The Dallas Cowboys put an end to the 2018 NFC East race on Sunday, jumping ahead of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 27-20 from AT&T Stadium to clinch their second division title in three seasons. Relying on two forced turnovers to jump-start an offense that was held scoreless a week ago, the Cowboys left plenty of room for improvement as they focus on hosting a playoff game in two weeks.
Linebacker Jaylon Smith returned a Jameis Winston fumble 69-yards for the Cowboys second scoring, following a Dak Prescott rushing touchdown to put the Cowboys ahead early. Tampa Bay drew within 17-13 with a touchdown before the half, but came no closer to holding back Dallas in the second half thanks to another forced fumble from Randy Gregory that created a Michael Gallup touchdown.
Scoring off of their defense will likely have to continue for the Cowboys to have any playoff success, but for now here's more on how they punched their ticket to the postseason with their ninth win of the season - guaranteeing a winning season for third year in a row.
- Jaylon Smith's great afternoon started early, as he and Leighton Vander Esch rewarded the Cowboys faith in their young linebackers with Sean Lee a healthy scratch.
Smith's fumble recovery for a touchdown may be the highlight of his career, but Jaylon was more than ready to handle the dirty work for Rod Marinelli's defense in this game as well. With defensive captain Tyrone Crawford lost for the game on the Bucs' second play from scrimmage, the Cowboys easily could have come undone.
On their first play without Crawford, Mike Evans ran behind the Cowboys secondary for a 38-yard gain to the Dallas 13. With a run stop on second down and pass defended on third down, Smith assured the Bucs would manage just a field goal on their opening drive.
When considering how routine Smith makes these plays look, paired with his dash down the Cowboys sideline to beat the pursuit to the end zone on his touchdown, Smith's return from injury remains one of the most inspiring sports stories anywhere in recent memory.
- Much was made of Dak Prescott's zero rushing attempts last week at the Colts, rightfully so after his first attempt in two weeks went for a walk-in touchdown.
The Cowboys were their usual bashful selves in the red zone from this point on, but give Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan credit for calling Prescott's keeper at the right time.
Not only did Tampa Bay enter this game with the worst red zone defense in the league, but their 128.1 rushing yards allowed per game is sixth worse in the league. Prescott's fake to Ezekiel Elliott was all he needed to get outside the numbers and follow his blocks for an easy score.
- Maliek Collins continues to impress at the 3T-DT position, coming up with a sack of Winston that gave the Cowboys favorable field position on Brett Maher's first field goal.
As is the case up and down the Cowboys defensive line, the range all four players show on any given down is extremely impressive. In sacking Winston back at the two-yard line, Collins overpowered the left guard as Randy Gregory gave Winston nowhere to go with a strong rush off the right side.
It's possible the Cowboys will still add David Irving to their pass rush rotation for the playoffs, giving them plenty to like about their ability to get after the quarterback from all four spots. Despite adding his name in the penalty book a few more times Sunday afternoon, Gregory again looked like a pass rusher capable of carrying a defense - lined up across from a proven game changing talent in DeMarcus Lawrence.
For as much publicity as this edge rushing duo can earn in two weeks time, the disruptive combination of Collins and Antwaun Woods on the inside has been equally important for the Cowboys defense.
Gregory's second forced fumble allowed the Cowboys to create all the separation they would need with a four-yard score extending Dallas' lead to 27-13 in the fourth quarter.
- This touchdown was of course provided by Michael Gallup, winning on an outside fade route to bail out another questionable play call from Linehan in the red zone.
The play Gallup scored on was nearly identical to the fade the Cowboys threw on first and goal, though incomplete to the other side of the field for Noah Brown. Gallup caught Brent Grimes flat-footed and found more than enough room in the back of the end zone to secure a well-timed ball from Prescott.
Given that Amari Cooper saw just five targets in this pivotal game for the Cowboys, their distribution on offense leaves a lot to be desired. Gallup still deserves credit for the strides he's made as an athletic play maker on the ball, growing up in a hurry as the team's third round pick to compliment Cooper well.
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All that stands between the Cowboys and yet another opportunity to host a playoff game is a meaningless trip to MetLife Stadium to face the New York Giants. A win would give the Cowboys their first ten win season since Prescott and Elliott's rookie year, and although this season has mostly failed to capture that same magic, there's hope for Dallas again after bouncing back from a shutout to win a division in front of their home fans.
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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