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Cowboys at 49ers: 8 Cowboys with Most to Gain in Preseason Week 1

Sean Martin

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Cowboys at 49ers: 8 Cowboys with Most to Gain in Preseason Week 1 2
(Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports)

The Dallas Cowboys first preseason game is finally here. As usual, the team will be staying in California and making the trip from Oxnard to San Francisco for an exhibition against the 49ers. The reality of these preseason openers is that they're often disappointing. A sensory overload at the start, with the Cowboys kicking off against one of their historic rivals, is sure to be met by some teaching moments later in the game with roster long shots fighting for their lives.

This being just the first of four chances these players will get to earn a spot on the Cowboys 53-man roster, measuring the sustained success that goes a long way with coaches is not yet possible.

With that said, here are eight players that have the most to gain from a strong showing tonight.

Wide Receiver Lance Lenoir

Another strong training camp showing from Lenoir puts further pressure on the second-year UDFA receiver to perform in the preseason. It was Lenoir's struggles on special teams in live action last year that kept him off the roster, but he did show enough to develop on the practice squad.

Lenoir is everything the Cowboys are looking for in their revamped wide receivers room. Few players across the entire 90-man roster have the competitive fire that Lenoir brings on every snap, a lanky receiver that plays with some violence in his routes.

Tonight's game will serve as a benchmark for who Lenoir has to beat out if he wants to make the team in 2018. The Cowboys quarterbacks have had no problem getting him the ball in practice, but this doesn't mean receivers like Hurns, Beasley, Gallup, and Thompson won't do enough to push him past the cut line.

Regardless of who is throwing him the ball, look for Lenoir to create separation downfield and hopefully win at the catch point with a few flash plays against the 49ers.

Dallas Cowboys: 5 Players To Watch At Rookie Minicamp

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers (Tom Fox/The Dallas Morning News)

Tight End Rico Gathers

Geoff Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and rookie Dalton Schultz all feel like roster locks for the Cowboys at tight end. All three bring the overall game this team desires at TE, willing to block against the run and develop as pass catchers.

Then there's Rico Gathers, perhaps the most natural receiver on the depth chart. It remains to be seen if a strong preseason performance will even be enough for Gathers to make the roster. In week one of the preseason, the Cowboys projected "starters" will likely see limited snaps, meaning Gathers will have a chance to stand out.

The 6'8" converted basketball player does so naturally, and it will be key for him to avoid pressing too much when he sees the field. Quarterbacks Cooper Rush and Mike White are in a competition of their own, and targeting Gathers as a mismatch in the middle of the field could be an easy way for both QBs to settle into this game.

Cornerback Charvarius Ward

The Cowboys have a surplus of depth at cornerback, and a good idea of who will be starting in Kris Richard's secondary already. It's going to be difficult for undrafted players to make the roster this season.

Given Richard's emphasis on length at the cornerback position, Charvarius Ward is in better position than fellow UDFAs Kam Kelly and Donovan Olumba. Listed at 6'1", the Middle Tennessee product plays with ideal strength and consistent man coverage technique.

Making plays on the ball would be a great start for Ward in this game, but having it go quietly as he blankets opposing receivers is more than enough to warrant further looks in camp.

Running Back Bo Scarbrough

The Cowboys latest running back to be hyped up for the preseason is seventh round draft pick Bo Scarbrough. Constantly playing in the spotlight at Alabama, Scarbrough should be used to the expectations some fans are placing on him in Dallas.

The Cowboys likely see Scarbrough a bit differently. There's no denying his strengths as a physical, downhill runner fit this offense well. Needing Scarbrough to be an all-around back with Rod Smith and Darius Jackson both behind Ezekiel Elliott is where the rookie will understandably lose ground.

Just like Lenoir, it will be important for Scarbrough to stay within himself against the 49ers. It's easy to envision him running at tired defenses in the regular season should he make it that far, with his only chance of doing so being a strong preseason showing.

If this means holding onto the ball and moving the chains in short yardage situations, it's going to be enough for the Cowboys to protect their depth at RB and continue running Scarbrough through the remainder of the preseason.

Guard Kadeem Edwards

When the Cowboys signed Cam Fleming and Marcus Martin as depth on the offensive line, before drafting starting Left Guard Connor Williams, it was widely accepted that their issues in pass protection were fixed from a year ago.

