The 6-1 Dallas Cowboys will be in Cleveland on Sunday, traveling to play the win-less Browns for the first time since 2008 on the road. America's Team always draws a great crowd - as Browns fans will try to recover from watching their Cleveland Indians lose Game 7 of the World Series, wanting nothing more than their first win of the season.
I also believe that Cowboys Nation will be well represented in the stands, including my own presence for the first time! I'll be taking in my first ever Cowboys game, and feel pretty good about it ending up as Dallas' seventh straight win.
Q: The Browns missed a great chance to get their first win of the season last week at home against the Jets. I'm sure plenty of fans are also pretty upset the Indians couldn't pull out Game 7 in the World Series. What is the mood around this Browns team and their fans right now with the NFC leading Cowboys in town?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): The good news for the Browns is they've been flying under the radar, which is rare for this team. The bad news is the Indians are done and interest in the NBA won't pick up for a while, so their 0-8 record (and, let's be honest, soon to be 0-9) is front and center.
Fans were expecting a long, losing season, but the frustration is starting to grow. They see the plan being put together -- acquire draft picks and start over from scratch -- and the team has fought and been in most games, but I'm not sure how fans would stomach 0-16 or 1-15.
Q: The Browns could start Josh McCown at quarterback in his second straight game, or go back to rookie Cody Kessler. We know they will also welcome back first-round pick WR Corey Coleman. Obviously, Cleveland needs to find a way to put up point in this game, where do you see them having an advantage against Rod Marinelli's defense?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): It could be Cody Kessler at quarterback as he's cleared the concussion protocol and will be active. Hue Jackson will make his announcement on Friday. Regardless, the best shot the Browns have is to take advantage of the wounded Dallas secondary with their big target in Terrelle Pryor and the speed of Coleman who will line up in multiple spots -- both outside and in the slot.
Q: If McCown does start against Dallas, what does he have to do to secure his spot as the starter moving forward for Hue Jackson, throwing against a Dallas secondary that will be without Barry Church and Morris Claiborne?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): McCown's biggest strength is his arm, but the key is taking care of the football. He can be turnover prone. He also needs to get rid of the ball quickly. With a shaky offensive line, his penchant for holding onto the football could get him hurt again.
If Cody Kessler starts, he needs to show he can get the ball down the field. It's the biggest question mark for him along with his durability. There should be some opportunities, especially with Coleman back, and he has to take advantage of them.
Ultimately, this has to be Kessler's job, though. The Browns have to see what he's capable of and judge his ceiling.
Q: The Browns added LB Jamie Collins this week ahead of this game, what role do you expect to see him in for his first game this Sunday?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): It appears they are going to use him at outside linebacker in their 3-4 scheme, but he does have the ability to play inside should they choose to move him inside. I'm guessing that at some point he will be on the field in the nickel, as well, as opposed to Demario Davis, one of their inside linebackers. His coverage skills will be a welcome addition, as the Browns have had all kinds of problems with tight ends. It will help them to have another player that defenses need to pay attention to and will be interesting to see if it will open up some opportunities for a young pass rusher like Emmanuel Ogbah on the other side.
Q: The Cowboys and Browns are tied in sacks at 14 on the season. What does the Browns pass rush need to do to make Dak Prescott uncomfortable, coming off of a game where he looked flustered against the Eagles?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): The Browns best pass rusher is rookie Carl Nassib. He's quick off the ball and bats down a lot of passes -- he got three of Ryan Fitzpatrick's in the first half last week. He's also fast enough to chase quarterbacks down and smart enough to read screens and designed quarterback runs. They need him and Ogbah, who lines up at outside linebacker and defensive end, to bring as much heat as they can, because the inside rushers, who haven't created a lot of quarterback pressure, will be tied up trying to deal with the interior of that Cowboys line. It's also why I expect Collins to step in and play a fair amount. They need pressure from their outside linebackers.
