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Sean’s Scout: Defense Comes Alive In Loss At LA Rams

Sean Martin

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Sean's Scout: Defense Comes Alive In Loss At LA Rams 2

When the lights went out at Super Bowl XLVII, a game was still played as the Ravens became world champions. When the lights went out from a power outage on Saturday night from my New Jersey Cowboys headquarters, I was forced to go without watching the team’s trip to Los Angeles live.

After getting the chance to review the tape between the Cowboys and Rams though, we’re back with another edition of Sean’s Scout – discussing what jumped out from a 13-10 loss Dallas suffered at the hands of LA in their second preseason game of five.

Sean's Scout: Defense Comes Alive In Loss At LA Rams

  • There were more positives from this game on the defensive side of the ball, where we can start with the Cowboys’ first round pick Taco Charlton. Recording his first sack of the preseason, Charlton did a much better job throughout this game of playing with improved awareness compared to a week ago. This allowed the lengthy pass rusher to get up the field and flash some of the explosive traits he did at Michigan by not only holding the point of attack but disengaging and flowing to the football. Steady improvement is all the Cowboys can ask for in Taco, as he’ll likely be taking meaningful snaps as early as week one at both defensive end positions – getting to the quarterback Saturday night as a RDE.

Cowboys Nation on Twitter

Congrats to @TheSupremeTaco on the sack last night! ✭ https://t.co/m9YIsRwnUS

  • Seeing Damien Wilson take further strides with his game is both encouraging and worrisome, as league discipline could still of course be in play following his July arrest. Against the Cardinals, Wilson lined up almost exclusively at SAM and did not look like himself, playing too fast for his own good and running himself out of position with bad form. Not only did Damien Wilson clean these things up impressively against the Rams, but he did so at both SAM and WILL. Freeing Wilson up to run to the ball some in this game had great results, as the tackling range and speed was there – as was the patience and strength he’ll need to play with on the strong side.

 

  • Another player that I thought displayed even more than he did in college was rookie FS Xavier Woods, who was constantly around the ball to the tune of seven tackles. Last week, I wrote about the concerns I had about one of these young players emerging in the third safety role for the Cowboys, but now believe Woods could fit nicely as a more athletic Barry Church-like player in Rod Marinelli’s defense. The ability to run to the football and diagnose plays in front of him quickly was always there for Xavier Woods at LA Tech, but it seemed like he had an extra gear to him moving around that was incredibly fun to watch. By far the best thing about Woods’ playing speed is his ability to stay in control and still deliver punishing tackles with impressive stopping power, making him a player that can become interchangeable with the rest of Dallas’ safeties and give them that true rotation they want in the secondary.

Cowboys Nation on Twitter

Xavier Woods seems to have a habit of doing this. And look at how quickly he realizes where the ball is going. https://t.co/KXDw3D5zwl

 

  • As a seventh round pick at a position of strength for the Dallas Cowboys, rookie DT Joey Ivie has no shot to make this football team if his pad level does not improve. Ivie’s draft-able trait out of Florida was his speed and burst to disrupt as a 3T – something Rod Marinelli has always coveted in his defenses. On more than one occasion though, the Rams hit on big plays by pinning Ivie at the point of attack, who took himself out of these plays from the start by playing above his hands and not getting any push.

 

  • The Damontre Moore hype is real. The Dallas coaches have not only put him out there with every pairing on the defensive line as well as on special teams because they’ll need the depth across the board, but because he simply has the ability to greatly help this team everywhere. Focusing on what he did once again off the edge, Moore makes it look easy capturing the corner on a consistent basis, where he has a solid repertoire of rush moves to rally to the football with a contagious relentless effort. If you want an example of what a DE should be doing for the Cowboys to help themselves right now, look no further than Damontre Moore with his bend, bull rush, and hands play.

 

  • For a final note on the defense as a whole, this game provided a pretty good example of what this unit will look like schematically – improving drastically from the Hall of Fame game. A defense built to protect leads, prevent big plays, and always play in front of the ball, the Cowboys were coming downhill and hitting everything that moved across the first, second, and third units. Even more exciting is the fact that the Cowboys did this without rookie CBs Chidobe Awuzie or Jourdan Lewis, who both add more play making ability against the pass.

