As we all eagerly await the Sunday Night Football game between the New York Giants and the Dallas Cowboys, I will break down what we should look for, including matchups at each phase of the game and projected inactives going into Sunday.
I do not take these projections lightly, research has gone on from watching tape, reading what scouts say, and what those following each team also have said going into the game. Yet, I will not simply regurgitate information, I firmly believe everything listed below. With that let's get this underway.
Cowboys Projected Inactive List:
- Christine Michael
- Lucky Whitehead
- Geoff Swaim
- Jordan Mills
- La'el Collins
- Ken Bishop
- Damien Wilson
Yes, I am making the assumption that some highly talked about fan-favorites will not dress Sunday Night.
I cannot see Lucky dressing if Cole Beasley is returning Punts and Lance Dunbar is returning Kicks. With additional spots needed elsewhere, I foresee Lucky being inactive for at least the first few weeks.
La'el Collins? From everything that I have read and heard it does seem like the Coaching Staff is more comfortable with Mackenzy Bernadeau at this point. He is a veteran that has flexibility at Guard and Center. As of right now Collins is really only a Left Guard. If a critical situation arises, Bernadeau provides the most insurance at the most positions as a backup.
Michael and Mills are listed as inactive due to just getting to the team and probably not having a grasp of the system as of yet. It would be a bit premature to throw either one on the field against the Giants, especially Michael as I feel there's already an advantage in the running game. More on that later. Also, Mills making the injury report Thursday with a foot injury makes this an easy decision. Unless they do not trust Darrion Weems in the slightest.
With Nick Hayden and Terrell McClain likely to play 1st and 2nd down at the One Technique, I cannot see room for Bishop on the 46. He does not present any position flex, so he will simply be the odd man out along the deep Defensive Line.
Damien Wilson is the one I am not sure on.
As while looking at the roster, I definitely want to take six Linebackers to the game, but that would bring up several different scenarios. If Wilson dresses it probably would come down to making Corey White or Byron Jones inactive. With how White looked during Training Camp and Preseason games, there is no way I would sit him for this game.
Byron Jones sitting would create a number of stories within the media that would jump to the conclusion that Jones is a bust. I do not feel the Cowboys really care about that aspect, but I do feel they will avoid that for the player's sake. Jones also provides a flexibility that could put the defense in quality matchups against the Giants.
Danny McCray and Jeff Heath are core Special Teams players and with how the unit looked during the Preseason, I can see Rich Bisaccia asking to have both active. The only aspect here to look at is McCray's neck, if it's not at one-hundred percent going into the game, Wilson should remain active.
Cowboys Offense vs Giants Defense
Without any bias whatsoever, this is by far the biggest mismatch on paper heading into Sunday night.
The Giants have five Safeties on their Injured Reserve list. Listed starting Strong Safety Cooper Taylor missed all of last season with a foot injury and has limited experience being a down after down player.
While the Giants' starting Free Safety and this year's second-round pick, Landon Collins, is a player with limited range and coverage skills, he is practically a Strong Safety lining up at the Free. If either one of these Safeties gets trapped in one on one coverage, it will be a matchup to watch as they will be at a major disadvantage.
Even their corners do not really seem to be the players you expect to shut down the Cowboys weapons.
The Giants front seven does not present many problems on paper either. Their starting Mike Linebacker Jon Beason missed practice today and their only down lineman that I have any major concerns over is Jonathan Hankins on the inside. But with the combo of Ron Leary, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin I feel they will be able to handle him.
Key Match Up: Scott Linehan vs Steve Spagnuolo
This comes down to how Giants Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo calls the game. If he trusts his Corners with one on one Coverage against Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Cole Beasley, they will bring blitzes all game long. If he wants the Cowboys' running game to prove itself, we could see more zone, forcing the Cowboys to drive the ball down the field.
Cowboys Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan will have to recognize Spagnuolo's gameplan then dictate the game the way he wants to call it. I see a huge game for both Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle. Linehan sees the same defense that I do, and the running game will be used to set up throws down the field. If the Giants are unable to get pressure on Tony Romo, it will be a very long day for the Giants defense.
The Giants simply do not have the Secondary to hold up in Man Coverage for long.
Once Safeties start creeping toward the line, the Cowboys will be able to exploit these matchups and march up and down the field.
Strong Advantage Cowboys
Cowboys Defense vs Giants Offense
This is a slightly more intriguing matchup which hinges on the health of Wide Receiver Victor Cruz, who missed the first two days of practice this week with a calf injury.
Without Cruz, the attention turns towards Odell Beckham Jr. and Larry Donnell. The Cowboys struggled at times last year against Tight Ends, so it will be interesting to see how they attempt to cover Donnell.
