Cowboys 2017: On Those Missing Chapters From the Book of Ezekiel

David Malinsky

Monday, August 21, 2017 1:48 PM UTC

Monday, Aug. 21, 2017 1:48 PM UTC

The Cowboys may not miss Ezekiel Elliott as much as the markets think...The NCAA hits the board; Mayweather/McGregor is on the way; the MLB is heating up; and how not to be an “Orphan of the Storm”…

Point Blank – August 21, 2017

As if the complex geometry of Baseball Being Baseball daily for a few months isn’t enough (yes, we will be discussing Roberto Osuna’s historical Sunday in Wrigley Field in a moment), the pace picks up in a special way now. The first NCAA games are on the board; we have a real week of NFL pre-season coming up, the starters for most teams getting their most extensive August action on the board ahead; and Mayweather/McGregor finally goes from being an abstraction into some form of reality (at least the betting boards will grade it that way).

That means a lot of work ahead, a lot of frenzy, and potentially a lot of profits. It also means taking a step back first, and getting yourself organized for the best way to sort through. Where there can be profits, there can also be peril, so be sure to bring into play another word that starts with “p”, patience.

Over time there will be as much discussion here about the personal issues of managing the sports calendar as many of the players of the coaches, and it may be even more important. That is much of what our discussion platform will be for, and as football approaches that will kick into a higher gear – the grey balloon in the upper left-hand of each column sends you there. It is a work in progress for now, but over time will become a major foundation as key ideas get brought into play. Many of them will help to put a winner in your pocket, like Sharp Sider’s post regarding the Saints/Chargers Total on Sunday evening.

And then there is the jukebox, not just as a tool to help guide you through the longer reads, of which this will be one because of the topics involved, but also the way to bring messages across. The collection will be of classics from across the Rock and Roll era, and today it is a cautionary tale that should be taken to heart – have the patience to prepare yourself properly for the cycle ahead and you will not get swept up in it; we do not wish for any of you to become an “Oprhan of the Storm”. Let’s go to Tom Petty and Mudcrutch, live from Atlanta in 2016 -

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I ain't the kind
Who gives up
But I'm so tired of rain
Lord I'm just an
Orphan of the storm

That will unfortunately happen to many of you; combine the vulnerabilities of the human psyche and the vagaries of the bouncing ball of sport and those storms are never far from the horizon. One of the goals in putting Point Blank together each day is to provide shelter from those storms.

Now let’s get practical in terms of those scoreboards…


Ezekiel Elliott is worth a lot in general, but perhaps not as much in particular as you may think

One of the most difficult player positions to evaluate in all of sport is RB in the NFL – it just isn’t easy to isolate the skills of the particular players because the context of the entire offense is so important in their production. There have indeed been times over the years in which seemingly top talents went to the sidelines via injury or other factors, only to have their impact appear surprisingly negligible by many of the statistical trackers. So as the 2017 team-by-team tour of the NFL reaches the Cowboys today, naturally the focus item becomes the absence of Ezekiel Elliott to open the campaign, which is still set for six games as of this morning, but is subject to change.

Here is the first key – while there is no doubt that Elliott is a major talent, even without him there will be five players in the Dallas offensive huddle that harbor legitimate Pro Bowl aspirations, and you could even elevate that to six if you believe Jason Witten still has enough left in the tank.

Here is the second key – the Cowboys might have the best non-starter RB corps of any team, with Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith and Ronnie Hillman in the mix. McFadden and Morris did not perform well in 2016, a combined 3.5 YPC on their 93 attempts, but some of that is what happens when a player does not get a lot of work at the position to find a rhythm. They are getting reps in practice each day to help regain that.

McFadden has had a pair of 1,000-yard seasons, including rushing for 1,089 at 4.6 per attempt with Dallas in 2015, when he also caught 40 passes for 328 more yards. Morris has had three 1,000-yard seasons. Hillman carried for 863 with the Broncos in 2015, which means that even with the absence of Elliot, the Cowboys have three RBs that have gained 863 yards or more in a single season over the last three campaigns.

McFadden may have lost a step, but Morris and Hillman would not be too far in their age bracketing from being in their prime, and in particular note that Morris came to camp in excellent shape, perhaps realizing the likelihood of being cut, and they need to showcase himself for other teams. I filed this away, from Jas Garrett, on the veteran RB –

"He's got a great spirit about him, a great spirit in life and a great spirit about the opportunity to play football here with us. It's one thing to have that spirit, but there's work that goes with it. We'll go in that white tent afterwards, and he's in there for about an hour every day in the middle of the day, getting himself right and what he needs to do to get loosened up, warmed up, stretched out, whatever he needs.”

Now let’s talk about what depth means. If McFadden had to replace Elliott by himself for six games that gap would be noticeable. The same for Morris, and even more so for Hillman and Smith (don’t be surprised if the latter wins a roster spot, having shown some upside in camp). But with this group being able to do things by committee the offense can play to their particular strengths, and steer from the weaknesses. And the fact that the suspension was announced as early as it was, and is still sitting on six games, means that those elements are already being made a part of the Dallas offensive consciousness.

