Writer's Blocks: Early Draft Strategy, Scouting Philadelphia; Other Bye Notes






FRISCO, Texas – I don't even know what to do with myself right now. Why isn't this team playing?

Obviously, I'm no stranger to the bye week. I've been watching football all my life, and this is my fourth year covering the Cowboys. But it's unusual to stop when things are rolling like this.

Think back to the past few years. My first season, 2013, this team got a much-needed rest in Week 11, after they were absolutely demolished by the Saints. They needed a break, and they rebounded from the time off with a 24-21 win in New York.

The 2014 Cowboys needed all the rest they could get, since their quarterback had a broken bone in his back – sound familiar? Tony Romo gutted out a 31-17 win against Jacksonville just two weeks after suffering the injury. After a week off, he delivered another tough win in New York.

And then of course there was 2015, when the Brandon Weeden-led Cowboys got crushed by New England and made a quarterback change during their time off, making way for Matt Cassel.

So back to my point: NFL teams usually need the week off.

This team sure doesn't look like it. These guys are rolling over everyone, winning four of their past five games by double-digit points. They're making it look easy, and it's honestly kind of a bummer that we've got another week to wait to see if they can keep it up.

Anyway, here's some stuff I'll be thinking about until then:

1.I'm going to have a close eye on the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend – and for more than just one reason.

Sure, the Eagles are a divisional rival, and they're also the Cowboys' next opponent. They're also playing the Minnesota Vikings, who are the only other team in the NFC with as many wins as the Cowboys.

But the main reason I care is that I want to see the Eagles' front seven, and I want to know if their run defense is as bad as it looked last weekend.

Headlined by Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry, the Eagles boast a super-talented front seven, and they're currently ranked ninth in rush defense. But in the 27-20 loss to Washington, they got gashed for an absurd 230 rushing yards on 33 carries – an average of seven yards per carry. That might be partially due to Logan leaving the game early with a "week to week" groin strain, but those are the breaks of football.

The Vikings literally have the worst rushing offense in the league right now, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry on the year. If they can string together some success against the Eagles, I really like what it means for Ezekiel Elliott and Co.

2. Even if the Eagles lose to Minnesota, they'll still sit at just 3-3 this season – which brings me to my next point.

It's still early, but how impressive has the NFC East looked through the first six weeks of the season? When I started this job, the division was a laughing stock where 8-8 was a good enough record to make the playoffs. With the lone exception of the 2014 Cowboys, the East's champion has hovered near the .500 mark in recent years.

If the division champion is usually mediocre, that also means it's unlikely there'll be a wildcard. In fact, the NFC East hasn't sent two teams to the playoffs since 2009 – when Dallas won the division and hosted Philadelphia in the wildcard round.

Take a look around this week, though. Thanks to the impressive play of Carson Wentz, the Eagles are a surprising 3-2, while the Redskins have surged to a four-game winning streak of their own thanks to one of the league's most high-octane offenses.

The Giants have slumped recently, but they snapped a three-game losing streak against a solid Baltimore team. I also think it's fair to expect their $200 million defense to figure things out over time.

Add it all up, and you've got 15 combined wins by the four NFC East teams – the most in the league so far. And against non-divisional opponents, they're a combined 11-5.

I'm not going to be surprised when several of these teams are still in the hunt come December.

3.I didn't even know about it six weeks ago, but the Arizona Cardinals' Friday quarterback competition has become one of my favorite things in the league. When Carson Palmer lost the competition back in Week 1, he creeped us all out by dressing like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Patrick Peterson took part in the competition this week, and he didn't fare so well. But his loss is our gain, since we got to see the All-Pro cornerback warmup dressed like a dang T-Rex.

https://twitter.com/P2/status/788452218437455872

This is fun. I like when football is fun. Make football more fun.

4.Amazingly, the Cowboys have started all six of their games with the ball. Now, that's not because they've won every coin toss – sometimes they win and ask for the ball, sometimes they lose and their opponent defers.

Regardless, they've driven downfield and gotten points to start five of these six games – three touchdowns and two field goals. Their one miss so far was Week 4 in San Francisco, when Dan Bailey missed a 47-yard field goal with a bad back.

People have tried to tell me this flies in the face of sound football strategy, because traditionally you want the ball after halftime. But as I mentioned in this column last week, the Cowboys want to be able to dictate the pace of the game, and having the lead allows them to do so.

The benefits of scoring first are obvious. What makes this so crazy is that Jason Garrett trusts Dak Prescott to start hot, week after week after week. It's a risky proposition, but it's hard to argue with it to this point.

5. With no Cowboys game to focus on this week, I'm using my free time to turn toward the draft – because I'm a sick, pathetic weirdo.

