Cleat Geeks

How Does Dallas Replace The Talent, Reliability, & Production Of Bryant?

An end of an era has come upon the Dallas Cowboys after they released their star Wide Receiver in Dez Bryant. Amidst the headaches and the tensions between Dez and the coaches, it appeared that Dez was willing to work out the issues. The other side of the spectrum, it appeared the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff and the front office was unwilling to deal with him and his antics. On Friday, the Cowboys cut the 3-time Pro-Bowler and the 2014 All-Pro after possible internal tensions started to arise. Bryant was scheduled to make $12.5 million through the 2018-2019 NFL season if he had remained on the team.

Even though the Dallas Cowboys have a wide array of great offensive weapons, Dez Bryant is probably one of the most valuable (excluding QB Dak Prescott). The Cowboys suffered multiple injuries on the Offensive Line and they also dealt with the suspension of RB Ezekiel Elliot in the previous season. That reduced the efficiency of their highly talented offense to a below average set by them in 2016. The loss of Dez Bryant may be one of the biggest losses that Dallas might not recover very well because of his excellent play-making ability and reliability both in his workload and his clutch performances. Now the Cowboys will have to deal with replacing Bryant just a few days before the start of the 2018 NFL Draft. While this comes at a good time to find a suitable replacement, there are many other areas Dallas needs to address that might be tough to do deal with now.

 

Impact of WR Dez Bryant prior to his release

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The Cowboys not only released one of their best playmakers but also one of their most reliable in Bryant. A couple of characteristics used to describe Dez Bryant include durable, explosive, and clutch. For 8 seasons with the Dallas Cowboys, Bryant was one of the best playmakers in terms of getting points on the board and even leading his offense past tough obstacles. He was also such a huge part of their offense. In his first Pro Bowl season in 2013, Dez Bryant accounted for 93 receptions (24.8% of the team’s receptions), 1,233 yards (29.2% of the team’s receiving yards), and 13 touchdowns (39.4% of the team’s reception touchdowns). The following year, which would be his 2nd Pro-Bowl selection, Bryant account for 88 receptions (26.8% of the team) for 1,320 receiving yards (32.9% of the team) and 16 touchdowns (43.2% of the team). These two seasons were the most productive that the Cowboys would have in the playoffs under QB Tony Romo.

In the past two seasons, under the leadership of rookie Quarterback Dak Prescott, Bryant had fewer receptions than the 2013 and 2014 season. He did, though, still manage to get the same amount of opportunity and production in receiving yards and touchdowns than his other teammates. In the 2016-2017 NFL season, Bryant accounted for 50 receptions (15.4% of the team) for 796 yards (21% of the team) and 8 receiving touchdowns (32% of the team). This would be his 3rd and most recent Pro-Bowl invitation. Last season, Bryant accounted for 69 receptions (22.3% of the team) for 838 yards (25.2% of the team) and 6 receiving touchdowns (27.3% of the team). Despite the recent drop in numbers, Bryant remained as one of the Cowboys’ best offensive players and one of the NFL’s most consistent and reliable Receivers. The Cowboys had more attempts and success in the run game from Prescott and Elliot than in the past with just RB DeMarco Murray.

 

The degree of difficulty the Cowboys have without WR Dez Bryant

Image result for dez bryant wallpaperLosing a #1 Wide Receiver is always a difficult situation to deal with but for the Dallas Cowboys, they must replace someone who was the team’s best option for every passing distance. Bryant was also the team’s offensive veteran outside of TE Jason Witten as well as the most reliable to get them out of tough situations. Bryant’s durability in his workload and his reliability as a clutch player will be sorely missed in the Cowboys’ offense this upcoming 2018-2019 NFL season. An example of his clutch playmaking ability would be in the 2014 NFC Divisional Round where Dez Bryant caught a 31-yard pass from QB Tony Romo on 4th & 2. Although the play was overturned by the main NFL referees, the play would now be considered a catch in the NFL’s new catch rule.

The problem with the Dallas Cowboys now isn’t what Dez Bryant is taking with him as a dominant playmaker but more in lines of what the other Receivers for Dallas do not contribute. Cole Beasley suffered a drop off in production in 2017 with only 36 receptions for 314 yards and 4 touchdowns after accounting for 75 receptions (team-high) for 833 receiving yards (team-high) and 5 touchdowns the season before. WR Terrance Williams is a productive receiver as a starter as last season he accounted for 53 receptions for 568 yards (averaging 10.7 yards per reception) but he did not account for a touchdown. He is also recovering from a foot injury from the previous season to where he only played in 14 of Dallas’ 16 games. TE Jason Witten is an excellent leader and play-maker in the short-yardage game. Last season, he accounted for 63 receptions for 560 yards (8.9 average yards per reception) and 5 touchdowns. The Cowboys do not know how long Witten will be in the NFL as he will turn 36-year old this early May.

Williams is a former 1st round selection by the Dallas Cowboys in the 2013 NFL Draft. Their main goal with Williams, now that Dez is gone, is to increase the production level to where he will ease the transitioning of Dez’s departure. It is not impossible for Williams to account for a 1,000 receiving yard season next year but Williams needs to continue recover and must be a more reliable deep-threat. The Cowboys coaching staff needs Beasley to be a more efficient slot Receiver instead just randomly inserting him into the offense. Williams has the talent to be matching Bryant’s production level but that is still to be seen. The important issue for the Cowboys to avoid with Williams to not have him take on the complete workload that Dez took on if he is not capable.

