Why the Pro Bowl Voters Got it Right with the Dallas Cowboys
“The Stars at night are big and bright …”
Those words are always followed by emphatic clapping without fail.
Ask anyone from the Lone Star State and they will tell you the same; everything is bigger in Texas and its exploits loom larger than life. One of the largest states in the Union, with a rich and interesting history, boasts a bevy of sporting options but football reigns supreme. From Pop Warner to the Pros, everything is a football affair deep in the heart of Texas. The 12-2 NFC East-leading Dallas Cowboys have clinched a playoff berth on their way to one of the best seasons they have had on this side of the 20 plus years of the Jerry Jones era.
The 2016-2017 Cowboys has been fortunate enough to produce five Pro Bowlers: Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Travis Frederick, Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. Four out the five will be starters for the NFC Pro Bowl team while Dak Prescott will share backup duties with a likely future Hall-of-Famer in Aaron Rodgers. The exploits of these individuals has defied all the expectations from Frisco to Dallas at large except for the players and coaching staff. Having nearly 10% of your active roster represented in the Pro Bowl speaks just as highly of the team as it does for the individuals themselves.
The Dynamic Duo
It is hard to deny the visibility, good or bad, that comes with being a Dallas Cowboy and this year is no different. Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott came into the league with some mild skepticism about their ability to be effective at a high level this early in their career. Sure, they have arguably the best offensive line in football, and Elliott is a once in a generation talent, but would they be able to adapt to the NFL level of play? The speed of the game has been the least of their problems as they have been winning contests by any means necessary. Their selfless attitude and tenacious approach to competition has brought them to a place well beyond their years.
Dak has a very high ceiling, with some kinks to work out, but he has led the Cowboys to a convincing 12-2 record. When compared to the likes of Carson Wentz and Jared Goff, this 4th round SEC product seems to be a steal more than a question mark. Elliott is everything he was advertised to be and more. Many would have crumbled under the pressure of being watched by Cowboys legend Emmitt Smith, but he has risen to the occasion over and over. His humility stands just as tall as his bristling runs; also, his touchdown celebrations seem to vacillate between a kid on Christmas morning and 45-year-old man at a family reunion so what is not to like? (Jerry Jones does call him "The Daddy" after all.) All of this is possible simply because a pair of rookies took hard work and a team-first attitude to the next level and it is paying early dividends.
Voltron assembles at the awards show
Greatness usually comes at a price, but it is plain as day that Dallas has the best offensive line in the NFL. Tossing that exclamation around might seem to be a fool's errand, but it hard to argue against it. They have helped vault a rookie in Dak Prescott to starter status in lieu of the injured (although not anymore) Tony Romo. This was the same line that made DeMarco Murray the NFL rushing leader in 2014. This is the same line that has gotten Ezekiel Elliott to a Pro Bowl and in the conversation for Rookie of the Year and MVP of the league with the Great Tom Brady. Many have posited that David Johnson is possibly getting snubbed when he has better numbers than Elliott. Johnson is amazing but he is doing this in spite of a dependable offensive scheme, being practically their only source of offense and points. Elliott has been allowed to adapt and elevate his game as the season has gone on even with many others excelling right alongside him.
Smith, Martin and Frederick all share a similar quality: they impose their will on the other player they line up across from. How they do that is in a variety of different ways that compliments Dallas’ offense with obvious success. Tyron Smith is a terror to those lined up against him; in their last game against Tampa Bay he picked up a defender and dropped him like a rag doll. Smith has a rare talent with a mix of speed, agility and strength with an overtly imposing frame. Zack Martin, on the other hand, is the machine; the Notre Dame product plays with precision in blocking and technique. For whatever he does not have in sheer size he makes up for in near perfect blocking which aided him in becoming the first Cowboy in 45 years to be awarded All-Pro honors as a rookie. That leaves the “brains of the operation” in Travis Frederick; the Wisconsin standout is one of the smartest centers in the league. When you see Dak drop back and, more often than not, step up in the pocket to make throws you can thank Frederick for that.
When the mad scientist’s experiment actually works
None of these massive offensive linemen got here by mistake and this is not a fly by night operation. This is the result of 5 years of toiling, planning, near misses and while sticking to a plan to build from within. Anyone who follows Jerry Jones knows he loves the spotlight as much as the chaos that comes with being the most notorious owner in the NFL. Jones is a big reason why the Cowboys have struggled since the heyday of Smith, Aikman and Irvin flipped the pigskin between the numbers. That said, some backroom dealing and sobering advice from his advisors and namely his son, executive vice-president Stephen Jones, has helped catapult them in a new direction. Many debate whether it should be Tony Romo or Prescott in the backfield but the team (including Romo) has put that notion to bed. Some still question if letting Murray go was the right move but, in light of Elliott’s explosiveness, that conversation has become a whisper. Not to mention that those who doubted drafting Zeke was the right choice are nowhere to be found.
Many teams fear what they can’t control or understand but the Cowboys don’t have that problem. Their calculated bets have paid off and now not only do they have one of the best records in football but also five unique stories going to the Pro Bowl. Of course, this will all be for not if they don’t make a deep run in the playoffs (but don’t hold it against them if they are not Super Bowl ready just yet either). Building something that will last takes time, patience and a relative amount of health at key positions that they have not been afforded in recent years. So let’s raise a glass to boys in “Big D” because they have earned it. Besides, who knows, maybe we will see some magic from deep in the heart of Texas.
...The Stars at night are big and bright for the future of the Dallas Cowboys....
Husband, Father and Lifelong Football Fan. You can follow Brett on Twitter @bretwil07pfs