I mentioned last week that we recorded a Bye Week Edition of The Draft Show, which you can listen to on the site. But I also wanted to jot down some thoughts in this space:

It has only been six weeks, but I think we're getting a pretty clear picture of what this team needs in the spring. It's ironic to think that at this time last year, there was a massive panic about the future of the quarterback position – and we seem to have solved that problem after just 12 months.

The pass rush is no nearer to being figured out, however. The Cowboys are making it work thanks to hustle and coaching, but this defensive line could use some upgrading. If you're assuming you can't count on Randy Gregory, the Cowboys need to find themselves a right end to partner with DeMarcus Lawrence.

Right alongside defensive end, I've got to consider cornerback a top priority for this team. Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr are off to great starts this year, but they're also both headed for free agency in March. Orlando Scandrick is a quality player, but he's been battling injuries all year after missing all of last season.

It might sound surprising, but I'd consider wide receiver a high priority come draft season, as well. Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley are here for the foreseeable future. Terrance Williams and Brice Butler are soon-to-be free agents – and right now I'm not convinced I'd give either of them a sizable deal in free agency.

Last draft cycle, we talked about selecting a rookie like Will Fuller or Josh Doctson to plug into this lineup across from Dez. I still think that could be a solid strategy in 2017.

6.It sounds silly, but I'm awfully curious about the Cowboys' interior line going forward.

Obviously, Travis Frederick is here for the long haul, having just signed a massive contract. It's a good bet the front office will pick up Zack Martin's fifth-year option in the spring – and they just might extend him in the summer, the same way they did with Frederick and Tyron Smith.

What I want to know is, what about that left guard position? Ron Leary is balling out in place of the injured La'el Collins. But Ron Leary is also headed for unrestricted free agency, while the Cowboys can control Collins for up to two more years.

The NFL isn't designed to allow a team to hold two starter-quality players at the exact same position. My guess is that Leary pursues a big-time deal in free agency, and Collins returns to the starting role next year.

That all sounds great, but I do wonder about the future. Joe Looney is signed through the 2017 season, and as I said, the Cowboys should be able to hold on to Collins through 2018. But you likely aren't going to have the luxury of the insane depth this team has right now. I wonder if the Cowboys would invest a decent draft pick to give them peace of mind. We're not talking about a first-round pick, but possibly a Day 2 guy as an insurance policy for the starters in place.

7. This is a dumb projection, but that's ok because I'm a member of the media and that's the type of dumb thing I'm allowed to do. But I can't help but think about the injury to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and how it pertains to the Cowboys.

Dallas plays at Pittsburgh in about three weeks, and all of a sudden that game looks much more manageable if Roethlisberger can't go. I would never celebrate an injury to an opposing player, because I'm not a total jerk, but you can't deny that it's a big break for the Cowboys. Now, that game at Heinz Field goes from a daunting challenge to a manageable one.

That of course brings me back to the Cowboys, who faced a similar situation last year with Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden taking the bite out of an otherwise imposing team. Fast forward to 2016, and they're rolling under Dak Prescott.

You can't say enough about how amazing it is when an NFL team finds a quality backup quarterback.

(And for all of y'all that want to tell me Dak should be the starter, just spare me for another week or so. It's the bye week, and I'm on vacation.)

8. Myles Jack Watch:In an effort to get their uber-talented draft pick onto the field, the Jaguars have moved Jack to strong side linebacker. That's in contrast to the early going of the season, where Jack was a backup for middle and weak side linebackers Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith. I wonder if the move means any more production for my guy. To this point in the season, he's credited with just seven tackles.

9. I would never in my life have guessed Dez Bryant is a chef, but that's apparently why he had his ring and middle finger bandaged on Wednesday morning:

https://twitter.com/jonmachota/status/788778229758697472

I unfortunately wasn't around when Dez spoke to reporters after practice, but I'm dying to ask him so many question. What kind of soup? What was the base? How many different recipes does he have? What other kinds of food can he make? Does he wear an apron?

I care about the answers to these questions far more than any football-related issues.

10.I incorrectly picked the Cowboys' game for the first time this season. I picked them to lose in Green Bay, and they shut me up – props to them. I still feel good about my 5-1 record picking their games, but I'm glad I get a week off to re-evaluate. I did pretty well with the rest of the NFL, going 10-4 with the rest of my picks. I'm 57-35 on the year.

GREEN BAY over Chicago

New York Giants over Los Angeles (London)
New Orleans over KANSAS CITY
Indianapolis over TENNESSEE
Minnesota over PHILADELPHIA
CINCINNATI over Cleveland
DETROIT over Washington
Oakland over JACKSONVILLE
MIAMI over Buffalo
Baltimore over NEW YORK JETS
Tampa Bay over SAN FRANCISCO
ATLANTA over San Diego
New England over PITTSBURGH
Seattle over ARIZONA

DENVER over Houston

FRISCO, Texas – I don't even know what to do with myself right now. Why isn't this team playing?

