Every week we'll be looking at the Cowboys drafted rookies and seeing what impact, if any, they had on the previous game. At the end we'll name a "Rookie of the Week" for the standout performer.
Here's a summary of the performances and statuses from all nine of the Cowboys drafted rookies after the Week 10 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers:
Ezekiel Elliott, RB
In what's quickly becoming one of the greatest rookie seasons in NFL history, Elliott saved some career firsts for a tough matchup in Pittsburgh. Zeke crossed the 200-yard mark in total yardage for the first time, helped largely by an 83-yard receiving touchdown. That score, along with two rushing, gave him his highest touchdown total in a game as well.
The 83-yard reception was the longest by a Cowboys player since 2012. That one was an 85-yarder from Dez Bryant. It's only fitting that Zeke Elliott would come close; by far the Cowboys most exciting offensive weapon since Dez joined the team.
With 114 yards rushing, Elliott remains firmly on top of the NFL leaderboard. He is the only RB to cross the 1,000-yard mark this season. What's more, he's done it in just nine games. His closest competion, DeMarco Murray (930 yds) and Melvin Gordon (838 yds), have yet to get their bye week.
Jaylon Smith, LB
Smith remains on the Non-Football Injury List and it is still unknown if he will play at all for the Cowboys in 2016. This is the last week that Smith can remain on that list and not impact the Cowboys roster limit. He will likely be put on Injured Reserve on Monday.
Maliek Collins, DT
Coming off his two-sack showcase last week, Collins did not add any big plays to his highlight reel. However, he was part of helping the Cowboys limit Le'Veon Bell to just 57 yards on 17 carries. Dallas boasts the NFL's third best run defense after 10 weeks and Collins, a starter in the base defense, is a major part of that.
Charles Tapper, DE
Tapper is on Injured Reserve with ongoing back issues. He began to miss time early in the preseason and has never been able to return to practice. The end result is, essentially, a redshirt season for the fourth-round pick.
Dak Prescott, QB
Prescott put together another gorgeuous stat line; 319 yards and two touchdowns on 69% passing. Dak's 121.7 passer rating was his third-best this season, which given the road environment and opponent is especially impressive. A blindside hit led to a fumble on the opening drive, but otherwise Prescott was his usual fantastic self.
What really strikes you about Prescott is how he's stepped up in pressure situations. I remember watching a rookie Eli Manning and being impressed with how, despite struggling for three quarters, he had the ability to turn it on in the clutch. For all the jokes and memes he's generated, Eli has two Super Bowl rings and some of the biggest plays in football history on his resume.
Prescott is playing great football in nearly every situation but that late-game spark is something that will only mean big things in the years to come. The Cowboys QB job is now officially his to lose, but that pressure doesn't worry me in the slightest. Dak has an uncanny maturity for his age and there's no reason to think he won't keep thriving.
Anthony Brown, CB
Sunday was the closest thing to rookie hazing that Brown has experienced this year. Drawing the tough assignment of guarding Antonio Brown, arguably the best WR in the NFL, the Cowboys' sixth-round rookie corner had the same issues that some of the league's best cover men face.
Antonio's big day of 154 yards and 14 catches didn't all come on Anthony's watch. When Orlando Scandrick went out with an injury, Anthony Brown moved into the slot and Leon McFadden played outside. It was McFadden who gave up Antonio Brown's only touchdown of the day, along with some other late receptions.
Kavon Frazier, S
Active and now the number-four safety with Barry Church's injury, Frazier finally recorded his first NFL tackle. He will be used sparingly, but at least the rookie finally put something in the box score.
Darius Jackson, RB
Having yet to dress this season, it appears Jackson's only shot at playing this year will be if Dallas has nothing to play for in one of the final regular season games. There is also the chance he could be released to make room for Darren McFadden.
Rico Gathers, TE
Gathers is still on the team's practice squad; the only drafted player to not make the 53-man roster this season. With Geoff Swaim suffering a pectoral injury that requires surgery and James Hanna not yet ready to return, the door is now open for Gathers to get called up to the active roster. Dallas has yet to make a move to fill their need.
Like we say almost every week, both Dak and Zeke had great games. Both played huge roles in the Cowboys victory. However, one guy not only made the biggest plays but also scored when it mattered most:
Elliott scored the Cowboys' final two touchdowns on runs of 14 and 32 yards. His 83-yard reception came with the team trailing 12-3 and sitting at 2nd-and-18 behind their own 20-yard line.
Clearly, Elliott delivered in the game's biggest moments. While the offensive line certainly plays a huge part in his success, Elliott has already given more than enough examples of how his special talent makes a difference. Last year we watched Darren McFadden be productive behind this line, but Elliott is being truly dominant.
In Pittsburgh, he was easily the difference between victory and defeat.