Q: Which Cowboys defender in the front seven do you think scares Cleveland the most when it comes to trying to establish running backs Isiah Crowell and Duke Johnson?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): I'm going to be generic here, but really anyone who lines up in the middle is a problem. Cameron Erving has struggled at center to begin with and now he's popped up on the injury report with a shoulder. This offensive line has already had to shuffle, losing left guard Joel Bitonio, who was having a Pro Bowl-type season. Interior defenders have given them nightmares.
Q: Who should the Cowboys be the most worried about defensively overall for Cleveland?
Dan Labbe (@Dan_Labbe): I mentioned Nassib, their third-round pick last April. He's been really good, even if he's faded in second halves of games. Joe Haden isn't the type of cornerback who will shut guys down, but he is one of the few players in the secondary who can force turnovers and he can make life difficult for a wide receiver. You can beat Haden, but he can also make plays on the football and create turnovers.
It looks like Dan sees the Browns defense doing their best to create pressure off the edge against Prescott, including with their newest addition Jamie Collins. Tyron Smith was absolutely dominant in week 8, but Doug Free will have to be ready for different looks at right tackle.
For the Browns offense, regardless of who starts at quarterback, it will be important for them not to turn the ball over, and find ways to get Coleman his touches. They will also have to find a way - with the interior of their offensive line struggling - to block the likes of Terrell McClain, rookie Maliek Collins, and even David Irving lining up in the middle of the Cowboys' defensive front.
In the end, he sees the Browns falling to 0-9 at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, who would improve to 7-1 on the season.
What are YOUR thoughts on the Cleveland Browns ahead of this weekend's Cowboys game? Let us know! Use the comment section below to start the conversation.
You can follow Dan on Twitter @Dan_Labbe, and read his work at Cleveland.com! I'll be on Twitter live from FirstEnergy Stadium in Cleveland @ShoreSportsNJ, and will be streaming live on Periscope at halftime.
Cowboys Wishlist: Dress Rehearsal Edition
In the NFL, the third preseason week is often referred to as the "Dress Rehearsal." It's usually the week in which starters get the most playing time. That has changed lately, with plenty of teams deciding to take care of their key players instead of risking them on the field. However, the Dallas Cowboys have played their starters on their first two games and there's no reason to believe that will change versus the Texans today.
Here is my wishlist for the Cowboys vs Texans "Dress Rehearsal!" Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Justin Phillips Locks Up a Roster Spot
Phillips has been one of the most surprising players this offseason and preseason. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, but Phillips has made sure to be a tough guy to cut. Last week, he had a remarkable interception against the Rams. Despite making a first step toward the line, he managed to adjust and made the play. He has followed it up with more plays in practice.
If he keeps it up, the Cowboys won't be able to cut him. He has the potential to be a force on special teams and a quality backup.
Wish #2: Devin Smith Makes Things Interesting
The battle for the final wide receiver spots is at full-go. Devin Smith has shined lately, and has risen as a serious candidate to make the roster. However, it seems like other wide receivers have the upper-hand as of now. Earlier this week, I made my Cowboys WR Power Rankings and had Devin Smith at #7.
His TD catch versus the Rams last week was pretty impressive, and I wish he makes a few more plays to make the debate all the more interesting.
Wish #3: Tony Pollard Does It Again
Fifth-round rookie Tony Pollard
stole was the show last weekend as he racked up 51 total yards (five carries, one catch) and a touchdown on Dallas' first offensive drive. He looked impressive as the starting running back, giving us just what we wanted to see.
While many have advertised him as a gadget player, Pollard proved he can actually be a "standard" RB. He ran between the tackles, showed power, balance and great vision. I'm ready to watch it again, this time versus the Texans.
Wish #4: Taco Charlton Shines Rushing The Passer
Taco Charlton has made a couple of plays in preseason on his third year with the Dallas Cowboys. Against the Rams, he batted down two passes and looked good separating from opposing offensive linemen. Charlton has gotten praise from some analysts during these first two preseason weeks.
