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Final Thoughts on Cowboys Matchup with the Atlanta Falcons

John Williams

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Takeaway Tuesday: Cowboys Offense, Coaches Have a Ways to Go Still

This week, like every week for the rest of the 2018 NFL season, is a must-win game for the Dallas Cowboys. Getting ready to face an Atlanta Falcons team that took the heart and soul of the Cowboys offense in last year's matchup, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have a lot to prove as they attempt to get back to the .500 mark for the fourth time this season.

It feels like the Philadelphia game was forever ago. Now that it's finally game day, here are some final thoughts on the Cowboys matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.

Amari Cooper Breaks Century Mark

Amari Cooper has proven his worth in his first two games since coming over to the Dallas Cowboys from the Oakland Raiders. He's had 11 catches in the first two weeks and has made an instant rapport with Quarterback Dak Prescott. I believe they take another step forward this week and Amari Cooper goes for 100 yards in just his third game with America's Team.

Cooper had 75 yards against the Eagles and 58 against the Titans. He's trending toward the 100 yard mark. If Prescott and Cooper could have connected on just one of the deep shots they missed on, Cooper goes for 100 last week. This week, Dak and Coop get another weak defense.

The Atlanta Falcons pass defense is one of the worst in the NFL. They have the sixth highest net yards per attempt number in the NFL and the sixth most yards allowed. They've also allowed the fourth most passing touchdowns; 21.

Since the Atlanta Falcons can score and move the ball with their passing attack, the Cowboys will have to throw to win this game.

Can Xavier Su'a Filo Continue to be an X-Factor

The Cowboys offensive line had their best game of the season on the ground on Sunday as they gashed the Philadelphia Eagles -- who were second in rushing heading into the game -- for 171 rushing yards. They did it by going right at the Eagles defense and were most successful when they used Su'a-Filo to get to the next level of the defense.

There's been a lot of talk about whether Su'a-Filo should continue to start when Connor Williams comes back and for me, it depends. Williams has had some problems with the strength that defensive tackles bring on the inside, but he's been getting better too.

If Su'a-Filo and the Cowboys offensive line plays well during this stretch that Williams is healing, then it would be a shock to see the rookie second round pick reinserted into the starting lineup.

Check out this week's film review on Xavier Su'a-Filo.

Dominant Defensive Duo

Jaylon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence has been exceptional this season. Jaylon Smith looks to be healthy and progressing to be what the NFL thought he would be coming out of college. A transcendant middle linebacker.

DeMarcus Lawrence sack numbers may not be as high as they were this time last season, but he continues to show that he's a dominant player on both pass and rushing downs.

Cowboys Stats & Graphics on Twitter

Cowboys playmaking EPA, now with snap counts! The most efficient playmakers have been Jaylon Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, Daniel Ross and Jourdan Lewis. "Playmaking EPA" = total EPA on failed plays forced through sacks, QB hits, turnovers, passes deflected, tackles, etc.

As you can see from our friend Daniel Houston, who manages Cowboys Stats and Graphics on Twitter points out, Smith and Lee have been the best playmakers on the team on a per snap basis. By just about every measure out there, those two have been worthy of Pro Bowl and perhaps All-Pro selections.

Playing for his Life

Chidobe Awuzie has been struggling this season. And that's stating it kindly to the second-year corner back. He's had decent positioning for much of the year, typically being right where he's supposed to be, but he's not making any plays of the football, which is something he was known for coming out of college.

There's something not quite right with his game this season as he's become the focal point for opposing passing attacks and for good reason. He can't stop anyone.

Well, this is the week to turn all of that around. The Dallas Cowboys need him to have a big week this week.

Ailing Interior

As humans, we know that when our interior isn't right, it doesn't matter what else we have going on on the outside, we don't function as well. The same is true for defense. If your interior isn't right, your defense isn't right. The Dallas Cowboys defensive interior is struggling with some health issues.

On the final injury report of the week, Defensive Tackles David Irving and Daniel Ross have already been ruled out,  Antwaun Woods is doubtful, and Maliek Collins is questionable. If for some reason Maliek Collins isn't able to go, then it's probable that the team will go into the game without a functional one-technique defensive tackle. Even with Collins in the lineup, being down Woods and Ross means the Cowboys have to run Collins at 1T and Tyrone Crawford is your primary 3T defensive tackle.

