The Dallas Cowboys play their first regular season game of 2018 in just eleven days. Without seeing their starting quarterback since week two of the preseason, Running Back Ezekiel Elliott in any game, and lingering injuries to Left Tackle Tyron Smith and Center Travis Frederick, it's becoming clearer by the day that the Cowboys energetic defense will have to cover for this offense early in the year.
You can point to budding stars like Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie and Linebacker Jaylon Smith as huge reasons why this is even a possibility for Dallas. With Rod Marinelli still coordinating this Cowboys defense though, the team will always rely on every player through the depth chart having a say, which is the case on their deep defensive line.
The Cowboys rotation at defensive end could be one of the league's best at full strength. The same might be said about their defensive tackles should David Irving return to form after serving another four game suspension. For now, the team is getting by at DT thanks in large part to the 6'1", 318 pound Antwaun Woods.
Woods has absolutely embraced the Cowboys lone weakness on the defensive line, turning the 1T position into a strength so far this preseason. Between the first-year player in Woods and second-year Cowboy Brian Price, the Cowboys have legitimate options at nose tackle to allow a player like Maliek Collins to line up at 3T again.
For the first time since undergoing surgery on a broken foot in the spring, defensive tackle Maliek Collins took snaps in 11 on 11 drills. He worked at both tackle spots and continues to be on track to be available for the season opener.
Collins has done just that as he continues to ramp up his activity in practice, returning from a second broken foot in three years. Playing admirably as the 1T last season, Collins' potential as a pass rusher was lost, which the Cowboys can hope to regain in 2018. Collins -- who also missed most of training camp as a rookie -- recorded five sacks from this spot in 2016.
Should Collins not be ready for week one, the Cowboys have also been afforded the luxury of moving veteran Tyrone Crawford back to his original position at defensive tackle. If not for Woods, this move would likely be viewed as irresponsible and counterproductive.
DeMarcus Lawrence, the undisputed leader of this talented Cowboys defensive line, has endorsed Crawford's shift back to 3T as a way to free him up to the quarterback more. Lawrence said the same thing about Collins at the start of last season.
In his own right, a leaner and faster Crawford will also benefit from having Woods occupy double teams on the inside.
The Cowboys first-team defense played 39 snaps this preseason, 16 in their base defense and 23 in nickel. Here's how they lined up in each:
The Cowboys first team defense, which Woods has staked a claim in as both a base and Nickel starter, has not allowed a single point this preseason. With their only focus for Thursday's final exhibition being keeping everyone healthy, this stat shouldn't change before the team heads to Carolina.
The Cowboys level of play on defense has quickly disbanded their "orphans" moniker of just a year ago. If you didn't know any better about Antwaun Woods, you might think that the preseason standout was a remnant of these defenses.
Instead, Woods is a perfect product of his own work paired with exceptional talent around him. The USC Trojan has become a fan favorite not only for his value to the Cowboys, but also for a social media presence that embraces the scrappy nature of Woods' thankless position.
The Cowboys have devalued the 1T position in previous years, and in turn their entire defense hasn't gotten the credit it's arguably deserved. Now, this unit is set to earn plenty of headlines, and Cowboys Nation shouldn't lose sight of what Antwaun Woods' consistency this preseason will mean to this cause.
Officially, the box score only shows two assists against the run for Woods in 54 snaps this preseason. His ability to bring the same technique and power into each of these reps has earned him more than just an extended look in the Cowboys defense, but a starting position that's going to make those around him even better.
Travis Frederick Regains Strength in Hands, Influence in Cowboys OL Room
The Dallas Cowboys are coming off their most impressive win of the season, keeping playoff hopes alive on the road with a 27-20 victory at the Philadelphia Eagles. Entering the hostile home of the defending Super Bowl champions with three previous road losses already on their record, the Cowboys performance on Sunday night was truly about getting back to their roots. In their second week with Marc Colombo as the Offensive Line Coach, the Cowboys rushed for 171 yards and protected Dak Prescott very well. It was revealed after the game that Frederick was on a coaches headset with Colombo and his new assistant Hudson Houck.
Travis Frederick just told @BenRogers on @1053thefan that Marc Columbo has him on a coaches headset now helping him and Hudson Houck. That's a smart move from Columbo. Smartest guy on the line
The anchor of the Cowboys offensive line since being drafted in 2013, Frederick is regarded as the smartest linemen on the team. It's his mental edge that's made up for a slight lack of size at the position, regarded as one of the worst first round picks in his draft because of this oversight.
Not only is Frederick a welcome addition to the Cowboys brain trust at offensive line, but he did receive some great news on his battle with Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS) that's kept him out this season. Frederick was placed on injured reserve on October 6th, announcing publicly his GBS diagnosis on August 22nd.
Frederick has a long way to go before he's playing football again, not eligible to do so until week 14 at home against the Eagles. Regaining feeling in his hands is about the 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year nominee getting as healthy as possible away from football. If a return to the Cowboys is possible through his recovery, the team would of course welcome Frederick.
Travis Frederick regains sensation in his hands: "There is some light at the end of the tunnel" https://t.co/wvQhB6KUQp
What Frederick has gained in upper body strength, he must remain patient for in the lower body. While pointing out that over 95% of patients make a full recovery from GBS, Frederick is still waiting to feel sensations in his feet.
The Cowboys have been optimistic that Frederick's condition was caught early enough for a full recovery to be probable.
