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Dallas Cowboys 2019 Job Security Rankings: Defense

Jess Haynie

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Leighton Vander Esch Lands on List of NFL's Top 10 Rookies
Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

When the Dallas Cowboys start training camp in July, there will be various feelings of job security throughout the 90-man roster. Throughout the NFL, players know when they're already locked in to a role on the team or when they're fighting for survival.

Yesterday we broke down the current, pre-training camp job security of the offensive players. Today we turn our attention to the defense.

Remember, these tiers aren't just about making the 53-man roster. It also has to do with the players' roles within the roster. Are you a sure starter, fighting for playing time, or just hoping to avoid the practice squad?

Tier 1 - The Untouchables

DE DeMarcus Lawrence, LB Leighton Vander Esch, LB Jaylon Smith, CB Byron Jones

There is no debating these four players. Three of them are coming off Pro Bowl seasons and Jaylon Smith could've easily been right there with them. They are the new leaders of the defense and will be back in their featured roles in 2019.

None of these players will be challenged for their jobs. Even if Byron Jones doesn't get a long-term extension beyond this season, he will be back as the primary corner and playing for his free agency leverage next year.

These guys are easy. Let's move on.

Cowboys Have Their Version of Tryann Mathieu in Xavier Woods?

Dallas Cowboys S Xavier Woods

Tier 2 - Slightly Touchable

DE Robert Quinn, DT Antwaun Woods, S Xavier Woods

The Cowboys hope that adding veteran Robert Quinn to Lawrence at defensive end will give them their most dangerous pair of pass rusher since DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer. The job is Quinn's to lose; only the decline of age can stop Robert from being a key player in the defense this year.

Maybe putting the Woods boys up here is a little optimistic, but it just seems like the arrow is very much pointed upwards on both Antwaun and Xavier at their positions. If they continue to build on last year, there's little reason to think they won't be starters this season.

Dallas has good reason to be invested in both of them. With Tyrone Crawford and Maliek Collins both likely playing their final seasons here, Antwaun Woods gives them a secured talent going forward. Ideally, Woods and Trysten Hill will be your starters in 2020.

The same goes for Xavier Woods at safety.  Jeff Heath has an expiring contract and George Iloka has just a one-year deal. The Cowboys want Xavier to become a fixture that they can add to going forward.

Assuming all of these players play up to current expectation, they aren't budging.

Leighton Vander Esch Can Prove Value for Good Against High Scoring Saints

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Tier 3 - On the Team, But Where?

DE Taco Charlton, DE Dorance Armstrong, DL Tyrone Crawford, DT Maliek Collins, DT Trysten Hill, LB Sean Lee, LB Joe Thomas, CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Anthony Brown, CB Jourdan Lewis, S Jeff Heath, S George Iloka

Most of the Cowboys defensive roster will be filled out from among this group. They should all make the team, but in what capacity? And how much will it matter, particularly on the defensive line, with the rotations that Rod Marinelli uses?

It probably seems odd to have former stalwarts like Tyrone Crawford and Sean Lee listed here, but that's the new reality. I'm actually surprised both are still on the roster at this point, expecting at least one to be released for cap space this offseason. Both veterans will not be as featured as in the past, and I could even still see Crawford being released at final cuts.


Guys like Taco Charlton and Maliek Collins are also fighting for playing time against younger options on the defensive line. Will Dorance Armstrong and Trysten Hill push for snaps, and consequently push the older players into lesser roles?

How will things shake out in the secondary? Will Jourdan Lewis be able to find a larger role after being buried behind the top three corners last year? Will Anthony Brown or Chidobe Awuzie be the number-two CB?  And at safety, who emerges as the second starter between veterans Jeff Heath and George Iloka?

Cowboys Training Camp: 5 Fringe Players Fans Should Follow

Dallas Cowboys S Kavon Frazier (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

Tier 4 - Bubble Players

DE Kerry Hyder, DE Joe Jackson, DT Christian Covington, DT Daniel Ross, LB Justin March-Lillard, LB Chris Covington, CB Michael Jackson, CB Donovan Olumba, S Kavon Frazier, S Darian Thompson, S Donovan Wilson

We've used up 19 of our 25-26 roster spots already. That means only 6-7 of these 11 players will make the team.

Dallas took a flier on Kerry Hyder as a rehab project, and the veteran DE is already impressing in the offseason practices. That could make it impossible for rookie Joe Jackson to make the team, getting crunched by the numbers.

Veteran Christian Covington feels like a solid pickup at DT, but what if he struggles to convert to the 4-3 scheme? A guy like Daniel Ross could be ready to steal the spot out from under him.

