This is the week where I would have Christine Michael on the 46. He received some first-team snaps on Wednesday, therefore this would be a great time to see him take the field. Despite having a quality day on the stat sheet there were plays where Joseph Randle simply did not read what was in front of him. Short yardage opportunities would be in the hands of Michael this week.
While Ryan Russell failed to have a great debut, he offers much more being active than Lucky Whitehead at this point. The Coaching Staff does not trust him returning punts and he is a nonfactor on offense, Russell would be a better use of that last roster spot.
Cowboys Offense vs Saints Defense
It does not look as if Defensive End Cameron Jordan will play for the Saints this week due to a back injury, which is a huge loss for their pass rush. Rob Ryan will have to try and bring exotic blitzes in an attempt to manufacture pressure, which could put his defense into a vulnerable position.
Ronald Leary is returning to an Offensive Line that has been stellar with their Pass Blocking during the first three games of the season but where his return will be most valuable is in the run game. Much like against the Falcons, this Offensive Line should be able to give the Running Backs holes to run through.
The key will be if they can keep up their effort through four quarters. If the Cowboys are able to stay ahead of the chains, Brandon Weeden should be able to make the necessary passes in order to keep the defense off balance. Too much has been made of Weeden going underneath to Lance Dunbar against the Falcons, he should take what the defense gives him without forcing the ball downfield.
His one turnover occurred when he did indeed force a throw when it simply was not there.
With that being said, Jason Witten, Cole Beasley, and Lance Dunbar cannot be the sum of the passing game against the Saints. I thought highly of Brice Butler when he was acquired, and he will need to be a factor in the Superdome. Terrance Williams will have to be a consistent target, his drops against the Falcons were frustrating.
More is expected from Williams. He cannot have stretches of games where he simply disappears. The Saints do not have a Cornerback on the level of Desmond Trufant, so there is no excuse for him not defeating man coverage this week. As I stated last week, he will have to help Brandon Weeden. If Butler steps up and Williams is quiet, the Coaching Staff will take notice.
I do hope to see a throw down the field if Browner is ever covering Butler in man, with how Browner has played this could be a huge play for the Cowboys.
Key Match Up: Cowboys Offensive Line vs Saints Front Seven
The Cowboys Offensive Line simply needs to play like the unit from last year. There is absolutely no excuse for the Cowboys not having an effective running game from start to finish.
Brandon Weeden has my confidence, I feel he can do enough in the passing game to beat the Saints Secondary. However, if the running game goes missing that makes his job a lot more difficult. Randle will also have to prove he has the vision and patience to be a lead back. I would have a short leash on him this game if he starts turning what could be twenty-five-yard gains into pickups of two or three.
When the Saints blitz, it will be up to the Offensive Line to communicate and know how to adjust. I do not expect Weeden to do much at the line of scrimmage, but if he can help slide protections it will make his and the line's job much easier.
Cowboys Defense vs Saints Offense
While concerning, I do not feel last week's performance is what this defense truly is. They simply did not play well, the Toss Sweep gashed them far too many times. I cannot believe Rod Marinelli will allow his defense to get run over like that again.
Switching out Davon Coleman for former Chiefs Practice Squad player David Irving sent a clear message: If players do not produce, neither Will McClay or this Coaching Staff is afraid to churn the roster.
Drew Brees' status for the game is still in question. If either he or Luke McCown play, the Defensive Line will have to get pressure. While the Saints don't have a weapon like Julio Jones they have enough skill players that can make plays if either Quarterback is given five seconds or more every time he drops back. The play of Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr will be vital to this defense's success come Sunday night.
The Saints could also be without their starting Right Guard Jahri Evans, which could hurt their running game; something I'm sure they will attempt to establish after the Cowboys' struggles last week. Tyrone Crawford, Nick Hayden, Anthony Hitchens, and Sean Lee are vital to stop the run game. Crawford, Hitchens, and Lee will have improved games over last week and will minimize the effectiveness of Mark Ingram on the ground.
