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.
Will DeMarcus Lawrence Be Franchise Tagged Again in 2019?
The deadline for extending players under the franchise tag has come and gone last Monday, in a day in which none of the remaining tagged players reached an agreement with their respective teams. That includes Dallas Cowboy Defensive End DeMarcus Lawrence, who's set to earn $17M in 2018.
The front office and the 26-year old defensive end failed to agree to a new contract before the season's start, but we saw that coming. After all, there was never a point in which we had the classic "X player and his team are close to a new deal" headline.
All of this makes the future of the Cowboys' promising "War Daddy" very uncertain. What lies a head of the player that put on an impressive show in 2018?
Since 2017 was Lawrence's breakout year, racking up 14.5 sacks trough the season, we have leaned towards the narrative of last season being his only good one. His performance last season was impressive and clearly his best one yet, but we tend to overlook 2015.
In his sophomore season, the only other year in which he has played 16 games, he finished the campaign with eight sacks and 35 tackles (55 combined). Really, the idea of 2017 being his only good year is not as accurate as we might think.
That being said, I think it's more likely that we see another great year from him this upcoming season than seeing a disappointing one. This, of course, will end up being the main thing that determines his future in Dallas.
The Dallas Cowboys front office really took a risk by tagging Lawrence this offseason. #90 was reportedly asking for an average of $17M per year in his long-term contract, which is Olivier Vernon kind of money.
So what if he puts a similar season or an even better one? Lawrence and his agent could end up asking for even more money. Perhaps in the 18 or 20 million dollars per year range. If that ends up being the case, the team will find itself in a tough position when trying to reach an agreement with its promising pass rusher.
Which leads us to the possibility of seeing the Cowboys franchise tagging Lawrence for the second consecutive season. Dallas will already be negotiating a contract extension with QB Dak Prescott, and things will get complicated. Even more if they decide to pursue a big-time free agent in March, such as Earl Thomas.
It would make sense, from a financial perspective, to hand the tag twice in consecutive years to D-Law. However, it shouldn't be the priority. If he plays like he did in 2017, the front office will be more than wise to extend him for good.
According to OverTheCap.com, the Cowboys will have approximately $50.6M. Seemingly, the team's cap woes will be over soon.
Fortunately, Lawrence didn't become a headache by threatening to holdout for offseason programs and even training camp. However, don't expect that to happen if he finds himself under the tag next year.
Careers in the NFL are short, so DeMarcus will surely want to get paid. If he keeps it up, he'll deserve it. As much as he deserves it, though, football is a cold business. If the Jones need to tag him, they will.
Do you think the Cowboys will franchise tag Lawrence in 2019?
Without Looming Suspension, RB Ezekiel Elliott Should Shine In 2018
NFL Films typically does a good job of exposing some truths around NFL teams. Whether through "Hard Knocks" or Amazon's new "All or Nothing" series, these documentaries do an excellent job of giving fans an inside look of their favorite teams.
If anything was revealed through the Cowboys' All or Nothing series on their 2017 season, it's that Ezekiel Elliott's suspension weighed heavy on his mind all year.
The Pro Bowl running back did not look, act, or play like himself while awaiting decision on his incoming suspension. And, once it was finally announced he would serve the six games, the entire team collapsed in Atlanta.
Despite the clear and detrimental effects Elliott's suspension had on the Cowboys' season, Zeke still put up more-than-respectable numbers; rushing for almost 1,000 yards and averaging a league leading 98.3 yards per game.
Now, Ezekiel Elliott enters a season with no doubts about his own availability. Scott Linehan gets to coach an offense that knows they will have their best player for the entire season barring major injury. And, Jason Garrett can lead his team without addressing questions about Elliott's future day in and day out.
Of course, these effects aren't quantifiable. We can't sit here and say that without the pressure of court appearances and suspensions that Elliott will be worth "X" amount of more yards and "Y" more touchdowns.
