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Cowboys Nation Position Breakdown – Linebacker

Bryson Treece

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I'm now going to do something that our defense had some issues with this year, tackle another position in my positional breakdown of the current roster. Yeah, cheap shot, but between Jenkins watching Ward run by and everyone missing McClain and McGahee, it kind of fits. Here's the linebackers.

DeMarcus Ware -
A great overall athlete, big surprise here.

The guy has an outstanding work ethic and drive. He gets to the ball quickly, and is good at deciding where a play is going.

He's versatile, quick, strong, and doesn't rely on others to allow him a chance, he makes plays where others wouldn't.

By far the only must have on this team, or any team.

Brady James -
The soft-spoken leader of this defensive unit, he's been a steady contributor and a reliable linebacker. Sometimes he shows us why he gets left out of the Pro Bowl, but the 2008 season was certainly his best year. He deserved the vote, and he agreed, but he did publicly express his feelings about not making the all star team, and that isn't okay.

Still, his play on the field overcomes the very few and minor issues that he brings to the team. An obvious keeper.

Zach Thomas -
Since he was first drafted years ago, I've never really seen why he is such a big deal. And when we signed him last year I was a bit skeptical because of his age and my personal beliefs of him. This year he showed me two things, the first is that he is a solid player that could be a starter on just about any team, and the second is that my first impressions of him were right.

He was brought in to be an experienced veteran to help guide younger players, and provide some balance beside Bradie James. He was what we thought he was, he just didn't make as big of an impact as most hoped, and many dreamed.

After the Philly game, as we all know by now, he expressed his feelings over how he fit into this defense, and he did it publicly. Yeah, he did change his tune a little in the following days, but the message had already been delivered.

Thanks to some favorable conditions in his contract, he was able to void the remaining three years of his deal down to one. I don't know if that's optional and he has to take it or if it's a done deal already. In either case, I don't see him passing on a way out of a defense that he thinks he doesn't fit into when it means the next four years will be here, unless he retires. I also don't see the Cowboys signing him to another deal. He's too old for a multi-year deal, and the Cowboys could better use the money on a one year deal to bring in some solid talent through either free agency or the draft.

I don't expect to see Zach back next year.

Greg Ellis -
I still think Greg Ellis can play the game, and he seemed to get his second wind with the switch from end to OLB. I think the current system works; the rotation between he and Anthony Spencer is complimenting to his age and keeps him fresh as a solid role player.

I expect to see him back next year, and I expect the rotation schedule to change a little more in favor of the young and blossoming Spencer.

I don't expect Ellis to be graceful about though. As has been the case each off-season for a while now, Ellis often has complaints about his role on the team, in spite of career performances in this current system. What will be will be, I guess. He already got the money, so he doesn't have a lot left to gripe about, unless he wants to play more like Ware does.

Anthony Spencer -
He's the most recent player to have a run in with the law, but I doubt anyone is holding that against him.

This year, his first being healthy all year, he showed us why he takes snaps away from the trusted veteran Ellis. What more can you say about him? He's got upside, he's quick, and he's bright, most of the time.He'll be around for a few more years, I suspect.

Kevin Burnett -
I know that perceptions be misleading, especially in football, but as I write this, I find it hard to get the image of his blunder in the Philly game out of my head. He's shown us that he can play; now he needs to work on his confidence and awareness a little. Being caught out of position isn't good, especially not when you get as few reps as he does in a game.

But on the flip side, he isn't a bad player, and an extra year, an extra off-season, should be all he needs to hone in on the skills he sometimes misfires on. I expect to see him back next year; Jerry will pay to keep him because of depth and continuity at the position. Thomas leaving will only concrete the need for him. I also expect him to play at a higher level next year than he has thus far, and I'm a little excited to see him do it.

Bobby Carpenter -
I want to say, "this poor guy." He was drafted with high expectations and he hasn't lived up to them. But unlike most players who do that, he hasn't been the reason for his lack of success. Constantly moving him from one position to another, and not really offering him any hope of earning a starting job have hindered his progress as far as I'm concerned.

As many fans are saying right now, and have been saying for a while, it's high time he got a real chance to compete for a bigger role on defense. I expect this to be his year due to the depth concerns in the middle. I just hope he can finally show his first round talent on more than just a draft board.

Justin Rogers -
Did this guy even play? Hate to admit it, but I never once paid any attention to him, so I'll let someone else fill in his spot in the comments. Fair enough.

Carlos Polk -
Signed more out of concerns for special teams, he began to get some time on the defense through promising play. He's still got some things to work on, and will probably never be a great player for us, but he's got enough to make him valuable on special teams. His biggest problem is being positioned behind Ware on the depth chart, same for Rogers too.

Being one of Wade's guys though, he'll be back next year, and I'm not really upset about it.

Steve Octavien -
Here's another one that hasn't done enough to really give anyone an impression of what he can do. That usually means he's in development and will be back next year for continued grooming.

That's my take on things. What do you all think?



Nothing gives me greater joy than the experience of being a Dallas Cowboys fan come time to check another victory on the schedule every Sunday. I live Inside the Star everyday and blog on it occasionally, as well. Follow us on Twitter - @InsideTheStarDC

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2 Comments
  • The Wizard

    Personally, I think it is time to cut ties with Ellis. Yes, I think he can still play and I like him. But, he clearly doesn’t want to play in the role they have etched for him. And, they need to have players that are all on the same page. Maybe, they can get a pick for him in the 3rd-5th range with a team needing a pass rusher.

