Welcome to this week's edition of Martin's 5!
The Dallas Cowboys were able to come away with an overtime victory over the division rival Philadelphia Eagles, even though it was one of their sloppiest performances of the season. They will now go on the road to face a winless, although talented, Cleveland Browns team.
This should be a good game for the Cowboys to get back on track and correct some of the things that went wrong against the Eagles last week.
Having said that though, this is in a game they can't overlook. They have to come out and dominate in all three phases the game and show everybody why they are currently ranked as the second best team in the NFL behind only the New England Patriots.
After narrowly escaping the Philadelphia Eagles last Sunday, there are a lot of things that I've been wondering about and hope to get the answer to this week when the Cowboys head to Cleveland in hopes of improving their record to 7-1.
Below are the five things I'm wondering about this week heading into the matchup with the Cleveland Browns.
One: I wonder if Jim Schwartz and the Philadelphia Eagles provided a blueprint for teams how to fluster the Dallas Cowboys rookie quarterback, Dak Prescott? The Eagles made things difficult for Prescott last week and they did it by bringing continuous pressure. It seemed to throw Prescott off his game a little the majority of the night, but he was able to rally at the end and lead the Cowboys to an overtime victory. We all know that this is a copycat league, so I wouldn't be surprised if we see opposing defenses try to throw Prescott off by making him have to make quick decisions due to the pressure they are providing. Maybe Dak Prescott just had an off game, but it wouldn't surprise me one bit if defenses try to fluster him with added pressure in the future.
Two: I was really excited about Dez Bryant's return to the field and how he would help open up the offense for the Dallas Cowboys in both the passing and running game. I know it was just one game, but I wonder Bryant's return actually hurt Cole Beasley's involvement in the game plan and his production? I know I'm not the only one that noticed that passes were kind of forced to Bryant and that Beasley was pretty much an afterthought against Eagles. The entire Cowboys offense kind of struggled the majority of the game, but was finally able to put things together when Dak Prescott started to spread the ball around and get Beasley and the rest of his receivers more involved. Beasley without a doubt has become one of the best slot receivers in the NFL and absolutely has to be utilized more because he is virtually unrecoverable.
Three: Morris Claiborne and Barry Church could be out several weeks due to the injuries they sustained against the Eagles Sunday night. Unfortunately, this is a big hit for the Cowboys defense and I wonder how they're going to try and fill the void left by them in the secondary? Both players have been playing some of the best football of their entire career in the NFL this season and they are a big reason why the defense for the Cowboys has been exceeding expectations. The next man up mantra is good and all, but defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will definitely have his work cut out for him until #24 and #42 are healthy and can get back on the field.
Four: Let's stay on the same train of thought here for second. J.J. Wilcox will likely be the one replacing Barry Church for the time being, so I wonder if we will start seeing opposing offenses targeting him more the passing game? To his credit, Wilcox has been playing pretty well this season, but he is more of a box safety and struggles when playing in space covering receivers. He has made some key plays in 2016, but he will be asked to start now and has some big shoes to fill with Church out of the lineup. The Dallas Cowboys definitely need him to step up his game if they are going to continue to find success and remain competitive on the defensive side of the ball.
Five: I don't know about you, but I've started to get a little anxious (not in a good way) every time Lucky Whitehead is back to receive a punt or kickoff. Last week against the Eagles, Whitehead nearly fumbled away the opening kickoff and then a little later in the game made a poor decision by fielding a punt inside the Cowboys 10 yard line. I wonder if we will see the Dallas Cowboys start to use someone else handle the return duties until they can fully trust Whitehead once again? Special teams turnovers and mistakes are a quick way to end up on the losing end of the stick, so it's important to find a solution to this problem as soon as possible.
Is there anything that you are wondering about this week?
Please feel free to use the comment section below to provide your thoughts and opinions on this topic.
Cowboys Trade For DT Jihad Ward Already Paying Off?
The Dallas Cowboys uncharacteristically made several offseason trades this year and it has yet to be seen how or if these players can be impactful in 2018. One such trade was met with quite a bit of skepticism and actually angered a lot of Cowboys fans. Sending wide receiver Ryan Switzer to the Oakland Raiders in exchange for Jihad Ward was somewhat puzzling, but it looks as if the trade might already be paying off.
Unfortunately, one of the Dallas Cowboys best defensive players will once again have to sit out of the first four games of the 2018 season while serving his suspension for violating the substance abuse policy. David Irving was expected to pick up where he left off last season as one of the best defensive tackles in the league, but will have to wait until Week 5 to find out what he can do.
