The Dallas Cowboys' 24-20 win over the Oakland Raiders in their 2017 preseason dress rehearsal left us with plenty to digest - including a potentially season ending injury to MIKE linebacker Anthony Hitchens. As expected, the Raiders were a fantastic test for the Cowboys across the board. Dallas' starters remained in the game to some capacity through the first half, until Cooper Rush came in for most of the second half at QB and allowed us to continue evaluating this offense at a high level.
Here are my biggest takeaway's on both sides of the ball in another edition of Sean's Scout.
- La'el Collins keeps finding his way into my notes for the right reasons, and it is because he's done nothing but improve with every rep he gets at RT. Going up against one of the best pass rushers in the NFL in Khalil Mack, Collins' ability to flash his athleticism and steer Mack around the pocket multiple times showed off his mental sharpness at the position as well. It is well-known that Dak Prescott struggled as a rookie at sensing pressure off of that left edge as a rookie. With Doug Free as the starter at RT, his struggle was always allowing his rusher to flatten the corner and power right towards Prescott in the pocket. Collins' play with his hands was also improved, as he did not overextend on many blocks. He will be just fine in protecting Dak Prescott this season and allowing him to step up in the pocket when needed.
Dak Prescott to Jason Witten TD. Oakland LBs get drawn in by play action leads to easy pitch and catch pic.twitter.com/VQcxjd7ORy
— Ben Baldwin (@guga31bb) August 27, 2017
- Speaking of Dak Prescott, before he gets put in bubble wrap this week against the Houston Texans, his ability to throw the ball with confidence and elite accuracy down the middle of the field continues to be a thing of beauty. On Jason Witten's touchdown, Prescott easily executed a play fake that opened up a throwing lane over the middle for Witten. Being so close to the goal line, the window was still tight with a DB breaking across on Witten. Prescott's accuracy caused the DB to be flat on the play, giving him no chance as #82 simply had to catch it in stride and score. Even more impressively is that Prescott missed some shot plays down the sidelines earlier in that drive, but was able to recover and wear down the middle of the field to keep the offense moving. I'm not sure there's a team in the league right now that feels good enough about their depth in the secondary if asked to defend Dallas' spread looks on offense.
- The Cowboys were 25th in the league last year at yards after the catch, and I expect this number to dramatically increase in 2017. So much of Prescott's early success as a rookie was due to a simplified offense that allowed him to verify every throw with his eyes before he made it. With his pocket presence and movement ability improving by the day, Prescott is hitting his targets in stride all over the field. Brice Butler - who's already been a fan favorite pick for the "breakout player" award - could benefit the most from this, along with of course Cole Beasley, a leaner Dez Bryant, and eventually Ryan Switzer.
DaMontre Moore with sack/turnover pic.twitter.com/ZLZi34V9wU
— Dre'Lin Jackson (@drelinas1) August 27, 2017
- Damontre Moore's two game suspension to start this season is unfortunate, but I am hopeful that by week three he can help ease the loss of David Irving through the following week and continue to play well after that. Rod Marinelli has used him as a jack of all trades, reminding me of Irving in his ability to be disruptive inside and out. Moore may not have the same length, but his first step off the ball is probably unrivaled with these Dallas pass rushers right now. Moore has dominated this preseason with his ability to finish, turning this explosive ability into some bend and power on the edge - forcing a fumble in this game with a sack tightening off the corner.
- Lewis Neal has been just about everything the Cowboys should have expected with their seventh round pick DT Joey Ivie out of Florida. Both may be long shots to make this team, but to this point the UDFA in Neal has outperformed Ivie at the 3T spot with his ability to play with his hands and read blocks. I've been critical of both of these areas in Ivie's game, as he was a penetrating player relying on speed on tape in college. Neal has comparable speed, paired with the physical traits to shoot gaps and rally to the ball down the line.
— Dre'Lin Jackson (@drelinas1) August 27, 2017
- It is hard to undermine just how valuable Damien Wilson has been this preseason, and his regular season value may have just increased dramatically with Anthony Hitchens injured last night. I'm not sure if Wilson is this team's every-down MIKE LB, but he was out there nearly all night against the Raiders all over the field. Wilson has been one of the few constants at the LB position for the Cowboys through training camp and the preseason so far, as he's excelled in a scheme that fits his ability to play in space at the correct depth and run hard to the football. Doing this at SAM is even more impressive, as Wilson still possesses the strength to hold the edge at this strong side position. Should he miss time due to a suspension the start the season the Cowboys are going to be in some serious trouble at linebacker.
