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Stock up or down: Full scouting report for the Cowboys defense in their preseason loss to the Bengals

What players on defense caught your eye?

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Earlier, we took a look at the Dallas Cowboys offense in their preseason defeat at the hands of the Cincinnati Bengals. Now, we well examine the players on the defensive side. With jobs on the line, which players stood out? Here is a breakdown of the defensive players in Saturday’s game.

DEFENSIVE END

Stock up: Taco Charlton

Stock down: Kony Ealy

It seemed like last year Taco Charlton was all hands and spin moves. If he didn’t get you on initial contact, he was dead in the water and taken out of the play. This is not the case anymore. The second-year edge rusher is not only getting off the snap quickly, but his ability to bend around the tackle and shoot straight for the quarterback is really impressive. He’s constantly getting pressure.

Charlton was giving Bengals tackle Cedric Ogbuehi fits and even caused him to get out of his stance early for a false start. The play where he was held, but then still powered through for the sack, shows you what kind of talent this kid has.

Charles Tapper didn’t do much to get pressure on the quarterback, but he showed off his athleticism when he ran 44 yards down the field to make a touchdown-saving tackle on Bengals running back Brian Hill. Great hustle, Charles!

Kony Ealy didn’t play bad, but when all the other guys continue to trend up, he keeps falling farther and farther behind. Ealy had a nice pass deflection at the line of scrimmage and the coaching staff is giving him a look inside at the tackle position. This could be their way of trying to find a place for him since they realize it won’t be happening at defensive end.

DEFENSIVE TACKLE

Stock up: Brian Price

Stock down: Jihad Ward

Brian Price was the best interior defensive linemen on this day. There were a few different occasions where he got penetration up the middle quickly to pressure the quarterback. On one play, he shoved his blocker back into the running lane of the RB, tripping him up behind the line of scrimmage. On another play, he did the same thing, only this time it tripped up the quarterback as he was handing the ball off. Price would stay with it and tackle the running back for a five-yard loss. The only negative to Price’s play is that it’s happening against lower depth guys. Several defensive tackles have had chances to run with the first-team, with Daniel Ross getting the nod against the Bengals, but Price is still used as a backup.

If I had to guess right now which defensive tackle could be the odd man out, my money would go on Jihad Ward. All those great things that were said about him early in camp just haven’t shown up in the games. He missed a couple easy tackles and also got an unsportsmanlike penalty that helped keep a Bengals drive alive. Being a former second-round pick means nothing. Trading away Ryan Switzer to get him also means nothing. It’s all about the next play and right now - he’s not making them.

LINEBACKER

Stock up: Damien Wilson

Stock down: Justin March-Lillard

While free agent Joe Thomas has gotten a lot of love recently, I’ve been impressed with the speed of Damien Wilson. He attacks the ball carrier and closes fast. He had a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and showed great determination when he got up-ended on a blitz, got back up and kept going after the quarterback. I still have him as the no. 4 linebacker on this team after Sean Lee, Jaylon Smith, and Leighton Vander Esch.

Justin March-Lillard was solid last week against the 49ers, but he was a little less than stellar this week against Bengals. Missing tackles was contagious for the Cowboys defense and March-Lillard got in on the action. He’s still a solid no. 6 LB for this team as nobody behind him is making a push for his spot, but his performance wasn’t all that great this week.

CORNERBACK

Stock up: Byron Jones

Stock down: Jourdan Lewis

There were concerns about Byron Jones ability to play corner because his change of direction isn’t quick, but he is doing a great job so far. He allowed A.J. Green to have one catch for nine yards, but Andy Dalton had to place the ball perfectly for it to happen. Jones was all over him. He also had speedster John Ross smothered on a play that caused the ball to be popped up in the air and almost picked off.

Jones also recovered a fumble and is does a great job on special teams. The coaching staff might have finally figured out how to exploit his athleticism for the greater good of the team. Chidobe Awuzie may have made the highlight reel with the defensive play of the game, but Jones was showing up play after play.

A lot of people are going to remember the bad plays of Anthony Brown, but the tape showed a lot of good stuff for him as well. He made a couple plays on the ball and was one of the only defensive backs that could actually bring down the opponent as he led the entire defense with nine tackles.

Jourdan Lewis has done nothing to show that he should be starting over Brown. He gives you all the same bad plays as Brown, but with very little of the good. While both these guys have been underwhelming compared to their expectations, the coaching staff appears to have this one right.

SAFETY

Stock up: Jeff Heath

Stock down: Everyone else

Jeff Heath was everywhere. He did a great job not only diagnosing the play, but his pursuit was outstanding. Sometimes it’s easy to forget just how athletic this guy is and it’s just a handful of plays, but he’s looking good out there with the first unit. Could this be the season he puts it all together mentally and takes the next step as a safety?

Xavier Woods had a missed tackle that turned a 14-yard gain into a 26-yard gain. Woods also lowered his helmet when attempting to tackle Bengals receiver A.J. Green, but he connected with his own teammate Byron Jones. Had it landed on Green, he might have gotten called for a penalty, but instead he just sent Jones to the sideline as he was shaken up on the play. Woods isn’t the best tackler and sometimes he’s more concerned with laying the wood on someone versus wrapping him up. He’s now dealing with an hamstring injury and it’s unclear how long he will be unavailable.

There was a lot of bad plays from the Cowboys backup defensive backs on Saturday, but UDFA Tyree Robinson had a solid game. He was around the ball a lot and was finishing plays, which is something we can’t say for the other guys. If there is a knock on Robinson, it’s that sometimes he’s too passive as he expects others in front of him to make plays. Stop that!

While the team still has some deep searching to do when it comes to the safety position, it feels like Robinson has the upper hand on snagging one of those last roster spots. That should tell you all you need to know about how shaky the team’s secondary situation is. I wouldn’t be surprised if they brought someone else in to help out, even if it isn’t that certain someone in Seattle.

SPECIAL TEAMS

Stock up: Chris Jones

Stock down: Lance Lenoir

It’s so easy to take Cowboys punter Chris Jones for granted as he quietly is one of the better punters in the game. On Saturday, he had one punt downed inside the five-yard line and there could have been a second one had the Cowboys not kicked the ball around. There were times last season when the offense was really struggling and Jones’ ability to flip the field gave the team a fighting chance. If you add that strength to an offense that is clicking better, Jones’ leg can be a nice little added bonus.

Some people want Dan Bailey to take every kick this preseason. Well, he didn’t, but he made both kicks he attempted, including a 35-yard field goal and an extra point. The team is letting Brett Maher handle all the kickoff duties which makes me wonder if there is anything lingering with Bailey for them to keep him from trying to boom it out of the end zone.

If Lance Lenoir makes this team, he may not be the team’s punt returner. He had a couple lapses in judgment when it comes to when to field the punts. First, he fair-caught a punt deep in his own territory that he should have let go. And then he allowed one punt to bounce, costing the team 15 yards in field position.

The Cowboys still have a lot of things to sort out with their special teams personnel.

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