It may still seem very far away, but the days of NFL clubs holding 90 players on their roster are numbered. By September 1st, each team will cut down to 53 players, thinning the roster following training camp. For the Dallas Cowboys, this is surely going to leave some talented players off the 2018 squad, as the team is once again entering Oxnard with a deep group.
We all have our "pet cats" that we'll root for to make the roster however possible. Be it a wide receiver like Noah Brown, now stuck behind a wave of new pass catchers, or a cornerback like Marquez White, the roster crunch for the Cowboys will come at a cost to some.
Forecasting exactly where the team will "go long" and where they'll be short on numbers is hard to predict without the team back on the field, but here is my initial look at some players that Cowboys Nation may have to move on from.
Cornerback Marquez White
Previously in this offseason, I wrote about how Cornerback Anthony Brown may be one of the Cowboys better all-around players to miss this year's cut. With a strong showing in front of new Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard at OTAs and mini camp, Brown feels well on his way to earning a spot with the Cowboys, leaving Marquez White in a precarious situation.
White spent his rookie season in Dallas on the practice squad, a sixth round pick out of Florida State. Sliding in the draft because of his rawness as a prospect, White has the ideal size and length to play anywhere in Richard's defense if given the chance.
Getting this chance may come difficult to White though, as Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie are slotted to start on the boundary for the Cowboys at cornerback. Not as well suited to compete in the slot against both Brown, Jourdan Lewis, and Duke Thomas, White's time with the Cowboys could be limited.
Moving on from White would be an important vote of confidence in the rest of the secondary for the Cowboys. Teams around the league would waste no time recalling their initial draft grades on White to potentially add the CB to their roster.
Defensive End Charles Tapper
The Cowboys have very much so built their roster with a "what have you done for me lately?" type approach, and for Charles Tapper this answer is disappointing. Constantly dealing with injuries since entering the league in 2016, Tapper has appeared in two games and recorded one sack.
Tapper couldn't escape this year's offseason program without another setback, suffering a concussion that kept him out of workouts. Even without assuming that the Cowboys add a reinstated Randy Gregory to their roster, the team is prepared with more proven options at right defensive end.
Rookie Dorance Armstrong, FA signing Kony Ealy, and last year's first-round pick Taco Charlton are all capable of playing this spot. Doing so with more availability than Tapper may be all this group needs to earn their spot over the third-year draft pick out of Oklahoma.
Guard Marcus Martin
Yesterday here at Inside The Star, I wrote about how the Cowboys potentially keeping more offensive linemen compared to recent years could be bad news for the team's tight ends. Logically, this also means that some of the Cowboys embarrassment of riches on the OL will be looking for a new job.
With starting experience as a member of the 49ers, Marcus Martin was brought in as insurance for the departed Jonathan Cooper, prior to the Cowboys drafting Connor Williams. With Williams expected to start immediately at left guard, Martin has a long way to go in holding his spot over the likes of Kadeem Edwards and Damien Mama.
The Cowboys value Edward's swing ability, although Martin is capable of lining up at center along with guard. At any interior position, he may have more experience and skill than Mama, but if the Cowboys feel certain about their five starters they can afford to keep a cheaper player like Mama compared to Martin.
A free agent signing like Martin not making the Cowboys roster would only solidify the team's status as the best OL in the game, with Offensive Tackle Cam Fleming being their other veteran FA signing.
Running Back Bo Scarbrough
Bo Scarbrough and the Dallas Cowboys is a fun concept, but it may be just that as the roster trims in Dallas. The star running back out of Alabama fell all the way to the Cowboys final pick in the seventh round at this year's draft, joining Ezekiel Elliott, Rod Smith, and now Darius Jackson in a loaded backfield.
Scarbrough stands out as a back with true power and finishing ability, but he'll have to do so on special teams to justify a roster spot. Simply playing as a short yardage back won't be enough for Scarbrough to survive in a RB room full of complete play makers, yet still reliant on a true workhorse back.
Wide Receiver Deonte Thompson
When the Cowboys drafted both Michael Gallup and Cedrick Wilson, they created a logjam at wide receiver. Through competition, the team is hoping their best five/six receivers for Dak Prescott to throw to will reshape this offense.
The latest signing as an outside receiver with over-the-top speed, Deonte Thompson was brought in by the Cowboys in free agency via the Buffalo Bills.
