clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Cowboys news: How the Dallas linebackers stole the show against the 49ers

Check out today’s latest and greatest news surrounding America’s team!

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Scout’s Notebook: Jaylon’s Big Night - Bryan Broaddus,
Broaddus breaks down some of the best plays and players on the field for the Cowboys in their first preseason game and liked what he saw from the linebackers.

Jaylon Smith was able to carry over the things that we’ve seen in practice right to this game. His mobility, agility and finish were noticeable and continue to improve. The 49ers’ interior offensive line had a difficult time blocking him. Smith tends to be too aggressive and finds himself overrunning plays -- but not this evening. Smith played with body control, balance and that necessary consistency that this defense needs from the position.

I told Brad Sham during the broadcast that I thought this was the deepest group of Cowboys linebackers that I had seen in a while.

Adding Joe Thomas gives me hope that if something were to happen to Sean Lee that this defense would not fall off the face of this Earth -- which is something I always worry about. His size and ability to cover ground is special, along with his ability to finish.

There is some serious depth in the front seven on defense - Michael Strawn, Blogging The Boys
Strawn agrees with Broaddus on the depth at linebacker.

But it was the linebacker depth that really showed up. Jaylon Smith looked like a completely different player, aggressively attacking the line of scrimmage, attacking in a pass-rushing role and generally looking much, much more effective than the Smith we saw last season.

It was Joe Thomas, however, who really caught the eye; he was all over the field throughout the first half when the ones and twos were playing. He collected five tackles, recorded a tackle for loss, deflected a pass and recorded an interception.

He was a one-man wrecking crew. Coaches and observers have been raving about Thomas’ performance throughout camp and against the 49ers we saw why.

Add solid performances from Justin March-Lillard, Damien Wilson and Leighton Vander Esch, and I have to begrudgingly admit the Cowboys depth at the linebacker position means even an injury to All Pro Sean Lee won’t derail this defense. This is a complete turnaround from where the team has been in past seasons.

Overall it was an impressive performance from the Cowboys’ youngsters along the front seven.

Cowboys Jaylon Smith is about to set the world on fire - Danny Phantom, Blogging The Boys
Could this be the year Jaylon Smith takes the league by storm?

First and foremost, Smith is moving extremely well. In the first preseason game against the San Francisco 49ers, Jaylon was all over the place. He was bursting through the defensive line into the backfield and he was flying 30 yards down the field to break up a pass. The sheer speed of Smith was on display and he showed no indication that his mobility is being hindered.

Not only was Smith playing at a high level physically, but he demonstrated a great deal of improvement with his basic understanding of the position. Last year, Smith was a risk-taker, often times over-pursuing plays and then getting caught in no-man’s land when a sharp cut took him completely out of the play. Last night, Smith showed a great deal of body control and kept his feet moving well to allow him the ability to stutter-step and react to the direction of the play.

Some of us have dreamt about what it would be like to have a full strength Lee and Smith next to each other and it appears that dream will be coming true very soon. This is great news for the Cowboys defense as they continue to find ways to improve this squad. With Smith playing at a high level this season, that’s a game-changer.

Jaylon Smith continues to progress – Michael Smith, ProFootballTalk
Garrett has been impressed with what he’s seen out of Smith in training camp.

“He’s gotten better and better physically, coming off the injury, doing his hard work. The more he plays, you see he gets more and more comfortable, more and more confident and he simply plays better,” Garrett said. “Understanding the play, understanding your reads, and when the ball is snapped you just react instinctively. . . . I think we’re seeing more and more of that from Jaylon.”

LB Joe Thomas steals the show in San Francisco - Kevin Brady, Inside the Star
Joe Thomas was exceptional against the 49ers, there is excitement for the Cowboys new linebacker.

During the game against the San Francisco 49ers, however, an under-the-radar linebacker stole the show for the Dallas Cowboys. If you were watching you know that linebacker is Joe Thomas. With Sean Lee out Joe Thomas got a chance to play with the first team defense, and boy did he take advantage of that opportunity.

Joe Thomas finished his night with five tackles, one TFL, and an interception. Thomas was relentless in pursuit, flying all over the field and keeping himself near the ball at all times. This relentlessness put him in position to capitalize on Kavon Frazier’s pass deflection, and come away with the pick.

Dez Bryant praises Leighton Vander Esch - Sam Quinn, 247Sports
Quinn reviews the linebacker play for which Leighton Vander Esch drew praise from a surprising source.

Jaylon Smith looked like a completely different player, flashing the sort of speed and strength that made him one of the best prospects in the 2016 NFL Draft before his knee was injured in Notre Dame's bowl game. Joe Thomas seemed to have taken great strides as well, and earned major points in the battle for the top backup job on the depth chart. But as he was making his first appearance in the NFL, Leighton Vander Esch drew the most eyeballs by far. And the Boise State product did not disappoint.

