Another week and another preseason game have come and gone. Friday's win against the Miami Dolphins did much more to confirm my projections than cause any adjustments to be made.
However, there have been a few updates with roster moves and injuries that have led to some changes. You can click here to reference last week's projection.
Here's where we are as of now:
QB: Tony Romo, Dak Prescott (2)
The Dak Prescott Experience, so far, is more wonderful than any of us could have imagined. It's too early to talk about him being the future franchise QB, but it's certainly not early to say he's cemented the backup job for 2016.
These two weeks couldn't gotten better for the Cowboys. Not only has Prescott been a sensation but Jameil Showers has stayed under the radar. I think Showers has done the best he can with poor offensive line play and sub-par receiving talent to work with. It works out great for Dallas as they can likely get him to the practice squad and save a roster spot.
RB: Ezekiel Elliott, Alfred Morris
Lance Dunbar, Darius Jackson (4)
The only reason Dallas keeps four running backs is to hang on to Dunbar. Darren McFadden, either by trade or by release, is a goner with the way that Morris is playing.
Dunbar still could fill a unique role. He gives you a different kind of back who can also go line up at receiver. Unless Dallas really wants to hang on to a sixth WR, I think they go with Dunbar for versatility and a less predictable option.
FB: Rod Smith (1)
Keith Smith, a converted linebacker, had a solid night while Rod sat out with an infection issue. Although Keith had a solid night, I still see Rod as the front-runner for now. He has more experience playing out of a backfield and should be the better weapon as a receiver.
However, ultimately this will come down to who does a better job as a run blocker. Dallas doesn't utilize the fullback enough to be that worried with versatility. They will use the guy who does the best job with the primary function of the position.
WR: Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams
Cole Beasley, Brice Butler
Lucky Whitehead (5)
At this point there doesn't seem to be any other receiver who could push for a roster spot except Andy Jones. After a bad night in Los Angeles, the undrafted rookie had a better night on offense and also made a nice play in punt coverage.
As said earlier, I think right now Dallas would rather hang on to Lance Dunbar then open a spot for Jones. However, that could change quickly if Dunbar has any kind of injury setback. Jones would do well to keep showing up on special teams.
TE: Jason Witten, Gavin Escobar, Geoff Swaim, Rico Gathers (4)
CHANGES: Removed James Hanna (PUP)
Given that he had knee surgery early last week, James Hanna seems likely to start the year on the PUP list. He will certainly be back at some point as he's the best blocking TE on the team.
For now, this allows Dallas to protect Rico Gathers. Even if they have to cut him later to make room for Hanna, a mid-season cut can often go unnoticed better than during the league-wide cut days this time of year. The spot could also go to Austin Traylor, who may be the team's next-best blocking TE after Hanna.
OT: Tyron Smith, Doug Free
Chaz Green (3)
CHANGES: Removed Cam Bradfield
Thing went much better for Green against the Dolphins than the previous week. Starting again at left tackle, Green's only clear blunder was a holding penalty that brought back an Alfred Morris touchdown run. Otherwise, he was holding up well in pass protection and doing as much as anyone to make the run game productive.
Consistency has been Green's problem, though. I'm going to give him the benefit of the doubt now and say that he keeps building on Friday night and earns the swing tackle job. However, if he falters, then Dallas will quickly work to bring in a veteran journeyman to handle the role.
G: Zack Martin, La'el Collins, Ron Leary (3)
C: Travis Frederick, Joe Looney (2)
We can go ahead and lock this group in until someone gets injured or maybe Leary gets traded. With three first-round talents starting and two solid veterans in reserve, Dallas easily has the best interior line group in all of football.
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Just to quickly recap, we've used 24 of the 53 roster spots on the offense. Your biggest questions marks are:
- Lance Dunbar (RB) vs. Andy Jones (WR)
- FB: Rod Smith vs. Keith Smith vs. No FB at all
- TE: Rico Gathers vs. Austin Traylor
- OT: Chaz Green vs. Veteran Free Agent TBD
So, let's move on to the defense.
DE: Jack Crawford, Benson Mayowa
David Irving, Ryan Russell
Charles Tapper, Shaneil Jenkins (6)
CHANGES: Moved J. Crawford from DT to DE
Guys like Crawford and Jenkins are tweener players; they are just as likely to line up inside as on the ends. However, I felt it was necessary to move Crawford to DE as I think he could be emerging as a starter for at least the beginning of the season.
Jack Crawford seems to always make an impact. In the Rams game he hustled downfield to recover Mark Nzeocha's fumble after an interception. He was there to help clean up Tyrone Crawford's sack on Ryan Tannehill against Miami. I think he may wind up starting at DE for at least the four weeks that DeMarcus Lawrence is injured, especially with guys like Mayowa and Irving banged up right now.
Shaneil Jenkins keeps showing up in preseason games and, for my money, has cemented his roster spot for at least Weeks 1-4.
DT: Tyrone Crawford, Terrell McClain, Cedric Thornton, Maliek Collins (4)
CHANGES: Added Maliek Collins
It was previously unclear when Collins would come back from his broken foot. The Cowboys brought him off the PUP list last week and he's being eased back into practice. He did not play on Friday night.
Collins being able to contribute by Week One would help the Cowboys to cover whatever issues may linger at defensive end. They could focus Jack Crawford and Shaneil Jenkins' attention there while other guys are missing.
LB: Sean Lee, Anthony Hitchens, Kyle Wilber, Justin Durant
Andrew Gachkar, Mark Nzeocha, Damien Wilson (7)
Keeping seven linebackers isn't that unusual or "going long" by some perspectives. It appears to be especially necessary for the Cowboys given the current health and general concerns of some key players.
Gachkar was already out with a thumb injury but should be back for Week One. Now Nzeocha has an Achilles strain that could limit him for a few weeks. It's giving young guys like Derek Akunne and James Morris chances to make noise but nothing that I expect will cost someone a roster spot.
CB: Orlando Scandrick
Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr
Deji Olatoye, Anthony Brown (5)
This is another position where I don't expect any changes. The top three are locked in. Olatoye has shown up well in preseason play and brings a unique size and physicality to the group.
Brown has been out with a hamstring issue but before that was getting a lot of positive reports from training camp. He will likely be the main backup to Scandrick as the slot corner.
S: Byron Jones, Barry Church, Jeff Heath, Kavon Frazier (4)
I've had J.J. Wilcox not making the team for a while now and he only keeps making it easier with missed tackles and blown coverage. It's too bad he's not playing better and could potentially be trade bait; the guy does have a lot of experience and was a former third-round pick.
ST: Dan Bailey (K), Chris Jones (P)
L.P. Ladouceur (LS)
These last three spots are always easy. The Cowboys have the luxury of a solid punter, a perfect long snapper, and the best kicker in NFL history.
Not too shabby.
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Like last week, I don't really have any big questions about the defense. There's nobody who I've left off this roster that I feel bad about. It would take some pretty huge leaps by one of the prospect players, or an injury, to change any of these picks going forward.
I will be releasing a new projection each week following the preseason games. The first round of cuts are due on August 30th and the final deadline is September 3rd. Dallas will play their fourth preseason game in between.
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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