There are other viable players looking to have a say on the league's best OL. Kadeem Edwards has been with the Cowboys since 2016. Stringing together strong practice performances at guard, Edwards' competition for a swing position on the interior comes down to Martin and Damien Mama.

All three players should see playing time tonight. Setting the tone for the down roster battle in the trenches, Edwards needs to outperform Martin. A similar player physically to first-year Cowboy Damien Mama, Edwards should begin the preseason with an advantage here, but loses out to Martin on starting experience for now.

Cowboys at 49ers: 8 Cowboys with Most to Gain in Preseason Week 1

Dallas Cowboys DT Antwaun Woods

Defensive Tackle Antwaun Woods

The Cowboys are in a precarious position at defensive tackle. Dealing with another four game suspension to David Irving, the Cowboys don't even know what they'll be getting from Irving once he's eligible to return. Irving has been absent from Oxnard and Cowboys training camp.

Finding an interior pass rusher as athletic as Irving is a lost cause for not only Dallas but most teams around the league. Instead, the Cowboys are seeing players like Antwaun Woods rise to the occasion.

Providing depth behind Brian Price and the injured Maliek Collins, Woods has been hard to move at the 1T position. Add in Datone Jones, and it's not hard to imagine the Cowboys having a stout run defense thanks to this size at defensive tackle.

Woods will have to bring more than just size to continue earning snaps for the Cowboys. Look for the UDFA out of USC to play with the range and recognition that's made him a standout at camp in the game.

Defensive End Dorance Armstrong

The rookie pass rusher out of Kansas has caught the eye of Jason Garrett, which is a great sign for one of the few players on the roster that fit the right defensive end mold. Randy Gregory is getting closer to reclaiming his starting job here, as the Cowboys have unsurprisingly put Tyrone Crawford in this spot again to start camp.

Also firmly in the rotation is Armstrong, a position he can easily lose in the preseason. All first year players hit a wall at some point, and it can be hard to miss with defensive ends. Coming off a sub par final season in college, Armstrong is looking to regain his 2016 form where he had ten sacks.

Rushing against Tyron Smith and La'el Collins should have Armstrong prepared for his first live action, where the Cowboys should simply be looking for pressures and flashes of the athlete Armstrong was in college.

Cornerback Anthony Brown

This isn't nearly the last chapter of Anthony Brown's ongoing battle with Jourdan Lewis for the starting slot cornerback position. I wrote yesterday here at Inside The Star that Brown's strong camp performance is a great sign for the entire Cowboys defense.

Kris Richard sees it that way too, as he's made it clear that both Brown and Lewis are doing what they need to in preparing for this season. This makes what both players need to do tonight night pretty clear.

Coming off of a rookie season marked by stunning consistency as a smaller boundary CB, Lewis should be expected to perform as he always has against the 49ers. For Brown, matching this consistency in his technique will be vital.

Whenever Brown is technically off in this area, the ball always seems to find him. A lasting image of a big play happening over Brown could be all Lewis needs to run with more of Brown's snaps back in Oxnard.

Coming off of consecutive days with interceptions this week at practice though, it's also just as likely that Brown creates a big play for the Cowboys defense and shows off his veteran status over a charging field of young cornerbacks.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The Cowboys kick off their preseason at 9 PM CT in San Francisco. Taking in a game that will serve as a glorified scrimmage and extension of both teams' training camps can be difficult.

Focusing in on these eight players provides context to multiple roster decisions the Cowboys will be facing in the coming weeks. The added bonus of seeing any of the Cowboys projected starters on the field should make for an entertaining preseason debut for two teams with high expectations in 2018.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys at 49ers: 8 Cowboys with Most to Gain in Preseason Week 1" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Game Notes

Jason Garrett’s Decision Making Stands Out in Playoff Loss

John Williams

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Distancing Themselves from HC Jason Garrett? 2

The 2018 NFL season has come to an end for the Dallas Cowboys. The Los Angeles Rams were simply the better team on Saturday night in the Coliseum and it showed in the 30-22 loss. While it was a disappointing performance, there were several things to take away from the game to give us reason for optimism moving forward. Connor Williams played well against Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh on the interior, Dak Prescott kept the team in the game despite little help from the running game, and Head Coach Jason Garrett perhaps coached his best game from a management point of view.

After the first drive, this game had one of those, if the Dallas Cowboys have to punt, it's likely going to be a loss feels. The defense's inability to force more than one punt or create a turnover was going to make it really difficult for the offense to keep up, and yet at the end of the game, the Cowboys were within a score and had a shot to win. Dak Prescott deserves a lot of credit for that, but so does Jason Garrett.