He racked up four tackles in the first half, but as is the case in all preseason performances, the "how" is far more important than the "what." Vander Esch showed not only the absurd athleticism that took him from playing eight-on-eight football in high school to being a first-round pick in the NFL Draft, but displayed advanced understanding of how to actually operate within the Cowboys' system.

He even drew the praise of perhaps the most vocal current critic of the Cowboys' linebackers: Dez Bryant. The former Dallas receiver called Vander Esch a "very smart patient instinctive player" on Twitter.

The Morning After – Cowboys kids play plenty vs 49ers – Bob Sturm, The Athletic
The Sturminator takes a detailed look at how the Cowboys’ top four draft picks fared against San Francisco. Make sure to read the whole thing, but until you do, here’s an appetizer.

The Cowboys are one of the youngest teams in the league. You may not know that, but let me demonstrate. According to my friends at Spotrac, a website that tracks salary cap space for all the big sports, the Cowboys have the youngest roster in the NFL when measuring the full 90-man training camp rosters.

If your team is younger than the incredibly young Cleveland Browns – which they are, by the slimmest of margins – you have a team that needs some considerable work in the preseason. I don’t think the NFL needs more than two preseason games, for sure. But, if they exist, the Cowboys are the team that could use the most work to bring those young lads along as soon as possible.

Michael Gallup continues to create buzz with TD catch - Kevin Patra,
Gallup continues to impress, and that’s exactly what he did in the Cowboys first real game action of the 2018 season.

The Cowboys opening drive in a preseason loss to the San Francisco 49ers ended with a gorgeous 30-yard strike from Prescott to rookie receiver Michael Gallup. The third-round pick burned veteran Jimmie Ward on the route.

”You’ve got to be able to do it. Coach tells us all the time that you’ve got to be able to win nine routes,” Gallup said. “If they’re going to load the box, you’ve got to have wide receivers that are putting out production.”

Gallup owns the size, route-running ability, quickness from set, and back-shoulder acumen to become the Cowboys leading receiver in 2018. With a plethora of targets up for grabs in Dallas this season, Gallup should get every opportunity to shine.

Thursday night’s flash was just the beginning.

NFL preseason Week 1: Michael Gallup hits stride with Cowboys - Vinnie Iyer, Sporting News
More praise for the young Cowboys receiver.

”How will the Cowboys replace Dez Bryant at wide receiver” has been the theme of Dallas’ offseason. Really, it was answered as soon as Dallas used a third-round draft pick on Gallup.

The Cowboys moved on from Bryant because they needed the down-field giddyap back in order to open those short-to-intermediate routes and make teams pay for crowding the line to contain Ezekiel Elliott. So far, so great with the Gallup-Prescott chemistry.

Scout’s Eye: Grading The Veterans - Bryan Broaddus,
Broaddus re-watched the Cowboys’ preseason opener against San Francisco and came away with plenty of notes. Here are two about the WR play:

I liked what I saw from Allen Hurns once again getting off press coverage on third down and making the tough slant reception to secure a first down. Hurns just knocked Jimmie Ward out of the way and proceeded to the inside. Cooper Rush put the ball in the ideal spot and Hurns was able to finish the rest. Cornerbacks in this camp have had a difficult time dealing with Hurns, especially when he wants to go inside. Very similar to we have seen from Dez Bryant in the past.

Big-time snatch catch by Tavon Austin on the curl with the offense facing a long yardage situation. Cornerback Greg Mabin clearly was respecting Austin and his speed by playing a good 10 yards off. Austin, playing all the way to the outside, closed Mabin’s cushion quickly -- which forced Mabin to have to retreat more. Once Austin felt he had him at depth, he broke to the inside and in front of Mabin. Cooper Rush put the ball head-high and Austin finished the rest. We’re starting to see more and more of Tavon Austin lining up as a true wide receiver and making plays like this one. His hands are extremely underrated in my opinion.

Under-the-radar performances you might have missed in the Cowboys vs. 49ers game - Dave Halprin, Blogging the Boys
Halprin breaks down some of the under-the-radar performances from Thursday night’s matchup versus the 49ers.

Taco Charlton: The Cowboys first-round pick from a year ago continues to show the improvement we saw at the end of last year. Charlton got plenty of snaps at left end after DeMarcus Lawrence departed and made the most of his opportunities. Two things stood out. One was his technique and ability to use his natural athletic gifts to win the battle. Last year there was too much of “try the spin move, and if that doesn’t work then just get blocked”. In this preseason game, he used quickness and power to set up his pass rush and controlled his body to create pressure. He looked much more natural. Two, he wasn’t over-aggressive. He stayed home on two bootleg passes and pressured the quarterback into incompletions. Instead of just rushing headlong to where the ball was and being abused on fakes, he recognized his responsibilities on the play and reacted accordingly.