 

Wide Receiver is now a top focus in the 2018 NFL Draft

To replace a durable and very talented Wide Receiver like Dez Bryant, action must be taken fast by the Dallas Cowboys. This close to the 2018 NFL Draft without a #1 option, they can either trade for one from another team or they can take one early in the Draft. The Cowboys have the 19th pick in the Draft and while addressing the defense is the main issue, finding a #1 Wide Receiver is a vital position for Dallas to address as well. Particular Receivers that the Cowboys are interested in acquiring that have a chance to pick are Alabama’s Calvin Ridley, Texas A&M’s Christian Kirk, and SMU’s Courtland Sutton.

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The way to pick the best Receiver for Dallas in this Draft is to match the intensity, durability, reliability, talent, and workload that Dez Bryant possessed for the Dallas Cowboys for 8 seasons. For the past 3 seasons at Alabama, WR Calvin Ridley has had the ability to account for a high-amount of yards and touchdowns through his quickness and great catch-ability. For 3 seasons at Alabama, Ridley has accounted for at least 27% or more of the Tide Receivers input of receptions as well as 30% or more (excluding 2016) of the Receivers yards. Last season, Calvin Ridley accounted for 63 receptions (30.9% of the team) for 967 yards (35.7% of the team) for an average of 15.8 yards per reception and 5 touchdowns. If Baltimore with the 16th pick doesn’t select Ridley then expect Dallas to make a serious consideration for Calvin Ridley to be the exact replacement of Dez Bryant.

If Ridley is already selected then a player like Christian Kirk (Texas A&M) could be a likely candidate to be Dallas’ new #1 WR. Last season at Texas A&M, Kirk accounted for 71 receptions (28.1% of the team) for 919 yards (28.1% of the team) and 10 touchdowns (45.5% of the team). Kirk has shared a multiple Receiver passing systems at A&M unlike Ridley, who predominately got the bulk of the catches based on systematics. Courtland Sutton is a big Receiver who accounted for very high numbers of a predominately passing offense at Southern Methodist. Last season, Sutton accounted for 68 receptions (24% of the team) for 1,085 yards (28.4% of the team) for 12 touchdowns (34.3% of the team). If the Cowboys were to go with Sutton then they could also acquire his Mustangs teammate in WR Trey Quinn (projected at Round 4 or 5). Last season, Quinn accounted for 114 receptions (40.3% of the team) for 1,236 yards (32.3% of the team) and 13 touchdowns (35.1% of the team). Both Sutton and Quinn accounted for 282 receptions (64.3% of the team) for 2,321 receiving yards (60.7% of the team) and 25 receiving touchdowns (71.4% of the team).

Dez Is Done In Dallas

After a very short meeting between wide receiver Dez Bryant and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, the decision has been made. The Cowboys have released Dez Bryant.

Did Dallas Make The Right Decision?

The 29-year-old is due $12.5 million with a $16.5 million cap hit in 2018. Of the eight wide receivers set to earn more than $12 million in 2018, Bryant was the only one to have averaged less than 1,000 receiving yards per season. But, it is not like he barley missed 1,000 yards, he only gained 838. Bryant has not conquered the 1,000 yard mark since 2014. Therefore, if his yardage was down, he was at least clutch in the end zone right? Wrong, he played 16 games last season and only scored 6 touchdowns. In fact, in the last 3 seasons he has played in 38 games and has caught 21 touchdowns. Well then he was able to stretch the field for the Cowboys, right? Wrong again, he longest catch of last season was for 50 yards. The year before that was 56 yards and the year before that 51 yards. In fact, in the 2017 season Bryant averaged just over 52 yards a game. Not only that, but Dez did not go over 100 yards in any game last season in terms of total yards. Now for what may be the most jaw-droping stat of them all, Dez was also tied for third in droped passes last season. So combined with a lack of production in both yards and touchdowns, plus the fact that he was also having trouble holding onto the ball, he made the decision to release him much easier for the Cowboys.

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Bryant signed a five-year, $70 million contract extension with the Cowboys before the 2015 season. He was set to count $16.5 million against the cap in 2018. The Cowboys absorb just $4 million in dead money from the move. And it now creates $8.5 million in cap space for them moving forward.

Jerry Jones may have said it best himself. “Of course we pay Dez a lot of money, and he knows that. He’s as aware of it as anybody. He knows when you get paid that kind of money there’s high expectations in terms of the productivity. … Those are all things we have to look at as a team, as an organization when we start to put our team together for next year.”

So, they have decided to build their team next year without him.

But Who Replaces Him?

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It seems a little awkward to talk about replacing 838 yards and 6 touchdowns until you look at the rest of the Cowboys receivers. They have three receivers on their current roster from last season; Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and Ryan Switzer. Those three players combined had just 85 more yards than Bryant did last season. They did sign Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in free agency this off-season but none of those players are going to scare opposing teams. You are just asking every team they play to load up the box and stop the run.

You have to remember that Dallas only has about $20 million in cap space to work with this off-season. Dallas is down a draft pick this year after sending their 2018 fifth-round selection to the Jets to move up and take Xavier Woods in the sixth round of the 2017 draft. Dallas also has to think about life after 35-year-old Jason Witten. Plus, the Cowboys still have pressing needs at linebacker and the interior defensive line, but cutting ties with Bryant makes receiver possibly their most urgent need. Oklahoma State’s James Washington, who met with the Cowboys in January, is projected as a second rounder and could be a solid target for Dallas in the draft. But, now the question is can they afford to wait til the second round to address this need?

Where Will Dez End Up?

