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Blueprint to Beating the Big Blue Black and Blue – Part 2

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Back by popular demand (popular demand being defined as, at least, one person asking me to do this), I will now attempt to predict how the Cowboy's can stop the otherwise vaunted run attack of the Giants and their potentially dangerous aerial game.

But the first thing we have to do as a collective fan base, is brain dump everything we thought we learned from this unit against Tampa Bay, for three reasons:  1.  It was the first game.  The players adrenaline is higher than normal, the pressure to prove ones value is higher, it's the first game the starters play a full 4 quarters, and the coaches have very little film to game plan against the opposing team (I'm sure there are the factors, but those are the major ones).  2.  I honestly believe the Bucs are better than what they are getting credit for.  Admittedly, they could use a different QB.  But Antonio Bryant, Michael Clayton, Kellen Winslow, Jerramy Stevens, Cadillac Williams and Derek Ward are not pedestrian weapons; they have all been considered dominant players at their perspective positions at some point in their careers, if not as early as last year (Bryant, Ward, Stevens).   Furthermore, that OL played an outstanding game, in my opinion.  3.  For the first time in a long time, despite the win, the defensive players are not satified with their performance and are committed to correcting what many have agreed are correctable issues.

Feel better?  Okay, let's move on.

First, our starters:

Defensive Line:

Jay Ratliff (6'4" 303):  This analysis is going to be long; we all know who Ratliff is.  Next.

Marcus Spears (6'4" 309):  Like many players returning from last year's squad, he committed to improving his game over the offseason.  Be that due to personal pride or the fact that he is entering a contract year, I think we can expect him to be solid throughout the year; against the Giant's, though, we will need more.

Igor Olshansky (6'6" 315):  For the time being, I have to give Igor an incomplete on his grade.  The trouble is, in the 3-4, defensive lineman effectiveness is very hard to evaluate because their job vastly differ's from a 4-3 lineman.  But, if Demarcus isn't getting his sacks, that's should be a good indication that Igor is not doing his primary job:  keep Ware in one on one blocking situations.

Jason Hatcher (6'6" 305):  Of all the back ups, Jason seem's to have the most potential to eventualyl unseat a current incumbent.  He get's good penetration, and can push the pocket on even starting quality offensive lineman.

Junior Siavii (6'5" 318):  Thus far, he has been invisible.  On the defensive line, that's probably the most significant criticism you can offer.

Stephen Bowen (6'5" 306):  He comes in at a close second, behind Jason Hatcher as a back up.  He has good size and a decent motor.

Linebackers:

Demarcus Ware (6'4" 262):  Listening to an interview following the Bucs game, he admitted he was never quite right after that first hit that sidelined him while they assessed the severity of what was later revealed to be a concussion.  My understanding of league rules is that he should not have played from the point forward, but there is little trainers can do when a player like Ware makes his mind up that he is going to pass every test they throw at him to determine rather or not he is good to go.  Beyond ability, let this serve as a reminder to his committment to this team and his awareness of how important it is he is standing on the field as a factor in the game or not.

Keith Brooking (6'2" 241):  This quote says everything:  "We've got to go in with a mentality that we're not going to allow them to run the ball on us, period.  No matter what happens, no matter what we call, no matter what they run, it's on us to be where we're suppose to be.  And when we get there, get there with bad intentions!"  To that, all I can say in reference to his position is, 'Zach who?'.  For those of you who contend that talk is cheap, he has the career stat sheet to back his talk up!

Bradie James (6'2" 247):  Following the ugly Bengals game last year, players seemed content to squeak out a win against a lesser opponent.  Flash forward to this week and from the vast majority of the defense from the Head Coach down the mantra is the same, "We have to play better," Bradie James admitted.  "We know that."  Nuff said.

Anthony Spencer (6'3" 255):  Throughout his career, thus far, he's been inconsistent.  He has all the physical tools and speed, but he tends to revert to his college day MO of trying to outrun the tackle/TE by going around the block to get to the QB/ball carrier.  In the NFL, in the 3-4, it is imperative, regardless if it involves being taken out of the play by a blocker, that he own his gaps of responsibility.  The 3-4 can be a very effective defense (as the Steelers and Baltimore's chart topping defenses should suggest), but it requires unselfish players at every level, who obey their assignments.  If he doesn't take the blocker in his gap, the blocker will have the opportunity to pick up someone in the secondary and that typically mean's a long run, if not TD, by the ball carrier.  For an example of what to do, take a look at what Demarcus Ware has become excellent at.  He takes on the block and while using one arm to disengage the blocker, he uses his other arm to bring down the carrier or corral him towards other manned gaps.  It requires Demarcus trusting that his teammates will be where they are supposed to be, but again, that is absolutely crucial for the 3-4 to be effective.

Bobbie Carpenter (6'2" 249):  Bust.  We've establish this much.  But I do believe he is, at least, a servicable replacement for Kevin Burnett.  And if you think about it, had we drafted Bobbie in the 3rd round, like Burnett, instead of the 1st, the criticism of Bobbie wouldn't be nearly as bad; and that was Parcells fault.  At any rate, the one thing the Cowboy's are doing with Bobbie that I ardently oppose is him being a member of the goalline defense.  His instincts, size, and frame do not matchup well to most NFL team's goalline offense.  And I really just cannot envision him getting in the air meeting a RB trying to dive over the pile.

