The Dallas Cowboys defense was hit hard due to the suspensions of Rolando McClain, Randy Gregory, and probably most importantly DeMarcus Lawrence. All three of these players were more than likely starters and now the Cowboys coaching staff is left trying to find out who will replace them.
It's understandable that nearly every Cowboys fan will be paying very close attention to how all the players perform as a unit, as well as individually.
Despite the fact that preseason games have little meaning, we still want to see the defense perform well overall and that means that everyone has to play as a cohesive unit. But, these players are also competing against one another for roster spots, so they want to stand out as much as possible individually in a positive way.
Yesterday, I shared with you the players that I will personally be watching on the offensive side of the ball against the Los Angeles Rams, and now I will follow that up with the players to watch on the defensive side of the ball.
There are endless amounts of defensive players to watch, but below are the ones I will personally be keeping a close watchful eye on.
It is very unlikely we will see the Dallas Cowboys prized free-agent signing Cedric Thornton very much against the Los Angeles Rams, or Tyrone Crawford for that matter. So, I'm going to be paying particularly close attention to the backups.
One player in particular I want to see in action again is #95 David Irving. Now, he could be in the mix to start at one of the defensive end positions to kick off the 2016 season, but I personally believe he is at his best when playing along the interior of the defensive line.
Irving's length and ability to quickly fire off at the snap of the ball really puts offensive lineman on their heels and they usually have a hard time recovering. He was one of the Cowboys better disruptive players along the defensive line in 2015 and I fully expect him to be even more disruptive this season.
Would it be a cop out to say that I'm watching every single player that lines up at defensive end very closely?
Of course it would. What would be the fun in that?
I'm really anxious to see how much second year DE Ryan Russell has progressed in his development, but the player I think I'll be focusing on even more is rookie Charles Tapper.
Tapper has rare size/speed for a defensive end in the NFL, but played out of position in college at Oklahoma causing him to fall to the Dallas Cowboys in the fourth round. His natural athletic ability could help him find the field early and often in 2016, but he will have to show something in these preseason games to convince the coaching staff he's ready.
Oddly enough, there are two Cowboys players wearing the #79 (Charles Tapper & Chaz Green), but luckily they play on opposite sides of the ball.
I can't begin to tell you how disappointed I am with Rolando McClain. I was really looking forward to seeing what he could do with a full off-season with the Dallas Cowboys. I even thought he could be the key for defensive success, but I was way off on that assumption.
Now, the Dallas Cowboys have to find another starting middle linebacker and so far it looks like Anthony Hitchens will get every opportunity to be that player.
I however think that #53 Mark Nzeocha has a really good chance to give Hitchens a run for his money and that's why I will be watching him very closely against the LA Rams.
Nzeocha has all the tools required to be a successful linebacker in the NFL, but lacks the experience. These preseason games could go a really long way in proving to the coaching staff that he is ready for a larger role on defense.
Rookie cornerback Anthony Brown has been making a few plays here and there in training camp and we all know that the Dallas Cowboys can use as much help in the secondary as possible.
The Cowboys starting corners are pretty much set, but Brown could be a valuable backup. This is especially true when you consider how much Morris Claiborne has struggled with injuries thus far in his NFL career.
Anthony Brown will receive a large amount of playing time against the Los Angeles Rams and I for one will be keeping a close watchful eye on how #30 performs.
Brown may be the CB that I'm looking forward to watching the most, but I also want to see how #29 Deji Olatoye has developed in his second year with the Dallas Cowboys. He kind of came out of nowhere at the end of last year and has intriguing size for the position (6'1").
Kavon Frazier's name hasn't been mentioned much thus far in training camp and I find that somewhat surprising.
It might just be me, but I had high hopes for Frazier when the Dallas Cowboys drafted him in the sixth round. I thought for sure he would make enough plays to push the disappointing JJ Wilcox off the roster, but now I'm not so sure.
Frazier's best chance to make an impression will be on special teams, so I will be watching him there and also on defense when he lines up at safety.
I'm actually going to be keeping a close eye on #27 JJ Wilcox and #35 Kavon Frazier, because I think it will come down to one or the other when the Dallas Cowboys get down to their final 53 man roster.
What Dallas Cowboys defensive players will you be watching closely?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to share with us who you will be watching closely against the Los Angeles Rams and why.
