The NFL preseason is only a few weeks away and not too long after that, the 2018 season officially begins. For the Cowboys, it's a year of progressions, extensions and questions.
Progressions for the year-two and three players like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Jaylon Smith, Maliek Collins, Taco Charlton, Chidobe Awuzie, Xavier Woods, Jourdan Lewis and others. These are all cornerstone players who need to have a big impact this season. These players all had an impact on the 22-10 overall record the last two seasons and will have to be even better to take that next step.
Extensions for players of the present and future. Guard Zack Martin already received his extension and is now the highest paid player in the league at his position. For players like DeMarcus Lawrence, Byron Jones, Dak Prescott, Jaylon Smith, David Irving and others who hope to be in Dallas next season and in the foreseeable future, 2018 is the season to ball out.
Finally, questions. There are always more questions than answers at first, and the Cowboys have many at different spots.
- Will the health of Tyron Smith or Sean Lee be a big issue again?
- Who will play tight end?
- Who is the number one receiver?
- Can this defense play even better in 2018 and become elite?
One way or another, these will all be answered eventually.
As for the teams the Cowboys will play, Dallas has the 15th toughest schedule in 2018, according to CBSSports.com. A mixed bag of elite teams, teams on the rise and fall, and teams with more questions than Dallas currently has.
Most experts have the Cowboys winning anywhere from 8 to 11 games this year, and with the teams they'll face and the squad they have, it's all very possible. Talent won't be a problem.
It's not too hard to see this team being more like the 13-3 team from 2016, rather than the 9-7 team last season. If the team can stay healthy, adapt well to any injuries, and answer their questions as soon as possible, 2018 can be special. From 1 to 53, the Cowboys have as much talent as any team in the league, but they'll need to prove it against 13 teams in 16 games.
Week 1: @ Carolina Panthers
First thing you’ll notice is, “wait... it’s NOT the Giants?”
It's become something of a tradition to open the season on NBC's Sunday Night Football in Dallas against the Giants. But like Prince Akeem of Zamunda said, “it is also tradition that times must, and always do, change, my friend.”
Carolina is coming off of a playoff year, and starting against Dallas is Cam Newton, the x-factor.
Cam Newton’s career pattern has been, he’ll be good one year and fall off the next season. If that pattern continues, it means that Carolina could be in trouble.
Dallas 31 - Carolina 27 (1-0, 0-0)
Week 2: New York Giants
The last two home games against the Giants, the Cowboys have scored 19 points. Despite a much more evenly matched offensive game than we’ve seen in the past, this may actually be a defensive game.
This game will be billed as “Zeke vs. Saquon,” and for good reason.
We’re seeing the future of NFL running backs in this game, but it’s still September and Dallas is 9-4 in their last 13 games in September. They’ll continue that dominance.
Dallas 24 - New York 14 (2-0, 1-0)
Week 3: @ Seattle Seahawks
Dallas and Seattle always seem to play each other down to the final possession.
The Cowboys tried to obtain Earl Thomas in a trade with Seattle ever since Thomas made it clear he’d like to be in Dallas.
Despite the Legion of Boom starting to deteriorate with Richard Sherman now in San Francisco, and the uncertainty around Thomas’ future in Seattle, the Seahawks still posses one of the league's best defenses and an elite quarterback in Russell Wilson.
Plus, the game is in Seattle. Good luck with that.
Dallas 20 - Seattle 23 (2-1, 1-0)
Week 4: Detroit Lions
The battle of the silver and blue. Dallas has fared well against Detroit since Calvin Johnson retired, winning the last two matchups.
Detroit arguably features the best secondary in the league and also have a new, solid offensive line. However, with Detroit’s front seven not looking like a match for Dallas’ offensive line and fierce rushing attack, it doesn’t look like passing the ball will be how Dallas wins.
Dallas 35 - Detroit 24 (3-1, 1-0)
Week 5: @ Houston Texans
Watson vs Prescott. I can already see the promotional materials for this game, with both #4 young star quarterbacks, billed as the “Battle 4 Texas.”
Ironically, people may want this to be a rivalry, but all these teams share is a state. There’s no rivalry-level passion in this game, but plenty of talent.
The contingent for Houston this season is the health of their quarterback and the improvement of their offensive line. I like the Cowboys' chances, but I think Houston takes this one close.
