There is no exact blueprint for a NFL roster. Every year, teams are put together with different circumstances and philosophies that change the numbers at each position. The Dallas Cowboys are no exception, and 2017 is likely to have different math from last season.
Earlier today we considered some of the changes you can expect in the roster numbers on offense. Now we'll look at the defense to see some other potential shifts.
The Cowboys have several guys in Irving, Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, and even rookie Taco Charlton who can play end or tackle in their scheme. This makes it hard to talk about DE and DT separately, so we won't try to.
Last year Dallas started thin on the defense line. They had just eight players and one of them, Charles Tapper, was inactive with injuries. DeMarcus Lawrence was serving a four-game suspension to start the season.
In 2017 it will be David Irving who faces a suspension. Still, Dallas has a lot of bodies left with Lawrence, Charlton, Tapper, Benson Mayowa, and free agent Damontre Moore at defensive end. At tackle they have Crawford, Maliek Collins, Cedric Thornton, and free agent Stephen Paea all expected to make the team, not to mention other young prospects at both positions.
The nine names I just gave you are who I expect to make the Week One roster. We might see Moore get released to make room for Irving in Week 5, but injuries and other developments could open up the roster spot some other way. That means Dallas could be using up one more roster spot on the defensive line than they did in Week One last year.
Assuming health at linebacker is a risky proposition given the Cowboys recent history. However, that's what we have to do for now. If everyone is indeed ready to play in Week One, it could open up that roster spot the defensive line needs.
Last year's team started with seven linebackers. One of those was veteran Justin Durant, who was having to be slowly worked back in as a last-minute signing. The other was Mark Nzeocha, who was battling injuries for much of the year. Dallas had to go long for cover for these issues.
The 2017 Cowboys could easily go with just six guys. Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith will have the two key starting spots. Damien Wilson is likely to retain his role as the SAM linebacker. That means Anthony Hitchens will become a versatile backup who has experience at all three spots. That would leave the last two spots for Nzeocha and veteran Kyle Wilber.
The chatter around former Pro Bowler Daryl Washington probably won't change the math. If he's signed, Washington would likely take a roster spot from Nzeocha or Wilber rather than causing the Cowboys to keep a seventh linebacker.
We may not see much change here. Dallas started and finished 2016 with ten defensive backs and could easily do the same now. The question is how they'll balance between cornerbacks and safeties.
We can safely assume that cornerbacks Orlando Scandrick, Anthony Brown, and Nolan Carroll will be making the team along with rookies Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis. Earlier this week I did consider the possibility of Carroll being released, but this isn't what I expect to happen.
At safety, Byron Jones and Jeff Heath should be joined by second-year man Kavon Frazier and rookie Xavier Woods. That gives you nine guys already and, potentially, the only nine you absolutely need. Dallas might be able to run with just these players and free up a spot elsewhere.
If they do keep ten, it likely comes down to veteran safety Robert Blanton or rookie corner Marquez White. That will depend heavily on if Blanton's experience is needed or if Frazier and Woods can inspire enough confidence as the only safety depth.
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Monday Morning Hangover: Cowboys Dominate Jaguars Top-Ranked Defense
After watching the Houston Texans defeat the Dallas Cowboys in the Week 5, I decided to lower my expectations heading into this week's matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars. After all, the Cowboys offense has been one of the worst in the league this season and they were going up against the top-ranked Jaguars defense. Boy was I surprised at what took place Sunday afternoon.
I don't know how you started off your football Sunday, but I decided to watch the Texans take on the Buffalo Bills. I didn't have much of a choice since I live in the Houston area and it was the only game on TV, but I still wanted to see how they played after beating my Cowboys in overtime a week prior. I was disgusted at what I saw and unfortunately took it out on my cold beverage.
The Texans looked nothing like the team we saw against the Cowboys. They were pretty much dominated by the Buffalo Bills, which I'm ashamed to say put me in a rather foul mood ahead of kickoff time in Dallas. I was expecting another sloppy performance, but what we all witnessed was anything but that.
The Dallas Cowboys offense pretty much moved the ball at will against the Jacksonville Jaguars top-ranked defense. I don't think anyone could have predicted that, especially considering the Jaguars were the best overall defense in the league and where the top-ranked in the passing game as well. I thought if the Cowboys were going to have any kind of chance it was against their 14th ranked run defense.
Well, the Cowboys ended up dominating on the offensive side of the ball and completely exploited the Jaguars defense both on the ground and through the air. Quarterback Dak Prescott, Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, and Wide Receiver Cole Beasley all raised the level of their game and were big contributors to the 40 points the offense put on the board.
Prescott may have thrown for little less than 200 yards, but he was able to connect with Beasley nine times for 101 yards and two touchdowns. With all of the struggles in the passing game for the Cowboys, these two need to continue to connect like this.
Where Prescott was the most impactful against the Jaguars was with his feet. He was really close to being the Cowboys leading rusher with 82 yards and a TD on just 11 carries, but Zeke ended up surpassing him in the end with 106 yards and a TD on 24 carries. Regardless, the Jaguars defense didn't have an answer for Prescott's feet Sunday afternoon.