Takeaway Tuesday: Scott Linehan’s Job Shouldn’t Be Safe
The Dallas Cowboys didn't look like they did during their five game winning streak when they entered Lucas Oil Stadium to face a hot Indianapolis Colts team. In fact, they had one of their poorest showings of all season, failing to score a single point all game. Heading home after being shutout 23-0, there isn't much to be said about the Cowboys' performance.
Here's this week's Takeaway Tuesday. This time, instead of talking about many takeaways, I needed to get one big takeaway off my chest. I hope you enjoy. Make sure to let me know how you feel about this topic in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL.
Scott Linehan's Job Shouldn't Be Guaranteed Going into the Playoffs
As tough as it is to fire one of your three main coaches when your team is headed into the postseason, the Dallas Cowboys should not rule out moving on from Scott Linehan. One win away from clinching the NFC East, it's not something you easily pull off but Linehan's play calling has been terrible all year long.
The truth is, despite Dak Prescott's struggles and a disastrous offensive line, the offense shouldn't be as inefficient as it is.
Watching a unit that counts with Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Ezekiel Elliott run a screen pass to Allen Hurns on fourth down and 14 was truly a microcosm of what this year has been for the offense.
Despite having a playoff berth practically clinched, the Cowboys should consider a change at offensive coordinator. Even if they don't fire Linehan, it's clear his play-calling is not good and could cost this team a real opportunity at a legit shot in the postseason. It would be an aggressive measure, without a doubt. The Minnesota Vikings did something similar by firing John DeFillippo a week ago. Based on their 41-17 win over the Miami Dolphins last Sunday, being aggressive sometimes pays.
The Cowboys have arguably the best running back in the NFL in Ezekiel Elliott and yet they continue to misuse him. Whether it's turning their backs on their star tailback or over-using him, this offense has a hard time reaching balance. Dak Prescott's strengths could be exploited even more, but this OC refuses to do so.
As hard as it is to make a drastic change in coaching two weeks before the regular season ends, it truly could end up being a great move by the front office. Sure, Amari Cooper has had monster games since joining the Cowboys, but he could be even more dangerous under another coach.
Cowboys versus Colts was a coaching battle between Scott Linehan and former Dallas Cowboys LB coach, Matt Eberflus. It was the matchup of the week, and one we expected to be fun. Instead, we saw one side completely dominate the other. In the NFL, coaching matters. Probably even more than talent on a roster.
The biggest problem would be, who'd take over play-calling?
Since there isn't a promising candidate within the team, the team's only option would probably be letting HC Jason Garrett take over. It may not be ideal, but it could end up being an improvement over Linehan. Of course, it could also let the front office see what Garrett has to offer as a play caller and consider that when deciding how this coaching staff will look like in 2019.
It's unlikely that we see such a thing occur for the Cowboys, but if the offense has another letdown game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, I don't see how the front office doesn't at least consider this. They should.
Ezekiel Elliott Productive in Cowboys Blowout Loss to Colts
It was as ugly of a performance as we’ve seen from the Dallas Cowboys in the Jason Garrett era. For the first time in a decade and a half, the Cowboys were shut out and it was a game full of bad pretty much everywhere you looked. Everywhere accept Ezekiel Elliott.
What a waste!
Elliott and the Cowboys offensive line played well for much of the game even with All-Pro Right Guard Zack Martin missing his first career start and losing starting Left Guard Xavier Su’a-Filo went out with an eye injury.
On the day, Ezekiel Elliott carries the ball 18 times for 87 yards and added another seven receptions for 41. 25 touches for 128 total yards is a good game, but with nothing else going right for the Cowboys it was a game that ultimately didn’t matter.
The one play where Elliott and the offensive line failed to come through was early in the game in a fourth and one that the Colts defense seemed to have snuffed out and blew up from the start. Elliott was able to convert a fourth and one later in the game. It looked like Elliott was close to breaking one for a long run several times but got tripped up at the end of the runs. He was his typical self this week. Taking runs that looked to be going for a loss and turning them into positive gains.
In the race for the NFL's rushing title, Elliott has extended his lead on Todd Gurley to nearly 100 yards rushing. At 1,349 rushing yards on the season, Elliott will have a great shot to set a career high in rushing yards with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Giants remaining on the schedule. The Bucs have allowed the sixth most rushing yards and the fourth most rushing touchdowns in the NFL this season while the Giants have allowed the fifth most rushing yards and the seventh most rushing touchdowns in 2018.