Obviously, I'm no stranger to the bye week. I've been watching football all my life, and this is my fourth year covering the Cowboys. But it's unusual to stop when things are rolling like this.

Think back to the past few years. My first season, 2013, this team got a much-needed rest in Week 11, after they were absolutely demolished by the Saints. They needed a break, and they rebounded from the time off with a 24-21 win in New York.

The 2014 Cowboys needed all the rest they could get, since their quarterback had a broken bone in his back – sound familiar? Tony Romo gutted out a 31-17 win against Jacksonville just two weeks after suffering the injury. After a week off, he delivered another tough win in New York.

And then of course there was 2015, when the Brandon Weeden-led Cowboys got crushed by New England and made a quarterback change during their time off, making way for Matt Cassel.

So back to my point: NFL teams usually need the week off.

This team sure doesn't look like it. These guys are rolling over everyone, winning four of their past five games by double-digit points. They're making it look easy, and it's honestly kind of a bummer that we've got another week to wait to see if they can keep it up.

Anyway, here's some stuff I'll be thinking about until then:

1.I'm going to have a close eye on the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend – and for more than just one reason.

Sure, the Eagles are a divisional rival, and they're also the Cowboys' next opponent. They're also playing the Minnesota Vikings, who are the only other team in the NFC with as many wins as the Cowboys.

But the main reason I care is that I want to see the Eagles' front seven, and I want to know if their run defense is as bad as it looked last weekend.

Headlined by Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry, the Eagles boast a super-talented front seven, and they're currently ranked ninth in rush defense. But in the 27-20 loss to Washington, they got gashed for an absurd 230 rushing yards on 33 carries – an average of seven yards per carry. That might be partially due to Logan leaving the game early with a "week to week" groin strain, but those are the breaks of football.

The Vikings literally have the worst rushing offense in the league right now, averaging just 2.5 yards per carry on the year. If they can string together some success against the Eagles, I really like what it means for Ezekiel Elliott and Co.

2. Even if the Eagles lose to Minnesota, they'll still sit at just 3-3 this season – which brings me to my next point.

It's still early, but how impressive has the NFC East looked through the first six weeks of the season? When I started this job, the division was a laughing stock where 8-8 was a good enough record to make the playoffs. With the lone exception of the 2014 Cowboys, the East's champion has hovered near the .500 mark in recent years.

If the division champion is usually mediocre, that also means it's unlikely there'll be a wildcard. In fact, the NFC East hasn't sent two teams to the playoffs since 2009 – when Dallas won the division and hosted Philadelphia in the wildcard round.

Take a look around this week, though. Thanks to the impressive play of Carson Wentz, the Eagles are a surprising 3-2, while the Redskins have surged to a four-game winning streak of their own thanks to one of the league's most high-octane offenses.

The Giants have slumped recently, but they snapped a three-game losing streak against a solid Baltimore team. I also think it's fair to expect their $200 million defense to figure things out over time.

Add it all up, and you've got 15 combined wins by the four NFC East teams – the most in the league so far. And against non-divisional opponents, they're a combined 11-5.

I'm not going to be surprised when several of these teams are still in the hunt come December.

3.I didn't even know about it six weeks ago, but the Arizona Cardinals' Friday quarterback competition has become one of my favorite things in the league. When Carson Palmer lost the competition back in Week 1, he creeped us all out by dressing like the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man.

Patrick Peterson took part in the competition this week, and he didn't fare so well. But his loss is our gain, since we got to see the All-Pro cornerback warmup dressed like a dang T-Rex.

https://twitter.com/P2/status/788452218437455872

This is fun. I like when football is fun. Make football more fun.

4.Amazingly, the Cowboys have started all six of their games with the ball. Now, that's not because they've won every coin toss – sometimes they win and ask for the ball, sometimes they lose and their opponent defers.

Regardless, they've driven downfield and gotten points to start five of these six games – three touchdowns and two field goals. Their one miss so far was Week 4 in San Francisco, when Dan Bailey missed a 47-yard field goal with a bad back.

People have tried to tell me this flies in the face of sound football strategy, because traditionally you want the ball after halftime. But as I mentioned in this column last week, the Cowboys want to be able to dictate the pace of the game, and having the lead allows them to do so.

The benefits of scoring first are obvious. What makes this so crazy is that Jason Garrett trusts Dak Prescott to start hot, week after week after week. It's a risky proposition, but it's hard to argue with it to this point.

5. With no Cowboys game to focus on this week, I'm using my free time to turn toward the draft – because I'm a sick, pathetic weirdo.