- This was likely the only chance we'll get this preseason to evaluate the depth the Cowboys have at running back from Ezekiel Elliott all the way down. Elliott received six carries and looked just fine, slashing through even the smallest of holes in the offensive front while continuing to run with speed and power. You have to continue to be pleased with what the stable of Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, Rod Smith, and Ronnie Hillman are doing, but there is simply not a back on this team that can provide what Elliott does out of the backfield. Alfred Morris has run hard as always, but leaves a lot to be desired in reading his blocks quickly, sticking his foot in the ground, and banging up the field with any balance. Morris typically picks the right hole, but it takes an extra beat compared to Elliott - which leaves him stumbling across the line of scrimmage too many times. As a pass catcher, it was actually Ronnie Hillman that looked like the shiftiest back on this team aside from Zeke, but with limited reps this preseason he faces an uphill battle making the 53 man roster. Ezekiel Elliott's appeal of his six game suspension to start the season is set for Tuesday.
Just one more preseason game remains for the Cowboys to evaluate this roster and cut it down to the 53 players that will host the Giants on September 10th. Getting young players, particularly this 2017 draft class, back onto the field during practice this week would be encouraging as most starters will likely sit out the entire game on Thursday night.
Should Cowboys Consider Trading for Disgruntled Packers S Josh Jones?
Despite their insistence that upgrading the safety position was a top offseason priority, the Dallas Cowboys haven't really done much to improve the backend of their secondary. They did sign former Minnesota Vikings and Cincinnati Bengals Safety George Iloka as a free agent and drafted Donovan Wilson in the sixth-round in this year's NFL Draft, but neither player looks like a clear-cut upgrade at this point. Fortunately, there's still time to find Xavier Woods' counterpart for 2019.
Xavier Woods is the only clear-cut starter at safety currently on the Dallas Cowboys roster. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine as to who starts opposite him this season. With that in mind, the Cowboys should be keeping all of their options open, including acquiring players who get released or even making a trade for someone they like. The latter is what I want to talk about today.
A potential safety who could be put on the trade block that I'm kind of intrigued with is Josh Jones, who has reportedly requested a trade from the Green Bay Packers.
Packers safety Josh Jones is skipping the voluntary OTAs and working out in Florida because he's hoping to be traded, a source told ESPN. The source said the 2017 second-round pick believes it would be best for both parties if they parted ways. Story coming on ESPN shortly.
Josh Jones clearly sees where he stands with the Green Bay Packers after they signed Adrian Amos in free agency and drafted Darnell Savage Jr. 21st overall in the 2019 NFL Draft, thus his absence from OTA's and trade request. He understands the business and knows he's not going to see the field much behind those two, meaning his best chance for playing time would be in a different uniform.
It's not all that shocking Jones has requested a trade. Even before the Packers added Amos and Savage he wasn't receiving a lot of playing time. He's just never seemed to fit into what Green Bay was trying to do on the backend of their defense. It may be in the best interest of both parties to mutually part ways. This is where the Dallas Cowboys come in.
I believe Josh Jones is exactly the type of safety Kris Richard would like to pair Xavier Woods with on the backend of the Cowboys defense. He fits the criteria Richard likes in his defensive backs as far as size, length, and speed are concerned. And, he also has the kind of skill set/mindset to become that Kam Chancellor "enforcer" type of strong safety.
Josh Jones is at his best when he can play around the line of scrimmage, much like Chancellor was during his time with the Seahawks. But, Jones also has the ability to be a factor in coverage as well. The only real question here is whether or not he's an upgrade over the likes of Jeff Heath, George Iloka, and maybe even rookie Donovan Wilson?
In all honesty, I don't have the answer to that question. Josh Jones really hasn't received a fair opportunity to prove himself in his first two years in the NFL. I believe the skill set is there to start in the league, but there's not much there to back up that belief.
Personally, I'd be willing to part way with a late round pick if I were the Cowboys to acquire Josh Jones. I like the idea of bringing him in to work with Kris Richard and allowing him to compete for the starting job next to Xavier Woods. This is exactly the kind of low risk/high reward move Dallas likes to gamble on, and it could potentially pay off in a big way.
Where do you stand? Should the Cowboys consider trading for Josh Jones?
How Can The Cowboys Force More Turnovers In 2019?
2018 seemed like the beginning of a new era. A defensive era. For the first time in years the Cowboys were able to consistently lean on their defense during games, staying alive even as their offense sputtered and limped through stretches early in the season.
The defense was downright prolific some weeks. They carried the Cowboys to an inspiring home victory over the New Orleans Saints to put them in prime position to make the playoffs. They dominated the Wild Card game in key moments, making key stops and holding the Seahawks to just 22 points in the win. They featured one of the league's best individual pass rushers in DeMarcus Lawrence, an All Pro cornerback in Byron Jones, and one of the league's most exciting young linebacker duos.
