When your starting quarterback wants the ball in his hands, there isn't much a coach can do about it. Such is exactly what Dallas Cowboys Quarterback Dak Prescott wanted in his team's week 17 game at the Giants, which carried no meaning for the Cowboys as winners of the NFC East. By the end of the early afternoon, the game stood as one the Cowboys should feel great about before the playoffs, with Prescott delivering a game-winning touchdown pass to Cole Beasley and two-point conversion to Michael Gallup for a 36-35 victory.
The next time we break down a Cowboys game, it will be their third meeting with the Seahawks in two years, with Seattle traveling to AT&T Stadium for the Wild Card round. Before that however, there's plenty to discern from the Cowboys performance against an even more familiar opponent, finishing the year 5-1 against their division by sweeping the Giants.
- Rightfully so, Dak Prescott will say this season comes down to what the Cowboys do in the playoffs, but putting up 387 yards and four touchdowns without Left Tackle Tyron Smith, Right Guard Zack Martin, or Running Back Ezekiel Elliott is a personal achievement worthy of praise.
A year ago, this task proved impossible, though Prescott did keep the Cowboys in the playoff picture with a 9-7 record. Getting to ten wins took one of Prescott's best games, throwing with rare anticipation and poise.
Nine different receivers caught a pass from Prescott, as the Cowboys welcomed Tavon Austin back into the fold. In consecutive weeks, the Cowboys have taken strides to put a shutout loss in week 15 behind them, clicking as a unit before the postseason begins.
Prescott's sequence before throwing the winning touchdown to Beasley felt like the perfect microcosm of his career through three years - two of which have ended with the Cowboys as division champions. Missing Amari Cooper on first down, Dak delivered high on second down and was forced to throw the ball away under pressure on third.
A fourth-and-ten false start penalty on backup Left Tackle Cam Fleming pushed the Cowboys back five yards, but none of this mattered when Prescott dropped Beasley's sixth catch of the game into the back of the end zone. Getting a knee down, Beasley scored for the first time since week six.
Keeping him involved in the offense is just one more way the Cowboys open up their offense to play their best football over the next month.
- The story of this game cannot be told without mention of Blake Jarwin's career day, showing off great route running ability on three touchdowns.
Jarwin has always been a big-bodied TE capable of boxing out defenders, but I thought he flashed a precision in running vertical routes that hasn't been seen before. Playing with a loose upper body and light feet, Jarwin explodes up the field and creates mismatches that either free himself (as it did on Sunday) or teammates underneath.
Between Jarwin and rookie Dalton Schultz, the Cowboys have a tight end by committee approach that is comforting for Prescott, as Schultz has found a role in both the running and play action game. Third Tight End Rico Gathers played six snaps on offense for the Cowboys.
- Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch struggled more than usual at times in this game, but his play chasing down Evan Engram on the sideline was one of the best of the day for the Cowboys defense.
Vander Esch had to cover a lot of ground from the middle of the field to turn and chase Engram, in full stride looking for the end zone. Vander Esch got there along with Cornerback Chidobe Awuzie to prevent a touchdown.
The Giants would end up scoring, but by no fault from Vander Esch, who finds at least one play a game to show up the incredible athleticism and instincts that have made his transition to the NFL easier than ever expected. Even without looking as sharp as usual, the Cowboys defense as a whole was better with Vander Esch than it was with Sean Lee again - which tells Dallas all they need to know about the decision made at LB.
- With the Cowboys using their starters in hopes of gaining momentum for the playoffs, nobody needed a play more than Chidobe Awuzie - intercepting Eli Manning in the end zone.
Awuzie has been caught out of position almost all season, but his size and willing tackling ability on the outside make him an irreplaceable starter for Kris Richard's secondary. Reading the eyes of Manning, Awuzie was able to gain proper depth and make a strong play on the ball.
Not only did Awuzie finish a play when given the chance, but he did so on a part of the field the Cowboys have been terrific at defending, adding to their red zone numbers with the takeaway.
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The Cowboys finished 2018 in a big way, winning on the road with an offensive performance that did enough despite a turnover, missed field goal, and several dropped passes. Leaving room to improve for the playoffs while finding a way to come out on top at the Giants is the way things will have to continue for the Cowboys on a short week.
Also winners of their last two games, the Seahawks come to town having a previous win over the Cowboys from week three on Saturday night.
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.
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