This question is hard to answer because we don’t know what Dez wants. If he simply wants money, then he will go to a team like Cleveland who can afford to pay him. But, I will assume he is not jaded enough to think he can go somewhere and once again be a #1 receiver. Therefore, I think a team who already has a #1 makes sence if you are Bryant. Three places I thought of would be opposite Larry Fitzgerald in Arizona, opposite A.J. Greene in Cincinnati or possibly opposite OBJ in New York. The NFL would have fun promoting that. And it looks like he wants to play in the same division.

In closing, this isn’t the first time Jerry Jones has moved on from a franchise cornerstone. He’s moved on from Emmitt Smith, DeMarcus Ware, Larry Allen, and Terrell Owens in the past. Now, he’ll be looking for the next in line to succeed wearing the famed Cowboys star. Since everything is bigger in Texas, I guess that includes the contracts signed by the Cowboys.

2018 NFL Drafting Needs; NFC East

Nothing beats a bit of draft speculation straight after one of the best Superbowls of all time, right? I’ll be going through the draft needs of every NFL franchise, and this is my first edition of the NFC; East Division – featuring the current champions!

Philadelphia Eagles – LB, CB, RB

How do you top a Championship? With another of course! There are a few issues however. Firstly, cap space. According to overthecap.com, the Eagles are over $10M over the salary cap with their current roster. Secondly, Champions get paid, and there are a number of players out of contract who may not be willing to stay on a team-friendly deal when they know the big bucks are out there. Players such as Trey Burton, LeGarrette Blount, Darren Sproles (okay, he didn’t play), Kenjon Barner, Nigel Bradham, Beau Allen, Patrick Robinson and Corey Graham are all looking for new contracts, for the salary they feel they’re worth, either here or elsewhere. They also have the last pick in the first round of the draft, and nothing until round four, making this write-up as challenging as defending the title.

Potential picks:

32 – Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

Excellent in playing the ‘contain’ role, Lorenzo Carter has good arm length and stride length, and uses both of these to good effect to stop the run. Not only a good tackler but has the ability to make plays, regularly forcing and recovering fumbles in college. His speed and agility round the edge has been apparent also, as he is no stranger the to ‘sacks’ section of a box-score. He could probably do with putting a few extra pounds of muscle on and will require coaching in order to perfect his game against the stronger running backs. He was considered a five-star prospect when he entered the college at Georgia but didn’t quite live up to that. He was played in several positions which may not have helped but he did show continuous improvement, particularly on the mental side of his game as his career progressed. Will certainly become a starter in the NFL quickly.

2017 stats – 15 games; 61 combined tackles (7.5 for loss); 3 fumbles forced; 1 kick blocked; 4.5 sacks

131 – Taron Johnson, CB, Weber State

Having played most positions as a cornerback in his college career, Taron Johnson could be a sleeper pick for the Eagles in the 4th round. Good initial speed in man coverage. Physical player and happy to contribute in the tackling game. He’d likely to considered to small for the outside so slot cornerback is where I’d envisage him playing. Never an issue particularly in college but NFL refs may consider him to be too hands on in coverage so coaches will need to ensure he doesn’t cross the line and allow penalties against him. Wouldn’t be an instant starter but an excellent prospect long-term and an intriguing project.

2017 stats – 12 games; 49 combined tackles (3 for loss); 9 passes deflected; 1 forced fumble; 3 interceptions; 2 sacks

132 – Nyheim Hines, RB, NC State

Speed, and lots of it! Nyheim Hines is a very unique asset who I think would flourish in the Philadelphia offensive scheme. He’s played as a running back and as a slot receiver so he has shown that he is a legitimate dual-threat. Had touchdowns of 48, 50, 54 and 83 yards in 2017 so has that ‘to the house’ factor which fans will pay their hard-earned cash to see. Has a very good stiff-arm which combined with his speed, gives him a very high level of elusiveness. Instant plug-in as a returner. He’s a little small but I don’t see that being an issue if he’s installed as a change of pace back or for mismatches. He isn’t gifted with natural positioning and will require coaching to get his route running up to NFL standards.

2017 stats – 13 games; 1,112 yards on 197 touches (5.64 YPC); 12 TDs

152 yards on 26 receptions;

11 punt returns for 135 yards and 1 TD;

21 kickoff returns for 469 yards

Dallas Cowboys – DT, WR, RB

If Dallas are to become a playoff team once more, they’ll need to rely on more than just Ezekiel Elliott to get them over the line. Dez Bryant’s regression has highlighted a massive need for a proper WR2 or perhaps a need for greater flexibility from coaching schemes. However, the need to make sure they use their draft picks wisely and get the right personnel on board. It wouldn’t surprise me if Brice Butler left as a free agent given his talent and lack of opportunity. As I write, Demarcus Lawrence has just been franchise tagged so the only major contracts to sort out now are Jonathan Cooper and Anthony Hitchens.

Potential picks:

19 – Trenton Thompson, DT, Georgia

polarizing prospect with some saying he could be a first round selection and others dropping him right down to the 4th or 5th round! When your injury record contains ankle tears, a sprained MCL and shoulder surgery I suppose that can be justified. For the purposed of this article, I am going to forget all that and write based on talent. He handles his frame well and stays low at the snap. He finds movement and directional change comfortable. Extremely tough, demonstrated by his willingness to play through injury, possibly at a detriment to his draft stock. He had the unenviable task of playing against Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey of Notre Dame and competed extremely well. Limitless energy and will work around the field looking for a play. Needs to stamp his authority on an opposing offence more regularly and maintain his balance on contact as he did spend too much time on the turf in college.

