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Martin’s 5: Has Anthony Hitchens Become A Playmaker?

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Martin's 5: Has Anthony Hitchens Become A Playmaker?

Welcome to this week's edition of Martin's 5!

The Dallas Cowboys are on an impressive 11 game winning streak, with the hope that streak continues this week against the only team that has beaten them this year, the New York Giants.

The Cowboys and Giants games normally come down to the very end and it is always an entertaining matchup to watch.

These two teams know each other extremely well, but they have both changed over the course of the season since they last saw each other in the season opener.

The Giants may have the home field advantage, but the weather conditions will effect both teams equally. The team that better handles these conditions will likely be the one that comes out on top when time expires.

The Giants need to win this game to hopefully keep their postseason hopes alive, but this is a revenge game in every sense the word for the Dallas Cowboys.

Having said all that, there are still a lot of things I'm wondering about heading into this week's matchup, which is why I started Martin's 5 to begin with.

Below are the five things I'm wondering about this week.

One: Last week's game against the Minnesota Vikings was a tough game to watch, but there was one player in particular that caught my attention by rising to the occasion when the team needed him the most, Anthony Hitchens. Hitchens has been a solid player during his short tenure in the NFL with the Dallas Cowboys, but really stood out against the Vikings last Thursday. He finished the game with 10 combined tackles, a quarterback sack, and one pass defensed that should have been an interception if not for a questionable penalty that overturned the play. Hitchens played like he had a fire lit under him the entire game, and it got me to wondering if this is the type of player will see more of in the future? The Cowboys defense can use all of the turnovers they can get, so hopefully last Thursday wasn't just a flash in the pan of the type of player Anthony Hitchens can become.

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Two: Randy Gregory hasn't played a single snap so far this season, and no one really knows when/if he might be eligible to return to the field. The target date to return from his 10 game suspension was against the Detroit Lions in a few weeks, but he was supposed to be able to start practice with the Cowboys this week. The NFL informed the Cowboys that Gregory is in fact not allowed to practice this week and to further complicate things, they still haven't made it clear whether or not Randy Gregory will be slapped with a year-long suspension for supposedly failing yet another drug test. I wonder what the holdup is here?  If Gregory has indeed failed another drug test, then why not go ahead and let the Dallas Cowboys know what's going on so they could come up with some kind of game plan? I don't think anyone knows what's going on, but I think we should know something by the time the Cowboys are set to face off against the Lions in a few weeks.

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Three: This is not same offense for the Cowboys that the New York Giants saw back in Week 1. Unfortunately, the Cowboys offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott didn't really get a good chance to get a feel for one another, but that's not the case anymore. We just witnessed Pittsburgh Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell rush for over 100 yards against the Giants defense last Sunday and I don't see any reason why Ezekiel Elliott won't be able to do the same. I do however wonder if offensive coordinator Scott Linehan will use Elliott more in the receiving game like the Steelers did with Bell last week? Now, it's just my opinion, but I think Elliott is just as good as a receiving threat out of the backfield as Bell. But, he just hasn't been used in that type of role yet on a consistent basis this season for some reason. Maybe that changes against the Giants.

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Four: It was really surprising to learn yesterday that Jason Pierre-Paul had surgery to help fix a torn muscle and will miss up to six weeks. I wonder how much the offensive game plan changes now that he is out of the lineup for the Giants defense? JPP was finally getting back to his old self after injuring his hand in a firework accident and was on a tear these last several weeks. His absence will surely be missed for the Giants defense. His length, speed, and athleticism made him a force to be reckoned with down after down in both the passing and running game. It will be interesting to see if the offensive game plan will attack the side where JPP would normally be or whether or not anything will change it all.

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Five: The Dallas Cowboys have already locked up a spot in the playoffs and could win the division this week with a win over the New York Giants. With a win and a loss by both the Detroit Lions and Seattle Seahawks, the Cowboys will also secure home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. I wonder if that scenario plays out, if we will see Tony Romo start or at least get a good amount of playing time in some of these last few games? Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not suggesting that Romo be reinserted as a starting QB permanently. But, it would be good for him to get in there and knock off some of the rest just in case he is needed for some reason.

Is there anything that you are wondering about this week?

Please for free to use the comment section below to share with all of us anything you might have stuck in your head this week.



Level C2/C3 quadriplegic. College graduate with a bachelors degree in sports and health sciences-concentration sports management. Sports enthusiast. Dallas Cowboys fanatic. Lover of life with a glass half-full point of view.

