One of my favorite things to read in the offseason and preseason is anything DallasCowboys.com writer and former NFL Scout Bryan Broaddus has to say about what transpired during these practices. He has an excellent perspective when discussing football. As a former scout turned Dallas Cowboys insider, his stuff is must-read material. It's gold every single time.
Definitely go check out the Scout's Eye from Bryan Broaddus, but here are a few notes that I found very interesting.
The Newest OL Addition
Connor Williams is going to be a huge upgrade from Jonathan Cooper. Don't get me wrong, Cooper played well and was able to turn that into a one-year $5 million contract with the San Francisco 49ers. Though he played well, he had limitations, primarily in his mobility as a blocker. Because he was limited, the running game was limited in what they could do. That won't be the case with second round pick Connor Williams.
"It might have had to do with the scheme, but I noticed plenty of running plays where Connor Williams was used as a puller. Williams was primarily working to his right. He had a couple of those pulls where his path appeared good and right where he needed to be at the contact point. Given his athletic ability, we might be getting a little taste what the coaching staff has planned for Williams by getting him in space."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Athletic enough to play tackle and strong enough to play guard, he is going to make life very difficult on opposing defenses in the run game. The Dallas Cowboys are going to be able to run pull, stretch, zone, or power plays wherever they want because of the physicality and athletic ability across the offensive line.
The Defensive Backfield
One thing that has been clear from Byron Jones' game is that even if he looks beat, he isn't really beat. Whether it's Rob Gronkowski or AJ Green, Jones has great ability to make up the separation that wide receivers can sometimes get on him.
"Really nice job by Byron Jones recovering on a deep ball to Deonte Thompson. Jones tried to force Thompson to the sideline but couldn’t cut him off. With a little bit of separation Jones had to rally hard to close the gap. Dak Prescott put the ball in a spot where Thompson had a chance to bring it in, but just at the last moment Jones reached in with his off-hand and knocked it away."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Byron has always used his length and athleticism to knock passes away, and with the technique that defensive backs coach Kris Richard is teaching these guys, Jones will have a lot of opportunities to get his hands on the football.
Richard wants them forcing players to the outside on their routes, keeping themselves between the receiver and the football. In addition to Jones' ability to make plays on the ball underneath the route, this could be a big year for him in his fourth year with the Dallas Cowboys.
Another note on the defensive back group.
"Just a note on how the defense lined up in first nickel: Chidobe Awuzie, Byron Jones on the outside and Anthony Brown in the slot. With Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods at safety. Jourdan Lewis played both on the outside and in the slot with the second group. I was worried that with the new secondary coach that maybe Lewis would not get enough opportunities, but I thought he was outstanding."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
What's interesting to note from this is that Anthony Brown got the first team reps ahead of Jourdan Lewis. It's early in the preseason and so this could change, but perhaps it's not as much of a foregone conclusion that Lewis will be the primary slot cornerback.
With what we've seen from Anthony Brown in the slot in his first two years, he's pretty good from that spot himself. Lewis is the better all-around cornerback, but this will be an interesting battle to watch throughout the preseason.
Lewis had his own shining moment during practice against fifth round draft pick, Tight End Dalton Schultz.
"You have to give Jourdan Lewis some credit. Lewis drew the much bigger Dalton Schultz and fought him in the air to knock away a ball from Cooper Rush. Schultz had the position to make the play, but Lewis wasn’t going to let him have the ball. If Lewis is going to play in the slot there are going to be some days where he is going to have to deal with a tight end playing the inside."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Jourdan Lewis isn't the biggest cornerback on the team and doesn't fit Defensive Backs Coach Kris Richard's size profile, but he's a gamer. He has enough length and fight to make things difficult for receivers in the middle of the field.
This defensive backfield is going to be really, really good.
Unsung WR Selection
One of the more underrated moves from the 2018 NFL Draft was the selection of sixth rounder Cedric Wilson from Boise State University. In two seasons with the Broncos, Wilson combined for 18 touchdowns while averaging 19 yards per reception. He topped 1,100 yards both seasons with a high of 1,511 yards in 2017 on 83 catches.
He had a tremendous career, but because he doesn't have a strong athletic profile, dropped to late in the draft.
Could he be this year's Anthony Brown or Xavier Woods?
The Dallas Cowboys have done an excellent job in the later rounds finding good football players. Wilson seemed to have a pretty good day at practice yesterday.
"Cedrick Wilson sure is smooth running routes. I liked what I saw from him driving Anthony Brown off the ball, then turning outside as Brown continued up the field. Cooper Rush put the ball in a perfect spot for Wilson to secure the first down. He also had a nice block on Duke Thomas to Trey Williamson a long run. Sanjay Lal came over and slapped him on the back after he was able to finish that one."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
Anthony Brown is no slouch defending the pass. He had a really good 2016 and recovered in the second half of 2017 to put together a nice season. Yes, it's only the off-season and they aren't even in pads yet, but these are two really encouraging notes on Wilson's practice. If he can continue to win reps and flash as a run blocker, he'll be on the roster.
In 2019, the Dallas Cowboys be looking at a WR depth chart of Michael Gallup, Allen Hurns, Noah Brown, and Cedric Wilson, as your top four.
Clear Eye View
The last thing I want to touch on is Jaylon Smith. For two years he's been one of the top stories for the Dallas Cowboys as we've watched and waited to see what his knee was going to do. It seems like things are progressing really well for Smith and he's going to be a better player in 2018 because of it.
