The NFL preseason is now behind us, and the business of the next two days will be the forming of 53-man rosters before Saturday's deadline. That being the case, it's time for our final Dallas Cowboys roster projection of 2019.
You know the drill, so let's no waste any time. You can reference the previous edition of my roster projections here.
Ready? Yes, good, on we go!
Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush
According to reports, Rush distanced himself from Mike White fairly quickly during training camp. The preseason has only solidified that view; Cooper is your backup QB. In fact, I'm confident he will be the only reserve passer on the 2019 roster.
Despite being a 5th-round pick last year, White just hasn't looked good enough. He can deliver a solid throw when circumstances are perfect, but playing in the NFL is all about what you can do under duress.
Beyond just not making the roster this year, I think Dallas will move on from Mike and make Taryn Christion their practice squad QB. An undrafted rookie who only joined the team in early August, Christion looked more confident than White did last night against Tampa Bay. He also has significant athleticism for the position.
If I'm right, it will be a quick and unfortunate end to Mike White's Cowboys career. But we've seen 5th-round picks not make the team even in their rookie years (more on that to come); all bets are off by Year 2.
Running Back (4)
Tony Pollard, Alfred Morris, Jordan Chunn
Jamize Olawale (FB)
Changes: Added Chunn, Removed Ezekiel Elliott
Based on everything we've heard up to this point, it looks unlikely that Zeke will end his contract holdout and rejoin the team for the season opener. You can look elsewhere on Inside The Star for plenty more coverage on that topic.
We're going with that assumption today and the likelihood that rookie Tony Pollard will be the starting tailback, with veteran Alfred Morris providing an experienced, reliable backup option. If Zeke were to come back soon, I expect Morris would be released as he doesn't provide any special teams value.
It is that same reason that I have Jordan Chunn as RB3 over Darius Jackson or Mike Weber. Assuming his rib injury from last night isn't severe, Chunn has done enough on both offense and special teams to earn a roster spot. If the injury is a problem, I expect Weber to make the team over Jackson.
Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, Randall Cobb,
Tavon Austin, Devin Smith, Cedrick Wilson
Changes: Added Smith, Removed Noah Brown
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the preseason has been the ascension of Devin Smith. The former 2nd-round pick is looking great and has leapfrogged his competition, securing a roster spot as the best WR prospect of the preseason.
It appears Noah Brown will start the year on the PUP list and that opens up a spot for Cedrick Wilson, who would've made last year's team if not for a preseason injury. He was the next-best performer behind Smith these last few weeks, plus has value as a backup return man on special teams.
Speaking of kick and punt returns, it will be interesting to see how Dallas utilizes Tavon Austin in those roles in 2019. We assume he will handle punts given his proven talent there, but will he also be used on kickoffs? As long as Tony Pollard is the starter at RB, someone else will have to take on that role.
Tight End (3)
Jason Witten, Blake Jarwin, Dalton Schultz
I had a hard time leaving Marcus Lucas off the roster after some strong play in the preseason. In fact, he's one of the players I'm most prepared to be wrong about. But I just don't think the Cowboys have ever intended to keep four tight ends given their needs throughout the entire roster.
Assuming Jarwin and Schultz have healed up and are ready for the regular season, Dallas should be set with their top three. They also have FB Jamize Olawale who can play as a smallish TE if needed, plus Noah Brown if and when he comes back to duty.
As for the practice squad, Lucas would be great to put on there but isn't eligible after his various stops throughout the league. That leaves Codey McElroy as the current candidate unless Dallas signs someone off the street.
Offensive Line (8)
Tyron Smith, La'el Collins, Cam Fleming
Travis Frederick, Zack Martin, Connor Williams,
Joe Looney, Xavier Su'a-Filo
Changes: Added Su'a-Filo, Removed Connor McGovern
Rookie Connor McGovern is likely headed to injured reserve after a recent setback with his pectoral injury. Nothing against McGovern, but that's almost a blessing in disguise for the Cowboys this year with their roster management.