2017 stats – 13 games; 38 combined tackles (3.5 for loss); 1 pass deflected

50 – DJ Chark, WR, LSU

Great combination of size and speed which should translate into NFL production. Effortless ability to fool opposing defenders with his footwork and has the speed to create separation regularly. Touchdown machine with big playmaking ability, although 2017 wasn’t the best year for him in this regard. Extraordinary punt returner. Has experience as an effective blocker as well which is something Dallas in particular are in need of. In the NFL he may need to play with more urgency and his ball-tracking requires work, but coaching can give a player that edge he may have been previously lacking. An increase in upper body strength will allow him to compete for the ball against defenders more successfully. Based on his skillset and roduction in college he certainly has the ability to be a solid WR2 which assuming the Cowboys keep hold of Dez Bryant, will give them a much stronger threat on offence, even on plays not containing a man named Ezekiel Elliot.

2017 stats – 13 games; 40 receptions for 874 yards and 3 TDs;

12 rushes for 63 yards (5.25 YPC) and a TD;

18 punt returns for 190 yards and 2 TDs;

1 kickoff return for 12 yards

81 – Kalen Ballage, RB, Arizona State

With Alfred Morris probably on his way out after a disappointing spell in relief of the suspended Elliott, Kalen Ballage would be an excellent complementary piece for him. Rod Smith has done nothing wrong, by the way, but I think there is a role for a third running back for mismatches and a less predictable playbook. Ballage has played as a runner, a pass catcher from the backfield and even as a make-shift quarterback on trick plays. His body control allows him to accelerate into contact, giving him extra yards as he falls forwards. His pass catching ability is above average for a running back and he has the ability to make tough yards for a first down or a touchdown with his elusiveness. Too indecisive to be considered a workhorse back, nor does he have the field vision. This why Rod Smith still has value on the Cowboys roster even if Ballage was drafted. His play did regress in 2017 as he found it more difficult to escape the tackle but working with the pros every day should bring the spark from 2016 back.

2017 stats – 13 games; 669 yards on 157 touches (4.26 YPC); 6 TDs

91 yards on 20 receptions;

20 kickoff returns for 437 yards

Washington Redskins – DT, WR, LB

The Kirk Cousins experience is all but over. The Terrelle Pryor experiment should be forgotten in a hurry. Alex Smith is here now and could well be the calming, game-managing influence this offence needs. The Redskins offence isn’t too dissimilar to that of the Chiefs in terms of passing options. A nose tackle would be a wise pickup, as would an additional receiver for Smith to play with. I’d also take this opportunity to franchise tag Zach Brown, and draft his replacement in the event a longer term deal can’t be reached.

Potential picks:

13 – Da’Ron Payne, DT, Alabama

Hugely strong, with elite body control, balance and footwork, Da’Ron Payne is ready to play in the NFL. Constantly harassing quarterbacks and making sure the offence has very little time to develop a play. Perfect blend of strength and athleticism and I cannot see him playing more than three years in the NFL before he receives a Pro Bowl selection. The best run-stuffer in this year’s class, and more than useful in the pass game too.

2017 stats – 14 games; 53 combined tackles (1 for loss); 3 passes deflected; 1 sack; 1 reception for a 1 yard TD

44 – Equanimeous St. Brown, WR, Notre Dame

At 6 feet 5 inches, St. Brown is a tall target for Alex Smith to aim at. Has played both outside and in the slot at college level. Has much better pace than he’s credited with, possibly due to his size. Capable of gaining yards after the catch especially on crossing routes. Tends not to drop the ball and provide a good red-zone threat. What does disappoint me about him however is the casual nature of his play sometimes. If he is to make it at the next level I need to see more urgency from him. At present he struggles against the more physical cornerbacks so practicing against Josh Norman every week could be a useful development step. I would consider him the ultimate low risk, low reward receiver from the draft this year

2017 stats – 13 games; 33 receptions for 515 yards and 4 TDs;

113 – Oren Burks, LB, Vanderbilt

Over the past three years, Oren Burks has played at three different linebacker positions and has been a fantastic leader of men on the field. He played safety in high school and this is clear with his pursuit speed. Plays best as an inside linebacker making tackles against the runner. Initially his role would be limited to special teams, albeit as a core player within the ST and a leader, but he has significant upside on defence. He’ll need to focus on one position, and in the NFL he may well have that opportunity, as he sometimes has problems diagnosing a play and makes the wrong move as a consequence.

2017 stats – 12 games; 82 combined tackles (7 for loss); 3 passes deflected; 1 sack; 1 interception

New York Giants – QB, WR, OT

Not quite the season they’d hoped for – but with one more awful coach out of the NFL, perhaps the Giants can bounce back a la Rams in 2018. A healthy Beckham will certainly help, plus some improvements to the offensive line and run game. Defence isn’t in need of much work, and only the contracts of Jonathan Casillas and Devon Kennard to negotiate. Time to focus on what will be a very important draft for this team.

Potential picks:

2 – Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA

Technically, possibly the best quarterback in the draft. His throwing mechanics are fantastic. Footwork is incredible and he shifts his bodyweight liked a seasoned pro. Never takes his eyes off his targets even when pressure comes in from the edges. Excellent football brain and shows good confidence. Vast range of passing in his repertoire. I don’t dislike Davis Webb as an understudy to Eli Manning but assuming Saquon Barkley is gone after the first pick, Josh Rosen will be too good to turn down at number two. He’s not the biggest in terms of frame and has taken plenty of hits in his career so far, bringing with him a selection of injuries. He’s also got a tendency to hold onto the ball too long under duress and lose yardage rather than taking an incompletion. Questions have been raised over his character in college as well, with several people suggesting he is difficult to coach. It’s no guarantee that senior players in the NFL will take kindly to him as a leader. His arm-strength isn’t great so he will need to work on his anticipation quickly so that he can make the right throw, fast.

