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Game Notes

Cowboys Preseason: “Positives” from the Cardinals Game

Shane Carter

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Sean's Scout: Measuring Randy Gregory's Potential Impact on Cowboys Defense

Not much could be said about the Dallas Cowboys after getting crushed by the Arizona Cardinals. The majority who played were backups and players fighting for a spot, but many had a hard time justifying a spot. The team lost 27-3 and couldn’t get anything going offensively. Quarterbacks Cooper Rush and Mike White are both fighting to be the backup quarterback to Dak Prescott, and neither stood out.

Rush made the mistake of throwing the ball anywhere near Patrick Peterson’s area and saw his pass go to his own end zone. Mike White had one nice drive but was picked off in the end zone, throwing the ball late to his receiver.

Special teams wasn’t much better. Two returns resulted in two lost fumbles, one of which was recovered in the end zone. These plays were the actual plays that turned the game away from the Cowboys early.

Despite a horrendous game, there were a few bright spots. For one, everyone can relax. It’s just a preseason game. These games are just evaluation tools to determine who will make the final roster. Some were able to make the most of their opportunities.

Randy Gregory

Cowboys 2018 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 3 1

Welcome back Randy Gregory! What looked like an already deep Cowboys pass rush looks even better!

Gregory got the nod at right defensive end and put the Cardinals' starting left tackle, D.J. Humphries, on skates.  We all recognize the sack he got, but he was also giving the left side of the offensive line fits the entire time he was out there. Pure dominance.

With Tyrone Crawford moving inside to tackle, Randy Gregory could potentially become the starter on the right side opposite DeMarcus Lawrence.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed  he can stay on the field.

Tight Ends

Cowboys TE Geoff Swaim Suffers Foot Injury, Likely Out Until Training Camp

Tight end has been a question mark all offseason. Jason Witten did the Cowboys no favors by retiring and left the team wondering who would be his heir. Through the first two preseason games, no tight end stepped up to the task of being the number one option.

After the Arizona game, I believe all four have stepped up.

Each one had at least one reception, led by Rico Gathers with a team-high five receptions for 30 yards. Geoff Swaim had the biggest play of the night, a 19-yard reception. Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz had a small effect on the receiving game, but were both noticeably effective in blocking.

I don’t expect Gathers to be much of a blocker, just as I don’t expect Swaim to be much of a receiver. Dalton Schultz is a good blocker already, as is Blake Jarwin, but both need to be consistent in the receiving game, especially this year.

It’s a good sign to see all four players excel in different ways, but the Cowboys need consistency at the position. Especially when it looks like there’s a chance all four will be on the team this year.

Chidobe Awuzie

Sean's Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals 1

Cowboys CBs Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie (AP Photo/Michael Ainsworth)

Chidobe Awuzie has arguably been the Cowboys' best and most consistent player this preseason. He has solidified himself as the clear starter opposite Byron Jones, and has demonstrated a star-caliber ceiling.

We all remember his incredibly athletic interception last week, and he followed that up with an overall great game. Not only did he stick to his receivers like flypaper, he broke up a pass and showed off his blitzing skills he honed at Colorado, grabbing a tackle in the backfield.

The Cowboys secondary has struggled in many ways this preseason. Whether it's been from quality depth or just simply bad coverage, the Cowboys had a lot of promise in the secondary going into this season and they've given cause for concern. However, Chidobe Awuzie has been outstanding.

If the Cowboys will need to rely on the backend of the defense, they can relax just a little bit thanks to number 24.

Linebackers

Joe Thomas, Cardinals

Dallas Cowboys LB Joe Thomas

Obviously, the hype on the defense includes Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee headlining the middle. Throw in Damien Wilson and first round draft pick, Leighton Vander Esch, to add to it. But against the Cardinals, it's the linebackers fighting for a spot that made the biggest impressions.

  • Justin March-Lillard had a team-high nine tackles, including two for a loss.
  • Joe Thomas (no, not THAT Joe Thomas) was all around the ball.
  • Chris Covington, a sixth round pick from Indiana, also got a number of tackles and was effective on defense during his time out there.

If you count all the names mentioned, that's seven linebackers. Typically, the Cowboys keep around only six, so one of these players may not be around next week. If all seven do make the team, we should be excited for all of them.

Charvarius Ward

Cowboys Rookie CB Charvarious Ward Standing Out in CampThe Cowboys have a knack for finding quality undrafted free agents. Players like Kameron Kelly were getting a lot of hype at the beginning of camp, and a player like Tyree Robinson has made the most of his opportunities and looks like a potential roster player.

