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Cowboys Camp: Strong Safety Battle One to Watch

John Williams

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Sean's Scout: Secondary Play, Improved OL Play Stand Out in Cowboys Win Vs. Giants

When the Dallas Cowboys head to Oxnard, California for the start of training camp in late July, they'll have most of the roster settled. On paper, they're a team that doesn't have many holes on the depth chart.

They've added depth at every position and added playmakers on both sides of the football. On defense, there appears to be only one position where the starter heading into training camp may not be the starter come week one. Strong safety.

Veteran Safety Jeff Heath is currently running with the first team defense through the offseason portion of practices. George Iloka and Donovan Wilson were added to the strong safety depth chart featuring Heath and special teams ace Kavon Frazier.

While most teams would be excited about having a returning starter at the position, Heath's 2018 left a lot to be desired. Per Pro Football Focus, Heath missed 19 tackles on the season, which was second in the NFL. It seemed that Heath became more interested in attempting to strip the ball out of the ball carrier's hands than actually making the tackle, which became increasingly frustrating as he forced only a single fumble all season long. Though he had a lot of missed tackles, Heath did finish 15th in the NFL in Pro Football Focus' "stops," which are defined as a "play that results in a loss for the defense." Heath was third on the team in total tackles with 85 and tied with Jaylon Smith for third in tackles for loss with six.

The biggest competition for Heath at strong safety will be veteran George Iloka.

Signed to a one-year contract after spending time with the Cincinnati Bengals and Minnesota Vikings, Iloka comes to the Dallas Cowboys adding depth at free safety behind Xavier Woods. He also creates competition for Heath at strong safety, which should help Jeff Heath raise his game and get more consistent with his tackling. Iloka has experience and brings good size and length to the secondary, which should help them defend tight ends in the passing game.


Because of his injury, Kavon Frazier could see his playing time evaporate heading into 2019. If he's unable to get healthy and make an impression early, Frazier could miss out on the 53-man roster when the team makes their final roster cuts.

The player that stands to benefit the most from Kavon Frazier's injury, and the one I'm most interested in watching in the Dallas secondary the rest of the preseason is sixth-round draft pick, Donovan Wilson. The rookie from Texas A&M has made several plays in the secondary that stood out during OTAs. Here's what Bryan Broaddus of DallasCowboys.com had to say about Donovan Wilson during last week's minicamp.

"I haven’t written much about Donovan Wilson since rookie minicamp, but I couldn’t pass up an opportunity to mention a nice play he had during the two-minute drill. Kris Richard came with a blitz, which forced Cooper Rush to throw “hot” to Dalton Schultz. Wilson, from several yards away, saw Schultz look up and drove on the ball, arriving at the exact time it hit Schultz’s hands. With his left hand Wilson was able to drag the ball away, knocking it to the ground."

Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com

Wilson will be a player to watch in training camp. The Cowboys have had success finding defensive backs in the late rounds of the draft. Anthony Brown was a fifth-round pick in 2016 and Xavier Woods was a sixth-round selection in 2017. Now Wilson, with his aggressive and physical demeanor will have an opportunity -- this year or next -- to carve out some playing time in a secondary that needs more players who can create turnovers.

Strong safety is one of the few starting spots where there is actual competition for the incumbent starter. Pretty much every other position has returning starters locked into the starting lineup or, in Travis Frederick's and Robert Quinn's cases, a significant talent upgrade that makes them day-one starters.

The competition at strong safety should help everyone be better for the Cowboys in 2019. If Heath is able to hold off Iloka and Wilson to remain the starter, then he will have once again earned it. With the depth they have this season, including two guys who won't be liabilities in pass coverage, the Cowboys have options if Heath misses tackles in 2019 as he did in 2018.


Dallas Cowboys optimist bringing factual reasonable takes to Cowboys Nation and the NFL Community. I wasn't always a Cowboys fan, but I got here as quick as I could. Make sure you check out the Inside The Cowboys Podcast featuring John Williams and other analysts following America's Team.

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3 Stars from Dallas Cowboys Win over the Washington Redskins

John Williams

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3 Stars from Dallas Cowboys Win over the Washington Redskins
AP Photo / Evan Vucci

As the Dallas Cowboys put away the Washington Redskins Sunday afternoon, the Cowboys moved to 2-0 with their 31-21 win over their NFC East rival. Just as important, the Cowboys moved to 2-0 in the NFC East and in conference play.