Corners:

Terence Newman (5'11" 195):  When healthy, he's clutch.  If health had not been an issue in 2007 and 2008, I might even say he's pretty close to being a shut down corner.

Orlando Scandrick (5'10" 192):  Thus far, I'd say he has proven he should be the 2nd starting corner over Mike Jenkins.  A true student of the game, we can expect him to be well prepared for the Giants.

Mike Jenkins (5'10" 198):  He has the tools and the frame defenses like for their corner.  It's the mental side of his game that typically get's in the way.  Rather it is over-thinking or a lack of thinking, the jury is still out.  But, I will say, I like him starting over Anthony Henry, Pacman Jones, and Alan Ball.  And if I'm not mistaken, the guys at football outsiders actually think pretty highly of him, as well.

Alan Ball (6'1" 188):  He proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was the best corner behind the above 3 in training camp and in preseason.  But with his only competition being the likes of Courtney Brown, Mike Mickens, DeAngelo Smith and Julian Hawkins, that really isn't saying much.

Safeties:

Gerald Sensabaugh (6'0" 210):  We've seen good and we've seen bad.  He's certainly a better coverage guy than Roy Williams, Keith Davis and Patrick Watkins, but he has not been as good as advertised against the run.  Thus far, preseason included, team's have not had opportunities deep, but he sure has been called for quite a few penalities; most notably the defensive holding call that nullified a Mike Jenkins interception against the Bucs this past Sunday.  I have a theory:  As much as Wade Phillips gushed about what Sensabaugh, in particular, add's to his defensive scheme's, I can't help but wonder if he is over-thinking and committing these stupid penalties to live up to the hype.   Honestly, I think that little bit of phsychology may have also been an issue for quite a few of the Cowboy's players in 2008.   Regardless of his excuse for mental error's, it's unacceptable and against the Giant's the Cowboys will need every part of his focus.

Ken Hamlin (6'2" 209):  Much has been made about those two infamous missed tackles at the end of the game against Baltimore, closing the door forever on Texas Stadium.  But for the most part, considering the injuries that created a turnstile at various positions in the Secondary, I honestly believe Ken Hamlin did the best he could with what he had.  As the Quarterback of the defense, it is his job to ensure that all of those rookies and bottom of the roster feeders forced to play due to the suspension or injuries, are lined up correctly.  Ultimately, it comes down to his ability to trust the other guys lining up back in the secondary, to do their job.  He could not do that last year.  In his trying to compensate for poor play by those other positions, his position suffered.  But that's just my opinion.  Either way, Hamlin has been known to throw everything he has into hit's and he will be primed to hurt people when the Giants are in town.

Special Teams:

Matt McBriar (6'1" 220):  Prior to his injury early last year, he was on pace to be a Pro Bowl selection.  He has a boot that can put the ball 60 yards from scrimmage, but from what I understand, DeCammalis has wisely requested he adjust his kicks to not out-punt the coverage.  Thus far, this adjustment has paid off.

Nick Folk (6'1" 222):  The dynamic of a defense changes when backed against it's own endzone.  The Cowboy's may rely on Nick quite a bit to ensure we don't leave points on the field.

David Buehler (6'2" 228):  He will likely end the season as the Touchback king of the league, which is huge, but that's not the only place he will contribute.  He also helps on punt coverage and for a guy who beat out all of the highly touted linebackers drafted from USC this year in the combine at the 40 and on the bench, he is not to be taken lightly as an open field tackler.

Of all the defensive player's above, Special Teams will likely be where the Cowboy's win this game.  The Giants, barring turnovers, should have a long field to traverse each time they start a drive.  This will be huge in the wanning moments of the game, particularly considering that of all the attributes their receivers can offer, burning our defense for a quick score likely won't be one of them.

Now here's the motley crew the Giant's will be throwing at the Cowboys:

Offensive Line:

For any NFL team, anything done offensively begins in the trenches.  Partly because I'm lazy, but mostly because it's unnecessary, I'm going to skip the individual breakdown of the Offense Line.  When you think of the Giant's OL, most Cowboy fans can't name one player from the offensive side of the ball with a hand on the ground, anyway.  And for the Giant's, that's a good thing.  Why you ask?  Because that mean's they are a cohesive unit that get's recognized for their cumulative efforts and not just that one dominant presence; example:  Joe Thomas of the Browns.    But, if you consider the 5 sacks the Cowboy's were able to compile the last time these two team's met, you know they are not without their flaws.  Granted, the Giant's didn't have Brandon Jacobs in that game, so that should change Wade's approach a bit.  But keep in mind, despite his TE like frame, Jacobs is actually notoriously horrible at pass blocking, which is why we won't see him catching to many balls Sunday night (unless it's on the chin, figuratively speaking; I'm sorry, I had to).  In for sure passing situations, we will likely see Ahmad Bradshaw manning the RB position.