Beckham has the opportunity to be an All-Pro Wide Receiver in the NFL. Whether he lines up against Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr, or Tyler Patmon, extra attention will be paid to him. I personally expect to see him in the Slot a great deal against Patmon and lining up against Carr. Giants Offensive Coordinator Ben McAdoo could look to exploit Carr's lack of quickness and Patmon's inexperience. I feel Claiborne has the best opportunity to compete against Beckham.
Wherever he lines up, there should always be a jam at the line of scrimmage. Giving him a free release allows him to get into his route far too easily.
Much attention has gone to the Cowboys' new-look Defensive Line.
To minimize the effects of Tyrone Crawford, DeMarcus Lawrence, Jeremy Mincy, and Randy Gregory the Giants may attempt to establish the run right out of the gate. With uncertainty at the Cowboys Mike Linebacker - Anthony Hitchens being projected to start coming off of missing several weeks of practice - they may attempt to run straight at him. If Hitchens is not at full strength, I have a lot of confidence in Andrew Gachkar as he has shown he can be a physical Mike Linebacker.
This is where a healthy Sean Lee comes into play. If Tyrone Crawford and Nick Hayden can eat enough blocks up front, Lee will be able to roam clean from his Wheel Linebacker position and attack the ball carrier. I expect him to tally anywhere from eight to twelve tackles in this game.
If either Rashad Jennings or Andre Williams get going, it could really change the dynamic of this game.
Aside from Beckham, the one other mismatch in favor of the Giants is Shane Vereen. He has a reputation for being a solid receiving Running Back and him leaking out of the backfield could be a method to slow down the Cowboys pass rush. I expect him to have a bigger game than their projected Slot Wide Receiver, Preston Parker.
Where Corey White and Byron Jones are really beneficial is on obvious passing downs. I could see them both back there at Safety not allowing either JJ Wilcox or Barry Church to be exposed in the passing game.
Key Match Up: Cowboys Defensive Line vs Giants Offensive Line
No matter what comes out of the Giants camp, their Offensive Line has to be of concern. They played quite a bit during the Preseason, but you cannot expect their group to be a strength of their team.
Eli Manning struggles when he has to throw on the move or throw moving to the side, he needs his feet set to be effective. With Giants First Round Draft Pick Ereck Flowers starting at Left Tackle, I feel he will struggle to protect Eli, as he does not have the feet of a natural pass protecting Left Tackle.
It will be up to Lawrence, Mincey, Gregory, and Ryan Russell to move him off his throwing spot. When he attempts to climb the pocket, hopefully Tyrone or Jack Crawford is there to deliver a hit.
Eli is not in the slightest bit mobile and I expect Defensive Coordinator Rod Marinelli to bring some blitzes early to make Eli uncomfortable off the bat. Look for Sean Lee to come several times this game.
With that being said, if the Cowboys can get pressure with their front four then the game becomes a lot more difficult for the Giants offense. This will be one of the more interesting matchups of the game, especially with the hype surrounding the Cowboys Defensive Line.
Slight Advantage Cowboys
Special Teams Matchup
This is not just a discussion of Dan Bailey against Josh Brown, as obviously most would take Bailey without any hesitation. Nor are we just looking at Chris Jones against Brad Wing. This is a look at the entire group.
This is where the Giants could flip the game in their favor.
We all saw the struggles of the coverage units during the Preseason. Jarryd Hayne of the 49ers was made to look like a Hall Of Fame caliber return man; it was rather hard to watch at times. Which brings us to the Giants' new Return Specialist...
Whatever you may think of him after comments he made about Cowboys practice, his proficiency as a return man is difficult to argue. He is dangerous when he gets the ball so it is paramount that the Cowboys are disciplined on their coverage teams and maintain gap integrity.
This is where you hope guys like Dunbar, Keith Smith, Heath, McCray, and Gachkar make a difference on the Special Teams units as Harris returning a Punt for a touchdown could change the entire outlook of this game.
I do not see the same threat with Beasley returning Punts if he is chosen to do so on Sunday.
Slight Advantage Giants
I don't like to guess scores, but I feel the Cowboys should win this game by at least ten points. It is hard for me to believe the Giants Offensive Line will keep Eli clean on a consistent enough basis to make up for their defense.
The Cowboys can get into trouble through sloppy Special Teams, Turnovers, and not stopping the Giants' run game. Where they can thrive is by simply executing on offense and keep the Giants from making big plays.
When it comes down to the Giants and Cowboys, Dallas is the better team on paper and hopefully they play like it come Sunday Night.