Dallas 27 - Houston 30 (3-2, 1-0)
Week 6: Jacksonville Jaguars
Undoubtedly, Jacksonville was the surprise team in 2017. They posted one of the league's best defenses, and an exciting new running back in Leonard Fournette.
They have only one X-factor on their team who can cause a deterrent for their season: quarterback Blake Bortles.
An up and down career can not only cause concern but call into question their value. Despite his contract extension in the offseason, I think his inconsistency and loss of his Allen receivers (one of which is now a Cowboy) will hurt Jacksonville and possibly a backslide from 2017.
Dallas 28 - Jacksonville 20 (4-2, 1-0)
Week 7: @ Washington Redskins
The Washington Redskins have arguably the worst roster in the NFC East. It doesn’t matter who’s quarterback, even though Alex Smith looks to be a better option in their system.
The Redskins didn't do enough to help the team prepare for success.
The Redskins are in win-now mode with Alex Smith at quarterback, but don’t have the team in place to compete within their own division.
At least, not in 2018.
Dallas 35 - Washington 17 (5-2, 2-0)
Week 8: Bye Week
Despite there not being a game for week 8, it’s always important to acknowledge the bye week - a time to get players rested and healthy.
With Dallas having yearly injury concerns to some of their key players, like Sean Lee and Tyron Smith, the bye helps immensely.
More importantly, it’s a mid-season bye.
Teams who have an earlier bye, they’ll get healthy too soon and flatten later on. Teams with a late-season bye just keep taking punches for weeks at a time, gasping for air.
Luckily, Dallas has one right in the very center.
Week 9: Tennessee Titans
The Titans barely squeaked into the playoffs last season, and pulled off a terrific comeback in the wild card round. Marcus Mariota looks like a franchise-level quarterback, and Derrick Henry is a beast of a running back. The titans have nowhere to go but up, but Dallas is winning this game.
As I previously stated about Jacksonville, there are teams that take a step back after having success and making it to the playoffs. I think the Titans are another one of those teams.
The Titans' offensive line and running game is impressive, but their passing game is almost nonexistent. The cowboys are very good against the run and are as deep along the defensive line as they have been in years.
If the Titans can’t throw the ball on Dallas, I don’t see a way that Tennessee leaves this game with a victory.
Dallas 27 - Tennessee 17 (6-2, 2-0)
Week 10: @ Philadelphia Eagles
I believe the Cowboys and Eagles will split their season series, and that these victories will come on the road. For whatever reason, the Cowboys and Eagles always seem to do better when they’re not home.
Carson Wentz versus Dak Prescott is going to be one of the key quarterback matchups for the next decade, and it looks like the Eagles and Cowboys are going to be perennial NFC contenders for the foreseeable future.
In their first contest, Wentz will get the better of an improved Cowboys defense, and be an MVP candidate. This will be one of the games the MVP voters will look at. Close game, Cowboys pull it off.
Dallas 27 - Philadelphia 20 (7-2, 3-0)
Week 11: @ Atlanta Falcons
It’s amazing that three players can have as big an effect as they did, but not having Sean Lee, Tyron Smith and Ezekiel Elliott had a disastrous effect last season against Atlanta. One of the worst games the Cowboys played in 2017 and none of it looked good.
This season, I expect a better game out of the Cowboys.
Barring injury, the Cowboys look like a more evenly matched team with the Falcons.
Atlanta's new receiver toy, Calvin Ridley, looks like an unfair, very talented companion of Julio Jones and, despite an improved Dallas secondary, Matt Ryan will still be Matt Ryan. For now, Falcons win in a much closer game than last season.
Dallas 21 - Atlanta 27 (7-3, 3-0)
Week 12: Washington Redskins
The result will only differ in score. Washington is betting the farm on Alex Smith but doesn’t have the team to back him up. Aside from the team's offensive line, Washington doesn’t offer much to worry about.
Their defense is full of talent, but too much potential. If the Cowboys can block Ryan Kerrigan, and get past Josh Norman, the offense will be fine.
Aside from Jordan Reed, whose health is suspect, the team doesn’t have any weapons worth worrying about. Dallas sweeps the series.
Dallas 31 - Washington 21 (8-3, 4-0)
Week 13: New Orleans Saints
The Saints are like cousins to the Cowboys.
The fans all share a space and there’s always trash talk.
It’s all in love, until they play each other.
Native Texan Drew Brees has made a career of making defenses look bad, no matter who. After a heart-breaking end to the season against Minnesota, the already stacked Saints look even better.