I don't know if the Dallas Cowboys suspected something like this would happen with Irving once again, but suddenly the trade for Jihad Ward is looking like a brilliant under the radar offseason move.
I know a lot of Cowboys fans were excited to see what Ryan Switzer could do for the offense this season, but the coaching staff never really had a plan in place for him or knew exactly how to use him. There is no question as to how the coaching staff will use Ward. He could end up being one of the better defensive lineman this season.
Jihad Ward has already caught the attention of the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff in organized team activities (OTA's) and mandatory minicamp. Coincidentally, he's been playing in place of David Irving at the under tackle position or the three-technique. It's a role he may not relinquish heading into the 2018 season, and quite possibly even when Irving returns from his suspension.
I know it's a little bit early to anoint Jihad Ward, but the fact that as a new addition he's already starting ahead of the likes of Tyrone Crawford and other 3-tech candidates is pretty telling, at least for me.
Once training camp opens up there will be several things I will be paying close attention to, and how Jihad Ward performs will be one of them. He was after all highly thought of by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli a few years ago in the 2016 NFL Draft. Maybe that infatuation will pay off.
I know it still stings a little that Ryan Switzer is no longer with the Cowboys, but Jihad Ward could prove to be the more impactful player this season and beyond.
Do you think the Jihad Ward trade is already paying off for the Cowboys?
How Will Safeties Xavier Woods, Kavon Frazier Fit Kris Richard’s Secondary?
Unfortunately, David Irving's most recent four game suspension is the main story for a Dallas Cowboys team finished with OTAs and mini camp, left only to wait for training camp now. I've chosen to focus on the players that were on the field for the offseason program, that will continue to contend for starting jobs in Oxnard. Standing out from a lackluster group of safeties, for a Kris Richard led secondary that is off to a fast start, are safeties Xavier Woods and Kavon Frazier.
Joined by Jeff Heath, Tyree Robinson, Jameill Showers, and Marqueston Huff, the Cowboys are lacking a dominant force at safety to pair with their young and talented group of cornerbacks. With the likes of Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones (the former safety), and Anthony Brown already improving under Richard, the Cowboys hope is that the same will apply to this group of safeties.
It's still entirely too early to know how the Cowboys want to deploy their safeties this season, but the only players that have shown their strengths and weaknesses over any period of time are Heath, Frazier, and Woods. This is sure to cause an uphill battle for the fringe players looking to push this trio of versatile safeties.
Jeff Heath has appeared in 77 games over five seasons with the Cowboys. Frazier and Woods combined? Just 24 games, with 16 of them making up Woods' rookie season a year ago. This makes finding a potential role for both players vital to the Cowboys.
Safety Kavon Frazier
Working mostly as a special teams player through two seasons in Dallas, Kavon Frazier has patiently awaited his opportunity to spark the Cowboys defense as a sixth round pick of 2016. Doing so in a memorable week 13 win over the Washington Redskins, Frazier earned an increased role as an enforcer on defense.
This is a player whose straight line burst and power is ideal for a ST starter, and when Frazier connects coming downhill on defense, the results can be catastrophic for an opposing offense. Surely these are traits that will remind Kris Richard even slightly of his Super Bowl winning "Legion of Boom" defenses.
The distinction between Frazier being a part-time player or one maximizing his potential to start deep in the Cowboys secondary is an important one. Limited in coverage, Frazier may be at his best when conceding snaps to another safety on the Cowboys roster with more of an all-around game -- which the Cowboys can only hope Xavier Woods continues to be.
Safety Xavier Woods
Xavier Woods may not have the pure stopping power that Kavon Frazier possesses, but as a fellow sixth-round pick there is more than enough to like about what Woods brought to the Cowboys in 2017 out of Louisiana Tech. With 14 interceptions and six forced fumbles out of college, Woods slid in the draft enough for the Cowboys to trade up for his services.
The team wasn't cheated out of their investment in Woods last season, giving him the "Byron Jones treatment" as Woods lined up all over the field. It was Richard that came to Dallas and almost immediately moved Byron Jones down to cornerback, seeing a better use of his natural size and skills there.
Doing the same for Woods -- while keeping the natural FS free to react -- should be next up on Richard's offseason to-do list. This is a player with sideline to sideline range, enough athleticism to cover down in the slot, and the functional strength to compete in the box.