2017 stats – 11 games; 3,756 passing yards; 26 TDs; 10 INTs; 50 rushing attempts for -97 yards and 2 TDs

34 – Ronald Jones, RB, USC

Not afraid to take on opposing defenders, Ronald Jones is one of the more exciting running backs in this year’s class. Quick feet, with exceptional technique and acceleration, it has been known for him to make cuts at 90 degree angles. A nightmare matchup for linebackers. Very secure runner with only 2 fumbles on 591 carries. Wasn’t given a huge role on passing downs but that doesn’t mean he isn’t capable. He’s also capable of offering blitz protection which will be a boost to his value from the front office at NYG. He is relatively small but has come off a 275 touch season so we know he is capable of a heavy workload, although it may be wise for an NFL team to limit his touches somewhat to maximise his effectiveness. Will need to become more patient in order to work into more space. It may work in his favour if he refrains from always going aggressively for the extra yard as he takes a lot of punishment on his body in doing this.

2017 stats – 13 games; 1,550 yards on 261 touches (5.294 YPC); 19 TDs

187 yards and 1 TD on 14 receptions;

66 – Martinas Rankin, OT, North Carolina A&T

Martinas Rankin can play across all 5 DL positions and I’m sure the Giants will love this versatility. He’s very disciplined in not opening his body up too early and has explosive upper body strength. He isn’t the quickest and will need to focus on either dealing with edge speed in order to become a left tackle in the NFL or on his run blocking, particularly against the power of the pros if he wishes to play at right tackle. If he can’t do that then center may be his pro position.

 

 

*2017 stats from www.cfbstats.com

Lost Bunch of Cowboys Host Chargers on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day game number two will take place at AT&T Stadium in Dallas, Texas at 4:30pm. The (5-5) Dallas Cowboys will host the (4-6) Los Angeles Chargers.

Dallas has started to hit the skids as they’ve now dropped back-to-back games without having Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield. A season ago, the rookie combination of Dak Prescott and Elliott dropped the jaws of many around the league with their powerful performances. Now, here in 2017, one without the other isn’t sailing and has resulted in weak play from the entire team of Cowboys.

“America’s team” just lossed back-to-back games by at least 20 points. They were banged up by the Falcons in Atlanta two weeks ago, 27-7. Just the other day, at home in Dallas, the Cowboys were blown up by the Philadelphia Eagles, 37-9.

This Thursday’s game coming against the Chargers should provide a better opportunity for a Dallas victory. Then again, the Chargers topped the Buffalo Bills on Sunday by a final of 54-24 at home in Los Angeles.

For the Chargers, Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen and Melvin Gordon led the way. Rivers threw for 251 yards and two touchdowns on the day. Allen caught 12 passes for 159 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Gordon powered his way to 80 yards on the ground along with a rushing touchdown.

Both teams are sitting in second place in their respective divisions. The Chargers are two back of the Kansas City Chiefs which is manageable. However, the Cowboys are four games back of the Eagles, who all but have the NFC East wrapped up with a Christmas bow.

With all of that said, each team comes in with a fighting chance. In terms of records through Week 11, the Chargers are listed as the 12th seed, sharing the same record as five other teams, who are all trailing the sixth seeded (6-4) Tennessee Titans. The Cowboys are the 10th seed and are trailing the sixth seeded (6-4) Falcons.

The Chargers carry the 24th hardest remaining schedule while the Cowboys aren’t as fortunate as they have the 6th hardest remaining schedule.

Obviously, at this point in the season, Thursday’s match-up is crucial for both teams, but maybe more so for the Cowboys. Things will be harder for Dallas going forward, especially without their horse in the backfield.

Will the fans of Jerry World leave for Thanksgiving Dinner as happy feasters? Tune in at 4:30pm on Thursday for the start of this one.

Redskins-Cowboys Has High Stakes, Again

It’s pretty close to official: The Redskins are in trouble.

Almost.

And it’s not even as much about what they’re doing wrong as it is what their fellow NFC East squads are doing right.

The Eagles are going in a great direction, as Carson Wentz may be football’s top young quarterback. Last week, they finished off a season sweep of Washington with a 34-24 win sparked by four touchdown passes from Wentz.

Now comes as close to a must-win game as you could have in October, with the rival Dallas Cowboys coming to town for Fox’s featured Sunday afternoon game.

Both teams are 3-3 on the year and looking up at the Eagles in the division standings. Both teams have shown flashes of good things this year but also had their issues.

Now, one of football’s biggest rivalries takes on great importance.

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“It’s a work in progress,” Redskins quarterback Kirk Cousins said this week of his team. “I don’t want to write a narrative until we have a full sample size of the season. There’s a lot of football left.”

What happens this week could go a long way to determining that narrative. And it won’t be easy for Washington.

The Redskins come in with a beat-up offensive line. Ty Nsehke is out, Brandon Scherff may or may not be able to go and Trent Williams and Spencer Long are playing through injuries.

On the other side for Dallas, Ezekiel Elliott continues to avoid the six-game suspension the NFL has tried to levy on him, meaning he’ll be in the backfield behind Dak Prescott again this week.

Last year, Dallas won both meetings, a big boost to the Cowboys winning the NFC East and the Redskins narrowly missing the playoffs.

The stakes are just as high this time around.

REDskin Zone: Thanksgiving Stumble

Thanksgiving dinner went down with a taste of bitter for Redskins fans, in the form of a second loss this season to the rival Dallas Cowboys, a hard-fought 31-26 defeat at Cowboys Stadium.

