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.
Cowboys, Redskins Week 7 Injury Report
Though it's still early in the 2018 season, the lead in the NFC East is up for grabs when the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins meet this Sunday. Both teams would like their full roster available for the game, but the Week 7 injury reports indicate that won't be the case.
Here are the players either confirmed to be out of action tomorrow or are otherwise listed by Dallas and Washington:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - OUT
- CB Chidobe Awuzie (ankle) - Questionable
The Cowboys are getting healthier, with Sean Lee finally off the injury report and set to return to action. Not only will Dallas get their elite linebacker back, but it means a deeper rotation while the team remains without Joe Thomas.
Tavon Austin elected to skip season-ending surgery on his injured groin, but his should be out a few weeks. That will put Cole Beasley on punt returns and perhaps create more offensive opportunities for Deonte Thompson and Brice Butler.
Awuzie remains limited in practice but has played the last few weeks despite the ankle injury. There is no reason to think he won't suit up in Washington.
- WR Jamison Crowder (ankle) - OUT
- WR Paul Richardson (shoulder, knee) - Doubtful
- S Troy Apke (hamstring) - Doubtful
- RB Adrian Peterson (ankle, shoulder) - Questionable
- RB Chris Thompson (rib, knee) - Questionable
- G Shawn Lauvao (calf) - Questionable
- CB Quinton Dunbar (shin) - Questionable
- CB Danny Johnson (forearm) - Questionable
It's a rough time for Washington's offensive weapons. They will definitely be without slot receiver Jamison Crowder and likely starter Paul Richardson, who current lead all WRs in receptions. Josh Doctson will put into a major role, as will veteran Brian Quick off the bench.
Peterson and Thompson both practiced this week and should play, but have nagging injuries that could slow them down. Washington is already missing Rob Kelley and rookie Derrius Guice, who are both on injured reserve.
Starting left guard Shawn Lauvao is also nursing a lower leg injury, but practiced in a limited capacity all week. His backup is undrafted rookie Casey Dunn out of Auburn.
In the defensive backfield, starting CB Quinton Dunbar was a Friday addition to the injury report with a shin injury. He did practice with it, though, so will likely play. Backup safety Troy Apke is doubtful with a hamstring issue.
Cowboys Focused on Improved Communication to Solve Road Woes at Redskins
The Dallas Cowboys are 0-3 on the road this season. Not only do you already know this, but they do as well, needing to build off a 40-7 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars in week 6 at AT&T Stadium to claim first place in the NFC East at the Washington Redskins.
Although the Cowboys were given Monday and Tuesday off, they are focused on addressing one alarming reason why the team has struggled so much on the road -- particularly on offense.
Running Back Ezekiel Elliott pointed out the Cowboys lack of communication in early season losses at Carolina, Seattle, and Houston. "Seeing the same thing," was the issue Elliott addressed when discussing the Cowboys knowing their assignments in hostile territory.
Yesterday, Quarterback Dak Prescott told the media of a meeting between players and coaches that addressed this specifically.
Dak Prescott said players & coaches held a meeting before today's practice to "address the elephant in the room," which is poor communication among the offense on the road. "I know we'll take a lot from that conversation," The QB said.
Unlike Prescott's remarks about new "wrinkles" in the Cowboys offense prior to a 26-24 home win over the Lions, this has a tangible sign of progress for an offense that made scoring 40 on the Jaguars look impossibly easy. The Cowboys season high in total yards remains the 414 amassed against Detroit, after which Prescott confessed that he simply tells the media "things" that aren't necessarily true.
The Cowboys didn't necessarily do anything new against the Lions, but they most assuredly will this week against the Redskins, at least by way of signaling and remaining in sync on offense.
Prescott and Elliott's leadership is on full display here, and their on-field impact can be attributed as closely to the Cowboys successes or failures as any duo in the NFL.
Missing is a similar impact from Center Travis Frederick, who remains sidelined as he deals with GSB.
Joe Looney's play at center has been good enough to pave the way for Elliott's 586 rushing yards so far, second to Todd Gurley at 623 yards, but his ability to call checks for the offense is understandably much more limited.
Looney deserves all the credit in the world for his strong play in place of Frederick. The Cowboys have never asked for him to be anything he isn't, a reliable depth option that earned a second contract and with it the starting center job for the time being in Dallas.
He has the full support of his teammates, Frederick included. All of this is lovely to put down in writing until Looney and the Cowboys have been forced to step on the field with the crowd against them and attempt to sustain a drive, something Frederick will unfortunately not be a part of for a long while.
If the Cowboys offense isn't going to unveil new wrinkles in the scheme, there is one wrinkle worth mentioning that's new to the team's communication on offense this season. With Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan up in the box, his play calls are sent down to first-year Quarterback Coach Kellen Moore, who has been in the ear of Prescott ever since playing with him from 2016-17.
Sure, these are things that could've been addressed before the Cowboys managed only eight points in week one, turned the ball over three times in week three, or punted away their best chance at victory in week five. The best teams in the league likely already have these things down to routine, and few would consider the Cowboys anywhere near the upper echelon of the NFL.
Following sixty minutes of football at a division rival they've won four in a row against, with an even more impressive five game win streak at the Redskins, the Cowboys could control their own path atop the NFC East.
That feels truly incredible for such a young team faced with a steep learning curve early in the season, adjusting to it on the fly as they prepare to leave everything on the field before a bye week.
#WASvsDAL: Why This Game Holds Increased Importance
It feels incredibly cliche to call the week 7 match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins a "must win." Especially for someone like me who values statistics, logic, and analytics in sports.
But when the analytics agree with the narratives, those narratives do tend to get my attention. And this week that would appear to be the case.
According to Brian Burke of ESPN, the Cowboys's week 7 game has the highest playoff probability leverage in the entire NFC, and is second to only the Houston Texans' big game with Jacksonville around the entire league.
Playoff leverage for week 7. DAL, WAS, PHI, CAR, MIN, CHI with a lot on the line in the NFC. HOU, CIN, and JAX in the AFC.
What does this mean? Well playoff probability leverage is pretty intuitive. Basically it is the difference between a win this week and a loss this week in terms of probability to make the playoffs.
For the Cowboys that number is at 27%, with a win over Washington catapulting their playoff probability over 50%. On the other hand, a loss would take a big hit to their playoff hopes just 7 games into the NFL season.
As you might expect, this game means a lot to the Redskins' playoff probability as well. Their playoff leverage this week is at 14%, but a win would mean "more" to Dallas than Washington based on the probabilities.
Fellow NFC East foe, the Philadelphia Eagles, also have a lot to gain/lose this Sunday, with their leverage sitting at 22%. According to Burke's model, the Eagles and Cowboys have the best chances of making the playoffs at this point, but if each team wins Sunday the Eagles will still have a higher percentage.
Of course a lot can and will change week to week, despite what the metrics say. The Cowboys still have two games remaining with the NFC East favorite Eagles this year, and will get another crack at Washington at home later in the season. Plus the Cowboys have a few NFC wild card and playoff contenders remaining on their schedule, such as the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons. (Yes, the 2-4 Falcons are very much alive in this crazy conference).
Still, the difference between 4-3 (2-0 in the division) and 3-4 (1-1 in the division) is huge, as is shown by Brian Burke's playoff probability leverage metric.
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