Amidst this uncertainty for both Frazier and Woods, early reports out of the Cowboys practices thus far have Jeff Heath specifically matching up against the tight end. This is an ideal role for Heath, and one that could compliment Woods very well.
Regardless of where Heath is on the field, Woods should be able to coexist with him as a similarly instinctive safety.
There is also the possibility that both Heath and Woods struggle to handle these "starting" responsibilities, leaving the Cowboys with very little trusted depth at safety. If there is an area Woods needs the most improvement in, it is the angles he takes against the run to consistently make stops, a weakness also potentially mitigated by the Cowboys improved linebacker play (investing the 19th overall pick at the position).
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
Between Frazier and Woods, it feels safe to say the Cowboys must find a starter for a secondary that could still achieve great things in 2018. The Cowboys are entering this season with a loaded group of cornerbacks, all capable of making a safety's job relatively easy, especially while learning under Richard.
Such can be the hope for a raw player like Frazier and, in a sense, Xavier Woods. The second-year player in Woods is a great unknown for the Cowboys right now, as he'll remain that way for some time before next month's training camp.
With this, we'll have much more time to sit around and continue pondering what certain position groups will look like once meaningful Cowboys football graciously returns. I've written before that I'm paying close attention to this team's group of wide receivers, and you can add in the secondary players they'll be competing against too.
No, Cowboys Shouldn’t Cut David Irving
For the past five years, Dallas Cowboys fans have gone through painful offseason stories regarding upcoming suspensions for defensive players. It doesn't matter how much talent the front office is able to find through the Draft, there's always one player that ruins what feels like a successful offseason. This time, for the second consecutive year, David Irving is the player to let Cowboys Nation down.
On Friday it was announced that Irving will serve a four-game suspension after violating the NFL's substance abuse policy.
Understandably, a lot of Cowboys' fans want to see Irving released by the franchise that has preached the "Right Kind of Guy" philosophy while failing to establish such a thing. It's disappointing to see such a talented player limiting himself by not "wanting it" bad enough and by making mistakes like this repeatedly.
However, even if it's a very frustrating situation, the Cowboys shouldn't cut David Irving.
First of all, Irving's hit against the cap space is pretty minimum and nothing to be concerned at all. After being handed a second-round tender earlier in the year, #95 was set to earn $2.91M during the season. With a four-game suspension ahead of him, that number will be even lower.
We're talking about a guy who in eight games managed to get to the quarterback seven times in 2017 and consistently pressured opposing signal callers. Not to mention he's going to be just 25 years old when the season begins.
For the Cowboys, David Irving has the talent needed to average one sack per game. All of this for less than three million.
Irving has proven by now that he's not worth a long-term extension. That much is clear. In order to get one of those, a player must prove his availability.
Talking specifically about 2018, though, I'm sure the Cowboys will be better off if they count on Irving for the final 12 games of the season. The team counts with pretty decent depth at the position with Maliek Collins, Datone Jones and Jihad Ward, but Irving has the potential to end the season with double-digit sacks.
The team gains nothing by releasing Irving. The team will not even be "sending a message" if they were to release #95. Maybe if the team had consistently sent this kind of "messages" over the years it would make sense.
However, we know this team sticks with their players and supports them in moments like this. They have done just that with Randy Gregory and it seems like it will pay off soon.
Whether we're mad at Irving's actions or not, the truth is letting him go wouldn't be wise at all. The Cowboys are not paying him big-time money, he's young and he'll be productive on the field when the defense needs him to.
We're talking about a football team that wants to make a run for the Lombardi Trophy. They can't be letting starting-caliber players go just like that. They need all the help they can get and even though his situation is far from ideal, David Irving will play a big role on defense.
Want to help make Inside The Star better?
We’re collecting feedback from our readers about the site. It only takes <2 minutes to complete, and can be done from any device.
Don’t worry, your information will not be shared with anyone but me (Bryson T.).
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
Should Cowboys DT Jihad Ward Be Getting More Attention?
Star Blog1 week ago
Could Connor Williams Actually Define the Cowboys’ Season?
Star Blog2 weeks ago
Can WR Cedrick Wilson be the Cowboys Next Deep Threat?
Player News1 week ago
Report: Cowboys Sign OL Zack Martin To 6 Year Deal
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Could Cowboys CB Anthony Brown be a Trade Asset?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Dallas Cowboys 2018 Job Security Rankings: Defense
Star Blog3 days ago
Should Cowboys Add Another Safety Before Training Camp?
Dallas Cowboys6 days ago
4 Reasons Terrance Williams Won’t Be a Cowboy