I mentioned last week that we recorded a Bye Week Edition of The Draft Show, which you can listen to on the site. But I also wanted to jot down some thoughts in this space:

It has only been six weeks, but I think we're getting a pretty clear picture of what this team needs in the spring. It's ironic to think that at this time last year, there was a massive panic about the future of the quarterback position – and we seem to have solved that problem after just 12 months.

The pass rush is no nearer to being figured out, however. The Cowboys are making it work thanks to hustle and coaching, but this defensive line could use some upgrading. If you're assuming you can't count on Randy Gregory, the Cowboys need to find themselves a right end to partner with DeMarcus Lawrence.

Right alongside defensive end, I've got to consider cornerback a top priority for this team. Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr are off to great starts this year, but they're also both headed for free agency in March. Orlando Scandrick is a quality player, but he's been battling injuries all year after missing all of last season.

It might sound surprising, but I'd consider wide receiver a high priority come draft season, as well. Dez Bryant and Cole Beasley are here for the foreseeable future. Terrance Williams and Brice Butler are soon-to-be free agents – and right now I'm not convinced I'd give either of them a sizable deal in free agency.

Last draft cycle, we talked about selecting a rookie like Will Fuller or Josh Doctson to plug into this lineup across from Dez. I still think that could be a solid strategy in 2017.

6.It sounds silly, but I'm awfully curious about the Cowboys' interior line going forward.

Obviously, Travis Frederick is here for the long haul, having just signed a massive contract. It's a good bet the front office will pick up Zack Martin's fifth-year option in the spring – and they just might extend him in the summer, the same way they did with Frederick and Tyron Smith.

What I want to know is, what about that left guard position? Ron Leary is balling out in place of the injured La'el Collins. But Ron Leary is also headed for unrestricted free agency, while the Cowboys can control Collins for up to two more years.

The NFL isn't designed to allow a team to hold two starter-quality players at the exact same position. My guess is that Leary pursues a big-time deal in free agency, and Collins returns to the starting role next year.

That all sounds great, but I do wonder about the future. Joe Looney is signed through the 2017 season, and as I said, the Cowboys should be able to hold on to Collins through 2018. But you likely aren't going to have the luxury of the insane depth this team has right now. I wonder if the Cowboys would invest a decent draft pick to give them peace of mind. We're not talking about a first-round pick, but possibly a Day 2 guy as an insurance policy for the starters in place.

7. This is a dumb projection, but that's ok because I'm a member of the media and that's the type of dumb thing I'm allowed to do. But I can't help but think about the injury to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and how it pertains to the Cowboys.

Dallas plays at Pittsburgh in about three weeks, and all of a sudden that game looks much more manageable if Roethlisberger can't go. I would never celebrate an injury to an opposing player, because I'm not a total jerk, but you can't deny that it's a big break for the Cowboys. Now, that game at Heinz Field goes from a daunting challenge to a manageable one.

That of course brings me back to the Cowboys, who faced a similar situation last year with Matt Cassel and Brandon Weeden taking the bite out of an otherwise imposing team. Fast forward to 2016, and they're rolling under Dak Prescott.

You can't say enough about how amazing it is when an NFL team finds a quality backup quarterback.

(And for all of y'all that want to tell me Dak should be the starter, just spare me for another week or so. It's the bye week, and I'm on vacation.)

8. Myles Jack Watch:In an effort to get their uber-talented draft pick onto the field, the Jaguars have moved Jack to strong side linebacker. That's in contrast to the early going of the season, where Jack was a backup for middle and weak side linebackers Paul Posluszny and Telvin Smith. I wonder if the move means any more production for my guy. To this point in the season, he's credited with just seven tackles.

9. I would never in my life have guessed Dez Bryant is a chef, but that's apparently why he had his ring and middle finger bandaged on Wednesday morning:

https://twitter.com/jonmachota/status/788778229758697472

I unfortunately wasn't around when Dez spoke to reporters after practice, but I'm dying to ask him so many question. What kind of soup? What was the base? How many different recipes does he have? What other kinds of food can he make? Does he wear an apron?

I care about the answers to these questions far more than any football-related issues.

10.I incorrectly picked the Cowboys' game for the first time this season. I picked them to lose in Green Bay, and they shut me up – props to them. I still feel good about my 5-1 record picking their games, but I'm glad I get a week off to re-evaluate. I did pretty well with the rest of the NFL, going 10-4 with the rest of my picks. I'm 57-35 on the year.

GREEN BAY over Chicago

New York Giants over Los Angeles (London)
New Orleans over KANSAS CITY
Indianapolis over TENNESSEE
Minnesota over PHILADELPHIA
CINCINNATI over Cleveland
DETROIT over Washington
Oakland over JACKSONVILLE
MIAMI over Buffalo
Baltimore over NEW YORK JETS
Tampa Bay over SAN FRANCISCO
ATLANTA over San Diego
New England over PITTSBURGH
Seattle over ARIZONA

DENVER over Houston

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