That, coupled with a sixth straight win for the New York Giants in Cleveland Sunday, leaves Washington firmly in third place in the NFC East. However, their 6-4-1 record still would be good for the NFC’s final wild card spot if the playoffs began today.markrypien

But they don’t. There are five weeks to go and a mad scramble to decide who the six teams are that reach the postseason. The Redskins are seeking to make consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since 1991-92 – the Mark Rypien teams that captured the Super Bowl.

Needless to say, the stakes are high heading into the final month of the regular season.

“We’ve been in third place for a while, so we have to understand where we are and what it’s going to take to get an opportunity to come back here in the future,” Washington coach Jay Gruden said after the game. “The last five games of the year are critical.”

jordanreedkneelingAgainst the Cowboys, it was a similar script to a lot of weeks – Kirk Cousins had big numbers, Jordan Reed gutted it out with a shoulder separation to score two second-half touchdowns and the defense had its moments. But ultimately, the Dallas offense, led by rookies Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, had more of them as the Cowboys secured a 10th straight win.

Reed was especially impressive. He went down during the first half with an AC joint separation and few expected him to come back at all, much less to finish the day with 10 catches for 95 yards and two scores.

“I think it has a lot to do with my maturity and things like that – how I’ve grown, and how my teammates look at me and the faith they have in me to come through in certain situations,” Reed said. “And when I’m not out there, I feel like I’m letting them down. I don’t like to miss time.”

Reed’s status is unclear for this weekend’s tilt against Arizona, although he does benefit from the extra rest of playing on a Thursday the week before. DeSean Jackson was back for a second straight week after a shoulder injury to further bolster the pass-catching corps.

The Redskins are a half-game ahead of Tampa Bay and Minnesota for the final wild card spot, with several other teams still lurking within striking distance.

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This Week – at Arizona

The Cardinals are one of those teams trying to find their way into a wild card berth after what’s been a significant drop-off from last year’s run to the NFC Championship.

Sunday’s loss to Atlanta dropped the Cardinals to 4-6-1, and a loss this week would be crippling to their hopes. They’ll bring one of the game’s all-time great receivers in Larry Fitzgerald to be the latest foe for Josh Norman, whose war of words with Dez Bryant during and after Thursday’s game brought a few headlines.

Even given their struggles, this Cardinals’ team is a far cry from the one that shared the NFC East – and usually resided in the basement – for many years.

The Eagles, Panthers, Bears and Giants await in the final one-fourth of the season for Washington in a stretch that ultimately will decide how this 2016 campaign will be remembered.

REDskin Zone: On to Big D

The Washington Redskins face as grueling a week as you could see in pro football. A Sunday night contest followed by a trip halfway across the country to play a Thanksgiving afternoon game against the team with the NFL’s top record.

“I’m not sure anyone’s ever had to do this,” Coach Jay Gruden said. “The schedule-makers did us no favors.”

The first segment of the week, however, was a huge success, as Kirk Cousins, Rob Kelley and the Redskins topped visiting Green Bay 42-24, in front of a national audience on Sunday Night Football.washvsgb

Now 6-3-1, Washington has lost only once in its last eight games and heads to NFC East-leading Dallas with almost as much momentum as the 9-1 Cowboys have. It’s not just a marquee game because of being played on Thanksgiving, but it’s going to be critical in the NFC playoff race, too.

Against the Packers, it was another strong night for the Washington offense, which piled up 515 total yards on the arm of Cousins and the legs of the rookie Kelley, who finished the night with 137 yards and three touchdowns.

With former starter Matt Jones a healthy scratch for a second straight week, Kelley has securely grabbed the No. 1 running back spot for the Redskins, who avenged a loss to the Packers in last year’s opening round of the playoffs.

“I think tonight you saw what we felt we were capable of doing last January and just didn’t get it done,” Cousins said. “We’re all competitors so we all came into this game with a bit of a sour taste in our mouths and a chip on our shoulder with a desire to prove ourselves.”

Cousins again was solid, throwing for 375 yards and scores to Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder and a returning DeSean Jackson, who had missed time with a shoulder injury.

All the ingredients are in place for a tasty Thanksgiving Day match-up against the hated Cowboys, who just keep rolling behind rookies Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott.washvsdallas

Needless to say, both sides are ready for the contest.

“This next game will determine a lot,” Jackson said. “If we go out and knock them out, a lot of people will see what we’re about.”

Dallas defeated the Redskins in Washington back in week two on a late touchdown run by former Redskin Alfred Morris. Since then, Washington has looked like a different team, while Dallas has just kept winning.

Get your popcorn, and all the rest of your Thanksgiving fare ready, for a good one Thursday.

REDskin Zone: Done In By An Old Teammate

Alfred Morris scored the first 29 touchdowns of his NFL career wearing the colors of the Washington Redskins, many of them on the turf at FedEx Field outside the nation’s capital.alfredmorriscowboys

His 30th also came on that field, but it sure brought a different reaction from Redskin fans. It came wearing the blue and silver of the hated Dallas Cowboys, and it was the go-ahead and eventual winning score deep in the fourth quarter of a 27-23 victory for the Cowboys.

That gives the Redskins an 0-2 start, tough territory for a team trying to repeat as division champions, and already two games behind the New York Giants.

Worse yet, it’s never a good feeling after a loss to the Cowboys.

“At the end of the day, our will has to be stronger than theirs,” said veteran safety DeAngelo Hall. “I don’t feel like we wanted it as much as they did.”

