September 23rd, 2018 now feels like forever ago and the Dallas Cowboys, who lost to the Seahawks in Seattle that day, have run the gauntlet of the NFC East and are poised to host a home playoff game for the third time in five years. The game brought both teams to 1-2 on what might be one of the stranger NFL weekends of the season. In addition to the winless Seahawks beating the Dallas Cowboys, the Washington Redskins beat the Green Bay Packers, the Buffalo Bills routed the Minnesota Vikings by three touchdowns, the New York Giants beat the Houston Texans, and the Philadelphia Eagles beat the Indianapolis Colts.
Those games in week three were an eternity ago in light of what's happened since then. The Indianapolis Colts became a threat in the AFC, the Washington Redskins lost Quarterbacks Alex Smith and Colt McCoy to broken legs, and the New York Giants did what the New York Giants do and floundered for the rest of the season.
The Dallas Cowboys after starting 1-2 went 2-3 over their next five to finish the first half of the season 3-5 and struggling for answers. Yet, here Cowboys Nation sits in anticipation of the Saturday Night Wild Card matchup with the Seattle Seahawks.
Much has changed from week three for both clubs, but the Dallas Cowboys have the Seahawks at home and look prime to set up a potential rematch with the New Orleans Saints in the divisional round.
With that, here are my Final Thoughts to get you ready for tonight.
In the first half of the season, the Dallas Cowboys offense was lackluster at best. In the first eight games of the season, they only scored 20 points three times, including the 40 point outburst against the Jacksonville Jaguars. They averaged just over 19 points per game, and struggled to score any of their points.
Nothing came easy for the Cowboys in the first half of the season. Teams weren't threatened by the passing game and elected to try to stop Ezekiel Elliott, which left the Cowboys with little answers to create balance.
During the bye week, the Cowboys made moves to replace Paul Alexander with Marc Colombo as the offensive line coach and they traded their 2019 first round pick to the Oakland Raiders for Amari Cooper. While Cooper's production has been down the last few games, their's no doubting the impact he's had on the Cowboys offense. They're completely different.
They've been a much more explosive team and have had much more balance than they were able to play with in the first half of the season. Over the last eight weeks, the Cowboys have totaled more than 400 yards four times. They only accomplished that feat once in the first half of the season.
Thursday, I wrote about Dak Prescott’s last five games. He’s been one of the best quarterbacks in the league the last five weeks of the season.
Amari Cooper's presence has opened up more for everyone on the offense. More throwing lanes for Dak Prescott to get the ball to his playmakers. Less coverage for guys like Cole Beasley, Michael Gallup, and the recently emerging Blake Jarwin, and just as important, the running game.
The Cowboys struggled for a lot of the game against the Seattle Seahawks, but they had success on the ground as Ezekiel Elliott ran for 127 yards on 16 carries.
This Cowboys team taking the field tonight is a much different team than the one the Seahawks saw in week three. The Seattle Seahawks are as well, but not for the better.
No Earl Thomas
Earl Thomas talk was every where this offseason and even during the season until the former All-Pro safety broke his leg and later placed on IR October 2nd.
He made a significant impact in the first meeting finishing second on the team in tackles and picking off Dak Prescott twice in the game. Well, there's no Earl Thomas this time and that bodes well for the Dallas Cowboys.
The Seahawks have been up and down on defense all season. Since Earl Thomas was placed on IR on October 2nd, the Seahawks are allowing 331.3 total yards per game. In four of those 12 games since, the Seahawks have allowed more than 400 total yards. In those 12 games, they allowed 22.16 points per game and allowed opponents to score at least 24 points eight times.
On the road in that same stretch without Earl Thomas, Seattle allowed 359 yards per game and went 3-2 with wins over the Oakland Raiders, Detroit Lions, and Carolina Panthers and losses to the Los Angeles Rams and the San Francisco 49ers.
They are at defensive unit that is still capable of creating turnovers without Earl Thomas, as they finished the regular season 11th in the NFL in turnovers, but they'll allow some big yardage games on the road.
The Dallas Cowboys offense has trended in the right direction over the last eight weeks and seem to be an offense on the rise. If they can take care of the football and create some balance on offense, they'll be able to score some points against a good, but not great Seahawks defense.
Dynamic Defensive Lines
As it is each week of the NFL season, games are typically one and lost in the trenches. Generally, whoever is able to control the line of scrimmage is going to come away with the win. It will be no different tonight when the Seahawks and Cowboys take the field. Both offensive lines are going to be in for a long night.