Here is what Pro Football Focus had to say about his game:

On 10 pass rush snaps, Taco Charlton had one hit, and 2 hurries for a total of 3 total pressures. He had a pass rushing productivity rating of 22.5, the highest among all 4-3 defensive ends with at least 10 pass rushes on Thursday.

He also added a tipped pass, and not on the play he was offsides.

Dak Prescott quickly answers doubters with sharp (and short) preseason debut - Clarence Hill, Star-Telegram
Hill breaks down Prescott’s short and sweet preseason game performance.

It sure didn’t take Prescott long to shut up the doubters, who questioned the Cowboys’ ability to make plays in the passing game without tight end Jason Witten (retired) and former No. 1 receiver Dez Bryant (released).

Prescott promptly drove the Cowboys 75 yards on 10 plays, completing 3 of 3 passes, including a 30-yard touchdown strike to rookie third-round pick Michael Gallup.

Each NFL offense's engine; Beasley a No. 1? - Bucky Brooks,
Brooks identifies the engine of each NFL offense and assesses the likelihood that Cole Beasley can be Dallas' No. 1 receiver.

Dallas Cowboys engine: RB Ezekiel Elliott. The 2016 NFL rushing king is unquestionably the driving force of the Cowboys' offense. He's a workhorse runner with size, speed and power. Zeke not only sets the tone with his powerful running style, but his presence allows Dak Prescott to thrive as a complementary playmaker from the pocket. Don't believe me? Just look at No. 4's production with and without Elliott as proof of No. 21's impact.

Is Cole Beasley a No. 1 receiver? In Dallas, Beasley could experience a similar rise [like Welker and Edelman in New England] with Prescott leaning on him as his No. 1 option in a scheme that will feature more interchangeable parts on the perimeter. Beasley and others will align in various spots within spread formations to create and exploits mismatches, particularly against linebackers and sub-package defenders in the box. Not to mention, the Cowboys can also use the threat of Ezekiel Elliott as a runner to enhance the passing game.

"I think it helps us out a lot," Prescott said on "Inside Training Camp Live." "There's not anything they can key on. When Beasley's out there, he's not just in the slot -- he's out wide. Then you add Beasley and Tavon Austin on the field at the same time with Zeke in the backfield, you maybe motion someone into the backfield -- it just opens up this array of things we can do on offense, not forgetting about that I can run the ball.

"It's kind of what we wanted going into this offseason: Moving guys around, keeping the defense on their toes, knowing we can still go over the top and do the things we're good at like running the ball and play-action. It's just going to allow our offense to take another step."

For a Cowboys offense that seemingly lacks an established No. 1 receiver on paper, the connection between Prescott and Beasley could help No. 11 emerge as a blue-chip playmaker for an offense that features more layers and dimensions than the previous version.

Derrius Guice Knee Injury Diagnosed as Torn ACL; Rookie Will Miss Season - Alec Nathan, Bleacher Report
We never root for a player injury, and Cowboys Nation as a whole should wish Derrius Guice a quick recovery, but the Redskins lost a promising player today to a torn ACL. The games against Washington will definitely be affected. Get well soon Derrius!

The Washington Redskins announced running back Derrius Guice was diagnosed with a season-ending torn ACL suffered in Thursday’s preseason opener against the New England Patriots.

The rookie running back was initially diagnosed with a sprained MCL, but further testing revealed the torn ACL, according to Ian Rapoport of NFL Network.

Following Thursday’s 26-17 loss, Guice told reporters he “felt good” and downplayed the severity of the injury.

”At the back end of the play, when I was stiff-arming [a defender], my feet just kind of planted weirdly on the turf and my knee just hyperextended a little bit,” he said, per’s Mike Reiss. “It’s fine.”

Cowboys need Earl Thomas now more than ever, but not for reasons you may be thinking - Tim Cowlishaw, SportsDay
Cowlishaw argues that Thomas could be the missing piece that puts the Cowboys over the top.

The Cowboys have youth on their side this season. No one over the age of 30 lined up for either the offense or defense Thursday night. That is different. And the team clearly has an interesting can't-lose choice to make at middle linebacker, where Jaylon Smith is moving like a first-round pick and Leighton Vander Esch actually was one.

It's because this team looks like it has a chance to do something in 2018 that you wonder why the Jones family doesn't help things along by adding Thomas. How much would a leader, a captain, a decorated Pro Bowl free safety who changed the way the "Legion of Boom" was able to play and succeed in Seattle help this young team?

We understand it's hardball the two teams are playing, a waiting game to see which one picks up the phone first. I don't know what's wrong with the Cowboys making that call, sacrificing a pick in next year's draft and announcing to their fans that the time to win some big games is now.

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Blogging The Boys Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of all your Dallas Cowboys news from Blogging The Boys