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Preseason Week 2 Preview: Titans at Cowboys

Bryson Treece

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dcnlogoWell it's here. It's what we've all been waiting for. I know, I know ... it's just the second preseason game, what does it really matter?

Well the first preseason game mattered for a blowout loss, a few sharp comments from coach Phillips about a lack of effort all around, a few players being cut from the roster, and plenty of fodder for a week as we awaited the game tonight.

But more than that, it is the follow up to something that we all basically agreed was a crap-shoot. This team is on the rebound - from last season, from the last regular season game, from the last preseason game, even from the last stadium. It's an important game because we get to see how, and if, the team has adjusted to overcome the many things that kept them from winning last week.

So yeah, maybe a preseason game is just a preseason game, but we play these games for a reason, and tonight we've got a bucket full of reasons to watch. Let's start with the offense this week.


Offense

Tonight the Cowboys will square off against the Titans. The hype will be around the grand opening of Cowboys Stadium. The offense can expect to see it’s first team play about half the game, and what a game it should be!

What to expect?

Expect … more and more of this dynamic first team offense. Last week they showed us that they can deliver with ease. The Titans defense is pretty solid, but with a combination of Felix Jones, Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd, and Miles Austin, they are looking at a serious challenge to stop these 'Boys.

We should be able to truly grasp what the offense is offering to us now, as we get them in more of rhythm. This is where Jason Garrett will be able to see the way the triple headed running game will react in game time situations, from third and inches and goal line sets to long distance and receiving play choices. This offense is fully equipped to go the distance on any play - Romo will continue to build a report with Williams, and Witten and Romo will continue to dominate.

What to Look for?

First Team Offense - Durability, you want to make sure that this team is conditioned enough to get through games. If players are exhausted their skill set quickly diminishes.

Execution, The NFL playbook is complex, it isn’t just a bunch of dumb jocks running around clueless. You really need to pay attention to the receivers route running, catching, and explosion. Same thing goes for the running backs and Offensive Line. If plays are breaking down and Romo is eating grass you can almost surely blame it on the execution of the rest of the team.

Second and Third Team offense - Chemistry, these units were less than impressive last week at Oakland. If they don’t start producing and playing as a team, the lack of depth will become that much more of an issue. With turnovers the result of poor plays, you can expect that if they continue the way they have that the second team will be a turnover machine.

The Result

The first team offense will hush critics, conquering a top 10 defense. Romo will deliver sharp passes and the running backs will contribute effectively. Expect Roy Williams to have his preseason breakout and Witten to catch on in the end zone….again.

For the second team, same ole same ole - expect inconsistent play from most positions except at receiver where position battles have never been more competitive. Turnovers and ineffective scoring drives are the end of this story though.

Offensive analysis provided by Bryan Martin


Defense

Okay, last week against the Raiders we talked about the three main areas of concern for the Cowboys heading into the season.

  • Interior Run Defense
  • Secondary
  • Ability to Force Turnovers

After the performance last week I think it would be safe to say that those concerns are still there! Granted we didn't get an extended look at the starters, but what we saw from the 2nd and 3rd string guys definitely gave credence to those concerns.

The Cowboys faced the Raiders with only one first string caliber cornerback (Orlando Scandrick), and while he played well we still do not know how much or how little depth we have at the position.

Before we make a hard line stance on the secondary situation I really think we need to give the young guys a chance over the next couple of preseason games.

The interior run defense against the Raiders was, well let's see how I can put this… not the most impressive performance I have ever witnessed. After giving up 176 rushing yards to the Raiders we need to see some improvement here this week and from now on or we could be in deep trouble.

Last but not least on our list from last week was the turnover battle, which the Cowboys lost two to zero! This defense MUST begin forcing turnovers!

Okay now that we have kind of glanced over what happened last week let’s preview what we can expect in preseason game 2 against the Tennessee Titans!


Here is this week’s list of things to keep a watchful eye on!

  • The Cowboys will get a heavy dose of Chris Johnson and LenDale White (This will be the best opportunity that we have before the season starts to get an accurate feel for the Cowboys run defense).
  • Can the Cowboys 3-4 scheme create enough pressure on a solid offensive line to force mistakes from Kerry Collins (Collins has looked very old to me in the Titans preseason games, but he is the epitome of a ball control, mistake free QB, no matter how old he is. The Cowboys should also get the opportunity to chase Vince Young around which could help prepare them for NFC East foe Philly)?
  • Does Wade Phillips begin to open the playbook up this week or is he holding back until the real games begin?


Look for the Cowboys starters to get a little more playing time this week, lord knows they need it! Wade Phillips instituted a no tackling policy in camp to help prevent preseason injuries, and boy does it show!

As for the 2nd and 3rd string guys we need to at least begin to see some consistency from these guys. Most of these guys are younger players and have had a lot thrown at them, but the time has come for them to prove that they belong!