Those things aren’t important now, but as the season goes along and inches toward December, those divisional and conference records matter when it comes to settling tie breakers. The Dallas Cowboys are off to an excellent start to the season and have clearly taken to the offensive coaching their receiving.

In their second double-digit win of the season, there were several players who stood above the rest and named this week’s three stars.

First

Dak Prescott, Quarterback

For the second week in a row, the number one star goes to the most valuable player on the team, Dak Prescott.

After another shaky start to the game that saw Prescott go 4 of 7 for with an interception, he finished the day 26 of 30 for 269 yards, three touchdowns, and the interception. Prescott also added 69 rushing yards on five carries.

Of Dak’s four incompletions, two of them were dropped by the wide receiver, one was a throwaway out of the back of the end zone, and the other was the interception that bounced off of Randall Cobb’s hands. He was nearly perfect on the day and got the Dallas Cowboys on the board with a beautiful deep ball to Wide Receiver Devin Smith for 51 yards.

As he did in week one, Dak Prescott continued to show a tremendous command of the offense. His pre-snap recognition has been sublime through the first two weeks and he’s done a fantastic job getting the ball out on time and spreading the ball around.

On Sunday, eight different Dallas Cowboys caught passes. Four wide receivers, two tight ends, and two running backs.

Dak Prescott is playing at a very high level right now and with the tanking Miami Dolphins up next on the schedule, there's no reason to believe he can't keep up this career-best pace.

Second

Devin Smith, Wide Receiver

Called into action as Tavon Austin deals with concussion-like symptoms, Devin Smith made the most of his first target of the season, beating Josh Norman deep for a 51-yard touchdown strike. The big play got the scoring started for the Dallas Cowboys and sparked an offense that wasn’t getting much accomplished in the first quarter of the game.


Smith’s ability to win deep also helped him catch another couple short passes as the Washington Redskins’ secondary had to respect his deep speed. He caught two other passes, one of which went for a first down and likely catapulted ahead Tavon Austin on the wide receiver depth chart moving forward.

Smith finished the day with three receptions for 74 yards and a touchdown. With his productive day on film now, Dallas Cowboys’ opponents have another weapon to account for in the Dallas Cowboys passing game. As if Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Randall Cobb weren’t hard enough to scheme against, the Cowboys now can deploy four wide receivers who can win down the field.

After his excellent game on Sunday, look for Devin Smith to get more opportunities.

Third

Ezekiel Elliott, Running Back

On Sunday against the Washington Redskins, Ezekiel Elliott looked fully up to speed. The Washington Redskins did a good job of rallying to Elliott at the second level, but he did a fantastic job reading his blocks and making people miss to get to the linebacker and secondary levels of the field.

Elliott didn’t break any big runs, but he was close several times and did a good job finding cut back lanes.

On the day, Ezekiel Elliott finished with 23 carries for 111 yards and a touchdown. He also added two receptions for nine yards.

After sitting out all of training camp, Elliott showed up in good shape. It only took him two weeks of practice to return to his typical workload. He was an important piece late in the game as the Dallas Cowboy went to work grinding out the clock with a big lead.

Despite the big performance by the passing game the first two weeks of the sesaon, Elliott and the run game will continue to be a huge part of the Dallas Cowboys offense. The big difference this season, however, is that teams are going to be forced to respect Dak Prescott and the passing game. That should only help Ezekiel Elliott by giving him much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. 

In the first two games of the season, the Dallas Cowboys have shown off an elite passing game, to go with their now highly regarded passing game. If the offense can maintain this kind of balance moving forward, they’re going to be incredibly difficult to stop. 


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Dak Prescott Dominates Redskins, Ties own Career-High for Consecutive Completions

Matthew Lenix

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Dak Prescott Dominates Redskins, Ties own Career High for Consecutive Completions

Dak Prescott had a historic day in last week's season-opening win against the New York Giants. He set a franchise record for passing yards in a season opener, threw four touchdowns and had a perfect 158.3 passer rating. Prescott would be named NFC Offensive Player of the Week and set up a huge early-season road test against the arch-rival Washington Redskins, a team he's had great success against. If there were any thoughts of a letdown performance by Prescott, they didn't last very long.

The first quarter was a nightmare offensively for the Dallas Cowboys. They only managed 36 yards on 9 plays and found themselves in a 7-0 hole. About midway through the second quarter, Prescott led a seven-play 97-yard drive that was capped off with a 51-yard touchdown pass to Devin Smith. Just before halftime, he engineered an eleven play 83-yard drive that ended with a touchdown pass to Jason Witten and gave the Cowboys a 14-7 halftime lead.