Here's why.

4th and 1's

Jason Garrett has long been viewed as a conservative coach in the NFL, and this season he didn't do much to help his reputation, but that game on Saturday should change some of that perception. On a night where it looked like his defense didn't have it, he called the game he needed to maximize his team's possessions.

On the opening drive of the game for the offense, the Cowboys got to the Rams 49 yard line, but faced a 4th and 1. Garrett didn't waste any time going for it and the Cowboys were able to convert on Ezekiel Elliott's five yard run. A Marcus Peters' unneccessary roughness penalty gave the Cowboys an extra 15 yards and the Cowboys scored on the next play on Amari Cooper's 29 yard catch and run to give the Dallas Cowboys the lead.

It would be their only lead of the night.

Again, in the second half, the Cowboys faced a 4th and 1, this time it was at the Rams 41 yard line and this time, the Cowboys were down 23-7. This was not nearly as difficult a decision as the Cowboys were in catch up mode and needed to get a score to bring the game within striking distance, and they did just that. Again, Elliott picked up five yards when the Cowboys needed one and Elliott capped off th drive with a one yard touchdown run after Michael Gallup's long reception on a broken play.

At the Rams 35 yard line and the game within reach, the Cowboys went for it again on fourth down, but this time were stopped short of the first down marker when Ndamukong Suh made an excellent play to prevent Elliott from picking up the yard. On the play, you can see Suh start to Joe Looney's left, which forced Elliott to go to Looney's right and Suh followed Elliott into the hole. There was much Looney could do as Suh had the necessary leverage to make the play. It was absolutely the right call to go for it in that situation, but the Cowboys went to the jumbo formation-Elliott inside run one too many times. It was clear where the ball was going to go in that situation, and they were stuffed.

On what turned out to be the final drive of the season for the Dallas Cowboys, they needed to score and score rather quickly to have a chance to get the ball back one more time. The offense scored, but took a little too much time doing so as the drive took just over five minutes off the game clock. Again, on the drive, they were faced with a fourth and 1, but this time they used Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott on a speed option to the right and they were able to convert and eventually get the touchdown.

For the game, the Dallas Cowboys went three for four on fourth down attempts.

Point After Decisions

In the middle of the third quarter, the Dallas Cowboys scored to make it 23-13. Generally in the NFL, teams don't go for two until they have to go. Knowing that possessions were going to be few and far between the Cowboys were likely going to have to score on every possession the rest of the game, Garrett went for two and the Cowboys converted to make it an eight point game.

Then after the Dallas Cowboys scored to make the game 30-21, there was much discussion on social media on whether the Cowboys should have gone for two there or just kicked the extra point, which was a bit surprising.

To me, it was simple. Kick the extra point to make it 30-22 and hope your defense gets you the ball back and you can score again. If you go for two in that situation and don't make it, the game is essentially over with just over two minutes remaining. Taking the extra point kept you in the game, even if it was still only a slight chance to pull out a win.

Declining Penalties

With about 3:20 to go in the third quarter, the Dallas Cowboys defense faced a third and two situation around midfield against the Rams. They were able to force Rams Quarterback Jared Goff into a hurried throw and he overthrew Josh Reynolds in the flat for what would have been a first down.

On the play there were two penalties, offensive holding and offensive pass interference and Jason Garrett declined the penalties.

To me it was one of the boldest coaching decisions has made in his career on something that seemed very innocuous.

Sean McVay and the Rams were having their way with the Dallas Cowboys defense as Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson gashed their way to over 100 yards rushing each. With the Rams facing a fourth and two on the Dallas Cowboys side of the 50 yard line, most people thought the Rams would go for it there and completely steal the soul of the Dallas Cowboys.

Johnny Hekker did his best to get the Dallas Cowboys to think he was going to run a fake, but the Cowboys never panicked and stayed onside as the punter attempted to game them.

It was a huge call in that situation. If Garrett accepts the penalties, the Rams would have faced a third and 12 at their own 43 yard line, but would have had another opportunity to convert the first down and extend the drive.

I really liked the call, because it put McVay in a difficult position himself. If the were to go for it and fail to convert on fourth down, the Cowboys would have gotten the ball at about midfield with a chance to tie the game.