Running Backs:

Brandon Jacobs (6'4" 264):  To be honest, he doesn't scare me.  Personally, I believe if you took away his stellar offensive line and committee of RB's around him, he would be considered an average RB, at best.  With a full head of steam, he is extremely difficult to bring down.   But if the Cowboys can slow his initial acceleration, by simply hitting him (notice I didn't say they have to tackle him at this point) before or shortly after he crosses the line of scrimmage, his overall production will be marginal.  I will admit, however, if the Giant's are within 3 yard's of the Goalline, because of his presence, and, of course, that offensive line, it's an automatic 6 in my opinion.  By the way, if you didn't quite get the clowning I was delivering at BJ's expense in paranthesis at the end of my assessment of the Offensive Line, in other word's, I'm predicting he's going to suck against the Cowboys.

Ahmad Bradshaw (5'9" 198):  I wouldn't say he scare's me, but he does draw more concern from me than BJ.  First, he is the RB they will rely on the most in pass protecting, now that Derrick Ward is gone, meaning that he is the guy most likely to catch are defense with their pant's down expecting the pass.  Furthermore, he is in the mold of those RB's from last Sunday the Cowboys played against, though I've forgotten their names adhering to my own advise.  Last year, Ahmad only compiled 60 yard's, but with those 12 attempt's, he averaged 5 yards per carry.  In 2008, he had 355 yard's on 67 attempt's for an average of 5.3 yard's.  And in 2007, he averaged 8.3 yards per carry, with 190 yards on 23 attempts.  If anything, you can say he consistently put's the Giants in 3rd and relatively short.

Danny Ware (6'0" 234):  Statistically speaking, we don't know much.  In 2008 he had 2 carries for 15 yard's, averaging 7.5 per carry, but that could hardly be considered a trend.  Judging from what I've read, he likely could be described as a cross between BJ and Bradshaw, not only in size, but in style, as well.  Last year, he was the preseason team MVP amassing 180 yard's on opposing team leftovers and bubble-riders.  What that says about him and how he will fare against the Cowboys, if he even see's the field, is beyond me.

Wide Receivers:

Steve Smith (5'11" 195):  With 6 passes for 80 yards against the Redskins, Smith was Eli's favorite target.  His longest reception of the day was 26 yard's, so if the Giants do try to test our Safeties, it will likely be with him.

Domenik Dixon (6'2" 182):  Last year, he owned the slot, amassing 596 yards on 43 receptions.  He is also dangerous after the catch.  Scandrick will have his hand's full, but with our selection of cover Safeties, Scandrick shouldnt' have to many problems keeping Dixon in check.

Sinorice Moss (5'8" 185):  The younger brother of self-proclaimed Cowboy-killer Santana Moss, he never has lived up to the Giants expectations.  He has shown flashes, but thus far has failed to be consistent, particularly at catching the ball.

Mario Manningham (5'11" 183):  He scored a 6 on the Wunderlich and was considered as too slow to play receiver in the NFL.  Most team's had scratched him off of their draft boards.  But the Giant's saw something in him and if the Washington game is any kind of indication, with one year under his belt, they are beginning to reap the rewards.

Ramses Barden (6'6" 227):  Though he likely will never be Plaxico Burress, his size affords him the ability to be that type of weapon in the readzone.  His performance for a 3rd round pick was impressive in preseason, but he has yet to catch a ball in the regular season.  If the Giants are within 10 yards of scoring, I would not be suprised if the Giant's don't, at least, put him on the field to give the defense something more to think about.

Hakeem Nicks (6'0" 215):  The Giant's 1st round pick was touted as being the most NFL ready receiver available; Jeremy Maclin perhaps being the lone exception.  Early in training camp and preseason, though, Ramses Barden was earning the vast majority of the buzz.  The light's seemed to come on late, but again, it was preseason.  Against the Redskins, he collected two passes for 18 yards, 11 yards being his long.  If anything, you can say he catches what is thrown at him; Darrius Heyward-Bey, the top receiver drafted, unfortunately, cannot make that claim.

Tight Ends:

Kevin Boss (6'6" 253):  Jeremy Shockey was the Giant's T.O..  And Kevin Boss is the Giant's Roy Williams.  Kevin may not have the amount of talent Shockey possesses, but the Giants, with the baggage Shockey added brought to the team, are better off with out him.  Parallel aside, Boss would still be the 3rd TE on the Cowboy's depth chart.

Travis Beckum (6'3" 239):  Drafted in the 3rd round, behind Ramses, Travis topped quite a few list for TE's available this year, making him a steal in the 3rd.  However, he has not been targeted in the regular season, and only caught two passes for 37 yards throughout preseason.  It may take a year or two to see him reach is potential.

Darcy Johnson (6'5" 252):  If he does see time, he is mostly considered a blocking tight end.  In 3 years with the Giant's he has only caught 4 passes for 46 yards.

