The Dallas Cowboys are back in offseason mode, concluding their OTAs and minicamp from The Star. With a hiatus until training camp, it was important for several high-profile players to make a strong first impression on the 2018 season. From the start of mini camp, these impressions were left mostly by Rod Marinelli's defense and -- more specifically -- Kris Richard's young group of cornerbacks.
Still working through significant change on the offensive side of the ball, the Cowboys did rally on day three under Quarterback Dak Prescott to put out a better performance. The Cowboys coaching staff should love their lasting memories of both FA acquisition Wide Receiver Allen Hurns and rookie Michael Gallup.
There is a strong chance that these two receivers will be the Cowboys starters in Oxnard for training camp. We have heard a lot about the impact new WR Coach Sanjay Lal has had on his group, slowing the game down to focus on route running. This will give the team's rotation of unproven receivers a chance with Prescott, as he can focus on throwing to a 'spot' more often.
One spot that Prescott has struggled to hit in two seasons as the starter in Dallas is the back of the end zone for fade routes. A red zone go-to under Scott Linehan, free agent WR Dez Bryant was often the intended target on these missed passes.
Less of a route running technician and closer to the mold of a physical player like Bryant, Allen Hurns emerging as the Cowboys #1 option would solve a lot of uncertainty at the WR position. In yesterday's practice, Hurns was able to haul in a perfect ball from Prescott on the fade as he beat Byron Jones.
It's going to take some time for Jones to readjust to playing cornerback, but the vision for Kris Richard of him and Chidobe Awuzie starting on the outside is a great one. In a battle of proven players, Hurns got the best of Jones to spark the Cowboys offense at the right time.
Overall, there should be no reason to panic about (well, really anything from mini camp) the Cowboys offense right now, and plenty of reasons to be excited about what this defense will develop into.
Once the pads come on at training camp, the players the Cowboys are paying to play at an elite level will start to shine, including their newly re-signed Guard Zack Martin -- the highest paid guard in the league now. There are no doubts that the bread and butter for this offense will be handing the ball to Ezekiel Elliott behind this wall of an offensive line.
From this increase in competition in the trenches, we'll also get more meaningful battles along the defensive line. In shorts and helmets for now, the Cowboys secondary was given their chance at mini camp, and came out solid early.
Another player they've struggled to truly corral though is Michael Gallup. Perhaps pressing a bit thanks to his limited opportunities thus far, Jourdan Lewis was taken across the field by Gallup on a misfire from Cooper Rush.
This is nothing new for Gallup however, who's been ahead of the curve on creating the desired separation as a "violent" receiver on the outside.
A steal with the 81st overall pick in this year's draft, Gallup has a long way to go in beating out the likes of Terrance Williams, Cedrick Wilson (limited through this portion of the offseason with injuries), and even Cole Beasley, who's received some reps on the outside.
With both Hurns and Gallup making plays on the Cowboys final practice until late July, it's easy to let the mind wander with possibilities of the Cowboys offense playing at full strength against a defense that might be up for the challenge better than ever compared to year's past.
As always, the practice fields of Oxnard will serve as a battle ground for a young but deep Cowboys team to earn their spots on the 53-man roster, one that surely won't have room for all of the wide receiver hopefuls seen this week in mini camp.
Is Scott Linehan Holding Playoff-Hopeful Cowboys Back on Offense?
Wide Receiver Amari Cooper means many things to the Dallas Cowboys. He is a token of change for a team that started the season 3-4 without him, and 5-1 since with their first win streak beginning in Cooper's second game at the Eagles. Cooper is the player this club promised they wouldn't need to compete this season, happily being proved wrong by the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for both weeks 12 and 14. Much more subtly, the 24-year old receiver is also the latest player to very publicly doubt Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan.
Cooper matched his season high 10 receptions in the Cowboys home win over the Eagles, hauling in the game-winning touchdown in overtime as his third score to go with a career high 217 yards. Seventy five of these yards came on one play, with Cooper getting behind the depleted Eagles secondary to put Dallas ahead 23-16 late in the fourth.
After the game Amari Cooper talked about his 75-yard touchdown and how he originally had a stop route but Dak Prescott gave him a hand signal to run a go instead.