Key Match Up: Cowboys Defensive Line vs Saints Offensive Line
Rod Marinelli does not like to blitz, therefore if the pass rush is to be successful this week the Defensive Line will have to be disruptive. Tyrone Crawford will have to get up the field whether run or pass in order to disrupt the flow of the play. Jeremy Mincey returning to the starting lineup should make a noticeable difference.
I also need to see more consistent pressure from DeMarcus Lawrence. Hopefully, Jack Crawford will move back to the 3 Technique for this game as he is a far more effective player there. If they indeed keep Russell active, I would like to see him get around fifteen to twenty snaps in pass-rushing situations.
Perhaps I'm seeing some fools gold, but I'm confident this unit will have a quality showing against the Saints.
Slight Advantage Cowboys
Special Teams Match Up
Chris Jones has proved his worth every game of the season thus far. His exceptional directional Punting and hang time should keep Marcus Murphy from having another big Punt Return.
The Saints only have a Punting net of 33 yards, allowing around seven yards per return, so there may be a chance to gain some yards against them.
Slight Advantage Cowboys
The Saints just do not look very good right now. The Cowboys need to win this game with the Patriots coming into town next week, especially after letting one slip away against the Falcons. A game this team definitely should have won.
If Brandon Weeden plays clean and the Defense returns to form, this should be a double digit win for the Cowboys.
The Way Of Smooth
Straightforward... Win and go 3-1. Lose and fall to 2-2.
The Cowboys have to play this game with some urgency. The NFC East is well within their grasp if they can pick up this victory. After breaking the matchup down, I feel it would take a Weeden meltdown for the Saints to win this game.
Drew Brees could provide his team with an emotional boost, but there is no guarantee that if he plays he will be effective while dealing with a Rotator Cuff injury. Either way, they will need to play a physical game and dictate to the Saints in all three phases of the game.
Cowboys Wishlist: Dress Rehearsal Edition
In the NFL, the third preseason week is often referred to as the "Dress Rehearsal." It's usually the week in which starters get the most playing time. That has changed lately, with plenty of teams deciding to take care of their key players instead of risking them on the field. However, the Dallas Cowboys have played their starters on their first two games and there's no reason to believe that will change versus the Texans today.
Here is my wishlist for the Cowboys vs Texans "Dress Rehearsal!" Let me know what your wishes for tonight's game are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL!
Wish #1: Justin Phillips Locks Up a Roster Spot
Phillips has been one of the most surprising players this offseason and preseason. The Cowboys are set at linebacker, but Phillips has made sure to be a tough guy to cut. Last week, he had a remarkable interception against the Rams. Despite making a first step toward the line, he managed to adjust and made the play. He has followed it up with more plays in practice.
If he keeps it up, the Cowboys won't be able to cut him. He has the potential to be a force on special teams and a quality backup.
Wish #2: Devin Smith Makes Things Interesting
The battle for the final wide receiver spots is at full-go. Devin Smith has shined lately, and has risen as a serious candidate to make the roster. However, it seems like other wide receivers have the upper-hand as of now. Earlier this week, I made my Cowboys WR Power Rankings and had Devin Smith at #7.
His TD catch versus the Rams last week was pretty impressive, and I wish he makes a few more plays to make the debate all the more interesting.
Wish #3: Tony Pollard Does It Again
Fifth-round rookie Tony Pollard
stole was the show last weekend as he racked up 51 total yards (five carries, one catch) and a touchdown on Dallas' first offensive drive. He looked impressive as the starting running back, giving us just what we wanted to see.
While many have advertised him as a gadget player, Pollard proved he can actually be a "standard" RB. He ran between the tackles, showed power, balance and great vision. I'm ready to watch it again, this time versus the Texans.
Wish #4: Taco Charlton Shines Rushing The Passer
Taco Charlton has made a couple of plays in preseason on his third year with the Dallas Cowboys. Against the Rams, he batted down two passes and looked good separating from opposing offensive linemen. Charlton has gotten praise from some analysts during these first two preseason weeks.
But I want to watch some quality pass rush from his part. Right now, the Cowboys' roster counts with some promising players, including rookies Jalen Jelks and Joe Jackson. While they're currently below Taco, he must prove he belongs on the roster.
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?
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