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2 Comments
  • Gbear

    With JP out you’ll see the o-line able to concentrate double teams, if needed, on other pass rushers. Randy Gregory tho, I don’t know about that cat, one hall of famer already gave up on him. NFL is a hot mess and appears to not have it together. Hopefully Hitchens trends upward, that defense needs some stars. I’m concerned how they’ll hold up against OBJ without Claiborne, Carr is overmatched against him. Hopefully Carr is experienced enough to keep him in front. I can’t get over Jerry Jones constantly in the news running his mouth about some fantasy in his mind concerning Tony Romo coming to the rescue when Dak goes down, and let me assure you JJ’s words aren’t minced. He sees it, he believes it and if he could he’d make it so. Damage control needs to slap a lock on that incredibly talkative, karma testing, inventive mouth of Jones. Everyone offers the excuse that Jones keeps getting asked about Romo, well that may be but it should be controlled by the person being asked., like Bellichek, do you think he’d rant about a backup qb like Jones does, no way. To me on the outside looking in its a terrible look and it’s obvious Jones doesn’t want Dak running the team and if I was Dak I’d have a long memory come contract time. I understand Romo is no ordinary backup but he still is the backup and that can’t be front page news at the expense of a young qb that needs encouragement, not hearing the owner talking about getting Tony in there when Dak goes down, it’s ridiculous. Go Cowboys #Dak4MVP #Zeke4ROY

    • Brian Martin

      Gbear, like you, I’m getting a little tired of hearing Jerry Jones talk as well. I think it’s kind of a defense mechanism since he is starting to be kind of phased out in the decision-making process. I have honestly started to ignore the majority of what Jerry Jones says.

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Geoff Swaim Needs Surgery, Should the Cowboys even use a Tight End?

John Williams

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Cowboys TE Geoff Swaim Quietly Exceeding Expectations? 1

Well, the injury woes continue to mount for the Dallas Cowboys with news coming down this evening that Tight End Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist in the 22-19 win over the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday. The injury will need surgery which will mean Swaim will be out a while, if not for the rest of the season.

David Helman on Twitter

Geoff Swaim broke a bone in his wrist yesterday and is going to need surgery. Sounds like it might not be season-ending, but he won't be available Thursday #cowboyswire

In previous seasons this wouldn't be much of a blow to the offense, but Geoff Swaim has been the only tight end that the Cowboys have ben able to rely on this season. Dalton Schultz is a rookie, Blake Jarwin's been inconsistent, and Rico Gathers still isn't fully trusted. With the Dallas Cowboys and Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan's insistence on using a tight end, it seems there's a huge hole at the position heading into Sunday's first place showdown with the Washington Redskins.

But in reality, is there?

For weeks, I've been screaming for this team to use more 10 personnel (one running back and zero tight ends) as its primary passing formation because it gets their best pass catching weapons on the field at the same time. Swaim has been solid and consistent in his first year as a starter, but the rest of the tight end group has disappointed. So why even run a tight end out on the field.

The Dallas Cowboys have options that could replace the tight end in the passing game without actually using a tight end.

First, they could use Noah Brown as the de facto tight end. He's been one of the best blockers on the team in his first two seasons with the team and this is the type of role he's made for. Split him out wide and motion him in tight when you want to run. He can be a threat down the seem and in the red zone with his athleticism. He'd be a mismatch for the linebackers that try to cover him and could open space underneath for Cole Beasley. Brown is also a really good run blocker, so having him on the field doesn't negate what you want to do in the run game.

The other player the Cowboys coaching staff could work into more of the tight end route responsibilities is Allen Hurns. Hurns is a really good route runner, especially in the middle of the field, where the Dallas Cowboys haven't received a lot of production. You can put Hurns in as the fourth wide receiver and split him a couple of yards off the tackle to give him a cleaner release than a TE might get and have him run "Y-option," shallow post routes, or drags. He can be a threat in the passing game if put in situations where he can excel. See below for something Allen Hurns does really well.

Film Review: What's Up with Allen Hurns?

In fact, by going four wide receivers with Brown or Hurns on the field, it's possible the opposing defense is forced to run more of dime packages against the Dallas Cowboys 10 personnel.

Why would you want to get teams into dime packages?

Most NFL teams have two pretty good linebackers that they can deploy in nickel situations, but teams rarely have four corners that they can put on the field and feel really good about. So, if you can force teams to remove one of their 11 best players for a backup corner back or safety, you are already winning that matchup.

That matchup would also get you into much more favorable defensive fronts to run against. Even if the opposition put seven or eight in the box, it would be against smaller personnel like corners and safeties instead of a second linebacker.

Running 10 personnel as their base offense moving forward would be unconventional, but with an opportunity to take control of first place in the NFC East on Thanksgiving, now is not the time for conventionality.



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Cowboys WR Michael Gallup on Personal Leave; Team Offers Support

Jess Haynie

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Michael Gallup

Dallas Cowboys rookie receiver Michael Gallup suffered a personal tragedy on Sunday, being informed that his brother committed suicide. He is now on personal leave away from the team, and both Jerry Jones and Jason Garrett have given their full support to Gallup during this difficult time.

According to reports, Gallup was unaware of his brother's death until immediately after the Cowboys' win over the Atlanta Falcons. Michael did not return with the team to Dallas and remained in Atlanta to be with his family.

