Roster cuts will be coming over the next two days, and it's time to look at our final 53-man roster projection of 2018. Who will make up the Dallas Cowboys as the enter the upcoming regular season?
The preseason revealed some things that we didn't expect a month ago, both positive and negative. We've seen some big swings in stock value on certain players since the start of training camp.
The best thing you can say about the Cowboys' August is that they evaded any major injuries. Travis Frederick's health issue is a concern, but otherwise the team shouldn't be missing anybody for more than a week or town.
One thing to keep in mind with these projections is that we can't account for all of the talent that's about to hit the open market. Only Will McClay and his crew know who the Cowboys may be targeting from waivers and free agency in the days ahead.
That said, we'll do our best to form a roster with what we know and who's currently in house.
Dak Prescott, Mike White
Changes: Removed Cooper Rush
I have wrestled with this one a lot, and I think this comes down to that 53-man limit and needs elsewhere on the team. It also may be a temporary move.
White has outplayed Rush the last two weeks. While he's a rookie, he was also a fifth-round pick. Rush was an undrafted free agent last year.
Dallas will want to preserve White's four-year rookie contract, which would be lost if he was released and re-signed to the practice squad. Unfortunately, Rush's time last year on the active roster makes him ineligible for the practice squad.
The Cowboys may very well wind up with three quarterbacks, perhaps signing or trading for a veteran backup over the next few days. But with other positions where they need to go long due to injury, I think they will make this move to avoid having to make a tougher cut somewhere else.
Running Back (4)
Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, Darius Jackson,
Jamize Olawale (FB)
I am standing by my belief that Jackson gives you more than Bo Scarbrough with his athleticism and kick return value. He just makes more sense as your third RB as Rod Smith has plenty of power as a short-yardage option.
There are only so many teams that are going to value a runner like Scarbrough. He needs an offensive line who can dominate and make lanes for him to pick up speed in. Dallas is one of those few teams, so they have a good shot at getting him to their practice squad.
I'm prepared to be wrong on this one. The Cowboys have cut Jackson once before and could do it again. But keep in mind that this was when they had Elliott, Alfred Morris, and Darren McFadden all under contract. Darius was on the roster in 2016 until McFadden was finally activated.
Allen Hurns, Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup,
Terrance Williams, Tavon Austin, Deonte Thompson
Changes: Added Thompson
Here's one position where I think Dallas goes long, both for current and future reasons. Even still, they have to make a tough cut by not putting Lance Lenoir on the roster this year.
With Beasley, Austin, and Thompson all playing on expiring contracts, and Terrance Williams a likely cap casualty next year, the Cowboys will spend much of 2018 deciding who they value for the future. We're going to see all of these guys used in various ways.
Even though Thompson didn't get to do much this month, missing time with injury, Dallas signed the veteran for a reason. I think they'll want to see what he can offer in games before they cut him loose.
As for Lenoir, I'm sure the Cowboys will hope to get him to the practice squad. He'd make the team most years, but we're unusually deep at WR in 2018.
Tight End (3)
Blake Jarwin, Geoff Swaim, Dalton Schultz
I wouldn't draft a Dallas TE on your fantasy team this year, because Jarwin and Swaim are probably going to be splitting a lot of time. Jarwin's the better receiver, Swaim's the better blocker, and they will be deployed in many different packages.
Schultz was a fourth-round pick and isn't going anywhere. That means Rico Gathers had to push the team to keep four tight ends, and it just hasn't happened. He's still too raw with the finer points of football to justify a roster spot.
In a different year, Dallas could go long if they wanted to give Rico another year to develop and not risk him on the practice squad. But with the health issues on the offensive line and at safety, this just isn't one of those years.
Offensive Tackle (3)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming
This trio had been locked in since the beginning of camp. The starters are set and Fleming was clearly brought in to play swing tackle, making $2.5 million this year in reserve duty.
There is some concern as Fleming hasn't looked great this preseason, but part of that has been the overall failings of the backup linemen. Teams have been throwing a lot of blitzes at Dallas' second string.
Fleming has started a lot of games, including playoffs, for the New England Patriots. He will look better when he's playing with the starters and when defenses aren't as aggressive.
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Parker Ehinger, Free Agent TBD
Changes: Added Ehinger, Removed Kadeem Edwards
In case you're wondering who Ehinger is, he's the OL from Kansas City who is reportedly coming to Dallas in exchange for CB Charvarius Ward. This deal should be finalized today.