Much of the blame fell on the shoulders of quarterback Kirk Cousins. While he completed 28 of 46 passes for 364 yards and one score, Cousins also missed several opportunities. Desean Jackson was open a couple of times for big gains and was overthrown. Rookie Josh Doctson beat the defense for a big play on another play but Cousins underthrew him on what likely would have been a touchdown. And a drive for a possible go-ahead score in the fourth quarter resulted in an interception in the end zone.

Like the week one loss to Pittsburgh, too many Redskin drives deep into the opponent’s territory wound up in field goals (three field goals to two touchdowns).

pierregarconA quote from receiver Pierre Garcon was making the rounds on social media early in the week.

“We don’t score touchdowns in the red zone. That’s it,” Garcon said. “We call the play, the play doesn’t work. We call another play, the play doesn’t work. We call another play, the play doesn’t work. Field goal team comes on.”

A lot of that falls on the play and leadership of the quarterback, and while Cousins didn’t duck any of the criticism immediately after the game, a lot more commentary surely is coming this week and the weeks to come, especially if the losses keep piling up.

“I think what’s disappointing is we feel like there is the talent, there is the capability to be very good in those areas and we’ve shown that,” Cousins said. “So, we just have to do it more consistently than what we are right now.

“All we can do now is look forward to the 14 games ahead and hopefully we deliver,” Cousins said. “We knew it was an important game. I think everybody played hard and the effort is there, but it is a small margin for error and we weren’t on the right side of it today.”kirkcousins4

The game was a back-and-forth battle. After falling down 10-0, the Redskins battled back within 13-10 at halftime, as Matt Jones punched in a 14-yard touchdown and Dustin Hopkins kicked his fourth field goal of the young season.

Washington snagged the lead at 17-13 after taking the second half kickoff for a score, Cousins’ lone touchdown pass, an 11-yard strike to Jamison Crowder. Dak Prescott answered on a 4-yard run for Dallas but Hopkins kicked back-to-back field goals and Washington went to the fourth quarter up 23-20.

It almost was more, as the Redskins tried to push to a 10-point lead early in the fourth, but Cousins was intercepted in the end zone by Barry Church, giving Dallas back the ball.

Morris had been on the bench most of the game while rookie Ezekiel Elliott carried the load for Dallas. But the Redskins forced two fumbles from Elliott, one recovered by Josh Norman to set up Hopkins’ go-ahead field goal, and Cowboy Coach Jason Garrett called Morris’ number with the game on the line.

He didn’t find a lot of success against a Redskin run defense that improved from week one – only gaining 7 yards on 5 runs – but he made the biggest play of the day 4:45 from the end, scoring from 4 yards out to ruin it for his old team.

“He deserved it. He definitely deserved it,” Elliott said. “We work together to make each other better, on and off the field. We critique each other. I was glad to see him get in there.”

 

Week 3 – At New York Giants, Noon Sunday

This game started getting hyped up even before the Dallas contest, when Giants receiver Victor Cruz took a shot at Norman, pointing out how he didn’t wind up matched up against Steeler star Antonio Brown every down of their week one match-up.

What followed was the predictable war of words.

joshnormanpressFirst Cruz: “Especially if he calls himself – I don’t call him this, he calls himself the best corner in the league – then you have to go cover the best receivers on the other team,” Cruz said. “Going in, I thought he was going to follow AB all over the place, but he didn’t. So it is what it is. He made his choice.”

Norman fired back: “When you’re at the top of your profession, someone is always trying to grab at you just because they’re not at the top of your profession,” Norman said to reporters. “You just have to extend down your arm and hand them an olive branch.”

Needless to say, it should be a fun Sunday afternoon outside the Big Apple. A loss would put the Redskins three games behind the Giants just three weeks into the season.

REDskin Zone: NFC East Preview

The NFC East wasn’t its historically dominant self in 2015 and really hasn’t been for a number of years. And it again doesn’t figure to be anywhere near the toughest division in professional football again in 2016.NFCeastCenter

But what it may lack in quality, the division is making up for in intrigue, as storied rivalries, new faces and key injuries have left the East wide open this season.

We talk about the Redskins every week here in the REDskin Zone and will give a more comprehensive season preview next week. So here this week is a look at the three familiar foes they’ll have to beat to claim a second straight division title.

 

Dallas Cowboys

Last year: 4-12

See the Redskins: at Washington Sept. 18 (week 2), at Dallas Nov. 24 (week 12, Thanksgiving Day)

CowboysLogoThe Cowboys had perhaps the best talent across the board in the division last year but were gutted by the injuries to quarterback Tony Romo. His backups went only 1-11 in games they started, ruining the Cowboys’ chances but leaving everyone to say “with Romo they’ll be the favorites in 2016.”

And then, one big hit to Romo’s lower back in last week’s preseason game in Seattle and “poof” the Cowboys are right back in the same boat. The veteran is expected to miss 8 to 10 weeks with a fractured vertebra, meaning his return would come around mid-season.

That leaves Dallas, apparently, with a rookie backfield of quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. Both are battle-tested from power conference games, Prescott as a multi-year starter at Mississippi State and Elliott with the powerhouse Ohio State squad.

But the NFL is a whole new level, to say the least, even with all the talent they’re surrounded by on offense.

Defensively, the Cowboys are dealing with several injuries and suspensions. But they still have the likes of defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, veteran linebacker Sean Lee and solid play at corner with veterans Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne.

 

New York Giants

Last Year: 6-10

See the Redskins: At New York Sept. 25 (week 3), At Washington Jan. 1 (week 17)

GiantLogoThe Tom Coughlin era seemed like it might never end in New York, but it finally did. Enter Ben McAdoo, former Giants offensive coordinator to try to take the team back up the ladder.

