With the roster cut-down deadline for 2019 looming this Saturday, the Dallas Cowboys will be making many difficult decisions throughout their talented preseason roster. Things are particularly tough on the defensive line, where there are several good players who won't make the team due to the numbers.
Right now there are only four players we can say are 100% guaranteed to make the 2019 roster; Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence and Defensive Tackles Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Trysten Hill.
Lawrence is the franchise player on the defensive line and was just signed to a huge contract. Collins and Woods are the clear starters at DT based on last season and how they've been utilized this summer. And Hill, a 2nd-round rookie, would have to hit Jerry Jones with his car to get released in this first season.
But while these are the players who will definitely be on the team this year, some others are very close to being guaranteed.
Kerry Hyder, a veteran DE that was signed as a free agent this offseason, has reportedly been the best performer since his arrival. Between a high level of player and a minimal salary, Hyder has all but locked himself into a roster spot in 2019.
The same goes for Dorance Armstrong, who is entering his second year after being a 4th-round pick in 2018. Armstrong is a pure pass rusher who has been among the standout players this summer; he's not going anywhere.
Another near-lock is DT Christian Covington, whose size and skills allow him to play both interior line positions and make him valuable. He hasn't been standing out as much as Hyder, but Covington is another newly-added free agent who's performed well and should make the squad.
That's seven players I fully expect to be on the 53-man roster. That leaves just 3-4 spots of the expected 10-11 total that go to defensive line, so who is on that bubble?
Veteran Tyrone Crawford would likely make the roster if not for the $7 million in salary cap relief that Dallas gets by cutting him. Even if they can afford to pay him this year, the Cowboys may prefer to keep a younger player with room to develop than have one last year with Crawford.
Still, given his solid play and ability to work at either DE or DT, Tyrone is not an easy cut. He may not seem as valuable this moment given our available options, but one or two injuries could leave the Cowboys wishing they still had Crawford come December or January.
Another wrinkle with Crawford is that, as a vested NFL veteran, his salary becomes fully guaranteed if he's on the Week One roster. So Dallas can't just keep him for a few weeks and then cut him after Robert Quinn's suspension (more on that below) ends in Week 3; they would lose nearly all of the cap benefits at that point.
Another big decision looms with 2017 1st-round pick Taco Charlton. Many felt that Taco might not survive final cuts this year, and that players like Hyder and Robert Quinn were being added this offseason as his eventual replacements.
But Charlton has stepped it up lately, and never more so than in last Saturday's preseason game. Taco had a huge night, albeit against shoddy offensive line play, and may have given the Cowboy enough incentive to keep working with him in 2019.
Another contender is 5th-round rookie Joe Jackson, who has certainly played well enough to deserve a roster spot but is up against the numbers. While not an exceptional athlete, Jackson's motor and power make him effective and tough to cut. He can contribute right away, and that's an exceptional quality for a Day 3 rookie.
At defensive tackle, solid talents like Daniel Ross, Daniel Wise, and Ricky Walker are all capable of being NFL players. Even 7th-rookie DE Jalen Jelks has had some good moments; all guys you wish you could keep but simply don't have room for.
If that wasn't hard enough, we haven't even talked about the guys who are currently suspended.
Complicating matters further is the suspension of veteran Robert Quinn, who will return in Week 3 and require that someone be released to make room.
While he hasn't been seen yet in preseason due to a hand fracture, Robert is expected to be a starting DE this year after Dallas traded for him last March. However, his two-game suspension will delay that for the opening games against the Giants and Redskins.
Dallas has a multi-layered decision in front of them. Does accounting for Quinn's absence impact how who they keep at final cuts? Will someone make the team for a few weeks who otherwise wouldn't; a placeholder for Quinn's eventual return?
That roster spot doesn't necessarily have to come from the defensive line. Dallas might hang on to someone at any other position, such as tight end while guys are a little banged up, and then cut him to open up Quinn's roster spot.
More likely, though, is that Dallas will hang on to an extra DE and then cut someone from that group when Quinn returns. That strategy is the cleanest way to manage the roster, and it also helps account for any injuries that could occur during the first two games.
Another suspended DE is Randy Gregory, and right now it's unknown when or if he will return to the NFL. He has yet to officially request reinstatement, though that may be close, and it now appears that his possible return to football will have to occur sometime in the middle of the season.
~ ~ ~
Clearly, there is a lot for the Cowboys to figure out with their defensive line in 2019. Having too many good players is a great problem to have, but that doesn't alleviate the stress of these roster decisions that Dallas faces this week.
Thursday night's preseason game may not impact much; most of the decisions are likely made prior to the finale. But for bubble guys like Joe Jackson, Jalen Jelks, Daniel Ross, Daniel Wise, and others, perhaps they can do something to help move the needle in their favor.
Lots of questions right now, but the answers are soon to come. Stay tuned this week for my final 53-man Roster Projection and other analysis as the Cowboys work on preparing their team for the 2019 season.
Cowboys Offense In-Line For Another Big Day Vs. Lions
There's no doubt the 2019 Cowboys have been disappointing through the first half of the season. But one area which has actually surpassed preseason expectations has been their offense, specifically their passing attack.
Despite the loss Sunday night, Dallas' offense still ranks first in DVOA- ahead of high powered attacks like the ones in Kansas City, Baltimore, and Seattle. Things have fallen into place for Dallas' offense nearly perfectly, with Dak Prescott positioning himself among the elite passers in the league, and La'el Collins having a breakout season at right tackle.
This week's matchup is yet another favorable one for this Cowboys offense, as the Detroit Lions come in reeling on the defensive side of the ball. Detroit ranks 25th overall in terms of defensive DVOA, and have been equally below average against both the run and pass (23rd and 20th in DVOA respectively).
Roster talent wise, there isn't a ton to get excited about on the Lions defense. Where last week's opponent had potential game breakers on each level of their defense, Detroit's talent is much more modest.
Still, free agent acquisition Trey Flowers has proven to be a solid defensive end and Damon "Snacks" Harrison has long been an elite run stuffer on the interior. In the back end, Darius Slay is a legit number one cornerback, but even he isn't enough to bolster this unit on his own.
In theory, the Cowboys should be able to get whatever they want offensively against the Lions this week, making it imperative they remain aggressive through the air. Jason Garrett coached teams love to try to "impose their will" with their offensive line and run game, but this is yet another week where the Cowboys' biggest advantage is likely driven by Dak Prescott and Amari Cooper.
If all works according to plan the Cowboys will be able to utilize Prescott to win this game, and then lean on Ezekiel Elliott to kill clock late. The exact formula we had hoped for heading into the season months ago.
Of course, this would require something the Cowboys haven't really done whatsoever this season: start fast offensively.
But if you look at the remaining schedule, it's really now or never for this version of the Dallas Cowboys.
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
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!
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
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?
Lion Down: QB Matthew Stafford Ruled Out for Cowboys Game
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.
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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