Dolphins vs Cowboys MePlay

I know the title is a little weird but let me explain. I can only call a game through my view hence not a replay, a meplay. (Note to ed. Please go copyright that for me)

Ed Note: We take a moments respite here while I make a quick dash to DC – trade mark time.

There has been a frenzy in the Cowboys training camp, let me correct myself, since the draft. Romo and Dez are healthy, the drafting of Ezekiel Elliott, the forever lingering backup QB dilemma, the greatest o-line ever and so on and so on. The final week of training camp Dez and Claiborne get in a little tiff and come out the following day wearing each others jerseys. (Insert any CLEAN smart remark) Dak Prescott started off shaky but rode into Los Angeles like the Old Spice guy.

The offense is finally healthy and should be able to capture a top five NFL ranking and that’s even with the uncertainty of Elliott’s play. We can all hope he will run for at least 1,400 yards this season but for every Emmitt Smith there is a Blair Thomas. I’m not comparing but explaining that there’s no such thing as a sure thing in the NFL. The good thing for the Cowboys is that they protected themselves with the free-agent signing of Alfred Morris.

Morris has shown why he is a perfect fit for this offense by bringing a patience to the running game that Darren McFadden struggled with. I’m not one of those writers that feel comfortable enough to question an athletes skills, especially since I timed myself on the forty-yard dash recently and let’s just say that most 300 lb offensive-lineman would beat my time with ease.

Ed note2: It’s on! Finally! Someone I can take in the 40! … no sandbagging !

Morris ran for 85 yards on 13 carries and had no notable mistakes in pass protection. I will have a hard time understanding why Morris is not the starter in New York in September. He stayed healthy during training camp and showed improvement from his past by being able to pick up the blitz and be a suitable receiver out of the backfield. If Garrett is serious about players earning their playing time on the field then Morris should be the starter and let Elliott’s play earn him more playing time. What’s that old saying “You can’t earn playing time with the trainers”, well Elliott would have to earn his carries going forward and if I was Stephen Jones, I would start sniffing around for a potential trade partner for McFadden due to the fact that Darius Jackson has shown enough to be on the 53 man roster.

In my opinion the first string defense was slightly above average. It was good to see Tyrone Crawford get a sack against the Dolphins first string offensive line and Jack Crawford showed why he is a valued member of this defensive line rotation. The defense accounted for three sacks with the two coming from Shaneil Jenkins and Kyle Wilber against the Dolphins second and third string reserves and the line did not look as efficient with their stunts which should be cleaned up going forward.

With the influx of injuries during camp to their rotation, it’s a miracle that the defense has been able to muster any continuity. As the team goes into it’s third preseason game, it would be smart for the team to rest both Crawford’s and allow Jenkins, Thornton and McAdoo to prove their worthiness of consideration for the 53 man roster.

The reality is that the Cowboys pass rush is still questionable and with Demarcus Lawrence’s suspension at the beginning of the season it will be important for the Cowboys to have a strong rush up the middle to compensate for a lack of pressure on the outside. Ryan Russell has slowed down and i’m not sure if it is because of the amount of playing time he has received during camp or his inability to add more pass rushing skills to his repertoire. At this time the free agent pool has dried and I am hoping the Cowboys Pro Personnel team has devoted a large amount of time looking at the lines of the Minnesota Vikings and Seattle Seahawks with the hopes of plucking a player they were hoping to sneak onto their practice squads. The pass rush has fans on Twitter so worried there are calls for the team to consider resigning Greg Hardy. According to Stephen Jones that ship has sailed. I’m starting to wonder why Rolando McClain’s ship is still in the dock? Has he kicked the “purple drank” demon?

purple drank

Watching this defense it’s imperative for the Cowboys to learn about their backups. We know what a healthy Sean Lee will do once the big lights come on but there are still questions about Anthony Hitchens and although he has been solid, I can’t say that I haven’t thought about donating the nerve in my knee to Jaylon Smith so that he can start his career. Although it’s likely that he will be put on the IR once the season begins, I hope he recovers because everyone wants to see a good guy succeed.

Damien Wilson played his first game since the incident that could have made him a fake pirate and he showed why the coaches are excited about his growth. The problem is that Derek Akunne and Deon King haven’t shown enough (yet) to make it past the second cut.  When the defense goes to nickel, don’t be surprised to see Wilson paired with Sean Lee. Wilson is an athlete that can run and it looks like he has been studying because there hasn’t been the mistakes that you would associate with someone who has missed the majority of camp. By my count there are only five linebackers that will make this team and I am hoping that one of the rookies or first year players replace Andrew Gachkar. I’m of the belief you should churn the roster but it should happen with players ranked 45-53 on the roster and salary should be a consideration.

