It’s Wednesday, which means it is once again time to pull out the Cowboys Blitz mailbag.
75% of Jaylon Smith or 100% of someone else?
This specific Twitter question is related to a comment I made on Tuesday’s CowboysCast. And the answer is absolutely.
Anthony Hitchens isn’t terrible, per se, but I do see regression. Hitchens was better in 2015 than 2016, and he was better in 2014 than he was in 2015.
I don’t believe Jaylon Smith will ever be the player he was supposed to be before his devastating knee injury, and I’m uneasy about the idea of Smith being the only linebacker in NFL history to play with an AFO brace.
But if the nerve has regenerated some, Smith at 75% isn’t out of the question. Jaylon Smith’s ability still makes him the second best linebacker on the roster if that’s the case.
Back in March, Albert Breer of MMQB spoke with former Patriots team doctor Thomas Gill about the implications of playing with the brace:
“A hinged AFO will allow you to have your foot flex up, but not have it slap down. So basically you wear a brace so when you’re running or walking, your foot can have clearance when you swing your leg forward. But it’s not built for speed.You have to be a freakish athlete where you can afford to lose 20 or 25 percent of your speed, at least, and 45 percent of your power, and still be able to compete in the NFL.”
Smith is that sort of freakish athlete. Losing 20-25% of his speed isn’t optimal, but if there is anyone who could afford to lose some of it, it’s Smith. He’s a warrior and probably the most positive player on the Cowboys’ roster, so I have optimism that he can work to become 75% of himself.
Would you rather have 75% of Luke Kuechly or healthy Hitchens? Not a damning insinuation on Hitchens, but rather a glowing endorsement of Smith’s capabilities.
One thing to note from Dr. Gill’s statements to MMQB is the risk of further injury:
“The risk is that you’re going to be more prone to injury. Your foot’s going to get caught in an awkward position. So if you’re in a pile-up, you know the classic high ankle sprain mechanism where the guy falls on the back of your leg? That leg’s going to be a lot more prone to getting caught in an awkward position, because he can’t point his toe.”
Something to keep in mind everytime you see Smith in one of those scrums for a fumble.
Can win-loss records be deceiving?
“Do you think it’s possible the Cowboys will be better in 2017 and have a worse record?”
– John via email
Absolutely, both are likely.
Even though the Cowboys roster is stacked with rookies and veteran castoffs, they have significantly more talent in the secondary, an area that was arguably their biggest weakness last season.
Between November 13th-24th of last year, Dallas allowed 1,116 yards passing, which is the most the team has ever allowed in a three game span. They finished the year 26th in passing yards allowed, and we all remember the Aaron Rodgers’ 3rd and 20 conversion at the end of January’s divisional playoff loss.
Anthony Brown will have another year of experience, Nolan Carroll is a solid band-aid as your rookie class grows, and Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis arguably have more talent than any of the other corners on this year’s or last year’s roster.
Looking at the safeties, the Cowboys still seem to be excited about Kavon Frazier, they added an absolute steal in Xavier Woods, and made a quality safety signing in Robert Blanton. With Byron Jones continuing to grow into his role, the secondary definitively has more talent than 2016.
We covered above how Jaylon Smith at 75% is better than any other linebacker on the team not named Sean Lee.
David Irving’s suspension stings, but he’s beginning to come into his own. Maliek Collins will have a lot to build on from 2016, Tyrone Crawford is finally going to be healthy it appears, and Benson Mayowa was really coming on at the end of last season. If Taco Charlton can be what the Cowboys want, Damontre’ Moore can reach his level of play in Seattle, and DeMarcus Lawrence plays like a guy with money to earn this offseason, then we should see the defensive line play at a higher level. This isn’t even mentioning the very talented Stephen Paea.
The Cowboys will have to solidify right tackle, but the rest of the offense returns, and you’ve added intriguing weapons Ryan Switzer and Noah Brown. Quarterback Dak Prescott will have an entire offseason as the starter and should show improvements in footwork and post-snap reads.
Even with that said, the Cowboys aren’t likely, in my opinion, to match their 13 wins from last season.
The schedule is very, very difficult. The last month in particular (at the Giants, at the Raiders, home against the Seahawks, and at the Eagles) looks to be a brutal stretch.
The lucky bounces in 2016 went an inordinate number of times in Dallas’ favor. Week 3 against San Francisco, week 9 against Philadelphia, week 11 against Pittsburgh, week 13 against Minnesota, week 15 against Tampa, and both Washington games felt like they were in serious doubt for large portions of regulation. If Dallas doesn’t have such a high rate of luck, they’re looking at potentially losing half of those games and finishing 10-6 or 9-7.
This is a team that could be closer to the talent of a 13-3 team this season, while finishing closer to the 10-6 record that perhaps they should have displayed in 2016.