Sixty minutes of Dallas Cowboys football is in the books, and it was as perfectly flawed as we all expected from the brand new Tom Benson Hall of Fame Stadium on Thursday between the Cowboys and Cardinals in the HOF game.
The Cowboys did manage to rally to a 20-18 win thanks to touchdowns by TE Rico Gathers and WR Uzoma Nwachukwu, more importantly escaping without any serious injuries - although CB Anthony Brown exited with a hamstring injury and did not return.
I know that I was not alone in intently watching just about every snap of this first of five preseason contests for Dallas, taking some notes on what caught my eye throughout the night, which is what makes Cowboys Nation so special. Here are my takes on what we'll all be discussing between now and the team's next preseason game in eight days against the Rams.
- Damontre Moore had earned the trust of the Cowboys' coaching staff through the offseason program and into OTAs, making plays at his natural position at DE along with at SAM LB and on special teams. A two game suspension to start 2017 slowed down some of the hype on Moore, but he still flashed the potential to really push other depth players at DE or LB by filling both roles admirably. On the first drive of the game for Arizona, Moore made a play as a stand up LB that required him to shoot a tight gap and quickly discard a low blocker. Not only was he able to do this all with great balance and quick hands, but Moore finished the play with the stopping power you love to see. This play was actually more impressive than some of Damontre's reps at DE, where he was washed out with poor pad level as a WDE on the Cardinals' first touchdown.
- It would be fair to both players to wait and see much more from them, but I'll say that I was actually more impressed with rookie Taco Charlton than fan-favorite Charles Tapper on the edge early on. Taco settled in to his natural LDE position, and although he didn't remain in the game long enough to make an impact, I was happy with his ability to fight against his blocker and hold the point of attack. Playing the run is still a priority at that position, something Charlton will need to excel at. As a pass rusher, the 28th overall picked looked clunky and unpolished at times, but there were glimpses of a long-arm, swim, and spin move around the corner from him that he has time to continue improving with. Patience will be key for a player that certainly looked the part out of Michigan. As for Charles Tapper, his first step to capture the corner jumped off the page as we have simply not seen any explosive ability from a right-side pass rusher on this team recently. Despite this, Tapper did not appear comfortable with his rush moves and was too easily steered behind the pocket or sealed away from the quarterback thanks to his pad level. Transitioning to a 4-3 front is still new for him, and I expect the bend and block shedding ability to come along for him over the coming weeks.
Wow @Chido___ almost gets an INT. Almost. https://t.co/aDLF0vAEOi
- One of my go to lines when discussing the Cowboys' 2017 draft class, specifically with people skeptical of the Charlton pick, is that the noticeable impact second round pick Chidobe Awuzie will make will trump any struggles from Taco at DE. Towards the end of the half, Awuzie nearly ended a Cardinals' drive with an interception on the sideline. The Cowboys played a ton of this game defensively in their "Dime" package, loading the field with these young DBs, making the knockdown from Chido even more impressive. With his first assignment in this situation to protect the sideline throw, Awuzie accelerated to the right depth better than he had all night before effortlessly flipping his hips and driving to the football to knock it away through contact cleanly.
- With no Anthony Hitchens, Sean Lee, or Jaylon Smith, the Cowboys had to piece together this game at linebacker - where there were flashes from UDFA Lucas Wacha. Out of Wyoming, Wacha was given reps at SAM in this game, but I'm intrigued by his skill set as a WILL. The movement ability and closing speed was not an issue for Wacha, who handled clutter in front of him well to consistently find the football. Wacha, like John Lotulelei, will also get plenty of opportunities to stick to this roster with special teams contributions.
Just throw it up to the basketball player... Let him take care of the rest. Kellen Moore. Rico Gathers. GOT 'EM! #AZvsDAL https://t.co/DgF5RGZ1td
- On the offensive side of the ball, the highlight of the night was undoubtedly Rico Gathers' 26 yard touchdown reception from Kellen Moore. The play was impressive for a lot of reasons for Gathers, who made the most of being out there as a starter. Having to patiently navigate through the second and third levels of a Cardinals' zone defense, Gathers ran his crossing route with excellent awareness and timing to get the depth needed. Once he had the angle on an out-of-position safety, Gathers squared his body to "box out" at the goal line and snag the ball above his head for a signature moment in the end zone. The Cowboys' commitment for two seasons now to get Rico Gathers the football has been clear, as he's flashed with these preseason reps on plays coming across the formation and turning up field.