Another player who has made the most of his opportunities is Charvarius Ward. He led the team in tackles in the team's first preseason game, and had a pair of passes defended against Arizona.

His one-on-one coverage and tackling have been impressive considering he is an undrafted rookie, and it may land him a spot on the team.

Joe Looney

Joe Looney

Obviously, NFL fans everywhere wish Travis Frederick a quick and healthy recovery. He'll need all the love and support he can get. Until he returns, however, there's still football to be played.

The veteran, Joe Looney, is positioned to step in and be the starter until Frederick returns. Not just against Arizona, but Joe Looney has looked solid the last three weeks. He and Dak Prescott have a connection and there hasn't been any missed steps along the line.

It’s unclear how long Travis Frederick will be out, but Cowboys fans and Frederick himself can rest a little bit easier knowing that the team looks like it will be in good hands. There wasn’t much to celebrate after Arizona beat down the Cowboys, but Joe Looney is one positive that we can take away from the game.



Lifelong Cowboys fan, who doesn’t mind telling the harsh truth. I’ve got a Bachelors Degree in Electronic Media and Communications from Texas Tech University. I welcome all opinions but I will shut down any troll.

Game Notes

Cowboys Defense Faces Tough Matchup vs Falcons Passing Attack

John Williams

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Bottom Line: Are the Cowboys Better or Worse for 2018?

When you're a 4-5 team in the NFL with preseason expectations of making the playoffs, the last half of the season has a lot of of must-win games. This week is no different. The Dallas Cowboys face another 4-5 team in the Atlanta Falcons who is also looking to keep their playoff hopes alive. Both teams are still in the hunt, but have slightly different paths to get there. The Dallas Cowboys would probably have to win the NFC East to make the playoffs with the Falcons only real chance coming via the wild card. The New Orleans Saints look to be the kings of the NFC South this season.

In order to stay in the hunt, the Dallas Cowboys are going to need a huge defensive effort against a fierce Atlanta Falcons passing game. Through the first nine games, the Cowboys have provided reason for optimism that they can slow down Matt Ryan and company, but they've also had some porous efforts this season.

The front seven of the defense has played pretty well through the first nine games of the season and Byron Jones has been one of the best corner backs in the league. They've had problems on the left sde of the defense with Chidobe Awuzie and with the safeties.

The Cowboys will face a really difficult challenge as they travel to face the Atlanta Falcons passing game led by Matt Ryan and Julio Jones.

Matt Ryan is in the top five in most passing categories including yards, touchdowns, passer rating, completion percentage, and leads the league in passing yards per game. In yards per attempt, net yards per attempt, and air yards per attempt, Matt Ryan is sixth in the NFL.

As you can see from the chart above provided by Next Gen Stats and NFL.com, Matt Ryan has been average to better than average throwing to every area of the field this season. Particularly troubling is what he's doing when he's throwing to his right, which happens to be the side of the field occupied by Chidobe Awuzie. Awuzie is allowing a passer rating of 129.7 this season, which is the 15th worst number in the NFL among corners who have played a minimum of 92 coverage snaps.

What's potentially more troubling than how efficient Matt Ryan's been throwing to Awuzie's side of the field is the fact that Julio Jones will play all over the formation and can beat you in every area of the field.

The chances are high that we'll see Awuzie lined up against Julio Jones on several occasions on Sunday. Pray for Chido, y'all. 

Jones has only scored two touchdowns this year, but through nine games, he's already over 1,000 yards receiving, which is leading the NFL. Julio is fourth in the NFL in receptions and is averaging more than 15 yards per catch. He's third in the NFL in yards per route run at 2.99 sitting behind only Michael Thomas and Albert Wilson among players with at least 20 targets on the season.

From Jones' chart against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in week six, you can see that they lined him up all over the formation and they ran him on a large variety of routes to a large variety of depths. Julio Jones is one of the best route runners in the NFL, which is scary considering he provides huge size and athleticism to go with it.

As good as he's been this season, the secondary receivers for the Falcons -- Calvin Ridley, Mohammed Sanu, and Austin Hooper -- have also played well. Each of them has more than 400 yards receiving on the season. To put that in perspective, Cole Beasley leads the Dallas Cowboys in receiving yards at 403. Each of the Falcons' top four targets have more receiving yards than Beasley does.

Not sure if that speaks of how good the Falcons passing game has been or how bad the Cowboys passing game has been.