Any conversation about NYG starts with veteran quarterback Eli Manning, who looks to have an improved group to throw to with an apparently healthier Victor Cruz and a promising rookie in Oklahoma product Sterling Shepard.

The run game will be a question, and the defense has some work to do also, although it has some talented playmakers in ends Jason Pierre-Paul and free agent acquisition Olivier Vernon and another free agent pickup at corner in Janoris Jenkins.

This still figures to be a team that will have to win some shootouts to think about postseason.

 

Philadelphia Eagles

Last year: 7-9

See the Redskins: At Washington Oct. 16 (week 6), At Philadelphia Dec. 11 (week 14)

Eagles-logoThe Chip Kelly era more or less became a dumpster fire in Philadelphia, with angry Eagle fans happy to pour on more gasoline.

Now they too have a new head coach in former quarterback Doug Pederson and a high draft pick at quarterback in Carson Wentz. But he’ll start the season behind Sam Bradford, who ruffled many in Philly by asking for a trade in the offseason. We’ll see what his reception is like from the Philly faithful after the first couple of interceptions.

The Eagles aren’t devoid of talent, though. Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles still have some life left at running back, there is a solid core at wide receiver for whoever is throwing the ball, and Fletcher Cox is as good as they come up front on the defensive side.

And in a division as wide-open as this one, the Eagles aren’t that far away from making an impact.

 

Week 3 preseason – Washington 21, Buffalo 16

The Redskins’ dress rehearsal was a solid night for starting quarterback Kirk Cousins. After a couple of first-quarter wobbles, Cousins threw three second-quarter touchdown passes, to Jordan Reed, Pierre Garcon and Ryan Grant.

The Redskin defense hung on at the finish for their second preseason win, as Kendall Fuller intercepted E.J. Manuel in the end zone to cap the game.

The bad news: yet another running back went down, as rookie Keith Marshall suffered an early elbow injury, leaving undrafted rookies Robert Kelley and Mack Brown to most of the running on the night. Marshall joins projected starter Matt Jones on the sideline. Jones is expected back for the season opener while Marshall is projected to be out maybe 3 to 4 more weeks.

KeithMarshall2

 

Preseason Week 4 – at Tampa Bay, Thursday, Sept. 1

The last position battles and roster spots will be on the line for the Redskins and the Bucs as they finish up preseason play in a Thursday night tilt.

Beyond that, it’s a week that means nothing more than keeping front-line players healthy for when the games start to count for real in another week.

Who Has The Highest Selling NFL Jersey?

In a three month period that ended on June 30th leading up to the 2016-17 NFL season, who had the highest selling NFL jersey?

I would have guessed it was an established star, most likely on a play-off team. Cam Newton, Gronk, Tom Brady, Larry Fitsgerald or Russell Wilson. But all of those guesses would have been incorrect.GoffRams

The player that has sold the most jerseys in that time frame has not even played a down in the NFL yet. That is right, he is a rookie. So it must be one of the top two quarterbacks taken in the 2016 NFL draft then, as these teams and fan basses are getting behind and supporting their new franchise quarterbacks. I wonder if it is Jared Goff with the Los Angeles Rams or if it is Carson Wentz with the Philadelphia Eagles?

What?!?!? Both of those guesses are wrong too!

The answer to the question of who has sold the most jerseys over those 3 months is new Dallas Cowboy and former Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott!

eelliotI mean I know that the Dallas Cowboys have always had the monicre of “American’s Team” and THE Ohio State Buckeys are more than just a team, they are a mighty sports brand, but come on, Ezekiel Elliot beating out Odel Becham Jr. and the Texan’s JJ Watt.

Let me make this even more impressive, or unbelievable, whichever term you prefer. Elliott was not even in the league, nor did anyone know which team was going to draft him until almost 30 days into this 90 day window. Remember, the 2016 NFL draft did not occur until the 28th day of April.

 

Based on sales from April 1-June 30 on NFLShop.com, the league’s official online site, Elliott beat out New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who despite the focus on Deflategate finished in the second spot, followed by New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton and Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski. Carson Wentz, who was picked second in the draft by the Philadelphia Eagles, finished sixth.

Elliott undoubtedly had quite the momentum coming into the league, given Ohio State’s huge fan base. In January 2015, Elliott ran for four touchdowns in the team’s 42-20 victory over Oregon, giving the Buckeyes the first College Football Playoff title.

That’s why it’s no surprise that after Dallas, Columbus is the city that has ordered the most Elliott Cowboys jerseys, according to data from Fanatics, which runs the league’s site.ee1

But Elliott also has done his part by attracting plenty of additional attention with his “crop top” look, appearing on the draft day red carpet showing his abs and rolling up the jersey for the NFLPA Rookie Premiere in May, which was the first time he wore the full Cowboys uniform. Elliott won’t be able to do that in the league, as rules stipulate that a jersey must be tucked into pants and can’t be cut off.

Sales on the official online store do not include sales from the Cowboys store, which is run separately from the league’s teams. The Cowboys are the only team to distribute its own merchandise and control the sales channels for the products. Therefore, the team does not split revenue on the sales it generates in its own channels.

In May, the Cowboys signed Elliott to a deal worth $24.9 million that included a $16.3 million signing bonus. Elliott also has a separate endorsement deal with Nike.

The highest a Cowboys player was on the best-selling jersey list last season (from April 1, 2015-Jan. 30, 2016) was No. 9 (wide receiver Dez Bryant). Tight end Jason Witten finished 10th.

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