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.
Is 2019 Wide Receiver Group Best Dak Prescott Has Worked With?
Dak Prescott will be leading the Dallas Cowboys offense for the fourth consecutive year in what has been a very unlikely career. In three seasons, he's led the Cowboys to two NFC East titles and one playoff win. He's done so with quality offenses, starting by a strong offensive line and an elite running back in Ezekiel Elliott. During his career in Dallas he's had some solid receivers, but he hasn't played with a group as strong as the one he'll have in the upcoming 2019 season.
This year's starters will be headlined by Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb. Although there's many other intriguing players to watch at the position, those three are the presumed starting three.
Despite the big debate among fans and analysts, Prescott has been able to win games for this football team. Perhaps his worst came at the beginning of last season, when the team's plan of not having a WR1 backfired terribly.
In the first seven weeks of the 2018 season, Dak averaged only 202 yards per game. In that span he threw for less than 200 yards in four games. Once the team traded for Cooper, that average rose all the way up to 274 yards per game. He threw for less than 200 yards in only one occasion since then.
Michael Gallup is poised for a breakout season after a rookie season in which he improved every week. The Cowboys' 2018 third-round pick didn't get as much playing time at the beginning of the season as he fought for snaps with Allen Hurns, Tavon Austin among others. In the postseason, Gallup caught six passes for 119 yards. He still has a long way to go, but the talent is clearly there.
As for Randall Cobb, many fans have doubts. He's coming in to replace Cole Beasley, who was such an effective slot wide receiver. Cobb's style will likely be different, and although he might not be as good at shaking defenders off as ol' #11, he'll be more of a downfield threat than Beasley.
Comparing this starting group to the ones from prior years, it really seems like the best Dak Prescott has worked with. During his first couple of years in the league, Dak played with a Dez Bryant that (like it or not) wasn't anywhere close to his peak. 2016-2017 Dez wasn't on last year's Amari Cooper's level. Williams had his moments, but wasn't consistent and was well-known as a body-catcher.
This year's group has its question marks, that's for sure. Randall Cobb hasn't played a full season since 2015 due to injuries and Michael Gallup doesn't have a ton of experience and is yet to breakout. Even still, it seems like Prescott will have a great group of pass-catchers to help him lead the Cowboys to another NFC East title. It'll be an interesting fourth year for the young Cowboys quarterback. It's definitely good to see he'll have help.
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Training Camp Preview: Offensive Tackle
The Dallas Cowboys appear to be bringing back the same key trip of players at offensive tackle from last year. But with talk that 2019 could be La'el Collins' last season in Dallas, will we see signs that the Cowboys are preparing for future changes in how they handle the position in this year's training camp?
With Tyron Smith as an All-Pro fixture at left tackle, and Cameron Fleming re-signed this offseason to be the swing tackle, the intrigue swirls around Collins and his impending free agency in 2020. If the Cowboys have no intention of paying La'el what he can command on the open market, what might they do now to lay the groundwork for Collins' exit?
Here's a quick look at the projected OT depth chart for 2019 camp:
- Tyron Smith, La'el Collins
- Cam Fleming, Jake Campos
- Mitch Hyatt, Derrick Puni, Brandon Knight
As was just said, the returning top three are locked in to those spots. Campos is a carryover from last year's practice squad, so that experience gives him a potential edge over the three undrafted rookies.
Back to the top, though, and this situation with La'el Collins. If Dallas had Collins locked up for years to come, they would likely only keep the two starters and Fleming as a backup. A fourth OT is unlikely to be active on game days, and they have Guard Connor Williams' college experience as a tackle in case of an emergency.
If the Cowboys are truly thinking that La'el won't be back in 2020, perhaps they use a roster spot now to hang on to a player who they value for depth next year.
This is where undrafted rookie Mitch Hyatt becomes an intriguing figure in this 2019 camp. He comes from a championship college program at Clemson and was projected as a late-round pick this year. Dallas made him a priority free agent signing after the draft.
Of course, Campos, Knight, or Puni have the potential to make some noise as well. But Hyatt would seem to have the most upside of the group, and Dallas might be willing to consider him as a 2020 swing tackle option if he can hit the ground running in camp this year.
Cam Fleming is also going to need to have a strong camp to help the Cowboys' in their strategy. Letting Collins go would be predicated on their comfort level with Fleming as the right tackle next year. If he struggles now, then doesn't get much playing time in the regular season, that would likely shake their confidence.
The final result of all this talk could be that La'el Collins and Dallas actually do figure out a way to continue their relationship. But when the Cowboys drafted Connor McGovern in the third round of this last draft it felt like a future-pointed move, with Collins' projected departure the likely impetus for the investment.
What we may wind up seeing is McGovern taking over at left guard and allowing Connor Williams to replace Collins at tackle. But that's a discussion better saved for next offseason.
You can read more about La'el Collins impending free agency in this recent article by our own Kevin Brady. A few weeks back, I also discussed the idea that Dallas should trade Collins now rather than lose him as a free agent next year.
For now, the offensive tackles in 2019 should have continuity and stability. But if we really pay attention in this training camp and preseason, we may see signs of what the Cowboys are planning to do at the position in the coming years.
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OTHER 2019 CAMP PREVIEWS
Randall Cobb Will Be a Different Slot WR for Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys signing Randall Cobb might just be the most underrated move of their offseason. For less than five million dollars, they got an experienced wide receiver who is only 28 years old. The former Green Bay Packer has had a solid career wearing green and yellow and now gets the chance to play with the Cowboys' colors. But what can we expect from the veteran wideout?
There are some players who are absolute locks to make the 53-man roster and Cobb is one of them. That much is clear. On the depth chart, he probably sits behind Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, who will likely be the number one and number two receivers, respectively.
With Cole Beasley departing to the Buffalo Bills in free agency, Cobb is expected to take his place as the offense's starting slot receiver. Cowboys Nation knows very well just how good Beasley was at playing in the slot. His ability to shake defenders off was really impressive and his hands were reliable. However, we might see something different from Cobb.
Yes, it all points toward him playing the same position, but don't expect him to be a Beasley 2.0. This is of course, not a bad thing. Something fans consistently complained about Scott Linehan's offense were the short routes receivers had to run. In Cobb's short time with the Cowboys, we're seeing deeper routes even out of the slot position.
Bryan Broaddus from DallasCowboys.com wrote: "the ball to Cobb even playing out of the slot is further down the field. We hadn’t seen that from Cole Beasley and visually it looks different."
This should be exciting for Cowboys fans, specially considering all the positive reviews on new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore. What we see from Randall Cobb in 2019 could be very different from what we had seen from Beasley in prior years.
It's also worth mentioning that word is Cobb has quickly developed an important chemistry with his new quarterback, Dak Prescott. Beasley was very important in Prescott's rookie season, when he averaged 52.1 yards per game and accounted for five touchdowns.
While Beasley was an important receiver for Cowboys, he wasn't really known as a team leader. Cowboys reporter Lindsay Cash Draper wrote about Cobb's leadership skills will carry on to the team whether he's doing it intentionally or not. It's always good to have such presences out there on the training field to spark the team.
Randall Cobb won't be this team's #1 guy or anything like that, but he will surely contribute every week. When we look back to this offseason, I believe this signing will look like a great move by the Cowboys' front office.
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