In a time of the year filled with hope everywhere, the Dallas Cowboys receiving the early Christmas present of Ezekiel Elliott back into their offense was not enough to save a chance at the playoffs. Coming up short 21-12 at AT&T Stadium against the Seahawks, the Cowboys will now start off the new year with a meaningless week 17 game in Philadelphia before a long look in the mirror ahead of 2018.
There will of course be much more time later to dive into what this football team has to build on moving forward, and what needs to improve, but for now here are my initial thoughts on everything that happened in this ugly game against the Seahawks.
- Taco Charlton's third career sack looked exactly like a play he made with much more consistency a year ago at Michigan.
For the first time, we really saw Charlton prove that he could be the player he was on tape at Michigan - a lengthy defensive end with upside for the next level. Adjusting to this increase in competition has been a struggle at times for the rookie, but his recent play to end this season provides hope that he'll be a valuable part of this rotation in year two.
Charlton captured the edge with some nice initial quickness on his sack, continuing through the block of the right tackle with a strong base and active hands. Once he was even with Russell Wilson in the pocket, Charlton took advantage of his hand placement and was able to power right back into Wilson to finish the play.
- Jourdan Lewis covered Jimmy Graham about as well as you could have asked for in a goal line situation.
Graham's touchdown put Seattle on the board, and ended up being an easy play for him and Wilson. Lewis did very well to keep in contact with Graham through the play, also understanding that he could not lose ground in the end zone either. Lewis planted on the goal line and looked like he expected a cut to come from the big Seahawks TE, but the pass was already in the air.
The ball beat Lewis trying to fight through the bigger target, and all Graham had to do was secure it for six.
- Sean Lee had a few plays in this game that very few linebackers besides him regularly make, many of them set up by strong play on the defensive line.
We already talked about Taco Charlton, but last year's sack leader in Benson Mayowa was also able to show up and play with the consistent motor that earned him the starting RDE position through much of this season.
Mayowa was able to use his speed to flatten the corner and then chase down plays, and with Charlton and DeMarcus Lawrence finding success on the strong side, these edge rushers set the line of scrimmage defensively for Dallas.
This allowed Lee - who doesn't need any extra time to read a play - to react to everything happening in front of him and shoot gaps for TFLs.
Maliek Collins and Datone Jones also deserve credit for being tough to move at DT, but this was once again a game where David Irving was missed, especially every time Wilson extended a play with his feet.
- Byron Bell put in an admirable performance in emergency duty for Tyron Smith, but his issues against the speed of the Seahawks had Dak Prescott uncomfortable.
This was another abysmal performance from Dak Prescott in a big moment, and one of the factors that contributed to his frantic play was undoubtedly Byron Bell's play at LT. Bell was probably better than expected, having played a higher volume of snaps compared to previous appearances against the Falcons and Raiders.
With experience at both guard and tackle, Bell's biggest issue was dealing with speed on the edge. The only chance he had against the pressure Seattle sent his way was to get depth in his pass sets back towards Prescott, which he did to an extreme measure at times.
Bell's positioning paired with the lack of quick recovery skills to slide late in the down led to Dak Prescott rarely throwing from a clean pocket, forced to step up or escape entirely far too often.
- Ezekiel Elliott looked every bit the player I expected him to be after cutting weight before his return and staying focused.
In other words, I would have loved to see how this game could have gone differently if Dan Bailey's first missed field goal from 34 yards was instead a first and goal carry for Elliott from two yards out.
Elliott's ability to play even faster than he did a year ago while still being patient enough to find the right hole and hit it with power was impressive, as he effortlessly turned the limited carries he did receive into rushes that kept the Cowboys offense on schedule.
Not being able to control this game and ultimately win it through Elliott is going to look bad on these Dallas coaches for a long time, and may even lead to changes on the offensive side of the ball - where one thing is certain.
Ezekiel Elliott is the player to continue building this team around.
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For those of you that have been following along with Sean's Scout this season, or those that have now been introduced to these articles on Christmas morning, I'd like to thank all of Cowboys Nation for their consistent feedback in putting these together following every win or loss.
As the entirety of Inside The Star slowly begins turning our attention towards the looming offseason, I will of course be continuing to use this platform to discuss the 2018 NFL Draft and potential targets for the Dallas Cowboys.
For now, enjoy the rest of your holiday, and share your thoughts on this second-to-last regular season Sean's Scout with a comment below!