If healthy, McGovern was going to have to be carried on the 53-man roster despite not being ready to actually contribute on the field. Dallas can now stash him on IR and go with just their top eight linemen, saving a roster spot for another position.
This is especially good news for Xavier Su'a-Filo, who was one deserving player that might've lost his job. But now that McGovern is likely out of the picture, Dallas can hang on to Xavier and bolster their interior line depth. If another team makes a trade offer for Su'a-Filo in the coming days, the Cowboys will likely keep Adam Redmond as their last reserve lineman.
Defensive End (6)
DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, Taco Charlton,
Dorance Armstrong, Kerry Hyder, Joe Jackson
Changes: Removed Jalen Jelks
I am fully prepared to be wrong here. I could see Crawford being cut or traded for salary cap reasons, or could see Dallas trading Taco after his big game against the Texans. They may not see the need to keep all six of these players with Robert Quinn coming off suspension in Week 3, or the potential of Randy Gregory returning sometime during the year.
Injuries may settle the matter before any other moves have to be made. If someone goes down in Week 2, there's your roster spot for Quinn's return. But if that doesn't happen, it will be very interesting to see how Dallas makes room for the veteran.
As for the other names, Armstrong, Hyder, and Jackson have all been standout performers since training camp began. They should be locks as current contributors, with Dorance and Joe hopefully being core players in the years to come.
Defensive Tackle (5)
Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, Trysten Hill,
Christian Covington, Daniel Wise
Changes: Added Wise
I try not to overreact to preseason games, especially the fourth one, but Daniel Wise was that good last night and throughout the offseason. He has position flex like Tyrone Crawford and could actually end up being why the Cowboys let the veteran go.
With Collins and Woods as the sure starters and Hill guaranteed to make it in his rookie year, Covington is the only other question mark. I think he makes it as the only other DT with the size to be a run stuffer as the 1-tech, plus being better than Hill at this point as a backup option.
Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Sean Lee
Joe Thomas, Justin March, Justin Phillips
Not much to say here. The top five have been sure things for a while; even Justin March given his valuable experience and special teams work. It all really came down to who would be the 6th guy, or 7th if they went long.
Here's how I see this shaking out. Dallas will place Chris Covington on IR immediately with his shoulder issue. They will carry Luke Gifford on the 53 through final cuts, so that he's eligible to return during the year, then put him on IR on Monday. At that point, assuming he cleared waives, Justin Phillips will be signed as the sixth linebacker.
If Phillips gets scooped up by another NFL team, I expect Dallas will either re-sign Nate Hall (waived earlier today) as the sixth man or bring in somebody from other teams' cuts. Or they may go with Covington if they think he can be game ready for Week 1. Another option that I've floated before is going with just five true linebackers and then using Jalen Jelks in a hybrid role.
Ideally, it will be Phillips now and then Gifford after eight weeks. But there will be a few moving parts to make that happen.
Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown,
Jourdan Lewis, C.J. Goodwin, Donovan Olumba
Changes: Added Olumba, Removed Michael Jackson
Like Luke Gifford at LB, I think rookie corner Michael Jackson is a guy Dallas would like to put on IR now but have the option to reactive sometime during the year. To do that, they may risk Donovan Olumba on the waiver wire and then swap them on Monday.
However, as we said earlier, being a 5th-round pick doesn't guarantee Jackson a roster spot. I could also see where Dallas simply can't risk losing Olumba and put the rookie on the practice squad.
Given his experience and special teams value, C.J. Goodwin is making this roster. He even played some safety last night; just too many ways he can be utilized and enough proven proficiency to let go of.
Xavier Woods, Jeff Heath, Darian Thompson,
It feels like only a matter of time before Donovan Wilson is starting alongside Xavier Woods. In fact, I would predict it happens after the bye week this year, if not sooner. But Dallas will still defer to Jeff Heath to begin the season.