Dallas' schedule doesn't get any easier following their uplifting win. Returning to the site of last year's demoralizing loss at the Falcons, Frederick likely wishes he could make a miraculous return just a bit more this week.
To make matters worse, Left Tackle Tyron Smith did not practice on Wednesday due to back spasms. It's unknown if rookie Connor Williams will reclaim his starting left guard spot on Sunday, or if Xavier Su'a-Filo has earned another opportunity.
Despite the patchwork nature of a Cowboys offensive line once regarded as the best in the league, and still vital to the entire team's success, Dallas has an abundance of hope that Sunday in Atlanta can be much better than 2017. This starts with Frederick's strength to fight GBS and attempt to rejoin his teammates, wisely given some added game day influence on them by Colombo.
If elevating their level of play up front was all it took for the Cowboys to play up to their potential and pull off an upset on prime time last week, the NFC East is certainly still within reach for a team that must now sustain the level of play on offense to match what this defense has given all season.
Cowboys LB Named NFC Defensive Player of the Week Against Eagles
You already knew that Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys rookie linebacker, had a great night last Sunday in Philadelphia. Apparently the rest of the football world agreed, and now he's been named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week.
The award is the first of what could be many for Leighton, who has emerged as a defensive leader for the Cowboys. He's been playing more in the absence of veteran Sean Lee, who has been battling hamstring issues all season.
THE. WOLF. HUNTER. Congratulations to #DallasCowboys rookie LB @VanderEsch38 on being named NFC Defensive Player of the Week! → https://t.co/XeSTt2tIpX
This is the second Player of the Week award for a Dallas Cowboys this season. Kicker Brett Maher won the Special Teams version in Week 4 after going 4-for-4 and hitting a game winner over the Detroit Lions.
The Defensive Player award hasn't gone to a Cowboys since Week of 2017, when DeMarcus Lawrence put up three sacks against the Arizona Cardinals.
Leighton's recognition is also well-earned. He led Dallas with 13 tackles and an interception in a pivotal road victory against a division rival. In what was arguably a "must-win" game for the Cowboys, their first-round pick stepped up and stood out.
A few more games like this, and Vander Esch could be in the running for the Defensive Rookie of the Year. But even above personal accolades, Leighton's play could help the Cowboys make a push in the NFC East.
If nothing else, he's making that first-round pick look smarter every week.
Legendary Cowboys Quarterback Backs Dak Prescott
Things have not gone well for Dak Prescott this season. His play has been up and down and he hasn't given the team or Cowboys Nation much reason to believe that he's the future at the quarterback position for the Dallas Cowboys. Speaking to 105.3 FM The Fan in Dallas today, Legendary Dallas Cowboys Quarterback, Ring of Honor and Pro Football Hall of Fame member Roger Staubach offered support for the Cowboys current quarterback, Dak Prescott.
Staubach had this to say when asked about Dak Prescott.
Roger Staubach on @1053thefan said #Dak is a part of the problem with the #Cowboys offense, but he is not the problem.
Roger Staubach didn't start in the NFL until the third year of his career and thinks that's a good time for the quarterback to make the jump. At this point, we are 40 games into Dak Prescott's NFL career and we can see some of the things that he's good at as well as some of the things that he struggles with.
As Staubach points out, Dak Prescott has the intangibles that you look for in a quarterback, even if his play hasn't been what you'd want at the position. Roger admits that Dak shoulders some of the blame for the offensive woes of the last 16 games, but realizes that there are many reasons for the Cowboys offensive failures this season.
Roger Staubach believes that the Dallas Cowboys can win with Dak Prescott as their starting quarterback despite some of the flaws that have crept up over the last 16 games. He's not wrong.
Staubach's pretty accurate in his assessment that there's been more good than bad. If you look at the first 24 games of Dak Prescott's career, he was really good. Through the last 16 games, he's struggled at times. So technically there's been more good than bad. The problem is that over the last 16 games, there's been more bad than good. The NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league and lately Dak hasn't done much. We can debate all day on how much of the struggles Prescott's faced are on him, but everyone should be willing to admit that some of the struggles are on him.
It's plausible that the confidence in Prescott that Jerry Jones has comes from Roger's belief that the Cowboys can win games with Dak Prescott at quarterback; and they have. In Prescott's career, the Dallas Cowboys are 25-15. Though wins are a team stat and not a quarterback stat, it just goes as evidence that Dak Prescott can be a winning quarterback in the National Football League.
Dak has some flaws, but the offense and its play caller haven't helped Prescott much this season. We should be critical of Prescott because he has a big pay day coming, if you believe Jerry Jones. While Dak has some flaws, he also has some traits that can make him a good quarterback in the NFL with the right coaching situation behind him. 2018 may be running out of time for the Dallas Cowboys and their playoff prospects, but the Cowboys have time before they have to make a decision on Prescott.
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Should Cowboys Pursue Former Raider Bruce Irvin?
Star Blog2 days ago
Should Cowboys Stick With Xavier Su’a-Filo at Left Guard?
Star Blog2 days ago
How Cowboys Could Regain a 2019 1st-Round Draft Pick
Player News6 days ago
Legendary Cowboys Quarterback Backs Dak Prescott
Player News2 weeks ago
Could WR Noah Brown Help the Cowboys at Tight End?
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Next Day Rant: Dak Prescott Shows Big Flaws in Big Win
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Is Owner and General Manager Jerry Jones to be Trusted?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Despite Cooper Trade, Michael Gallup’s Development Can’t Be Ignored