The Dallas Cowboys 2018 preseason is in the books, and after last night in Houston, this is very much for the better. Fourth preseason games can be a slog to get through, as the Cowboys conceded their final eight quarters of exhibition football by resting nearly all their starters.
At no point in the NFL season is there a greater contrast between what fans and players are looking for than in this final preseason game however. While Cowboys Nation couldn't wait for the clock to tick down, plenty of players were looking to make a last impression, as some will inevitably never wear the star again.
This sense of urgency on both sides does provide some individual efforts worth evaluating. This is exactly what we're doing in this final tune-up version of Sean's Scout!
- The Cowboys offensive line depth is once again a concern entering the regular season, but I thought backup Tackle Cam Fleming showed his best consistency all summer.
Fleming is likely the Cowboys most important depth piece on the OL. In his first year with the Cowboys, the veteran Fleming is the team's insurance for Tyron Smith - who Dallas couldn't function without a year ago.
The same can be said for much of the preseason thanks to the interior offensive line depth. In previous weeks, Fleming did have his struggles against speed on the outside.
This wasn't the case against the Texans, as Fleming played with the consistent technique and hand placement that the Cowboys can only hope they'll get in the regular season should the former New England Patriot be called upon.
Elsewhere on the offensive line, this was not a game to write home about for Jacob Alsadek, Kadeem Edwards, and Damien Mama. I saw all three get overpowered at the point of attack, as well as struggle to get to their spots as pulling guards.
- Dorance Armstrong finished off one of the most impressive preseasons by a Cowboys rookie with another great effort, recording one sack from the right defensive end position.
As I watched Armstrong mix in a number of rush moves and have success with a few of them, I couldn't help but think all the way back to the Cowboys selection of Taco Charlton in lat year's draft. The first round pick has not progressed as quickly as some have hoped, although the Cowboys did him no favors by starting his career as a weak side rusher.
Charlton's progress will be something to watch closely in 2018, but so too will be that of fourth round steal Dorance Armstrong. The fourteenth defensive end taken in this year's draft, Armstrong has a chance to outplay a significant number of top prospects and contribute right away.
His ability to comfortably transition between rush moves in pursuit of the quarterback is rare, and something he didn't show on tape in his final year at Kansas. Drafted for his potential and NFL-ready traits, Armstrong's ability to play in rotation with Randy Gregory at right end will give the Cowboys a fearsome pass rush.
On his third quarter sack, Armstrong executed a perfect arm over move to disengage at the level of the quarterback and finish the play. It was a deserving result for Armstrong, who was disruptive all over the field in Houston.
- Speaking of effort plays from Cowboys defensive linemen, it was good to see Jihad Ward finish a play with his sack of Joe Webb.
Ward has been a disappointment at the 3T position since being traded for during the draft. Rod Marinelli was excited to bring Ward in and tap into his potential as a defensive tackle, but the former Oakland Raider has not brought any consistency.
While this has opened the door for players like Antwaun Woods and Datone Jones to earn more snaps, Ward should still factor heavily into the Cowboys rotation at DT, especially without David Irving for the first four games.
Having worked on his hand usage all offseason, Ward was finally rewarded with a sack as he overpowered his man and drove him into Webb.
- It sure feels like Jourdan Lewis is the only Cowboys secondary player that's been negatively effected by the addition of Kris Richard, as he hasn't been able to find his 2017 form.
With the exception of Lewis, it was another strong night for the Cowboys cornerbacks when it comes to playing physical on the boundary and rallying to tackle. In just nine snaps, the second year cornerback out of Michigan was not able to hide though, as Lewis was called for a pass interference penalty on a play he appeared hesitant on.
Lewis has not been able to play with the same edge he had as a standout rookie, losing ground to Anthony Brown as the team's slot corner.
Richard's defense has not allowed Lewis to play in press coverage as much, causing him to be late reacting to the ball. There's still a lot to be written about the play of the Cowboys promising defense this season, and Lewis is a good enough player to force his way into the action at some time, but right now the Cowboys depth at CB is slightly more concerning due to his struggles.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
By the end of the day tomorrow, the Cowboys will have their 53-man roster to take into Carolina for week one against the Panthers. This preseason finale against the Texans might not be the deciding factor for most of it, but it was still a chance for Dallas to take the field and evaluate their team, something they can do while being pleased with the play of several key players.
Add in the starters in a week's time, and the Cowboys will be expecting to put these final two preseason losses (finishing 0-4) behind them in a hurry.