Ehinger has guard/tackle flex and should be a nice upgrade over Kadeem Edwards. But that still leaves Dallas needing another guy who can play center.
Frederick may only be on the 53 for a day. Dallas has to go through cuts first and then put Travis on injured reserve if they want the option of bringing him back after eight weeks.
At this point, I don't even think they'll go that far. It sounds like he's doing very well with his treatment and could return much sooner than Week 9. I think they'll carry Frederick on the 53 as a gameday inactive until he's ready to go.
That means Joe Looney is starting for a while. Even though Zack Martin can play center in a pinch, Dallas still needs another guy who can handle that spot on their bench until Frederick returns. I think he will come from free agency in the next few days.
Defensive End (5)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, Taco Charlton,
Dorance Armstrong, Charles Tapper
Changes: Moved Tyrone Crawford to DT
With Gregory's return and how quickly he's reestablished himself, it looks like Crawford is going to play more at his natural position as the 3-technique defensive tackle. That's good news across the board.
Thanks to the young talent showing up, Dallas will cut Kony Ealy. The veteran has not been what they hoped and they have better options at both DE and DT.
Tapper makes it for now but could easily be the guy cut once David Irving comes off suspension in Week 5.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods,
Daniel Ross, Brian Price
Changes: Added Crawford
One of the big stories this camp and preseason has been the rise of Antwaun Woods, who has taken over the 1-tech and nose tackle role. It's a nice development for the Cowboys as it frees up Maliek Collins to get back to the things that made him a standout as a rookie.
Jihad Ward is the guy that Dallas traded away Ryan Switzer for, but he hasn't impressed. He might make it over Ross or Price, but that would only be if the Cowboys still believe there's some untapped potential left.
As mentioned already, David Irving will be back in October. Injuries will likely play a major factor in who gets cut to make room for him.
Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch,
Damien Wilson, Joe Thomas, Justin March-Lillard
It's been a great summer for the LB position. Lee and Smith are healthy heading into the season, and Jaylon looks ready to be a breakout star.
Dallas now has the luxury of easing first-round pick Leighton Vander Esch into things. Damien Wilson may still start in the base defense for a while as the rookie, who missed time in preseason with a minor groin injury, hasn't had much work lately.
Helping also is the emergence of Joe Thomas and Justin March-Lillard as quality depth options. Both have stood out in preseason and are guy you won't be afraid to play in games if needed. It's arguably the deepest that the Cowboys have been at linebacker in some time.
Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, Donovan Olumba
Changes: Added Olumba, Removed Charvarius Ward
One reason that Dallas traded Ward to Kansas City, no doubt, is the play of Donovan Olumba. Another undrafted free agent this year, Olumba fits the Kris Richard mold at 6'2" and has been standing out lately among the CB prospects.
Even if Dallas was only keeping four safeties, not having to cover for Xavier Woods' injury, I don't think they'd go any longer here. Whether it's the 10th defensive back or that 9th offensive linemen, these are the spots that I think will cost Cooper Rush his roster spot.
Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier,
Jeron Johnson, Tyree Robinson
Last night's game validated Johnson as a keeper. The veteran safety led the team in tackles and should provide exactly what they need, at least temporarily, while waiting to get Woods back. His experience, but generally and specifically with Kris Richard in Seattle, is a major plus.
I'm putting Robinson on here for now, but I could easily see him being replaced by a waiver wire or free agent acquisition. And if the Cowboys could perhaps finally pull of a trade with the Seahawks for that other guy, even better.
Special Teams (3)
Dan Bailey, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
Since we don't have much to say about this obvious group of special teamers, how about a quick shout-out to Brett Maher? He's handled kicking and punting duties for Dallas over the last few months while helping Bailey and Jones to keep their legs fresh and avoid injuries.
Maher hit a 57-yard field goal last night in Houston, make him 4/4 this preseason. Hopefully somebody else took notice and will give the man a job.
Could OC Kellen Moore Be More “Vanilla” Against Dolphins This Week?
The Cowboys are sort of in a no-win situation this Sunday.
If they come out and dominate the openly tanking Miami Dolphins, they'll have done exactly what they should do. But, if they lose to this putrid roster or lose one of their key players to injury, then this week three game would be considered a disaster.