Exclaiming "this is ridiculous" while watching the Cowboys offense at any point before trading for Cooper was a common occurrence. The Cowboys were playing with a struggling offensive line, receivers that couldn't separate, and frustrated quarterback being asked to carry way too much in a Linehan offense that also does him few favors.
It was Dak Prescott that warned Cooper to stick with Linehan's play call before giving in and throwing the touchdown.
If it took Cooper only six weeks to tell the media that opposing defenses are sitting on the Cowboys plays, it's almost certain he's noticed it much sooner. Where teammates have brought nothing but excuses for poor play, Cooper is a solution in and of himself, changing the play that helped lift the Cowboys to their fifth straight win.
With the Cowboys 75-yard overtime march to win the game on Sunday, Dallas finished with a season high 576 yards. After four quarters the Cowboys had 485 yards, which would still be their best output of 2018.
The emptiness in some of these yards starts with Linehan's play calling in the red zone. As I noted in Sean's Scout for Monday, Ezekiel Elliott's 40 touch performance saw just six attempts when the Cowboys were inside the Eagles' 20-yard line.
The Cowboys have the longest active win streak in the league, and also the lowest percentage of red zone touchdowns over their last three victories. It still feels like fantasy to be inking the Cowboys as NFC East champions-elect, with one more win confirming their spot in the playoffs.
This is exactly how much of the Cowboys coaching staff should feel about their ink on any contract extensions. Around Linehan, the Cowboys made several moves at the positional level entering the year. Jason Garrett's staff has at the very least earned the right to be evaluated at the end of the season, with Garrett credited for guiding his club through this ongoing revival.
For a team that expects to be playing single elimination games next month, the Cowboys offense is slowed down entirely too often to trust Linehan more than at any previous level. As if a reminder was needed, Linehan's job was under enough fire from all angles for Garrett to address his newfound "job security" during the bye week.
Garrett doused the flames of a report that he aimed to replace Linehan during the Cowboys week off. Head coach openings in Green Bay and Cleveland have opened since, with more to follow, decreasing the Cowboys chances at bringing in a top offensive mind in any capacity below HC.
Of course, it was also during this bye week that the Cowboys were integrating their offensive savior in Cooper. The latest challenge for the Cowboys comes from a Colts team back in the AFC playoff picture with a win over the Texans last week. Holding Deandre Hopkins to just four catches, the Colts have defended #1 receivers well.
Calling the defense for this Indianapolis team is none other than former Cowboys Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus. At a point in their season where the Cowboys should be fine tuning both sides of the ball before a playoff run, their championship level defense runs the risk of being held back by an uninspired offense more so this week than any other.
Linehan has stepped up with his back to the wall before, and with the right players in his system (read: Amari Cooper, again) the results can follow. Trying to extend a five game win streak to six isn't exactly pressure territory for any coach in December, but the Cowboys offense has three weeks to show what their playoff potential will be with Linehan as the play caller.
Maliek Collins Playing Excellent for Cowboys Defense
For the Dallas Cowboys on the interior, a lot of the news consistently surround the availability of Defensive Tackle David Irving, but Maliek Collins is playing excellent right now. While I'm willing to be very patient with Irving because of the elite talent he brings, Maliek Collins should continue to start for the Dallas Cowboys at 3-technique defensive tackle.
Collins has been a player that the Cowboys have bounced between the nose tackle and the 3T position with the hopes of getting their best players on the field, and because of the lack of a consistent presence at the 1-technique or nose tackle position. Well, with Antwaun Woods taking control at the 1T, Collins has been able to play at the position where he's at his best. The 3-tech.
He hasn't put huge numbers in the sack column this season, but that doesn't mean he's been absent from being the disruptive player he's been through his first two and a half seasons.
During the Dallas Cowboys five game winning streak, Maliek Collins has led the Dallas Cowboys defensive tackles in total pressures with 13, according to Pro Football Focus. PFF combines sacks, quarterback hits, and hurries into their "pressures." Collins hasn't recorded a sack during the winning streak, but he has four quarterback hits and nine hurries. He's tied with Tyrone Crawford for third in total pressures behind DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory over the last five weeks.
