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.
#ATLvsDAL: Betting Preview, Trends, And Prediction
This week's gambling preview focuses on the Cowboys week 11 opponent, the Atlanta Falcons. Dallas beat the now 4-5 Eagles last Sunday to improve their own record to 4-5. Atlanta lost on the road to Cleveland last week to drop their record to 4-5 on the season.
It's an 8-8 league, isn't it?
Dallas returns to the scene of the 2017 crime this Sunday, traveling to Atlanta where Chaz Green and Dak Prescott were destroyed almost exactly one year ago. Let's take a look at the line and the quality of these teams to see which way it could go.
Cowboys +3, O/U 48 points.
Dallas saved their season on the road last Sunday night, defeating the Philadelphia Eagles and getting right back in the thick of things in the NFC East race. Still, we can't simply ignore what the other 8 games of data have told us about the Cowboys and their offensive quality.
The addition of Amari Cooper has clearly helped the offense, opening up the passing game a bit and allowing for Dak Prescott to have a reliable "number one" receiver. The team's results overall have been mixed the first two games of the Cooper-era, but he has been consistently good in both match-ups.
Defensively the Cowboys continued to impress last week, though "cornerback opposite of Byron Jones" is quickly becoming a potential need. Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith stole the show last Sunday, and both the present and the future of the Cowboys' linebacking corps is strong. It could be argued the Cowboys have yet to see a passing attack like the one Atlanta brings, however, making Sunday a big test for them defensively.
Similar to the Cowboys, Atlanta has been very much up-and-down this season. In a way, though, they are just the opposite-day Cowboys, with their offense putting up insane numbers most weeks and their banged up defense often letting them down.
Though it looked like they were turning it around in recent weeks, Atlanta had probably their most disappointing loss in quite some time, losing at Cleveland to the young Browns. Still, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones lead a prolific passing attack which can strike fear in any defense.
Byron Jones and company will have their hands full with the Falcons' cast of skill players on Sunday, and as usual, stopping their passing attack will all begin up front with the pass rush. Hopefully Randy Gregory can build on his week 10 performance to produce even more results this week.
- Surprisingly, the score total has now hit the over 4 of the Cowboys' last 6 games.
- The Cowboys are 2-5 against the spread their last 7 games against the Falcons.
- The Cowboys are also 2-4 against the spread their last games at Atlanta.
- Dallas is just 1-4 straight up on the road this season.
- The score total has gone over 4 of Atlanta's last 5 home games.
- The Falcons are just 2-5 against the spread their last 7 games.
Who the hell knows, man.
This team is incredibly difficult to project week to week, probably about as volatile as they've been since all those 8-8 seasons. This line started at Cowboys +4.5 and has since moved down to just +3, meaning they are valued as a pick 'em on a neutral field.
Given how inconsistent, yet talented, both teams are this line feels exactly right. I'll take the Cowboys and the points because why not? I expect this to be a tight game throughout, and could come down to the kicking game in the fourth quarter.
X-Factor: Xavier Su’a-Filo Excellent in Cowboys Win over Eagles
Heading into this week's game against the Philadelphia Eagles the Dallas Cowboys were down starting Left Guard Connor Williams as well as starting Center Travis Frederick. Getting his first start for the Dallas Cowboys since being signed off the street during the season as guard depth was Xavier Su'a Filo and he played excellent.
Filling in against a front seven as good as the Eagles is a pretty difficult ask, but Su'a-Filo had 31 games in the previous two seasons with the Houston Texans, so he's not your typical interior backup.
In particular, Xavier did a great job of getting to the second level quickly and sealing off the linebacker, which allowed Ezekiel Elliott to spring for several big gains on the day.
Here on Ezekiel Elliott's big run, you can see Su'a-Filo and Left Tackle Tyron Smith start a combo block on the three-technique defensive tackle. After the initial engagement, Su'a-Filo comes off his block quickly and gets to the linebacker and prevents him from filling the hole and doubling back to cut Elliott off and Elliott runs for 32 yards down the middle of the field.
Again, we see Tyron and Xavier work a combo block before Su'a-Filo comes off his block to engage the linebacker and prevent him from getting back to Elliott after hits the hole to the left side.
This time Xavier Su'a-Filo works with Joe Looney to prevent the one-technique defensive tackle from slanting down the line and disrupting the point of attack. Su'a-Filo then quickly releases to linebacker and seals him to the outside and creates a big hole for Elliott to run through for yet another big gain.