Thompson's ability to impact a game with this speed is enough for him to secure a spot in Scott Linehan's offense. Without a strong showing in camp and the preseason though, its realistic to see Thompson losing out on this spot. The Cowboys have already seen what players like Noah Brown and Lance Lenoir can do, which fills up their depth chart at WR when adding Allen Hurns, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley.
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By taking a look at where the Cowboys have depth to spare -- prior to any actual roster battles taking place next month -- it's easier to understand the types of decisions that lie ahead for this team.
All of the players listed above will have their opportunity to prove me wrong and earn their spot with the team, capable of helping in a big way. Regardless of how this list was constructed, going from 90 players down to 53 will be as difficult as ever for Dallas in 2018.
Cowboys Wishlist: Snap Julio Jones’ Hot Streak
The Dallas Cowboys will try to get their second road win of the season against another inconsistent Atlanta Falcons team. As both try to get back to .500, this game will be filled with interesting matchups and implications. After upsetting the Philadelphia Eagles 27-20 last Sunday, the Cowboys need to get another upset win to keep being relevant in the league this year.
Here's this week's edition of Cowboys Wishlist! I hope you enjoy and I encourage you to let me know what your wishes are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Stop Julio Jones' 100-Yard Game Streak
With the Atlanta Falcons sitting at 4-5, many have overlooked Wide Receiver Julio Jones' hot streak. In each of his last four games, Jones has accounted for more than 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Totaling 476 yards in his last four games, Jones is ready to face Cowboys' Cornerback Byron Jones.
Byron has certainly been a pleasant surprise in 2018, playing at a great level right now. He has faced Odell Beckham and DeAndre Hopkins this year and made a good job of defending these "Tier 1" pass-catchers. It's worth noting the Cowboys are not making him "travel" with these players but rather keep him on a specific side of the field. That shouldn't change against the Falcons.
Wish #2: Contain WR Calvin Ridley
Back in April, Cowboys Nation eyed Calvin Ridley as a prospect who could end up wearing the Star on Sundays. However, Dallas passed on him and the Alabama product fell right unto the Falcons' lap. He's had a pretty good season and despite sharing the field with Julio Jones, he's done a great job as a rookie averaging 14 yards per reception.
The Cowboys need to contain him. While Dallas should feel comfortable with Byron doing his job, the truth is Chidobe Awuzie has struggled at times. Not that he's suddenly a bad player, but he needs to step up his game. Lining up against Ridley today will be a great test and one I wouldn't expect him to pass easily.
Wish #3: Score 28+ Points
The Cowboys have the huge advantage of going against a defense that ranks 29th in scoring defense. They did a nice job on Philadelphia last week and should continue to build on that success to do something they haven't done much this year: score a lot of points.
Scott Linehan's unit needs to do a better, more consistent, job. They've shown us they're capable of scoring, but they've also shown us their remarkable ability to seemingly forget how to do so. Blame it on play-calling, QB play, poor offensive line or whatever you prefer, it's a flawed unit.
They need to capitalize versus a poor defense like the Falcons' to find a steady rhythm.
Wish #4: Dak Makes This Falcons' Game a Turning Point
Last year, when Dak Prescott was sacked six times in Atlanta (five times by Adrian Clayborn) something changed for the Cowboys' young quarterback. Missing RB Ezekiel Elliott and LT Tyron Smith that day, Prescott had one of the worse days in his career. It was a turning point for him as a QB and the public eye.
Now he has a chance at redemption. A shot at putting the Cowboys at .500 and reviving playoff hopes, as unlikely as it sounds.
I wish that's the case for the Cowboys young passer in Atlanta. As flawed as he is, I'm a fan of his. The kid leaves it all on the field.
Final Thoughts on Cowboys Matchup with the Atlanta Falcons
This week, like every week for the rest of the 2018 NFL season, is a must-win game for the Dallas Cowboys. Getting ready to face an Atlanta Falcons team that took the heart and soul of the Cowboys offense in last year's matchup, Dak Prescott and the Cowboys have a lot to prove as they attempt to get back to the .500 mark for the fourth time this season.
It feels like the Philadelphia game was forever ago. Now that it's finally game day, here are some final thoughts on the Cowboys matchup with the Atlanta Falcons.
Amari Cooper Breaks Century Mark
Amari Cooper has proven his worth in his first two games since coming over to the Dallas Cowboys from the Oakland Raiders. He's had 11 catches in the first two weeks and has made an instant rapport with Quarterback Dak Prescott. I believe they take another step forward this week and Amari Cooper goes for 100 yards in just his third game with America's Team.