Previous ROTW Winners
Week 9 - DT Maliek Collins
Week 8 - QB Dak Prescott
Week 6 - QB Dak Prescott
Week 5 - RB Ezekiel Elliott
Week 4 - RB Ezekiel Elliott
Week 3 - RB Ezekiel Elliott
Week 2 - QB Dak Prescott
Week 1 - QB Dak Prescott
Snap Judgments: Cowboys’ Linebacker Depth Stands Out in Win
The Dallas Cowboys evened their record at 1-1 with their 20-13 victory over the New York Giants on Sunday night. The Cowboys linebackers had a huge impact on the outcome of the game and it wasn't just the guys at the top of the depth chart either. America's Team got contributions from guys at the bottom of the depth chart.
What a difference a year makes.
The Dallas Cowboys worked hard this offseason to fix the linebacker depth that failed them in the 2017 season. When Sean Lee or Anthony Hitchens -- or both -- were sidelined with injuries, Jaylon Smith, Damien Wilson, and the rest of the linebacker group struggled to keep up with opposing offenses. Specifically, in games against the Los Angeles Rams and Green Bay Packers the major depth inadequacy was revealed.
One year later, the Dallas Cowboys have a linebacker corp that allows them to go five deep with Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, Joe Thomas, and Damien Wilson all making considerable contributions for the Dallas Cowboys in Sunday nights victory.
Here are the final snap counts for the five linebackers that played a defensive snap against the Giants.
- Jaylon Smith - 57 (84%)
- Sean Lee - 41 (60)
- Leighton Vander Esch - 28 (48%)
- Damien Wilson - 17 (25%)
- Joe Thomas - 14 (21%)
Jaylon Smith led the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night with 10 tackles (seven solo) and played really well roaming sideline to sideline and making plays. He was tasked with the difficult assignment of containing New York Giants Running Back Saquon Barkley and allowed four catches for 41 yards in his coverage area. Smith was credited with three stops or plays that result in a "loss" for the offense (per Pro Football Focus). Smith led the team in snaps for the second straight week.
Sean Lee had a better game on Sunday night than he did in week one. PFF credited him with four stops, four tackles and an assist. Lee allowed two catches for 24 yards on two targets to Wayne Gallman and Evan Engram. Lee pulled his hamstring at the end of the game and was held out the rest of the way for precautionary reasons. He'll be an interesting name to watch on this week's injury report. Age catches up with everyone, but hopefully Sean Lee can stave it off for at least another season.
Rookie Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch saw a big bump in his snap count from week one (17) to week two (28). The rookie played well too. As many players seemed to struggle with tackling Saquon Barkley, Vander Esch was able to bring down the number two overall pick on several occasions. Vander Esch had seven solo tackles in his second career game.
Damien Wilson was the surprise player of the night. He had three tackles on the night, including one on special teams, a sack, and a forced fumble. Though his time on the field might have been short, his impact was certainly felt. His forced fumble led to a field goal that gave the Dallas Cowboys a 13-0 nothing lead. Wilson was also credited with two stops on the night.
Joe Thomas has been a good player for the team off the bench as well. Though he only had one tackle, it was good enough to be credited with a stop. He's a player that can play both the WILL and MIKE linebacker spots. As the fourth or fifth linebacker on the depth chart, Thomas is a great role player.
Other Snap Count Notes
- Taco Charlton may not have started, but he played 84% of the team's defensive snaps. That number is up from 73% in week one. Charlton had a sack, a hit, and a hurry as well as three stops on the night.
- Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns led the wide receiver group in snap percentage from week one to week two. The big difference at wide receiver was seeing Michael Gallup take the third most snaps on offense instead of Deonte Thompson. Thompson still had the bigger impact with four catches for 33 yards on five targets including two for first downs.
- Geoff Swaim was the far and away leader at tight end in snaps with a 94% snap count. Only the offensive line and Dak Prescott had more snaps on the night than Swaim. He's the TE1 for the team, though he didn't have an impact in the passing game.
- Rico Gathers only played five snaps, but there was concerted effort to get him the ball as he had two targets in his five snaps. He may not have come away with a catch, but it's a start.
- Jourdan Lewis continues to be the odd man out on defense. He only played one snap.
- Dorance Armstrong saw a snap jump from week one to week two going from 28% of the defensive snaps to 40% of the snaps. He had two hurries and an assisted tackle.
Why Cowboys Need Tavon Austin More Involved Offensively
Two games into the 2018 season and I'm still not quite sure what to make of the Dallas Cowboys offense. To me, there is a void of playmakers on the offensive side of the ball. With the exception of Ezekiel Elliott and maybe Cole Beasley, there is a lack of consistency that is really hurting this offensive unit. Changes need to be made or someone needs to step up in a hurry.
Enter Wide Receiver/Running Back Tavon Austin.
Just looking at Tavon Austin you would probably put him in the category with Cole Beasley, a small/diminutive WR who should strictly be playing out of the slot. That's typically where the smaller WRs get placed in the NFL because teams would like you to believe that due to their diminutive stature, they can't succeed on the outside.
