By Saturday afternoon, the Dallas Cowboys will have to trim their roster down from 75 players to 53, in preparations for the 2016 regular season opener at home against the New York Giants.
Based on what we saw tonight, in the team's preseason finale loss to the Texans, Dallas will have some difficult decisions to make in shaping this roster.
In what is typically the least-watchable of preseason games, Jameill Showers played every offensive snap for the Cowboys. Behind his typical backup offensive line, Showers was average-at-best, although him and rookie RB Darius Jackson were responsible for putting the team ahead early.
After a David Irving forced fumble was recovered by Jeff Heath, Showers was able to capitalize on the field position by marching down the field and dumping a screen pass to Jackson on the final play.
Darius, who finds himself in an incredibly crowded backfield, did the rest of the work by sprinting to the end zone for his first NFL touchdown.
Initially, the Cowboys were able to hold onto their lead, as Deji Olatoye - who was tested throughout the game with his fair share of struggles - broke up a pass to end a Houston drive.
The Cowboys' defense then came up with a red zone stop, as they held Brandon Weeden out of the end zone in his first action of the night. Mike McAdoo sacked Weeden on fourth down to preserve the Cowboys 7-0 lead.
Tom Savage would come back in at QB for Houston, and quickly tie the game following a Showers lost fumble. Starting at the Cowboys' 19 yard line, Dallas once again forced a fourth and goal situation before Akeem Hunt rushed in from three yards out for the score.
Brandon Weeden would return before the end of the half, and take advantage of a Cowboys defense that was being put in tough situations throughout the night with the offense failing to sustain drives. Working against Olatoye, Keith Mumphery was able to get open and catch a pass in stride from Weeden for a 64 yard touchdown.
Trailing 14-7, the Cowboys' coaching staff got a good look at Jameill Showers in a true two minute drill before the half. As has been in the case in the team's first three preseason games with Dak Prescott in at QB, Showers was able to move the offense into range for a Dan Bailey 52 yard field goal.
The Cowboys entered the locker room trailing by just four points at 14-10, but Houston was able to regain control of the game in the second half to seal the win.
Savage returned under center to start the third quarter, and immediately led a long Texans' touchdown drive to increase the lead to 21-10. Akeem Hunt found the painted area once again on fourth down, this time with a receiving touchdown.
In need of a spark that the offense just couldn't provide, sixth round rookie defensive back Anthony Brown intercepted a Weeden pass on the next Texans' possession and sprinted down the sideline for a pick six.
It was an electrifying play for the promising rookie, who was already considered a lock for the final 53 man roster, which is impressive in its own right for a player selected 189th overall. The play was also significant because it allowed the Cowboys to see more of Showers and the offense in a close game situation.
Unfortunately, 21-17 would be as close as they got. Darius Jackson failed to get anything going on the ground, forcing Showers into some desperate situations. Two turnovers on downs book-ended an Antonio Allen interception return for a touchdown, as the Texans came into AT&T Stadium and defeated the Cowboys 28-17.
Showers finished his night 10 of 25 for 91 yards, throwing the one touchdown to Jackson while also throwing a pick six out of his own end zone. Rico Gathers made his first reception in the silver and blue, and looked pretty dominant doing so, as he kept his balance going over a Houston defender for extra yards after the catch.
Defensively, linebackers Deon King and Derek Akunne showed up in a big way, as King amassed 11 tackles while Akunne added 10 of his own. Both players could be fighting for one spot on the team's practice squad. Kavon Frazier continued to show some improved range at safety, while delivering some big hits in the process. His performance over this preseason could have the Cowboys seriously considering moving on from J.J. Wilcox, in order to go longer at other positions while saving cap room in the process.
As always, Inside The Star will have you updated leading all the way up to the Dallas Cowboys much anticipated regular season opener on September 11th. Regular season football is upon us, the New York Giants are coming to town, and Cowboys Nation is ready to go!
Share your thoughts on anything related to this game - or the entirety of the Cowboys' preseason - by commenting below, tweeting me @ShoreSportsNJ, or emailing Sean.Martin@InsideTheStar.com.
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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