A lot has gone wrong for the 2017 Dallas Cowboys through the first five weeks of their season, as Dallas' early bye week now feels like it came at the perfect time. As the Cowboys look to regroup and get this young team on track sooner rather than later, they will need starters on both sides of the ball to live up to (or exceed) expectations.
Defensively, the Cowboys allowed 30 points in consecutive home losses for the first time since 2015 - doing so in two games without QB Tony Romo of course. This isn't to say that Dak Prescott's offense hasn't been held back by a few new faces in the starting lineup.
Before Dallas takes the field for a potential "get well" game at the 49ers on October 22nd, let's take a closer look at four players that I believe have unperformed to put the Cowboys in this spot.
S Jeff Heath
Growing pains are going to be an ongoing issue in the Cowboys secondary. Just as rookie CB Jourdan Lewis has emerged as solid starter on the outside, veteran S Jeff Heath has not adjusted well to his increased role at all. The word "rotation" is thrown around arbitrarily when discussing all three levels of Rod Marinelli's defense, and often times it simply means the starters the Cowboys have are not good enough.
A rotation at safety is needed for a defense that commits to playing in Nickel and Dime sets so often, and the truth through five weeks is that Jeff Heath needs to revert back to being this rotational piece. When asked to stick to his assignments in coverage on every down, Heath has been outperformed by rookie Xavier Woods - an encouraging sign for the sixth round pick.
Thanks to Woods and Chidobe Awuzie, the safety position could become a bright spot for the Cowboys on the other side of this bye week. Jeff Heath has already cost this team plenty of yards in the back end though, including late breaks on two consecutive plays, the second of which being the game winning score by Davante Adams (with Lewis covering).
DT Maliek Collins
Stop me if you've seen this before. With the Cowboys struggling to generate pressure off the edge for some time now, the hype for any interior rushers has often gone too far. First, it was Tyrone Crawford at the 3T position.
The reason Crawford now finds himself as a plug-and-play starter at every spot along the defensive line is because of Maliek Collins, who was the younger and cheaper option as a rookie in 2016.
With five sacks and a forced fumble in 2016, Maliek Collins thrived at the most important position in Rod Marinelli's scheme. After spending the summer furthering his game by working against - and beating - Zack Martin in training camp, Collins was due for a dominant season at DT.
There is no doubt that Maliek Collins can still be a difference maker this season, and start as a key contributor up front for the Cowboys for a long time, but he has not flown out of the gates as Cowboys Nation expected.
With a ton of issues at linebacker, the need for consistent play up front is even more urgent, and Collins can go a long way in improving both Dallas' run defense and pass rush efficiency.
DE Benson Mayowa
Sticking with the Cowboys defensive line, Benson Mayowa has struggled once again at the start of a season. His second with the Cowboys, Mayowa ended up leading the 2016 team in sacks after sitting out three games in the middle of the season due to his lack of production.
With zero sacks on the 2017 season though, Benson Mayowa is among the top under-performers on this team right now. Failing to play with good technique or utilize any rush moves on the weak side on frighteningly consistent basis, the Cowboys simply do not have a reliable player in Mayowa - who is getting the largest share of the work at RDE.
LG Jonathan Cooper
As mentioned, the Cowboys offense does not go unscathed here when it comes to players not performing at a needed level. The big plays have not been there in the running game for the Cowboys thus far, and much of this has to do with Jonathan Cooper taking over for Chaz Green at LG.
There was of course a time when La'el Collins was expected to get his job back at LG in place of FA departure Ronald Leary, but Collins has been a solid starter at RT while Cooper has failed to embrace the best opportunity of his career at guard next to Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick.
Jonathan Cooper's issue has not been fitting the athletic profile for the linemen Dallas desires, instead struggling as he has throughout his difficult career with short-range power and block sustainability. Breakdowns on the second level for Cooper have not only caused some struggles from Frederick next to him at center, but have held back Ezekiel Elliott when looking to clear the linebackers and do his damage in the secondary.
I doubt the Cowboys make a switch at LG coming off of the bye, but Jonathan Cooper will need to be a completely different player if this offensive line is going to totally resemble the dominant units that led two separate running backs to league rushing titles in 2014 and 2016.
Whether or not you believe that more players deserve a spot on this list, or that these four are in good position to turn things around, will determine which direction this Cowboys season ultimately goes.
At 2-3 chasing the 5-1 Philadelphia Eagles, the Cowboys have their work cut out for them to rapidly improve on defense and patch up a few holes offensively.