So how should the Cowboys approach the Miami Dolphins?
Something tells me that new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore may look more "basic" than usual this week. Heralded for his creativity over the first two games, Moore may not want to show too much against the lowly Dolphins. Especially if the Cowboys can simply impose their will, a la the 2016 offensive gameplan.
Running backs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard should expect a lot of inside and outside zone opportunities this week, with each having a chance to have their best individual performances of the season. Tight end Blake Jarwin and wide receiver Devin Smith could see a lot of opportunities through the air as well, as the Cowboys may want to avoid putting Amari Cooper in situations which could cause injury.
Kellen Moore may want to come out firing with Dak Prescott and this dynamic passing game at first to get a quick lead, and then look to shorten the game as much as possible with his running game.
Honestly, as much as Cowboys Nation may not like it, I wouldn't be shocked if Miami covered this lofty 23 point spread. Dallas could look to get up a couple touchdowns, then proceed to sit on the ball and just look to get out of the stadium alive. Especially considering that the schedule gets much more difficult in the weeks following this Miami game.
With key NFC matchups against the New Orleans Saints, Green Bay Packers, and Philadelphia Eagles looming large, health is the most important factor this week against the Dolphins.
Well, health and winning, of course.
11-Personnel Success Key to Dallas Cowboys Offensive Explosion
When Kellen Moore took over as the offensive coordinator for the Dallas Cowboys a lot of expectations came that he would improve the offense. Though a lot of the parts coming into 2019 were the same as 2018, the anticipation of improvement was more about what Kellen Moore's mind would bring to the table.
From Moore's first interview with the press about his offensive philosophy to the preseason to the Cowboys victories in their first two regular-season games, the Dallas Cowboys look like a much different team. One area where the Dallas Cowboys are finding much more success in 2019 compared to last year, is in their success using 11-personnel (1 running back, 1 tight end, and 3 wide receivers).
As the NFL has evolved and began adopting more spread concepts into the offensive gameplans, 11-personnel has become the predominant formation in the league. 19 of the NFL's 32 teams use 11-personnel more than 60% of the time and 14 of those teams run it at least 70% of the time. The Dallas Cowboys are one of those as they deploy 11-personnel at a rate fo 73%.
The reason 11-personnel has become so popular is that it doesn't give away run-pass tendencies quite like two or three tight end formations typically signify a run or like a four or five wide receiver set can signify a pass. With the rate tight ends and running backs are catching the football in the modern NFL, this formation allows teams to hide their intentions before the snap. Many teams, the Dallas Cowboys included may start out with the tight end lined up next to the tackle and the running back in the backfield and then motion those players out into an empty backfield set with a spread look. This formation allows the Dallas Cowboys and other teams to give defenses multiple looks out without having to change the personnel grouping.
The Dallas Cowboys offense led by Kellen Moore calling the plays and Dak Prescott at quarterback has taken a significant step forward as an offense and a lot of that is because they've increased their use of 11-personnel and their efficiency when deploying it.
In looking at some of the data from last year to this year, we're going to be looking at Warren Sharp's Football Stats and success rates. Sharp Football Stats defines a successful play as one that, "gains at least 40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% of yards-to-go on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down." So even if a run on 3rd and 10 goes for nine yards, it's deemed an unsuccessful play because it was unable to pick up the first down yardage. If a 2nd and 10 play picks up six yards, it is considered a successful play. If on 3rd and 1, the offense gets one yard and picks up the first down, the play is deemed successful.
In 2018 under Scott Linehan, the Dallas Cowboys deployed 11-personnel (3 WR, 1 TE, 1 RB) 66% of the time, per Sharp Football Stats. That personnel rate was right at the league average of 65%. The Cowboys success rate in 2018 when running 11-personnel was just under the league average at 45%. It was arguably the Dallas Cowboys most effective personnel grouping when they threw the ball as Dak Prescott had a passer rating of 100.6, but he only averaged 7.2 yards per attempt last season in this formation. They were successful on only 45% of their pass attempts, which put them in the bottom half of the league when throwing out of 11-personnel. Though they averaged 5.2 yards per carry, when the Dallas Cowboys ran the ball out of 11-personnel, they ranked 18th in the NFL in success rate at 49%.