"Jaylon Smith has some pass rush moves as a blitzer. He put a nice little side step move past Ezekiel Elliott in order to put some pressure on Dak Prescott. Elliott is one of the better pass blockers in the league and after the move, he had to scramble a bit just to get his hands on Smith."
Bryan Broaddus - DallasCowboys.com
The thing I find intriguing with the combination of Smith, Sean Lee, and rookie Leighton Vander Esch is that they all have shown a penchant for blitzing in their careers, even if it was just in college.
This is going to allow for a versatile defense that can line up in a variety of defensive fronts. Whether they are in a base 4-3 or in a nickel 3-3-5, Rod Marinelli is going to be able to mix up his blitz packages, especially if Jaylon shows a marked improvement in his lateral movement. Coverage was a weakness for Smith last year, but if he can improve, the linebacker versatility will be a strength for the defense.
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There are a lot of practices still to come and some very interesting training camp battles to watch. What's the most intriguing camp battle for you?
Sean’s Scout: Cowboys Leverage Defense to Reach .500 Against Falcons
The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.
Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.
Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.
- A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.
The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.
Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.
If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.
- Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.
The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.
On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.
Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.
- Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.
Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.
I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.
- The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.
Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.
Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.
His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.
Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.
Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.
Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.
- Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.
Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.
Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.
Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.
It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.
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The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.
This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.
Cowboys Enjoy Double Win as Redskins Lose
The Dallas Cowboys looked great on the road against the Atlanta Falcons. There were very few things to complain about their last showing and now that they're back at .500, the season doesn't seem lost as previously thought. After all, the NFC East has been a mediocre division so far in 2018 and the division title is not that far from the Cowboys' grasp.
In fact, if they win this Thursday on Thanksgiving, the Dallas Cowboys would become the NFC East's division leader. The Washington Redskins were off to a great start on the season but after falling to the Houston Texans on Sunday, they only hold a one game-lead over the Cowboys.
This will be the second time of the year these two teams face each other. Back in week 7, the Cowboys played one of their worse games on the year in Washington. Many times the Cowboys shot themselves on the foot until they failed to get to overtime as Brett Maher's FG attempt bounced off the goalpost.
This time though, things should be different.
The team is on a two-game winning streak on the road against the last two NFC Champions. Of course, neither of these teams are the same than they were in previous years, but Dallas has done a good job these past two weeks. Some staff members might be coaching for their jobs as the team approaches "now or never" territory to contend in 2018. Although play-calling and execution haven't been perfect, at least the offense is showing signs of life.
Both the Cowboys and the Redskins suffered key injuries on Sunday. Towards the end of the game, Cowboys' LT Tyron Smith went down injured and headed to the locker room. With his injury history and a short week on deck, it's tough to imagine Smith will suit up on Thursday.
Tyron Smith, as only he could say it: "It didn't feel good, but I'll be alright." #cowboyswire
However, the more serious injury came for the Redskins. Quarterback Alex Smith suffered a broken tibia and fibia and will end his season due to surgery. With Colt McCoy playing at QB for Washington, winning the NFC East will become an easier task for the Cowboys.
But they can't take the win for granted. This is a flawed, inconsistent team we're talking about. On a short week, it'll require a lot of effort to beat their hated division rivals.
DAL 22, ATL 19: Elliott, Maher Carry Cowboys to Season-Saving Win
A last-minute field goal by Brett Maher lifted the Dallas Cowboys to a 22-19 victory over the Atlanta Falcons. On the strength of 201 yards of total offense out of Ezekiel Elliott, Dallas improved to 5-5 and arguably saved their 2018 season.
Elliott had 122 yards rushing and 79 receiving today, plus scored one touchdown, to make up well over half of the team's offensive production. Dak Prescott was also solid, throwing for over 200 yards and committing no turnovers.
Dallas and Atlanta traded field goals in the first half, and the Falcons took a 6-3 lead into the locker room. But the Cowboys answered with a tying field goal on their first second-half possession, then scored a touchdown on their next drive.
Maher was 3/3 on his field goals today, which included a 50-yarder. A missed extra point created concern, but the Cowboys kicker delivered in the biggest moments.
Once again, Dallas' defense was impressive and played a major part in the win. The Falcons never got into the endzone until their last possession.
- Leighton Vander Esch had another interception, securing a tipped ball that lucked its way into his grasp. He also made some big tackles and continued last week's exceptional play.
- DeMarcus Lawrence was credited with 1.5 sacks, getting him back among the league leaders with 8.0 on the year.
- Elliott was Dallas' leading receiving today. Next up was Cole Beasley with five catches for 51 yards, and Cole's day could've been better if not for a dropped touchdown pass.
- Jeff Heath nearly had his second interception of the year, but Falcons WR Julio Jones made an impressive play to hit Heath and break up the catch.
- Tyron Smith left the game on the final drive with an injury, but Cam Fleming came in and the team didn't suffer for it. We'll have to see what the short Thanksgiving week means for Smith's status against the Redskins.
- Speaking of Washington, the NFC East leaders fell to 6-4 today at home against the Houston Texans. Even worse for them, QB Alex Smith suffered a nasty ankle injury is almost assuredly out for weeks to come. Colt McCoy will be their starting QB on Thursday against Dallas.
- If Dallas wins next week, they will pull even with Washington in overall record, division record, and split the head-to-head series. With the Eagles facing a tough road game today in New Orleans, and with Alex Smith going down for Washington, the NFC East may have just become the Cowboys' to control.
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