Analysis:

Like the Cowboys, having jettisoned Plaxico Burress and Amani Toomer in the offseason, the Giants have an offense that flourishes by spreading the ball around and keeping opposing defenses off balance by pounding the run, using a few different types of ball carriers.  The Cowboys defense likely won't dominate the Giants.  That may be asking a little much.  What I am counting on is that the Cowboys will win the field position battle through special Special Teams and the Cowboys offense will ultimately outscore the opposition.   The key for the Cowboy's defense is to keep the pressure on Eli, even if it doesn't result in Sacks, and ensure that their running game cannot be relied on to extend drives and dominate the time of possession ratio throughout the game.


I am 35, married and a father of 2 boys. I have been a Cowboys fan since Jimmy Johnson took over; not because I had anything against Tom Landry, but because it just so happens I was old enough to start following and understanding football right as that new era began. Since then, I haven't missed games if I could help it.

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9 Comments
  • Joe C

    Canty, Hakeem Nicks, and Aaron Ross are reportedly out for Sunday’s game, if this holds true that’s gotta be a plus for the Cowboys!!!

  • Jonathan

    Like I alway’s say Joe, I’ll take what advantages the opposing team gives me, but as a fan, the victory is not as satisfying when they are not at full strength. The Giants now have a built in excuse for losing, and that, to a certain extent, takes a little of the pressure to win off their shoulders.

    • Mick

      Jonathan,
      – No excuses here!
      – I think your ‘boys would win this game even if my Giants were completely healthy. Combo of best talent in the league (except maybe San Diego), adrenaline of new stadium, relatively healthy roster, and no distractions this early in season makes ‘Boys just about unbeatable . . . for now.
      – Though I would never call a defeat a good defeat, the mental and emotional makeup of the Giants will turn this defeat into a motivational springboard.
      – Obversely, we’ll see your ‘Boys feel the hype and pub from this win (and others), and they will eventually lose their edge.
      – Romo is a borderline great QB, but he doesn’t possess the Force of Personality necessary to fill the leadership void that exists there. That’s what happens when you have fools navigating the voyage.
      – JJ assembled a great team in the 90’s and had a great leader (other JJ) to steer the starship (who eventually ejected from the cockpit). But like Al Davis and George Steinbrenner, he’s lost his way because his ego CAN’T HANDLE having strong leaders around him. This is the ONLY reason why your Cowboys will eventually fail once again, and deep down I’m sure you all know this to be true.
      – BTW, I’m not so unobjective that I’m predicting a Giant Super Bowl, but I believe we have a better shot because we have talent, depth, leadership and a quality organization from the top down. I hope Jerry keeps Wade indefintely – until then I’ll worry more about the Eagles. Unless I get some replies from you guys, I’ll just assume that y’all just agree with me!

    • Arjay

      So then what’s the Cowboy’s excuse for losing to a depleted team? Hell, Flozell even cheap shotted Tuck to add to the Giants injuries and they STILL LOST!

      You can talk about “it was only by 2 points”, “Romo gave them the win” blah, blah, blah. Bottom line is the Giants won, in Jerry’s new palace, his self proclaimed new wonder of the world. When it counted most Romo choked and Eli came up clutch again. The Giants capitalized on the Cowboys mistakes and limited theirs. And if you want to cry that Romo gave the ball away then the Giants spotted Dallas points by only scoring FGs in the red zone. If they scored TDs it would’ve been a blowout. Woulda, coulda , shoulda.

      Good teams win the close ones. Bad teams lose them.

  • Joe C

    To me a win is a win, regardless who they have out there playing. I don’t think it will be even less incentive to win for the Boys, it’s their home-opener in a brand new bad*** stadium. They will def. be hyped and still ready to take whatever the Giants throw/run at em. I can’t wait.

  • Mike D

    Yeah, so how’d that “Blueprint” work out for ya?
    oh Jonathen…Once again Super Bowl MVP Eli comes up Big and Chokmo poops himself in a big game..3 years now I have been telling you that Romo is garbvage. When are you going to figure it out?

  • Jonathan

    Mike D. Weak. That’s all can I say is weak. You keep your trap shut all week and then, once your team has already won, then you want to talk trash. Mirror time in the morning must be miserable for you.

    Admittedly, Romo had a bad day. Eli’s career accuracy as compared to Romo, even after Sunday, tell’s me that he has had his fair share of issue’s throughout his career. Regardless of what we saw Sunday, I still say Romo is the better QB. So to answer your question, I’ll never “figure it out!”

    • Arjay

      While I admire your loyalty to your QB I have to think it’s because Dallas has no choice than to stick with Romo. While his overall passer rating, accuracy, yards, TDs etc. may be better than Eli’s he doesn’t have what Eli possesses. Guts. While it would be great to see Eli put up “fantasy” numbers I will take 250+ yards and more TDs than int’s every game that leads to a win anytime. Especially when wins come in big moments like the Super Bowl and the opening of Cowboys Stadium.

      And this is with no name receivers. Dallas has a supposed #1 in Williams, Witten, Bennett. And they were home in their brand new stadium, all those fans, dancing girls, celebrities…big moments just ain’t Romo’s thing huh?

