Will the Dallas defense expand its attack this year? In one sense it is hard to believe that the NFL’s leading sack team could become more of a force this year than last. However do not be surprised if that is not exactly what happens.
How could a team that lost a starting corner, Defensive End, and Inside Linebacker be better without those three guys? Pretty easy actually! And it has less to do with their replacements than you might think.
During the 2009 off season the Cowboys have upgraded in several areas, they have accomplished this through both free agency, and in the draft. While the outcome of all these moves has yet to be determined, on paper this defensive unit has gotten better.
The additions of Gerald Sensabaugh, Michael Hamlin, Mike Mickens, and DeAngelo Smith have given this team something that has been sorely lacking. Depth in the secondary! Not the kind of depth that we are accustomed to, you know mediocre players backing up mediocre starters. No, we actually have a quality starter being backed up by energetic, athletic, young, quality back ups.
Wade Phillips on third down no longer has to send the NFL’s best pass rusher into coverage. The Dallas Cowboys with a few under the radar moves have catapulted this sack happy defense into a new stratosphere!
The Cowboys did not add an Ed Reed type, but what they did add was a few safeties that can cover! Think about it, what has been the defenses biggest downfall the last few years? The secondary has not been able to give their rushers an extra split second. How many times last year did we see a rusher break free, and just before making the sack the ball would get out, only to find an uncovered receiver?
There are many opinions about Wade Phillips. Some are good and some are not so nice. In all of these though there is a commonality, and that is that he is a defensive genius. He is a master at moving people around and blitzing from angles that Offensive Coordinators would never dream of.
This is one aspect that we have not seen a ton of in his time in Dallas. Not because he forgot how to do it, but because he could not afford to do it! This team has not had the personnel to allow him the freedom to jail break.
The 34 that Phillips runs is different than the 34 most others play. In most 34 schemes it is predicated on a big nasty Nose Tackle, taking up major space, but the 34 that Phillips runs this is not necessary. The reason why is because of alignment. For instance in the Parcells 34 Jason Ferguson would line up directly over top of the center and go for a more straight ahead push, thus forcing one of the guards to slip over and help out. In the Phillips 34, Jay Ratliff lines up at an angle over the center, and tries to get his push between the Center, and Guard. This change of angle causes the O-Lineman to make a decision.
Now if this was the only decision the Center or Guard had to make this would not be a very good scheme, but while the Tackle is forcing the play Wade many times will send a slightly delayed Blitzer through that same spot. This is what causes severe question marks!
In the second half of last season we saw more of this than usual but not near as much as Wade wants. So what does all this talk about the Nose Tackle have to do with Safeties, and Corners? Everything!
Wade Phillips is looking for two things out of his Safeties. One, be able to cover a Tight End or Running Back. Two, be able to help out in the run game (be able to tackle). This is all Wade needs!
By having Safeties that can perform the duties that Wade requires it allows him to get very creative with his blitz schemes. Demarcus Ware, Bradie James, Anthony Spencer, and Keith Brooking will be coming from so many different angles your head will spin.
Everyone that played the Cowboys knew that on third down if they moved the Tight End over to where Demarcus was that it would force him into coverage, allowing themselves the luxury of not having to deal with blocking him. This is no longer a forgone conclusion, so now whether he rushes or drops it causes confusion!
I have never been big on making predictions, but this year I feel compelled to do so! Barring any major injuries, I am confident in saying that this unit will be in the top 3 in defense this year. There are only two other teams who I feel will have a better defense, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore.
How confident are you in this year’s defense?
WR Randall Cobb Named Cowboys “Surprise Standout” for Offseason
NFL teams have wrapped up their offseason activities with the close of OTAs, especially where the players are concerned, and await the start of training camps next month. In reviewing the last few months, ESPN had their local reporters each pick a surprise standout from their team's practices. Todd Archer, who covers the Dallas Cowboys full time, selected veteran receiver Randall Cobb.
Cobb is in his first season with Dallas after signing as a free agent last March. He's spent the last eight years with the Green Bay Packers and was a Pro Bowler in 2014, but has struggled with injuries the last few seasons.
Here were Archer's observations on how Randall is doing so far with the Cowboys:
Normally a player with Cobb's résumé -- 470 catches for 5,524 yards and 41 touchdowns during his career -- would not be considered for a category like this. But injuries limited him to only nine games and 38 catches for Green Bay in 2018, and it was hard to know what the Cowboys were getting in the veteran receiver.
If the offseason work is any indication, they have found a replacement for Cole Beasley. Cobb's versatility can expand the offense for others, such as Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Cobb looked quick in and out of his breaks and fast enough to make plays down the field. Will he put up the 1,287 yards he had in 2014? No, but he gives Dak Prescott a security blanket in the slot who can turn a small gain into a big one.