Sean’s Scout: Starting Front 7 Sets Tone Early, Cowboys Depth Falters in Loss to Bengals
The Dallas Cowboys are halfway through their 2018 preseason. Given the injuries they're left to deal with to Zack Martin, Xavier Woods, and Jameill Showers, the Cowboys were happy to see their first home game of the season come to an end when it did. Despite the 21-13 loss, the Cowboys starters made another strong impression before exiting for backups that once again failed to hold the lead.
This is a game I'm looking forward to getting another look at on film, but for now here are a few thoughts the first time through.
- Rookie Connor Williams is still a work in progress at guard, as he'll get himself in trouble trying to catch rushers too often.
This "catch blocking" is not uncommon for young offensive linemen, particularly ones learning a new position in preparation to start on the league's best front. On the Cowboys second drive of the game, Williams was caught back in his stance dealing with a twist from the Bengals with Left Tackle Tyron Smith.
The result of the play was an incomplete pass on third down from Dak Prescott. With Williams' footwork being as consistent as it has, I wouldn't worry too much about his upper body technique and strength improving greatly before week one of the regular season. Perhaps most importantly, Williams has looked smooth playing in space, something the Cowboys are prepared to ask the second round pick to do plenty of.
- With Randy Gregory back in the lineup, the Cowboys potential to have a great rotation of defensive ends was on full display.
The play that stands out is a tackle for loss by Safety Jeff Heath. On the play, Defensive End Tyrone Crawford did a great job setting the edge against the run, allowing Heath to come down and make the aggressive play.
Crawford created penetration against a tight end, staying disciplined in his rush lane from the right defensive end position to force the run outside.
On the Bengals' offensive series prior to this play by Heath, the Cowboys forced a punt following a missed Andy Dalton throw to A.J. Green. Despite not being tight in coverage on third down, Randy Gregory looked sharp coming off the edge to rush Dalton slightly.
With Taco Charlton also looking strong against the run, and rookie Dorance Armstrong continuing to develop as a weak side pass rusher, the possible match ups the Cowboys can create up front are seemingly endless.
Almost all of them will include last year's sack leader DeMarcus Lawrence, who was also disruptive on nearly every snap in this game.
- Give credit to Joe Looney for handling the reps he did at center, but the backup interior lineman left a lot to be desired from this position.
It should come as no surprise that Looney is a better guard than center, or that the Cowboys would look significantly worse at center without Travis Frederick in the lineup.
Overall, this was a disappointing game for the Cowboys thin offensive line depth. Paul Alexander's unit was unable to give quarterbacks Cooper Rush and Mike White a fair chance to settle into the game.
Looney's contact balance was suspect throughout the evening. Not the most powerful player, it's important for Looney to play with leverage and balance, which he did inconsistently last night.
Awaiting news on Zack Martin's first quarter injury still, the Cowboys should have already been concerned about their backups at tackle, with the guard position becoming a late concern now.
- This is becoming the standard for Jaylon Smith, but I did not see one Bengals blocker effectively slow him down.
The power that Smith is playing with is an outstanding sign for continued success. Not only is Smith physically up for the challenge of starting at MIKE for the Cowboys, but he's physically dominating opponents with strength, speed, and range.
Whether he was running laterally and avoiding blocks with great awareness, or attacking the pocket, Smith's path to the ball was rarely impeded against the Bengals.
No matter who the Cowboys lined up in their front seven, the group did a great job setting a strong tone. Antwaun Woods was once again impressive at the one technique position inside, and Brian Price made a flash play from this position late in the game as well.
Thanks to Smith's gap shooting ability, and the Cowboys willingness so far this preseason to be creative with the Notre Dame product, the team's defensive tackles don't have to be asked to do too much. Holding their spots while drawing blockers will be more than enough to free Smith and the rest of the Cowboys linebackers to make plays.
- Chidobe Awuzie's interception in the second quarter is a reminder of just how high the second-year cornerback's potential is.
Sure, Awuzie's length put him at an advantage to take a leap into year two once Kris Richard arrived as the Cowboys passing game coordinator.
Being productive on the ball, as Awuzie was here, is a testament to just how athletic he is as a boundary cornerback though. A beat late recognizing the ball coming his way, Awuzie remained in perfect position to get a hand on this pass.
Doing so with an explosive leap off the ground and full extension, Awuzie snagged the ball with one hand before bringing it into his body to secure another turnover for the Cowboys first team defense.
The Cowboys cornerback depth proved suspect beyond Awuzie and Byron Jones in this game, but being as good as they already are on the boundary is a huge step in the right direction for Rod Marinelli's defense.
I also thought that UDFA Tyree Robinson did a great job answering the bell at safety, showing up a number of times in run support with the Cowboys in desperate need of depth at his position.
