To say that the Dallas Cowboys (8-6) need a bounce back game this week against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-9) is an understatement. The Cowboys had a ton of momentum going into last week's game against the Indianapolis Colts coming off a five game winning streak and dramatic win against their division rival the Philadelphia Eagles in overtime the Sunday before.
We know what happened to the Colts and it should have come as a surprise. The Cowboys had been playing with a lot of emotion over the previous few weeks after getting big wins over the New Orleans Saints and the Eagles to give them a commanding lead in the NFC East.
Like last week, the Cowboys face an opportunity to win and clinch the division this week against a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that has struggled this year, especially on the defensive side of the football.
“Famous Jameis” or “Lameous Jameis?”
Ok, lameous isn’t really a word, but in order to make it rhyme, I had to channel good ol’ Dr Seuss.
The on again, off again relationship that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have had with Jameis Winston over the course of the season could be the storyline for a bad CW drama. I mean, they’ve gone back and forth between he and backup Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick so much it’s hard to really get a handle on how they feel about their number one overall pick. And for good reason, Winston’s been bad in the games that he’s played.
In nine games, seven of which he started, Winston’s thrown 14 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Those 13 INTs are tied for second in the NFL this season. Ben Roethlisberger leads the NFL in interceptions and he’s played in 14 games this season. That just gives you an indication as to how bad Winston’s been with the football.
Now he’s always capable of having a really good game, like he did during a three game stretch weeks 11 through 13 where he threw six touchdowns to only one interception as Tampa Bay won three in a row. During that same stretch, Winston had a quarterback rating greater than 114 in each game. Over the last five weeks, Jameis Winston has thrown eight touchdowns and three interceptions. Although they’ve lost their last two games, averaging only 13 points per game in the losses, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have played two really good defenses in the New Orleans Saints and Baltimore Ravens.
It’s evident that Jameis Winston will turn the ball over, but will the Cowboys be able to force him into situations where he throws the ball to the team with a star on its helmet?
Defense Returns to Dominance?
There’s been a lot of talk this week about the offensive ineptitude that was on display in Indianapolis last Sunday, and rightfully so. It was a poor performance that made Cowboys Nation shudder. They desperately need to rebound this week against a poor Tampa Bay defense.
Speaking of defense, the Cowboys defense didn’t do a whole lot last Sunday either. In fact, they were down right bad.
The Colts were better at the line of scrimmage in both the run and pass game and Andrew Luck was able to make enough plays against the Cowboys secondary, including first time Pro Bowl selection Byron Jones.
The tackling was about as poor as I can remember under a Rod Marinelli coached defense and they were unable to slow down Marlon Mack in the running game.
Pretty much everything the defense is really good at; stopping the run, tackling, pass coverage, they were really bad at against the Colts. Just as important as it is for the Cowboys offense to bounce back this week, the defense needs to do the same.
They’re a unit that takes a lot of pride in imposing its will, especially in the running game, and they weren’t good.
The Tampa Bay Offense has some play makers, in particular Mike Evans, and they pose some problems, but it’s a team that should allow the Cowboys to get back on track on both sides of the football.
Since the win over the Philadelphia Eagles a couple weeks ago, the Cowboys playoff scenarios have been pretty simple. Win and they clinch the NFC East. Losses by both the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins and you clinch the NFC East.
Well, the Eagles and Redskins didn’t cooperate with the Cowboys plans of clinching the NFC east last week, and so we sit here in week 16 with the same scenarios.
The Cowboys seem destined to make the tournament this season, but they still have to make it happen and there is no time like the present.
Get this win this week and use week 17 as an opportunity to rest your team that has been struggling with a lot of injuries this season, especially along the offensive line.
The Cowboys have a formula that could do some damage in the playoffs if they’re healthy enough to make it happen. Getting Zack Martin back this week and continuing to ramp up Sean Lee will only help the Cowboys against the Bucs this week and help them make a run in the playoffs.
On paper, this looks like a game the Cowboys should win pretty handily, yet because of the inefficiency of the offense to consistently score points in the red zone this is going to be a close game.
The Cowboys win and quite possibly lead throughout the game, but because they’ll settle for field goals, I see Tampa Bay being able to keep it close.
Dallas Cowboys 23 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16
Who you got? Let us know in the comment section!
Cowboys Wishlist: Dress Rehearsal Edition
In the NFL, the third preseason week is often referred to as the "Dress Rehearsal." It's usually the week in which starters get the most playing time. That has changed lately, with plenty of teams deciding to take care of their key players instead of risking them on the field. However, the Dallas Cowboys have played their starters on their first two games and there's no reason to believe that will change versus the Texans today.
Here is my wishlist for the Cowboys vs Texans "Dress Rehearsal!" Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Justin Phillips Locks Up a Roster Spot
Phillips has been one of the most surprising players this offseason and preseason. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, but Phillips has made sure to be a tough guy to cut. Last week, he had a remarkable interception against the Rams. Despite making a first step toward the line, he managed to adjust and made the play. He has followed it up with more plays in practice.
If he keeps it up, the Cowboys won't be able to cut him. He has the potential to be a force on special teams and a quality backup.
