Wide Receiver Amari Cooper means many things to the Dallas Cowboys. He is a token of change for a team that started the season 3-4 without him, and 5-1 since with their first win streak beginning in Cooper's second game at the Eagles. Cooper is the player this club promised they wouldn't need to compete this season, happily being proved wrong by the NFC Offensive Player of the Week for both weeks 12 and 14. Much more subtly, the 24-year old receiver is also the latest player to very publicly doubt Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan.
Cooper matched his season high 10 receptions in the Cowboys home win over the Eagles, hauling in the game-winning touchdown in overtime as his third score to go with a career high 217 yards. Seventy five of these yards came on one play, with Cooper getting behind the depleted Eagles secondary to put Dallas ahead 23-16 late in the fourth.
After the game Amari Cooper talked about his 75-yard touchdown and how he originally had a stop route but Dak Prescott gave him a hand signal to run a go instead.
Exclaiming "this is ridiculous" while watching the Cowboys offense at any point before trading for Cooper was a common occurrence. The Cowboys were playing with a struggling offensive line, receivers that couldn't separate, and frustrated quarterback being asked to carry way too much in a Linehan offense that also does him few favors.
It was Dak Prescott that warned Cooper to stick with Linehan's play call before giving in and throwing the touchdown.
If it took Cooper only six weeks to tell the media that opposing defenses are sitting on the Cowboys plays, it's almost certain he's noticed it much sooner. Where teammates have brought nothing but excuses for poor play, Cooper is a solution in and of himself, changing the play that helped lift the Cowboys to their fifth straight win.
With the Cowboys 75-yard overtime march to win the game on Sunday, Dallas finished with a season high 576 yards. After four quarters the Cowboys had 485 yards, which would still be their best output of 2018.
The emptiness in some of these yards starts with Linehan's play calling in the red zone. As I noted in Sean's Scout for Monday, Ezekiel Elliott's 40 touch performance saw just six attempts when the Cowboys were inside the Eagles' 20-yard line.
The Cowboys have the longest active win streak in the league, and also the lowest percentage of red zone touchdowns over their last three victories. It still feels like fantasy to be inking the Cowboys as NFC East champions-elect, with one more win confirming their spot in the playoffs.
This is exactly how much of the Cowboys coaching staff should feel about their ink on any contract extensions. Around Linehan, the Cowboys made several moves at the positional level entering the year. Jason Garrett's staff has at the very least earned the right to be evaluated at the end of the season, with Garrett credited for guiding his club through this ongoing revival.
For a team that expects to be playing single elimination games next month, the Cowboys offense is slowed down entirely too often to trust Linehan more than at any previous level. As if a reminder was needed, Linehan's job was under enough fire from all angles for Garrett to address his newfound "job security" during the bye week.
Garrett doused the flames of a report that he aimed to replace Linehan during the Cowboys week off. Head coach openings in Green Bay and Cleveland have opened since, with more to follow, decreasing the Cowboys chances at bringing in a top offensive mind in any capacity below HC.
Of course, it was also during this bye week that the Cowboys were integrating their offensive savior in Cooper. The latest challenge for the Cowboys comes from a Colts team back in the AFC playoff picture with a win over the Texans last week. Holding Deandre Hopkins to just four catches, the Colts have defended #1 receivers well.
Calling the defense for this Indianapolis team is none other than former Cowboys Linebackers Coach Matt Eberflus. At a point in their season where the Cowboys should be fine tuning both sides of the ball before a playoff run, their championship level defense runs the risk of being held back by an uninspired offense more so this week than any other.
Linehan has stepped up with his back to the wall before, and with the right players in his system (read: Amari Cooper, again) the results can follow. Trying to extend a five game win streak to six isn't exactly pressure territory for any coach in December, but the Cowboys offense has three weeks to show what their playoff potential will be with Linehan as the play caller.
LB Justin Phillips Making a Case to Become a Roster Lock With Cowboys
In Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch, the Dallas Cowboys arguably have the best linebacker duo in the entire NFL. They also have some pretty solid backups in Sean Lee and Joe Thomas, but the depth behind those four is completely up in the air. That is excellent news for an undrafted LB like Justin Phillips.
The former Oklahoma State Cowboy LB signed with the Dallas Cowboys as an undrafted free agent after the completion of the 2019 NFL Draft. To go from being an Oklahoma State Cowboy to a Dallas Cowboy must've been a dream come true, especially for a kid from Pearland, Texas who rooted for America's Team growing up. The dream probably won't be complete though unless a roster spot comes with it.
