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Where Cowboys Need New Starters the Most in 2018

Sean Martin

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Where Do Cowboys Need New Starters the Most in 2018? 1

With the rival Philadelphia Eagles overcoming major injuries at QB, LB, and along the OL to reach Super Bowl LII, it is understandable for Cowboys Nation to feel like the Dallas Cowboys have never been further from an elusive sixth Lombardi trophy. Since their last Super Bowl, the Cowboys haven't even reached the NFC Championship Game -- a contest the Eagles just dominated 38-7 with their backup quarterback.

A more even-headed look at the Cowboys roster tells a different story, though. Devastated by key injuries of their own in 2017, the Cowboys' young core of talent is still just a year removed from winning 13 games and the NFC East in 2016. Stringing together consecutive successful seasons remains a struggle for Dallas, and finding stability in the NFL requires a critical evaluation of your entire roster and coaching staff each offseason.

Knowing already that Head Coach Jason Garrett, Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan, and Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli will all return in 2018, I've already turned my attention to this Cowboys roster, and ways they can improve.

With ten picks in the fast-approaching 2018 NFL Draft, the Cowboys may be in prime position to add depth to an already talented squad, with few glaring needs for new starters. As things stand now, here are the areas I could see rookies or free agent acquisitions coming in to start right away on America's Team next season.

Left Guard

Yesterday here at Inside The Star, I discussed if it was time for the Cowboys to add another first round talent to their offensive line with the 19th overall pick they currently hold. Jonathan Cooper is a free agent after starting 13 games and looking better than he has at any point in his injury-plagued career. Cooper would start 2018 recovering from yet another injury though, as he left the field in Philadelphia during week 17 -- with the Cowboys playing starters despite being eliminated from playoff contention.

In a move that would go against their recent philosophies on team building, if the Cowboys allow Jonathan Cooper to walk in free agency, it would surely open the door for a new starter to come in at left guard.

Byron Bell has experience at both guard and tackle -- a "swing" ability the Cowboys could desperately use for depth on the offensive line -- but is also a free agent who didn't perform well in place of Tyron Smith at LT this season.

The only players with experience at guard and not on expiring contracts with the Cowboys are Chaz Green and La'el Collins, as Joe Looney is also a free agent.

With Collins firmly locked in as the starter at RT, and Green moving from LG to a backup OT position before the season, the Cowboys could very well find themselves in the market for a new starter to slide between Smith and Travis Frederick in 2018.

David Irving, Redskins

Dallas Cowboys DL David Irving

Defensive Tackle

David Irving and Brian Price are set to hit free agency as well. Irving's 2017 season was derailed by a four-game suspension, and followed by a concussion that kept him out of all but eight games. Claimed off of waivers by the Cowboys in September, Price showed some flashes at the 1T position through eight games of his own before having his first season in Dallas end on IR with a knee injury.

For a defensive line that exceeded expectations in 2017, thanks almost entirely to DE DeMarcus Lawrence, defensive tackle remains one of the Cowboys' biggest overall needs.

Identifying the Cowboys need for bodies on the defensive interior begins with finding the best spot for third-year player Maliek Collins.

Excelling as the 3T in 2016, Collins was asked to play as a 1T in 2017. Seeing his production dip with this position change, I believe Collins projects best as the Cowboys long-term starter at 1T. When he isn't shooting a gap with good initial quickness, Collins is limited as a refined pass rusher. Keeping him as an athletic, space eating 1T will allow him to play to his strengths more often.

There's no doubt David Irving's best plays with the Cowboys have come at the 3T DT position, and if the Cowboys are preparing to move on from this match-up nightmare, they'll need to add a starting-caliber DT to the rotation.

The 3T position has been called the most important in Rod Marinelli's entire defense, and the impact a DT consistently pushing the pocket could have on the rest of the front seven is hard to understate.

Defensive tackle appears to be a relatively deep position in the draft this year, which will show just how much the Cowboys value a position they've neglected for too long.

Though he was not used in this role much as a rookie, Taco Charlton showed the ability to kick inside to 3T at Michigan, and may be an in-house option for the Cowboys here, along with mid-season pick up Datone Jones.

Defensive End

Finally, finding a suitable starter at RDE to rush opposite DeMarcus Lawrence should be a top priority for the Cowboys this offseason. Benson Mayowa was the team's sack leader from this spot in 2016, but proved expendable this season with just one sack.

Taco Charlton started his Cowboys career at RDE, but was quickly moved into a role that played to his strengths in rotation at LDE.

There's been some buzz that troubled-DE Randy Gregory could return to the Cowboys in 2018, but even still, he's far from an every-down rusher -- nor a player who can be relied upon.

Tyrone Crawford will remain with the Cowboys in 2018, serving as their utility man while amazingly finding ways to contribute at RDE out of desperation this season.

