The Dallas Cowboys have to be careful how they go about closing out the 2018 season against the New York Giants this week. They want to finish the season out strong, but also need to get their team as healthy as possible with the playoffs just around the corner.
This is a fine line to walk for Head Coach Jason Garrett, who is known as someone who has chosen not to sit players this late in the season even with a playoff spot already secured. He has to decide how much he wants to play his starters and if there are any particular players who should sit out this contest altogether. Whatever he decides could have huge implications on the playoffs.
If I was in Jason Garrett's shoes, there are five players I would personally sit this week against the Giants. There is nothing to gain from having them on the field, but losing them could end any chance they had in the playoffs before it even got underway.
Let's take a look…
RG, Zack Martin
Again, if I was making decisions I would shut down Right Guard Zack Martin this week. I wouldn't even suit him up in a uniform. He has been battling a knee injury all season and missed the game against the Indianapolis Colts because he reaggravated it. He did return last week against the Buccaneers, but I'd still give me a week off in order to get as healthy as possible for the Wild Card round.
I'd insert the Dallas Cowboys second-round pick Connor Williams into the starting lineup at RG to get him some more playing time. I just don't want to run the risk of Martin further injuring himself and not being available to the Cowboys in the playoffs. He's still playing at a high level this year despite doing it on a bum knee and I want to keep it that way. Let him rest up.
DE, Tyrone Crawford
Tyrone Crawford exited the game on the first series last week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a neck injury and went directly to the hospital to be checked out. Thankfully he avoided any kind of serious injury and could possibly return to the lineup as early as this week. But, with nothing to gain from this game the Cowboys should consider resting him for the playoffs.
To me, this is a no-brainer. He was strapped to a backboard and carted off the field last week for a reason, even though it was mostly precautionary. There is no reason at all to have him suit up this week. Get Taco Charlton and Dorrance Armstrong in there and let them play in his place. As young players, they could use the work.
LT, Tyron Smith
You may be starting to notice a trend here. Left Tackle Tyron Smith is another one of the Dallas Cowboys players who has been banged up this season and has missed some time because of those injuries. He could definitely benefit from some rest.
Luckily, the Cowboys have a solid replacement to insert into the lineup as Smith's replacement. Cameron Fleming replaced him adequately earlier this season at LT and should do so once again this week against the Giants. Let him get out there and knock off some rust just in case he's needed.
RB, Ezekiel Elliott
For me, sitting Running Back Ezekiel Elliott this week in the season finale is another no-brainer. He's a competitor and it will take some convincing to keep him off the field, but the rewards far outweigh the risk of him becoming more banged up than he already is.
Even if Elliott doesn't play against the Giants this week, he should finish the 2018 season as the leading rusher in the NFL. He currently has 1,434 rushing yards this season, which is 183 more than Todd Gurley and 236 more than Shaquon Barkley. Neither will likely catch him, especially since Gurley might sit again this week with an injury and with Barkley set to go up against the Cowboys top run defense.
Last, but definitely not least, I would personally sit Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence. Unlike everybody else on this list, he's not banged up as far as I know. But, he has been playing a high volume of snaps and could use the rest as a kind of reboot heading into the all-important playoff season.
Again, I would let Taco Charlton and Dorrance Armstrong take over the majority of the snaps at DE for the Cowboys. Jason Garrett should treat this game more like a preseason match and get some of his young players as much playing time as possible. That's why I would make D-Law a healthy scratch this week.
Which Dallas Cowboys players would you sit in the 2018 season finale?
LB Justin Phillips Making a Case to Become a Roster Lock With Cowboys
In Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys arguably have the best linebacker duo in the entire NFL. They also have some pretty solid backups in Sean Lee and Joe Thomas, but the depth behind those four is completely up in the air. That is excellent news for an undrafted LB like Justin Phillips.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy LB signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent after the completion of the 2019 NFL Draft. To go from being an Oklahoma State Cowboy to a Dallas Cowboy must've been a dream come true, especially for a kid from Pearland, Texas who rooted for America's Team growing up. The dream probably won't be complete though unless a roster spot comes with it.
Surprisingly, Justin Phillips has put himself into contention to earn one of those coveted roster spots. The way he has played in the first two preseason games has caught the attention of quite a few people, which should make it extremely difficult for the Cowboys coaching staff when it comes to making roster cut decisions. Dallas Cowboys Staff Writer and former Scout Bryan Broaddus agrees…
"Justin Phillips is going to make it hard on this staff to put him on the street. Not only is his finish impressive, but the awareness he plays with in pass coverage is impressive. There is no way I thought he had a chance for that interception, especially with this initial step into the line, but his ability to turn and run to a spot saved him."
Here is the play/interception Broaddus is referring to:
The Dallas Cowboys have typically only carried six linebackers on their 53-man roster these past few years. With four spots already spoken for, Justin Phillips is doing his damnedest to lock down one of those final two up for grabs. That, of course, is easier said than done.
Phillips is likely competing with Justin March-Lillard, who led the team in tackles against the Los Angeles Rams last week and fellow undrafted rookie LB Luke Gifford. Gifford, of course, missed the game against the Rams with an ankle injury he sustained in Week 1 of the preseason against the 49ers. It was actually that injury that resulted in more playing time for Justin Phillips.
