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

Sean Martin



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, 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 every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. Twitter: @SeanMartinNFL.

Game Notes

Cowboys, Colts Week 15 Injury Report

Jess Haynie



Less Is More For Sean Lee And Cowboys' LBs?

The Dallas Cowboys can clinch the NFC East with a win this week, while the Indianapolis Colts are fighting to stay alive in the AFC wild card race. Only one team can accomplish their goal, and both have some big names on the Week 15 injury report.

We'll begin with the visiting Cowboys, who could be getting at least one star player back while another is already confirmed to miss the game.

Dallas Cowboys

  • TE Geoff Swaim (wrist) - OUT
  • G Zack Martin (knee) - OUT
  • DL David Irving (ankle) - OUT
  • WR Tavon Austin (groin) - Questionable
  • WR Lance Lenoir (illness) - Questionable
  • OT Tyron Smith (neck) - Questionable
  • DE Randy Gregory (personal) - Questionable
  • LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - Questionable

Yes, sadly, Zack Martin will be out tomorrow. The good news is that Connor Williams got the entire week to practice with the starters at right guard. You can read much more about this situation and it's impact on the game here, courtesy of our own Sean Martin.

Also ruled out, as they have been for a while now, are TE Geoff Swaim and DL David Irving.  Swaim is still recovering from wrist surgery but has not been placed on injured reserve, so the team must feel he could be back for the playoffs. Irving could return as soon as next week.

Speaking of returns, Sean Lee may be back on the field this Sunday. It's unknown yet how he'll rotate with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith, but Dallas has the luxury of working him in slowly thanks to the play of their young duo.

Tavon Austin could also return this week, creating another new offensive wrinkle. Austin has been injured since the Jacksonville game and has yet to play since the Cowboys acquired Amari Cooper. Not only could Tavon do some interesting things in the offense, but he should bring some additional sizzle to special teams.

While appearing on the injury report, Randy Gregory missed practice this week for "family reasons" according to Jason Garrett. He could still play tomorrow.

Indianapolis Colts

  • G Mark Glowinski (ankle) - OUT
  • LB Skai Moore (neck) - OUT
  • S Mike Mitchell (calf) - OUT
  • WR T.Y. Hilton (ankle) - Questionable
  • TE Ryan Hewitt (ribs) - Questionable
  • S Clayton Geathers (knee) - Questionable

The big name here is Hilton, the star receiver who missed all practice this week with an ankle injury. Indianapolis has not ruled him out, wanting to give Andrew Luck's favorite target every opportunity to play. But it's not looking good, and a bad ankle could limit Hilton's effectiveness even if he goes.

Also hurt among the passing options is starting TE Ryan Hewitt, but he did practice full on Friday and should go. Not playing, however, is starting right guard Mark Glowinski. That means third-year player Evan Boehm should start, who just joined the team in October.

Indy's hurting at safety this week. Not only did starter Clayton Geathers miss the whole week of practice, but veteran backup Mike Mitchell is already ruled out. The Colts would have to rely on undrafted rookie George Odum if neither plays.

Fun fact before we go; former Cowboy Jihad Ward was picked up by the Colts after Dallas included him in their roster cuts to start the season. However, he landed on injured reserve back in October so won't get a chance at revenge.

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Game Notes

Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts

Sean Martin



Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts

The Dallas Cowboys offensive line depth will be tested as they play for a chance to clinch the NFC East on Sunday at the Indianapolis Colts. Suffering a knee injury last week against the Eagles, Right Guard Zack Martin will not be able to play. In missing his first career start, rookie Connor Williams rightfully returns to the starting lineup as Martin's replacement.

The 50th overall pick from this year's AT&T Stadium hosted Draft has started eight games this season at left guard. Williams' last start happens to be in the last game Dallas lost, a week nine defeat to the Tennessee Titans. This opened the door for Xavier Su'a-Filo to become something of a sensation for Cowboys Nation as the starting left guard throughout the team's current five game win streak.

David Moore on Twitter

Pro Bowl guard Zack Martin has been ruled out of Sunday's game with a sprained knee. Rookie Connor Williams will start in his place.