Cooper had 75 yards against the Eagles and 58 against the Titans. He's trending toward the 100 yard mark. If Prescott and Cooper could have connected on just one of the deep shots they missed on, Cooper goes for 100 last week. This week, Dak and Coop get another weak defense.
The Atlanta Falcons pass defense is one of the worst in the NFL. They have the sixth highest net yards per attempt number in the NFL and the sixth most yards allowed. They've also allowed the fourth most passing touchdowns; 21.
Since the Atlanta Falcons can score and move the ball with their passing attack, the Cowboys will have to throw to win this game.
Can Xavier Su'a Filo Continue to be an X-Factor
The Cowboys offensive line had their best game of the season on the ground on Sunday as they gashed the Philadelphia Eagles -- who were second in rushing heading into the game -- for 171 rushing yards. They did it by going right at the Eagles defense and were most successful when they used Su'a-Filo to get to the next level of the defense.
There's been a lot of talk about whether Su'a-Filo should continue to start when Connor Williams comes back and for me, it depends. Williams has had some problems with the strength that defensive tackles bring on the inside, but he's been getting better too.
If Su'a-Filo and the Cowboys offensive line plays well during this stretch that Williams is healing, then it would be a shock to see the rookie second round pick reinserted into the starting lineup.
Check out this week's film review on Xavier Su'a-Filo.
Dominant Defensive Duo
Jaylon Smith and DeMarcus Lawrence has been exceptional this season. Jaylon Smith looks to be healthy and progressing to be what the NFL thought he would be coming out of college. A transcendant middle linebacker.
DeMarcus Lawrence sack numbers may not be as high as they were this time last season, but he continues to show that he's a dominant player on both pass and rushing downs.
Cowboys playmaking EPA, now with snap counts! The most efficient playmakers have been Jaylon Smith, DeMarcus Lawrence, Sean Lee, Daniel Ross and Jourdan Lewis. "Playmaking EPA" = total EPA on failed plays forced through sacks, QB hits, turnovers, passes deflected, tackles, etc.
As you can see from our friend Daniel Houston, who manages Cowboys Stats and Graphics on Twitter points out, Smith and Lee have been the best playmakers on the team on a per snap basis. By just about every measure out there, those two have been worthy of Pro Bowl and perhaps All-Pro selections.
Playing for his Life
Chidobe Awuzie has been struggling this season. And that's stating it kindly to the second-year corner back. He's had decent positioning for much of the year, typically being right where he's supposed to be, but he's not making any plays of the football, which is something he was known for coming out of college.
There's something not quite right with his game this season as he's become the focal point for opposing passing attacks and for good reason. He can't stop anyone.
Well, this is the week to turn all of that around. The Dallas Cowboys need him to have a big week this week.
As humans, we know that when our interior isn't right, it doesn't matter what else we have going on on the outside, we don't function as well. The same is true for defense. If your interior isn't right, your defense isn't right. The Dallas Cowboys defensive interior is struggling with some health issues.
On the final injury report of the week, Defensive Tackles David Irving and Daniel Ross have already been ruled out, Antwaun Woods is doubtful, and Maliek Collins is questionable. If for some reason Maliek Collins isn't able to go, then it's probable that the team will go into the game without a functional one-technique defensive tackle. Even with Collins in the lineup, being down Woods and Ross means the Cowboys have to run Collins at 1T and Tyrone Crawford is your primary 3T defensive tackle.
With Crawford having to play inside this week it means a three-man rotation at defensive end of DeMarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Dorance Armstrong. They should be alright on the outside, but Crawford is one of their best run defending defensive ends. He's good on the inside, but you want to save him for your passing situations.
This is one of those games that I'm having a difficult time getting a read on. The Cowboys haven't been good on the road this season until last week at Philadelphia, one of the more difficult places to play in the NFL. In that game, they finally got their offense clicking through the air and on the ground.
This week looks like an opportunity for the Cowboys to continue to prove themselves offensively against an average to below average opponent.
On the defensive side of the ball, they're going to have their hands full with an Atlanta Falcons offense that is averaging more than 30 points a game at home and has one of the best receivers in the NFL in Julio Jones.
I think this is going to be a close game where both teams get into 20's in point scored and it comes down to who plays better offensively at the end.
My heart leans Cowboys, but my gut leans Falcons. So it should be a 20-20 tie. Really though, I'm going with the...
Who you got?
Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.
Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
- DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
- DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
- G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
- G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable
The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.
Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.
The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.
Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.
- LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT
It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.
The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.
Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.
So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.
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