In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys are playing out 11-personnel 77% of the time. That's more than a 10% bump in 11-personnel through the first two games of the season. The Dallas Cowboys have a success rate in 11-personnel of 60%, which is second in the NFL only to the New England Patriots. Currently, the league average success rate out of 11-personnel is only 47%.
When Dak Prescott throws the ball out of 11-personnel, he has a passer rating of 145 (league average is 97), 11.4 yards per attempt (league average is 7.4) and 8.3 air yards per attempt (league average is 7.4). The Dallas Cowboys when passing out of 11-personnel have a success rate of 65%. That's a huge bump from their success rate in 2018 of 45% and much higher than the league average in 2019 of 46%. No team in the NFL has a higher success rate when throwing out of this formation than the Dallas Cowboys.
Let me say that again. No team in the NFL has a higher success rate when throwing out of 11-personnel than Dak Prescott and the Dallas Cowboys. Not the Kansas City Chiefs, not the Patriots, not the Los Angeles Rams. Nobody.
When the Dallas Cowboys run the ball out of 11-personnel, they gain the necessary yardage on the down at a rate of 56%. In running success rate, the Dallas Cowboys rank 11th in the NFL, just behind the Los Angeles Rams and the Los Angeles Chargers.
Though the offense has a higher success rate when running 12-personnel (1 running back, 2 tight ends, and 2 wide receivers), they only use this formation 15% of the time. Dak Prescott's a perfect 8 for 8 when throwing out of 12-personnel with a perfect passer rating. While they've been good throwing out of this formation (100% success rate), it hasn't been nearly as successful for the running game (36%). Much of that is due to the tight formation that comes with running out of a two-tight end set and the extra defender it brings into the box.
It's obvious that the Dallas Cowboys are having a ton of success when deploying 11-personnel, but why? What can we take away from this?
Kellen Moore Effect
Kellen Moore's playcalling has been a breath of fresh air in 2019. Though we're only two games into the season, clearly he knows what he's doing. Sure, the Dallas Cowboys haven't faced the toughest NFL defenses yet in 2019, but they've put 35 and 31 points on the board against division rivals in double-digit victories to start the season. That's not an easy thing to accomplish.
His use of pre-snap motion and varying route concepts has helped the Dallas Cowboys find openings in the defense for their pass catchers. Moore has employed rub routes and picks into the offense as well as more RPO (run-pass options) and read-options that it seemed Scott Linehan was willing to do.
Dak Prescott's Progression
It's really easy to look at what Dak Prescott and the offense have done in 2019 and lay all of the credit at the feet of Kellen Moore the offensive coordinator, but that would short the most important player on the offense; Dak Prescott.
The mental and physical development that Dak Prescott has undertaken over the last nine months has really shown in these first two games. He's shown excellent command of the offense and has been a tactician before the snap. Several times his checks have led to seemingly simple completions because of what he's been able to accomplish before the snap. Because of that, he's been a much more decisive player after the snap, getting the ball out quickly as soon as he makes his reads.
Another thing that's stood out a lot is the way he's used his eyes and body to manipulate the defense or to keep the defense from sitting on throws. Before pretty much every throw from Dak this season, he's checked the coverage on his primary option, looked away, and then came back to the target and delivered the ball on time.
Prescott's always been a sharp player, but he's stepped up his understanding and application of the mental side of the game.
On the physical side, Prescott's showing a lot of development there as well. He's throwing from a better base and maintaining better balance in the pocket and on the move. It appears that he's throwing with more power, which comes from having better lower body mechanics.
Though it's only two games, it's apparent that Prescott's taken a huge step forward and in ways that will translate throughout the rest of the season and his career.
Spreading the Ball Around
Dak Prescott's always been a player that loved to spread the ball around and it has continued in 2019. Through two games, Prescott's completed passes to nine different players. In week one against the New York Giants, he completed passes to seven players and in week two against the Washington Redskins, he completed passes to eight different players. Five different players have a touchdown reception through two weeks.
In this offense, everyone is going to get an opportunity and Dak Prescott is going to flourish with the plethora of weapons.
One thing that has helped has been the chemistry that has developed between Dak Prescott and Michael Gallup, Amari Cooper, and Randall Cobb. Jason Witten returning gave Dak another reliable weapon in the passing game.
Opposing teams can't focus their attention on one player throughout a game, because the Dallas Cowboys have too many weapons that can hurt you in the passing game. Even with Michael Gallup out for the next 2-4 weeks, the Dallas Cowboys will look to get Devin Smith, who had a really nice day last Sunday, involved in the passing game in his absence.
