The preseason games don’t count, but they should mean something.
The Dallas Cowboys have gotten through the meat of the NFL preseason, with only the final game, where almost none of the regula- season starters will play, remaining. And the results have been about as good as we could hope. When the starters comprised most of the team on the field, both the offense and defense have been impressive. In the most recent game against the Houston Texans, the defense could be described as dominant, and the offense has flirted with that. Even the special teams came up big. But, as we like to say, it is still just preseason. It doesn’t mean anything.
Well, not exactly. Despite the vanilla play calls and schemes, this is still the best measure available for what the team is going to be when the regular season kicks off against the New York Giants. And by that measure, the Cowboys look ready to be a real contender in 2019. That is even with the uncertainty generated by Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout. Assuming he and the team are getting close to working out a contract, this edition has given every sign of being one of the deepest and most talented rosters since the Super Bowls of the 1990s. Kellen Moore’s performance as offensive coordinator is less certain. So far, however, the results on offense are also very encouraging. Confidence remains high about the Rod Marinelli and Kris Richard defensive partnership.
Coaching is crucial, but the most important facet of that is putting your players in the best position to succeed. That ties in with the argument that it is the talent available that is the true foundation for success or failure. If that is at all valid, then the indications all support that idea of just how good this roster is.
In recent days, there have been a series of articles at Pro Football Focus about players that have stood out across the league in August. One was covered earlier here by our DannyPhanton. It listed the top 25 rookies so far in preseason, and the big headline was that sixth-round rookie safety Donovan Wilson was the top one according to PFF’s grading system. Now, their methods can be questioned, but with two interceptions already, it is hard to argue that Wilson is not a potential star, and has played his way onto the 53-man roster. But he was not alone, in that three other Cowboys, DE Joe Jackson, DT Ricky Walker, and LB Nate Hall, also made the list. Those three are still fighting to prove they belong on the team this fall, but it is a testament to the ability of the staff, and particularly Will McClay, to find real talent late in the draft and as UDFAs. Dallas has quite the impressive track record lately in acquiring talent, and it looks to have continued this offseason.
It is worth noting that the most electrifying rookie this year, RB Tony Pollard, did not even show up on that list. He has been treated as a starter in preseason, which has limited his snaps. PFF scores have a cumulative aspect, so Pollard’s lack of reps may be the reason he didn’t show up. Their methodology also may be partly the cause.
Still, it is often indicative of quality when PFF identifies players as being among the best they see, and some more examples cropped up. First, they identified the top performers for week 3, and two more Cowboys showed up. Not surprisingly, they were on the defensive line, which was almost impenetrable against the Texans. Taco Charlton had his best performance in any situation since he joined the team, grading as their top edge rusher. Joining him as an interior DL was Christian Covington, who is an underrated free agent pickup. When you add Jackson and Walker from the rookies list above, the talent on the D line is hard to deny. And, let us remember, that was without DeMarcus Lawrence, Tyrone Crawford, and Robert Quinn, all of whom will play significant roles. That actually understates the case for Lawrence.
And there’s more.
While the Cowboys have had a good pass rush from the edge, led of course by Lawrence, the interior pressure has not been so good. That appears to be moving strongly in the right direction.
Outside the PFF numbers, there have been things that are just obvious to observers. Pollard has already been mentioned, but the best thing of all has been the connection between Michael Gallup and Dak Prescott. It has been electrifying in both preseason games and training camp practices. Gallup has also shown that it isn’t just him and his starting QB. He has performed very well when Cooper Rush was throwing him the ball.
Cedrick Wilson has also been a strong performer.
Cedrick Wilson sure has a nose for the marker as every single one of his catches this preseason has been for a first down. pic.twitter.com/suWr7AjNYm— Dan Rogers (@DannyPhantom24) August 26, 2019
That’s a great nugget Danny unearthed. Wilson missed his rookie year on IR, and he is on the verge of being another later round gem.
The offensive line has been without Tyron Smith and Zack Martin for most of camp as they are being handled cautiously due to some injuries that are hopefully minor and not lingering. But Travis Frederick is back and close to his old form. Even as the games have progressed and the depth players have taken over, the protection has been pretty good. The offensive line is the real foundation of the Dallas offense, and it looks to be much closer to the dominant group of 2016.
The secondary has also been stout, particularly the ones who are locks for the roster. And Dallas knows what they have in Jaylon Smith, Leighton Vander Esch, and Sean Lee. You should also add Joe Thomas, who would start on many NFL defenses.
There are still some questions, like tight end depth, how the running back room will be filled, and whether we should be worried about place kicking. But overall, the pluses far outweigh the possible minuses.
Overall, there just has been very little to cause worry or concern, outside Elliott’s contract. That may be resolved soon. In any case, this team has inspired nothing but confidence since day one at Oxnard. The preseason games have just doubled down on that. It could all be a mirage. But don’t bet on that.