The Dallas Cowboys are returning home for Thanksgiving with a 5-5 record, needing to earn road wins at Philadelphia and Atlanta in the last two weeks to do so. Sunday's revenge win at the Falcons did not come easy, as the Cowboys conceded their first touchdown in the final two minutes of regulation to tie the game.
Missed opportunities in the red zone and penalties all had a say in the Cowboys needing a walk off Brett Maher field goal to win. Running Back Ezekiel Elliott once again sparked the offense in the second half, as the Cowboys defense assured this game wouldn't be a shootout in the first 30 minutes.
Here are my observations on the Cowboys latest thrilling win, greatly increasing their chances at reclaiming the top spot in the NFC East considering the Redskins home loss to the Texans.
- A great down-the-line play from rookie Dorance Armstrong on the Falcons' opening possession to set up DeMarcus Lawrence's first sack.
The Cowboys came into this game thin across the defensive line. Defensive Tackle Maliek Collins and Defensive End Dorance Armstrong really took advantage of the opportunity, pushing the pocket against Matt Ryan and freeing up the Cowboys linebackers to be themselves.
Lawrence's sack was the play that got the Cowboys off the field on third down, but Armstrong meeting Ito Smith in the hole for no gain was as big of a play on second down. The Falcons were smart to test the interior of the Cowboys defense and use the power run to set up their vertical passing game, but Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard simply had their guys ready to play.
If Collins and Armstrong can sustain their high-energy level of play with Antwaun Woods and Daniel Ross working their way back into the Cowboys rotation at DT, this defense can reach a new level of play given their speed in the back seven and ability to give opposing offensive lines fits with just four up front.
- Cole Beasley did more than enough to make up for it, but his drop in the end zone on the Cowboys first scoring drive is one he'll want back for a while.
The Cowboys play calling on their first goal-to-go situation left a lot to be desired, but Beasley was still able to make a scoring play with the ball in his hands at the pylon. Beasley bobbled the ball going to the ground and couldn't come up with it.
On the next play, the Cowboys finally targeted Amari Cooper, although without Ezekiel Elliott on the field. It was the combination of Cooper on the outside and Elliott in the backfield that provided a boost to the Cowboys offense last week at the Eagles, and for whatever reason they went away from it consistently against the Falcons.
Beasley's 19 yard catch and run on the Cowboys final drive set them up to run Elliott and kick the game winning field goal, giving Prescott an easy target on a crossing route. These are the types of inconsistencies the Cowboys will have to happily live with as they review this win and prepare on a short week for the Redskins.
- Head Coach Jason Garrett should be questioned about how his offense handled the last drive of the first half.
Trailing by three in a game still looking for its first touchdown, the Cowboys came out firing with 29 seconds left in the first half before shutting the drive down themselves. After Elliott advanced the ball to the Cowboys 35 and prompted a timeout, his catch and run for eight yards was the final play of the half.
I have no problem with the Cowboys getting the ball safely into the hands of Elliott, but after gaining positive yards on two receptions it's inexcusable to sit on a timeout without attempting a pass to the end zone.
- The Cowboys play calling improved in the second half, evident on Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown to give the Cowboys a 12-9 lead.
Again, taking the good with the bad, the Cowboys did go to this zone read look one too many times in the second half. From four yards out against a defense playing without one of their most talented players in Linebacker Deion Jones, Prescott faking to Elliott and keeping himself is as smart and safe a play as Linehan could have called.
Prescott's score was followed by Leighton Vander Esch's second interception in as many weeks, allowing the Cowboys to go right back to hammering the football. It took just two carries for Elliott to cover 31 yards and put the Cowboys ahead 19-9 off the turnover.
His 23-yard touchdown was sprung by Right Guard Zack Martin, who deserves a ton of credit for not only dealing with an injury sustained last week but seemingly finding an even higher level of play since then to motivate his teammates.
Joe Looney filled in well for Travis Frederick once again, and Xavier Su'a-Filo replaced a now-healthy Connor Williams for the second straight game, making Martin's elite level of play much more important.
Martin's lone mistake in this game came at a costly moment though, as a false start penalty backed the Cowboys up before punting it back to the Falcons for the tying score. Although the penalty created a third and 13 that Dallas used to keep the clock running on a dump off to Elliott, their second down play call to go with another zone read was costly as well.
Prescott lost two yards on a play that didn't fool the Falcons in the slightest, creating the original third and eight situation.
- Chidobe Awuzie was actually in good position on Julio Jones' fourth quarter TD, but as has been the case all season he reacted late and was beat with the ball.
Awuzie ran stride for stride with Jones, doing his best to force the Falcons best receiver towards the sideline. To Jones' credit, he was able to stay true to his route and run under a perfect pass from Matt Ryan.