With Crawford having to play inside this week it means a three-man rotation at defensive end of DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Dorance Armstrong. They should be alright on the outside, but Crawford is one of their best run defending defensive ends. He's good on the inside, but you want to save him for your passing situations.

Prediction

This is one of those games that I'm having a difficult time getting a read on. The Cowboys haven't been good on the road this season until last week at Philadelphia, one of the more difficult places to play in the NFL. In that game, they finally got their offense clicking through the air and on the ground.

This week looks like an opportunity for the Cowboys to continue to prove themselves offensively against an average to below average opponent.

On the defensive side of the ball, they're going to have their hands full with an Atlanta Falcons offense that is averaging more than 30 points a game at home and has one of the best receivers in the NFL in Julio Jones.

I think this is going to be a close game where both teams get into 20's in point scored and it comes down to who plays better offensively at the end.

My heart leans Cowboys, but my gut leans Falcons. So it should be a 20-20 tie. Really though, I'm going with the...

Cowboys 24-20. 

Who you got?



Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could. Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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Report: Dallas Cowboys’ Ezekiel Elliott Planning Training Camp Holdout?

John Williams

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Ezekiel Elliott: NFL's History with Domestic Violence Shows Inconsistency, Hypocrisy 2

All offseason, the possibility of a new contract for Dallas Cowboys Running Back Ezekiel Elliott has been a hot button issue among media and fans alike. Not because Ezekiel Elliott isn't a great player and worthy of top running back money, but because the idea of paying running backs north of $15 million a year isn't as simple as, "Is he worth it?"

There is significant evidence that the running back position experiences a significant decline in production around their age 28 season and few running backs play into their 30's with good to elite production. Ezekiel Elliott, though he's experienced heavy usage in his first three seasons, could be the exception to the rule.

Well, knowing his worth to the Dallas Cowboys he's expecting a heavy payday at some point in the next couple of seasons. Elliott is under contract through 2019 and the Cowboys picked up his rookie option for 2020. So, technically, Elliott wouldn't be a free agent until the 2021 offseason. However, much like in the case of Todd Gurley, Elliott's looking to get paid early to maximize his prime years as the Dallas Cowboys running back.

Within the last hour, Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk released a report that Ezekiel Elliott is planning on holding out of training camp if he doesn't receive a new contract, per a "league source." It should be noted that Mike Florio has had some missteps in his reporting of Dallas Cowboys news, most notably the perpetuating a rumor that Dez Bryant was caught on videotape doing something at a Wal-Mart, that would have a "Ray Rice type of impact." A tape that has never been discovered or produced and a story that's completely died off since it was originally reported in 2015.

Given the recent news that Melvin Gordon is planning a training camp hold out, it should come as no surprise that Elliott is being mentioned similarly. ESPN even mentioned the idea of Elliott and a looming contractual holdout in a piece earlier today, but their prediction pointed to 2021 and wasn't a report based on fact or a source, but a prediction for next year.

The two-time NFL rushing champ is scheduled to make $7.9 million in 2019 and just over $9 million in 2020 as the fifth-year option to his rookie contract. Elliott certainly has earned the right to be paid like Todd Gurley ($14.37 million per year), Le'Veon Bell ($13.13 million per year), and David Johnson ($13 million per year) despite having two more years on his deal.

In looking at the long-term impact of Elliott's contract, I've advocated that if the Dallas Cowboys intend to pay Elliott, now's the time to do it. A contract extension now, that adds three or four more years onto his existing deal would get Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys to his age 28 or 29 season. In a well-structured contract, they'd have opportunities to get out at the back end if Elliott experienced a significant decline in production.

Ezekiel Elliott's contract is going to continue to be a hot button issue until he's either signed to an extension or it's made known that the Dallas Cowboys have no intention of extending him. Currently, there aren't any other sources confirming Elliott's plan to hold out of training camp, which starts July 27th, but it's a story that we'll continue to follow here on InsideTheStar.com.

Update: 7/15/2019 1:45 pm.

Charles Robinson, Senior Reporter for Yahoo! Sports provided some insight into the thinking of Elliott and his representation.

It certainly seems like holding out is on the table for Ezekiel Elliott and his representation, but no decision has been made at this point.

