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.
Will Dallas Cowboys Address Backup RB in Free Agency or 2019 Draft?
The Dallas Cowboys' backup running back spot may not seem like a high priority compared to other 2019 offseason issues. But all it takes is one bad play for Ezekiel Elliott to be lost, and the Dallas offense leans too heavily on the RB position to take his backup plan lightly. Will the team be looking to improve the talent behind Zeke through free agency or the draft?
Right now, the only running backs signed to the Cowboys' roster are Elliott, Darius Jackson, and Jordan Chunn. The backup for the last few seasons, Rod Smith, is currently an unrestricted free agent.
Jackson and Chunn have a combined six carries for 16 yards in their careers, and all of those came from Darius in the Cowboys' meaningless 2018 regular-season finale. Chunn spent all of his rookie season on the practice squad.
A sixth-round pick for Dallas in 2016, Darius Jackson is on his third stint with the Cowboys after stops in Cleveland and Green Bay in between. He has flashed some electric running ability at times but clearly hasn't been able to stick with a team. Could 2019 be his chance?
Jordan Chunn was an undrafted free agent out of Troy last year. He's a big, powerful runner with some deceptive athletic moves as well.
What stands out most with both of these guys isn't positive, though, and that's their mutual inexperience and draft capital. Would the Cowboys really leave their RB depth chart so thin when they're trying to make a championship run?
Dallas could be hoping to eventually re-sign Rod Smith at a bargain price. He's a solid backup and special teams leader, and the longer he sits unsigned in free agency then the lower his price should be.
But is it time for the Cowboys to invest more in their other running backs? Not only is 2019 a critical year, but upcoming contract negotiations with Elliott could make it a wise move.
This upcoming season is the last one of Zeke's standard rookie contract. Dallas will have to decide if they want to sign him long-term or let him play 2020 on his fifth-year option as a former first-round draft pick, which would pay him about $9 million.
Signing or drafting a player of consequence now, and having them under contract over the next few seasons, would give the Cowboys some added leverage in contract negotiations with Elliott.
What's more, who's to say that Zeke's impressive durability will just continue? He's already had a lot of touches in three years, even with the six suspension games. Maybe it's time to find someone who you don't mind giving some of the workload to?
Some of the top free agents available likely won't want the reduced role, and money, that playing behind Elliott will mean. That would take guys like Jay Ajayi and C.J. Anderson off the list.
What about older veteran who can still ball, like Marshawn Lynch, Darren Sproles, or Doug Martin? You might not want them as a featured player anymore but they could still be effective on limited touches. Joining a potential contender like the Cowboys in a supporting role could be exactly what these guys are looking for.
Other free agent options would be players who are used to backup roles, such as Isaiah Crowell, T.J. Yeldon, or Spencer Ware. They would be probable upgrades from Rod Smith but for minimal money if they stay unsigned much longer.
The draft is another way to add some RB talent, and it could be the smartest one. A drafted player, even as high as Dallas' second-round pick, would have a four-year rookie deal at a minimal salary.
One player that could make a lot of sense for the Cowboys is Justice Hill out of Oklahoma State. He brings a change of pace from Elliott as a smaller, quicker back and could be available for them during Day 2 of the draft.
Hill was featured as a potential Cowboys target by our Brian Martin a few weeks ago.
You might say that having Elliott makes any sort of serious draft pick at running back a wasted pick. But with Zeke turning 26 after the 2020 season, the Cowboys might be willing to let someone else give him a huge deal and move on to a much cheaper option.
And again, who says that Elliott makes it through another 16-game season and playoffs without a major injury? It can happen to the best of them.
Clearly, this could go any number of ways. Dallas might bring back Rod Smith or some comparable player for a cheap, easy answer at backup running back. Maybe they invest in a more proven free agent, or perhaps they draft someone early enough to matter.
However it goes, let's just say that I highly doubt Darius Jackson will be RB2 come September.
Dallas Cowboys Head Toward NFL Draft with No Glaring Needs
When the offseason began after the Dallas Cowboys fell to the Los Angeles Rams in the divisional round of the playoffs, it was clear that they were a team on the rise, but had several areas they needed to address as free agency and the draft approached.
The team had holes or depth issues at safety, defensive tackle, swing tackle, wide receiver, defensive end, and tight end. Through the first two weeks of free agency, the Dallas Cowboys have taken care of each of those areas.
With the signings of George Iloka, Christian Covington, Cameron Fleming, Randall Cobb, Tavon Austin, Kerry Hyder, and Jason Witten, The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up to approach the draft with “clear eyes and a full heart.”
As they head into April with the NFL Draft looming, the Cowboys won’t be held back by positional need and can allow their draft board to do the work for them and just add good players. It’s an excellent position to be in as they don’t have to reach for a player at a position of need they may not like as much because they have a veteran presence filling that need.
Backup running back appears to be the only position where the Cowboys could use some depth, but that player for this team is more of a special teams player who gets limited snaps on offense because of the greatness of Ezekiel Elliott. It’s generally a position where there is a lot of talent deep in the draft and undrafted free agent pool, which allows the Cowboys to be patient filling that need behind the NFL’s leading rusher.