Surprisingly, Justin Phillips has put himself into contention to earn one of those coveted roster spots. The way he has played in the first two preseason games has caught the attention of quite a few people, which should make it extremely difficult for the Cowboys coaching staff when it comes to making roster cut decisions. Dallas Cowboys Staff Writer and former Scout Bryan Broaddus agrees…
"Justin Phillips is going to make it hard on this staff to put him on the street. Not only is his finish impressive, but the awareness he plays with in pass coverage is impressive. There is no way I thought he had a chance for that interception, especially with this initial step into the line, but his ability to turn and run to a spot saved him."
Here is the play/interception Broaddus is referring to:
The Dallas Cowboys have typically only carried six linebackers on their 53-man roster these past few years. With four spots already spoken for, Justin Phillips is doing his damnedest to lock down one of those final two up for grabs. That, of course, is easier said than done.
Phillips is likely competing with Justin March-Lillard, who led the team in tackles against the Los Angeles Rams last week and fellow undrafted rookie LB Luke Gifford. Gifford, of course, missed the game against the Rams with an ankle injury he sustained in Week 1 of the preseason against the 49ers. It was actually that injury that resulted in more playing time for Justin Phillips.
If you're doing the math here, that's three linebackers competing for two roster spots. March-Lillard probably has the upper hand right now over the two rookies, but I wouldn't say he's secured a job just yet. That leaves the door open for No. 44 (Phillips) and No. 57 (Gifford).
As much as I like Luke Gifford, and I do, I think the stars could be aligning for Justin Phillips to make it through roster cuts. He's playing really well right now, while all Gifford can do is watch from the sideline until he can get back on the field. Regardless though, it's a position battle worth keeping an eye on.
Do you think LB Justin Phillips has done enough to secure a roster spot?
How Kris Richard May Help CB Michael Jackson Make Cowboys Roster
Cornerback Michael Jackson, one of the Dallas Cowboys' 5th-round picks in the 2019 NFL Draft, has not been standing out so far in training camp or preseason. But despite the slow start, the influence of Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard could help keep Jackson on the 53-man roster this year.
While no team likes parting with their drafted rookies, it certainly happens. That's especially true for Day 3 players, even 5th rounders, and particularly when a team is as deep with talent right now as the 2019 Cowboys.
The cornerback position is one of Dallas' most loaded. They go four-deep with starting talent in Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jourdan Lewis, which leaves just one or two roster spots for the remaining prospects.
Michael Jackson is in competition with veteran C.J. Goodwin and the intriguing Donovan Olumba. Both were with the team last year; Goodwin was a special teams contributor and Olumba was a valuable developmental asset on the practice squad.
So far this preseason, we've seen Goodwin shining on special teams and Olumba making plays at cornerback. Jackson hasn't stood out, unless you count jokes about thin he looks on the field.
In contrast, fellow 5th-round rookie Joe Jackson has been showing up at defensive end. Even if there were no suspension concerns with Robert Quinn and Randy Gregory, Joe Jackson has made himself very difficult to cut.
But despite not having that same momentum or energy around him yet, Michael Jackson may still find his way onto the 53-man roster. And that may have something to do with his position coach.
Since arriving in Dallas during the 2018 offseason, Kris Richard has quickly gained prominence beyond just his official role as the Defensive Backs Coach. He was working as the defensive play-caller last year and is expected to take over fully in 2020, assuming Rod Marinelli retires and Richard doesn't leave for a head coaching opportunity.
When Dallas selected Michael Jackson in the last draft, Jackson became the first cornerback or safety drafted by the Cowboys since Richard arrived. Given that it happened this year, with Richard's influence clearly high on the defense, one would assume that Kris had a big say in the decision to draft Jackson.
No, Richard certainly can't veto any decision made by the Joneses, Will McClay, Jason Garrett, or even Marinelli when it comes to roster management. But if he has any bias towards Jackson as his first draft pick in Dallas, Kris may fight for the rookie more than someone else.
We're all human; agendas come into play. Kris Richard may be more passionate about seeing Michael Jackson succeeding for a variety of reasons. He may pound the table for the team to keep Jackson louder than anyone else in the room.
That doesn't necessarily mean keeping Jackson over some other cornerback, either. The argument could be to go long at CB at the expense of another position; maybe only keeing two quarterbacks or eight offensive linemen to free up a roster spot.
This is purely speculative, of course. For all we know, Richard could be the first one who loses faith and votes to let Jackson go.
But given the situation and all factors involved, it's more likely that Kris Richard will be invested in seeing Michael Jackson succeed and sticking with the Cowboys in 2019. Hopefully, it's in the best interest of the team overall.
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.
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