Cowboys Wishlist: Snap Julio Jones’ Hot Streak
The Dallas Cowboys will try to get their second road win of the season against another inconsistent Atlanta Falcons team. As both try to get back to .500, this game will be filled with interesting matchups and implications. After upsetting the Philadelphia Eagles 27-20 last Sunday, the Cowboys need to get another upset win to keep being relevant in the league this year.
Here's this week's edition of Cowboys Wishlist! I hope you enjoy and I encourage you to let me know what your wishes are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Stop Julio Jones' 100-Yard Game Streak
With the Atlanta Falcons sitting at 4-5, many have overlooked Wide Receiver Julio Jones' hot streak. In each of his last four games, Jones has accounted for more than 100 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Totaling 476 yards in his last four games, Jones is ready to face Cowboys' Cornerback Byron Jones.
Byron has certainly been a pleasant surprise in 2018, playing at a great level right now. He has faced Odell Beckham and DeAndre Hopkins this year and made a good job of defending these "Tier 1" pass-catchers. It's worth noting the Cowboys are not making him "travel" with these players but rather keep him on a specific side of the field. That shouldn't change against the Falcons.
Wish #2: Contain WR Calvin Ridley
Back in April, Cowboys Nation eyed Calvin Ridley as a prospect who could end up wearing the Star on Sundays. However, Dallas passed on him and the Alabama product fell right unto the Falcons' lap. He's had a pretty good season and despite sharing the field with Julio Jones, he's done a great job as a rookie averaging 14 yards per reception.
The Cowboys need to contain him. While Dallas should feel comfortable with Byron doing his job, the truth is Chidobe Awuzie has struggled at times. Not that he's suddenly a bad player, but he needs to step up his game. Lining up against Ridley today will be a great test and one I wouldn't expect him to pass easily.
Wish #3: Score 28+ Points
The Cowboys have the huge advantage of going against a defense that ranks 29th in scoring defense. They did a nice job on Philadelphia last week and should continue to build on that success to do something they haven't done much this year: score a lot of points.
Scott Linehan's unit needs to do a better, more consistent, job. They've shown us they're capable of scoring, but they've also shown us their remarkable ability to seemingly forget how to do so. Blame it on play-calling, QB play, poor offensive line or whatever you prefer, it's a flawed unit.
They need to capitalize versus a poor defense like the Falcons' to find a steady rhythm.
Wish #4: Dak Makes This Falcons' Game a Turning Point
Last year, when Dak Prescott was sacked six times in Atlanta (five times by Adrian Clayborn) something changed for the Cowboys' young quarterback. Missing RB Ezekiel Elliott and LT Tyron Smith that day, Prescott had one of the worse days in his career. It was a turning point for him as a QB and the public eye.
Now he has a chance at redemption. A shot at putting the Cowboys at .500 and reviving playoff hopes, as unlikely as it sounds.
I wish that's the case for the Cowboys young passer in Atlanta. As flawed as he is, I'm a fan of his. The kid leaves it all on the field.
Cowboys, Falcons Week 11 Injury Report
The Dallas Cowboys and Atlanta Falcons are both 4-5 and playing to keep their seasons alive. It's a mutual must-win game, and both will have to try to win it without some key players. Once again, we look at this week's injury reports.
Let's begin with your Cowboys, whose report is getting longer as the season wears on:
- WR Tavon Austin (groin) - OUT
- DE Taco Charlton (shoulder) - OUT
- DT David Irving (ankle) - OUT
- DT Daniel Ross (calf) - OUT
- LB Sean Lee (hamstring) - OUT
- DT Antwaun Woods (concussion) - Doubtful
- G Zack Martin (knee) - Questionable
- G Connor Williams (knee) - Questionable
- DT Maliek Collins (knee) - Questionable
- LB Joe Thomas (foot) - Questionable
The biggest news is the guy who won't miss tomorrow's game; All-Pro guard Zack Martin is expected to play despite his knee injury from last Sunday night. The Cowboys, already dealing with Travis Frederick's absence and now health issues at left guard, could ill afford to go without Martin in such a pivotal game.
Even if he was healthy, rookie Connor Williams might have a hard time getting in the game. Backup Xavier Su'a-Filo looked like an experienced former second-round pick last week, and he may be the better player for now.