It's in the slot, where Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis continue to feel the pressure of competition, that the Cowboys are struggling to find the right starter - even trying Lewis on the outside well into the fourth quarter of this game.
✭ ✭ ✭ ✭ ✭
The Cowboys will remain in their home state to conclude their training camp and preseason. Needing to see more out of their second and third team, practices will resume at The Star on Monday before another preseason game at AT&T Stadium.
This time, it will be the Arizona Cardinals coming in for a Sunday Night Football tune up. The Cowboys starters could very well see even more playing time than they have through the first two weeks, giving them a better chance of sustaining success and coming away with a preseason win.
CIN 21, DAL 14: Dak Prescott Continues Strong Preseason in Loss
The games may not count yet, but Dak Prescott looks ready for the 2018 season. The Dallas Cowboys quarterback continued his strong preseason play in the team's 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Prescott played three series, going 10/15 for 86 yards and a touchdown. He got the offense out of trouble a few times with his feet, avoiding sacks and ultimately getting the scoring pass off on a redzone scramble.
Dak's strong play has coincided with shutdown performances from the starting defense. The Cowboys' first-team defenders have yet to allow a score in two preseason games. Tonight, the Bengals were forced into four punts and two turnovers on their first-half possessions.
Overall, the Cowboys are a combined 24-7 in the first halves of their first two preseason contests.
The second half has been the problem, and for two weeks now Dallas' reserves have squandered halftime leads and given up losses. Thankfully, most of the responsible players will not be on the final 53-man roster.
- There were several concerning injuries for the Cowboys tonight. None was scarier than when All-Pro guard Zack Martin went out with a knee injury, but it does not appear to have been serious. Starting defensive backs Byron Jones and Xavier Woods also got banged up; Byron returned to the game but Woods did not. Defensive lineman Datone Jones also left with a knee injury.
- Even more concerning was the play of the second-team offensive line. Chaz Green was typically awful, but we also saw swing tackle Cam Fleming struggling and just an overall lack of protection for the backups quarterbacks. Green got benched in the second half and may have finally played his way off the team.
- Credit to Terrance Williams for getting open in the endzone to give Dak Prescott a receiver for the touchdown throw. Even with his warts, Williams' two years of experience playing with Dak can't be ignored in deciding who makes the team.
- Tight end Blake Jarwin continues to run with the starters on offense and may have quietly taken the job away from Geoff Swaim.
- Darius Jackson took advantage of some extra playing time tonight after Bo Scarbrough left with a hip injury. He broke off a few nice runs to amass 42 yards on just six carries, plus had four receptions.
- We finally get to see Dan Bailey kick a field goal again, and it was an easy 35-yarder with no issues.
- Shout out to Chidobe Awuzie for one of the pretty interceptions that a Cowboys DB has made in some time. Awuzie had to bend like Beckham (Odell, that is) to get a hand on the ball, then tipped it to himself for the pick.
- Preseason fun continues for the Cowboys next Sunday when they host the Arizona Cardinals on NBC's Sunday Night Football.
#DALvsCIN: Can WR Lance Lenoir Continue To Impress?
Entering training camp projecting who would make the final roster from the Dallas Cowboys wide receiving room was a crapshoot. The combination of misfits from other teams, unproven young guys, and a couple of Cowboys veterans makes this position group the most questioned across the entire roster.
But while Cole Beasley, Allen Hurns, and Michael Gallup were stealing headlines, Lance Lenoir was making a name for himself among the Cowboys faithful.
After serving on the practice squad for the Cowboys a year ago, Lenoir seems to have entered 2018 with one goal in mind: to make the official game-day roster. And even if he falls short of this goal, it won't be due to any fault of his own.
Day in and day out Lance Lenoir has been a consistent wide out, catching nearly everything thrown his way and running some of the crisper routes on the team. Under new receivers coach Sanjay Lal, Lenoir has become a technical route runner and dangerous receiving threat.
Maybe most importantly for his future with the team, Lenoir has developed an obvious chemistry with starting quarterback Dak Prescott. Prescott has continued to compliment Lenoir throughout training camp, and you know that the Cowboys front office is well aware of Prescott's trust in Lenoir on the field.
During the preseason opener against the 49ers, Lance Lenoir caught his first touchdown of the season, dazzling with his toe-tap ability. If he is going to steal a roster spot away from one of the more seasoned wide outs, however, he will have to remain that consistent target.
This Saturday, Lenoir gets another shot to prove why he's not only deserving of a roster spot, but of a starting spot. Sure, it might be a bit of a stretch, but if he continues to play like he has during camp and preseason, Lenoir could find himself working with the 1's more frequently.
Look out for Lance Lenoir against the Bengals this week, as he makes it harder and harder for the Cowboys to cut him by the second.
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