The big surprise here from when we started this process is that veteran George Iloka will not make the team. He just hasn't delivered since being signed as a free agent, and Dallas can comfortably go with their younger options.
It's tough to say goodbye to Kavon Frazier, but Wilson takes on his role and Darian Thompson has more value with free/strong safety versatility as a backup. There just isn't enough reason to keep Kavon at this point, especially with his rookie deal expiring after the season.
Special Teams (3)
Brett Maher, Chris Jones, L.P. Ladouceur
Dallas could save a little cap space by swapping out Jones for Kasey Redfern at punter, but they would also lose their longtime holder on field goals and extra points. Given the shakiness of Brett Maher at kicker, I think they will ultimately keep Jones to stabilize the entire process and give Maher his best chance at success.
Cowboys Start 2-0, Will They Finally Make it Count?
Starting an NFL season 2-0 has always drawn headlines, and especially when it's as rare as it is for the Dallas Cowboys. The question now is if, unlike in years passed, the Cowboys are finally going to build something special on that solid foundation.
Over the last two weeks, wins against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins have given Dallas the doubly-good record of 2-0 both overall and in the NFC East. While neither team is seen as a contender this year, division games tend to go off script and be more competitive than what's on paper.
The Cowboys have handled their business so far this year and in impressive fashion. Can they keep it up?
Before 2019, Dallas has only had a 2-0 start three other times in the last 20 seasons. All of them occurred during Tony Romo's run as starting quarterback, but only once with Jason Garrett as head coach.
The most recent was in 2015. Coming on the heels of an impressive 12-4 finish in 2014 and the agony of the Dez Bryant "no catch" call in the playoffs, big things were expected in Dallas that year.
But even though the Cowboys moved to 2-0 with a Week 2 win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the loss of Tony Romo to a broken collarbone in that game torpedoed the season. Dallas had to trot out the feckless trifecta of Brandon Weeden, Matt Cassell, and Kellen Moore at QB the rest of the year and only won two more games.
The other 2-0 starts for Tony Romo's Cowboys came in consecutive years from 2007 to 2008, again at times when expectations were high for the team based on perceived talent and upward momentum. Neither ended the way we hoped.
Coming off Romo's ascension to starting QB in 2006 and a surprising run to the playoffs, the Cowboys were one of the NFL's best teams the following year. They posted a 13-3 record in the regular season and were the top seed in the NFC for the postseason.
But that beautiful run ended in bitter disappointment when Dallas, despite enjoying a bye week and home field advantage, got shocked by the visiting Giants in their first playoff game.
Much like the 2015 season, Dallas went into 2008 looking to take things to the next level after a tough postseason exit. They actually started the year 3-0 and were looking like contenders again.
But again like 2015, a Romo injury struck a major blow to the team's efforts. A finger injury suffered in a bad overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals would cause Tony to miss the next three games. Dallas went from 4-1 to 5-4 during that absence.
Unfortunately, Romo's return did not right the ship that year. The Cowboys would suffer a horrific 1-3 slide in December and ultimately finish 9-7 and just outside of the playoff bubble. The season was capped with a humiliating 44-6 loss in Philadelphia.
This brief history lesson may not mean much to some of you. After all, every season is its own story.
But while major media will bombard you with stats about how teams who start 2-0 typically have certain outcomes to their seasons, the Dallas Cowboys have often defied those odds. We've found creative ways to ruin hot starts and overcome bad ones over the last two decades.
What really strikes me about this 2019 season is the level of expectation and how it compares to 2007, 2008, and 2015. True, expectations are always high around here. But even the most objective onlookers couldn't help but have high hopes for the Cowboys in those years based on what had happened the previous season.
Between the strong play after adding Amari Cooper and advancing to the the second round of the 2018 playoffs, Dallas had good cause to expect big things this season. Their approach to offseason business, such as adding veterans Robert Quinn and Randall Cobb and locking up key players to lucrative business, suggested that the Cowboys were going all in to try and win a championship with this roster.