The Cowboys secondary has played with an attitude since the beginning of camp and it’s carried over to their preseason games. Claiborne looks ready for the season and Brandon Carr looks aggressive, which is a good thing. The safety position is a little muddled currently due to Jeff Heath’s injury. Although I have been a JJ Wilcox supporter since they drafted him, I have to admit it’s been hard to defend his recent play. Wilcox looks like a player that could benefit from a change of scenery. I’m not sure if this coaching staff has made it’s mind up about him but if they continue to play him out of position he will wind up unemployed. His reaction skills have decreased and it looks like he’s still thinking too much instead of playing. Kavon Frazier hasn’t shown enough to unseat him (yet) and the team has not shown the testicular fortitude to go with the unknown. Would anyone be upset if they signed Antonio Cromartie?

One last thing….It was great to see Orlando Scandrick playing without limitations. Scandrick is the heart of this defense and his fiery play may be what this defense has missed. Could the Cowboys get away with only four cornerbacks on the roster at the beginning of the season. The teams roster will evolve as suspended players like Lawrence returns but if this team keeps a FB on the roster, I might be forced to write Jerry a letter.

So Mote It Be

Checking The Boxes – Cowboys Preseason Wk1

The Cowboys got out of the gates with a bang for the 2016 NFL Preseason with sophomore Special Teams return man Lucky Whitehead delivering 101 yards worth of excitement at the opening whistle. You never know how that first play of the year is going to turn out. Getting a Special Teams touchdown is one of the better ways to deliver.

Rams fourth year veteran and Special Teams core member RB Chase Reynolds did a beautiful job getting downfield on the opening kickoff from the outside edge lining up a perfect shot on Whitehead who had just fielded the ball and was focused upfield. Reynolds put his head down as he came in for the kill shot just as Whitehead’s spider sense tingled. Lucky executed a perfect ski “schuss” beginning with a juke that left Reynolds clasping air before splitting two perfect blocks by FB Keith Smith and TE Geoff Swaim. Angling to the right side of the field he sprinted to the end zone picking up a wall of protection on his left side. Whitehead was escorted the remaining 30 yards by FB Rod Smith who though trailing, was still frantically searching for someone to hit.

This was a much better start for Cowboys Special Teams and coach Rich Bisaccia than 2015 which was a down year for this unit.

Can the Cowboys front four put pressure on opposing QB’s without blitz assistance? A third and long setup by a procedure call on the Rams OC gave a clue. The Cowboys were able to collapse the Rams pocket resulting in QB Case Keenum having to tuck and sprint for a one yard gain after only 1.8 seconds in the pocket. That’s right. Under two seconds and the Cowboys front four, with no blitz assistance totally obliterated an opposing teams pocket. Sophomore Ryan Russell sealed the deal from the weak side defensive end position after Cedric Thornton (playing at the 3-Tech) and Jack Crawford (playing from the 1-Tech) helped push and collapse the entire pocket to the strong side. Crawford was also able to turn and track the play downfield getting an assist on Russell’s tackle. A huge box checked.

The series in it’s entirety demonstrated the versatility Rod Marinelli plans to employ with his attack this year. Players being deployed at multiple positions via a lineup that changed every down is nasty to face. You draw up a game plan to defend that.

Sophomore TE Geoff Swaim dropped rookie QB Dak Prescott’s first NFL pass. It was perfectly thrown out in the right flat. After Alfred Morris banged it for eight yards off the right side. Prescott threw a strike to WR Cole Beasely on a slant, hitting him in stride for an easy first down. Acing your first third down challenge in the NFL is huge in my opinion. Another box checked.

The team is letting Lucky Whitehead loose on end-a-rounds again this season as he rips off one for another first down. He may not be much of a receiver but at this point, who cares? Another box checked.

Dak then hit Dez Bryant on a nice back shoulder throw up the left sideline for a big first down. You want to see a connection between a backup and/or QB of the future and your star WR. Another box checked.

Alfred Morris carried the rock for the first running play the Cowboys called. He also picked up the correct assignment on blitz pickup and was gold on third and short. “Assignment sound” is the term. He then took a perfectly setup screen from Dak and the offensive line for a third and eleven first down conversion proving he can do it all. Another box checked.

FB/RB Rod Smith took a touch pass in the flat and turned it upfield coming up just short of a first down for a nice gain. Dak then tosses a floater to Dez Bryant from the 11 to the left end zone line who was in one-on-one coverage. Dez high pointed the perfectly thrown ball for six. Another box checked.

Dak was in sync, in rhythm and the offensive line, even without Tyron Smith was dominant. The only pass to hit the ground first struck both hands of the intended receiver. A bunch of boxes checked.

Dallas is going to see screens and quick throws all year long with the way the DLine comes after the QB. They better learn how to defend them better than they showed versus the Rams.

Though having issues with pass protection the Rams offensive line and the running game was working for LA all night. The powerful touchdown run by Rams RB Cunningham from the 15 yard line broke four Dallas tackle attempts and cut the 14-0 lead in half. Tackling has been an ongoing issue in the NFL and most certainly in Dallas the last several years. It needs to be addressed.