A formal statement was made by owner Jerry Jones yesterday regarding Gallup:

“Our team and our entire organization are deeply saddened by the news of Michael’s loss. His family is our family. We share in the grief and pain that comes with something so personal and tragic. We offer our support, care and comfort for Michael, and we ask that all of those who have sons and daughters and brothers and sisters join us in keeping Michael and his wonderful family in their thoughts and prayers.”

Throughout his time owning the Cowboys, Jerry has built a reputation for personal loyalty and compassion with his players. His head coach is no different.

As he addressed the media Monday, Jason Garrett did not get into football matters when addressing Gallup's situation:

“This is a very challenging time for him. We’ll take it moment by moment, day by day, and give him all of our love and all of our support.”

While Michael is certainly dealing with something far more important than football, his availability for Thursday's Thanksgiving game against the Washington Redskins does come into question.

The Cowboys have a short week to prepare for Washington, and Gallup has started their last five games. If the rookie has to sit, which seems probable given the timeframe, we can expect more playing time for Allen Hurns and Noah Brown.

Whatever happens happens on that front. Our focus is on Michael Gallup during this sad time, with him and his family in our collective thoughts as Cowboys fans and fellow humans.



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Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch’s Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion

Sean Martin

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Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch's Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion 1

The Dallas Cowboys know what they're doing when it comes to the NFL Draft. Not to be outdone by Philadelphia, the Cowboys brought the 2018 Draft to AT&T Stadium, marking the first time the event's been held in an NFL stadium. This made Boise State Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch the first player to be drafted on the field he now calls home. Returning home this week after two straight interceptions against the Eagles and Falcons, Vander Esch is far from the controversial pick that drew jeers inside AT&T Stadium on draft night and every bit the star the Cowboys projected him to be.

The ascension of Leighton "Wolf Hunter" Vander Esch as one of the best young linebackers in the game has happened rapidly. LVE played eight man football in high school, tasked to do everything on both sides of the ball before settling into defense as a walk onto the blue turf.

For the first time in what seems like forever, the Cowboys have more than just a plan to play defense without Sean Lee. Thanks to their 19th overall pick they're thriving as one of the best units in the league, making Lee an afterthought.

Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch's Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion

Dallas Cowboys LB Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch

Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith have changed the entire makeup of the Cowboys defense, two young and athletic linebackers that should be roaming the middle of the field for a long time in Dallas.

This is exactly what LVE was able to do on his interceptions of both Carson Wentz and Matt Ryan. Vander Esch defending well against the pass is probably the least surprising part of his development, as his coverage skills always overshadowed his strength against the run in college.

It just so happens that Vander Esch tallied 63 tackles in eight games before recording his first career interception, establishing himself as an all-around linebacker with no true weakness. Vander Esch has played with the power and block shedding ability that matches his sideline to sideline range and instincts, as opposing offenses have done little to slow the Cowboys new leader on defense.

LVE2

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

This is Vander Esch's first interception, which set up a Cowboys field goal against the Eagles. Watch as Leighton reads the eyes of Wentz through the play, first angling towards his check down throw and then gaining depth to intercept the pass.

The subtle yet effective movements from Vander Esch to undercut Wentz's throw is a fine example of how quickly LVE has picked up on Kris Richard's defense, as well as the next level game speed.

LVE1

Check out this video on Streamable using your phone, tablet or desktop.

Sunday's interception from Vander Esch was the type of game breaking play the Cowboys needed to separate from the Falcons in hostile territory. Although the Falcons would rally to tie the game after this point, the Cowboys defense became the first to hold Atlanta under 20 points at home this season, thanks in large part to LVE as always.

The smoothness from Vander Esch on this play is exceptional, stepping up into coverage against the running back before sprinting back in position for the turnover. Calvin Ridley, drafted seven picks after Vander Esch, helps Leighton by letting Ryan's pass go through his hands.

Give Vander Esch credit for being in the right place at the right time and finishing the play. Every week, the rookie finds a way to do something memorable, and in helping the Cowboys earn their first two road wins of 2018 he finally flashed in pass coverage.

The next challenge for the Cowboys defense comes on a short week, against the division leading Washington Redskins. Though they lost starting Quarterback Alex Smith for the season on Sunday, expected to start Colt McCoy on Thanksgiving, it was Running Back Adrian Peterson that gashed the Cowboys for 4.13 yards a carry and 99 total yards in the Redskins week six win over Dallas.

Given what not only Leighton Vander Esch but the rest of the Cowboys defense has shown against the run in recent weeks, all without David Irving and most recently without either Antwaun Woods or Daniel Ross, the Cowboys should certainly be prepared to play for first place in the NFC East on Thursday.

Tell us what you think about "Wolf Hunter: Leighton Vander Esch’s Pass Coverage Skills Rising to Occasion" in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!



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