Both the Cowboys and the Saints will be contenders, and feature some of the most complete teams in the league, but New Orleans will show why they're elite.
Dallas 31 - New Orleans 35 (8-4, 4-0)
Week 14: Philadelphia Eagles
As I said before, this series will split and each team wins on the road. After going 2-2 in the previous four games, the race for the NFC East will come down to this game.
Wentz and Prescott again have a battle, but what will affect the outcome the most will be the defense of Philadelphia.
While in their first meeting Dallas will have the upper hand offensively, the Eagles will have since adapted and dominate that side of the ball while Carson Wentz pushes for MVP.
Dallas 24 - Philadelphia 28 (8-5, 4-1)
Week 15: @ Indianapolis Colts
With Andrew Luck back, the Colts are a better team, especially with their revamped and much improved offensive line. However, no team on the Cowboys' schedule has more questions and more holes than the Colts.
Despite having Andrew Luck back, they have holes on offense at receiver and running back and all across the defense.
Indianapolis will be a better team this year, just not against the Cowboys.
Cowboys 38 - Colts 24 (9-5, 4-1)
Week 16: Tampa Bay Buccaneers
With the concerns around Jameis Winston, the confidence should be all on the Cowboys.
This will be a late season push for the playoffs and Tampa Bay may be all but eliminated from contention at this point in the season.
Aside from receivers and tight ends, there's really no position group that Tampa Bay holds a bigger edge on.
The Buccaneers may have improved in a lot of areas but probably not enough to take that next step. Cowboys clinch a playoff spot with the win.
Dallas 33 - Tampa Bay 17 (10-5, 4-1)
Week 17: @ New York Giants
The Giants at this point will be much better off than they were a season ago. They may be in contention for a final playoff spot, and Dallas could be playing for the divisional crown.
Giants and Cowboys games are usually well played and fought to the last snap and I don't think this game will be any different.
Whoever is the healthiest at this point in the season will win, and in that case, the Cowboys have the advantage. Even if they aren't as healthy as New York, they have better depth to acclimate to any injuries the season may throw at them.
Dallas 27 - New York 24 (11-5, 5-1)
Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott’s Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark
When the Dallas Cowboys took the field last Sunday against the New York Giants, they did so very differently than last week, starting with a 64-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to connect with WR Tavon Austin in the third play of the game. Although there are still many things this team must continue to work on, they looked like a very improved unit in week 2.
Here are my main takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys' first win of the year. Let me know what yours are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL and let's talk football!
Cowboys' Secondary Capable of Holding Top WR
If there was one player who could've changed the outcome for the New York Giants, it was WR Odell Beckham Jr. Widely recognized as one of the best wideouts in the nation, Beckham was the biggest challenge the cornerbacks, led by Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie, have had in the first two weeks.
None of them followed Beckham all over the field, each stayed on their side of the field and still managed to limit him to four receptions for 51 yards in nine targets. The Giant's offense is not known for being one of the best in the league, but it's the fact that this defense was able to limit exactly the player they needed to. They did their job.
Also, props to the defensive line for keeping the pressure on Eli Manning.
Taco Charlton Was Dominant VS Nate Solder
With Randy Gregory ruled out for the game, Taco Charlton had a golden opportunity to stay on the field for more snaps. He took advantage of this, as he finished the night with three tackles, one for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Charlton still has a long way to go in order to prove he was worthy of a first round pick, but we can't deny he hasn't stopped developing. It will be interesting to see how he does now that Gregory is expected to return for week 3.
Dak Prescott's Legs Give Offense a Needed Spark
One of the things I liked the most about the Cowboys' game versus the Giants was how Dak Prescott was utilized. Criticized after a poor performance in Carolina, Prescott came out with a chip on his shoulder.
We've been talking a lot about how Scott Linehan must play Prescott to his strengths and that's precisely what he did by letting Dak run for 45 yards in seven carries. It's completely understandable if the Cowboys don't want to run him as much as the Panthers do with Cam Newton, but the truth is, if #4 hurts defenses with his leg, Ezekiel Elliott won't receiver all of the defense's attention.
Also, shoutout to how they used Tavon Austin. With Elliott, Prescott and Austin being a threat on option plays, this offense could take a step on the right direction.
Rico Gathers Will Be Used
The Cowboys' Rico Gathers project is moving in the right direction. The 2016 sixth-round pick was active for the first time in his career last Sunday. The first question that popped into our heads was whether or not he'd be actually used in the game. He was.
