The Dallas Cowboys are just a few days away from kicking off their first preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams and if you're anything like me, you are beyond excited to have football back in your life once again.
Okay, I'll admit that preseason games aren't all that exciting, but it gives us a chance to see firsthand the new additions to the Dallas Cowboys and what the team might look like when the 2016 season kicks off.
It's highly unlikely that any of the starters for the Cowboys will play very much, but that doesn't mean there aren't players to keep a close eye on throughout the football game.
There are numerous Dallas Cowboys players to watch closely against the Los Angeles Rams, but below are the ones that I will personally be paying close attention to throughout the entirety of the game.
They are all broken down into their respective positions to hopefully give you a better understanding of the type of competition they might have ahead of them on the depth chart.
Today, we will focus on the offensive side of the ball and follow it up tomorrow with the players I will be watching closely on the defensive side of the ball.
I personally believe that the Dallas Cowboys are taking a wait-and-see approach in regards to the backup QB position, especially when you consider the free-agent QBs currently available.
Both Showers and Prescott have a rare opportunity to prove to the coaching staff that they are capable of handling the backup QB responsibilities and that there isn't any need to add any outside help.
A lot of eyes will be on these two young quarterbacks, including mine.
I can't tell you how excited I am to finally get to see Darius Jackson in a game situation. There is a lot to like about his game and I think he will receive the bulk of the workload against the Rams.
Jackson has become one of my "pet cats" this off-season and he possesses all the tools that should make him a really good running back in the NFL. I think so highly of him I even wondered if he could become better than Ezekiel Elliott.
With Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar unable to practice while recovering from injuries, and Ezekiel Elliott sidelined for the time being, Darius Jackson has been taking full advantage of their absences in practice.
Jackson has a chance against the Rams to step away from the small school spotlight and prove why he's worthy of playing in the NFL. A strong showing could make it really difficult on the coaching staff when it comes to making roster cuts and could possibly make Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar expendable.
Andy Jones is an undrafted wide receiver that I'm really looking forward to watching against the LA Rams.
Jones has performed well in training camp and opened a lot of eyes.
Andy Jones (#81), has been a popular name thrown around as a player that continues to impress and make plays. In fact, Kevin Brady, a fellow Staff Writer here at Inside The Star recently wrote an article about how impressive Andy Jones was in the Blue/White Scrimmage.
I was really looking forward to watching Ed Eagan, but he was just recently released. The timing of the move is somewhat surprising, but these are the types of things happen during the off-season, especially the closer we get to the start of the season.
Regardless, you're going to want to keep an eye on #81 against the Los Angeles Rams. If he continues to make plays the way he has been, he's going to be really hard to keep off of the final 53 man roster.
The Dallas Cowboys starting offensive line is set in stone, so I want to pay particularly close attention to a few of the linemen that are competing for the few backup positions available.
The swing tackle position is concerning so I will be keeping a close watchful eye on #79 Chaz Green and see if he has developed enough in his second year to earn that backup role.
I will also be watching some of the interior offensive line, such as Joe Looney who will hopefully be able to secure the backup role at both center and guard for the Dallas Cowboys in 2016.
The offensive line will be a little difficult to evaluate properly due to the fact that these players don't receive much playing time, but watching what they do individually is usually a little bit more helpful.
We pretty much know what we have in Jason Witten, James Hanna, and Gavin Escobar, so I really want to see how Geoff Swaim and former basketball player Rico Gathers play.
Gathers is a really raw prospect, so I'm anxious to see where he's at in his development and if he seems lost with what's going on.
Swaim on the other hand is looking to prove to the coaching staff that he is worth keeping around, perhaps at the expense of former second round draft pick Gavin Escobar.
If Swain can prove his worth, I think the Dallas Cowboys should start to showcase Escobar's skill set more in the preseason and see if there is a team willing to trade for him. Of course, Escobar has to be ready for his last opportunity if he wants to remain with the Dallas Cowboys in 2016, especially if he wants to possibly seek a trade.
Which Dallas Cowboys players will you be paying close attention to against the Los Angeles Rams?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to let us all know what players are on your watchlist and don't forget to come back tomorrow to check out the players on the defensive side of the ball to watch.
Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.
Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
- DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
- DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
- G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
- G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable
The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.
Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.
The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.
Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.
- LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT
It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.
The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.
Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.
So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.
Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta
The Dallas Cowboys play their next three games in 13 days, all critical to their hopes of winning the NFC East despite alternating wins and losses since week one. For the Cowboys to earn consecutive road wins, their first coming on Sunday night at the Eagles, they'll have to come out of Atlanta in much better shape than they did just a year ago.
As expected in the NFL, a lot has changed in this year. The Cowboys 27-7 loss at the Falcons in their first game without Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was the beginning of the end on a season that forced a multitude of coaching changes in Dallas.