Defensive analysis provided by Bags030404


Special Teams

Say what you like about the offensive and defensive collective performance at the Raiders, knee-jerk reaction or not, the Special Teams looked pretty good overall. In particular, my favorite rookie so far, David Buehler impressed me. Buehler was 1 for 3 on touchbacks, a statistic that sadly already surpasses Nick Folk’s stats from last year where he had 0 touchbacks. The other two were still, at least, beyond the 10 yard line. In addition, he also had two tackles on punt and kickoff coverage. That’s not a stat you see compiled amongst kickers very often. In fact, I’d go as far as to say already that he is the most intriguing kick off specialist in the history of football. Obviously, we haven’t seen enough of him to call him the most complete, but given the right amount of grooming, he really could grant the Cowboys quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to choosing their 53 man roster. He can do it all. But enough of the gratuitous bromancing; on to the Titans game.

Keeping this as short and sweet as possible, I will suffice to say I don’t really think with as dominant as the Titans can be in various aspects of the game, Special Teams should be a concern for any Dallas Cowboys unit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not underestimating them, but if there is any aspect of the game I am confident the Cowboys can win, it’s the field position battles. See for yourself:

The Titans actually have two punters currently competing for the job and both still rank in the bottom 20 as far as average distance of punts are concerned; Craig Hentrich averages 43 and A.J. Trapasso has averaged 39.4. To get an idea of how poor that is consider number 3 ranked Mat McBriar who, coming off a season ending injury, averaged 51.8 per punt over the course of 5 punts. For further perspective, keep in mind that DeCamillis has requested that Mat place more emphasis on flight time, not distance.

Rob Bironas ranks 9th in the league for average distance, with only 1 touchback out of 8 kick off attempts. Buehler is right behind him in 10th place, but with 1 touchback out of 3 tries.

Ryan Mouton, a 3rd round rookie out of Hawaii so far has handled half of the kick returns for the Titans. Interestingly enough, he is actually at the bottom of the stats sheet (ranked 50th) with average return yards of 19.3 per kick off. Whether or not that’s a result of poor blocking or poor decision making on Ryan’s part remains to be seen, but according to his draft analysis, he is supposed to be a phenomenal return man with 4.3 speed. Ideally, we could forgo finding out with Buehler kicking touchbacks throughout the game. But chances are we will see what has the Titans rubbing their hands together ala Charles Montgomery Burns. Jason McCourty, per the team’s website, has handled the other 3 kick offs but he has only average 16 yards per return and doesn’t even register on nfl.com’s stat sheet.

Meanwhile, back in Dallas we have two receivers fighting to make the final 53 man roster who have game changer ability. Granted, Stanback’s first showing was not stellar, but considering he was the first Cowboys player to touch a ball in a game situation this season, I’ll write off that first mishandling to riled up nerves. He ranks 40th when you consider the 16 yard return he had to open up the game against the Raiders, but jumps up to 20th without it. Kevin Ogletree, out of the 50 kick returners, actually ranked 8th in the league, averaging 28.7 yards per return.

According to the Titans stat sheet, punt returns have been shared between Chris Davis (3 returns averaging 5.7 per return), Ryan Mouton (3 returns averaging 7 yards per return), and Tuff Harris (1 return averaging 5.4). Punt returner might not be as a big of a question as who backs up Jay Ratliff, the OL, or who starts opposite Terence Newman, but it has been a question.

The funny thing is, so far the Cowboys have only had two opportunities to field punts, both taken by Willie Reid, one of which was bobbled and resulted in him having to fall on it. Still, you would expect him to average more than 1 yard per return and do better than 2 yards which was his longest return. I don’t know if the Cowboys intend to continue trying to use him in the preseason, but I doubt he makes the final 53. That said, the Cowboys have other options in this area, and given Reid’s performance against the Raiders, I’d imagine we will get to see them come Friday night.


What to look for:

  • More touchbacks and special teams tackles from Buehler.
  • Has Folk lost his edge? He missed his first and only field goal attempt. After that, Buehler took over and was 1 for 1. There is still very little chance the Cowboys decide to cut Folk, but it does make things more interesting that Folk made this a question to begin with.
  • Coverage on both the punt and kickoff teams was much improved from last year; it shouldn’t be too difficult for the Cowboys to continue that trend against the Titans but, I’ll be watching for it just the same.
  • Again, who is going to be the Special Teams leader? My vote is still Buehler, as crazy as it may sound.

Special Teams analysis provided by Jonathan


- Don't forget about the chat either, it'll be open all day Friday for anyone to chat.



