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.
~ ~ ~
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.
~ ~ ~
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: Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
The Dallas Cowboys are not only breathing in playoff contention, but they're now the favorites to crown themselves as the NFC East champions in 2018. It's pretty impressive how the tables can turn so quickly in the NFL. Dallas played very well against the Atlanta Falcons last Sunday and we learned quite a bit from them as they bounced back to .500. Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday! Enjoy it as much as you did Brett Maher's game winning field goal a couple of days ago.
Cowboys Have a Championship Defense
Despite taking steps in the right direction, it's impossible to compare this offense to units like the Chiefs, Saints and Rams. However, it's the Cowboys' defense that could be labeled as a championship unit. Facing an offense with such a strong WR core, allowing only one touchdown on the road is impressive.
The Cowboys sacked Matt Ryan three times and were constantly causing pressures. Byron Jones was great once again, allowing only two catches in passes thrown in his direction. And of course, the kid who's been impressing us all, Leighton Vander Esch continued to play out of his mind. He should be the Defensive Rookie of the Year front runner at this point.
The Cowboys' defense is one of the best in the NFL right now, and any offense will have a tough time facing them. It'll be intriguing to see if they can take the next step and stop a high-powered unit like the Saints in a few days.
Offensive Line Woes Are Gone
The offense has improved a lot the last couple of games. Although there is still a lot to work on, they're not struggling as they were in the first half of the season. The offensive line is a huge part of this. With Marc Colombo at OL coach, things have looked very different in Dallas.
Ezekiel Elliott: "I feel great. I feel fast. I feel physical. I feel very comfortable with the running schemes. We just got to keep rolling. That's what's important. We just got to keep rolling.
Ezekiel Elliott has been on a roll the past two weeks and his comments regarding how he feels about the running schemes shouldn't go unnoticed. The offensive line wasn't playing as well as they are right now earlier in the year. Dak Prescott is noticeably more comfortable in the pocket.
It's intriguing to know what will happen at left guard for the Cowboys. With Connor Williams injured, Xavier Su'a-Filo has done a good job filling in for him. Williams has the upside, but should Dallas mess up the mojo this OL has lately?
Dak Prescott: Clutch QB
Dak Prescott continues to be criticized by fans while he keeps proving us why it's not that easy to move on from him. The guy is far from the perfect passer, yet he's been clutch time and time again. This time he did so on the road on an impressive two minute drill.
With 1:46 on the clock, Prescott marched his team down to the Falcons' 24 yard line. He managed to give his team another game winning drive in consecutive weeks. The Cowboys' young quarterback needed a confidence boost and this is perfect for him. He needs to keep it up if the team is going to finish the season as the NFC East champions.
Since entering the NFL, Dak has 12 game winning drives. As frustrating as his play is at times, he will not be easy to replace if the Cowboys decide to move on from this guy down the road. Hopefully, they don't have to. I, for one, believe Dak can be way better with a proper coaching staff. But that's a discussion for another day.
Now, it's time to celebrate the Cowboys' victory and get ready for a short week as the Cowboys play the Washington Redskins on Thursday.
Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?
Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.
Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire
In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.
But in reality, is there?
For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.
The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.
First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.
The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.
In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.
Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?
Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.
That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.
Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.
Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support
Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.
According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.
A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:
“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”
Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.
As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:
“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”
While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.
The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.
Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.
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