The notion of Cobb replacing Beasley is a big one. While we'd like to think that Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup will provide plenty of firepower for the Cowboys offense, Dak Prescott has enjoyed a reliable threat from the slot position since he arrived.
Randall Cobb, when healthy, can do more than just make clutch catches. He has good run-after-catch skills and perhaps bring more big play potential than Beasley did.
If Cooper and Gallup do emerge as a dangerous starting duo on the outside, Cobb should have even more opportunities to punish defenses than Beasley did.
If nothing else, it's very encouraging to hear that one of the Cowboys' few 2019 free agent moves is already reaping benefits. Cobb still needs to bring it over a full season to really justify the move, but these early reports are cause for excitement.
BREAKING: Cowboys TE Rico Gathers Receives One-Game Suspension
Tight End Rico Gathers already had an uphill climb to return to the Dallas Cowboys' 53-man roster in 2019. But that climb just got even steeper; the NFL handed down a one-game suspension to Gathers today for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
If he does make the team this year, with Dallas or anyone else, Rico will have to sit out Week One of the season without pay.
Cowboys TE Rico Gathers is suspended without pay for the first game of the 2019 regular season for violating the NFL's policy and program on substances of abuse. This is from his arrest in 2018 for marijuana possession.
Gathers' chances of returning in 2019 were already hurt by Jason Witten's reversed retirement. He dropped to fourth on the TE depth chart behind Witten, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz, and Dallas only kept three tight ends last year.
The Cowboys also added Codey McElroy as a developmental player during the offseason.
While the suspension is news, the incident that led to it is not. Dallas already knew about the arrest, which occurred in early September of 2018, and have kept Gathers around up until now.
The NFL's substance abuse system is pretty formulaic, so the Cowboys likely anticipated this suspension all along. This may not change anything about how they value Rico Gathers for the 2019 season.
Nevertheless, a player who can't help you in Week One and is a liability for ever longer suspensions down the road is definitely a red flag against Gathers' job security.
Antwaun Woods: Cowboys DT is Just Getting Started
Antwaun Woods went undrafted in 2016 coming out of USC. After two years with the Tennessee Titans, he would only see one game of action. In May of 2018, the Cowboys signed Woods to a two-year contract worth 1.05 million. Probably seen as nothing more than a practice squad guy, Woods would quickly show he was much more than that.
The newly acquired Woods started his climb to stardom in Oxnard during training camp, and not for making plays. One day during practice he got into a friendly game of fisticuffs with All-Pro Center Travis Frederick. The team even posted the video on social media, which had fans buzzing and wanting to know who he was.
All-Pro Running Back Ezekiel Elliott echoed those thoughts when he saw Woods during camp. "Honestly, when we first got him, we were like, 'Who is this guy?'. He was giving Travis Frederick, one of our best players, hell all camp. Just trying to figure out where this guy came from," Elliott said.
Once the regular season started it was clear the Cowboys had found a hidden gem. Although the sack numbers won't dazzle you, seeing as he only registered 1.5, you could forget about running the ball anywhere near him. Woods has amazing quickness for a 300 pounder which allows him to extend his arms before offensive lineman can get a hand on him.
How significant is that? It becomes that much easier to bull rush and blow running plays up in the backfield.
When you can get your hands on an offensive lineman immediately when the ball is snapped, he's basically under your control. You can move him around like a puppet on a string. Essential for a 1-technique nose tackle. With that being said, there should be no surprise the Cowboys finished fifth against the run in 2018 with Woods manning the middle.
Woods draws a lot of double teams, and he handles them well. Having the ability to take on multiple linemen frees up your other playmakers. As the anchor in the middle, Woods made life a lot easier for not only his fellow defensive linemen but the team's two young star Linebackers Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch. Allowing them to roam freely like Lions in the Serengeti makes running backs essentially Zebra's carrying the ball, cooked food. So much so that both tallied over 120 tackles and were the only teammates in the NFL to rank in the top 15 in that category.
There's nothing but upside with Antwaun Woods. He's only had 18 games of experience in three years. He's already a stud, but with limited snaps, it can only mean he'll be even more formidable going forward.
The Cowboys have a loaded defensive lineman group with around 15 bodies, plenty of competition. All signs point to him remaining the starter, but it's not guaranteed. Even with that being said I don't expect a complacency from Woods, especially with DeMarcus Lawrence and Robert Quinn looking like the only sure starters on the defensive line. Plus this is a contract year for him, so you know he'll be even more motivated as he tries to maximize his dollars. We've only seen the tip of the iceberg from this raw talent, setting up for a potential breakout year for him in 2019.
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