He even managed to get open in the end zone in a play that could've been TD but Prescott didn't throw a good pass. However, the mere fact that he was able to get open and that the coaches actually put him on the field told us a lot about his future. Cowboys Nation should be excited to see him involved.
Dallas Cowboys vs the New York Giants: Stock Up and Stock Down
The Dallas Cowboys bounced back in a big way against the New York Giants in week two. Several players bounced back as well after struggling a bit in week one against the Carolina Panthers. Other players continued to struggle or saw a drop in play from week one to week two.
Here are the Dallas Cowboys who saw their stock rise and some who saw their stock fall this week.
Jaylon Smith, Linebacker
Jaylon Smith has been really good to start the season and had an excellent game against the New York Giants on Sunday Night Football. Every day Smith is removed from the devastating knee injury he suffered in his final game at Notre Dame is a day closer to realizing the elite play that many expected of him before the injury.
Pro Football Reference credited the starting middle linebacker with seven solo tackles and three assists. Pro Football Focus had Jaylon Smith with 3 stops -- plays that were a "loss" for the offense -- while becoming a stabilizing force for the linebacker position.
Byron Jones, Cornerback
The fourth year player who has made a successful move from safety to cornerback, Byron Jones has been everything the Dallas Cowboys hoped he'd be when they made him their first round pick back in 2015.
Shame that it took so long to get him to cornerback.
Against a potent New York Giants receiving corp, Jones only allowed one reception on five targets on Sunday night. He also had six solo tackles and three stops, per Pro Football Focus.
The one reception that Pro Football Focus credited to Byron Jones was by Running Back Saquon Barkley and that catch went for zero yards.
So on the night, Byron Jones allowed zero yards into his coverage areas. He's really good at cornerback and is taking to Kris Richard's coaching quite nicely.
Dak Prescott, Quarterback
After much gnashing of teeth after the week one loss to the Carolina Panthers, Dak Prescott rebounded with a strong, confident performance in the Dallas Cowboys week two win over the Giants.
He completed 64% of his passes for 160 yards and ran for 45 yards on seven carries. The passing yardage isn't huge, but on a night in which the defense was absolutely dominant, Dak Prescott made the plays that needed to be made for the Dallas Cowboys to win the game.
He was great in the read-option on Sunday night, perfectly executing it for several really good runs.
The throw to Tavon Austin on the third offensive play from scrimmage was a great throw that set the tone for the Dallas Cowboys the rest of the night. His yards per attempt and passer rating were both improved from week one and he just looked better.
If Dak Prescott can continue to put together performances like this, the Dallas Cowboys will win a lot of games this season.
Connor Williams, Left Guard
After getting pushed around for much of last week's game by Kawann Short, rookie Connor Williams rebounded with a really nice game.
Williams didn't allow a pressure all night and the offensive line was much better as a whole. The unit didn't allow a sack against the New York Giants.
According to Pro Football Focus, Elliott's biggest run of the night came behind Connor Williams at left guard.
Williams is an important piece to the puzzle and if he's playing well, it will provide better pockets for Dak Prescott.
Tavon Austin, Wide Receiver
After seeing only 10 snaps in week one, Tavon Austin was on the field for nearly twice as many and made them count as he ended with two receptions for 79 yards and had one rush for 15 yards.
That's 94 total yards on three touches. The "Tavon Effect" was in full force last night as the team used his speed to their advantage. Even when the ball didn't go his direction he had an effect on the game.
Damien Wilson, Linebacker
Seemingly the odd man out after the Dallas Cowboys selected Leighton Vander Esch in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Damien Wilson had an excellent game in his limited playing time.
Wilson played 17 defensive snaps and 22 snaps on special teams and was credited with three solo tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He's was excellent on Sunday night in the snaps he was given.
It's unlikely that we'll see a big snap increase for him with the talent ahead of him on the depth chart, but he provided very valuable snaps when given the opportunity.
Terrance Williams, Wide Receiver
Terrance Williams who has been a starter for several years now with the Dallas Cowboys, and even started week one, saw his snap count drop from week one to week two. After seeing 19 snaps against the Carolina Panthers, he was onlyon the field for 10 snaps in week two.
There's been speculation as the Dallas Cowboys have resigned former Wide Receiver Brice Butler that Terrance Williams could be the odd man out of the wide receiver room. That snap count is either an indication of his status on the team or the game plan they had against the New York Giants.
