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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Cowboys Wishlist: Dress Rehearsal Edition
In the NFL, the third preseason week is often referred to as the "Dress Rehearsal." It's usually the week in which starters get the most playing time. That has changed lately, with plenty of teams deciding to take care of their key players instead of risking them on the field. However, the Dallas Cowboys have played their starters on their first two games and there's no reason to believe that will change versus the Texans today.
Here is my wishlist for the Cowboys vs Texans "Dress Rehearsal!" Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Justin Phillips Locks Up a Roster Spot
Phillips has been one of the most surprising players this offseason and preseason. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, but Phillips has made sure to be a tough guy to cut. Last week, he had a remarkable interception against the Rams. Despite making a first step toward the line, he managed to adjust and made the play. He has followed it up with more plays in practice.
If he keeps it up, the Cowboys won't be able to cut him. He has the potential to be a force on special teams and a quality backup.
Wish #2: Devin Smith Makes Things Interesting
The battle for the final wide receiver spots is at full-go. Devin Smith has shined lately, and has risen as a serious candidate to make the roster. However, it seems like other wide receivers have the upper-hand as of now. Earlier this week, I made my Cowboys WR Power Rankings and had Devin Smith at #7.
His TD catch versus the Rams last week was pretty impressive, and I wish he makes a few more plays to make the debate all the more interesting.
Wish #3: Tony Pollard Does It Again
Fifth-round rookie Tony Pollard
stole was the show last weekend as he racked up 51 total yards (five carries, one catch) and a touchdown on Dallas' first offensive drive. He looked impressive as the starting running back, giving us just what we wanted to see.
While many have advertised him as a gadget player, Pollard proved he can actually be a "standard" RB. He ran between the tackles, showed power, balance and great vision. I'm ready to watch it again, this time versus the Texans.
Wish #4: Taco Charlton Shines Rushing The Passer
Taco Charlton has made a couple of plays in preseason on his third year with the Dallas Cowboys. Against the Rams, he batted down two passes and looked good separating from opposing offensive linemen. Charlton has gotten praise from some analysts during these first two preseason weeks.
But I want to watch some quality pass rush from his part. Right now, the Cowboys' roster counts with some promising players, including rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson. While they're currently below Taco, he must prove he belongs on the roster.
Cowboys’ Tight End Marcus Lucas with Huge Opportunity vs the Houston Texans
With only two preseason games remaining, opportunities to make a statement are growing thin. The Dallas Cowboys have very few spots on the roster available, especially at the tight end position where Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz appear to have the depth chart locked down. The problem is, Jarwin and Schultz have been dealing with injuries and missed the second preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams and probably won't play against the Houston Texans tonight.
Enter Marcus Lucas.
Marcus Lucas hasn't been a member of the Dallas Cowboys for very long, but he's already made an impact.
In his first preseason game with the Dallas Cowboys, Lucas caught four passes on four targets for 20 yards. His receptions went for two, seven, five, and six yards for an average of five yards per reception. He did have a holding penalty that cost the Dallas Cowboys 10 yards on a first down play that didn't go anywhere anyway.
Though Lucas has bounced around NFL practice squads, he's never really found a home. After going undrafted in 2014, Lucas was signed by the Carolina Panthers in May of that year but wasn't able to stick on the 53-man roster and was released and placed on the practice squad. In 2015, he was on the Miami Dolphins and Chicago Bears practice squads. In 2016, the Panthers brought him back in the summer after the Bears released him from their 90-man roster. That September after cut-down day, the Seattle Seahawks signed Lucas to their practice squad where he spent all of 2016. From 2017 to the end of 2018, Lucas spent time with the Indianapolis Colts, Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, the Seattle Seahawks again, and the San Francisco 49ers. He was with the 49ers in 2019 before joining the Dallas Cowboys about two weeks ago and will get an extended run in these final two preseason games.
At Thursday's practice, Lucas was the only tight end available with Jason Witten getting a rest day and Jarwin, Schultz, and fellow Tight End Cody McElroy dealing with injuries.