- Jonathan Cooper looked like the player he did in Cleveland a year ago, with the strengths and weaknesses we'll all have to live with should he start at LG on display here. One thing you absolutely needed to see from Cooper was the fluidity in movement that Dallas will ask of him in the run game, but Cooper struggled to finish with any power both on the move or in his pass sets at the point of attack. Rod Smith and Alfred Morris stole the show at running back, but I truly felt a few of Darren McFadden's negative runs were a result of Cooper getting beat across the face and forcing McFadden to quickly change directions - something he'll struggle with at this point in his career.
- Andy Jones should be ahead of Noah Brown thanks to his experience from last season during the preseason and on the practice squad, and while that proved to be the case in this game I thought both players did things to help themselves. Jones played with better overall awareness and sharpness in his routes, leading to three receptions for 39 yards. Noah Brown's struggle is always going to be creating separation at this level, but on his end zone target he was able to compensate for a lack of speed by using his length to put his defender on his heels before he recovered. Depending on where else the Cowboys feel the need to keep more numbers on the roster, Brown and Jones could both be competing for a spot at WR that simply does not exist, but for now both young players are worth watching more through the rest of a preseason that will certainly present them with tons of snaps.
- It is strange not having a fresh face at RB for everyone to get excited about this preseason, as is tradition with the Cowboys, but the results can be much better with Rod Smith and Alfred Morris getting these meaningful reps. Morris was given the first chance to prove himself once again, and did just that as a straight-line runner. However, this is obviously something we already knew Morris could do - although it was nice to see him play with some burst and get skinny through the hole. Rod Smith, who's been ahead of Morris in training camp, did all of this and much more as the most comfortable zone runner Dallas had on the field last night. Exploding around the corner, putting his head down in tight spaces, and catching the ball all looked natural for Rod Smith. His preseason buzz is only going to grow.
The Cowboys will remain in Canton, Ohio through Saturday as Jerry Jones will be officially inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame then. After that, it is back to Oxnard to build on an overall positive performance and win in the Hall of Fame game - particularly with some young guys on the defensive side of the ball.
Xavier Woods, the Real Reason Cowboys Didn’t Pursue Tyrann Mathieu?
It's not uncommon for Dallas Cowboys fans to zero in on certain free agents in hopes that they will bring their talents to America's Team. In fact, just about any "big name" player to hit the open market is often linked to the Cowboys in some way or another. That was the case when the Arizona Cardinals decided to move on from Tyrann Mathieu.
Once Tyrann Mathieu became available, Cowboys fans immediately wanted to see him with a star on his helmet. But, despite the fans petitioning, the Cowboys brass seemed to show almost zero interest in the former Cardinal.
The decision to not pursue Tyrann Mathieu certainly didn't sit well with a lot of Cowboys Nation, but I think it was the right decision.
Despite Mathieu's perceived talents and youth (he's just 25), the Cowboys weren't interested in paying the price to bring him to Dallas, especially since they already have a similar player on their roster.
It may sound crazy, but I think the real reason the Dallas Cowboys didn't show much interest in Tyrann Mathieu is because of Xavier Woods.
I honestly believe Xavier Woods and Tyrann Mathieu have a similar skill set. Both players are little undersized to be a full-time safety in the NFL, but each of them have the versatility to play several different roles in the secondary.
Mathieu may have been listed as a safety on the Arizona Cardinals roster, and now the Houston Texans, but the truth is he played mostly out of the nickel/slot in his professional and collegiate career. That is where he is at his best, and the same can be said about Xavier Woods.
As a rookie, Xavier Woods showed his versatility with the Dallas Cowboys by playing a variety of different roles in the secondary. His versatility was one of the reasons the Cowboys decided to trade up in last year's draft to acquire his services.
His name might not carry the same kind of weight as Tyrann Mathieu right now around the league or amongst NFL fans, but I don't think Xavier Woods is that much of a drop off talent wise.
Personally, I believe Mathieu is starting to decline a little as a player. I think injuries are starting to take a toll on his play, although it may be minimal. I actually prefer Xavier Woods' upside, especially when you take into account the difference in salaries between the two.
Surprisingly enough, Xavier Woods might just have been more productive in 2017 then Mathieu. Woods started just four games and finished the season with 42 tackles, three passes defensed, and one interception. Mathieu on the other hand started all 16 games and accumulated 78 tackles, one quarterback sack, one forced fumble, and two interceptions.