Nothing gives me greater joy than the experience of being a Dallas Cowboys fan come time to check another victory on the schedule every Sunday. I live Inside the Star everyday and blog on it occasionally, as well. Follow us on Twitter - @InsideTheStarDC

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1 Comment
  • Joe C

    I dont think Folk has any concern about losing his job, first FG try of the season and on top of that @ Oakland on their half baseball/half football field bullshit anyway. I would still count on Folk any day for that 53yrd game winning FG ANYDAY over Buehler.

Dallas Cowboys

How Cowboys Could Benefit From Randy Gregory’s Suspension

Brian Martin

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Cowboys Headlines - Randy Gregory Withdraws Suspension Appeal, Cannot Return Until Week 15

Randy Gregory is back! His suspension is officially over and he will be able to join the Dallas Cowboys in Oxnard, California when training camp gets underway less than a week from now.

Speculation has already started as to what this could mean for the Dallas Cowboys defense this season, and shockingly expectations are rather high for a player who hasn't stepped foot on the field in over a year. But, that's not what I want to talk about today. Today I want to focus on Gregory's mess of a contract, because it is rather interesting.

Randy Gregory was signed to a four-year contract after being drafted by the Dallas Cowboys in the second-round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Gregory's rookie deal was set to expire at the conclusion of the 2018 season, but his multiple suspensions have now changed that expiration date.

You see, Gregory has only played in a total of 14 games in his career, 12 as a rookie and two in Year 2. His third year in the NFL was completely wiped out due to his year-long suspension. If you were to add that all up, it equates to just one accured season in the NFL. Remember that, because it could have a huge impact on his contract down the road.

Randy Gregory

Dallas Cowboys DE Randy Gregory

What all of this means is that the Cowboys can pretty much stretch out Gregory's contract now that they are three years in on the deal and have only gotten one accured season out of the agreement. That basically means they can push his contract back a year, meaning his 2017 salary ($731,813) gets pushed back to 2018, his 2018 salary ($955,217) gets pushed to 2019. That would essentially make him a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) in 2020.

Or does it?

Depending on how the Dallas Cowboys handled paying Randy Gregory during his suspension could actually make him an Exclusive Rights Free Agent (EFA). This is a similar situation in which David Irving found himself in after the 2017 season. The Cowboys placed a second-round tender on him in order to secure his services for another season, albeit at a $2.91 million price tag.

As you can see, the Dallas Cowboys pretty much hold all the cards when it comes to Randy Gregory's contract situation. It's all a little confusing, but that's what makes it such a unique and interesting situation.

Of course, the Cowboys could decide to extend Gregory early if he completely dominates upon his return this season. It's highly doubtful though considering his past suspensions, but still technically a possibility. If it does happen, you can go ahead and ignore everything I've written previously.



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Dallas Cowboys

Earl Thomas: Age is Just a Number Part II

John Williams

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Cowboys en Español: Hablemos de Earl Thomas, la NFL Sigue Equivocándose
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Yesterday, I wrote a piece attempting to assuage the fears that many in Cowboys Nation have about handing a contract extension out to Earl Thomas, who is 29 years old as we enter the 2018 NFL season.

In the comment section, a reader posed a very good question that is the basis for the rest of this article:

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond

It's a great question that certainly required some research, but Cowboys fans all across the world should be encouraged by my findings.

Just to refresh, here are the players we looked at as favorable comparisons to Earl Thomas at this point in his career. I searched Pro Football Reference for safeties who had at least three All-Pro First Team selections and at least six Pro Bowl appearances.

Considering an Earl Thomas Extension, Age is just a Number

The average age of the players listed at the time when they reached their third All-Pro was 31 years old. I'm removing Deion Sanders and Roger Wehrli from the equation as most of their work was done at cornerback.

Let's look at a chart that outlines what these guys careers looked like at age 29 and beyond to get a better picture. Remember, Earl Thomas already has three All-Pro selections and six Pro Bowls. Many of these guys didn't reach those kind of accolades until their 30s.

Earl Thomas Comparisons at age 29 and Beyond 1

Click image to view at full size.

The first thing I noticed as I looked into this question is that only two players had three or more All-Pro First Team selections prior to age 29, like Earl Thomas has. Those players were Rod Woodson and Ronnie Lott. Every other player on this list didn't hit their third All-Pro selection until age 29 or later.

Only one player reached his sixth Pro Bowl prior to his age 29 season, that player is Ronnie Lott, who many NFL Analysts consider to be the greatest safety of all-time. Most of the players didn't achieve their third All-Pro selection until their age 29 season or later. Earl Thomas reached his third All-Pro selection at age 25.

Here's a hot take for you: Earl Thomas, when it's all said and done could be considered the greatest safety of all-time.  I'll just leave that there to marinate and if a trade does happen, we'll come back to that.

Back to the chart.

