Wins and losses may not matter for the Dallas Cowboys in the preseason, but individual players can certainly win and lose as they try to earn a spot on the team's 53-man roster in 2017. Their struggle doesn't just happen during these five exhibition games but also every day on the practice field and in other team functions.
After three weeks of camp and two preseason games, what three bubble players have done the most to try to earn their way onto the roster? We're not talking about a guy like Rico Gathers, who's certainly had a great preseason but was already likely to make the team. These three players had either long shots, or at least were 50/50, to survive final cuts.
QB Cooper Rush
Nobody has had a bigger stock rise so far than the undrafted quarterback out of Central Michigan. Rush looked decent in the Hall of Fame game but then really showed up on Saturday night, completing 9-of-11 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown. While veterans Kellen Moore and Luke McCown struggled, the rookie was sharp and executed with little room for complaint.
Coming out of college, Rush actually drew comparisons to current Cowboys backup Kellen Moore. If he has similar mental acumen to Kellen in a taller and more athletic body, Cooper will certainly make Dallas think twice about casting him aside. If he has another game of two like what we saw against Los Angeles, Rush may not make it to the practice squad if released.
We've seen intriguing QB prospects cut before. Dallas did not keep guys like Matt Moore, Alex Tanney, or Dustin Vaughan on the 53-man roster even after strong preseason play. With Dak Prescott firmly entrenched for years to come, there's little need to worry about a developmental player. The team's historical philosophy has been to go with just the starter and a backup unless there is some injury concern.
Last year may have led to a change in strategy. The Cowboys were down to their third quarterback when Dak Prescott became starter, having lost Tony Romo and Kellen Moore to injury. That experience could cause them to look at Cooper Rush differently than they have other QB prospects in the past.
DE Damontre Moore
The veteran free agent was hardly a lock to make the roster, especially with a two-game suspension hanging over him. Dallas has plenty of incentive to find other options at defensive end, and none greater than needing guys who can actually play in Week One. Moore has also failed to catch on in previous stints with the Giants and Seahawks, who normally get the most of defensive end talent.
However, Moore's performance so far in preseason and from camp reports has made him almost impossible to part with. With the Cowboys desperate for help in their pass rush, Damontre has been the most consistent so far in disrupting the backfield. He has not registered a sack, but you've seen him applying pressure and getting in some post-throw hits more than any other defensive lineman so far.
Not only does Moore give a pass rusher who can go up against left tackles, but he could even be used as a strong-side linebacker. This could be important if Damien Wilson ends up suspended for his assault arrest in July. Moore will only miss the first two weeks, allowing someone like Lenny Jones or Lewis Neal to make the initial 53-man roster. While both of them have had some good reports, and Jones showed up well on Saturday night, neither will likely hold that spot once Moore returns.
WR Noah Brown
After a quiet Hall of Fame game with only one target and no catches, Brown was thrown to three times on Saturday and had three catches for 41 yards. While this isn't a dazzling stat line, it was Brown's physical play and moves after the catch that were noteworthy.
Listed at 6'2" and over 220 pounds, Brown is built similarly to Dez Bryant. Noah's moves with the ball in his hand also remind you of Dez, especially how he doesn't shy away from contact. On a WR screen that went for a first down, Brown absorbed contact from a Rams defender and bullied through him for extra yardage.
Brown's biggest play was a 19-yard catch that was unfortunately ruined by a fumble. Noah certainly can't afford those blemishes, and he needs to make some more positive plays to secure his place on the team. However, he's shown excellent signs so far of being exactly what people thought during the draft; a project player with solid upside. The key now is making enough noise that the team doesn't want to risk him on the practice squad.
4th-and-1 Conversions Against JAC Were Hollow Victories for Garrett
The Dallas Cowboys' Head Coach Jason Garrett was under fire all week-long after his passive decision to NOT go for it on 4th-and-1 from the Houston Texans 42 yard line in overtime last week. Instead of taking a shot with a really good offensive line and one of the best running backs in the NFL, Garrett opted to punt the ball to a Texans offense that the Cowboys defense struggled to stop -- until it got inside the five yard line that is.
Well, in typical Jason Garrett fashion, in a game in which they were leading from start to finish en route to a 40-7 victory -- that was never really that close -- the Dallas Cowboys' head coach kept the offense on the field on two 4th and 1 occasions. Converting both of them.
The head coach and the rest of the Dallas Cowboys organization may feel vindicated in pulling the trigger in situations that the Dallas Cowboys have been almost automatic in converting since the start of 2016. The reality is there was nothing at risk in the point of the game in which Garrett opted to try to convert the fourth down.
Though they converted on both 4th-and-1 attempts, they were nothing more than hollow victories for the much maligned head coach.
Their first 4th and 1 attempt was late in the first half of the game with the Dallas Cowboys already leading 17-0. They were driving with under two minutes to play in the half at the Jacksonville Jaguars 37 yard line. The Jaguars had only crossed midfield once and hadn't sniffed any scoring opportunities. There was little risked at that point in the game. If you miss on the conversion, the Jaguars would have to pick up at least 26 yards to get into field goal range. At that point in the game the Jacksonville had only picked up two first downs. The Jaguars had only averaged 13 yards per drive on their four first half drives to that point and three of those drives went three and out.