Check back with us for updates on Ezekiel Elliott's contract extension. 



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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Safety

Jess Haynie

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Xavier Woods

The Dallas Cowboys' safeties may have the been the team's most-talked-about position during the 2019 offseason. Dallas declined making a splashy free agent signing, or even a high draft pick, and that means safety is still a hot topic headed into this year's training camp.

Fans hoping for an Earl Thomas signing or a Juan Thornhill drafting have had to settle for veteran George Iloka and 6th-round rookie Donovan Wilson. These new arrivals don't bring the sizzle that many wanted, but they do add intrigue to the battle for roster spots and depth chart positioning.

Here's the projected safety depth chart right now for the 2019 season:

  1. Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath
  2. George Iloka, Kavon Frazier
  3. Darian Thompson, Donovan Wilson
  4. Jameill Showers

A big reason the Cowboys didn't spend big at safety is Xavier Woods, who is a rising star on defense entering just his third season. Dallas' strategy appears centered around Woods' development, hoping he will anchor the position and make everyone look better.

Woods' fellow starter could be Iloka or the returning Jeff Heath. It is assumed that these two veterans will battle it out for the strong safety job, with the loser being a versatile and experienced backup.

Heath has the advantage of experience with the Cowboys but Iloka has more starting experience overall with 79 games to just 41 for Jeff. You also have to think that Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard had a hand in selecting Iloka from the free agent pool, likely coveting his 6'4" size.

Even if Iloka does win the starting job Heath should remain a valued reserve and special teams leader. His $2.95 million cap hit for 2019 isn't that high for someone who fills those roles.

Regardless of starting jobs, we expect all three of those players to make the roster. It's below them where actual roster spots are on the line.

Cowboys Training Camp: 5 Fringe Players Fans Should Follow

Dallas Cowboys safety Kavon Frazier (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

After three years at backup safety, Kavon Frazier is facing some real competition for his job in 2019. Not only is there the aforementioned rookie Donovan Wilson, but reserve Darian Thompson may already be moving ahead of Frazier on the depth chart.

Thompson was a 3rd-round pick of the Giants in 2016, the same year that Dallas drafted Frazier in the 6th round. He was named a starter in Week 2 as a rookie, but got hurt that game and missed the rest of they ear. He started all 16 games in 2017, but then was injured again and released prior to the start of the 2018 season.

After less than a week on the Cardinals' practice squad, Thompson got signed to the Cowboys' roster last October as a reserve. They re-signed him this offseason, and reports from mini-camps and OTAs had Darian getting second-team reps in practice over Kavon Frazier and other prospects.

If Thompson has ascended, the biggest concern for Frazier and Donovan Wilson is just how many safeties the Cowboys keep. They've kept five before but could easily go with just four, and that might leave two talented players out in the cold.

If Frazier and Wilson do wind up battling for that fifth and final spot, the rookie may have the edge thanks to youth and his four-year contract. Kavon is a free agent next year, so Dallas might elect to keep the younger, cheaper option for further development.

From starting jobs to just keeping The Star on their helmets, these safeties have a lot to fight for in 2019. It's been one of our most interesting positions to watch all offseason, and that won't change when we head into training camp.

~ ~ ~

OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS



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Are the Dallas Cowboys Carrying any Bad Contracts?

John Williams

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Cowboys Blog - Cowboys Home Cooking For Preseason Dress Rehearsal 1

Late last week Bleacher Report's Brad Gagnon went through the contracts of all 32 NFL teams and attempted to determine who holds the worst contract for each team. Every team in the NFL is carrying bad contracts. Even the Dallas Cowboys, who've become really good at managing their cap. It's the nature of player evaluation and contract negotiations in all sports. You pay players with a balance of historical production and potential progression.

Here are the rules they laid out in their analysis:

  • Had to be a contract of more than $5 million per year.
  • Looked more at the cost of the player beyond the 2019 season.
  • Player progression and trajectory matters.
  • Looked mainly at 2018 production and showed a little grace to players with who were injured.

It's certainly a difficult task to undertake, and there are some really solid choices on their list, like Star Lotuleilei's five-year $50 million deal that he's being paid by the Buffalo Bills. That's a lot of money for a nose tackle. On the flipside, they chose DeMarcus Lawrence as having the worst contract on the Dallas Cowboys. To be fair, they also chose Khalil Mack's contract as the worst for the Chicago Bears.

