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Cowboys at Raiders: La’el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack

Sean Martin

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Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack

In his first year as the Dallas Cowboys' starter at right tackle, La'el Collins has performed admirably in his transition back to OT from the LG position he excelled at previously.

Amazingly, Collins missed entire weeks of practice prior to the Cowboys' recent wins over the Redskins and Giants - which put him up against familiar pass rushers in Ryan Kerrigan and Jason Pierre-Paul.

La'el Collins did return to practice yesterday, which is of course an encouraging sign as he now gets set to face the most complete and dominant defensive end the game may offer.

David Helman on Twitter

La'el Collins draws Khalil Mack this weekend in Oakland, which is just the latest elite pass rusher he's had to face this year. The list of Collins' matchups features 23 combined Pro Bowl appearances, 9 first-team All-Pros and a Defensive Rookie of the Year. #cowboyswire

Khalil Mack has recorded 8.5 sacks this season, with one in each of his last four games. It is already well-known that the Raiders' premier defensive end is one of the most all-around talented defenders in the NFL, and having sat down to formally study his tape I was blown away by his consistent ability to make an impact on the game.

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There are not many things (if any) that Khalil Mack cannot do as a pass rusher, with the ability to run the arc and bend back to the quarterback seen in the clip above. Mack is always in position to finish at the football thanks to the many ways he can win with his hands. The power he shows through his upper body to pair with polished rush moves on the edge and adequate speed is unfair for even the best tackles.

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Not only just immensely gifted, Mack is one of the smartest players I've studied this season. Mack simply refuses to stay blocked for long, using his length to keep his distance from blockers when needed while remaining in position to disengage.

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In preseason action here against the Cowboys, watch as Mack powers through the late-arriving block of Jason Witten to tackle Ezekiel Elliott from behind.

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Even trying to throw the ball over Mack to mitigate his rush ability didn't work for the Chiefs this last week, as this breakdown in their protection up front leads to Khalil hunting down Alex Smith for a huge loss.

Cowboys at Raiders: La'el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack 1

 

To give this much praise to Khalil Mack and not La'el Collins would be unfair though, as Collins has improved with each rep - mentally and physically - taken at right tackle. The biggest thing Collins has learned is that mirroring rushers to keep them away from Dak Prescott is often more than enough, as opposed to his fan-favorite aggressive style at guard.

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Collins' initial pass set in the above clip forces Oliver Vernon to rush wide against him, which he does nicely by dipping his shoulder and creating a small blocking surface area. As he does this, Collins gets his strong hands inside on Vernon, which keeps him from getting to Prescott through his edge rush.

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La'el Collins uses a similar tactic against Vernon again here. What is a concern on this play is the lack of depth Collins gets away from the line of scrimmage on his initial drop.

Against Khalil Mack, Collins will have to be careful not to initiate contact early enough to allow Mack to simply overpower him. Getting depth and consistently playing with proper hand placement will be the only way to do this, as Mack's ability to flatten the corner is elite for his size and length.

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Where Olivier Vernon is similar to Khalil Mack is in his ability to play the run with the willingness to ride blockers as needed. Vernon catches Collins with a wide base here (as James Hanna misses an opportunity to help his right tackle before going out in the pattern), and takes advantage by throwing Collins' hands off of him and getting in the face of Dak Prescott.

Collins is not going to win every snap against Mack, and the Cowboys will of course not ask him to, but there were enough positives on his tape from week 14 to expect him to hold his own at RT once again.

✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭

This will be the last game the Cowboys play this season without Ezekiel Elliott at RB, and in his absence they have finally found ways to get both Alfred Morris and Rod Smith going. To ensure that Elliott's return to the field will matter though, the Cowboys need to go on the road Sunday night and run the football at a Raiders' defense featuring elite bookend DEs in Khalil Mack and Bruce Irvin.

The battle between La'el Collins and Khalil Mack is a remarkable one to watch this week, as Collins has earned a starting RT job that Dallas convinced everyone would not be his in the offseason. A culmination of every tough assignment La'el has faced thus far is coming his way in the "Black Hole" this weekend with Mack.

Tell us what you think about "Cowboys at Raiders: La’el Collins Faces Toughest Test Yet In Khalil Mack" 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.

Game Notes

CIN 21, DAL 14: Dak Prescott Continues Strong Preseason in Loss

Jess Haynie

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Dak Prescott, Bengals

The games may not count yet, but Dak Prescott looks ready for the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback continued his strong preseason play in the team's 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Prescott played three series, going 10/15 for 86 yards and a touchdown. He got the offense out of trouble a few times with his feet, avoiding sacks and ultimately getting the scoring pass off on a redzone scramble.

Dak's strong play has coincided with shutdown performances from the starting defense. The Cowboys' first-team defenders have yet to allow a score in two preseason games. Tonight, the Bengals were forced into four punts and two turnovers on their first-half possessions.

Overall, the Cowboys are a combined 24-7 in the first halves of their first two preseason contests.

The second half has been the problem, and for two weeks now Dallas' reserves have squandered halftime leads and given up losses. Thankfully, most of the responsible players will not be on the final 53-man roster.