Use of Play Action
In 2018, the Dallas Cowboys used play-action on only 24.9 percent of his dropbacks In 2019, the Cowboys are using play-action on 43.1% of his dropbacks. The threat of handing off to any running back, but especially to Ezekiel Elliott, is a powerful weapon in a play-callers' arsenal and Scott Linehan inexplicably didn't use it near as much as he should have.
Under Linehan in 2018, Dak Prescott ranked only 10th in play-action attempts among players with at least 110 play-action attempts per Pro Football Focus. Through two games in 2019, Dak Prescott ranks second in pecent of dropbacks that are play-action and fifth in total play-action dropbacks.
Kellen Moore understands what a weapon play-action is for an offense because it forces defenses to account for their responsibilities in the running game. When defenses don't have to be concerned with the threat of a handoff, then they can key in on their passing game responsibilities, making it more difficult for a quarterback to do his job. When a linebacker or safety has to account for the running game on a given play, it causes hesitation in that player's reaction to the play. Along the defensive line, when they have to account for the running game, they cannot fully commit to their rush right away.
Dak Prescott's always been a really good play-action quarterback, so it's nice to see Kellen Moore utilizing that ability even more than has been in the past. You could argue that the Cowboys could employ some kind of play fake on every play and they'd be able to find success with it.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys are off to a tremendous start on the offensive side of the football and that's a trend that should continue throughout the 2019 season. Sure, the Cowboys will face much tougher defenses in the second half of the year, but by that point, this will be a team that is firing on all cylinders as long as they're able to maintain a reasonable level of health.
The combination of Dak Prescott's ability and Kellen Moore's offensive philosophy has been a match made in efficiency heaven. With these two working at such a high level, the Dallas Cowboys have an offense that can lead them to the football Promised Land and that elusive sixth Lombardi Trophy.
Cowboys Safety Depth Should be Able to Hold Serve With Xavier Woods Injury
The Dallas Cowboys picked up their second consecutive win of the 2019 season this past Sunday against the Washington Redskins. However, it came with a few bumps and bruises once all the smoke cleared. Wide Receiver Michael Gallup is out 2-4 weeks after suffering a torn meniscus, Antwaun Woods is day-to-day with an MCL sprain, and Tyrone Crawford has a hip issue. The biggest blow came when Safety Xavier Woods went down with a high ankle sprain which was supposed to keep him out 4-6 weeks, but according to DallasCowboys.com's Bryan Broaddus, he might only miss one game. Nonetheless, definitely not the news you want to hear after a big division win on the road, but the Cowboys should have enough depth at safety to survive until the return of Woods.
Fortunately, the Cowboys have a bit of position flex when it comes to safety. Jeff Heath, who's the starter at strong safety played some free safety last year during the absence of Woods in the first two games. He was decent with 7 tackles and a pass defended during that small stretch. Heath is much maligned by Cowboys fans but it is encouraging to know he can switch sides if need be.
This allowed Safety Kavon Frazier to make his only two NFL starts at the strong safety position. In those two games, he had 8 tackles, a sack and a pass defended. Frazier is a very valuable player on special teams and has provided nice depth at safety for the Cowboys for several years now.
Rookie Safety Donovan Wilson was a breakout star during the preseason with 3 interceptions in 3 consecutive games. Unfortunately, he suffered an ankle injury just before the start of the season and has been inactive for the first two games. He's been a full practice participant lately and will be available on Sunday. Wilson is looked at as the possible starter of the future at strong safety.
Lastly, there's Safety Darian Thompson, a former third-round pick out of Boise State in 2016. In 2017, he started all 16 games for the New York Giants and was very productive with 75 tackles, 6 passes defended and an interception. In September of 2018, he was waived by the Giants and was signed to the Arizona Cardinals practice squad a month later. His time in Arizona would be short-lived, though, when he was signed to the Cowboys practice squad a week later. He was released in November but resigned three days later and appeared in 10 games last season as a special teams contributor. Thompson is slated to start opposite Jeff Heath this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
The names may not jump out at you but the Cowboys have some pretty solid depth at safety. Will it be enough to hold down the fort until Xavier Woods returns? I believe so but we'll see once the ball kicks off in Arlington on Sunday.
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