|And His Name Is Taco (NBC 5 News)|
January 15th, 2017 flat out sucked. Nothing more and nothing less. Coming off a stellar and surprising season, the 2016 Dallas Cowboys fell short of a Lombardi Trophy, just as they've done every year since 1996. However, unlike the previous disappointments that have driven me and other members of America's Team's fanbase crazy, this one was not due to the mistakes of a veteran QB that rhymes with no-no, instead it falls upon the biggest weakness of the Cowboys, defense.
2016 was supposed to be the year that the rookies set the foundation for the future with an average season, compared to the 4-12 season that was 2015. Instead, a potential dynasty was formed (follow me for a second folks). Tony Romo went down (again), and the reins were handed to the 4th Round QB out of Mississippi State, Dak Prescott, who started all 16 games and ended with a 68.7% completion rate, 23 touchdowns, and only 4 interceptions. This earned him AP Offensive Rookie of the Year. The original Cowboys' star of the 2016 NFL Draft was just as good. Tailback Ezekiel Elliot finished with 1,631 yards and 15 touchdowns. This, along with the superstar that is Dez Bryant and "old reliable" Jason Witten, made the Cowboys offense a juggernaut.
What the 34-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers actually showed, was that the Cowboys defense is anemic. It included a 3rd and 20 bomb from Aaron Rodgers to TE Jared Cook that led to Mason Crosby's eventual game winning field goal, sending the Packers to an embarrassing loss to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC Championship Game. Overall, Dallas finished 14th in total defense for the season, but what stands out is that the Cowboys allowed the 6th most passing yards at 4,167 yards (ESPN.com). The Jones' took notice to this issue by letting most of those fellas walk in the offseason.
Cornerbacks Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr, who many, included myself called Swiss cheese, both signed with other teams (Claiborne with the New York Jets and Carr with the Baltimore Ravens). Defensive tackles Jack Crawford and Terrell McClain signed with the Falcons and Washington Redskins respectively. Safties Barry Chruch and and J.J. Wilcox migrated to Florida, signing with the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The losses were astronomical and the Draft became even more important that usual.
Dallas had 9 picks and used 7 of them on defense. That includes 2 Defensive ends, 3 cornerbacks, 1 safety, and a defensive tackle. Taco Charlton highlights the new Defensive Line with his presence, and Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Marquez White hope to revitalize the corners and drastically change the 6th most passing yards allowed in Dallas' favor. However, while the draft can be seen as an A grade move by Stephen Jones and the front office, the Free Agent signings have been lackluster.
The defensive signings included cornerback Nolan Carroll, defensive tackle Stephen Paea, defensive end Damontre Moore, and strong safety Robert Blanton. These signings are not been a good sign, as they seem to be role players that are not enough to replace all that they have lost, putting a lot of the defensive stress on the young rookies. Putting it all on the rookies may not be the best thing to do in order to maintain the success that was shown in 2016. The offense will most likely have to maintain its success, but will the defense step it up to turn a first round exit into a Super Bowl Championship?
So how will the 2017 Dallas Cowboys fare? Well my official prediction is that they will either 11-5 or 5-11. I have given up on truly predicting the result of the season. In 2014, when the Cowboys looked like they were gonna be horse poop after losing to the 49ers in week one, they went 12-4. In 2015, with most of all the same pieces, they lost Tony Romo to injury and went 4-12. While Dallas has set themselves up where something like 2015 cannot happen again, as the QB is not the entire team, they still seem unpredictable. Most sites like ESPN and SB Nation have them at 10-6 or 11-5, but I am not so sold on that just yet. I am gonna remain positively optimistic that "Dem Boyz" can keep up the momentum of 2016 and bring it into 2017, but also be prepared if the offense regresses and the defense stays at its 2016 level. Either way, what is for certain is that 2017 will be a fun ride and hopefully good for the boys in Silver and Blue.