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Cowboys news: Ezekiel Elliott would like a rushing title, but would rather have wins

Plus Dak, Amari, and more.

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Philadelphia Eagles v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Ezekiel Elliott gives his thoughts on what it would mean to win another rushing title and his current work load. | David Moore, SportsDay
Ezekiel Elliott checks the “head in the right place” box concerning his feelings about winning a second rushing title (after his suspension likely cost him last year’s).

”I would say that’s important to me,’’ Elliott said. “Yeah, it would be cool.

”But I want to go out here and win ballgames. I want to make a run deep into the playoffs. I want to have an opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl, so I mean, I’m just going to keep working and whatever happens, happens.

”You’ve got to let things like that handle themselves and things will work out.’’

Elliott currently leads the NFL in rushing with 1,262 yards. Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams is next with 1,203 yards.

Amari Cooper named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after career day against Philadelphia Eagles - R.J. Ochoa, Blogging The Boys
Let’s start out with some more kudos for the Cowboys’ 2019 first round pick.

It was about a month ago when the Dallas Cowboys were coming off of their road win against the Philadelphia Eagles that rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week. If you get that type of performance in a game like that, you’re doing pretty alright for yourself as an NFL team.

Fast forward a few weeks and things have flipped in terms of the side of the ball. The Cowboys took down the Eagles for the second time this season (what a beautiful sentence) and did so in large part thanks to their superstar wide receiver, Amari Cooper, the NFC Offensive Player of the Week.

It gets even better.

What Amari Cooper and Dak Prescott's little act of rebellion vs. Eagles says about their young partnership | Kevin Sherrington, SportsDay
A lot has been made about Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper changing the play call and getting a 75-yard touchdown against the Eagles. But that is not a sign that they are going rogue.

Given Dak's good-soldier constitution, it follows that he might be a little shy about going against the grain. Told what to do, he executes it to the best of his ability. Even when he runs, it's usually as a last resort.

Amari Cooper isn't exactly a rebel, either. One of the reasons the Cowboys gave up that first-round pick was because of his character. He's a smart, fairly quiet man who doesn't like to draw attention to himself off the field, making him different from many of the alpha males who populate the upper echelon of the position.

Certainly he's not going to be caught on camera screaming at his coaches, as a former Cowboy or two often did. Give a player of a similar disposition what he wants, and where does it end?

Chances are that's not happening with Dak and Cooper. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Dak Prescott reveals his winning inspiration | Clarence Hill, Jr., Fort Worth Star-Telegram
The head coach called Dak Prescott a "tough SOB". Here is a less colorful description of what he meant.

Coach Jason Garrett continues to maintain that Prescott is still a young, maturing quarterback but also one that has the skill to make all throws and no limitations on developing into a great quarterback.

But what he values most in Prescott is his work ethic, mental toughness, and leadership that continues to show up late in games and in times of adversity.

“The real positive was when you make those mistakes with the ball, those can be critical plays in the game. It’s hard to overcome that,” Garrett said. “But he kept playing and I thought he did a great job leading our team with that mentality. We’re just going to keep playing. We’re going to play through the success. We’re going to play through this adversity. Let’s go down and get this thing done.

“He threw the ball really well and made a number of big plays in the critical moments in the game of the fourth quarter and in overtime. I thought that was the biggest thing. When you play quarterback and you have some of those balls that go the other way sometimes it’s hard to pull that trigger and throw it the way you want to throw it. That wasn’t the case at all for him. He was ripping it in there and making a ton of big plays as that game went on.”

Five plays that have kept Cowboys' win streak afloat - Todd Archer, ESPN
I know you are tired of hearing details from the latest win over the Eagles. Oh, you're not? Here's another.

The situation: In overtime, the Cowboys faced fourth-and-1 from the Philadelphia 19. A field goal would have given the Cowboys the lead, but the Eagles would have a chance to win the game on their possession.

The play: On third-and-1, the Cowboys went with 21 personnel -- two backs, one tight end -- to try pick up a first down but Elliott was stopped for no gain to set up fourth down. Garrett did not think about a field goal. He was going for it and had two tight ends and Noah Brown, their best blocking receiver, on the field but had to call a time out with the play clock running down.