So far the hype has been validated. Say what you want about the opposition these first two weeks, but I go back to the well-established history of NFC East play and how the results have often defied logic. Funky things tend to happen in division games, but the Cowboys have handled their rivals so far as if they were any other NFL basement dwellers.
But while the 2-0 start and two divisions wins are a great base for the 2019 season, we have ample evidence of how askew things can go from here. Thankfully, Dak Prescott has already proven to have more durability than our last starting QB. But much like we saw in 2017, an injury at left tackle or some other key position can do its own damage.
While players like Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, and others will likely have many more years to try and win in Dallas, this is still a critical year for Jason Garrett. Coaching on the final year of his contract, Garrett would likely not see a new one if the team has another collapse. How much disappointment the Jones family will stomach this year depends on the final result.
But if you've been following this team as long as I have, your feelings about this year likely transcend any single coach or player. You've been waiting almost 25 years now to see the Dallas Cowboys get back to glory, and right now feels like one of the best opportunities.
It's an exciting time, but that long wait also comes with a knowledge of past outcomes.
Hopefully, this year, the strong start is the beginning of something truly special.
Inside The Numbers: Everything Points to Cowboys Win vs Dolphins
On Sunday, the Dallas Cowboys (2-0) welcome the Miami Dolphins (0-2) to AT&T Stadium for week three of the NFL season. This game features two teams that are trending in vastly different directions. The Dallas Cowboys are one of the hottest teams to start the season and look to be positioning themselves for a run at the Super Bowl. The Miami Dolphins are heading the other direction as one of the worst teams in the NFL and positioning themselves for an opportunity to land the first overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft next spring.
While there are things the Dallas Cowboys can clean up, this game has the makings of a blowout at home against a Dolphins team that has allowed 102 points in their first two games.
The Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins have only played 14 times in the course of their history, with each winning seven of those contests. The Cowboys are 2-0 in the Jason Garrett era against the Dolphins with the last win coming in November of 2015.
That win in 2015 would be the last time that Tony Romo would start and win a game for the Dallas Cowboys. The next week against the Carolina Panthers, Romo would be lost for the season.
Though the NFL prides itself as an "any given Sunday" league because of the parity between teams, this is one of those games that has a Dallas Cowboys blowout win written all over it.
With 66 points scored in two games, the Dallas Cowboys currently rank sixth in the NFL in points for. The top two teams in the league, the Baltimore Ravens and the New England Patriots have each had a shot at the Dolphins. The Ravens scored 59 points in week one and the Patriots scored 43 in week two.
It stands to reason with Reshad Jones ruled out of Sunday's contest and Minkah Fitzpatrick now a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers that the Dallas Cowboys have a shot to score 40 points in this game. There's no reason to believe the Cowboys won't at least hit their 33 points per game average through the first two games of the season. Anything less than that would be the result of them taking their foot off the gas after generating a decent-sized lead.
On the flip side, the Dolphins have only scored 10 points in 2019. That was back in week one against the Ravens. In week two, they were shut out by the Patriots, which led to a change at the quarterback position. Josh Rosen will now be starting for the Dolphins, but their problems go beyond quarterback play, though it hasn't been good either.
Offensive Success Rate
The Miami Dolphins have run the fewest plays in the league and have the worst yards per play average in the NFL. The Dallas Cowboys average 7.6 yards per play, which is the best average in the league.
The Miami Dolphins have a league-worst offensive success rate of just 31%, per Sharp Football Stats. The league average success rate is 47%. Sharp Football Stats defines a successful play as one that gains at least "40% of yards-to-go on first down, 60% of yards-to-go on second down and 100% of yards-to-go on third or fourth down."
The Dallas Cowboys success rate of 57% is tied for first in the NFL through two weeks with the New England Patriots.
The Dolphins are going to have a really difficult time keeping up with the offensive efficiency of the Dallas Cowboys.