You can make a case that if the Dallas Cowboys missed on this opportunity and the Jaguars took the ensuing possession and scored, it could have had an impact on the outcome of the game. But with the way that the defense completely dominated the Jaguars in the first half, there was little chance of them driving the length of the field to score a touchdown with under a minute to play.
The next time the Dallas Cowboys went for it on 4th and 1 was with 10:22 remaining in the fourth quarter and the Cowboys up 37-7. The game at this point was already decided.
Unlike the week before.
Tony Romo said it best during the broadcast. He talked about the leeway Garrett would have gotten from Jerry Jones had the Dallas Cowboys gone for it on 4th-and-1 against the Texans and missed because Jones is a risk taker (paraphrasing). Now, I know Garrett has been known to take a chance or two at times, think of the Chris Jones fake punts, but there are situations in football that aren't that big of a risk. When you're in opponent territory and have the run game that the Cowboys have, picking up 4th-and-1 is about as sure a thing as you'll find in the NFL. Since 2016, the Dallas Cowboys had gone 18 for 19 on 4th-and-1 situations. Even if they don't make it, the opponent still has to pick up a 2-3 first downs to have a shot at winning the game.
Don't be fooled by what Garrett did on Sunday. He wasn't being aggressive. He wasn't taking the fight to an opponent who was still in the game. He was kicking a team while it was down. The Jaguars had zero answers for the Cowboys on either side of the football. The Cowboys wouldn't have lost the football game if they missed on either of those two opportunities.
If anything, Garrett was just being petty about all the criticism he took this week for declining his offense the chance to keep the ball week five. I've always been a Garrett believer because of the way he gets his teams mentally prepared to play. They rarely have bad games and typically when their backs are against the wall, they respond. On 4th and 1 against the Texans a week ago, their backs were against the wall as a team and he didn't give them the opportunity to respond. Had Garrett had faith in his defense, he would have gone for it because he would have believed in their ability to prevent the Texans from getting into field goal range. He showed a lack of faith in both sides of the ball by not giving the offense a chance to convert and by trying to help the defense with better field position.
I don't believe for a second that Jason Garrett changed his philosophy on those types of calls and I fully expect us to be rather frustrated by another conservative call in the future. Like I said before, these two 4th-and-1 conversions meant nothing in how the game was going to play out. Is it possible that Jerry Jones got in Garrett's ear about taking those kinds of chances to win the game? Absolutely. If we see a similar situation come in the future and Garrett goes for it, perhaps there was a change, but change is a difficult thing. Most humans do not like change and most people don't change.
I hope I'm wrong and this marked a change in the approach of Jason Garrett and the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff. With their offensive line and the running ability of Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott, I don't care if they only convert half of those opportunities, those two are too good with the ball in their hands to not go for it.
Hopefully Jason Garrett realizes that running those two are his best avenue to winning football games and is aggressive on future 4th-and-1 situations. Since I like my life, I'm not going to hold my breath.
Report: Jason Garrett “Not Going Anywhere” with Possible Extension Coming Soon
With his 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, Jason Garrett's Cowboys did more than enough to silence talks of possible firings on the coaching staff for at least a week. According to a report from Dallas Cowboys Feature Writer Jeff Sullivan, it's possible Garrett has earned much more than this, with an extension for the eighth year head coach looming.
@Markbristow22 Sounds like another extension could be signed soon he's not going anywhere.
The Cowboys have alternated wins and losses through the first six weeks of the season. Thanks to the rest of the NFC East getting off to an equally slow start, the 3-3 Cowboys are still playing for first place this week in Washington.
When considering these marginal victories in the grand scheme of what Garrett has achieved since taking over fully in 2011, the timing to extend him early in 2018 feels peculiar. The Cowboys went 8-8 in Garrett's first three years as he turned the roster over, and in similar fashion his young team has done little to prove they're not on track for a .500 record this year.
Sullivan does go on to explain Garrett's impact at The Star throughout the week, which is often forgotten about once he's in the public eye during game day. The Cowboys comfort with Garrett leading the way still has to be considered alongside the deficiencies of his staff to put players in the best position to win.
@Markbristow22 Six days a week top-3 coach in the league. Just struggles a bit on game days
As their last franchise quarterback said on his way out the door, "football is a meritocracy," where, "nothing is given".
It is widely accepted that the Cowboys coaching staff will be mainly responsible for at least one loss a season. Be it Scott Linehan or Garrett, the Cowboys chance at victory is snatched away from them by coaching annually.
Even with a win at the Redskins this week, it's hard to imagine not bringing up early season defeats in Carolina, Seattle, and Houston, as games the Cowboys missed out on.