I guess they aren't a fan of paying elite pass rushers elite money. 

Here's what they had to say about Lawrence's deal:

"This is a similar situation to Mack's in Chicago. Mack and Lawrence are the only two pass-rushers making $21-plus million per year, and Lawrence's new deal with the Dallas Cowboys ties him to the team through at least 2021. Even after that, it'd cost Dallas $10 million to cut him ahead of the 2022 season."

Brad Gagnon - Bleacher Report

In their assessment of Lawrence, they're assuming that he's not going to continue to be a disruptive player for the Dallas Cowboys beyond 2019 or 2020. We talked about Lawrence last week and I listed him as one of the five most important Dallas Cowboys for them to have success in 2019. His ability to play the run and rush the passer at an elite level is invaluable. Sure, paying any player north of $20 million and more than 10% of your salary cap seems like a bad idea on the surface, but when you're talking about one of the five best defensive linemen in the NFL, $21 million per year and $60 million guaranteed is the cost of doing business.

There's a reason the Dallas Cowboys felt comfortable paying Lawrence elite edge money, it's because he's an elite edge. Were it not for injuries early in his career, national observers would be talking about Lawrence in the same light as Mack and Von Miller. Despite two highly productive seasons for the Dallas Cowboys, Lawrence is still highly underrated. If the talk from Cowboys fans is any indication, he's underrated in his own fanbase.

If you go to OverTheCap.com and look at the Dallas Cowboys contractual obligations for the next few years, you see a team that hasn't loaded themselves down with many, if any bad contracts. If there's one that's arguably bad, it's the Tyrone Crawford contract.

The Dallas Cowboys will pay him a little more than $10 million this season and a little more than $9 million in 2020. After that, his contract expires and he becomes a free agent.

Crawford has always been a solid player for the Dallas Cowboys, even if he hasn't lived up to the contract extension he received back in 2015. His ability to play both defensive end positions as well as 3-technique defensive tackle along with his leadership has made him an important piece to the Dallas Cowboys playoff teams over the last five seasons. It's become evident, that for the Dallas Cowboys front office and coaching staff, they'd much rather have Crawford playing at $10 million a season than not have him at all.

In the short term, particularly for 2019, the contract that stands out the most is Allen Hurns.

Hurns signed a two-year deal in the 2018 offseason and the thought was he'd be able to supplement some of the production that was lost when the team released Dez Bryant. Hurns, unfortunately, struggled to hit his stride last season before suffering an ankle fracture in the win over the Seattle Seahawks in the playoffs.

The sixth-year wide receiver is now set to have a salary cap hit of $6.25 million in 2019. The Dallas Cowboys could walk away from his salary and save $5 million on the cap with only $1.25 million in dead money.

For a receiver who has had a 1,000-yard season in the NFL, $6.25 million dollars isn't that much. Remember, Sammy Watkins signed for $16 million a season last offseason and only has one 1,000 yard receiving season to his name.

Again, the Dallas Cowboys dodged a bullet with that one. 

The Dallas Cowboys coaching staff, reportedly really likes Allen Hurns. On the field, he can help the team on the outside and in the slot and provides tremendous depth at the wide receiver position. How he, and some of the wide receivers further down the depth chart, perform during training camp and preseason, will make or break Hurns' employment with Dallas Cowboys in 2019.

Even with the contracts of Tyrone Crawford and Allen Hurns on the books, the Dallas Cowboys have $20 million in cap space in 2019 and almost $75 million in cap space in 2020. Sure those numbers will change significantly whenever Dak Prescott, Amari Cooper, and possibly Ezekiel Elliott sign their new contracts, but the Dallas Cowboys are in great shape in terms of the cap. They aren't carrying much dead money and there are zero contracts on the roster that are weighing them down and keeping them from doing what they want to do in free agency and with their own players.

Good drafting and wise free agent pursuits have finally destroyed the narrative that the Dallas Cowboys were in "cap hell." Sure, it can be frustrating during free agency to watch other teams make moves and improve their team, but it sure is nice that they're in the position to be able to hand out long-term extensions to the core of their team.

Namely the newest iteration of The Triplets.



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