Zack Martin being unavailable is hardly how Marc Colombo wants to prepare for the Cowboys first road game since week 11. Having both Su'a-Filo and Williams in the lineup will be valuable for the Cowboys moving forward though, as Williams could earn his job at left guard back from the right side.

While he won't nearly be expected to play at the level of Martin, Williams looked poised coming off the bench against the Eagles and helping the Cowboys offense score their final three touchdowns. Williams was on the field for all three of Amari Cooper's scores, as Dallas rushed for 34 yards on 11 carries with him in the game.

Williams flashed some of the traits that made him a top left tackle prospect out of college, flowing to the second level with ease and creating movement with quick feet at the point of attack. The Cowboys have forced him to remain game ready despite losing his starting position by finding a few emergency snaps for him in recent weeks, as well as special teams looks. The team has every reason to believe Williams is an ascending young player still.

The same cannot be said of Su'a-Filo, who simply has to focus on continuing to hold up at left guard again this week. With each passing win, Su'a-Filo's LG spot has become more of a liability in a Cowboys offense in need of a jump-start late in this 2018 season.

Consistent offensive line play is one of the few things that's clearly hurting the Cowboys as contenders in the NFC behind a stellar defense and game breaking wide receiver.

The Cowboys won't be at full strength against the eighth best rushing defense and 15th ranked passing defense in yards per game. With three separate chances to clinch the NFC East starting at the Colts and extending until the end of the regular season, the Cowboys stand to learn all they need to know about the offensive line that will start in the playoffs.

Martin, who's elevated his game to a new level this season despite this lingering knee injury, should be on track to return when the Cowboys come home to play the Buccaneers in week 16.

Tell us what you think about "Zack Martin Out, Connor Williams In at Right Guard for Cowboys at Colts" in the comments below. You can also email me at, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Game Notes

#INDvsDAL: How The Game May Be Decided In The Red Zone

Kevin Brady



Fantasy Football - Fantasy Football Quarterback Rankings - Week 2 2
Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

In many ways the Dallas Cowboys offense has found their stride in recent weeks. Over this five game win streak they have "found their identity" playing ball control offense and trusting their quarterback to make big throws when needed most. Of course the defense has been the star most weeks, but this offense should not be slept on either.

This doesn't mean the offense has been without their fair share of struggles, however, particularly in the red zone. Struggles that the numbers say could cost the Cowboys this weeks' game in Indianapolis if they don't get it cleaned up.

In terms of red zone offensive efficiency the Cowboys have been downright horrendous. In fact, they are dead-last in the league in success rate inside the 10 yard line, last in first-and-goal success rate, and 21st in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.

There's no sugar-coating those numbers, they are bad. Especially when you consider that this team has arguably the league's best running back and a quarterback with the size and athleticism you might expect from a linebacker.

For as bad as the Cowboys are inside the red zone, the Colts are equally as good. Indianapolis is top 10 in terms of success rate inside the 10, at the goal line, and in first-and-goal success rate. They are also 11th in success rate between the 11 and 20 yard lines.

Despite not having the individual running back the Cowboys have, the Colts offensive line and skill players as a whole set them up a bit better when the field is shortened. Tight end Eric Ebron has been rather incredible in terms of production this season, catching 12 touchdowns on 58 receptions. Andrew Luck is also a more accurate quarterback than Dak Prescott, though Prescott should be a much more dangerous red zone threat than he currently is.

Bob Sturm on Twitter

I am working on the Cowboys 32nd ranked Goal-to-Go offensive numbers. They have run 35 of their 59 total plays out of Shotgun-11 Personnel. In those 35 plays, the average gain per snap is....12 INCHES. I am not kidding. They could out-gain that by running QB sneaks. I am amazed.

Of course, some of the Cowboys red zone struggles can be pinned on offensive coordinator Scott Linehan. Linehan has failed to scheme open the "easy" red zone touchdowns we see so often around the league. As pointed out by Bob Sturm on Twitter this week, the Cowboys' personnel groupings and play calls when in goal-to-go situations have been questionable to say the least. But while blame does fall on the coaches' shoulders, the players need to execute better as well.

Games in the NFL often come down to just a handful of plays, and red zone efficiency plays a key role in deciding the outcome of close games every week. If this is once again the case on Sunday, based on past performance, the Dallas Cowboys could be in trouble against the efficient Colts.

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