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.
Cowboys Expect C Travis Frederick Back for Offseason Program
Lost in yesterday's hoopla over Scott Linehan's return was a positive report about Center Travis Frederick. In his comments to the media, Jason Garrett said that Frederick's recovery timetable should allow him to a full participant in the team's offseason program.
After never missing a start in his first five years, Travis missed all of 2018 dealing with the effects of Guillain-Barré Syndrome. The disease attacked his neurological system and required immediate and intensive treatment.
Jason Garrett says the team anticipates Travis Frederick being involved in the offseason program right from the start this spring if he continues on the same positive track in recovery from Guillain-Barré syndrome. #cowboyswire
While Joe Looney performed admirably in Frederick's absence, he's not an elite talent. Travis has been arguably the best center in the NFL since entering the league in 2013.
It's hard to qualify what effect not having Frederick had on the Cowboys offense in 2018. Ezekiel Elliott still led the league in rushing, but short-yardage plays weren't as automatic as we've seen in past years. A 4th-and-1 stuff was part of what led to the Cowboys' loss this past Saturday.
Dak Prescott was the second-most sacked QB in the NFL in 2018. After being sacked just 25 and 32 times in his first two seasons, the number skyrocketed to 56 sacks.
That's not all on Frederick, of course. Tyron Smith had some health issues and there were was turnover at left guard.
But having your All-Pro veteran center out there to help with the pre-snap reads, and help the rookie guard on his left, might have helped avoid some of those issues.
Indeed, Travis Frederick's return is just one of many reasons for optimism with the 2019 season. One of the best players on the team, he was sorely missed this year and can only help as Dallas looks to build on their division title and playoff appearance.
For Cowboys to Beat the Rams, Dak Prescott must Lead the Way
In the NFL wins and losses often come down to quarterback play. That isn't to say that if a team wins, it was all because of the quarterback and inversely, if a team loses that it was all on the quarterback. Teams win or lose games. Generally speaking, however, the quarterback has the highest amount of influence on the outcome of an NFL game. This will be no different for the Dallas Cowboys this Saturday when they take on the Los Angeles Rams in the LA Coliseum. For America's Team to make their first trip to the NFC Championship Game since 1996, Dak Prescott has to have a good game.
This looks to be a good matchup for the Dallas Cowboys offense, which should allow Dak Prescott and the Cowboys to take advantage in certain areas.
A few Rams Passing Game Notes
- The Los Angeles Rams were middle of the pack against the pass this season, allowing the 14th fewest passing yards in the league this season.
- The Rams allowed 7.7 yards per attempt. Dak Prescott is averaging 7.6 yards per attempt since week 10 of the season.
- The Rams allowed the eighth most passing touchdowns in the NFL this season. They and the New Orleans Saints are the only teams in the top 10 of passing touchdowns allowed in the playoffs this season.
- The Rams were 15th in the NFL in sacks, with 41, but Aaron Donald accounted for half of that with 20.5 sacks on the season. No other player had more than five sacks.
- They were third in the NFL in interceptions, collecting 18.
- The Rams allowed the ninth highest yards per completion on the season at 11.8. So on average, every completion went for a first down.
Dak Prescott is playing as well as any quarterback in the playoffs at the moment. Over the last nine games, he's averaging 272 passing yards, two total touchdowns, was only intercepted four times, and was sacked on average 3.2 times per game.
On Saturday night, we saw Scott Linehan put the ball in his hands on a couple designed runs that nearly scored touchdowns. It was an excellent addition to the offense that could help fix the Cowboys red zone woes. Getting Dak Prescott running on some designed runs or quarterback draws could help slow down Aaron Donald and the pass rush.
The Cowboys needed every bit of Dak Prescott magic to overcome a stingy Seattle Seahawks defense in their Wild Card win and they'll need him to step up again this week against the Rams. Every team is going to attempt to take away the running game to make Dak beat you and as he continues to mature, he's getting more and more comfortable doing that. He's comfortable with the big stage and the big moments.
Dak Prescott Since 2016, including playoffs * 15 game-winning drives (Most in NFL) * 13 primetime QB wins (Most in NFL) * 19 rush TD (Most in NFL by QB) #DallasCowboys @dak
No Quarterback in the NFL has more game winning drives, rushing touchdowns, or wins in primetime than Dak Prescott. When we talk about Dak Prescott, we talk a lot about the things that he can't do as a passer and deservedly so, he still has some growing to do in that area, but in the things that you can't objectively quantify -- mental toughness, resiliency, clutchness, will, determination -- Dak is one of the best in the NFL. He's as mentally tough as they come in the NFL and he doesn't let the spotlight or the game situation phase him. He has that stuff that's hard to put your finger on.
The Dallas Cowboys will need more of that on Saturday night in Los Angeles. The Rams can score and can score in bunches and if the Cowboys defense starts sluggish or has an off night, they'll need Dak Prescott to keep them in the game. Even if the defense has a good game, Dak still has to come through in the passing game and on the ground to give the Cowboys a chance to pull off the upset.
The Dallas Cowboys are going to try to run the ball against the Rams on Saturday. That's their identity; run the ball, control the clock, and be efficient in the passing game. Prescott, either with his legs or with his arm will have to make some plays to extend drives and keep the Rams offense on the sideline. He'll need to be sharp in the red zone to convert those opportunities into touchdowns. Settling for field goals against the Rams is how the Cowboys get beat.
This matchup with the Rams looks to set up nicely for Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys, yet how things look on paper doesn't mean much when the lights go on and the whistle blows. It's a big stage and it's another win-or-go-home game for the Cowboys (like every game has been over the last nine weeks). In a big game, you need big time players, and the Cowboys have one in quarterback Dak Prescott.
Cowboys Place WR Allen Hurns on IR, Promote Practice Squad Player
We all knew that Allen Hurns' season was over after the ugly ankle injury he suffered last Saturday night against the Seahawks. The Dallas Cowboys made it official today, placing the receiver on injured reserve.
Hurns' spot on the 53-man roster will go to Lance Lenoir, who Dallas has called up from the practice squad for the second time this year.
Cowboys officially placed Allen Hurns on IR and called up Lance Lenior Jr. Cowboys signed WR Brandon Reilly to practice squad.
Lenoir was on the roster from Week 10 to Week 16 during Tavon Austin's injury. He was waived and returned to practice squad when Austin came back a few weeks ago.
Tavon's health may be why Lenoir is back on the roster. The veteran return man appeared to injure himself on his 51-yard punt return in the 4th quarter. Seattle punted it one other time after that play, and Cole Beasley fielded that one.
Lance Lenoir can both return kicks and do some of what Tavon Austin provided on offense.
His spot on the practice squad goes to Brandon Reilly, a second-year player who went undrafted in 2017 out of Nebraska. Reilly was with the Buffalo Bills as a practice squad player and was on the active roster in December of that year, but didn't make final cuts this season.
He also spent time on the Detroit Lions' practice squad this year.
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