As you can see, Xavier Woods was almost just as productive as Mathieu in nearly a third of the playing time. What's even more impressive about this is that Woods accomplish this as a rookie.
Of course, all of this is speculation, but I for one am not all that upset the Dallas Cowboys missed out on Tyrann Mathieu. I'm willing to bet on Xavier Woods being able to do everything Mathieu can and at a fraction of the cost.
Were the Cowboys right not to pursue Tyrann Mathieu?
Free Agent CB Orlando Scandrick Joining Washington Redskins
Just two days after being released by the Dallas Cowboys, cornerback Orlando Scandrick has found a new home in the nation's capitol. After 10 seasons in Dallas, Scandrick is signing with the rival Washington Redskins.
Redskins and Orlando Scandrick have agreed to a 2-year deal worth a max value of $10M, source said. From Dallas to a rival.
By joining Washington after leaving Dallas, Scandrick follows in the footsteps of many ex-Cowboys: Terrell McClain, Jason Hatcher, Stephen Bowen, and even Deion Sanders to name a few.
Last week, Orlando reportedly requested his release from Dallas. It was widely expected that he would be a salary cap casualty anyway, though, and especially with the young stockpile of cornerbacks the Cowboys currently have.
Dallas has three young corners they believe in with Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, and Anthony Brown. There is also talk that Byron Jones could be moving back to CB next year.
Scandrick, 31, will get to stay in the NFC East and now cover some of his former teammates. Give the reportedly salary, he should at least be the slot corner for Washington next year if not a starter.
Upgrading the Offensive Line Cowboys Top Offseason Priority?
Despite the displeasure by the majority of fans, the Dallas Cowboys continue to hold things close to the vest with their approach to free agency. It's definitely not the most popular approach and tends to drive fans crazy, but things could start heating up now that the free-agent market is starting to settle.
Looking from the outside in, we can only speculate as to which positions the Dallas Cowboys may prioritize in free agency and in the draft that matter. Earl Thomas and the safety position has been the most popular topic of discussion throughout the free agency process, but it looks as if the Cowboys are narrowing their focus on upgrading and adding depth to their offensive line.
This is just speculation of course, but it's based on the fact that the Cowboys are rumored to be bringing in free-agent offensive lineman Marcus Martin and Cameron Fleming. And on top of that, it was announced that two of the Dallas Cowboys 30 pre-draft visitors are also offensive lineman, Will Hernandez, who is popular among Cowboys fans already, and offensive tackle Kolton Miller.
I don't know about you, but it looks as if the Dallas Cowboys are certainly focused in on upgrading the offensive line. This absolutely makes sense after what they went through last season with the carousel at the left guard position and Tyron Smith's struggles to stay healthy.
More than anything, the Cowboys need OL depth heading into the 2018 season. There is only really one spot up for grabs at left guard, but the depth across the OL is absolutely depleted unless you want to rely on Chaz Green again.
This is where Marcus Martin and Cameron Fleming make a lot of sense. Marcus Martin has the versatility to play center and guard, and has done so already in his NFL career. He could compete for the starting LG position, but if nothing else, could replace Joe Looney as the backup C/OG.
Cameron Fleming could be the more important of the two free agents the Cowboys are rumored to be interested in. At the worst, Fleming would be an upgrade as the swing tackle, something he's done with the New England Patriots throughout his career. But, he could compete to become the starting right tackle, which would kick La'el Collins back inside to left guard.
That's all speculation right now, but the Dallas Cowboys would do what's best for the entire team in order to get the right starting five offensive lineman on the field.
The same can be said about rookies Will Hernandez and Kolton Miller. Hernandez would likely be a plug-and-play left guard if he ended up being the Dallas Cowboys first-round draft pick. That would keep the offensive line from shuffling and hopefully solidify the unit for years to come.
Kolton Miller on the other hand would be a lot like the Cameron Fleming situation mentioned above. He can probably tackle on the left or right side the NFL, although some draft analysts believe he will struggle as a LT at the next level.
Of course, there is no way of knowing how much interest the Dallas Cowboys have any of these players right now. But to me, it looks as if upgrading the offensive line is certainly one of their top priorities this offseason.
Is upgrading the OL the Dallas Cowboys top offseason priority?
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