Going into week two, the Miami Dolphins have been very susceptible to the deep passing game. Now with 2018 first-round draft pick Minkah Fitzpatrick off to Pittsburgh in a trade earlier this week, the Dolphins secondary just became even more suspect. In the first two weeks of the season, the Miami Dolphins have allowed Lamar Jackson and Tom Brady to complete 5 of 7 passes beyond 20 yards downfield for 207 yards and three touchdowns.
In week one of the season, Lamar Jackson averaged 16.2 yards per attempt on 20 attempts. 16.2!!! That's an insane number. Tom Brady, in week two, only averaged 9.4 yards per attempt against the Dolphins. That's also a really good number but was only good for fourth in the NFL in week two.
Under Offensive Coordinator Kellen Moore the Dallas Cowboys haven't been shy about taking shots down the field in the passing game. Through two weeks, Dak Prescott's completed six passes beyond 20 yards downfield and has an adjusted completion percentage of 87.5%. He's been incredibly accurate throwing the ball deep and should have opportunities for more big plays against the 0-2 Dolphins.
Heading to week three, the Miami Dolphins have allowed the most rushing yards per game of any team in the NFL. Now some of that is due to getting behind really quickly and by a large number against the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots. Though they've allowed a lot of yards, they've also allowed the most first downs by rush in the NFL with 21.
This bodes extremely well for a Dallas Cowboys offense that was able to build big leads against the New York Giants and Washington Redskins over the first couple of weeks. Those big leads in the second half allowed Ezekiel Elliott and the offensive line to make their mark with the running game and grind out the clock.
Per Warren Sharp Football Stats, the Baltimore Ravens had a 54% rushing success rate against the Dolphins in week one. In week two, the New England Patriots had a rushing success rate of 60%. Both weeks were well above the average rushing success rate around the NFL.
Though the Dallas Cowboys rushing success rate is right at the league average of 47%, they're averaging 4.7 yards per carry and should see their success rate climb in week three against the Dolphins.
Among quarterbacks with at least 20 dropbacks in 2019, both newly named starter Josh Rosen and former starter Ryan Fitzpatrick rank in the top six of the most frequently pressured quarterbacks in the NFL, per Pro Football Focus. Their combined pressure rate of 44% would be the third most pressured in the NFL.
The 10 sacks between the two quarterbacks would tie for first in the NFL with Houston Texans Quarterback DeShaun Watson (who led the NFL in sacks last season.
Under pressure, Josh Rosen has a completion percentage of just 12.5% and he's thrown two interceptions. That's the worst completion percentage among quarterbacks with at least 20 dropbacks per PFF. Rosen has a passer rating of zero when pressured.
This doesn't bode well for the Miami Dolphins who will have to face DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn this week. An offensive line that has a lot of problems keeping the quarterback upright isn't going to be able to hold up against these two. If the Dolphins attempt to provide help on the edges, it will create opportunities for Maliek Collins and the rest of the interior defensive line.
This bodes well for a defense that has played well but hasn't looked like the dominant force many thought they'd be in the 2019 season. Facing the hapless Miami Dolphins, the Cowboys look like a team that's about to feast.
For the Dallas Cowboys, Dak Prescott has only been sacked one time. He's getting the ball out much quicker in 2019 than he was in 2018. In 2019, Dak Prescott has the sixth-fastest time to attempt at 2.33 seconds per Pro Football Focus among quarterbacks with at least 25 dropbacks. In 2018, Prescott had the 10th slowest time at 2.66 seconds. Per Pro Football Focus, Prescott is the least pressured quarterback in the NFL at this point of the season. He's only been pressured on 15.4% of his dropbacks.
Dak Prescott is making quicker decisions after the snap in 2019 because he has a greater understanding of what he's seeing before the snap. The Cowboys offense allows him to get a read of the defense with their use of pre-snap motion, which then allows Dak to know where he wants to go with the ball, once he's confirmed the coverage after the snap. This allows for Prescott to get rid of the ball much faster than he has in the past, which is why he's not getting pressured as much. Of course it helps that the offensive line is playing better to start the 2019 season than it was a year ago.