At cornerback, are rookie Michael Jackson and second-year prospect Donovan Olumba fighting for the same roster spot? What if Dallas doesn't even keep five corner, like they did last year, and leave both guys out in the cold?

The competition is really heating up at safety. Kavon Frazier's in the last year of his rookie deal and may not be able to fight off Darian Thompson, a former third-round pick, or rookie Donovan Wilson. Any one of these three could emerge.

None of these players listed here are guaranteed a roster spot. Even the newly drafted players will have to fight their way on, thanks to the strong talent acquisition the Cowboys have had in recent years.

Jalen Jelks

Dallas Cowboys DE Jalen Jelks

Tier 5 - Longshots

Considering the potential casualties from the Bubble Players, any of this last group making the roster is going to defy expectations. Even 7th-round pick Jalen Jelks will have a hard time making it, and may have to convert to linebacker to have a chance at competing.

Despite his intriguing 6'4" frame, CB Chris Westry will need to be truly exceptional to push past Michael Jackson or Donovan Olumba. Even if Dallas keeps six corners, he may be stuck as the seventh guy and headed for the practice squad.

It will inevitably happen that reports come from training camp of one of these guys, or some other longshot, making plays and creating a sudden surge of attention. You'll see them start popping up on 53-man roster projections while we anxiously await watching them in the preseason games.

Then maybe nothing will happen, and we'll forget about them all over again. Or maybe they do have some big games, but ultimately are among the final cuts despite all of the hype.

In the nearly two decades now that I've been really analyzing the Cowboys' offseasons, I can't remember a year where there seemed to be less opportunity for a dark horse to make the team. That's unfortunate them, but a great problem for Dallas' perceived roster strength.

We'll find out soon enough how it all unfolds.


Cowboys fan since 1992, blogger since 2011. Bringing you the objectivity of an outside perspective with the passion of a die-hard fan. I love to talk to my readers, so please comment on any article and I'll be sure to respond!

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Game Notes

3 Things the Dallas Cowboys Need to do Against the Detroit Lions

Brian Martin

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3 Things the Dallas Cowboys Need to do Against the Detroit Lions

The  Dallas Cowboys are coming off yet another disappointing loss at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings. Their season and playoff hopes could be hanging in the balance now, which makes just about every game from here on out all that more important. They need to start playing as if their backs are against the wall, because that very well could be the case.

Luckily the Dallas Cowboys should be able to take care of business this week when they hit the road to take on the Detroit Lions. This is one of the more winnable games left on the Cowboys schedule this year and they should use it as a bit of a refresher game of sorts in order to get things back on track. The objective of course remains the same… Winning. But, this is also an opportunity to clean a few things up.

Let's take a look at a few things I think the Dallas Cowboys need to do against the Detroit Lions in this Week 11 matchup.

Hit the Ground Running

Amari Cooper, Dak Prescott

Dallas Cowboys QB Dak Prescott and WR Amari Cooper

No more slow starts! The Dallas Cowboys have to hit the ground running against the Detroit Lions instead of digging themselves into an early hole like they've done quite a bit this season. I honestly don't care if it's on the arm of Quarterback Dak Prescott or on the legs of Running Back Ezekiel Elliott, the offense has to figure out some way to be the aggressor in order to put points on the board early.

The Dallas Cowboys fell behind early in nearly every single one of their losses this season. I don't think a single team has really outplayed them yet this year, but when they have to scratch and claw their way back to get out of the hole they've dug themselves into it makes it exceedingly more difficult to win. It's time to change that narrative this week against the Detroit Lions so that hopefully it carries over for the rest of the year.


Execute! Execute! Execute!

Dalvin Cook

Minnesota Vikings RB Dalvin Cook

The second thing the Dallas Cowboys need to do this week against the Detroit Lions is to clean up their execution, especially in the defensive side of the ball. Offensively things are going pretty well for the Cowboys, but the same can't be said about their defense. Despite all the talent they've added this season they are still struggling to put everything together and play up to expectations. Hopefully this Week 11 matchup helps them right the ship.

This is a game the Dallas Cowboys should be able to focus on their execution. That means maintaining their gap integrity in the running game, staying assignment sound in the passing game, and most importantly finish the tackle. Tackling was especially poor last week against the Vikings which is why Dalvin Cook ran wild. This has to be a group effort here. Yes, individuals need to improve, but for the overall defense to play up to expectations they have to execute as a unit.