I have hope once again that this offense is clicking, but I've gone down this road once before. The Dallas Cowboys are still right in the mix of things in the NFC East division and will have a chance to distance themselves next week when they take on the Washington Redskins.
Now, here's the difficult part of all of this. The Cowboys now need to carry over this impressive offensive performance against the Jaguars into next week against the rival Redskins. We've all seen them riding on a high before this season, only to crash back down to earth the following week. They can't afford to do that with a division foe up next on the schedule.
What did you think about the Dallas Cowboys offense against the Jaguars?
DAL 40, JAX 7: Cowboys Answer The Bell In Dominant Win
It seems like a pattern is developing here during the 2018 Dallas Cowboys season.
For a team and an offense which has looked absolutely horrid on the road, the Cowboys appear to be one of the better teams in the conference when playing at home.
That trend continued today as the Cowboys dominated the now 3-3 Jacksonville Jaguars from start to finish, en route to a 40-7 home victory over last year's AFC semi-finalist.
Quarterback Dak Prescott had possibly his best game of the season, making up for his poor performance in Houston a week ago. While Prescott only threw for 183 yards on 17 completions, it was his 82 rushing yards on 11 carries which put this offense over the top. Plus, the Cowboys were in "kill the clock" mode for basically the entire second half.
The real story here was the offensive line, however. The o-line which has been heavily criticized by the fan base during the season, and has shouldered a heavy amount of the blame for the poor offensive production, finally stepped up and played to their standards this afternoon. Prescott had great pass protection all day, which was evident in his passing numbers and Cole Beasley's receiving performance.
Dallas is now 3-3 on the season, tied with the defending champ Eagles and a half game behind Washington for first place in the NFC East. Next week the Cowboys have a huge game in Washington with first place on the line.
- Cole Beasley proved once again why he's worthy of the pay day he'll get (probably somewhere else) this offseason. Beasley caught 9 balls for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns, dominating man coverage all game long.
- These linebackers are legit. Both Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith were all over the field today, anchoring a group which was impressive yet again.
- Brett Maher simply can't miss, going 4 for 4 on field goal attempts including a 55 yarder in the second half.
- Ezekiel Elliott went over 100 yards rushing again this week, and it was somehow still a quiet day for him in the grand scheme of things.
- Byron Jones was the best cornerback on either team today, deflecting 3 passes and staying sticky to the Jacksonville wide outs all day. He's been incredible this season and Sunday's game was no different.
- Oh, and Randy Gregory sack alert! Party!
David Irving Ready to “Be Put Through Ringer” in First Action with Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys patience in Defensive Tackle David Irving is set to pay off on Sunday, as Irving will play in his first game of 2018 after being suspended for the first four weeks. Irving was eligible to play last week in the Cowboys overtime loss at the Texans, but did not make the trip to Houston as he dealt with off-field concerns.
The Cowboys defense has performed admirably without Irving, but in a needed game against the Jaguars, it could be up to this defense to win the game for Dallas - something a disruptive player like Irving has the ability to do on any given snap.
While the plan is for the Cowboys to ease Irving into this game, his impact from the DT position might be enough to leave him on the field as much as needed in a tight game.
Irving said the coaches want to play him 10-15 snaps Sunday. "That's what they say now but if it's a close game, I know good and well Marinelli is going to be sending me out there & putting me through the ringer. I'm ready for it.
Like a good left-handed pitcher in baseball or three-point specialist in basketball, the Cowboys have afforded Irving a long leash despite his unreliability thanks to a 6'7" and 290 pound frame that makes him a menace for opposing guards.
The 3T-DT position is a pivotal one in Marinelli's scheme, and one the Cowboys have afforded Irving every opportunity to fill, yielding results whenever the former Chiefs practice squad steal suits up.
Filling in for Irving through the Cowboys first five games of the season has been reliable veteran Tyrone Crawford. Expected to play at defensive end this season, Crawford has recorded 14 tackles and one sack from the 3T position.
With Irving back in the "Hot Boyz" rotation, it will be interesting to see if Crawford once again goes out to right defensive end, where Randy Gregory has struggled to make the most out of his own return from suspension.
Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli is not expecting similar struggles from Irving, prepared to put him "through the ringer".
Where Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard calls the Cowboys defense, Marinelli is still one of the most respected coaches at The Star, demanding a lot of his defensive line in particular. It's the pairing of Marinelli's motivation and Irving's intangibles that have the Cowboys defense on the brink of taking another step toward's one of the league's best.
With their own offense set to line up against perhaps the best overall defense in Jacksonville on Sunday, Irving's return is just in time. The NFC East is far from out of reach for the Cowboys, who will be at full strength on defense once Sean Lee returns as early as next week.
The Cowboys have never lost a game in which Lee, Irving, and Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence play at least 20% of the team's snaps on defense. Perhaps this stat will have to be adjusted to include rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in short time, but for now the Cowboys are hours away from fighting for a 3-3 start to 2018, doing so with one of their most important defenders back in the lineup.
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