Awuzie's fate was sealed on the play when he failed to react in time to jump with Jones, who simply elevated over the Cowboys struggling cornerback to give the Falcons new life in this game. Awuzie has been given every opportunity to be the Cowboys starter across from Byron Jones, trusted by Kris Richard to be a valuable part of this defense.
Quarterbacks in need of a completion have been able to pick on Awuzie far too much this season. The Cowboys don't appear to be in any rush to change this, as Cornerback Jourdan Lewis is designated to handling jet sweeps for the Cowboys offense while Anthony Brown remains the starter in the slot.
It was Brown that struggled through all of 2017 before finding his form again this year, perhaps giving Awuzie some hope that he can respond sooner rather than later.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The early slate of games proved to be a massive one for NFC East implications. The Cowboys escaped Atlanta with a win, and minutes later the Texans put the finishing touches on a win at the Redskins. Much earlier in the afternoon, unbeknownst to the Cowboys fighting for their life at the time, the Redskins also lost Quarterback Alex Smith.
Smith broke his tibia on a hit from J.J. Watt, and will need season ending surgery according to his Head Coach Jay Gruden.
This division has been waiting for a team to seize control of it all season. Realizing this, the Cowboys didn't sulk through their poor start and made the right moves to play into contention - playing as the desperate team that often achieves a lot in this game through their last eight quarters.
DL Kerry Hyder Impressive In Cowboys Week 2 Preseason Win
Kerry Hyder joined the Cowboys this offseason on a one year deal, and while the four-year NFL veteran has put up some solid tape in his time around the league, it was hard to project just what he could bring to the Cowboys defense.
Listed at 6'2" 270 pounds, Hyder is a bit of a tweener on the defensive line. Though the answer to "will he play tackle or end" seems to be "both" to this point in the preseason.
As he fights for his life on this deep defensive line, Kerry Hyder had himself a day in the Cowboys 14-10 victory over the Rams last weekend.
Hyder made an excellent play defending a screen pass in the first quarter, reading the play perfectly and reacting quickly to running back Darrell Henderson coming out of the backfield. Hyder also created some pressure on the quarterback, and finished with 3 combined tackles in very limited playing time.
Hyder's versatility is working well for him as he looks to make the final roster. Like a Tyrone Crawford type player, Hyder will be able to move inside and out depending on the situation. This allows the Cowboys to be flexible in how they structure their depth chart on defense, and in how they decide to rush the passer on third down.
A pass rushing package involving Robert Quinn and DeMarcus Lawrence on the edge with the combination of Hyder and Maliek Collins on the inside could turn out to be a very dangerous one for opposing offenses to deal with.
Rod Marinelli spoke to this versatility a couple of months ago, showing just how much he values what Kerry Hyder can bring to this team.
"Maybe you adjust him sometime, once in a while – in a one-on-one pass rush situation, stick him over a guard and start to get a feel for it.” - Rod Marinelli
Earlier this offseason, I wrote that Kerry Hyder could end up being Rod Marinelli's next great under-the-radar find on the defensive line. And if he continues to play with the hustle and awareness that he had on Saturday, he's going to make Rod look very smart in his evaluation.
Kerry Hyder is making it very difficult for the front office to let him go. And, at the end of the preseason, I do expect Kerry Hyder to find himself on the Cowboys' active roster. Especially considering how Mike White is playing at quarterback, and how his release could open up an extra spot at a different position group.
#DALvsRAMS: Tony Pollard Proves he’s no Longer Darrell Henderson’s Backup
For the better part of three years Tony Pollard was forced to play second fiddle to Darrell Henderson during their time with the Memphis Tigers. But, Saturday night in the second week of preseason Pollard emerged from the shadows and proved he's no longer Henderson's backup.
Tony Pollard put on an impressive show Saturday night against the Los Angeles Rams. He touched the ball a total of six times and turned it into 51 yards and a touchdown. He rushed for 42 yards on the ground, averaging 8.4 yards per carry, and had one reception for 9 yards. All in all it was an impressive performance and one that arguably outdid his former teammate, Darrell Henderson.
Tony Pollard is starting to look like a real weapon for the Dallas Cowboys. It's still a small sample size, but in the first two preseason games he's proven the jump up in competition isn't too big for him. As a runner he's been decisive, picking up what yardage is given and not dancing around. He hasn't been utilized much in the passing game yet, but that time will come.
The Dallas Cowboys couldn't be happier with the way their rookie RB has performed thus far. He's everything they've said he was, and quite possibly much more. Maybe those Alvin Kamara comparisons weren't that far off after all.
We all know Ezekiel Elliott will return to the Dallas Cowboys at some point, but for now Tony Pollard doesn't look completely out of place as their lead back. He still needs to work on his pass protection, but everything else he's been asked to do he's excelled at.