      • bags030404

        You are completely correct with your depiction of Tony Romo and the woulda, coulda, shoulda of sunday nights game. Point taken I get it! However your depiction of Eli Manning is not very good! He is an average QB, that is all he has been and all he will be. Is that good enough to win a Super Bowl in New York? Yes! but must I remind you that Brad Johnson also has a Super Bowl victory to his credit? What I am saying is that Super Bowls, Big games, close games are won by TEAMS not by QB’s! and for right now New York has the better team. However even you must admit New York has a loooooooong way to go if the Super Bowl is on your mind.

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas Cowboys 2018 Position Strength Rankings

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys 2017 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 2
Richard Mackson / USA TODAY Sports

At this point in the offseason, the Dallas Cowboys have mostly assembled their 2018 roster. A few moves could still come between now and Week One, but we have a pretty good idea now of who will be on the team this season. As such, it seems a good time to assess the strength of the team by each position.

For an added wrinkle, I went back and found a similar article written in 2016. At that time, the positions were ranked as follows:

  1. Special Teams
  2. Guard/Center
  3. Running Back
  4. Offensive Tackle
  5. Tight End
  6. Defensive Tackle
  7. Safety
  8. Quarterback
  9. Wide Receiver
  10. Linebacker
  11. Cornerback
  12. Defensive End

How much have things changed in the last two years? Where have the Cowboys built the team, and what's fallen behind in the process? Is the team stronger now than in 2016?

Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

1. Running Back

Arguably the best RB in the NFL, Ezekiel Elliott alone keeps this group high on the list. But solid and intriguing depth behind him puts the RBs on top for 2018.

Rod Smith's exciting blend of power and athleticism pushed veteran Alfred Morris out of view last season. He returns as Zeke's primary backup, capable of big production and explosive plays. His five-catch, 118-yard receiving performance last season against the Giants showed what a versatile weapon he could be.

Dallas traded for veteran speedster Tavon Austin and are calling him a RB this year. How he is worked into the offense remains to be seen, but the Cowboys clearly have some ideas for this very specific type of player. He is far better version of what they once had in Lance Dunbar.

Rounding things out is draft steal Bo Scarbrough from Alabama, a bruiser whose old-school style fits the Cowboys offensive well. The lanes Dallas' offensive line can provide will allow Bo to get a head full of steam, and that is bad news for would-be tacklers.

But again, this all comes back to Elliott. The fury that Zeke should play with this year after last season's issues may be the Cowboys' most important element in 2018. If he's back to retake the RB throne, Elliott could carry Dallas to big things this season.

Dallas Cowboys: Ranking Top 5 Most Indispensable Players 1

Dallas Cowboys C Travis Frederick (AP Photo/James D Smith)

2. Guard & Center

Any positions where the Cowboys can arguably say they have the league's best player have to be near the top of the rankings. In Center Travis Frederick and Guard Zack Martin, Dallas can make that claim without much room for debate.

The question at left guard does create some room for concern. Ronald Leary's free agency departure left a hole that got band-aided with veteran Jonathan Cooper last year. He's now a 49er, and Dallas drafted Connor Williams out of Texas to assumably take over.

Williams will be converting from tackle, though, and is a rookie. Thankfully, if he can't make the transition right away, the Cowboys have a few solid backup options.

Veterans Joe Looney and Marcus Martin both have starting experience and could step in if needed. Also, Dallas could opt to move La'el Collins back to guard and start Cam Fleming at right tackle.

Whoever's at LG, he gets play between Frederick and Tyron Smith. As we've seen the last few years, that means you can get away with a lesser talent in the role and still have one of the league's top lines. The stability provided by guys like Frederick and Martin makes that possible.

Cowboys Place LT Tyron Smith On IR Before Week 17

Dallas Cowboys OT Tyron Smith

3. Offensive Tackle

Tyron Smith says he's healthier than he's been in some time, and that's wonderful news for the Cowboys. Smith's health issues last year were one of the key reasons for Dallas' struggles.

Tyron's return to good health and All-Pro performance is vital. But along with that, Dallas hopes for La'el Collins to blossom as he finally gets to stay at a position and develop. A restored Smith and a developing Collins at the tackles could push the Cowboys' offensive line to new heights this year.

After the Chaz Green debacle last year, Dallas invested in its depth chart by signing veteran Cam Fleming to a $2.5 million backup deal. He will be your swing tackle and a vast improvement from Green, who isn't likely to be on the team much longer.

While not the current projection, it's possible that Connor Williams is preferred at tackle and gets Collins sent back to left guard. In either case, Fleming provides an excellent insurance policy against any instability in the starting lineup.

Cowboys Draft - Beyond the Clock: Undrafted Wonder, Dan Bailey 2

Dallas Cowboys K Dan Bailey and P Chris Jones

4. Special Teams

If Dan Bailey is healthy again and hasn't lost his confidence, the Cowboys special teams will be back to being one of its biggest strengths. But Bailey's 2017 struggles can't be forgotten until he proves he's back to form.