Prescott came out firing on the opening possession of the second half going 5 of 5 and finding Amari Cooper for a touchdown that put the Cowboys up 21-7. The Redskins added a touchdown and the Cowboys added a field goal before Ezekiel Elliott's touchdown in the fourth quarter put the game out of reach 31-14, which they eventually won 31-21.

Prescott ended the game with 18 consecutive completions which tied his own record. In the second half, Prescott was a perfect 14 of 14 for 159 yards and 2 touchdowns. Through two games, he's 51 of 62 (82.3%) for 674 yards and 7 touchdowns with only one interception. He joins only Don Meredith in 1966 as the only Cowboys quarterbacks to have 7 touchdowns in the first two games of the season. His passer rating is an amazing 142.9 as he's led the Cowboys to their first 2-0 start since 2015.


Coming into this season there were still a lot of doubters when it came to Prescott's ability to throw the football accurately on a consistent basis. Even a perfect passer rating in week one those questions were still a topic of discussion considering the Giants weren't seen as a real test. When his All-Pro teammate Ezekiel Elliott was asked about those who continue to doubt his quarterback, he was firm in his stance.

"They don't matter, " Elliott said. "All that matters is what we think in this locker room. We all support each other and we know Dak is one of the best QBs in this league. They can doubt all they want. We'll keep proving them wrong."

All the offseason preparation by Prescott with Quarterbacks Coach Jon Kitna and Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore is paying huge dividends so far. The chemistry between himself and his pass-catchers can't be denied, as he's off to the best start of his career. He'll look to make it 3 for 3 this Sunday in Arlington against the Miami Dolphins.


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3 Bets Involving Cowboys Players in 2019

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Three Bets Involving Cowboys Players in 2019

With 674 passing yards, seven touchdowns and a completion rate of 51/62, Dallas quarterback Dak Prescott has Cowboys fans excited about what the team can achieve this year, and that is reflected in the betting as Dallas have been cut in the Super Bowl, NFC Championship and NFC East markets following their victories against their divisional rivals.

If you are looking to place a bet on the Cowboys, here are three markets you may want to turn to outside of the conventional outright odds on the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Prescott Looks Like a Great Value at +2500 to be MVP

New offensive coordinator Kellen Moore has picked up a lot of praise for his play-calling against the Giants and Redskins. The former Cowboys back-up quarterback is already being talked about as a future head coach in the league. Although he does not have the same wealth of experience that his predecessor Scott Linehan had, we have seen over the last few years, particularly in LA with the Rams who reached the Super Bowl last year, that youthful coaches can have success.

The offense, and particularly Moore's former teammate Prescott, seemed to enjoy executing the plays that Moore dialed up, something which is only going to help Dallas’ number four deliver some big numbers this year. If he continues where he left off against the Redskins, he is a fantastic value in the betting at +2500 to be named as the league’s MVP.

Cowboys +800 to Win the NFC Championship

The Cowboys have not won the NFC Championship since 1995, however, this looks like their best chance of doing that in a long time. One of the big turning points last season was Dallas’ trade for Oakland Raiders’ Wide Receiver Amari Cooper. He has transformed the offense. The former Raider will be supported by Randall Cobb and Michael Gallup in 2019, giving Prescott plenty of options down the field.


Arguably the biggest player to return to action for the Cowboys though, which makes them NFC Championship contenders again, is Center Travis Frederick. The offensive line is far more solid with the four-time Pro Bowler in there.

The Rams, Saints, and Eagles are all going to be threats for the NFC title, however, the Cowboys may be good enough to eclipse those sides in 2019. Bookmakers such as bet365 are offering odds of +800 for the Cowboys to reach the Super bowl. Based on this review, bet365 is one of the best bookmakers to use in Canada and they offer a $200 sign up bonus.

Ezekiel Elliott is a Lock in the Betting for Top Rushing Yards

Regarding Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, there were real concerns that Dallas’ former first-round pick would be unavailable for week one, however, Jerry Jones got the deal done just in time for Elliott to face their divisional rivals. The 2016 and 2018 league leader in rushing yards looks to be in great shape with no suspensions looming over him this year, he should be set for a full year.

Elliott is a generational RB, therefore, it is no surprise that he tops the list with the bookmakers to win the leading rusher trophy for a third year. If you are looking for a lock this year in NFL betting, Elliott is your bet at +400.

Whatever happens this year, it should be a fun season with the Cowboys as they are good enough to give any team in the NFL a game, and who knows, they may just be the best of the pack.


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