The Cowboys defense showed a ton of potential near the end of 2017, and is a unit that could do great things moving forward, assuming this team fixes their offensive woes. Turning the corner to become an elite defense may be as simple as that, as the Cowboys should be in the market for an immediate starter to come at opposing quarterbacks with speed from the right edge.

Cowboys en Español: Proyectando el Roster de 53 Jugadores 2

Dallas Cowboys S Byron Jones (James D. Smith via AP)

Safety

Perhaps the biggest positive to come out of the Cowboys' 9-7 season is the progress of their young secondary. Starting rookies Jourdan Lewis and Chidobe Awuzie at cornerback paid off throughout the year. Awuzie battled injuries to make a positive impact, while Lewis proved every bit the elite cover man he was on tape at Michigan.

Where things were not as clear in this new-look Dallas secondary was at safety.

Boosting Jeff Heath into a starting role was supposed to create even more turnovers and big plays from this group, but instead Heath looked lost in coverage far too often alongside Byron Jones. Per usual, Jones was asked to do a little bit of everything for the Cowboys, looking his best when playing at depth, as opposed to being outmatched against the run down in the box.

In a box-safety role, rookie Xavier Woods flashed a lot of potential, adjusting to having a lot thrown his way with the Cowboys even asking their sixth round pick to play some nickel CB. This is also a role Kavon Frazier was productive in with limited opportunities, and the Cowboys don't seem to be in any hurry to give their special teams ace a larger role at safety.

Ideally, both Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods are not on the field for every snap at safety. In a scheme that wants to keep every pass in front of them, Dallas absolutely needs a solid rotation of safeties that can provide contrasting looks. This is where Heath and Woods can excel as second or third level defenders, creating an opening for a true starting safety to come in this offseason.

A safety that can play the run, but more importantly play with sideline-to-sideline range and instincts should see plenty of snaps right away with the Cowboys.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

If you agree with the majority of this list, two things become clear about the Cowboys outlook for the future.

  1. Their needs remain on defense, and
  2. this is a great sign of just how close the roster is -- with a defense that already has a solid foundation in place.

Lacking the depth needed to overcome injuries to starters and make a deep run into the playoffs, the Cowboys may not be in the market for many new starters this offseason. Instead, with the coaching staff mostly still intact, the team can focus on further improving areas of strength to become a force in the NFC sooner rather than later.

Tell us what you think about "Where Cowboys Need New Starters the Most in 2018" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Boro Panther, Montclair State Red Hawk, and most importantly a proud member of Cowboys Nation! I host "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

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8 Comments
  • Earl Young

    Not with the current coaching staff

  • Jeff

    If we don’t have a new starting WR opposite Dez, we’re toast. An upgrade over Terrance Williams is imperative to open up the offense.

  • Ronny Crouse

    Why not draft a tackle (Connor Williams) and move Collins back to guard. Then you have a security blanket for when Tyron is injured and or needs a rest.

  • Randy Martin

    If one of the premium tackles falls to us at 19 I would not hesitate to nab them and move Collins back to guard. I think we can all agree that Collins did a good job and it wouldn’t be a reflection on play but simply using the talent in the best way. And it is very clear that we need a new starter at WR. Yes I know that first year receivers don’t typically make a big impact but sometimes they do. Otherwise I agree with this. Now, if we had a draft where we get starters at all these positions I’d say we nailed it.

  • Flushrock

    Since the Cowboys last appeared in an NFC Championship Game and/or the Super Bowl, the Eagles have been to six NFC Championships and two Super Bowls. 23 Years and 2 PLAYOFF WINS!! HOW BOUT DEM COWBOYS!!
    And We get Garrett back?? Mediocrity at it’s finest!!!

  • DevilDog58

    Jeez, Brian, I really love the way you think and express your opinions. Unlike many others I feel Dallas is really closer to being a 13-3 team than a 9-7 one. I agreed with keeping Garrett and Marinelli. I’m not so sure about Linehan but time will tell. The seeming inability to make in-game adjustments, from all 3 of these coaches is what worries me. But I don’t pretend to know what’s going on inside the locker room. Injuries and luck are the uncontrollable things but they must keep key FA’s & build depth.

  • Mr. Jaguar

    With the Cowboys changing schemes on offense. I would revamp the receiver position with or without Dez. In addition, to. having Zeke included in the passing game. And develop Rico to replace Witten @ TE. On defense revamp the linebacker core to provide insurance in case sean lee is out for a period of games, with solid depth. The Griffin kid from UCF is a gamer.

    If one of the OL is their @ 19. I would draft the offensive linemen from Georgia to play LG, if Cooper isn’t brought back. Or draft the offensive linemen from NC A& T. That’s my 2 cents.