Bailey's groin injury last year cost him games and affected his play when active. By the end of the year, it was hard to say if Dan's problem was mental or physical. Either way, this is a crucial offseason for him to show he's back to being one of the most automatic kickers in NFL history.

Thankfully, there will be stability around him with Punter (and FG holder) Chris Jones and Long Snapper L.P. Laoduceur returning to their roles. Jones has emerged as one of the league's best punters in recent years, thanks largely to his directional kicking and ball placement ability. And Ladoceur remains perfect since joining the Cowboys in 2005.

With Ryan Switzer getting traded last month, Dallas has an opening in their return game. The safe bet is Tavon Austin, whose speed and experience in the role should give him an advantage. But prospect Lance Lenoir could also make a push, and Cole Beasley also has served as return man. This question mark should not be taken for granted given the premium all NFL coaches place on field position.

Has CB Jourdan Lewis Earned A Starting Role?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis (Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports)

5. Cornerback

What a change from two years ago! Once a major liability, the CB group is looking like the strength of the defense in 2018.

That starts with the young corner duo of Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie, who exceeded expectations as rookies and could be one of the league's better tandems this season. Their growth will be bolstered by the arrival of new Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard, arguably one of the best in the game.

The depth is strong as well. Anthony Brown is in his third year and has been a tremendous value for a sixth-round pick. He has played a lot for his humble beginnings, and at worst will be an exceptional fourth CB on the depth chart.

I say "fourth" because the third spot is probably going to Byron Jones, who is moving back to corner after two years at safety. Jones could be a starter by the end of summer, but at worst he should be the third CB rotating in heavily and appearing often in the nickel scheme.

After years of worrying about injury-prone and aging player at CB, the Cowboys seem to finally have a crop of young, exciting talent with loads of upside.

DeMarcus Lawrence

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

6. Defensive End

Also making a big move up the rankings is DE, where DeMarcus Lawrence has emerged as one of the league's premiere pass rushers. While questions about his long-term future remain, Lawrence is secure for 2018 and should be terrorizing quarterbacks once again.

While Lawrence is better at this job than any of the cornerbacks, defensive end has more questions marks down the list. Taco Charlton had mixed reviews last year, mostly negative, but was improving as the season ended. He will need to make a big leap this season to change critics' minds.

Veteran Kony Ealy was signed to provide some insurance and should be solid depth, but he's failed to catch on with two teams now. Dallas has liked him for years, though, so Rod Marinelli must think he can get something out of Ealy that others haven't. He's been right about that before.

Randy Gregory's probably reinstatement is a major x-factor for the DE position. We can't say what kind of player he'll be at this point, but Gregory was a first-round talent who dropped due to personal issues just three years ago. He's still young and fresh, and hopefully won't be too far removed from the game to get back to work.

If Gregory doesn't pan out, Dallas will hope that fourth-round rookie Dorance Armstrong can be an immediate contributor. They are the two best candidates to provide the athletic pass rusher, able to take on the left tackles, that the Cowboys need so badly.

David Irving, Redskins

Dallas Cowboys DL David Irving

7. Defensive Tackle

Dallas has a potential stud in David Irving and two known entities in Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins. The depth is nice, but the problem is that they're all best suited to play the same spot in the line.

If the Cowboys had brought back Terrell McClain a few weeks ago, it might've pushed the DT group higher up the rankings. He was the ideal guy to play the 1-technique tackle, having done it very well for Dallas in 2016. But McClain went to Atlanta and left the Cowboys with the same hole.

Barring any other free agent moves, Dallas will be hoping for a young prospect like Richard Ash or Brian Price to develop into a larger role. Otherwise, they may have to ask Collins to play the spot again as he did last year. It's not where Maliek belongs, negating his athleticism and limiting his play-making potential.

Ultimately, if Irving becomes the consistent threat that we hope for, then the rest of it doesn't matter much. The combined effect of Irving and DeMarcus Lawrence as strong-side terrors would make the rest of the line, and the entire defense, better than it's been in some time.

Jekyll or Hyde: Year 3 "Prove It" Season For Dak Prescott?

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

8. Quarterback

Whether or not we get the 2016 or 2017 version of Dak Prescott may be the most important question the Cowboys face this year. But Dak isn't the only one responsible for his performance.

With Dez Bryant and Jason Witten gone, the Cowboys' receiving options will be drastically different. This could set Dak free, allowing him to trust his reads rather than feeling like he has to force the ball to one of the team's stars.

But without a proven player drawing attention, it may make it harder for the receivers to get open. That was some of what we saw last year, though it was compounded by the absence of Ezekiel Elliott and the running threat.

Prescott was unquestionably rattled at times last season, but he had some good reasons to be. Leaks in the offensive line and the loss of his dynamic RB put far more pressure on him than in 2016, and the results were clear. Ideally, 2018 will look more like his rookie season both in the quality of teammates and his own play.

Behind Dak are two intriguing but unproven passers in Cooper Rush and rookie Mike White. Both should be on the roster next year, and the competition for the backup role will be fun to watch. Rush looked a potential undrafted gem last year, so if White can push him it means good things for the QB depth.

