The Seattle Seahawks take on the Dallas Cowboys on Thursday at 7 PM PST for the “dress rehearsal” of 2016. There are few teams as interesting as the Cowboys have been over the last two weeks thanks to the preseason performance from a midround rookie QB, the likes of which the NFL hasn’t seen since a certain Seattle player four years ago. Another high-profile Dallas rookie will be making his game debut on Thursday in Seattle as well.
We talk about both of those players and more with Dave Halprin, managing editor at Blogging the Boys.
1. I'm not going to waste any time. It's the question everyone's expecting, so let's just give it to them: How good is Dak Prescott and why are you secretly waiting for Tony Romo to get injured again so NFL fans can go nuts over the next Russell Wilson?
Dak Prescott has basically shocked us all, even those of us who thought he might have a chance to be a legitimate NFL QB. Conventional wisdom held that Dak would need at least a year or two before he was truly ready to play in the NFL. Since he took all his snaps at Mississippi State from the shotgun, the Cowboys were literally teaching him to take snaps from under center and how to handle his footwork when dropping back. With that kind of learning curve, I think most everybody expected him to be wildly inconsistent in his first few preseason games. Instead he looks like a 10-year veteran. And it wasn't like the reports from training camp were that he was blowing everybody away, it was more of what you would expect, some days were good some were bad. Maybe Dak is just a "gamer."
There have been a few things that have stood out to me about his play so far. One has been his accurate passes. He has been hitting the bulls-eye including a couple of touchdown throws that were just perfect. His accuracy has been a revelation, he's leading receivers right to the spot or putting right where only they can catch it. Second has been his calmness and poise. He just doesn't look like he's rattled at all, everything looks like he's been doing it at this level for years. In no way do I think this will continue indefinitely, at some point he's going to hit some rough patches and then we'll really see what he's made of, but his play in the first two games is enough to believe he could be the heir-apparent.
2. Ezekiel Elliott is going to make his preseason debut on Thursday against the Seahawks. How did you feel about the Cowboys picking him so high (fourth overall) when it happened back in April and have your feelings about the move changed at all given any circumstances about Elliott or the players taken after him? (Jalen Ramsey chief among them, perhaps.)
I think many Cowboys felt torn when he was drafted fourth overall. We all realized he was a special talent, one of the most complete running backs to come out of college in a while, but we also believed in the school of thought that running backs can be had anywhere in the draft. So the Cowboys could have gone ahead with Jalen Ramsey, or another defensive player, then get another back in round two or three. This was a subject that was much-discussed even before the draft, when it was clear that Elliott was on the Cowboys radar. I don't think there was necessarily a consensus around it at the time.
If you ask fans now, I think there is a consensus that Elliott is going to be a star and that the Cowboys offense is really going to benefit from having him on board. Dallas is obviously trying to go back to the very successful 2014 campaign and run the ball and control the clock while putting points on the board. This formula helps protect a defense that certainly has issues. In 2014, when the Cowboys controlled the clock and scored points, their defense was the beneficiary since other teams had to gamble on offense to keep up with the scoring. This led to the defense getting turnovers, so in a roundabout way they are counting on Elliott to actually help the defense, too.
3. Dallas has a superstar wide receiver and two other receivers that most fans at least have heard of (Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams) but who are some of the other players at that position that you're excited about and who we might see a lot of on Thursday?
Since Dez Bryant won't play on Thursday, Brice Butler is likely to get extended reps. Butler came over to the Cowboys in a trade last season from the Raiders and has flashed at times. Last week he caught a long bomb from Prescott and a touchdown from him on the very next play. His size/speed combination makes him an interesting player, someone the Cowboys would love to see develop into an all-around receiver, whereas right now he's basically been just a long-ball threat. Andy Jones is an UDFA who was really standing out in training camp, he became a player that was being talked about as potentially making the roster. Then he came out and dropped two passes in the first preseason game. So he's got some ground to make up now but he does have talent. Lucky Whitehead is a receiver that will make the team, but mainly because he's the special teams return man, and a pretty good one. He scored a touchdown on an 101-yard kickoff return on the first play of the preseason. Look for him on jet sweeps on offense, that's his specialty play.
4. The Cowboys have the potential of having the best offense in the NFL this season, which is something they'll probably need given the uncertainties on defense. One thing that could make them a lot better is the progress of 2015 first round pick Byron Jones, who Field Gulls fans are aware of because he's a "SPARQ God." (I don't say "gawd" and this is the only time I'll say it, to point out how stupid I think the word is.) What's the progress of Jones looked like over the last 18 months and what position has he settled into, if any?
We absolutely love the pick of Byron Jones last year. It looks like he has the potential to turn into a very special player in this league. Last year he played well even though the Cowboys bounced him around from different corner spots (slot and outside) and the two safety spots because of injuries to those positions. That is a testament to what a high football IQ he has, he played them all and did it well last season. So he's smart and as you mentioned extremely athletic. This year the Cowboys are moving him to the back-end safety role. He'll be deep in the backfield except when they roll him to the line to cover tight ends or slot receivers. He's so fluid and smooth that he has no problem covering receivers, but he is strong enough to deal with tight ends. He reads plays quickly and accurately, makes great breaks on the ball and isn't afraid to get physical. Just a great all-around player.
5. I have little idea what to think of the Cowboys' pass rush right now, if only because I'm not very familiar with many of the players outside of former Seahawks DE Benson Mayowa. There was also a lot of talk about Seattle and Charles Tapper in the draft, but Dallas ended up taking him in the fourth round. What's the defensive end situation looking like and who may emerge as an 8-sack player this season? Anyone looking like they could get many more than that?
That is definitely the question everyone is asking about the Cowboys defense. Where will the pressure and the sacks come from? The Cowboys best pass rusher is DeMarcus Lawrence. He has been improving the past two years and ended last season with eight sacks. His problem is he's suspended for the first four games. So that will cut down on his sack total for the year, I wouldn't be surprised if he ended up leading the Cowboys with 10 sacks or so. Outside of Lawrence, the Cowboys are depending on a rotation of athletically gifted, but untested players. The aforementioned Benson Mayowa is one, he's rounding back into shape after an injury and might see some time in this game. Charles Tapper is also another guy who has tremendous athletic skills but he has also been injured and we are unsure of where he stands. A guy to watch is second-year player David Irving (when he plays, another injury), he has shown a lot of potential from last year and in training camp this year, he may be a breakout type player this season.
One thing Dallas has done is upgraded their defensive tackle rotation, this should help create pressure and may help the defensive ends. Tyrone Crawford can be a force when healthy, something he wasn't almost all of last year even though he played through a shoulder injury. They signed Cedric Thornton as a free agent, a very good interior defender with the Eagles. They also drafted Maliek Collins in the third round of this year's draft and they will get Terrell McClain back from injury that ruined his 2015 season. That group should create interior pressure, forcing quarterbacks wide into the arms of the defensive ends.