Sean’s Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals
The Dallas Cowboys are halfway through their 2018 preseason. Given the injuries they're left to deal with to Zack Martin, Xavier Woods, and Jameill Showers, the Cowboys were happy to see their first home game of the season come to an end when it did. Despite the 21-13 loss, the Cowboys starters made another strong impression before exiting for backups that once again failed to hold the lead.
This is a game I'm looking forward to getting another look at on film, but for now here are a few thoughts the first time through.
- Rookie Connor Williams is still a work in progress at guard, as he'll get himself in trouble trying to catch rushers too often.
This "catch blocking" is not uncommon for young offensive linemen, particularly ones learning a new position in preparation to start on the league's best front. On the Cowboys second drive of the game, Williams was caught back in his stance dealing with a twist from the Bengals with Left Tackle Tyron Smith.
The result of the play was an incomplete pass on third down from Dak Prescott. With Williams' footwork being as consistent as it has, I wouldn't worry too much about his upper body technique and strength improving greatly before week one of the regular season. Perhaps most importantly, Williams has looked smooth playing in space, something the Cowboys are prepared to ask the second round pick to do plenty of.
- With Randy Gregory back in the lineup, the Cowboys potential to have a great rotation of defensive ends was on full display.
The play that stands out is a tackle for loss by Safety Jeff Heath. On the play, Defensive End Tyrone Crawford did a great job setting the edge against the run, allowing Heath to come down and make the aggressive play.
Crawford created penetration against a tight end, staying disciplined in his rush lane from the right defensive end position to force the run outside.
On the Bengals' offensive series prior to this play by Heath, the Cowboys forced a punt following a missed Andy Dalton throw to A.J. Green. Despite not being tight in coverage on third down, Randy Gregory looked sharp coming off the edge to rush Dalton slightly.
With Taco Charlton also looking strong against the run, and rookie Dorance Armstrong continuing to develop as a weak side pass rusher, the possible match ups the Cowboys can create up front are seemingly endless.
Almost all of them will include last year's sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence, who was also disruptive on nearly every snap in this game.
- Give credit to Joe Looney for handling the reps he did at center, but the backup interior lineman left a lot to be desired from this position.
It should come as no surprise that Looney is a better guard than center, or that the Cowboys would look significantly worse at center without Travis Frederick in the lineup.
Overall, this was a disappointing game for the Cowboys thin offensive line depth. Paul Alexander's unit was unable to give quarterbacks Cooper Rush and Mike White a fair chance to settle into the game.
Looney's contact balance was suspect throughout the evening. Not the most powerful player, it's important for Looney to play with leverage and balance, which he did inconsistently last night.
Awaiting news on Zack Martin's first quarter injury still, the Cowboys should have already been concerned about their backups at tackle, with the guard position becoming a late concern now.
- This is becoming the standard for Jaylon Smith, but I did not see one Bengals blocker effectively slow him down.
The power that Smith is playing with is an outstanding sign for continued success. Not only is Smith physically up for the challenge of starting at MIKE for the Cowboys, but he's physically dominating opponents with strength, speed, and range.
Whether he was running laterally and avoiding blocks with great awareness, or attacking the pocket, Smith's path to the ball was rarely impeded against the Bengals.
No matter who the Cowboys lined up in their front seven, the group did a great job setting a strong tone. Antwaun Woods was once again impressive at the one technique position inside, and Brian Price made a flash play from this position late in the game as well.
Thanks to Smith's gap shooting ability, and the Cowboys willingness so far this preseason to be creative with the Notre Dame product, the team's defensive tackles don't have to be asked to do too much. Holding their spots while drawing blockers will be more than enough to free Smith and the rest of the Cowboys linebackers to make plays.
- Chidobe Awuzie's interception in the second quarter is a reminder of just how high the second-year cornerback's potential is.
Sure, Awuzie's length put him at an advantage to take a leap into year two once Kris Richard arrived as the Cowboys passing game coordinator.
Being productive on the ball, as Awuzie was here, is a testament to just how athletic he is as a boundary cornerback though. A beat late recognizing the ball coming his way, Awuzie remained in perfect position to get a hand on this pass.
Doing so with an explosive leap off the ground and full extension, Awuzie snagged the ball with one hand before bringing it into his body to secure another turnover for the Cowboys first team defense.
The Cowboys cornerback depth proved suspect beyond Awuzie and Byron Jones in this game, but being as good as they already are on the boundary is a huge step in the right direction for Rod Marinelli's defense.
I also thought that UDFA Tyree Robinson did a great job answering the bell at safety, showing up a number of times in run support with the Cowboys in desperate need of depth at his position.