Rookie RB Darius Jackson is a very, very impressive player who showed all the tools. Did he look better than Alfred Morris? No. He looked more dangerous. Dunbar and (perhaps) McFadden need to take note. WR Brice Butler looks the part. Dak Prescott picks up in his second drive right where he left off in the first. Looking like a NFL QB. He ended the drive by hitting WR Terrence Williams on a deep double move route at the flag for six. The pass dropped over his shoulder and he cradled it like hot bread for supper. A bunch more boxes checked.

Cowboys Special Teams shined early but gave up a big return here to rookie WR Pharoh Cooper who did a stop/start move and almost left everyone in the dust before being forced out of bounds. Still work to do here.

Rookie LB Derek Akunne gave fellow rookie QB Jared Goff a rude welcome to the NFL in the Rams signal callers first series. On a third down blitz he knocked Goff horizontal just as he tried to deliver a pass knocking the ball into the air where it was intercepted by red shirt rookie LB Mark Nzeocha. Mark fumbled the ball himself at the end of a long return but Dallas recovered setting them up in great field position at their own 38 yard line. A big turnover and another box gets checked.

Prescott’s second incompletion of the night strangely enough was identical to his first with both well thrown balls hitting TE Geoff Swaim square in his hands before bouncing incomplete to the turf. Swaim clearly lost concentration both times.

The Rams DLine starts to get some penetration as the Cowboys begin substituting offensive linemen but RB Jackson doesn’t seem to care as he explodes out of grasping hand tackles. Again, he looks dangerous.

Prescott hit’s a nice deep in-route to WR Devin Street for a first down. On the next play a holding penalty by OL Jake Brendel puts the Cowboys in a first and 20. A delay of game extends that to first and 25 then the Rams get a sack from the right side as OT Witzmann was beat by a speed rush. Not a good run of plays.

Second and 29 got another penalty for Dallas and after the illegal motion penalty they were faced with second and 34. Prescott stood tall in the pocket and hit Street on a crossing pattern for eight. Dak then calmly scrambled for 14 yards putting the Cowboys comfortably in field goal range as Bailey nailed the kick for three.

The Rams rookie QB took over with just over three minutes on the clock. He got into sync with fellow rookie TE Higbee, mixed in some nice runs and marched the team downfield. J.J. Wilcox took a bad angle giving up a big play with a missed tackle in the flat. The ‘Boys did show excellent coverage on deep routes never letting a WR get free over the top.

It was at this point Cowboys safety J.J. Wilcox showed what he brings to the party relieving  Rams rookie WR Pharoh Cooper of the ball and his senses at the four yard line while the rookie tried to haul in a pass while running a deep in-route. The Cowboys were in a Cover-2 D and Wilcox was doing what a safety is supposed to in that defense, making anyone who comes across the middle pay.

Flashes of last years O.J. Beckham play instantly came to mind and one has to hope the big hitting safety can solve his geometry woes and become a force for the Cowboys defense.

On third and ten recently signed DL Shaneil Jenkins unleashed a stunt rush that sacked Goff back at midfield ending the scoring threat. All four defenders beat their men as the pocket totally collapsed. Shaneil got there first. That’s how you end a half. Another box checked.

Dallas showed a lot to be excited about and some things that need work. It’s the first half of the first preseason game of the season. The second half was played by different players and had vastly different results. We’ll talk about that another time. Romo, Zeke and a few other key players didn’t suit up. Right now Dak Prescott, who I have been highly critical of showed he’s a player. The Cowboys WR corps seems to be making a statement after a woeful 2015. The Marinelli’s rushmen are living up to their title and the pass coverage is improved. It’s but a a few first steps in a long season. A lot of boxes got checked for the first game of the preseason. Well done.

What say you Sports Nation?

Another Left Coast Sports Post: on Twitter – Steven Van Over

Cowboys Camp Pow Wow – STL Conversation w/ Ben Grimaldi

Jason Garrett Training Camp

SportsTalkLine Conversation – The Dallas Cowboys Training Camp in Oxnard is well under way. So much going on. So much to cover. Time to have a pow wow with Cowboys Nation Senior Analyst Ben Grimaldi and find out what all the smoke signals are about.

Gavin Escobar, Ezekiel Elliott, Dak Preskott, Jamil Showers, Darius Jackson, Ed Eagan, Rodney Coe, Maliek Collins, Charles Tapper, David Irving, Ryan Russell, Byron Jones … the list goes on. This isn’t a five minute pod. This is a full blow meeting of the training camp minds! So break out the big cup of morning Joe. Put the feet up on the desk. Grab a pen and pad to take notes. It’s Dallas Cowboys Training Camp time!

Join Host Steven Van Over and Ben Grimaldi as they look up close at Dallas Cowboys Training Camp in Oxnard.

Robust, strait to the point and with no holds barred host Steven Van Over puts forth the hard questions and gets straight answers from guest who are thoughtful and not afraid to share the wealth. Check back for more conversations from the network.

STL Conversation with Ben Grimaldi

SportsTalkLine Podcast 2016 Dallas Cowboys

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