Well, guess what? The passing game is changing around the league and we're starting to see more of these smaller/quicker WRs earn more prominent roles. The reasoning is these types of receivers are generally known to be better route runners, who are more capable of creating separation on their own.
The Dallas Cowboys must be buying into this philosophy because during the offseason they pretty much revamped the entire wide receiver position with that thought at least in the back of their minds. They didn't bring in a lot of "undersized" WRs, but they did focus on adding pass catchers who can run better routes and create separation on their own.
Wide Receiver Tavon Austin is one of those pass catchers Dallas brought in to improve their passing game. Austin really hasn't been utilized as much as I thought he would in the first two games, but he is starting to look like a dynamic weapon the Cowboys can't ignore much longer.
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Last Sunday night against the New York Giants, the Dallas Cowboys finally decided to utilize Tavon Austin's speed in the passing game. The result, a 64 yard touchdown pass from Quarterback Dak Prescott.
Austin's speed to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally is something the Dallas Cowboys need to incorporate more of into their offensive game plan. Forcing opposing defenses to have to cover more of the field should create more opportunities for big plays in both the running and passing game.
Stretching the field vertically with Austin's speed will open up things up underneath in the passing game. It takes at least one, possibly two defenders out of the play, leaving nine to defend against 10 Cowboys offensive players. That benefits Ezekiel Elliott in the running game and the other WRs running those underneath routes.
Stretching the field horizontally mostly helps the running game, which is great news when you have a dynamic running back like Zeke. Utilizing Austin's speed on jet sweeps or reverses forces the edge defenders from crashing down on inside runs. It also forces the linebackers to hesitate more because they have to respect the threat of both an inside or outside run.
Against the Giants, Tavon Austin turned three touches into 94 total yards, two receptions for 79 receiving yards and one rushing attempt for 15 yards. Imagine if the Cowboys were to give him about 10 touches a game. It seems like such a simple thing, but I think it could have a huge impact (for the better) for the entire offense.
Do you think the Dallas Cowboys need to get Tavon Austin more involved?
Takeaway Tuesday: Prescott’s Legs Give Offense a Much Needed Spark
When the Dallas Cowboys took the field last Sunday against the New York Giants, they did so very differently than last week, starting with a 64-yard touchdown pass from Dak Prescott to connect with WR Tavon Austin in the third play of the game. Although there are still many things this team must continue to work on, they looked like a very improved unit in week 2.
Here are my main takeaways from the Dallas Cowboys' first win of the year. Let me know what yours are in the comments section below or tweet me @MauNFL and let's talk football!
Cowboys' Secondary Capable of Holding Top WR
If there was one player who could've changed the outcome for the New York Giants, it was WR Odell Beckham Jr. Widely recognized as one of the best wideouts in the nation, Beckham was the biggest challenge the cornerbacks, led by Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie, have had in the first two weeks.
None of them followed Beckham all over the field, each stayed on their side of the field and still managed to limit him to four receptions for 51 yards in nine targets. The Giant's offense is not known for being one of the best in the league, but it's the fact that this defense was able to limit exactly the player they needed to. They did their job.
Also, props to the defensive line for keeping the pressure on Eli Manning.
Taco Charlton Was Dominant VS Nate Solder
With Randy Gregory ruled out for the game, Taco Charlton had a golden opportunity to stay on the field for more snaps. He took advantage of this, as he finished the night with three tackles, one for a loss, a sack and a fumble recovery.
Charlton still has a long way to go in order to prove he was worthy of a first round pick, but we can't deny he hasn't stopped developing. It will be interesting to see how he does now that Gregory is expected to return for week 3.
Dak Prescott's Legs Give Offense a Needed Spark
One of the things I liked the most about the Cowboys' game versus the Giants was how Dak Prescott was utilized. Criticized after a poor performance in Carolina, Prescott came out with a chip on his shoulder.
We've been talking a lot about how Scott Linehan must play Prescott to his strengths and that's precisely what he did by letting Dak run for 45 yards in seven carries. It's completely understandable if the Cowboys don't want to run him as much as the Panthers do with Cam Newton, but the truth is, if #4 hurts defenses with his leg, Ezekiel Elliott won't receiver all of the defense's attention.
Also, shoutout to how they used Tavon Austin. With Elliott, Prescott and Austin being a threat on option plays, this offense could take a step on the right direction.
Rico Gathers Will Be Used
The Cowboys' Rico Gathers project is moving in the right direction. The 2016 sixth-round pick was active for the first time in his career last Sunday. The first question that popped into our heads was whether or not he'd be actually used in the game. He was.
He even managed to get open in the end zone in a play that could've been TD but Prescott didn't throw a good pass. However, the mere fact that he was able to get open and that the coaches actually put him on the field told us a lot about his future. Cowboys Nation should be excited to see him involved.
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