Sean Lee

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

9. Linebacker

Sean Lee turns 32 in July and saw the return of some injury issues last year. While he could still certainly be the All-Pro leader we've come to love, nothing is certain at this stage in his career.

Behind Lee are even more questions marks. Hopes are high for Jaylon Smith both how will he respond to a larger role, both physically and mentally? The hype from his "top five talent" rookie days hasn't gone away, which means lofty expectations that Jaylon will have to work hard to meet.

The first-round pick spent on Leighton Vander Esch came with a wide range of reaction. Like Taco Charlton last year, many denounced the pick and are just waiting to be proven right. Vander Esch should be given a lot of work right way, perhaps even a starting role, but it may take the full season to see what kind of player he really is.

Damien Wilson provides a nice veteran presence, either the third starter or a primary depth option. He can play a few spots and will hopefully give similar value to what Anthony Hitchens did in past seasons.

Things are a little thin behind these guys, which is a cause for concern. Any injuries could expose the lack of depth quickly, making linebacker one of the team's bigger liabilities this season.

Allen Hurns

Dallas Cowboys WR Allen Hurns

10. Wide Receiver

As we said, Dez Bryant's gone and that alone leaves the position in a state of major change. Dallas brought in Allen Hurns to hopefully provide much of what Bryant did, but Hurns has never shown he can be the top receiver in an offense. His best years in Jacksonville came with Allen Robinson drawing the attention.

Hopefully, Dallas will have found some news ways to get Cole Beasley involved. The leading receiver in 2016, Beasley got keyed on by opposing defenses last year and it caused problems for Dak Prescott. We still need Cole to be known for his play, not his rapping, and it's on Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan to fix what wasn't working last year.

Terrance Williams was supposed to get a chance to step up this year, but his arrest last weekend for public intoxication could mean a suspension of worse. Williams does have value given his experience in the system, but Dallas may be done with him after disappointing play and now a personal conduct issue.

If Williams goes, veteran Deonte Thompson may get a larger role than originally anticipated. Like Bruce Butler the last few years, Thompson has speed that the other WRs don't. But unlike Butler, Deonte needs to make consistent plays on the opportunities he gets.

Third-round rookie Michael Gallup brings major intrigue, with some thinking he could be the team's best receiver by the end of the year. While not a gifted athlete by NFL standards, Gallup execute well and makes plays on technique and will. Those guys tend to do very well in the pros, and one of them is the most decorated receiver in NFL history.

So much remains unknown at WR, which isn't always a bad thing. Opposing defenses may need time to adjust to the new look Cowboys, which could be an advantage early on. But that means Scott Linehan will need to up his game from last year when the team was woefully predictable. Perhaps Bryant and Witten's departures will help in that area, though.

Cowboys Training Camp: 5 Fringe Players Fans Should Follow

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

11. Safety

The young duo of Kavon Frazier and Xavier Woods is exciting, but still very unproven. With only a few years of combined experience, can they become major factors this season?

Jeff Heath is still around and could still be starting this year. Even if he does, one of Woods or Frazier should be his running mate and the other a regular part of the rotation.

One of our major talking points this offseason has been the Cowboys' potential trade for Earl Thomas, and that would obviously cause a big change in how we perceive safety as a whole. But until that happens, we have to count on who's actually here.

As we mentioned with the cornerbacks, a major factor here is the arrival of Kris Richard. Will the new coach be able to teach his young prospects the things that made guys like Thomas and Kam Chancellor household names in Seattle? Or will pedigree, with Woods and Frazier both being just sixth-round picks, limit their upside?

Dallas must believe enough in them to move Byron Jones back to CB, but belief doesn't win games. Only time will prove if the Cowboys's faith in their young safeties was wise.

Geoff Swaim

Dallas Cowboys TE Geoff Swaim

12. Tight End

Jason Witten's retirement caught everyone off guard, and it left Dallas without a clear successor in place. As such, it drove the TE position from one of relative security to the bottom of our rankings.

Fourth-year veteran Geoff Swaim has the best shot at starting next year. He is an exceptional blocker with solid receiving skills, which works well in a run-focused offense like the Cowboys have. But Swaim only has nine catches in his career, so who really knows what he can do with consistent targets.

Rico Gathers is everyone's favorite project player, but the college basketballer has yet to appear in an NFL game. Only the coaches know his progress, and if his technical skills are anywhere close to what's needed to make his football transition a success.

Rookie Dalton Schultz could push for time early, and perhaps even a starting role if he's a quick learner. Schultz may have the most upside as a receiver but wasn't known for his blocking in college, which will be an issue in Dallas if he doesn't develop fast. That was why Gavin Escobar could never get into the mix.

The proposed to move to more of a spread offense will reduce some of the importance of the TE position, but it's still a major component. Dallas just lost one of the best to ever play, and even in his diminished state Witten was still reliable and a high volume target. Someone will have to make a gigantic leap to even come close to filling his shoes.