This is another big gain for Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys offense that seemed to be able to run right at the heart of the Philadelphia Eagles defense all night. This time Su'a-Filo stumbles off the snap but is able to regain his balance and neutralize the middle linebacker yet again allowing Elliott to get to the second level quickly and get the Dallas Cowboys into field goal range late in the game.
Su'a-Filo is matched up against one of the première defensive tackles in Fletcher Cox. Cox looks to get leverage on Xavier but is unable to fully get to Dak Prescott as he steps up into the pocket. The offensive tackles didn't expect Dak to step up into the pocket and were unable to hold up the Philadelphia Eagles defensive ends and Prescott is sacked. Su'a-Filo, though isn't completely walked back and Dak has a lane to step into in the pocket. Obviously it's not a perfect play for the Cowboys, but Su'a-Filo eventually tosses Fletcher Cox to the ground. That kind of play strength has been missing from rookie Connor Williams.
In pass protection, Xavier held up well. Cox attempts to use power to knock him off-balance, but Su'a-Filo holds up to the power and Dak Prescott finds Allen Hurns for a big gain down to the one yard line setting up Dak Prescott's rushing touchdown.
The Cowboys run game has had a difficult time getting going for much of the season. Ezekiel Elliott and the Cowboys offensive line played their best game of the season. It looked like the dominant run game we've grown accustomed to. Pro Football Focus attributed to hurries to Su'a-Filo on the night, but zero quarterback hits and zero sacks. Running to the left, Elliott ran for 113 yards at a clip of 8.61 yards per carry including three carries for more than 10 yards and Su'a-Filo was a big part of that.
Xavier did a nice job stepping in for starter Connor Williams and had a nice day both in pass protection and in the run game helping to give strength and athleticism at the point of attack. His ability to get to the next level helped spring Elliott for several big runs on the night, which was a huge key to the football game. Coming into the week 10, the Philadelphia Eagles had allowed the second fewest rushing yards in the NFL.
Takeaway Tuesday: Amari Cooper Proving to be Worth It
Just when all hope was lost, the Dallas Cowboys went on the road and surprised fans with a 27-20 win over the Philadelphia Eagles. Both on defense and offense, it was a game that showed us plenty of silver linings to be excited about. While a playoff run certainly remains pretty difficult to accomplish, at least the team isn't leaving without a fight.
The last Cowboys' victory came approximately a month ago, so it is with great pleasure that I share with you this week's edition of "Takeaway Tuesday!"
Vander Esch Among Best Cowboys' Players
Just before last game, I wrote about how Leighton Vander Esch could be in contention for Defensive Rookie of the Year. Playing on Sunday Night Football (on national TV), the rookie helped his case a lot with 13 solo tackles and an interception.
Little by little, he's making sure the Cowboys know they can move on from frequently injured Sean Lee down the road. Vander Esch can play. Forget about him being an impressive rookie, he's currently one of the best players on this roster.
Scott Linehan Shouldn't be Off the Hook
As any Cowboys fan, I loved the win. There were quite a few things to like about the offense on Sunday, but there's no denying play calling could've been way better. As much as the Dallas Cowboys are still in the hunt in a mediocre division, Offensive Coordinator Scott Linehan should remain on the hot seat.
Ezekiel Elliott took the Cowboys to the 5-yard line by leaping over a human at full speed and right after the Cowboys stopped using him on that drive. Against the Titans, the offense found itself on third and 16 twice and ran a running back screen pass. In Philadelphia, they were on third and 16 once and they ran a RB screen once again.
Dallas has left a lot of points on the field this year and in big part thanks to play calling. Linehan shouldn't be safe right now.
Amari Cooper Proving to be Worth It
After two games wearing the Star, Cowboys Nation is feeling a lot better about trading a first rounder for Amari Cooper. On the field, he's proven to be an impact player. An impact that has been felt immediately, by the way. Out of 11 catches, Cooper has gotten the Cowboys' offense ten first downs.
Versus the Eagles, though, his impact is felt beyond his single stat line.
On Sunday Night, he accounted for six catches and 75 yards. He helped QB Dak Prescott get 270 yards through the air and most importantly, to spread the football.
7 different Cowboys have a reception of at least 13 yards tonight.
That stat above is an underrated one. No wide receiver in next year's Draft would have the kind of impact Amari Cooper is having on this football team. In the long run, lots of people could be eating their words after heavily criticizing the Cowboys' trade for the two-times Pro Bowler wide receiver. Hopefully, that's the case.
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