Well 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.
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 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
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
- 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
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.
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.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
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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