Sean's Scout: Defense Comes Alive In Loss At LA Rams 1

  • Moving on to the offense, the highlight of the night was again a Rico Gathers touchdown that was delivered beautifully by instant fan-favorite QB Cooper Rush. Kellen Moore played the entire first half, and made it very difficult to properly evaluate the rest of this offense. Not only did Rush help himself once again with a confident performance, but he led Gathers perfectly into the end zone to cap off a play that Rico did everything right on. Throughout this game, I saw Gathers moving much more fluidly and not getting caught up as much with defenders going across the field. This allowed for him to celebrate his second touchdown in as many games and further make his case for a 53 man roster that better have Rico Gathers penciled into it at the moment.

 

  • I have a feeling Zack Martin and Travis Frederick are about to prove their worth more so than ever this season at RG and C respectively for the Cowboys, with La’el Collins going through some natural growing pains out at RT. Collins’ biggest issue has been allowing rushers to get wide against him, where he will then struggle to reach his man and keep him from disrupting the QB. With Dak Prescott noticeably struggling to feel pressure off of that edge very well in his first year, his ability to climb the pocket will be crucial this season – where Martin and Frederick are as reliable as any at keeping things clean.

✭✭✭✭✭

The Cowboys play again in five days against the Colts at home, and having already provided us with two games to evaluate the depth on this roster the early reports are that more starters will play including LB Jaylon Smith.

Heading towards their first game at AT&T Stadium for 2017, the Cowboys have to feel pretty good about where they are at just about every position following this loss to the Rams.

Young players are pushing veterans, and literally all 53 spots are being fought for both in these preseason games and through training camp in Oxnard. I have a feeling the September 2nd cut down from 90 to 53 players is going to be one of the most memorable in years, as it will also be a first for the NFL with the elimination of the earlier cut to 75 players.

Tell us what you think about “Sean’s Scout: Defense Comes Alive In Loss At LA Rams” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Born January 28th, 1996- Cowboys Super Bowl XXX. Point Pleasant NJ, no we're not how you think we are. Host of "Upon Further Review" on 90.3 WMSC FM and wmscradio.com every Friday from 1-4 PM ET. You may @ me: @SeanMartinNFL.

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Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?

Sean Martin

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Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 3

Three of the four teams remaining in the NFL playoffs — a win away from the Super Bowl — ranked within the top four defensively in yards per game allowed this season. The other is the defending-champion New England Patriots, who of course were expected to reach yet another AFC Championship game, thanks to Tom Brady and Bill Belichick.

Somewhere between this field, losing their 2017 hopes at a deep playoff run to injuries, suspensions, and just poor execution at times, are the Dallas Cowboys. The Cowboys ranked eighth in yards allowed per game at 318.1 this season.

On the surface, all this provides hope that typically springs eternal around the league through the offseason.

It has been far too long since the Cowboys defense matched the skill level of the team’s offense, but Rod Marinelli’s unit (not exactly by design) outplayed that of Scott Linehan’s at times through this 9-7 campaign.

This defensive rebuild in Dallas began with the admission that this group had reached their ceiling in the offseason, as the Cowboys let long-time starters like CB Morris Claiborne, CB Brandon Carr, S Barry Church (now with the Jaguars), and S J.J. Wilcox go in free agency.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense?

Dallas Cowboys CB Jourdan Lewis, CB Chidobe Awuzie, S Xavier Woods (AP Photo / Ron Jenkins)

For a team with Super Bowl aspirations, looking to turn over an entire secondary in a division featuring Carson Wentz, Eli Manning, and Kirk Cousins as quickly as the Cowboys did was a risky move. Their confidence in hitting on draft picks paid off though.

The Cowboys’ bright future is predicated on the likes of CB Chidobe Awuzie, CB Jourdan Lewis, and S Xavier Woods.

With two young starters at cornerback, the sky truly is the limit the this Cowboys defense. And they’ll play in support of an offense with more than enough talent to return to form in 2018.