But I want to watch some quality pass rush from his part. Right now, the Cowboys' roster counts with some promising players, including rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson. While they're currently below Taco, he must prove he belongs on the roster.
DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win
Kerry Hyder joined the Cowboys this offseason on a one year deal, and while the four-year NFL veteran has put up some solid tape in his time around the league, it was hard to project just what he could bring to the Cowboys defense.
Listed at 6'2" 270 pounds, Hyder is a bit of a tweener on the defensive line. Though the answer to "will he play tackle or end" seems to be "both" to this point in the preseason.
As he fights for his life on this deep defensive line, Kerry Hyder had himself a day in the Cowboys 14-10 victory over the Rams last weekend.
Hyder made an excellent play defending a screen pass in the first quarter, reading the play perfectly and reacting quickly to running back Darrell Henderson coming out of the backfield. Hyder also created some pressure on the quarterback, and finished with 3 combined tackles in very limited playing time.
Hyder's versatility is working well for him as he looks to make the final roster. Like a Tyrone Crawford type player, Hyder will be able to move inside and out depending on the situation. This allows the Cowboys to be flexible in how they structure their depth chart on defense, and in how they decide to rush the passer on third down.
A pass rushing package involving Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge with the combination of Hyder and Maliek Collins on the inside could turn out to be a very dangerous one for opposing offenses to deal with.
Rod Marinelli spoke to this versatility a couple of months ago, showing just how much he values what Kerry Hyder can bring to this team.
"Maybe you adjust him sometime, once in a while – in a one-on-one pass rush situation, stick him over a guard and start to get a feel for it.” - Rod Marinelli
Earlier this offseason, I wrote that Kerry Hyder could end up being Rod Marinelli's next great under-the-radar find on the defensive line. And if he continues to play with the hustle and awareness that he had on Saturday, he's going to make Rod look very smart in his evaluation.
Kerry Hyder is making it very difficult for the front office to let him go. And, at the end of the preseason, I do expect Kerry Hyder to find himself on the Cowboys' active roster. Especially considering how Mike White is playing at quarterback, and how his release could open up an extra spot at a different position group.
#DALvsRAMS: Tony Pollard Proves he’s no Longer Darrell Henderson’s Backup
For the better part of three years Tony Pollard was forced to play second fiddle to Darrell Henderson during their time with the Memphis Tigers. But, Saturday night in the second week of preseason Pollard emerged from the shadows and proved he's no longer Henderson's backup.
Tony Pollard put on an impressive show Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams. He touched the ball a total of six times and turned it into 51 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 42 yards on the ground, averaging 8.4 yards per carry, and had one reception for 9 yards. All in all it was an impressive performance and one that arguably outdid his former teammate, Darrell Henderson.
Tony Pollard is starting to look like a real weapon for the Dallas Cowboys. It's still a small sample size, but in the first two preseason games he's proven the jump up in competition isn't too big for him. As a runner he's been decisive, picking up what yardage is given and not dancing around. He hasn't been utilized much in the passing game yet, but that time will come.
The Dallas Cowboys couldn't be happier with the way their rookie RB has performed thus far. He's everything they've said he was, and quite possibly much more. Maybe those Alvin Kamara comparisons weren't that far off after all.
We all know Ezekiel Elliott will return to the Dallas Cowboys at some point, but for now Tony Pollard doesn't look completely out of place as their lead back. He still needs to work on his pass protection, but everything else he's been asked to do he's excelled at.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited about seeing what No. 36 can do when these games start to matter in 2019. He will once again have to accept a backup role like he did behind Darrell Henderson in college, but you can bet the Cowboys coaching staff will reward him based on his play so far in preseason.
Pollard's versatility to be a weapon as both a runner and receiver in the passing game should make him a unique chess piece in the offensive game plan each and every week. He's been exciting to watch so far and we haven't even seen him in the return game yet, which was a big part of his game in college. I'm personally expecting big things from him this season. What about you?
What do you think of Tony Pollard's preseason performance so far?
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