The duality of Garrett punting away a chance to win at the Texans last week before leading his team to their largest win since 2014 is simply who he is. Even before the Cowboys took the field for a seemingly tough match up against the Jaguars, Jerry Jones delivered a vote of confidence in Garrett - as he's done before in an offense that finally capitalized on their talent, making 40 points come easy on the league's top defense.
Garrett's current contract runs through 2019. If you believe he's struck gold in Quarterback Dak Prescott, a young passer he hitched his wagon to early in order to survive the post-Romo era, the Cowboys would have a decision to make on both Garrett and Prescott at the same time.
Of course, that is if they're willing to let Prescott play out the final year of his rookie deal before signing an extension, and if an extension of his own isn't coming Garrett's way eminently.
This story has not gained traction with the rest of the local or national media, and that's likely because Garrett still has time in Dallas. Not only has he been afforded an amount of time that some would call unearned, but the time ahead of him makes the idea of a new extension obscene.
Regardless of when Garrett sits down to discuss his future with the Jones', it's become clearer by the day that he'll have their full support behind closed doors. Such is the stability Garrett provides the Cowboys, as well as the mediocrity to never advance past the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
The Cowboys have done nothing so far in 2018 to prove they can be the team that snaps this streak for Garrett, and must first prove that their 40-7 win over the Jaguars was no anomaly. Earning their first win on the road and improving to 2-0 in the NFC East is another way for the Cowboys to take strides towards winning the division.
The Redskins would drop to 0-1 with the loss, and the Eagles have managed just one divisional win against the Giants thus far.
Let's not forget that this is where the team expects to be every year. Even though the 4-3 Cowboys would face far fewer questions about the future for their coaches and tenured players, buying in to Garrett even more after each win, the week-to-week nature of the NFL should have Dallas weary of locking in Jason for a single game past next season.
Cowboys Defense Stands Out in Blowout Win over Jaguars
The Dallas Cowboys defense has found different ways to get the job done at different times during the 2018 season. They're a big reason the team is 3-3 and sits only a half game back of the first place Washington Redskins.
Even last week, I was critical of the defense for giving up a ton of yards and felt like they were very fortunate to only lose by three in overtime to the Houston Texans. They were amazing when the Texans got inside the five yard line forcing a turnover on downs on four first and goal attempts inside the five last week.
After giving up 462 total yards to Deshaun Watson and the Texans in week five, the Dallas Cowboys' defense only allowed 204 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. They held Jacksonville to 4 of 11 on third downs. The Cowboys forced four three and outs during the game and only allowed three drives to cross midfield.
The Cowboys' defense was led by Leighton Vander Esch with 11 total tackles (7 solo) and Jaylon Smith with nine total tackles (6 solo) and a forced fumble. Jourdan Lewis made an excellent hustle play along the sideline late in the third quarter to recover that Smith fumble.
Byron Jones was excellent in coverage yet again on Sunday and if this were hockey, would get a primary assist for his pass deflection that led to the Jeff Heath interception in the third quarter. The Cowboys were able to turn both turnovers into field goals.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive line blocked the Dallas Cowboys front seven pretty well and Quarterback Blake Bortles was really good at avoiding pressure. Bortles was only sacked three times during the game. Randy Gregory and Maliek Collins each had a sack, while Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford combined for the other sack.
Though he didn't register a tackle or a sack on the stat sheet, it was awesome to see Defensive Lineman David Irving on the field for the first time since the middle of the season last year. He had an impact early in the game. Irving had a pressure on Blake Bortles and forced a hold on a punt in the first half of the game. His presence was definitely felt.
As a defense they held Jacksonville Jaguars Quarterback Blake Bortles to 149 yards passing and a 70.8 passer rating. Even as the Jaguars were down 20 points at halftime, they never could get much offense going in the second half. The Cowboys kept Bortles and the Jaguars passing game in check for most of the night, only allowing a touchdown when Anthony Brown fell down when he released his receiver to try to get to the intended target, Dede Westbrook. Westbrook went relatively untouched into the end zone for the Jaguars score of the day. That play aside, the Cowboys did a really good job limiting big plays against a receiving corp with a lot of speed.
Even with Bortles scrambling, the Cowboys were able to hold the Jaguars as a team to 3.6 yards per carry on the day. The Jaguars' T.J. Yeldon was able to come up with some decent runs, but the defense kept those positive gains from having much of an impact on the game.
The Dallas Cowboys' defense isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a unit that has played really good football for much of the 2018 season. On Sunday, the Cowboys did an excellent job getting off the field on third downs and forcing turnovers and other errors, which were created by the Cowboys pressure.
Everything seems to be coming together for Dallas with David Irving and Maliek Collins getting back into the lineup. If Sean Lee and Chidobe Awuzie are able to go for the Cowboys next week, this defense is going to make life extremely difficult for Alex Smith and the Washington Redskins next Sunday.
After allowing a ton of yards last week, the Cowboys defense rebounded with a dominant performance against a Jaguars team that played for the AFC Championship last season. For the Cowboys to get to the playoffs in 2018, they're going to have to play at a high level like they did on Sunday.
I, for one, don't doubt that they can.
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