The Cowboys stubbornness in allowing Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to sack Dak Prescott six times by beating Chaz Green and Byron Bell is something they hoped to move past when new positional coaches were brought in at OL, TE, QB, and WR.
It took the team admitting that these moves below Offensive Coordinator Scot Linehan were not all correct two weeks ago for the Cowboys to see any real progress, but with their win last week there's hope that the Cowboys are the improved team expected weeks ago - arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.
Firing Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander was the first move, as the Cowboys named Marc Colombo OL Coach and Hudson Houck his assistant. Colombo told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week that he has injured Center Travis Frederick on a headset during games as well.
Colombo, Houck, and Frederick have the Cowboys offensive line confident in their ability to play to their strengths, rewarded with a renewed faith in the zone blocking scheme that was forgotten under Alexander.
If the Cowboys offensive line was their first problem in last year's Falcons loss (it was), it's becoming their biggest strength at the right time in the season.
The Cowboys necessary changes didn't stop here though.
In desperate need of a play maker on the outside, the Cowboys are seeing their investment into Wide Receiver Amari Cooper pay off so far. Cooper is averaging 3.2 yards of separation on his routes this season, ahead of Cole Beasley's 2.6 yards as the next closest pass catcher.
Cooper's presence was a big part of Ezekiel Elliott's 151 yard rushing performance at the Eagles. A player that can win on the outside with ease and dictate coverage has benefited Prescott and the Cowboys game plan on offense enough to send away a first round pick.
It will be up to this "rebuilt" Cowboys offense to match the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta is averaging 27.1 points per game this season, but a much more dangerous 32.2 at home. After a 1-4 start, the 4-5 Falcons are playing in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks, losing at the Browns in week ten.
The Cowboys felt they'd be prepared for games like this after their offseason moves, instead needing to show the type of in-season urgency that's been rare for Jason Garrett's team. The same can be said about a Falcons team that's experienced playing with their backs to the wall much sooner than the Cowboys have this season, setting up a big NFC match up in the early slot Sunday.
Dak Prescott will be thankful that Chaz Green nor Byron Bell are protecting him, wanting nothing more than to deliver another win for the Cowboys to take into Thanksgiving against the division-leading Washington Redskins. Not all of the coaches responsible for the lack of adjustment in last year's game are gone. What the Cowboys do have are tangible new ideas from coaches that understand they need more than a win at the defending Super Bowl champions to call this Cowboys season a success.
Do Or Die: Chidobe Awuzie Must Improve Sunday, Or Cowboys Season Could End
Coming into the season there was a lot of hype surrounding the Dallas Cowboys' cornerbacks. With Byron Jones moving from safety full time, and now second year player Chidobe Awuzie playing opposite Jones after a promising rookie season, there was a lot for Cowboys fans to be excited about.
Through the first 10 weeks of the year, though, only one of those two has maintained fans' excitement. While Byron Jones has been arguably the best cornerback in all of football, Chidobe Awuzie has been damn-near an automatic completion when thrown at.
Awuzie has a -5.8 coverage rating this season, 65th among cornerbacks in the NFL. Coverage rating is a metric which factors in how often a cornerback is targeted as well as how many passes they've defensed per target. Quarterbacks also have a 116.6 passer rating when targeting Awuzie, compared to just 64.5 when targeting Byron Jones. For comparisons sake, Jones' coverage rating is a +45! So you can see why "cornerback opposite of Jones" is becoming a need for the Cowboys.
What's perplexing about Awuzie's season, though, is that he is only giving up an average 0.95 yards of separation, 27th in the league (courtesy of playerprofiler.com). So while Awuzie is playing relatively sticky coverage, he's still being targeted often, and he's still allowing completions way too often.
This week, Chidobe Awuzie will be tested once again, this time by the dynamic passing game of the Atlanta Falcons. The match-up many fans are focusing on is that between Byron Jones and Julio Jones, but how Awuzie does against Calvin Ridley and Mohamed Sanu may play a bigger factor in the result.
Both Ridley and Sanu are solid supporting receivers, and considering how much attention the defense typically has to pay to Julio Jones, they tend to get man coverage often. This allows for a precise route runner like Ridley to take advantage of opportunities, and come away with the types of big plays we've seen from him this year.
When matched up with either of these weapons, Awuzie will need to continue to stay close, but play and defense the ball better. He must continue to make it hard on these receivers and force them into contested catches, but hopefully he can improve on his play when the ball gets to the catch point.
Sunday will be another big test for the Cowboys' young defense. And as well as they have played most weeks, this game has the potential to be a season ender if certain guys do not step up. One of those guys who will certainly play a key role in influencing the result in Chidobe Awuzie.
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