I don't know about you, but I'm excited about seeing what No. 36 can do when these games start to matter in 2019. He will once again have to accept a backup role like he did behind Darrell Henderson in college, but you can bet the Cowboys coaching staff will reward him based on his play so far in preseason.
Pollard's versatility to be a weapon as both a runner and receiver in the passing game should make him a unique chess piece in the offensive game plan each and every week. He's been exciting to watch so far and we haven't even seen him in the return game yet, which was a big part of his game in college. I'm personally expecting big things from him this season. What about you?
What do you think of Tony Pollard's preseason performance so far?
The Brady Report: Tony Pollard, Devin Smith Steal The Show On Offense
The Dallas Cowboys earned their first win of the 2019 preseason on Saturday night, defeating the Los Angeles Rams 14-10 in Hawaii.
Despite the low scoring affair, there were certainly standout performances from both offensive and defensive players for Dallas. Some who are looking to earn a roster spot, and others who are rather solidified in their place with the team.
Let's get into some of my game notes from the Cowboys preseason victory.
- Tony Pollard. I mean, I've said enough right? The rookie running back was awesome in his one drive of action Saturday night, rushing 5 times for 42 yards and a touchdown on the team's opening possession. Pollard was decisive, patient, and comfortable in the zone blocking scheme, and seemed to know exactly where and how to run on each rep. Pollard is looking like a complete back, rather than just a receiving threat for the Cowboys offense going forward.
- While undrafted free agents Jon'Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton have garnered much of the attention, it was Devin Smith who impressed the most out of all the Cowboys' down-roster receivers this week. He caught 3 balls for just 24 yards, but had a fantastic touchdown grab from Cooper Rush in the third quarter.
- Speaking of Cooper Rush, he's your backup quarterback for the 2019 season. The coaching staff gave Mike White a chance to work with the 2's this week, allowing him equal ground for competition with Rush. But even with this opportunity, Mike White did not play well whatsoever. He's indecisive in the pocket, abandons clean protection, runs into pressure, and just looks kind of lost out there. Hopefully White can improve, but Rush is certainly deserving of the QB2 spot going forward.
- While Rush solidified his position as the QB2, QB1 Dak Prescott led another impressive drive on Saturday night. Prescott has command in the pocket and of the entire offense, and he orchestrated an excellent touchdown drive in his own possession this week. Prescott went 5/5 for 64 yards, but the highlight of the game for Prescott was his third and seven completion for 31 of those yards to Michael Gallup. He and Gallup seem to be connecting this preseason, and if that's going to happen regularly, look out.
- Now to the defense. Defensive tackle Maliek Collins continues to show signs that 2019 could be a career season for him. He was disruptive in limited playing time this week, and showcased a scary spin move on the inside. He can be an electric interior pass rusher for the Cowboys, and he looks to be "putting it all together" this year.
- Jourdan Lewis is too good to rot away on the bench, guys. Though he did get beat for decent completion in the first half, Lewis was also sound as a tackler and sticky in coverage once again this week. Lewis looks to be playing at the highest level we've seen from him yet, but once Byron Jones comes back he may not be getting the playing time he'd easily earn elsewhere. Dallas has a bit of an embarrassment of riches at cornerback right now, and Lewis just needs to keep competing every week.
- Lewis' Michigan teammate Taco Charlton had a decent night himself. While Dorance Armstrong has been the talk of the town at defensive end, Charlton deflected a pass at the line of scrimmage and was credited with 2 quarterback hits against the Rams. He wasn't creating the level of pressure you'd hope to see out of a former first round pick playing that deep into a preseason game, but you can tell he's looking a bit better as of late. Still, there's a whole heap of defensive ends on this roster who are flat out better than him right now.
- The Cowboys linebackers showed up to play on Saturday night. Of course, Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander-Esch are who they are, but Justin March-Lillard led the team in tackles with 6, and Justin Phillips came away with an exceptional interception in the third quarter. He made a play on the ball that you don't expect to see from any linebacker, let alone someone of his roster status. This is a really deep linebacker room, and there's a strong chance the Cowboys will have to let go of a good player.
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Zeke Holdout: Remember, Owners Agreed to Renegotiating Contracts
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
5 Dallas Cowboys Backups Who Have Earned More Playing Time
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
Michael Gallup Showing WR1 Talent in Amari Cooper’s Absence
Dallas Cowboys7 days ago
Dallas Cowboys Defensive Line Looking Absolutely Stacked
Game Notes1 week ago
3 Studs and Duds From Dallas Cowboys Preseason Week 1 Matchup
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Dallas Cowboys 2019 Roster Projection: Preseason Week 2
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
Cowboys DT Christian Covington is a Player to Keep an Eye On
Game Notes1 week ago
Cowboys WR Jon’Vea Johnson’s Stock Drops After Preseason Opener