On the Cowboys side of the ball, the feature one of the best edge rushers in the NFL in DeMarcus Lawrence. Though he was snubbed from the All-Pro teams, he's a forced to be reckoned with and plays the run and the pass as well as any player in the NFL, aside from maybe Aaron Donald. In addition to Lawrence, the Cowboys feature one of the hottest defensive ends in the game in Randy Gregory, who has five sacks in his last eight games. That’s yet another improvement to the Cowboys that’s occurred since the week three loss. Those two will have a tough challenge containing Russell Wilson in the pocket, but will get help from interior defensive linemen Maliek Collins, Antwaun Woods, and Caraun Reid.
For the Seahawks, they have a couple of guys who have been excellent this season. Defensive End Frank Clark and Defensive Tackle Jarran Reed. Both players finished the season with double-digit sacks, per Pro Football Focus, and both players gave the Cowboys fits in their first meeting. Poona Ford, who Pro Football Focus rated as Seattle's second best run defender this season, will be a player to watch tonight.
How the offensive lines are able to protect their quarterbacks is going to be a big factor in who wins the game.
Both teams finished the 2018 regular season playing good football and both came away with impressive victories. The Cowboys beat the New Orleans Saints in a tight defensive battle, while the Seahawks were able to win a shootout against the Kansas City Chiefs a couple of weeks ago in one of the more entertaining games of the season.
Like many games this season, this has the makings of a close game for the Cowboys. I think the things that are different for the Cowboys are going to be the difference tonight’s Wild Card game.
Its going to be a close one, but the Cowboys pull out the win and move on to the divisional round. Who you got?
Cowboys 24 - Seahawks 20
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?
The Brady Report: Tony Pollard, Devin Smith Steal The Show On Offense
The Dallas Cowboys earned their first win of the 2019 preseason on Saturday night, defeating the Los Angeles Rams 14-10 in Hawaii.
Despite the low scoring affair, there were certainly standout performances from both offensive and defensive players for Dallas. Some who are looking to earn a roster spot, and others who are rather solidified in their place with the team.
Let's get into some of my game notes from the Cowboys preseason victory.
- Tony Pollard. I mean, I've said enough right? The rookie running back was awesome in his one drive of action Saturday night, rushing 5 times for 42 yards and a touchdown on the team's opening possession. Pollard was decisive, patient, and comfortable in the zone blocking scheme, and seemed to know exactly where and how to run on each rep. Pollard is looking like a complete back, rather than just a receiving threat for the Cowboys offense going forward.
- While undrafted free agents Jon'Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton have garnered much of the attention, it was Devin Smith who impressed the most out of all the Cowboys' down-roster receivers this week. He caught 3 balls for just 24 yards, but had a fantastic touchdown grab from Cooper Rush in the third quarter.
- Speaking of Cooper Rush, he's your backup quarterback for the 2019 season. The coaching staff gave Mike White a chance to work with the 2's this week, allowing him equal ground for competition with Rush. But even with this opportunity, Mike White did not play well whatsoever. He's indecisive in the pocket, abandons clean protection, runs into pressure, and just looks kind of lost out there. Hopefully White can improve, but Rush is certainly deserving of the QB2 spot going forward.
- While Rush solidified his position as the QB2, QB1 Dak Prescott led another impressive drive on Saturday night. Prescott has command in the pocket and of the entire offense, and he orchestrated an excellent touchdown drive in his own possession this week. Prescott went 5/5 for 64 yards, but the highlight of the game for Prescott was his third and seven completion for 31 of those yards to Michael Gallup. He and Gallup seem to be connecting this preseason, and if that's going to happen regularly, look out.
- Now to the defense. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins continues to show signs that 2019 could be a career season for him. He was disruptive in limited playing time this week, and showcased a scary spin move on the inside. He can be an electric interior pass rusher for the Cowboys, and he looks to be "putting it all together" this year.
- Jourdan Lewis is too good to rot away on the bench, guys. Though he did get beat for decent completion in the first half, Lewis was also sound as a tackler and sticky in coverage once again this week. Lewis looks to be playing at the highest level we've seen from him yet, but once Byron Jones comes back he may not be getting the playing time he'd easily earn elsewhere. Dallas has a bit of an embarrassment of riches at cornerback right now, and Lewis just needs to keep competing every week.
- Lewis' Michigan teammate Taco Charlton had a decent night himself. While Dorance Armstrong has been the talk of the town at defensive end, Charlton deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage and was credited with 2 quarterback hits against the Rams. He wasn't creating the level of pressure you'd hope to see out of a former first round pick playing that deep into a preseason game, but you can tell he's looking a bit better as of late. Still, there's a whole heap of defensive ends on this roster who are flat out better than him right now.
- The Cowboys linebackers showed up to play on Saturday night. Of course, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander-Esch are who they are, but Justin March-Lillard led the team in tackles with 6, and Justin Phillips came away with an exceptional interception in the third quarter. He made a play on the ball that you don't expect to see from any linebacker, let alone someone of his roster status. This is a really deep linebacker room, and there's a strong chance the Cowboys will have to let go of a good player.
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