I have not adjusted my Cowboys offense power rating much; for now it is slightly less than one full point. We’ll see how it plays out, but given the timing and the available personnel, this may not be all that major early in the season, and it also means that Elliott will have much fresher legs when he does return. Keep that in mind come playoff time, because even without their top RB for an extended stretch, this team can win enough games to stay in the picture.


NCAA hits the board

You will probably get too excited about Saturday’s slate of four non-descript college football games, which has made orphans of many in the past, but I understand the passion; it has been a while since Clemson/Alabama. There will likely be some questions asked about the best tools to prepare for the season, and while there are the usual standbys in play this time around we have a newcomer – SBRNation has provided a lot of content on the college gridirons in the past, alas much of it of little value, but this time around their NCAA Preview package is one of the best resources available. It is easy to navigate (kudos to them for that), and you will find Bill Connelly’s team-by-team previews to be among the best out there.


Easing the fright concerning the fight

The action on Mayweather/McGregor has simply been stunning, Pinnacle’s opener of -950 all the way down to -438, and the rest of the market not too far out of step.

That has shocked even the most veteran of the guys behind the counter, most of whom see the fight as a mismatch. From a handicapping standpoint the guys I respect the most also perceive it that way.

So why the major action to the underdog? Part of it is simply timing – there will be substantial money to Mayweather showing up this week, but the folks looking to do that were able to see as the action flowed in that they did not need to be in any hurry, especially if they were to be playing post-up instead of credit (laying -500 or so does tie up some bankroll).

The other aspect is something that we see often for major events, in particular the Super Bowl, when the Money Line is often driven to a lower plateau than the pointspread would call for. What has driven the price down on this fight is the number of tickets to the underdog, but they haven’t been high $ tickets. If a bettor has $100 to invest in an event that they plan to watch for entertainment, the notion of that $100 returning $600 or so makes for a lot more fun than knowing they will only get back $120 if they wager on the favorite.

There is a concern running through the minds of even the sharpest guys out there, and that is the fact that Mayweather loves his bank account. Yes, there is the ego attached to what his ring skills have done in terms of putting up an unblemished record, but he also takes tremendous pride in his business acumen, that “second ring” of his existence. Would he dare allow the blemish of a defeat to mar his record if it might mean a substantial payday for a rematch? Consider that his take from this weekend’s extravaganza could reach $200 million, and you can see why it is a valid concern.

From my own viewpoint I believe that is mitigated, and it simply comes down to handicapping again, not just Mayweather the fighter, but also the businessman. Here is a good read from Forbes on the product line that Mayweather is ready to launch in a couple of weeks, a suite that is better marketed via an undefeated champion than someone that just got upset, and is aiming for a rematch. I believe -500 or less is a good fit on the value meter, and will get locked in at some point over the course of the week as the price drifts lower.


Roberto Osuna, and Baseball Being Baseball

There will be few baseball days that go by when I won’t miss Eric Strasser, known as Palmtree around the PB community through the years, as we sorted through the unique bouncing of the balls that generated scoreboard outcomes. It is in taking the time to absorb, and then comprehending the fine print that edges can be found, scoreboards often telling a tale that isn’t entirely true.

That takes us to Roberto Osuna’s Sunday in Wrigley, and in fact Osuna’s season, which has been a study in pitching frustration. His look is rather priceless here, as Javier Baez scores the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning, Baez managing to do that despite having struck out just a few moments prior -

Here is how the bottom of that inning opened, Osuna taking the mound with the Blue Jays ahead 5-3…

Kyle Schwarber struck out swinging

Ben Zobrist hit a single to right field

Anthony Rizzo grounded out, 2B to 1B

Javier Baez struck out swinging

So there you have it, right? Osuna grabs a save, and Toronto manages to stay alive on the periphery of the A.L. Wild Card race. But despite the opening sequence of batters in the frame, the Cubs scored three runs and won it 6-5. And because baseball grades the way it does, all three runs are charted as being earned, sending Osuna’s ERA from 3.12 to 3.61 in a matter of moments.

What happened? Both Schwarber and Baez reached based after their strikeouts, the former via a wild pitch and the latter on one of the most unusual play grades in MLB history, Baez charted as reaching via a “fielder’s choice”. Osuna was not faultless; he had two wild pitches in the inning and hit a batter, but to have the runs from Schwarber and Baez charged against him is a new one for me, even having charted this sport for nearly 40 years now (A newspaper job a long time ago had me serve as the official scorer for the Pennsylvania American Legion State Tournament, so the ins and outs of the sport have long been a fascination).

For Osuna the frustration has been on-going – through 55 appearances his ERA is at that 3.61 level despite a 1.49 FIP. There are 250 pitchers that have logged at least 50 innings in 2016, and only Craig Kimbrel (1.01) and Kenley Jansen (1.49) have a better FIP. That won’t be any consolation to him this morning, the sport having made him an “Orphan of the Storm”.



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