Cowboys Twitter Tuesday: Addressing the 2019 53-Man Roster
For the Dallas Cowboys, the NFL, and the NFL fanbase, the waiting game for the start of training camp has begun. As Tom Petty says, "the waiting is the hardest part." The Dallas Cowboys go open training camp in about five weeks. The first preseason game is 53 days away and week one is less than three months away at this point. It's so close we can taste it.
Each week, I'll gather questions from you the Cowboys Nation community. Each week, we'll hone in on a specific topic based on your questions. So whether it's roster related, salary cap focused, or you have a fantasy football question, don't hesitate to send it to me on Twitter.
This week, we're going to take a look at the Dallas Cowboys 53-man roster.
@john9williams Who contributed to last year's team that won't make this year's team?
The 53-man roster will be one of the more debated topics over the next couple of months as the Dallas Cowboys get ready for training camp and the preseason. Every year there are surprises and we should expect the same this year. The Dallas Cowboys have incredible depth through the roster and so there will be at least one name that doesn't make the final 53-man roster who had an impact in 2018.
To answer Jesus' question, I think the easy answer is one of the wide receivers be it Noah Brown, Allen Hurns, or Tavon Austin. This might be a hot take, but I'm going to go a different direction and say guard Xavier Su'a-Filo.
In 2018, Su'a-Filo started eight games for the Dallas Cowboys and though he started out strong for them midseason, his play tailed off before he was injured allowing Connor Williams to regain his starting spot at left guard. The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff loves position flexibility, especially along the offensive line. Su'a-Filo, though he's a solid backup guard option, doesn't have the ability to play multiple positions along the line like his teammates.
Connor Williams can play guard and tackle. Connor McGovern will get snaps at guard and center, and to hear him talk, he can play tackle as well, though that's probably a bit of a stretch. Joe Looney, the Dallas Cowboys starting center for 2018, has the ability to flex out to guard if you need him to.
Because the Dallas Cowboys will have difficult decisions to make at wide receiver and defensive line, they can afford to go light along the offensive line because of the flexibility of players like Williams, Looney, and McGovern.
@john9williams #CowboysQuestions do we extend Dak before game #1? How many WRs on 53?
I'm gonna leave the Dak Prescott question for another day and address the wide receiver question as several people asked about that position group in particular.
The wide receiver group is a really deep group. With Amari Cooper, Randall Cobb, and Allen Hurns, it features three guys who've had at least one 1,000 yard season in their career. Michael Gallup is an ascending player. Tavon Austin is a really nice punt returner and offensive puzzle piece that can take the top off the defense with his downfield speed. I think four of those five are locks to make the roster.
According to Jeff Cavanaugh from 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, the team really likes Allen Hurns and his ability to play inside and outside in the formation. He's solid veteran depth at a low cost.
Then if you include Noah Brown's ability as a receiver and as a blocker, I think you have a very versatile and dangerous group in the passing game. Though the coaches really like Brown's ability to block in the run game, if they don't use him in the passing game, it tips their hand to the defense that the team is going to run. If they're going to keep him on the roster, they have to use him. It's a waste otherwise.
Brown and Hurns to me are on the roster bubble at wide receiver. Talented players like Cedric Wilson, Devin Smith, Jon'vea Johnson, Jalen Guyton, and Reggie Davis have all stood out at one point in time or another during OTAs and minicamp and will make the decision difficult for the coaching staff.
In my most recent roster projection, I had the Dallas Cowboys keeping six wide receivers; Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Allen Hurns, and Noah Brown. Being a team on the verge of contending for a Super Bowl, I think they go with veterans who can help them win now.
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That'll do it for this week's edition. Make sure to get your questions in via Twitter, or you can leave them in the comment section for next week's post. Also, don't forget to check out Inside The Star's newest podcast, Cowboys Weekly featuring Managing Editor Bryson Treece and Senior Writer Jess Haynie.
Does Darius Jackson Have A “Puncher’s Chance” Of Landing On Final Roster?
Remember Darius Jackson?
The sixth round running back was an instant fan favorite of Cowboys Nation, as the fanbase hoped Dallas had found the explosive RB2 behind Ezekiel Elliott they needed in the very same draft. Jackson, however, had an up-and-down preseason in 2016 and ended up being waived from the team to make room for Darren McFadden later in the year.
Jackson has bounced around the league a bit since then, joining both the Cleveland Browns and Green Bay Packers at different points. He's back with the Cowboys, however, looking to fight his way onto the team's final roster.
But does the fourth year running back have more than a puncher's chance to do so?