Mother than that, if the Dallas Cowboys has to go play a football game and win today, they’d be in great shape to do so.
On the flip side, however, the Cowboys can still add players at defensive tackle, wide receiver, tight end, safety, and defensive end because they aren’t restricted by big contracts to those veteran players. Each of them came to the Cowboys on one-year deals. The veterans that they signed would prohibit them from drafting at that same position, and that’s the point.
The Cowboys have created a formula that works really well for them. Sometimes it get frustrating watching the team not make any big splashes in free agency, especially that first week when other teams are bringing in big-name players to add to their rosters. That formula has led them to a 48-32 record over the last five seasons with three NFC East titles, and two playoff wins, and three divisional round appearances.
And the playoff runs could have been deeper with a bit of luck and correct officiating.
The Dallas Cowboys have set themselves up really well as they now set their sights on the NFL Draft at the end of April. Though they won’t have a first round pick to add to their talent pool, the Cowboys have shown that they can find talent in the second round and beyond. This year will be no different.
Now it’s time to sit back and trust the process.
Cowboys Have Had Quiet, Yet Successful, Free Agency
Yet another free agency without a big splash by the Dallas Cowboys. What a surprise. Despite entertaining Earl Thomas rumors for a long, long time, the Cowboys' front office has stuck with its philosophy of not overpaying free agents and building the team mainly through the NFL Draft. However, they've actually had some pretty good signings over the last few days that will really benefit the Cowboys when the season comes around.
They've done so with inexpensive free agents who will contribute at a high level on their respective positions. Sure, top free agent signings are fun. But many times, they end up backfiring to teams for spending so much money in one single player. At the end of the day, the Cowboys' way has gotten the team three NFC East Championships since 2014. Many factors come into play, but their team building philosophy can't be as bad as many claim it to be.
The most recent acquisition came in form of former Cincinnati Bengal and Minnesota Viking Safety George Iloka. The Cowboys had a desperate need at the defensive backfield and finally they've done something about it. On a heavy safety market, the Cowboys sat tight while watching the top free agents get top contracts around the league, including Landon Collins' record breaking deal with the Washington Redskins.
Now, they've gotten a guy who can play both safety positions. I'll be surprised if he doesn't take Jeff Heath's job. He's played as a free safety most of his career but being a good tackler, he should do a good job in the box. Iloka will also shine on special teams in Dallas.
So far, my favorite signing may be that of former Green Bay Packer, Randall Cobb. The Cowboys had an important need at the wide receiver position despite counting with Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup leading the room. Cole Beasley is a tough guy to replace and although Cobb may not be a better slot receiver than him, he certainly has the experience and the skill set to be a starting slot WR. What's more, he'll only cost the Cowboys five million while Beasley got a four year deal with which he'll earn $17M over the first two years.
Cole Beasley will be missed, but the good thing is the front office did a pretty good job at filling the concerning hole on offense. Cooper, Gallup and Cobb are definitely not a bad starting trio to have.
Other under the radar moves will also help the Cowboys. Kerry Hyder may not be a well-known in the NFL but he'll surely contribute to this defensive line as a rotational player. Hyder had eight sacks in 2016 with the Detroit Lions before suffering an Achilles injury in 2017 and dealing with a scheme change last season. Hyder will surely be happy about being back to a 4-3 defense in Dallas.
Christian Covington was another overlooked signing. Covington will help on the interior of the defensive line and although he'll likely not be a starter, he'll be an important piece in the rotation for a very reasonable contract ( also a one-year deal).
For a football team that's constantly criticized for not being active in free agency, the Cowboys have done something at pretty much every position where they need help. Safety, defensive end, defensive tackle, wide receiver and tight end have all been addressed this offseason prior to the NFL Draft. This will give them great flexibility in April and could lead to a pretty good "best player available" strategy.
Now granted, there are still concerns regarding the young "to be extended" group of players. DeMarcus Lawrence hasn't reached an agreement with the Cowboys and will continue to postpone surgery until he does. If the front office doesn't strike a contract with the star pass rusher, it won't be possible to consider this offseason a good one no matter what happens. Dallas can't let him leave.
In the meantime though, they've had a pretty quiet yet successful March. And they're not done yet. Robert Quinn could end up wearing the Star if a trade with the Miami Dolphins does end up taking place. We'll see if the Cowboys continue to build on an already pretty good free agency.
NFL Draft6 days ago
Cowboys Draft Target: Nebraska WR Stanley Morgan Jr.
NFL Draft2 weeks ago
Hypothetical La’el Collins Trade Could Recoup Cowboys a 2019 1st-Round Pick
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Cowboys Show Interest in Browns DE Emmanuel Ogbah
Player News2 weeks ago
Chiefs Release Eric Berry, Should Cowboys Be Interested?
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
BREAKING: Dallas Cowboys Sign DL Christian Covington
NFL Draft1 week ago
Dallas Cowboys Make Trades in this 7-round Mock Draft
Player News7 days ago
REPORT: Police Detain Cowboys DL Tyrone Crawford After Bar Fight
Star Blog1 week ago
Would Cowboys Trade Joe Looney if the Saints Came Calling?