It's in the slot, where Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis continue to feel the pressure of competition, that the Cowboys are struggling to find the right starter - even trying Lewis on the outside well into the fourth quarter of this game.
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The Cowboys will remain in their home state to conclude their training camp and preseason. Needing to see more out of their second and third team, practices will resume at The Star on Monday before another preseason game at AT&T Stadium.
This time, it will be the Arizona Cardinals coming in for a Sunday Night Football tune up. The Cowboys starters could very well see even more playing time than they have through the first two weeks, giving them a better chance of sustaining success and coming away with a preseason win.
CIN 21, DAL 13: Dak Prescott Continues Strong Preseason in Loss
The games may not count yet, but Dak Prescott looks ready for the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback continued his strong preseason play in the team's 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Prescott played three series, going 10/15 for 86 yards and a touchdown. He got the offense out of trouble a few times with his feet, avoiding sacks and ultimately getting the scoring pass off on a redzone scramble.
Dak's strong play has coincided with shutdown performances from the starting defense. The Cowboys' first-team defenders have yet to allow a score in two preseason games. Tonight, the Bengals were forced into four punts and two turnovers on their first-half possessions.
Overall, the Cowboys are a combined 24-7 in the first halves of their first two preseason contests.
The second half has been the problem, and for two weeks now Dallas' reserves have squandered halftime leads and given up losses. Thankfully, most of the responsible players will not be on the final 53-man roster.
- There were several concerning injuries for the Cowboys tonight. None was scarier than when All-Pro guard Zack Martin went out with a knee injury, but it does not appear to have been serious. Starting defensive backs Byron Jones and Xavier Woods also got banged up; Byron returned to the game but Woods did not. Defensive lineman Datone Jones also left with a knee injury.
- Even more concerning was the play of the second-team offensive line. Chaz Green was typically awful, but we also saw swing tackle Cam Fleming struggling and just an overall lack of protection for the backups quarterbacks. Green got benched in the second half and may have finally played his way off the team.
- Credit to Terrance Williams for getting open in the endzone to give Dak Prescott a receiver for the touchdown throw. Even with his warts, Williams' two years of experience playing with Dak can't be ignored in deciding who makes the team.
- Tight end Blake Jarwin continues to run with the starters on offense and may have quietly taken the job away from Geoff Swaim.
- Darius Jackson took advantage of some extra playing time tonight after Bo Scarbrough left with a hip injury. He broke off a few nice runs to amass 42 yards on just six carries, plus had four receptions.
- We finally get to see Dan Bailey kick a field goal again, and it was an easy 35-yarder with no issues.
- Shout out to Chidobe Awuzie for one of the pretty interceptions that a Cowboys DB has made in some time. Awuzie had to bend like Beckham (Odell, that is) to get a hand on the ball, then tipped it to himself for the pick.
- Preseason fun continues for the Cowboys next Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
#DALvsCIN: Can WR Lance Lenoir Continue To Impress?
Entering training camp projecting who would make the final roster from the Dallas Cowboys wide receiving room was a crapshoot. The combination of misfits from other teams, unproven young guys, and a couple of Cowboys veterans makes this position group the most questioned across the entire roster.
But while Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup were stealing headlines, Lance Lenoir was making a name for himself among the Cowboys faithful.
After serving on the practice squad for the Cowboys a year ago, Lenoir seems to have entered 2018 with one goal in mind: to make the official game-day roster. And even if he falls short of this goal, it won't be due to any fault of his own.
Day in and day out Lance Lenoir has been a consistent wide out, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running some of the crisper routes on the team. Under new receivers coach Sanjay Lal, Lenoir has become a technical route runner and dangerous receiving threat.
Maybe most importantly for his future with the team, Lenoir has developed an obvious chemistry with starting quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has continued to compliment Lenoir throughout training camp, and you know that the Cowboys front office is well aware of Prescott's trust in Lenoir on the field.
During the preseason opener against the 49ers, Lance Lenoir caught his first touchdown of the season, dazzling with his toe-tap ability. If he is going to steal a roster spot away from one of the more seasoned wide outs, however, he will have to remain that consistent target.
This Saturday, Lenoir gets another shot to prove why he's not only deserving of a roster spot, but of a starting spot. Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch, but if he continues to play like he has during camp and preseason, Lenoir could find himself working with the 1's more frequently.
Look out for Lance Lenoir against the Bengals this week, as he makes it harder and harder for the Cowboys to cut him by the second.
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