Other Notes

  • There were several concerning injuries for the Cowboys tonight. None was scarier than when All-Pro guard Zack Martin went out with a knee injury, but it does not appear to have been serious. Starting defensive backs Byron Jones and Xavier Woods also got banged up; Byron returned to the game but Woods did not. Defensive lineman Datone Jones also left with a knee injury.
  • Even more concerning was the play of the second-team offensive line. Chaz Green was typically awful, but we also saw swing tackle Cam Fleming struggling and just an overall lack of protection for the backups quarterbacks. Green got benched in the second half and may have finally played his way off the team.
  • Credit to Terrance Williams for getting open in the endzone to give Dak Prescott a receiver for the touchdown throw. Even with his warts, Williams' two years of experience playing with Dak can't be ignored in deciding who makes the team.
  • Tight end Blake Jarwin continues to run with the starters on offense and may have quietly taken the job away from Geoff Swaim.
  • Darius Jackson took advantage of some extra playing time tonight after Bo Scarbrough left with a hip injury. He broke off a few nice runs to amass 42 yards on just six carries, plus had four receptions.
  • We finally get to see Dan Bailey kick a field goal again, and it was an easy 35-yarder with no issues.
  • Shout out to Chidobe Awuzie for one of the pretty interceptions that a Cowboys DB has made in some time. Awuzie had to bend like Beckham (Odell, that is) to get a hand on the ball, then tipped it to himself for the pick.
  • Preseason fun continues for the Cowboys next Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals on NBC's Sunday Night Football.



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Game Notes

#DALvsCIN: Can WR Lance Lenoir Continue To Impress?

Kevin Brady

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Lance Lenoir

Entering training camp projecting who would make the final roster from the Dallas Cowboys wide receiving room was a crapshoot. The combination of misfits from other teams, unproven young guys, and a couple of Cowboys veterans makes this position group the most questioned across the entire roster.

But while Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup were stealing headlines, Lance Lenoir was making a name for himself among the Cowboys faithful.

After serving on the practice squad for the Cowboys a year ago, Lenoir seems to have entered 2018 with one goal in mind: to make the official game-day roster. And even if he falls short of this goal, it won't be due to any fault of his own.

Day in and day out Lance Lenoir has been a consistent wide out, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running some of the crisper routes on the team. Under new receivers coach Sanjay Lal, Lenoir has become a technical route runner and dangerous receiving threat.

Maybe most importantly for his future with the team, Lenoir has developed an obvious chemistry with starting quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has continued to compliment Lenoir throughout training camp, and you know that the Cowboys front office is well aware of Prescott's trust in Lenoir on the field.

During the preseason opener against the 49ers, Lance Lenoir caught his first touchdown of the season, dazzling with his toe-tap ability. If he is going to steal a roster spot away from one of the more seasoned wide outs, however, he will have to remain that consistent target.

This Saturday, Lenoir gets another shot to prove why he's not only deserving of a roster spot, but of a starting spot. Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch, but if he continues to play like he has during camp and preseason, Lenoir could find himself working with the 1's more frequently.

Look out for Lance Lenoir against the Bengals this week, as he makes it harder and harder for the Cowboys to cut him by the second.



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Game Notes

#DALvsCIN: Bengals DL Gives Cowboys OL Formidable Test

Kevin Brady

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The Star News - Bengals At Cowboys: ITS Staff Picks And Notes
Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

During their preseason opener, the Dallas Cowboys offensive line faced its first test of the season. The young, athletic, and downright talented defensive line of the 49ers gave the Cowboys starting five a chance to gauge their offseason progress thus far.

I'd say the starting group passed the test, while the backups and depth players looked a bit more shaky. The good thing about football, though, is that they get a shot to do it all again this Saturday.

This week's opponent, the Cincinatti Bengals, feature some serious talent upfront. Defensive tackle Geno Atkins is one of the best interior defenders in all of football, terrorizing centers and guards since he entered the league.Carl Lawson, Auburn

On the edge is one of my 2017 draft favorites, Carl Lawson. Lawson was a draft target of mine for the Cowboys, but it appears the entire league missed on the stud edge rusher during that draft. During his rookie season a year ago, Lawson racked up 8.5 sacks and looked like the best rookie rusher in all of football. It's rare that a rookie defensive end tallies the sack total that Lawson did in 2017, but then again, Lawson is a rare type of player.

Opposite of Carl Lawson is veteran pass rusher Carlos Dunlap. Together, Atkins and Dunlap have been one of the more dangerous pass rush duos for quite some time, but the additions of Lawson and Jordan Willis make them an incredibly impressive group.

During the Bengals' preseason opener against the Chicago Bears, their defensive line looked to be in midseason form.

Though Geno Atkins had the team's only sack, the trio of Atkins, Lawson, and Dunlap looked as prolific as ever.

This deep and talented defensive line is a more-than worthy test for the Cowboys this Saturday. Rookie Connor Williams will likely have to block Geno Atkins at some point, and though he looked promising against the 49ers, this week presents a whole different challenge.

Many now expect veteran center Travis Frederick to miss Saturday's game as well, due to his shoulder troubles during training camp. If Frederick were to miss the start, Joe Looney would be thrown into the first against this first team defensive front of the Bengals.

A rookie at left guard and Looney at center might not be the best ingredients against Geno Atkins and company, but it'll be what they have to roll with.

Still, Saturday will give us another chance to see what the 2018 Dallas Cowboys offensive line is all about.



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