If you're doing the math here, that's three linebackers competing for two roster spots. March-Lillard probably has the upper hand right now over the two rookies, but I wouldn't say he's secured a job just yet. That leaves the door open for No. 44 (Phillips) and No. 57 (Gifford).
As much as I like Luke Gifford, and I do, I think the stars could be aligning for Justin Phillips to make it through roster cuts. He's playing really well right now, while all Gifford can do is watch from the sideline until he can get back on the field. Regardless though, it's a position battle worth keeping an eye on.
Do you think LB Justin Phillips has done enough to secure a roster spot?
How Kris Richard May Help CB Michael Jackson Make Cowboys Roster
Cornerback Michael Jackson, one of the Dallas Cowboys' 5th-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, has not been standing out so far in training camp or preseason. But despite the slow start, the influence of Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard could help keep Jackson on the 53-man roster this year.
While no team likes parting with their drafted rookies, it certainly happens. That's especially true for Day 3 players, even 5th rounders, and particularly when a team is as deep with talent right now as the 2019 Cowboys.
The cornerback position is one of Dallas' most loaded. They go four-deep with starting talent in Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis, which leaves just one or two roster spots for the remaining prospects.
Michael Jackson is in competition with veteran C.J. Goodwin and the intriguing Donovan Olumba. Both were with the team last year; Goodwin was a special teams contributor and Olumba was a valuable developmental asset on the practice squad.
So far this preseason, we've seen Goodwin shining on special teams and Olumba making plays at cornerback. Jackson hasn't stood out, unless you count jokes about thin he looks on the field.
In contrast, fellow 5th-round rookie Joe Jackson has been showing up at defensive end. Even if there were no suspension concerns with Robert Quinn and Randy Gregory, Joe Jackson has made himself very difficult to cut.
But despite not having that same momentum or energy around him yet, Michael Jackson may still find his way onto the 53-man roster. And that may have something to do with his position coach.
Since arriving in Dallas during the 2018 offseason, Kris Richard has quickly gained prominence beyond just his official role as the Defensive Backs Coach. He was working as the defensive play-caller last year and is expected to take over fully in 2020, assuming Rod Marinelli retires and Richard doesn't leave for a head coaching opportunity.
When Dallas selected Michael Jackson in the last draft, Jackson became the first cornerback or safety drafted by the Cowboys since Richard arrived. Given that it happened this year, with Richard's influence clearly high on the defense, one would assume that Kris had a big say in the decision to draft Jackson.
No, Richard certainly can't veto any decision made by the Joneses, Will McClay, Jason Garrett, or even Marinelli when it comes to roster management. But if he has any bias towards Jackson as his first draft pick in Dallas, Kris may fight for the rookie more than someone else.
We're all human; agendas come into play. Kris Richard may be more passionate about seeing Michael Jackson succeeding for a variety of reasons. He may pound the table for the team to keep Jackson louder than anyone else in the room.
That doesn't necessarily mean keeping Jackson over some other cornerback, either. The argument could be to go long at CB at the expense of another position; maybe only keeing two quarterbacks or eight offensive linemen to free up a roster spot.
This is purely speculative, of course. For all we know, Richard could be the first one who loses faith and votes to let Jackson go.
But given the situation and all factors involved, it's more likely that Kris Richard will be invested in seeing Michael Jackson succeed and sticking with the Cowboys in 2019. Hopefully, it's in the best interest of the team overall.
DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win
Kerry Hyder joined the Cowboys this offseason on a one year deal, and while the four-year NFL veteran has put up some solid tape in his time around the league, it was hard to project just what he could bring to the Cowboys defense.
Listed at 6'2" 270 pounds, Hyder is a bit of a tweener on the defensive line. Though the answer to "will he play tackle or end" seems to be "both" to this point in the preseason.
As he fights for his life on this deep defensive line, Kerry Hyder had himself a day in the Cowboys 14-10 victory over the Rams last weekend.
Hyder made an excellent play defending a screen pass in the first quarter, reading the play perfectly and reacting quickly to running back Darrell Henderson coming out of the backfield. Hyder also created some pressure on the quarterback, and finished with 3 combined tackles in very limited playing time.
Hyder's versatility is working well for him as he looks to make the final roster. Like a Tyrone Crawford type player, Hyder will be able to move inside and out depending on the situation. This allows the Cowboys to be flexible in how they structure their depth chart on defense, and in how they decide to rush the passer on third down.
A pass rushing package involving Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge with the combination of Hyder and Maliek Collins on the inside could turn out to be a very dangerous one for opposing offenses to deal with.
Rod Marinelli spoke to this versatility a couple of months ago, showing just how much he values what Kerry Hyder can bring to this team.
"Maybe you adjust him sometime, once in a while – in a one-on-one pass rush situation, stick him over a guard and start to get a feel for it.” - Rod Marinelli
Earlier this offseason, I wrote that Kerry Hyder could end up being Rod Marinelli's next great under-the-radar find on the defensive line. And if he continues to play with the hustle and awareness that he had on Saturday, he's going to make Rod look very smart in his evaluation.
Kerry Hyder is making it very difficult for the front office to let him go. And, at the end of the preseason, I do expect Kerry Hyder to find himself on the Cowboys' active roster. Especially considering how Mike White is playing at quarterback, and how his release could open up an extra spot at a different position group.
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