Over the last five weeks, Collins leads the defensive tackles in solo tackles with five and is tied with Crawford and Antwaun Woods with three run stops on defense, according to Pro Football Focus. Collins has also has two tackles for loss in the last five games and recovered Tyrone Crawford's force fumble on Sunday against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Collins had six sacks in his rookie season when he played primarily as the 3T, which allowed him to see more one-on-one blocks against opposing interior offensive linemen. Especially with the way the rest of the defensive line is playing.
With the Cowboys on the road to face the Indianapolis Colts this week, Collins is going to have a tough matchup with a very good Colts offensive line, in particular, rookie Quentin Nelson. Collins ability to get pressure on Andrew Luck on the interior is a huge key for the Dallas Cowboys this week. We know that Gregory and Lawrence will get their pressures, but if Andrew Luck is able to step up into a clean pocket, it will make for a much more challenging game for the Cowboys secondary.
Collins has proved to be up to any task over the last five weeks and if he's able to keep playing at such a high level, he'll make the Cowboys coaching staff, and the rest of Cowboys Nation forget about using other defensive tackles. For the Cowboys to make a deep push in the playoffs, they'll need Collins to be a big time player for them moving forward.
#INDvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
For once, the Cowboys are not playing what feels like a do-or-die game on Sunday, needing just 1 win over their final 3 to win the NFC East. This week the 8-5 Cowboys go on the road to face the 7-6 Colts, with each times vying for playoff spots in their respective conferences.
Both the Cowboys and Colts have turned around what looked like dead seasons, but there is no doubt the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do to keep pace for the 6th seed in the AFC.
Cowboys +3, O/U 47 points.
The once 3-5 Cowboys are now head and shoulders above the rest of their division, after winning their fifth straight in thrilling fashion over the Eagles last Sunday. The team which seemed so disjointed and inconsistent through 8 games has found their identity, and is playing complete team football as of late.
Dak Prescott is coming off a career-best game in terms of yardage, and despite some poor turnovers is still playing some of the best football of his career. This is due in large part to two stars in Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott, who have shouldered the production load of this offense the last 5 weeks.
And, of course, there is the defense which continues to make life a living hell for opposing offenses. Randy Gregory is coming into his own as a pass rusher, getting another sack last week and getting flagged for what should have been his second sack of the day.
Dallas is playing the brand of football they told us they would before the season, and are beginning to make their front office and decision makers look very smart in the process.
At 7-6 and fighting for the final AFC playoff spot, the Colts need this one more than the Cowboys do. Getting shut out by the lowly Jaguars two weeks ago may ultimately keep the Colts out of the playoffs, but a win this Sunday and a little help elsewhere could set them up nicely down the stretch.
Indy has quietly one of the best passing offenses in all of the NFL, with star quarterback Andrew Luck playing his best football in quite some time. Luck is healthy and looks like himself again, and the selection of Quenton Nelson to sure-up the offensive line has gone a long way to improving this offense as well.
Defensively the Colts have been even more impressive lately. Though they have a roster comprised of no-names nationally, the Colts defense is 11th in DVOA. Darius Leonard has been a revelation for the Colts at linebacker, and their young defense seems to be improving by the week.
The Colts are coming off of a big road victory over the Houston Texans a week ago, and will look to defeat the Texans' in-state rivals on Sunday to improve to 8-6.
- The Cowboys are 5-0 against the spread their last 5 games, and have won all 5 straight up.
- The score total has hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- But the score total has gone under 4 of the Colts' last 5 games.
- The Colts are 4-1 straight up their last 5 home games.
- Dallas is 6-3 their last 9 games against the Colts.
The Cowboys' winning streak has to end at some point, right?
Well, unlike Vegas, I don't expect that ending to happen on Sunday. The Cowboys have been playing desperate football over the last 5 games and they are well aware what a win over Indianapolis would mean.
A victory would clinch them a division title for the third time in five years, and just as they did in 2014, I expect the Cowboys to get that clinching victory over the Colts. Give me the Cowboys and the points this week.
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