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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys WR Deonte Thompson Benefits Most From Terrance Williams Issue

Jess Haynie

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Cowboys WR Deonte Thompson Benefits Most From Terrance Williams Issue

The fallout from Cowboys Receiver Terrance Williams' arrest yesterday remains to be seen. Whether or not it costs him a roster spot is hard to say, but a suspension is likely. Whatever the case, veteran Deonte Thompson stands to be the biggest beneficiary of Terrance's issues.

Signed last March to a minimal one-year, $1.8 million contract, Thompson is a 29-year-old late bloomer who only last season got some notice in Buffalo. Given the limitations of the Bills' passing game with Tyrod Taylor at quarterback, Dallas clearly hopes that Deonte could do more with a more traditional offense and passer.

The Cowboys acquisition of Thompson was quickly overshadowed after they picked up Allen Hurns just a few weeks later. Deonte was actually signed just a couple of days after Hurns' release from Jacksonville, so it's fair to question if Dallas would have even signed him if they'd already picked up Hurns.

Even with Dez Bryant's release, the depth chart still didn't look good for Thompson. He was clearly behind Hurns and Cole Beasley and was likely battling with Terrance Williams for targets. Once the team drafted Michael Gallup in the third round, things looked even worse for the veteran.

Deonte Thompson

Dallas Cowboys WR Deonte Thompson

But now, if Williams is going to miss time or be gone completely, Deonte Thompson could find himself with a big role to start the year.

While Gallup is exciting, he's also a rookie. Thompson has been a starter the last few years and played in a few different systems. Dallas may lean on his experience early if Terrance is gone either temporarily or permanently.

One reason the Cowboys brought Deonte in was for speed, and that value doesn't change regardless of who else is on the roster. Essentially, Thompson is the new Brice Butler; intriguing qualities but just no consistent production at other stops.

If Deonte can do more with what Dallas throws him than Butler did, he might carve out a steady role. Brice always seemed to follow up his big plays with blunders, never gaining any real momentum during his time as a Cowboy.

Before Williams' arrest, there was a legitimate question as to whether or not Thompson would even make the 2018 roster. If younger prospects like Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir made noise, perhaps Dallas would've just let the 29-year-old walk.

But with Terrance's availability now the big question, Thompson's experience becomes vastly more important. It could mean a big early role in 2018.

Depending on what he does with his opportunity, Deonte Thompson could've gone from an offseason afterthought to a major part of the team's success.


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Player News

Is Terrance Williams Roster Spot Safe with Dallas Cowboys?

Sean Martin

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Is Terrance Williams Roster Spot Safe with Dallas Cowboys?

This will hardly be the last article written about the wide receivers of the Dallas Cowboys entering the 2018 season. However, we can only hope it's the last off-field incident that will factor into the difficult decisions the Cowboys will make on their final depth chart at WR. Yesterday, veteran Wide Receiver Terrance Williams was arrested for public intoxication after leaving the scene of a crash involving his Lamborghini.

Ian Rapoport on Twitter

Cowboys WR Terrance Williams released a statement on his recent arrest detailing several facets of the incident: "I have always been an upstanding citizen and handled the situation the best way I know how.

Details concerning the severity of the incidents that led to Williams arrest remain somewhat unclear. His on-field production certainly has not been though, putting himself in an expendable position by failing to catch a touchdown in 2017 and only going for over 100 yards once.

Handling this Terrance Williams situation in whatever the "right way" is will be yet another critical decision the Cowboys make under Head Coach Jason Garrett. A team that has clearly valued continuity under Garrett, there is precedent for the Cowboys keeping a now-troubled player like Williams if the void he'd leave behind is too large.

It is widely believed that this is a Cowboys coaching staff working to keep their jobs in 2018. Losing Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and Terrance Williams in one offseason may very well be too much.

Already dealing with a broken foot that expects to keep Terrance Williams out of football activities until training camp though, it is becoming increasingly easier for Williams to become forgotten about in new WR Coach Sanjay Lal's room.

New additions to this unit include FA signings Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson, along with rookies Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson. Joined by the likes of KD Cannon, Lance Lenoir, and Malik Earl, all of these receivers are going to stake their claims for a spot on the Dallas Cowboys before Williams even catches another pass from Dak Prescott.

Takeaway Tuesday: What We Learned From Cowboys Loss To Packers

Dallas Cowboys WR Terrance Williams (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Once perceived to be fighting for positions below Hurns, Williams, and Cole Beasley as locks on the final 53 man roster, Williams' arrest is the epitome of "next man up" in Dallas. Even if Williams remains with the team in 2018 - as cutting him would only make moral sense for the Cowboys, not financial - his days as a starting receiver may very well be numbered.

As mentioned, this won't be the first look we have at the status of the Cowboys receivers. I'm already on record having high expectations for Michael Gallup, and believe Cedrick Wilson was one of the steals of the draft for the Cowboys in the sixth round. The unproven nature of this pass catching unit (through to TE with rookie Dalton Schultz) is going to make for fascinating training camp battles, competing for spots in an offense that could still be one of the league's best.

Tell us what you think about "Is Terrance Williams Roster Spot Safe with Dallas Cowboys?" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!


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