The Cowboys spent much of the 2019 NFL Draft rebuilding their running back depth. First, they drafted Memphis back Tony Pollard hoping to find a versatile and dynamic threat to compliment the workhorse that is Ezekiel Elliott. Then, in the seventh round, Dallas took another Ohio State running back in Mike Weber who fits more of the "traditional" running back form.
So with two new touted rookies behind the veteran Elliott, and fullback Jamize Olawale more than likely having a roster spot as well, there doesn't seem to be room for Darius Jackson on the Dallas Cowboys.
That didn't stop him from competing at OTAs, however. DallasCowboys.com named Darius Jackson one of their top ten "head turners" from the OTA practices, and considering that Mike Weber is banged up at the moment, Jackson will certainly have his opportunities to fight for that spot.
Still, the odds suggest that Darius Jackson will not be with the Cowboys come the Fall of 2019. Though he entered the league with some fanfare for a day three pick, his production has been more fitting of his draft grade than of his fan hype.
Jackson hasn't been the explosive player/receiving back that they're hoping Tony Pollard will be, nor has he been the every-down type backup runner that they seem to hope Mike Weber will be.
In the end, the Cowboys-Darius Jackson story is likely to close during this year's training camp.
Cowboys Camp: Strong Safety Battle One to Watch
When the Dallas Cowboys head to Oxnard, California for the start of training camp in late July, they'll have most of the roster settled. On paper, they're a team that doesn't have many holes on the depth chart.
They've added depth at every position and added playmakers on both sides of the football. On defense, there appears to be only one position where the starter heading into training camp may not be the starter come week one. Strong safety.
Veteran Safety Jeff Heath is currently running with the first team defense through the offseason portion of practices. George Iloka and Donovan Wilson were added to the strong safety depth chart featuring Heath and special teams ace Kavon Frazier.
While most teams would be excited about having a returning starter at the position, Heath's 2018 left a lot to be desired. Per Pro Football Focus, Heath missed 19 tackles on the season, which was second in the NFL. It seemed that Heath became more interested in attempting to strip the ball out of the ball carrier's hands than actually making the tackle, which became increasingly frustrating as he forced only a single fumble all season long. Though he had a lot of missed tackles, Heath did finish 15th in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops," which are defined as a "play that results in a loss for the defense." Heath was third on the team in total tackles with 85 and tied with Jaylon Smith for third in tackles for loss with six.
The biggest competition for Heath at strong safety will be veteran George Iloka.
Signed to a one-year contract after spending time with the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, Iloka comes to the Dallas Cowboys adding depth at free safety behind Xavier Woods. He also creates competition for Heath at strong safety, which should help Jeff Heath raise his game and get more consistent with his tackling. Iloka has experience and brings good size and length to the secondary, which should help them defend tight ends in the passing game.
Because of his injury, Kavon Frazier could see his playing time evaporate heading into 2019. If he's unable to get healthy and make an impression early, Frazier could miss out on the 53-man roster when the team makes their final roster cuts.
The player that stands to benefit the most from Kavon Frazier's injury, and the one I'm most interested in watching in the Dallas secondary the rest of the preseason is sixth-round draft pick, Donovan Wilson. The rookie from Texas A&M has made several plays in the secondary that stood out during OTAs. Here's what Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com had to say about Donovan Wilson during last week's minicamp.
"I haven’t written much about Donovan Wilson since rookie minicamp, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to mention a nice play he had during the two-minute drill. Kris Richard came with a blitz, which forced Cooper Rush to throw “hot” to Dalton Schultz. Wilson, from several yards away, saw Schultz look up and drove on the ball, arriving at the exact time it hit Schultz’s hands. With his left hand Wilson was able to drag the ball away, knocking it to the ground."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Wilson will be a player to watch in training camp. The Cowboys have had success finding defensive backs in the late rounds of the draft. Anthony Brown was a fifth-round pick in 2016 and Xavier Woods was a sixth-round selection in 2017. Now Wilson, with his aggressive and physical demeanor will have an opportunity -- this year or next -- to carve out some playing time in a secondary that needs more players who can create turnovers.
Strong safety is one of the few starting spots where there is actual competition for the incumbent starter. Pretty much every other position has returning starters locked into the starting lineup or, in Travis Frederick's and Robert Quinn's cases, a significant talent upgrade that makes them day-one starters.
The competition at strong safety should help everyone be better for the Cowboys in 2019. If Heath is able to hold off Iloka and Wilson to remain the starter, then he will have once again earned it. With the depth they have this season, including two guys who won't be liabilities in pass coverage, the Cowboys have options if Heath misses tackles in 2019 as he did in 2018.
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