The defensive line has been hit hard, particularly in the middle. With Irving and Ross out, Woods doubtful, and Collins uncertain, Dallas called up DT Christian Ringo from the practice squad. They will also be without Taco Charlton, who could play inside some. Veteran Caraun Reid will be seeing a lot of playing time.
Sean Lee's ongoing absence has become almost an afterthought now with the stellar play of Leighton Vander Esch. We've seen in the past when missing Lee meant disaster on defense, but Dallas' first-round rookie has helped mitigate the damage.
- LB Deion Jones (foot) - OUT
It's a short list for Atlanta, but the one name on it is a big one. Arguably the team's best defensive player, Deion Jones will miss the game with a foot injury.
The Falcons' injury issues have been more in players suffering season-ending injuries. Both starting guards, Andy Levitre and Brandon Fusco, are on injured reserve. Star running back Devonta Freeman is also there, and those losses help explain Atlanta's 30th-ranked rushing offense.
Both starting safeties are also on IR; Ricardo Allen and Keanu Neal. Atlanta has one of the league's worst passing defense this year without them, ranking 30th in yards allowed and 28th in opponent passer rating.
So yes, the Falcons injury report compared to the Cowboys' may raise some eyebrows. But in terms of who has most of their key guys, Dallas is arguably still better off.
Cowboys Have Already Corrected Biggest Mistake From 2017 Loss in Atlanta
The Dallas Cowboys play their next three games in 13 days, all critical to their hopes of winning the NFC East despite alternating wins and losses since week one. For the Cowboys to earn consecutive road wins, their first coming on Sunday night at the Eagles, they'll have to come out of Atlanta in much better shape than they did just a year ago.
As expected in the NFL, a lot has changed in this year. The Cowboys 27-7 loss at the Falcons in their first game without Running Back Ezekiel Elliott was the beginning of the end on a season that forced a multitude of coaching changes in Dallas.
The Cowboys stubbornness in allowing Falcons DE Adrian Clayborn to sack Dak Prescott six times by beating Chaz Green and Byron Bell is something they hoped to move past when new positional coaches were brought in at OL, TE, QB, and WR.
It took the team admitting that these moves below Offensive Coordinator Scot Linehan were not all correct two weeks ago for the Cowboys to see any real progress, but with their win last week there's hope that the Cowboys are the improved team expected weeks ago - arrived just in time for Thanksgiving.
Firing Offensive Line Coach Paul Alexander was the first move, as the Cowboys named Marc Colombo OL Coach and Hudson Houck his assistant. Colombo told 105.3 The Fan in Dallas this week that he has injured Center Travis Frederick on a headset during games as well.
Colombo, Houck, and Frederick have the Cowboys offensive line confident in their ability to play to their strengths, rewarded with a renewed faith in the zone blocking scheme that was forgotten under Alexander.
If the Cowboys offensive line was their first problem in last year's Falcons loss (it was), it's becoming their biggest strength at the right time in the season.
The Cowboys necessary changes didn't stop here though.
In desperate need of a play maker on the outside, the Cowboys are seeing their investment into Wide Receiver Amari Cooper pay off so far. Cooper is averaging 3.2 yards of separation on his routes this season, ahead of Cole Beasley's 2.6 yards as the next closest pass catcher.
Cooper's presence was a big part of Ezekiel Elliott's 151 yard rushing performance at the Eagles. A player that can win on the outside with ease and dictate coverage has benefited Prescott and the Cowboys game plan on offense enough to send away a first round pick.
It will be up to this "rebuilt" Cowboys offense to match the Falcons on Sunday. Atlanta is averaging 27.1 points per game this season, but a much more dangerous 32.2 at home. After a 1-4 start, the 4-5 Falcons are playing in front of their home fans for the first time in two weeks, losing at the Browns in week ten.
The Cowboys felt they'd be prepared for games like this after their offseason moves, instead needing to show the type of in-season urgency that's been rare for Jason Garrett's team. The same can be said about a Falcons team that's experienced playing with their backs to the wall much sooner than the Cowboys have this season, setting up a big NFC match up in the early slot Sunday.
Dak Prescott will be thankful that Chaz Green nor Byron Bell are protecting him, wanting nothing more than to deliver another win for the Cowboys to take into Thanksgiving against the division-leading Washington Redskins. Not all of the coaches responsible for the lack of adjustment in last year's game are gone. What the Cowboys do have are tangible new ideas from coaches that understand they need more than a win at the defending Super Bowl champions to call this Cowboys season a success.
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