    As far as Ware, James, and Spencer are concerned those are the starters for sure. You’re right about Carpenter. They need to find out about him. Maybe he can be the other starter on the inside. He has the size, but the question is with his skills.

    I like Burnett too but he is smallish and more of a finesse player who is also better suited for a 4-3 defense. The other backers are more special team/backup types.

  • Bryson

    I think the jury is still out on Burnett and Carpenter, we really haven’t gotten to see a whole lot from either.

    I am a little back and forth on Ellis each year. On a separate note though, I find it quite amusing that nobody makes a big deal out of Ellis’ whining every year considering that he makes more noise in one off-season that Owens does in a whole year.

    I still think he can play well enough to justify hearing him piss and moan. But I can’t very well say what I do about Garrett and not apply that same logic to Ellis. If he wants to leave that badly then I’m all for it. Any player that doesn’t want to be here is a distraction this team doesn’t need.

    I’m kind of leaning more towards saying that he won’t be a problem this year, the more I think about it. What did he have this year? Like 12 sacks? That’s pretty good for Ellis. I think he might see the value for him here and in the current rotation with production like that.

    But he won’t make the Pro Bowl again until he stops his bitching.

Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.

Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.

Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.

  • A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.

The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.

Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.

If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.

  • Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.

The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.

On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.

Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.

  • Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.

Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.

I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.

  • The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.

Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.

Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.

His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.

Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.

Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.

Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.

  • Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.

Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.

Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.

Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.

It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.

Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.

This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose

Mauricio Rodriguez

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3 Reasons Why RB Ezekiel Elliott Will Dominate in 2018

The Dallas Cowboys looked great on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. There were very few things to complain about their last showing and now that they're back at .500, the season doesn't seem lost as previously thought. After all, the NFC East has been a mediocre division so far in 2018 and the division title is not that far from the Cowboys' grasp.

In fact, if they win this Thursday on Thanksgiving, the Dallas Cowboys would become the NFC East's division leader. The Washington Redskins were off to a great start on the season but after falling to the Houston Texans on Sunday, they only hold a one game-lead over the Cowboys.

This will be the second time of the year these two teams face each other. Back in week 7, the Cowboys played one of their worse games on the year in Washington. Many times the Cowboys shot themselves on the foot until they failed to get to overtime as Brett Maher's FG attempt bounced off the goalpost.

This time though, things should be different.

The team is on a two-game winning streak on the road against the last two NFC Champions. Of course, neither of these teams are the same than they were in previous years, but Dallas has done a good job these past two weeks. Some staff members might be coaching for their jobs as the team approaches "now or never" territory to contend in 2018. Although play-calling and execution haven't been perfect, at least the offense is showing signs of life.

Both the Cowboys and the Redskins suffered key injuries on Sunday. Towards the end of the game, Cowboys' LT Tyron Smith went down injured and headed to the locker room. With his injury history and a short week on deck, it's tough to imagine Smith will suit up on Thursday.

David Helman on Twitter

Tyron Smith, as only he could say it: "It didn't feel good, but I'll be alright." #cowboyswire

However, the more serious injury came for the Redskins. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibia and will end his season due to surgery. With Colt McCoy playing at QB for Washington, winning the NFC East will become an easier task for the Cowboys.

But they can't take the win for granted. This is a flawed, inconsistent team we're talking about. On a short week, it'll require a lot of effort to beat their hated division rivals.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

DAL 22, ATL 19: Elliott, Maher Carry Cowboys to Season-Saving Win

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott

A last-minute field goal by Brett Maher lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. On the strength of 201 yards of total offense out of Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas improved to 5-5 and arguably saved their 2018 season.

Elliott had 122 yards rushing and 79 receiving today, plus scored one touchdown, to make up well over half of the team's offensive production. Dak Prescott was also solid, throwing for over 200 yards and committing no turnovers.

Dallas and Atlanta traded field goals in the first half, and the Falcons took a 6-3 lead into the locker room. But the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal on their first second-half possession, then scored a touchdown on their next drive.

Maher was 3/3 on his field goals today, which included a 50-yarder. A missed extra point created concern, but the Cowboys kicker delivered in the biggest moments.

Once again, Dallas' defense was impressive and played a major part in the win. The Falcons never got into the endzone until their last possession.

Game Notes

  • Leighton Vander Esch had another interception, securing a tipped ball that lucked its way into his grasp. He also made some big tackles and continued last week's exceptional play.
  • DeMarcus Lawrence was credited with 1.5 sacks, getting him back among the league leaders with 8.0 on the year.
  • Elliott was Dallas' leading receiving today. Next up was Cole Beasley with five catches for 51 yards, and Cole's day could've been better if not for a dropped touchdown pass.
  • Jeff Heath nearly had his second interception of the year, but Falcons WR Julio Jones made an impressive play to hit Heath and break up the catch.
  • Tyron Smith left the game on the final drive with an injury, but Cam Fleming came in and the team didn't suffer for it. We'll have to see what the short Thanksgiving week means for Smith's status against the Redskins.
  • Speaking of Washington, the NFC East leaders fell to 6-4 today at home against the Houston Texans. Even worse for them, QB Alex Smith suffered a nasty ankle injury is almost assuredly out for weeks to come. Colt McCoy will be their starting QB on Thursday against Dallas.
  • If Dallas wins next week, they will pull even with Washington in overall record, division record, and split the head-to-head series. With the Eagles facing a tough road game today in New Orleans, and with Alex Smith going down for Washington, the NFC East may have just become the Cowboys' to control.



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