As far as team performances go, there isn't much to say about the Cowboys third preseason loss in as many weeks. Falling 27-3 to the Arizona Cardinals at AT&T Stadium last night, the Cowboys all but conceded this game on offense by resting Quarterback Dak Prescott and Running Back Ezekiel Elliott while Left Tackle Tyron Smith, Center Travis Frederick, and Right Guard Zack Martin all sat out.
Early on, this gave the Cowboys first team defense plenty of opportunities to continue doing what they've done best - get opposing offenses off the field by containing the run and pressuring the quarterback.
The longest Cardinals scoring drive would come out of the locker room to start the third quarter, as the Cowboys ran out their second team defense while T.J. Logan capped a three play drive with a 59-yard touchdown run. This would be the only touchdown the Cowboys defense allowed, as the Cardinals took advantage of a Lance Lenoir muffed punt and poor decision by Quarterback Cooper Rush to put up two other scores on special teams and defense.
As always, here are my initial takeaways from the Cowboys penultimate exhibition game before wrapping up the preseason on Thursday in Houston.
- Randy Gregory's counter move that resulted in a third-down sack of Sam Bradford might have been his most impressive play of the preseason.
When you think of Randy Gregory rushing the passer, you immediately jump to the ability he has to bend the corner off the right edge. This has simply been a missing component to the Cowboys defensive line without Gregory in the lineup, and his consistency bringing pressure with it has been a top story this preseason for Dallas.
Gregory's strength here also made his sack that much more impressive. Starting to the outside on his rush, Gregory used his length to initially keep the left tackle away from his frame. Once he caught his blocker leaning, Gregory knew he could counter to the inside, doing so with a powerful spin move that put him right on Bradford's back.
Randy has added weight to his upper body in preparation for this season, and he's simply been a more disruptive player as a direct result.
- Kavon Frazier continues to add skills to his game that make him a legitimate candidate to start at safety.
Every time the Cowboys safety unit is doubted by fans and media alike, Kavon Frazier finds a way to step up. An ideal fit for the third safety spot, the Cowboys should feel comfortable turning to Frazier as their starting option alongside Jeff Heath if Xavier Woods misses any regular season time.
Passing Game Coordinator Kris Richard has used Frazier to his strengths, playing him down in the box as a contain player against the run. All of the Cowboys defensive backs have taken strides in run defense thanks to Richard, but this is Frazier's most noticeable trait.
Unfortunately, it was his last play in this game as he injured his shoulder, but Frazier carrying a slot receiver up the field in man coverage to force an incomplete pass was a fantastic sign for the Cowboys passing defense.
Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones have understandably received a lot of attention for their play as the boundary cornerbacks in this defense, but opposing quarterbacks are really going to struggle against the Cowboys if players like Frazier can take away routes all over the field as well.
- Really poor angle from Safety Marqueston Huff on a long run from Chase Edmonds that set up a Cardinals field goal.
The Cowboys had to be hopeful that a few of their depth options at safety could take advantage of their extended playing time last night, but this wasn't really the case. One of the more experienced safeties on the roster, Huff was the only defender in the hole that had a shot on Edmonds' longest play of the game.
Instead of breaking down and at least forcing Edmonds to change direction, Huff was late getting to his spot and caught flat-footed against the runner in the hole. I don't think Edmonds had to hesitate for a second to avoid Huff and break a big gain to the outside.
This was not the only instance in this game where Huff was sloppy with his technique, and the ball seemed to find him each time to make matters worse.
- Nice showing from UDFA Cornerback Charvarius Ward, who should get plenty of looks in the Cowboys final preseason game as well.
It still may be too late for Ward to make the Cowboys roster, but the young defensive back has done a nice job separating himself from the rest of the field as a depth option at cornerback. With the ideal length and ball skills to play in Richard's defense, Ward has taken a bit longer than expected to play with any consistency, but for the most part he did just that against the Cardinals.
Always around the ball, Ward contested everything at the catch point and was credited with two passed defended. Not the most fluid athlete when it comes to turning his hips and running in coverage, Ward still finds ways to be effective in man coverage at his size, and it just might be enough for him to hang around after roster cuts with Dallas - be it on the active roster or practice squad.
- Finally, a note on the offense, where I'm starting to come around on Running Back Bo Scarbrough being the team's third running back ahead of Darius Jackson.
Again, my overlying thought on the Cowboys backfield is that Rod Smith has done more than enough to earn nearly all the carries this team doesn't give Ezekiel Elliott. This was once again the case against the Cardinals, as Smith carried the ball seven times and hauled in three passes.
Even if it's only for a few carries a game, I like what Scarbrough gives the Cowboys as a downhill runner more than what Jackson provides in the passing game - a level of play the team can replicate in Smith, Tavon Austin, or Lance Lenoir.
Finding another 6'2", 228 pound running back that continues to create yards that simply haven't been there is difficult. Scarbrough has had to bounce a number of runs to the outside thanks to suspecting front sevens loading the box, punishing smaller defensive backs each time he does.
Working his skills into a game plan that involves a heavy dose of Elliott is something the Cowboys should be preparing for, as they can absolutely trust Rod Smith to be the primary, all-around backup to their star running back.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
If it looked like the Cowboys were just going through the motions at times against the Cardinals, the bad news is that there's still four more quarters of preseason football to be played. Even fewer potential starters should see the field against the Texans, leaving this game to the roster long shots making their last impressions for either the Cowboys or another team after cuts.
The Cowboys loss to the Cardinals was much more about the impact their inactive players are expected to have, but with some tough roster decisions still looming, there were a number of players on defense that helped their stock.
With the first team defense playing a stellar first half, any spots on Rod Marinelli's side of the ball will be hard to come by, as the Cowboys are now just two weeks away from fielding this defense in support of a (close to) full-strength offense at the Panthers.
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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