The Cowboys changed personnel to three tight ends and one back. The Eagles had nine defenders in the box. They knew what was coming.

"Get me the rock," Elliott said.

The left side of the line blocked down but rookie tight end Dalton Schultz was beaten at the snap by Brandon Graham, forcing Elliott to his left where an unblocked Malcolm Jenkins was waiting. Elliott was willing to carry Jenkins just far enough for a yard and a first down.

The Marinelli Report, Week 14: Cowboys’ constant pressure leads to Wentz and Eagles sputtering – Bob Sturm, The Athletic
It was a game where the defense started out strong but faded late. Still, there were some impressive things to take from that game.

You are seldom going to hold a team to one third-down conversion and less than 23 minutes of possession. Add that to the sixth time this season the defense has held their opposition below 300 yards and you have a beautiful performance. The Cowboys looked like they ran out of gas late (or the Eagles finally got more comfortable), but it was by all accounts a pretty weird afternoon of football. The point is this defense has taken that Tennessee game and used it as motivation. During this winning streak the defense has not been perfect, but it’s darn close.

Agent's Take: Cowboys could put Demarcus Lawrence on the tag again in 2019 - Joel Corry,
Former player agent Joel Corry looks at seven potential tag candidates, and offers ome perspective on what a contract for Lawrence could look like.

By CBA rule, the Cowboys are precluded from signing Lawrence long-term until the regular season ends. Lawrence has been adamant about not playing under a tag two years in a row, although a second designation in 2019 will be $20,571,600 with the CBA's required 20-percent increase from his current number.

Lawrence should be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the changing market conditions considering that players who can consistently pressure opposing quarterbacks are paid a premium. The five-year, $85 million contract containing $52.5 million in guarantees Olivier Vernon signed with the Giants during 2016 free agency was an important data point in offseason contract discussions. Lawrence is represented by David Canter, who negotiated Vernon's deal. It wouldn't be surprising if Canter viewed adjusting Vernon's contract to a 2019 salary-cap environment as a general contractual framework when negotiations can continue once the regular season ends. A comparable deal to Vernon's would average a little more than $20.75 million per year with the expected 2019 salary cap increase.

Forget the penalties! Cowboys DE Randy Gregory is playing at the highest level of his career | John Owning, SportsDay
Despite the frustrations we feel over his penalties (not all of which look totally legit upon review), Randy Gregory is finally coming into his own for the Hot Boyz.

Through all the trials and tribulations, Gregory is finally playing at a level akin with his talent. So far this season, Gregory has recorded 16 tackles, six for loss, 28 total pressures, five sacks and six quarterback hits, which equals a 7.3 pass-rush productivity rating, per Pro Football Focus -- OK numbers for a complementary pass rusher.

But since Week 10, Gregory has really turned it on, accumulating four sacks, three quarterback hits and 17 total pressures, equaling a team-best 8.5 pass-rush productivity rating in that time span.

The biggest reason for Gregory's improved play as of late?

A potent speed rush.

Out Of The Woods: The Story Of Antwaun - Lindsay Cash Draper,
DTs Antwaun Woods and Maliek Collins (aong with Tyrone Crawford subbing in on 3rd downs) are the unsung heroes of this defense. This is Antwaun's stroy, a must-read.

Woods landed with the Cowboys after spending two full years fighting his way on and off the practice squad with the Titans. And through a short but exciting stint with Dallas, it’s hard to believe he was contemplating if football was even for him, just this last spring.

“The first day I came for camp in Oxnard, I was fourth string. I kinda reflected back like, ‘Dang. Do I pout, do I complain walking around like something’s wrong, or do I walk around and make them know?’ I told (defensive tackles) coach [Leon Lett], ‘Man, fourth string. I ain’t never been there before. Even as I got to college. I mean I was always at least third!’

Seeing his name listed fourth on the depth chart hit Woods deep. “I used it as motivation and I told Coach, ‘Don’t blink, before you know it I’m going to be at the top of that depth chart.’”

After showing out in training camp, Woods has started 12 of 13 games for Dallas, and has been a dominant force up the middle. He’s become a staple not only in his own right, but picking up slack for injuries to David Irving and Maliek Collins throughout the season.

NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Race: James leads pack | Andy Benoit,
Derwin James, Leighton Vander Esch, and Denzel Ward headline the best defensive rookie class in years.

2. Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Cowboys (19th overall)

The Boise State product had started just 14 games of 11-man football upon entering the NFL; as in high school he played eight-man in Riggins, Idaho (population: 413). Vander Esch said prior to the draft that the eight-man game was beneficial because it forced him to tackle in space. Turns out that wasn’t just pre-draft spin. He might already be the NFL’s best open area tackler—a crucial note in an era where offenses more than ever look to quickly get the ball in space. Given how swiftly and effortlessly he covers ground and closes in, and his rising coverage acumen (his technique in man and awareness in zone have looked better each week), Vander Esch will soon be the NFL’s best linebacker, assuming his football IQ is indeed as sharp as it appears.

Inside the master plan to make Leighton Vander Esch a Cowboy – Calvin Watkins, The Athletic
This is a must-read piece from Watkins, who put a lot of research int this. An excerpt:

Within the draft’s first round, the Cowboys were also interested in safety Derwin James and defensive tackle Vita Vea. Dallas liked two wide receivers early: Calvin Ridley and DJ Moore. But the team considered both to be second-round players. The Cowboys weren’t going to use a first-round pick on a wide receiver unless he was a No. 1. Ridley and Moore were viewed as No. 2 receivers.

The Chargers took James, the safety from Florida State, at No. 17. Green Bay traded up with Seattle to get cornerback Jaire Alexander at No. 18. When that happened, Slavin received a text message from Cowboys College Scouting coordinator Chris Hall: “Will McClay is on the phone with Leighton, we’re on the clock.”

Vander Esch was a Cowboy.

“Every single step of the way has been perfect,” Vander Esch said. “It’s been amazing; I couldn’t ask for anything more.”

There are no hot 'it' NFL head coach candidates in the assistant ranks - Jason La Canfora,
La Canfora explains that the array of first-time head coaching candidates leaves much to be desired and offers these takes on John DeFilippo and Kris Richard.

There were many in the media who have been trying to champion John DeFilippo as the top head coaching candidate for years – despite him having been with seven teams to this point already without ever being seen as the guy there.

Which makes me believe teams might, wisely, get a little more creative in terms of whom they consider. Dallas defensive backs coach Kris Richard is an assistant on Rod Marinelli's staff, and not running that defense himself, but I have to believe he gets some interviews.

NFL competition committee to look at Elliott penalty | Mark Lane,
The Eagles fan base continues to weep copious (and delicious) tears over how they got jobbed by the officials on Sunday. But the Cowboys have a bone to pick with the zebras as well over the lowering the helmet foul called on Elliott.

On 105.3 “The Fan” [KRLD-FM] Tuesday, Cowboys owner, president, and general manager Jerry Jones said the competition committee will be looking into that particular interpretation of the personal foul.

”I know they’re looking at it,” said Jones. “I know one member that is is [Cowboys COO] Stephen Jones that is on the competition committee, and we disagree with -- we agree with trying to be protect the, whether it be the defensive player or offensive player.”

According to Jones, both Elliott and the Eagles defenders should have been flagged for the penalty, not just the running back.

Said Jones: “In this particular case, if you’re going to call that you, in my mind, both sides should have got the penalty. But that’s real hard. I think Zeke was protecting himself. Zeke protects himself by being aggressive himself. And he tries to deliver a harder blow than he’s getting.”

2019 NFL draft nuggets for all 32 teams - What you need to know - ESPN staff
A lot of teams already are having to turn their sights to the draft. The Cowboys aren't one of them, but it is still something that will interest us before too long.

The Cowboys will not have a first-round pick because of the trade for Amari Cooper, which has helped them get into playoff contention, but they have other offensive needs they can look to fill, starting in the second round. Tight end needs an upgrade. With the retirements of Jason Witten and James Hanna, the Cowboys did not have their top two tight ends from 2017. Geoff Swaim has done a solid job filling in, but he has a broken wrist and is set to be a free agent. Rookie Dalton Schultz, Blake Jarwin and Rico Gathers don't look to be every-down players. Finding a legitimate threat down the seam for Dak Prescott should be a priority. -- Todd Archer

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