Kicking Deep vs Onside Kick

With the new rules governing kickoffs, mainly that teams have to keep a amount of players on each side of the kicker, onside kicks have become less and less successful in today's NFL. Even before the rule changes, recovering an onside kick was less than a 50/50 proposition.

Kicking deep was really the only decision to make. The hope is that your defense is able to get a stop and the Cowboys would get the ball back with decent field position.

And it nearly worked.

The Dallas Cowboys run defense came up big on first and second down, holding the Rams running game to three yards setting up a third and seven. Just as everyone was expecting the Rams to throw it, they ran a play action with a naked bootleg that left Jared Goff all alone on the outside with a ton of room to run, and zero Cowboys in position to prevent him from picking up the first down.

Ball game.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

On Saturday, Ian Rapoport from NFL Network, reported the Cowboys were looking to extend for Jason Garrett this offseason. It should come as no surprise as he helped orchestrate an impressive turnaround from 3-5 to 10-6 and NFC East champions all while fielding one of the youngest teams in the NFL. Jason Garrett has grown a lot as an NFL head coach and in the playoff loss, made excellent decisions to keep the Cowboys in the game. He's going to be around here for a long time and there should be a lot of optimism heading into 2019 that the Cowboys can make some strides.



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Game Notes

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly From Cowboys Divisional Round Loss

Brian Martin

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The Good, Bad, and Ugly From Cowboys Divisional Round Loss

Well Cowboys Nation, the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season had to come to an end at some point. Not many of us would have predicted earlier in the season that it would've come at the hands of the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC Divisional Round, but that's what happened and it's kind of bittersweet.

I don't know how you feel today, but I don't find myself all that upset the Dallas Cowboys season is officially over. Yes, I would've loved to see them completely dominate the LA Rams and advance in the playoffs, but I'm surprisingly really pleased with the way this team played this season. We have to remember that this is a young team and this is hopefully just the beginning of something great.

Today, I want to share with you some of the positives and negatives from the Cowboys game against the Rams Saturday night. This of course will be the last edition of The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly for the Dallas Cowboys 2018-2019 season.

The Good

Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott

Finding the positive after a loss isn't always the easiest thing to accomplish. The Dallas Cowboys didn't particularly play their best football Saturday against the Rams, which makes it even more difficult. But for me, the good has to be the resiliency and grittiness the Cowboys played with in LA.

I don't think anyone would argue that the LA Rams pretty much dominated the entire game Saturday. They put the Cowboys on their heels pretty much from the get-go, which took them out of their game. Dallas was never really able to establish their running game and couldn't get the Rams offense off the field. They've been able to pretty much do that against all their opponents this season, but just fell flat at the wrong time.

Despite getting manhandled, the Dallas Cowboys continued to fight back and never quit. They could've easily rolled over and given up, but they didn't. I think that really speaks volumes to the kind of players Dallas has on the roster. This is a really talented young team with a bright future ahead of themselves.

The Bad

C. J. Anderson

Los Angeles Rams RB C. J. Anderson (Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports)

Anyone who watched the game Saturday night pretty much knows what goes in this category. The bad for me and probably everybody else is how the Dallas Cowboys defense was gashed by the Los Angeles Rams rushing attack. C. J. Anderson and Todd Gurley absolutely dominated on the ground, leading their team to victory.

I knew the Rams rushing attack would give the Cowboys defense problems, but I never imagined they would rush for nearly 300 yards and multiple touchdowns. C. J. Anderson and Todd Gurley may be the ones earning all the praise with their performances, but they definitely wouldn't have found as much success as they did if not for their offensive line.

Dallas' front seven has been really good against the run all season. They only allowed a couple of 100 yard rushers this season (Chris Carson, Marlon Mack) until Anderson and Gurley both rushed for over 100 Saturday night. Unfortunately, the Cowboys DL just got overpowered by the Rams OL and it definitely impacted the outcome of the game.

The Ugly

Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

What was pegged to be a matchup between two of the best running backs in the NFL, Todd Gurley and Ezekiel Elliott, ended up being pretty much a one-man show. That is why the ugly Saturday night for the Dallas Cowboys in my opinion was their rushing attack.

We all know the Cowboys offensive blueprint is to establish the running game to help control the clock and game speed. That unfortunately never materialized Saturday night against the Rams, a team by the way that was giving up 5.1 yards rushing to opposing running backs. It was supposed to be a matchup that favored Zeke and Dallas' ground game.