As it stands now under Rod Marinelli, the Cowboys defense is built to keep everything in front of them, and get bodies to the football. This coverage-friendly approach could be taken to new heights with Lewis and Awuzie on the outside, along with Anthony Brown finding a home in the slot. All three cornerbacks have excelled at using their speed, length, and technique to get their hands on passes.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 1

Dallas Cowboys DE DeMarcus Lawrence

Of course, games are won in the trenches, where the idea of the Cowboys defensive line ever rising to the level of their offensive line was laughable until recently. Whether it’s with the franchise tag or a long-term extension, sack-artist DeMarcus Lawrence looks to be an all-important member of this entire team moving forward.

A healthy Lawrence was a nightmare for opposing right tackles in 2017. He earned a national spotlight each week on his way to the quarterback 14-and-a-half times. Making it look easy at times, Lawrence is a refined rusher with the speed and power to win inside and out.

The RDE position remains a sore spot in need of talent as this Cowboys defense looks to take the next step, but there’s hope for the likes of Randy Gregory, Charles Tapper, and Taco Charlton to get the job done, along with veteran starter Tyrone Crawford.

With Crawford at RDE for much of 2017, running the ball against the Cowboys front was a tall order. His ability to capture the corner against left tackles came as a pleasant surprise to many, and once in position, the defensive captain chased down plenty of plays.

Tyrone Crawford wasn’t the only pleasant surprise on the Dallas Cowboys defensive line this season.

Rookie Taco Charlton looked like an entirely different player to close a first year in Dallas that began with completely uninspiring results. Charlton — having the physical traits to play at the next level — was never a question out of Michigan.

He may never be a player to take over games for a defense, which the Cowboys couldn’t have expected to find at DE selecting 28th overall, but an improved player at DE and DT could be an incredibly valuable asset for the Cowboys in 2018 and beyond.

This leaves the Cowboys linebacker corps, where we find the best example of young potential on the entire defense. Amazingly playing in all 16 games, LB Jaylon Smith is in line to take a massive step forward in year two.

Smith closed his season looking enticingly close to the player he was at Notre Dame, an encouraging sign as the Cowboys look to become less dependent on Sean Lee on this side of the ball.

Lee and Smith paired together would give the Cowboys a middle-of-the-field presence to rival the best in the league. Both players have exceptional range and awareness to run down plays from sideline to sideline.

Anthony Hitchens, an impending free agent, is another valuable piece at LB with his ready ability to play all three positions at a relatively high level.

Are Dallas Cowboys Building A Championship Defense? 2

Dallas Cowboys LB Sean Lee

Stefon Diggs racing to the end zone with no time left to send the Vikings to the NFC Championship game will be the lasting image of this past Divisional Round weekend, an offensive play that will live on forever.

A closer look at these games and the teams that survived them reveals a collective trust in defenses, a trust the Cowboys could be blissfully close to with their own young defense.

The Cowboys are likely losing one of the smarter minds behind their defense in recent years, with Matt Eberflus ticketed for Josh McDaniel’s staff, and are still in need of a secondary coach after not retaining Joe Baker. In a league where better talent typically prevails though, the possibility of the Cowboys building a championship defense for next season and beyond may not be far off.

With defenses in Jacksonville and Philadelphia providing the hope that both teams can pull off the impossible and reach the Super Bowl on Sunday, will defensive potential be enough for Dallas to get through this long offseason and start the even longer path back to their first NFC Championship game in 21 seasons?

Tell us what you think about “Are the Dallas Cowboys Building a Championship Defense?” in the comments below. You can also email me at Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com, or Tweet to me at @SeanMartinNFL!

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Can Rico Gathers Make Cowboys Offense More “Dak-Friendly”?

Brian Martin

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Rico Gathers, Rams

The Dallas Cowboys unfortunately face all kinds of questions heading into the 2018 offseason. Right now, there are no answers to those questions, which means we’ll just have to sit back and take a wait-and-see approach. But, one question that absolutely has to be answered is how to make the Cowboys offense more Dak Prescott friendly.

Offensively, the Dallas Cowboys had an extremely disappointing year in 2017. Suspensions and injuries are the main culprits for the disappointment, but the Dallas Cowboys haven’t really changed things much in the scheme or personnel to help Dak Prescott succeed.

The sad truth is, the Dallas Cowboys are still operating as if Tony Romo is the starting quarterback. It’s pretty much the same personnel and scheme, but it really doesn’t suit Prescott.