It was a horrendous loss at a time when the Cowboys could have locked up the NFC East and there is zero excuse for it. They got out coached, out played, and were beaten physically on both sides of the ball and that doesn't happen very often, especially to the defense.
But if we're looking for something positive to take away from this game, it's that with all the offensive line injuries and the poor play of the passing game, Ezekiel Elliott and the running game continues to find ways to shine. With as bad as the loss was, that's something to hang your hat on.
All the Cowboys need to do moving forward is Feed Zeke!
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Can’t Finish Drives, Division Clinch with Shutout Loss at Colts
What is there to say about the Dallas Cowboys week 15 performance? After five straight wins, the last three coming at home, the Cowboys have only a return home to look forward to, facing the 5-9 Buccaneers on Sunday after a 23-0 defeat at the Colts.
Shutout for the first time since 2003, the Cowboys playoff hopes didn't take a hit despite the Redskins and Eagles winning on the road. Washington's last-second win went final just before the Colts ran the clock out on a game the Cowboys simply weren't ready for.
The Cowboys moved the ball well at times but failed to ever come away with points, opening the door for the Colts to expose this defense like it hasn't been all season. The Cowboys front four was hardly a factor on defense, allowing Colts Running Back Marlon Mack to average 5.1 yards a carry. Scoring the Colts only touchdowns, Mack and Andrew Luck assured the Cowboys running game wouldn't be a factor with their 10-0 halftime lead. Down to three backups at LG, C, and RG, Quarterback Dak Prescott stood little chance to bring the Cowboys back as the second half quickly got away from Dallas.
Internally, the Cowboys will have much more to say about their effort on Sunday, but here are just a few of my observations in the first somber edition of Sean's Scout since week nine.
- The Cowboys defensive problems up front extended well into the second level, with Linebackers Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith both playing one of their worst games of the season.
The Colts took a blocked Brett Maher field goal 44 yards for the game's opening score. Mack accounted for 34 of these yards and the touchdown. On his seven yard run to set up first and goal, Smith was caught taking a poor angle on Mack. The Cowboys were aggressive rushing up the field on the play, with Smith ending up being in the best position to slow Mack.
Vander Esch was sealed and couldn't fight to get off, which happened again three plays later on third and goal. Leighton looking like a rookie for the first time was just the start of the Cowboys problems, and with Sean Lee being active yet conceding starting snaps to him, it shouldn't take long for Vander Esch to figure things out again.
- Jamize Olawale's dropped touchdown on third and goal to bring up a failed fourth and one was the moment the Cowboys were taken out of this game.
This sequence was particularly deflating because the Cowboys did a great job getting down the field to have an opportunity to score. The fourth down decision to run out of a heavy formation, inviting extra defenders to the line of scrimmage, looks especially egregious when stacked against the Amari Cooper rush that picked up the Cowboys initial first down. Rookie Tight End Dalton Schultz got involved, Elliott ripped off a 24 yard run, and the Cowboys still came away empty on this drive.
A year removed from coaching the Cowboys linebackers, Colts Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus had his way with Scott Linehan's offense all afternoon, stymieing their most promising drive after Olawale should have scored easily.
- The Cowboys only chance to get back in the game was taken away from them by a Joe Looney holding call, just another example of players that had carried them through a winning streak not playing up to standard.
The Colts took the second half kickoff down the field to extend the lead to 17-0. On fourth and two on the ensuing possession, Prescott hit an injured Cole Beasley for 18 yards to the Colts' 23-yard line. The Cowboys red zone offense certainly doesn't provide the confidence that Dallas would finish the drive, but Looney's hold negated Beasley's catch and forced a punt.
The Colts tacked on a field goal and finished out the game without the Cowboys threatening again. Looney played down to the level of Adam Redmond to his left, who replaced Xavier Su'a-Filo, and Connor Williams in for Zack Martin - though I thought Williams held up fairly well and should be in play to earn more snaps wherever needed.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys can regroup and still accomplish everything they set out for this season, forced to make this loss to the Colts and afterthought like their last one to the Titans became. A five game win streak as a response is out of reach, but a streak of just one is all Dallas needs to clinch the NFC East and focus on improvements for the playoffs.
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