The Dallas Cowboys defense has found different ways to get the job done at different times during the 2018 season. They're a big reason the team is 3-3 and sits only a half game back of the first place Washington Redskins.
Even last week, I was critical of the defense for giving up a ton of yards and felt like they were very fortunate to only lose by three in overtime to the Houston Texans. They were amazing when the Texans got inside the five yard line forcing a turnover on downs on four first and goal attempts inside the five last week.
After giving up 462 total yards to Deshaun Watson and the Texans in week five, the Dallas Cowboys' defense only allowed 204 to the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday. They held Jacksonville to 4 of 11 on third downs. The Cowboys forced four three and outs during the game and only allowed three drives to cross midfield.
The Cowboys' defense was led by Leighton Vander Esch with 11 total tackles (7 solo) and Jaylon Smith with nine total tackles (6 solo) and a forced fumble. Jourdan Lewis made an excellent hustle play along the sideline late in the third quarter to recover that Smith fumble.
Byron Jones was excellent in coverage yet again on Sunday and if this were hockey, would get a primary assist for his pass deflection that led to the Jeff Heath interception in the third quarter. The Cowboys were able to turn both turnovers into field goals.
The Jacksonville Jaguars' offensive line blocked the Dallas Cowboys front seven pretty well and Quarterback Blake Bortles was really good at avoiding pressure. Bortles was only sacked three times during the game. Randy Gregory and Maliek Collins each had a sack, while Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford combined for the other sack.
Though he didn't register a tackle or a sack on the stat sheet, it was awesome to see Defensive Lineman David Irving on the field for the first time since the middle of the season last year. He had an impact early in the game. Irving had a pressure on Blake Bortles and forced a hold on a punt in the first half of the game. His presence was definitely felt.
As a defense they held Jacksonville Jaguars Quarterback Blake Bortles to 149 yards passing and a 70.8 passer rating. Even as the Jaguars were down 20 points at halftime, they never could get much offense going in the second half. The Cowboys kept Bortles and the Jaguars passing game in check for most of the night, only allowing a touchdown when Anthony Brown fell down when he released his receiver to try to get to the intended target, Dede Westbrook. Westbrook went relatively untouched into the end zone for the Jaguars score of the day. That play aside, the Cowboys did a really good job limiting big plays against a receiving corp with a lot of speed.
Even with Bortles scrambling, the Cowboys were able to hold the Jaguars as a team to 3.6 yards per carry on the day. The Jaguars' T.J. Yeldon was able to come up with some decent runs, but the defense kept those positive gains from having much of an impact on the game.
The Dallas Cowboys' defense isn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it's a unit that has played really good football for much of the 2018 season. On Sunday, the Cowboys did an excellent job getting off the field on third downs and forcing turnovers and other errors, which were created by the Cowboys pressure.
Everything seems to be coming together for Dallas with David Irving and Maliek Collins getting back into the lineup. If Sean Lee and Chidobe Awuzie are able to go for the Cowboys next week, this defense is going to make life extremely difficult for Alex Smith and the Washington Redskins next Sunday.
After allowing a ton of yards last week, the Cowboys defense rebounded with a dominant performance against a Jaguars team that played for the AFC Championship last season. For the Cowboys to get to the playoffs in 2018, they're going to have to play at a high level like they did on Sunday.
I, for one, don't doubt that they can.
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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