The Cowboys will be facing the player that fans wanted the team to select instead of Leighton Vander Esch at 19th overall; Calvin Ridley. Ridley's been excellent this season with 500 receiving yards and seven touchdown receptions. He's averaging 13.2 yards per reception. Ridley's second on the Falcons in receptions for first downs and Matt Ryan has a passer rating of 138.9 when targeting Ridley.

Austin Hooper doesn't get the same publicity that Jones and Ridley do, but he's been effective this season as well. Hooper is second on the Falcons in receptions with 46, which is the fourth most among tight ends in the NFL. Hooper will test Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch in the middle of the field as well as Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath down the seem.

Mohammed Sanu will be the matchup to watch for Anthony Brown in the slot. Though Calvin Ridley and Julio Jones will run routes from there on occasion, Sanu is the primary slot receiver. He ranks 22nd in the NFL in receptions and yards from the slot. Of his 45 targets, 33 have come while in the slot and 25 of his 34 receptions. When Matt Ryan throws Sanu's way, he's got a passer rating of 125.8.

And if all that wasn't bad enough, you have the Dallas Cowboys defense as one of the worst in the NFL at getting off the field on third down. The Atlanta Falcons are second in the NFL at getting off the field on third down.

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The Dallas Cowboys are likely going to give up some long drives to the Falcons, and that's ok. What they don't want to do is give up big plays to the Falcons passing attack. The Cowboys rank sixth in the NFL in red zone defense allowing teams to score on only 48.1% of their trips inside the 20 yard line. The Falcons are seventh in the league at scoring in the red zone, but have had their issues scoring touchdowns when getting inside the 20. If the Cowboys can hold them to three instead of seven, I'll count it as a successful drive for the defense.

The Dallas Cowboys defense is playing really well this season and it ranks in the top 10 in most team defensive categories. However, if they have a weakness it's been in their pass defense, primarily Awuzie and the safeties. If they want to win this game and continue to get themselves back into the playoff picture, they're going to need better performances from their defensive backs not named Byron Jones, Anthony Brown, and to a lesser extent Xavier Woods.

Facing the Atlanta Falcons prolific passing attack is a huge test for this defense and one that could define the rest of the Dallas Cowboys 2018 season.



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Game Notes

Cowboys’ Revenge Against Atlanta Hinges on These 3 Key Matchups

Brian Martin

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Cowboys' Revenge Against Atlanta Hinges on These 3 Key Matchups 1
(AP Photo/Rich Schultz)

With their seasons hanging in the balance, the Dallas Cowboys (4-5) and the Atlanta Falcons (4-5) know all too well the importance of this matchup. The Cowboys however might have a little extra incentive to win this game, revenge. The Falcons absolutely throttled them in 2017, but Dallas is looking to turn the tables on them this year.

Playing in hostile territory at Mercedes-Benz Stadium isn't the ideal place to secure a victory, but I believe the Dallas Cowboys have a excellent shot at coming out of this contest with a "W". This time around the Cowboys will have Ezekiel Elliott and Tyron Smith at their disposal and they should pay huge dividends. Having these two players in the lineup will certainly factor into the outcome of the game, but there are other matchups worth keeping an eye on as well.

Here are the three matchups I believe will decide the outcome of this game:

Amari Cooper vs. Falcons' Secondary

Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott and WR Amari Cooper

If the Atlanta Falcons secondary continues to play the way they've played for the majority of the 2018 season, the Dallas Cowboys should be able to find quite a bit of success in the passing game. That's why I'm expecting Quarterback Dak Prescott and his receivers to have a big game, especially Amari Cooper.

The Falcons are surprisingly giving up 294.4 passing yards a game, which happens to be third worst in the NFL. But what's more surprising is they are also the worst at defending their opponents best receiver, ranking 30th in Defense-adjusted Value Over Average (DVOA). That's why I think Amari Cooper could end up having his best game to date in a Cowboys uniform.

Cooper's ability to threaten an opponent's defense all over the field has already made the Cowboys offense better and that should continue to improve as his bond with Prescott develops. He has already become one of the most highly targeted WRs in the NFL since coming to Dallas and that is not only helping improve their passing game, but the running game as well.

Ezekiel Elliott vs. Falcons' Run Defense

Ezekiel Elliott

Dallas Cowboys RB Ezekiel Elliott

As much as I'm excited about the damage Amari Cooper could do to the Falcons secondary, I'm even more excited about how dominate Ezekiel Elliott can be against Atlanta's defensive front. A lot of that has to do with the way both of these teams played in these areas a week ago, and it's a matchup that heavily favors the Cowboys.