Wish #2: Devin Smith Makes Things Interesting
The battle for the final wide receiver spots is at full-go. Devin Smith has shined lately, and has risen as a serious candidate to make the roster. However, it seems like other wide receivers have the upper-hand as of now. Earlier this week, I made my Cowboys WR Power Rankings and had Devin Smith at #7.
His TD catch versus the Rams last week was pretty impressive, and I wish he makes a few more plays to make the debate all the more interesting.
Wish #3: Tony Pollard Does It Again
Fifth-round rookie Tony Pollard
stole was the show last weekend as he racked up 51 total yards (five carries, one catch) and a touchdown on Dallas' first offensive drive. He looked impressive as the starting running back, giving us just what we wanted to see.
While many have advertised him as a gadget player, Pollard proved he can actually be a "standard" RB. He ran between the tackles, showed power, balance and great vision. I'm ready to watch it again, this time versus the Texans.
Wish #4: Taco Charlton Shines Rushing The Passer
Taco Charlton has made a couple of plays in preseason on his third year with the Dallas Cowboys. Against the Rams, he batted down two passes and looked good separating from opposing offensive linemen. Charlton has gotten praise from some analysts during these first two preseason weeks.
But I want to watch some quality pass rush from his part. Right now, the Cowboys' roster counts with some promising players, including rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson. While they're currently below Taco, he must prove he belongs on the roster.
DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win
Kerry Hyder joined the Cowboys this offseason on a one year deal, and while the four-year NFL veteran has put up some solid tape in his time around the league, it was hard to project just what he could bring to the Cowboys defense.
Listed at 6'2" 270 pounds, Hyder is a bit of a tweener on the defensive line. Though the answer to "will he play tackle or end" seems to be "both" to this point in the preseason.
As he fights for his life on this deep defensive line, Kerry Hyder had himself a day in the Cowboys 14-10 victory over the Rams last weekend.
Hyder made an excellent play defending a screen pass in the first quarter, reading the play perfectly and reacting quickly to running back Darrell Henderson coming out of the backfield. Hyder also created some pressure on the quarterback, and finished with 3 combined tackles in very limited playing time.
Hyder's versatility is working well for him as he looks to make the final roster. Like a Tyrone Crawford type player, Hyder will be able to move inside and out depending on the situation. This allows the Cowboys to be flexible in how they structure their depth chart on defense, and in how they decide to rush the passer on third down.
A pass rushing package involving Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge with the combination of Hyder and Maliek Collins on the inside could turn out to be a very dangerous one for opposing offenses to deal with.
Rod Marinelli spoke to this versatility a couple of months ago, showing just how much he values what Kerry Hyder can bring to this team.
"Maybe you adjust him sometime, once in a while – in a one-on-one pass rush situation, stick him over a guard and start to get a feel for it.” - Rod Marinelli
Earlier this offseason, I wrote that Kerry Hyder could end up being Rod Marinelli's next great under-the-radar find on the defensive line. And if he continues to play with the hustle and awareness that he had on Saturday, he's going to make Rod look very smart in his evaluation.
Kerry Hyder is making it very difficult for the front office to let him go. And, at the end of the preseason, I do expect Kerry Hyder to find himself on the Cowboys' active roster. Especially considering how Mike White is playing at quarterback, and how his release could open up an extra spot at a different position group.
#DALvsRAMS: Tony Pollard Proves he’s no Longer Darrell Henderson’s Backup
For the better part of three years Tony Pollard was forced to play second fiddle to Darrell Henderson during their time with the Memphis Tigers. But, Saturday night in the second week of preseason Pollard emerged from the shadows and proved he's no longer Henderson's backup.
Tony Pollard put on an impressive show Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams. He touched the ball a total of six times and turned it into 51 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 42 yards on the ground, averaging 8.4 yards per carry, and had one reception for 9 yards. All in all it was an impressive performance and one that arguably outdid his former teammate, Darrell Henderson.
Tony Pollard is starting to look like a real weapon for the Dallas Cowboys. It's still a small sample size, but in the first two preseason games he's proven the jump up in competition isn't too big for him. As a runner he's been decisive, picking up what yardage is given and not dancing around. He hasn't been utilized much in the passing game yet, but that time will come.
The Dallas Cowboys couldn't be happier with the way their rookie RB has performed thus far. He's everything they've said he was, and quite possibly much more. Maybe those Alvin Kamara comparisons weren't that far off after all.
We all know Ezekiel Elliott will return to the Dallas Cowboys at some point, but for now Tony Pollard doesn't look completely out of place as their lead back. He still needs to work on his pass protection, but everything else he's been asked to do he's excelled at.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited about seeing what No. 36 can do when these games start to matter in 2019. He will once again have to accept a backup role like he did behind Darrell Henderson in college, but you can bet the Cowboys coaching staff will reward him based on his play so far in preseason.
Pollard's versatility to be a weapon as both a runner and receiver in the passing game should make him a unique chess piece in the offensive game plan each and every week. He's been exciting to watch so far and we haven't even seen him in the return game yet, which was a big part of his game in college. I'm personally expecting big things from him this season. What about you?
What do you think of Tony Pollard's preseason performance so far?
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