I'll give credit where credit is due though. The Rams defensive line stepped up their game and didn't allow Zeke to get any kind of momentum going in the running game. They gave the Cowboys OL all they could handle and pretty much made their offensive attack one-dimensional. They wanted to put the game in Dak Prescott's hands and for the most part accomplished what they set out to do.

What is your good, bad, and ugly for the Dallas Cowboys against the LA Rams?



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Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Run Defense, 4th Down Decision End Season in Los Angeles

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Run Defense, 4th Down Decision End Season in Los Angeles

The last round of the Dallas Cowboys fight in 2018 came at the hands of a hungry Los Angeles Rams team, ending their season in the Divisional Round behind 273 rushing yards. Effectively, the third seed in the NFC beat the Cowboys at their own game with the bye week to prepare. The fallout from this loss won't be fully realized until the sting is gone, but sweeping changes aren't expected in Dallas after a resurrection from 3-5 saw the Cowboys within a few plays of the NFC Championship Game.

How those plays were made and what the Rams did to execute a near flawless game plan is the subject of this final Sean's Scout of the season.

  • The Rams' success on the ground against Richard's defense was stunning for a lot of reasons, none more so than the way Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith struggled to react and fight off blocks.

The Cowboys issues at linebacker were a result of their front four getting blown off the ball all game by LA's offensive line. I wrote in my final game preview piece about how the Cowboys needed to win the line of scrimmage on both sides, losing with their own offense when the game was in the balance and never putting up a fight on the defensive line.

To the Rams' credit, even the simple things Sean McVay's team executes are done with an attention to detail that makes them very difficult to contain. The Rams did a great job scheming blockers to the second level, where Smith and Vander Esch were handled to the point of playing tentatively and taking poor angles.

In what could be his final game with the Cowboys or the end of his career, Sean Lee played 21 snaps, one shy of his week 17 total when the Cowboys played the Giants with the division already wrapped up. Getting caught in a game they couldn't possibly win against the better team at home, the Cowboys defense had no answers for Todd Gurley and C.J. Anderson.

  • Dak Prescott's "in the grasp" call when he scrambled into La'el Collins' arms on third down was a bad look for the officials, but also an injured Cole Beasley, who was late working his route back to Prescott and into his line of vision. 

If Beasley was at full strength, he's likely able to stop his vertical route sooner and give Prescott an easy throw underneath as he rolled to the right. Left with nowhere to go, Dak had the play blown dead after Right Tackle La'el Collins wrapped his arms around Prescott while scrambling.

With the way the Rams came out on offense, it became clear that every Cowboys possession would be of dire importance. Losing one on a strange call like this was a blow Dallas never had a chance to recover from.

  • Lost in the Cowboys turnover on downs in the fourth quarter, the final time they touched the ball within a score, is the incredible third down throw Prescott made on the run to Noah Brown. 

To give his offense a chance on fourth and short, Prescott delivered a strike to Brown on the sideline for 13 yards. Without being able to set his feet, Prescott felt the pressure well and put the ball where only Brown could secure it falling out of bounds.

It's unfortunate the next play became the defining moment of the season for Dallas. Deciding to attack the strength of the Rams' defense, Aaron Donald, Ndamukong Suh, and Michael Brockers were ready for an Elliott rushing attempt right up the middle out of 12 personnel.

Not only was Center Joe Looney beat on the play, but Collins lost leverage and was beat across the face to further clutter the middle of the field for Elliott to be stopped short. Making matters even worse, the Rams came out and attacked the Cowboys defense by flashing the misdirection plays that worked all night.

In just 12 plays, Anderson scored his second touchdown to all but put the game away for LA. The Cowboys would use Prescott's legs much too late on the ensuing drive, getting into the end zone but failing to get the ball back.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

As mentioned, this won't be an offseason of drastic change for the Cowboys. Bowing out in the divisional round for the second time in three seasons, adjustments to both the coaching staff and roster are needed for this team to take the next step.

For a team that looked nothing like a postseason contender for much of the regular season, the Cowboys improbable run of close wins came to an end against the Rams - determined to not lose their first playoff game in consecutive seasons.

They won't be happy with the result, but the Cowboys should be proud of their final outcome on this year.

As always, I'd like to thank Cowboys Nation for reading another season of Sean's Scout. Win or lose you make this job fun.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Run Defense, 4th Down Decision End Season in Los Angeles" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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