I don't see a way that the Miami Dolphins are going to be able to create enough consistent pressure to affect Prescott in the pocket. This week looks like another big game for Prescott and the passing offense.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Dallas Cowboys will win this game. With the betting line set at 21 points, it would be a tremendous upset if the Cowboys didn't walk away with the W. Everything points to the Cowboys putting up their third double-digit win of the season and should be able to walk to another 30 point game for the offense. The Miami Dolphins are in tank mode and won't be able to put up much of a fight. When teams tank, it can kill morale and after trading two of their former first-round picks in Laremy Tunsil and Minkah Fitzpatrick, it's obvious that the Dolphins are looking to the 2020 NFL Draft.
The Dallas Cowboys win this game in a rout and the offensive stars continue their excellent start to the season. The defense gets a couple of takeaways and begins to hit their stride in the sack department with the return of Robert Quinn.
Dallas Cowboys 41 - Miami Dolphins 9
Cowboys’ Trysten Hill to Make Regular Season Debut vs Dolphins?
A lot has been made of the Dallas Cowboys' decision to make 2019 second-round pick Trysten Hill inactive for the first two games of the regular season. With Taco Charlton also being inactive, people attempted to compare the two to make broad generalizations about Hill's present and future in the NFL. The problem is these two are vastly different players in different situations.
Speaking to 105.3 The Fan in Dallas on Friday, Cowboys Vice President Stephen Jones talked about where Trysten Hill was in his development and ability. It sounds as if Hill is ready to make his regular-season debut for the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.
Trysten Hill will make his NFL debut Sunday vs. Miami. Cowboys VP Stephen Jones on @1053thefan: "He's ready to go. It's time for him to go. Rod's fired up about what he can bring to the table here. He's had a really good week of practice.
With Antwaun Woods and Tyrone Crawford likely out for this game, the Dallas Cowboys could use some help on the interior defensive line. Christian Covington and Maliek Collins are the only true defensive tackles set to be active for the Cowboys, which makes Hill's debut a foregone conclusion. With Crawford and Woods dealing with injuries Hill will have the opportunity to play a lot against a Miami Dolphins offensive line that has allowed 10 sacks in their first two games.
Crawford and Woods' absences means the Dallas Cowboys will have around 40-50 snaps to be distributed to the rest of the defensive line. Christian Covington will get the first shot to play the 1-technique defensive tackle. Kerry Hyder and Joe Jackson will get some of those Tyrone Crawford snaps since they can play both on the interior and on the edge like Crawford can.
There will be opportunities for Hill, especially if the Dallas Cowboys can get out to a big lead. If he's active, which all signs indicate he will be, then the Cowboys' coaching staff will use this game to get Hill as much experience as possible.
Trysten Hill is a player that Rod Marinelli and even Kris Richard are really excited about. They believe that he has what it takes to be an elite defensive tackle in the NFL, he just needs to refine certain aspects of his game. Hill has elite quickness and get off on the snap. He's very good at getting penetration and causing disruption in the backfield. He needs to work on his technique and playing with better leverage when engaged with blockers, but the tools and the effort are there for Marinelli to turn him into the dominant 3-technique defensive tackle that they've been looking for.
Facing the Miami Dolphins on Sunday will is an excellent opportunity for Trysten Hill to get some experience and earn opportunities to be on the gameday roster in the future.
Trysten Hill has the skills to be a force for the Dallas Cowboys. With the depth that the Cowboys have along the defensive line, it's not always possible to bring everyone you have to the gameday roster. With injuries and earned opportunities, the time has come for Trysten Hill to get an opportunity to show his skills in the regular season. That's a good thing for the Dallas Cowboys. Not so much for Josh Rosen and the Miami Dolphins.
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