The Cowboys are coming off their best rushing attack of the 2018 season. The offensive line completely manhandled the Philadelphia Eagles top ranked run defense last week, allowing Zeke to rush for 150+ yards. We could see a repeat performance, especially with the way the Falcons failed to stop the run last week against the Cleveland Browns.

Rookie Running Back Nick Chubb had a career day against the Falcons a week ago, amassing 176 yards and a touchdown on the ground and another 33 yards and a touchdown through the air. If that's an indication of what we can expect from Atlanta's run defense, Zeke should have a huge game. Controlling the clock with the running game would more than likely secure a much-needed victory.

Cowboys' Defense vs. Falcons' 3rd-down Offense

Byron Jones

Dallas Cowboys CB Byron Jones

As good as a Dallas Cowboys defense has been this season, they have really struggled to get opposing offenses off the field on third down. In fact, they're currently the fourth worst third-down defense in the league, allowing offenses to convert a first down 44.07% of the time. That's not good, especially if you factor in that the Falcons convert 51.26% of their third downs, ranking second in the NFL.

The matchup between the Cowboys defense and the Falcons third-down offense could end up being the most important. Dallas absolutely have to find a way to get Matt Ryan and his offense off the field and the ball back in the hands of Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. They can't allow Atlanta to get out to an early lead, because they're not a team who's built to come from behind.

Hopefully the Cowboys can capitalize on the Amari Cooper and Ezekiel Elliott match ups (previously mentioned), that way they're play on third-down becomes less of a factor. But if it ends up being a close game, they will without a doubt have to improve their third-down defensive efficiency.

Do you think the Dallas Cowboys get their revenge against the Falcons?



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Game Notes

#ATLvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction

Kevin Brady

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Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

This week's gambling preview focuses on the Cowboys week 11 opponent, the Atlanta Falcons. Dallas beat the now 4-5 Eagles last Sunday to improve their own record to 4-5. Atlanta lost on the road to Cleveland last week to drop their record to 4-5 on the season.

It's an 8-8 league, isn't it?

Dallas returns to the scene of the 2017 crime this Sunday, traveling to Atlanta where Chaz Green and Dak Prescott were destroyed almost exactly one year ago. Let's take a look at the line and the quality of these teams to see which way it could go.

The Line

Cowboys +3, O/U 48 points. 

Dallas Cowboys

Dallas saved their season on the road last Sunday night, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles and getting right back in the thick of things in the NFC East race. Still, we can't simply ignore what the other 8 games of data have told us about the Cowboys and their offensive quality.

The addition of Amari Cooper has clearly helped the offense, opening up the passing game a bit and allowing for Dak Prescott to have a reliable "number one" receiver. The team's results overall have been mixed the first two games of the Cooper-era, but he has been consistently good in both match-ups.

Defensively the Cowboys continued to impress last week, though "cornerback opposite of Byron Jones" is quickly becoming a potential need. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith stole the show last Sunday, and both the present and the future of the Cowboys' linebacking corps is strong. It could be argued the Cowboys have yet to see a passing attack like the one Atlanta brings, however, making Sunday a big test for them defensively.

Atlanta Falcons

Similar to the Cowboys, Atlanta has been very much up-and-down this season. In a way, though, they are just the opposite-day Cowboys, with their offense putting up insane numbers most weeks and their banged up defense often letting them down.

Though it looked like they were turning it around in recent weeks, Atlanta had probably their most disappointing loss in quite some time, losing at Cleveland to the young Browns. Still, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones lead a prolific passing attack which can strike fear in any defense.

Byron Jones and company will have their hands full with the Falcons' cast of skill players on Sunday, and as usual, stopping their passing attack will all begin up front with the pass rush. Hopefully Randy Gregory can build on his week 10 performance to produce even more results this week.

Trends

  • Surprisingly, the score total has now hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
  • The Cowboys are 2-5 against the spread their last 7 games against the Falcons.
  • The Cowboys are also 2-4 against the spread their last games at Atlanta.
  • Dallas is just 1-4 straight up on the road this season.
  • The score total has gone over 4 of Atlanta's last 5 home games.
  • The Falcons are just 2-5 against the spread their last 7 games.

Prediction

Who the hell knows, man.

This team is incredibly difficult to project week to week, probably about as volatile as they've been since all those 8-8 seasons. This line started at Cowboys +4.5 and has since moved down to just +3, meaning they are valued as a pick 'em on a neutral field.

Given how inconsistent, yet talented, both teams are this line feels exactly right. I'll take the Cowboys and the points because why not? I expect this to be a tight game throughout, and could come down to the kicking game in the fourth quarter.



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