It will be interesting to see what happens with Williams moving forward.
La'el Collins, Right Tackle
A week after allowing four pressures, most along the offensive line, La'el Collins allowed three more pressures on Sunday night against the New York Giants. He was the only offensive lineman to allow multiple pressures and appeared to struggle with the Giants blitz and stunt schemes.
The New York Giants had rushers go unblocked at times on Sunday night.
Dak Prescott wasn't sacked against the Giants, but he had to avoid some pressure on that side to throw the ball away.
Collins has to be better against the pass rush going forward to keep Dak Prescott clean and able to play better.
Dallas Cowboys Tight Ends
The Dallas Cowboys' tight end group of Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rico Gathers did not have a single catch to their name on Sunday night. There were opportunities that were missed, like the Dak Prescott overthrow to Rico Gathers in the end zone. However, not being able to come up with a single catch against the Giants is a bit surprising.
Speaking frankly, their isn't a receiving threat on the TE depth chart. They need to become a factor at some point to help take pressure of Dak Prescott and give him another option in the passing game. The Dallas Cowboys prefer to run most of their formations with a tight end on the field. They need to be a factor
The Cowboys Nation Twitter account asked David Helman from DallasCowboys.com to look up when the last time the Dallas Cowboys tight ends finished a game without a reception.
Mark Lane from WFAA.com and the Texans Wire found the information.
@HelmanDC @CowboysNation @SullyBaldHead @Marcus_Mosher @CHQ_Jordan @FO_ScottKacsmar When you do, Dave, tell them that Mark Lane found it at 1:15 a.m. Central Time. It was Dec. 1, 2016 at the #Vikings. https://t.co/XS3FVrWhT8
It's unbelievable that there was a game played in which Jason Witten was around for that he didn't have a reception, and yet, there it is.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Were there any players that moved the needle in either direction for you?
Let us know in the comment section.
Will Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods Return This Week?
The Dallas Cowboys have been without one of their defensive starters for the first two weeks of 2018; safety Xavier Woods. A preseason hamstring injury has kept him in street clothes so far, but Woods could make his season debut this week against the Seattle Seahawks.
The positive update on Woods' status was provided by Owner Jerry Jones in his regular radio appearance this morning.
Jerry Jones on @1053thefan said it appears Randy Gregory (concussion) will be available to play Sunday at Seattle. Jones also thinks Xavier Woods (hamstring) has a chance to play this week after missing the first two games
Gregory has already played this year, suffering his concussion and leaving the season opener against the Carolina Panthers. Even in his absence last week, the Cowboys got six sacks on Eli Manning in their victory over the Giants.
That's not to say getting Randy back isn't noteworthy, but the real news here is the potential for Xavier Woods to take his place as the team's starting free safety.
While Woods has been out, Jeff Heath has been the free safety while Kavon Frazier has started at strong. The plan going into 2018 was for Heath to play strong safety, putting him closer to the line of scrimmage where his skills are best suited.
Xavier was one of the team's most exciting rookies last year, flashing the potential to be a game-changing presence.
Woods' upside is one of the reasons some fans haven't been as desperate about the Earl Thomas situation. While Thomas would be an upgrade in almost any defense, including the Cowboys, the chance to see what Xavier has mitigated disappointment over not acquiring the All-Pro safety.
If Woods can provide what the team hopes for at free safety, it has a positive ripple effect for the roster. Not only do you upgrade at FS, but Heath moving to his ideal role at SS is another improvement.
It also moves Frazier, who's been solid in his playing time, into a valuable bench role. It gives Dallas depth at safety which, up til now, they've lacked in Xavier's absence.
The loser in this deal would likely be either veteran backup Ibraheim Campbell, who Dallas signed two weeks ago to deal with their depth issues, or undrafted rookie Tyree Robinson. Robinson has been with the team since they signed him immediately after the 2018 NFL Draft.
With talk that the Cowboys are looking to bring back WR Brice Butler, a roster spot will be needed. Xavier Woods' return could allow for that spot to come from safety rather than receiver, where Dallas is hesitant to part with any of its current players.
In the end, all we have right now is a "maybe" about Woods' status. But with Dallas' defense already performing well this year, the thought of getting even better is enticing. With the tough road environment of Seattle and Russell Wilson coming up this Sunday, getting Xavier back could be timely.
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