For all of this success, this defense still lacked one thing. Takeaways.
The Cowboys forced only 9 interceptions in 2018, ranking 26th across the league. In fact, linebacker Leighton Vander Esch was actually tied with Xavier Woods for the team lead in interceptions with just 2. When it comes to total takeaways the Cowboys' defense was a little better off, though, finishing 16th in the NFL.
Part of the "problem" seems to be their philosophy. The Cowboys have finished 26th, 24th, 27th, and 31st in interceptions dating back to 2015. They've also finished 9th, 25th, 18th, and 19th in team defense DVOA over that same stretch. Clearly there was an improvement in total defense in 2018, but neither their team defense nor ability to take the ball away has been strong since 2015.
The bigger problem, really, is a lack of luck. While this sounds like a cop-out, takeaways often do come down to just that. Of course putting yourself in the right place at the right time to benefit from a batted pass or overthrown ball matters, but those bounces finding the right hands is usually a matter of luck.
Turnovers are incredibly volatile year to year, and as much as you'd like your players to "make their own luck," randomness does play a part here.
You can certainly argue the Cowboys have done their best this offseason to increase their chances at takeaways, however. By trading for defensive end Robert Quinn, re-signing DeMarcus Lawrence, and adding talented players to the middle of their defensive line as well, Dallas has put an emphasis on getting after the quarterback and corralling the opposing running game. Putting pressure on quarterbacks can force them into quick decision making or bad throws, which could in turn breed interceptions.
This is far from guaranteed, though. Plus the Cowboys play against some of the league's top quarterbacks this year, which hurts their chances of taking the ball away further.
In the end the Cowboys will need both the skill of their pass rushers and defensive backs to put them in good positions, and luck to smile down on them, if they'd like to turn around their takeaway numbers in 2019. And after all, this demoralizing trend has to reverse itself at some point, doesn't it?
Will It Be The Cowboys, Or Another Team, Who Pays Byron Jones After 2019?
After having his fifth year option exercised for the 2019 season, cornerback Byron Jones enters a contract year this Fall.
Jones inarguably had the best year of his career in 2018: earning not only his first Pro Bowl selection but also Second Team All Pro honors for his performance. Doing it all without an impressive stat sheet, Jones was able to let his film speak for itself throughout most of the year, and he became the number one cornerback we'd all hoped he could be when the Cowboys decided to take the freakishly athletic defensive back in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft.
This contract year is quite unique for Byron Jones, however. Next offseason the Cowboys will be forced to re-sign and extend just about all of their key contributors on both sides of the ball. DeMarcus Lawrence already got his contract, but Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, and others still await their deals. Deals which the front office has all-but explicitly promised will come.
This leaves Jones, the former first round pick and now former All Pro, generally considered to be the odd man out. So while 2019 is a contract year for Byron Jones, he may be earning himself a contract from a completely different team.
Jones has had an interesting road to this contract season. One which would be a shame for the Cowboys to waste. Moving between cornerback and safety during the first three years of his career, Jones fell out of the coaches' good graces while playing out of his most natural position. Under Kris Richard's new regime, though, Jones had his best season to date. He looked to finally be comfortable in his role, and was now playing for a coach who believed he could be a special player.
Now that Byron Jones has found his place in the Cowboys defense, and has earned his way into conversations with the league's top cornerbacks, he's likely priced himself out of the Cowboys' future plans.
It's funny how that works out. Of course, Jones should go get paid, and I'd never fault a guy for maximizing his value on the market. But there's a good chance the Cowboys make the mistake of allowing a premier cornerback to walk out of their building next offseason. But if they want to retain players like Elliott and Cooper, they may not have any other choice.
Player News1 week ago
Leighton Vander Esch Graded Best Rookie Linebacker Since 2014
Dallas Cowboys2 weeks ago
3 Reasons Why LB Leighton Vander Esch Will be Even Better in 2019
Player News2 weeks ago
RB Rod Smith Signs with Giants; Brother Jaylon Sends Farewell Message
Dallas Cowboys4 days ago
Kicker Matt Bryant Should Be the Final Piece of Cowboys 2019 Offseason
Star Blog1 week ago
QB Dak Prescott Already Impressing New Offensive Coaches
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Way-too-early 2019 Dallas Cowboys 53-man Roster Projection
Dallas Cowboys3 days ago
What Could June 1st Mean for 2019 Dallas Cowboys?
Dallas Cowboys1 week ago
Despite Perception, Dallas Cowboys had an Excellent Offseason