  • ghetto eskimo

    It’s just not fair the level of hatred Byron Jones has received, he should be a center fielder in a cover 3, but you have him as a box or boundary safety… it Just wont work!!

Game Notes

Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons

The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.

Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.

Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.

  • A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.

The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.

Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.

If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.

  • Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.

The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.

On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.

Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.

  • Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.

Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.

I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.

  • The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.

Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.

Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.

His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.

Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.

Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.

Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.

  • Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.

Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.

Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.

Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.

It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.

Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.

This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.

Tell us what you think about "Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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Dallas Cowboys

Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose

Mauricio Rodriguez

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3 Reasons Why RB Ezekiel Elliott Will Dominate in 2018

The Dallas Cowboys looked great on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. There were very few things to complain about their last showing and now that they're back at .500, the season doesn't seem lost as previously thought. After all, the NFC East has been a mediocre division so far in 2018 and the division title is not that far from the Cowboys' grasp.

In fact, if they win this Thursday on Thanksgiving, the Dallas Cowboys would become the NFC East's division leader. The Washington Redskins were off to a great start on the season but after falling to the Houston Texans on Sunday, they only hold a one game-lead over the Cowboys.

This will be the second time of the year these two teams face each other. Back in week 7, the Cowboys played one of their worse games on the year in Washington. Many times the Cowboys shot themselves on the foot until they failed to get to overtime as Brett Maher's FG attempt bounced off the goalpost.

This time though, things should be different.

The team is on a two-game winning streak on the road against the last two NFC Champions. Of course, neither of these teams are the same than they were in previous years, but Dallas has done a good job these past two weeks. Some staff members might be coaching for their jobs as the team approaches "now or never" territory to contend in 2018. Although play-calling and execution haven't been perfect, at least the offense is showing signs of life.

Both the Cowboys and the Redskins suffered key injuries on Sunday. Towards the end of the game, Cowboys' LT Tyron Smith went down injured and headed to the locker room. With his injury history and a short week on deck, it's tough to imagine Smith will suit up on Thursday.

David Helman on Twitter

Tyron Smith, as only he could say it: "It didn't feel good, but I'll be alright." #cowboyswire

However, the more serious injury came for the Redskins. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibia and will end his season due to surgery. With Colt McCoy playing at QB for Washington, winning the NFC East will become an easier task for the Cowboys.

But they can't take the win for granted. This is a flawed, inconsistent team we're talking about. On a short week, it'll require a lot of effort to beat their hated division rivals.

Tell me what you think about "Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose" in the comments below, or tweet me @MauNFL and let’s talk football! If you like football and are looking for a Dallas Cowboys show in Spanish, don’t miss my weekly Facebook Live! show, Primero Cowboys!



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Game Notes

DAL 22, ATL 19: Elliott, Maher Carry Cowboys to Season-Saving Win

Jess Haynie

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Ezekiel Elliott

A last-minute field goal by Brett Maher lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. On the strength of 201 yards of total offense out of Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas improved to 5-5 and arguably saved their 2018 season.

Elliott had 122 yards rushing and 79 receiving today, plus scored one touchdown, to make up well over half of the team's offensive production. Dak Prescott was also solid, throwing for over 200 yards and committing no turnovers.

Dallas and Atlanta traded field goals in the first half, and the Falcons took a 6-3 lead into the locker room. But the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal on their first second-half possession, then scored a touchdown on their next drive.

Maher was 3/3 on his field goals today, which included a 50-yarder. A missed extra point created concern, but the Cowboys kicker delivered in the biggest moments.

Once again, Dallas' defense was impressive and played a major part in the win. The Falcons never got into the endzone until their last possession.

Game Notes

  • Leighton Vander Esch had another interception, securing a tipped ball that lucked its way into his grasp. He also made some big tackles and continued last week's exceptional play.
  • DeMarcus Lawrence was credited with 1.5 sacks, getting him back among the league leaders with 8.0 on the year.
  • Elliott was Dallas' leading receiving today. Next up was Cole Beasley with five catches for 51 yards, and Cole's day could've been better if not for a dropped touchdown pass.
  • Jeff Heath nearly had his second interception of the year, but Falcons WR Julio Jones made an impressive play to hit Heath and break up the catch.
  • Tyron Smith left the game on the final drive with an injury, but Cam Fleming came in and the team didn't suffer for it. We'll have to see what the short Thanksgiving week means for Smith's status against the Redskins.
  • Speaking of Washington, the NFC East leaders fell to 6-4 today at home against the Houston Texans. Even worse for them, QB Alex Smith suffered a nasty ankle injury is almost assuredly out for weeks to come. Colt McCoy will be their starting QB on Thursday against Dallas.
  • If Dallas wins next week, they will pull even with Washington in overall record, division record, and split the head-to-head series. With the Eagles facing a tough road game today in New Orleans, and with Alex Smith going down for Washington, the NFC East may have just become the Cowboys' to control.



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