But I do believe we can say, without question, that playing with a clear mind and without a looming suspension will breed the type of production we saw from Zeke his rookie year.
We can say that Elliott has had a weight lifted off his shoulders, and could be looking for revenge on a league he feels did him wrong.
And, for the Cowboys sake, I hope this is true. Because they are going to need Ezekiel Elliott to be even better than he ever has been if they hope to make a run at the Super Bowl in 2018.
Cowboys en Español: El Regreso de Randy Gregory
A sólo días de que los Dallas Cowboys aterricen en Oxnard, California para dar inicio a su training camp como todos los años, el equipo recibió excelentes noticias respecto a la selección de segunda ronda del 2015: Randy Gregory. Después de pasar todo el 2017 suspendido, el ala defensiva ha sido oficialmente reintegrado por la NFL.
Gregory, quien tuvo muchos problemas debido al uso de marihuana, ha pasado los últimos meses rehabilitándose para poder volver a vestir la estrella y volver al emparrillado. Los Cowboys, quienes siempre apoyaron a su joven jugador, sin duda estarán felices de verlo de vuelta en el equipo por motivos más allá que el football americano.
Sin duda alguna, antes de estar emocionados y felices por verlo en el campo intimidando a quarterbacks rivales, deberíamos estar alegres por el logro personal de Randy como un ser humano. Realmente hizo un esfuerzo consciente en un lugar en el que muchos se hubieran rendido y dejado sus sueños de ser parte de la NFL. Pero no lo hizo, y ahora, todos sus esfuerzos han valido la pena.
El siguiente paso en su lista por-hacer, es volver al campo y poco a poco, ganarse su puesto en el equipo y después, la titularidad. La última vez que vimos a Gregory en el campo, fue contra Philadelphia, en el final de temporada del 2016.
En este juego, Gregory mostró muchos destellos de lo que sería capaz de hacer semana tras semana en la liga y porque valió la pena nunca dejarlo ir, lo cual no hubiera tenido sentido hacer, dado que los Cowboys no les costaba nada (literalmente) mantenerlo en el equipo.
Sean Martin escribió un artículo recientemente en el que analiza este partido a fondo.
El potencial de Gregory es inmenso, suficiente incluso, para aventurarse a decir que se convertirá en el defensive end (ala defensiva) derecho antes de lo esperado. El reto más grande para el jugador de 25 años será regresar a una condición física óptima para la NFL.
Afortunadamente, a diferencia del 2016, Gregory no estará regresando a media temporada. Su llegada toma lugar justo a tiempo para el training camp, dándole tiempo para regresar a la forma en la que tiene que estar.
Una vez ahí, ¿qué tanto le tomará ganarse un rol más importante que el de Tyrone Crawford y Taco Charlton? A pesar de que prácticamente no lo hemos visto jugar en Dallas, sabemos el potencial que tiene para convertirse en un defensivo de suma importancia para los Cowboys.
Un año después de ver la mejor temporada en la carrera de DeMarcus Lawrence, los Cowboys tendrán el potencial de una estrella similar en el lado derecho de su línea defensiva. Gregory tiene una montaña que escalar para cumplir las expectativas de los aficionados, pero no será una sorpresa si lo logra.
Vaya, no olvidemos que si no fuera por sus problemas fuera del campo, hubiera sido seleccionado en el Top 10 del Draft del 2015. Tiene el potencial de conseguir diez sacks por temporada.
Con un poco de suerte, no nos equivocaremos en tenerle fe al jugador que ha tenido un gran viaje para llegar a este punto. El punto de ponerse el casco e ir a trabajar con su equipo.
Incluso si sólo llega a ser un jugador de rotación, sin duda será importante para el éxito del equipo. Entre DeMarcus Lawrence, David Irving, Randy Gregory y el resto del talento que los Cowboys tienen en la línea defensiva, el equipo podría tener un frente de muy buena calidad.
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