th ranked defense in 2012, to 27th in 2013, to 32nd in 2014. Or if you prefer DVOA, his defense was ranked 12th in 2012, 29th in 2013, and 32nd in 2014.
So, the Cowboys' coaches are either experienced or stale, depending on your viewpoint. Either way, they'll get their first "grass time" with their players a month and a half before the start of the season, at best.
• C Travis Frederick, retirement: Frederick has been the starting center for the Cowboys since they drafted him in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, racking up 96 starts along the way. He missed the entire 2018 season with a rare disease, but returned in 2019. In six years in the league, he had three All-Pro nods (one first-team, two second-team), and five Pro Bowl appearances.
He'll more than likely be replaced by Joe Looney. While Frederick was a "name recognition" Pro Bowl selection in 2019, this is still quite obviously a downgrade.
• WR Randall Cobb, signed with the Texans: Cobb was quite a productive player for the Cowboys in 2019, catching 55 passes for 828 yards (a very good 15.1 YPC as a slot receiver), and 3 TDs. He'll be replaced by rookie first round pick CeeDee Lamb.
I think this is an apt place to mention the Cowboys' 2020 draft haul, which was widely praised (hell, we gave it an A-). The Cowboys lost two good starters on offense, and three on defense, plus a few other not good starters, like Jason Witten and Jeff Heath. They really only replaced one of their good starters (Maliek Collins) with a good veteran (Gerald McCoy), and even in that case, it might be a downgrade. The rest were through the draft, which is fine, except that every team in the NFL also drafted new players.
A lot of teams got better in free agency (or at least didn't get worse by losing a slew of good starters), and then also added to their roster through the draft. The Cowboys decidedly got worse during the free agency phase of this offseason.
Sean Lee will forever be known as one of those guys who was really good when he was healthy, but, you know, could never stay healthy. Lee's starting replacement, Leighton Vander Esch, is already beginning to follow that same career trajectory. Lee's ligaments were made of dandelions and papier-mâché, while Vander Esch is beginning to transform into Dee Reynolds (the "Aluminum Monster") from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
Coming out of Boise State, Vander Esch had medical concerns stemming from a neck injury that cost him half of the 2016 season. That injury reportedly resulted in some teams removing him from their draft boards completely, or at a minimum, caused some teams to red flag him.
Vander Esch missed the last five games of the 2019 season with a bulging disk, made worse by a genetic spinal condition that he suffers from, called cervical spinal stenosis, which the Dallas Morning News explained in detail in December.
He has cervical spinal stenosis, a condition featuring a narrowed spinal column in the neck. One consequence for affected individuals is increased nerve sensitivity to a bulging or herniated disk, which can require surgery if more conservative treatment methods do not alleviate symptoms. Those can include numbness or tingling in limbs.
NFL teams were aware Vander Esch had the condition before the 2018 draft, when the Cowboys selected the Boise State standout with the 19th overall pick.
He plays with a neck collar to help protect the area.
“From what the doctors say, I was born with stenosis,” Vander Esch said following Sunday’s 17-9 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. “So it’s something you’ve got to deal with. Nothing was bothering me until I got hit in Week 7. I’ve got a new set of pads being built, and I’ve been running and practicing in those. So it feels good. ... We were just saving up for playoffs hopefully, but it’s out of my control.”
Vander Esch had surgery to repair the 2019 injury, and is "fully recovered," except that he's not "fully recovered" because it's not like his genetic condition has gone away. He is a fantastic player who made the Pro Bowl as a rookie in 2018, but relying on him to be able to play 16 games is going to be a yearly cause for angst for the Cowboys.
In fact, they were the fourth healthiest team in the league, in terms of "adjusted games lost," via FootballOutsiders.com. And they still only went 8-8. What's going to happen if they're not so lucky anymore?
Over the last five years, the Cowboys have only picked off 43 passes. They have been consistently bad in that area for a half-decade now:
|Year||Cowboys INTs||How many teams had fewer INTs?|
With consistently bad numbers like that, surely part of that was scheme, and maybe those numbers will increase under a new defensive coordinator. It will be interesting to see if a more aggressive scheme will result in more turnovers, or if a roster not used to making big plays on defense just isn't good at it, and will continue to have low takeaway production while also being more susceptible to big plays down the field.
In 2017, Jones suggested that players who are "disrespectful to the flag" could be benched. In 2020, should the NFL season actually happen, protests are going to occur on a far wider scale than they did three years ago.
Many NFL owners, coaches, players, media, and fans have become more enlightened as a result of protests, past and present, which of course have nothing to do with "disrespecting the flag."
A number of teams, and more specifically, their owners, have released progressive statements about the Black Lives Matter movement, as they all should. One owner that has been silent is Jones, and Cowboys players have noticed.
Gerald McCoy, a newcomer to the team as noted above, spoke publicly about his disappointment with Jones' silence in an interview on ESPN:
For those of you who would rather read than watch a video, McCoy's words:
"The most recognizable franchise in the world is the Dallas Cowboys. When a situation like what’s been going on – which it has been going on; this is not new, it’s not new, it’s been going on – but now it’s been brought to major light with the tragedy of George Floyd, people are seeing, ‘Is this really what’s going on?’ Yes, this has been going on. This is not new. You’re just now seeing that this is how brutal it really is.
Well, when you have a franchise as recognizable as the Cowboys, people listen when they speak up. And the owner, Jerry Jones, who is one of the most recognizable figures in sports history, when he speaks, everybody listens. Well I think that at this point in time, I feel that it would be great to hear him say something positive, or say anything.
I love what he has meant to the sport. He’s been excellent to the sport of football. He’s a Hall of Famer. But at this point, it’s bigger than football. We need him to speak up about life. This is about human beings and equal rights, and that’s not what’s happening. It would be great to hear him say something. Anything."
The show's host, Max Kellerman, also posed the following question to McCoy, in regard to Jones.
"A couple of years ago, Jerry Jones was asked – I think it was 2017 or 2018 – he was asked by a reporter about his support for a certain political party. There are only two major parties in this country, so you can guess which one. And (Jones) said, 'Because that’s the way this country should be run.' Well, he got it. He got the courts and the executive branch, and the senate, so it’s being run that way, and we see the shape our country is in now. He has felt OK commenting about it at that time, but this time requires comment, and he’s silent. Does that not suggest to you where his sympathies may actually lie?"
To which McCoy responded:
"It don’t look good. I’ll say that. It doesn’t look good. You can’t be silent at a time like this. I’m new to the Cowboys’ organization, and I’m blessed to be part of this organization, but when things are not going well for the team, you can hear him screaming. Well this is life. This is bigger than just football. It’s bigger than winning a Super Bowl, and something needs to be said."