With Jason Witten getting a day of rest, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz and Codey McElroy injured, the Cowboys have one tight end practicing today: Marcus Lucas, who has been with the team for about two weeks.
It's possible that Lucas may get an extended amount of playing time tonight with an opportunity to show the Dallas Cowboys and the rest of the NFL that he's ready to land on a 53-man roster. With likely only Jason Witten being the only other tight end active for the game against the Houston Texans, Lucas will get a lot of playing time. If his last preseason exposure is any indication, he'll get the chance to display his receiving prowess.
At 27, Lucas likely has few opportunities left to make his mark for an NFL franchise. On a team that proclaims the "next man up" as a battle cry, after Witten, Lucas is the next man up for tonight and depending on his performance could make the Dallas Cowboys front office or another front office around the league take notice.
Depending on the long-term health of the Dallas Cowboys' tight end position, Lucas may find his path to a roster spot simply dependent upon the health of Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz. Though a job may not come with the Dallas Cowboys, tonight is an extremely important audition for his next suitor. How he performs tonight could land Marcus Lucas a job after the Dallas Cowboys trim the roster to 53 next week.
They say "preseason games don't matter," but to Marcus Lucas, this might be the most important game of his career.
Don’t Forget Special Teams Value in Cowboys Roster Decisions
Building a 53-man roster in the NFL is a complex formula, requiring balance between numerous positions on each side of the ball. But what often gets overlooked in our analysis as outsiders is special teams, and that's a huge factor for many of the Dallas Cowboys players hoping to make it past final cuts.
Some players have survived in the league by being just good enough at their listed positions but excelling in special teams roles. You may think of former Dallas safety Bill Bates, who was personally responsible for a special teams player being made part of the annual Pro Bowl roster. A more recent example would be Keith Davis, who was an adequate safety but a special teams ace for several seasons.
To be sure, someone is going to be on this 2019 Cowboys more for their special teams value than their actual offensive or defensive ability. Who might he, or they, be?
One candidate is veteran Cornerback C.J. Goodwin. He is considered an exceptional talent in coverage on punts, which is probably the only reason he's still in the NFL today. At age 29, Goodwin has never really emerged as a consistent contributor on defense.
Young players like Donovan Olumba or rookie Michael Jackson, if not already superior cornerbacks to Goodwin, have far more upside to keep on the roster. But
considering how little they may get on the field anyway as the fifth or sixth corners, you can see why special teams value becomes so important. It may be the only time you actually see them in the game.
If the Cowboys don't want to lose a young prospect but can't let go of Goodwin's special teams ability, it may prompt them to go long at the CB position. But that means taking a roster spot from some other position, and thus the balancing act continues.
Another player to watch in this discussion is second-year an Running Back Jordan Chunn. He doesn't have Alfred Morris' experience or maybe Mike Weber or Darius Jackson's rushing talent, but he has been showing up on the special teams units.
Yesterday, Cowboys insider Bryan Broaddus called Chunn "a better Rod Smith" in analyzing his chances of making the roster. If you don't recall, Jaylon's older brother was a solid RB but a standout special teams player in his few years with Dallas.
As we just mentioned with the 5th/6th CB slots, the third running back is not a guy you expect to see much on offense. That will be especially true this year as Dallas will be struggling just to give rookie Tony Pollard the touches he deserves as the number-two RB.
Given that, special teams play becomes vital for the value of whoever is behind Zeke and Pollard on the depth chart. If Jordan Chunn is superior to his competition in that regard, it could negate whatever he lacks as an actual running back.
This same conversation can be had throughout the roster. It's why Noah Brown might make the team over more traditionally gifted receivers, or why a certain linebacker or safety might be more valued than others.
We make the common mistake of referring to "both sides of the ball" when we talk about football teams. There are three sides; special teams can't be underestimated. It will certainly play a part in how the Dallas Cowboys finalize their 53-man roster this season and in years to come.
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