Another thing I want to point out is that none of these players were 100% healthy. Such is the life in the NFL, especially as you get older, but they were available for at least 14 games a majority of their seasons aged 29 or later. Health is an unpredictable animal in the NFL, but the safety position allows for much more longevity than many other positions. And as the chart depicts, it's a position that ages well.

So, as you can see in the chart, players who were highly productive prior to their age 29 season were also highly productive for several seasons after. These players went onto average almost seven more years in the league from their age 29 seasons.

Most players continued to average a healthy amount of interceptions. The player that saw the biggest decline from the early part of his career to the post-29 part of his career was Brian Dawkins. The former Philadelphia Eagles and Denver Broncos safety went from three interceptions per season prior to 29 to 1.9 interceptions per season 29 and after.

When it comes to the safety position, the elite seem to be able to get the most of their bodies and their abilities and can prolong their prime. The position relies as much on intelligence and awareness as it does quickness and athleticism. Earl Thomas has the mental capacity to play the game for many more years and there's been zero evidence to suggest that he is experiencing any physical decline.

At the rate of his career that he's on, Earl Thomas is destined for the Hall of Fame. He's one of the faces of the Legion of Boom defense that propelled the Seattle Seahawks into the elite category of teams in the early part of this decade.

If and when an Earl Thomas trade does occur, don't sweat an extension for Thomas.

Thomas' credentials put him in an elite group of players who played the game for a very long time and there's no reason to believe he won't continue to do so.

The Dallas Cowboys aren't that far off from having a Super Bowl contending defense built in the image of the Seattle Seahawks. Going to get the All-Pro, future Hall of Fame safety is the final piece to the to the Dallas Cowboys completing construction on "Doomsday III." 

Everything else is there for the Dallas Cowboys, now all they have to do is: Go. Get. Earl!



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Dallas Cowboys

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPN

John Williams

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A Fully Focused Ezekiel Elliott can Carry the Cowboys into 2018 Playoffs 2
Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

ESPN has long been considered "The Worldwide Leader in Sports," and for a long time that title was justified. If you wanted your national sports news, where did you turn to but the cable sports channel to watch that day's episode of SportsCenter. But over the last few years, it's become more and more clear that it's "The Worldwide Leader" in name only.

The ratings are dropping and the network has had to make a lot of business decisions as it relates to much of their on-air talent over the last several years. With their latest under 25 starting 22 -- ahem, troll job -- they seem to have finally come to terms that they are basically First Take.

Noah Brown put it best in his reaction to the ESPN "Insider" voting that led to Saquon Barkley being named to the starting 22 ahead of Ezekiel Elliott. Brown, Elliott's teammate when both were at Ohio State University, came to his defense upon seeing the list.

Noah Brown Takes to Twitter to Call Out ESPNAnd here is the ESPN list:

SportsCenter on Twitter

43 of our NFL Insiders voted. Here's their best starting roster under the age of 25.

I'm sure there could be debates about different positions on the squad. Personally, quarterback is one where an argument could be made for Carson Wentz or Dak Prescott over DeShaun Watson, but that's for another time.

But to have a rookie, who has never played a down in the NFL ahead of the NFL's league leader in rushing for 2016, Ezekiel Elliott, is laughable.

Ridiculous.

Shameful even.

The fact that they had 43, again I use the quotations, "Insiders" vote on this and Ezekiel Elliott wasn't listed as one of the two running backs just shows you how far they've come as a network.

Let's remember that Ezekiel Elliott has averaged a touchdown a game -- receiving and rushing -- in his 25-game career. No running back has more rushing yards than Elliott does over the last two years, including 2017 league rushing leader, Kareem Hunt. No running back has more rushing touchdowns than Elliott's 22 rushing TDs.

Ezekiel Elliott's yards per carry is a healthy 4.63. Todd Gurley sits at 3.93. No player with more than 1,800 rushing yards over the last two years has a better yards per attempt than Ezekiel Elliott.

I get that you'd vote Todd Gurley in there, but to not have Ezekiel Elliott, arguably the game's best running back on your Under 25 starting 22 just makes you look like Skip Bayless or Stephen A. Smith. Not a sports journalism entity worthy of people throwing money at for "Insider" access.

I won't say that I never or will never watch ESPN, because where else am I gonna go for Monday Night Football, Todd Archer, or the NCAA Men's Lacrosse Championships? When I'm at my father-in-law's, I'll watch SportsCenter first thing in the morning, because it will be on and you don't change another man's television.

"The Worldwide Leader," however, loses credibility when they promote a list like this that has such a glaring omission.

Perhaps, maybe the goal wasn't to put out an accurate list. Maybe the goal was to get us talking about their list, just like when NFL Network releases their Top 100 players list. Like they say, there's no such thing as bad publicity.

This troll job from ESPN has certainly gotten them some publicity, or should I say, notoriety.



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