It’s time for that to change. Unfortunately, this isn’t something that will happen overnight.

The Cowboys spent years putting together the personnel to help Romo. Just when they thought they had the missing piece — by drafting Ezekiel Elliott, Romo sustained a back injury, pretty much ending his career.

Anyway you look at it, the offensive personnel needs to improve in order to make this team more “Dak-friendly”.

Enter Tight End Rico Gathers.

Rico Gathers

Dallas Cowboys TE Rico Gathers

The Dallas Cowboys have invested two years in Rico Gathers’ development, but with the exception of a few flashes in preseason, they haven’t benefited from the fruits of their labor. The 2018 season should be Gathers’ coming-out party.

We all witnessed what the Cowboys offense looks like when they are forced to rely on the passing game. Dak Prescott struggled to find any kind of consistency throwing the ball — with the options he had at his disposal in 2017 — while Ezekiel Elliott served a six-game suspension.

Defenses decided to take Prescott’s favorite target out of the equation by bracketing Cole Beasley in coverage. Then, they also devoted extra attention Dez Bryant‘s way, making it difficult to get him the ball.

The only other option left really was Jason Witten on simple check downs.

And that is what the future Hall of Famer has been reduced to.

Jason Witten is no longer the threat he once was. Yes, he is still a reliable target, but his age is starting to catch up to him, which has unfortunately robbed him of some of his athleticism. We will no longer see Witten stretch the field down the seam, or run many routes further than 10 yards.

That’s why I think Rico Gathers could be a difference maker in 2018, especially for Dak Prescott.

Prescott needs more than an outlet receiver at the TE position. No offense to Jason Witten, but that’s pretty much what he has become at this point in his career.

Rico Gathers on the other hand is not only different from Witten, but also provides a different skill set than any other TE on the Cowboys roster. He’s a big target with athleticism, who cannot only move the chains, but stretch the field and break tackles in the open field.

Gathers’ sheer size alone creates mismatch problems against smaller defensive backs and linebackers, but his athleticism should allow him to create separation, something which fits into what Prescott needs from his receivers.

There is no reason why the Dallas Cowboys coaching staff can’t find a way to incorporate Rico Gathers’ unique skill set into the offense. They may not truly trust him to be an every down player, but that’s not happening anyway, not with Jason Witten on the roster.

If it was me, I would have a few packages in the playbook specifically designed for Gathers. I not only think this will help him grow as a player, but help the Cowboys offense become more “Dak-friendly”.

Can Rico Gathers make the Cowboys offense more “Dak-friendly”?

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Months Later, it Seems Jaguars S Barry Church was Right

Kevin Brady

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Months Later, Jaguars Safety Barry Church Wa E

About five months ago, before the 2017 NFL season had even begun, former Cowboys safety Barry Church made comments which made Cowboys Nation scratch their heads. Now a Jacksonville Jaguar, Church said his current team was more talented than his former, the Dallas Cowboys.

At the time, many fans and writers alike laughed off his comments and chalked it up to typical preseason hype. Most people thought Church was crazy for suggesting a 13-3 team had less talent than the Jacksonville Jaguars, a team led by Blake Bortles.

Well, five months later, it’s become clear Barry Church was right.

Brian Chojnacki on Twitter

Jaguars safety Barry Church says he feels this Jags team has more talent than his #Cowboys squad last season. Dallas went 13-3. https://t.co/EcbxfUGsvy

This weekend the Jaguars went on the road to Pittsburgh, and came away with a wire-to-wire victory in January. The Jaguars were the more physical team from start to finish, and dominated from the opening kick off.

On the road.

Against the vaunted Pittsburgh Steelers.

Now the Jaguars are preparing to do something the Cowboys haven’t done in two decades: play in a conference championship game.

The Jaguars and Cowboys will be linked for the next decade or so due to decisions each made during the 2016 NFL Draft. And while it appeared the Cowboys pushed all the right buttons in 2016, it now looks as if the Jaguars are preparing to compete for AFC supremacy for years to come.

With their talented secondary, dominant defense, and physical rushing attack, the Jaguars have built their team in the mold of past champions.

The Cowboys have attempted to do some of the same, but it certainly looks as if Barry Church was correct in his preseason assessment of the two rosters.

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