Establish the Running Game

Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard

Dallas Cowboys RBs Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard

Dak Prescott has been playing phenomenal these past few games and has proven he's more than capable of carrying the offense on his back, but the Dallas Cowboys still need to establish the running game. Just about everything Prescott does in the passing game is built off of play action. If the running game isn't producing that hurts the overall offensive output. Plus, the best way to control the game is by running the ball.

I think Ezekiel Elliott should have a pretty big game against the Detroit Lions this week. After being bottled up by the Vikings last week that should be news to the Cowboys ears. This offense feeds off of Zeke and it needs him to find his groove now that we're getting into the do or die part of the NFL season. No. 21 isn't the only RB who needs to find his groove though. Tony Pollard needs to start being more involved and what better game to get him going than against Detroit.

What do you think the Dallas Cowboys need to do against the Detroit Lions?


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Game Notes

Lion Down: QB Matthew Stafford Ruled Out for Cowboys Game

Jess Haynie

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1

The Detroit Lions will be without starting Quarterback Matthew Stafford this Sunday when they host the Dallas Cowboys. He has been officially ruled out due to fractures in his back; the second-straight game that Stafford will miss with the injury.

Fourth-year backup QB Jeff Driskel will get the start as he did last week against the Chicago Bears. The Lions lost that game 20-13, and Driskel went 1-4 as a starter last season when playing for the Cincinnati Bengals.

Stafford's status was confirmed this morning by Lions' Head Coach Matt Patricia.

Jon Machota on Twitter

Lions QB Matthew Stafford (back) has been ruled out for Sunday's game against the Cowboys

Losing Stafford could leave Detroit completely crippled on offense. While they have one of the league's top passing offenses so far in 2019, that was all Matt's work at QB. Now they are missing both their starting QB and their top running back, Kerryon Johnson, who went on injured reserve in Week 7.

That said, Detroit did put up 357 total offensive yards last week against the Bears with Driskel starting. Given the quality of Chicago's defense and that the Lions were playing on the road, that's a strong number.


It will be interesting to see how Dallas strategizes on defense after last week's loss to the Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys were completely run over by Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, so will increased focus on run defense creates opportunities for Driskel and the Lions' receivers?

However it shakes out, Matthew Stafford's absence definitely helps the Cowboys. He is still one of the top quarterbacks in football and had a top-five passer rating before the injury.

We never root for injuries but such is life in the NFL. Sometimes you get the benefit, sometimes you're on the losing end.

Hopefully, this turn of fate helps Dallas get a much-needed victory.


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Game Notes

#DALvsDET: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction

Kevin Brady

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Zeke the Freak Tames Lions – Texans Up Next

The Line

Cowboys -3.5 O/U 51.5 points.

Dallas Cowboys

After suffering a devastating four point loss to the Vikings on Sunday night, the Cowboys will look to get back on track against yet another NFC North foe.

Dallas now sits at 5-4, clinging to their first place spot in the division with the Philadelphia Eagles right on their heels. They have fumbled away four very win-able games already this season, and are running out of chances to take full control of their playoff destiny.

You can't necessarily call this one a must win for the Cowboys, but it's damn near as close as it can get to one for a week 11 game. Considering Detroit's record and injuries, the Cowboys can ill afford to let this one slip away on Sunday.

It's one of the few games against a team with a losing record remaining on their schedule.


Detroit Lions

The 2019 Lions are a tough team to figure out. Expected before the season to be one of the worst teams in the conference, the Lions started out the season rather well.

They were "undefeated" (there was a tie) through the first three weeks of the season, and played the Kansas City Chiefs extremely tough. They also went on the road and had the Green Bay Packers on the ropes for four full quarters.

But, with all that being said, they now sit at 3-5-1, with their NFC playoff hopes just about destroyed. Quarterback Matt Stafford is having one of the best seasons of his entire career, however, and is surrounded by an offense littered with receiving talent. If he's healthy and can play, he'll be a handful for the Cowboys secondary to deal with.

Trends

  • The Cowboys are now 2-4 against the spread their last 6 games.
  • The score total has gone over in 5 of the Cowboys' last 6 games. It's also gone over 5 of their last 6 road games.
  • The Lions are 1-4 against the spread their last 5 games.
  • The score total has gone over 7 of the last 8 times these teams have played.

Prediction

Despite being on the road this week, I'm going to pick the Dallas Cowboys to come out on top and cover the 3.5 point spread. At some point, talent has to take over for this bunch, and what a better day for that to happen than against a hobbled Detroit Lions team?

The Cowboys have been far from perfect in 2019, but it's now or never if they want to rack up wins and start a playoff run.


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