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Cowboys News: It’s game day! Final injury report, predictions, and all that jazz

It’s game day! Here is your latest dose of Cowboys news...

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboys football has finally arrived. It’s been a long wait, but guys and gals - we’ve done it. And today we will be rewarded with watching our beloved team take the field against the Carolina Panthers. Are you hyped up? Well, just in case you’re not, here’s a little video to help get the blood flowing...

Here is the last practice report from Friday...

Gut Feeling: Final Predictions For Cowboys-Panthers - Staff, Dallas Cowboys
The writers over at the Mothership offer up their final predictions, with five of six writers picking the Cowboys for the win. The only dissenting opinion? The Broad One.

Bryan Broaddus: On tape these are two evenly matched squads. Go through the lineups and player for player each cancels the other out. Where the Panthers have an advantage is at defensive tackle. As much as this Cowboys offense relies on the run, the absence of Travis Frederick, particularly in this game, is big. Joe Looney has prepared for this opportunity, but I struggle with him not only having to do his job but helping Connor Williams as well. If the Cowboys have trouble blocking inside, they will struggle to run the ball consistently, which puts Prescott in a tough spot. Carolina wins this one in large part to their run defense, 24-16.

National predictions: Why most NFL experts have the Cowboys losing to the Panthers in Week 1 - Staff, SportsDay
Opinions are split, with five out of the eight writers selected here liking the Panthers over the Cowboys.

David Newton, ESPN - Panthers 27, Cowboys 10

Newton: Both teams are banged up on the offensive line, but the Panthers appear to be in better shape with right tackle Daryl Williams and guard/tackle Amini Silatolu returning to practice. Because it will be nearly impossible for the Cowboys to successfully rush against one of the best front sevens in the NFL with their injury situation, the Panthers get the edge.

John Breech, CBS Sports - Cowboys 23, Panthers 17

Breech: On the Cowboys’ end, they’ve had so much drama going on this offseason that I think I briefly forgot about the fact that they might actually be good this year. If you ignore the fact that they cut one of their all-time leading scorers over the weekend (Dan Bailey) and ignore the fact that their starting center is out indefinitely due to a rare disease (Travis Frederick), then what you have left is a team that could win the NFC East.

I like the Cowboys so much that I’m picking them to win their division and this game. Of course, if the Panthers sign Dez before Sunday, then I’m switching my pick to Carolina.

SportsDay experts predict Dallas will start off the new season with a win - Staff, SportsDay
Six of seven SportsDay Cowboys experts polled think the Cowboys will start the season off on a high note with a win over Cam Newton and the Panthers. Do the DFW writers know more about the state of the Cowboys than the national guys?

Tim Cowlishaw

Carolina and Dallas were strikingly similar in 2017, at least statistically speaking, even while the Panthers climbed to 11-5 and made the playoffs while the Cowboys fell short at 9-7. I think the similarity Sunday will be struggles on offense. The Cowboys’ first-team unit moved the ball efficiently in four drives in the preseason, even with Ezekiel Elliott on the field, but against a talented defensive front, you wonder if this group can drive the ball consistently. Carolina’s injury-plagued offensive line should be in for a long afternoon as Cam Newton gets his first test in the new Norv Turner offense. Cowboys defense should be dominant at times. Cowboys, 20-12

Here are my predictions for the upcoming season. What have you got?

X-ed Out: The Split End Killed the Cowboys’ 2017 Deep Passing Attack - Rafael Vela, Pro Football Talk Line
Many fans are still worried about how the absence of Dez Bryant will impact the Cowboys passing attack, but this could turn out to be an addition by subtraction sort of thing. K.C Joyner explains.

Sports Talk Line: There was a lot of debate during the season about the team’s poor passing game. Some fans put a lot of blame on the quarterback, some looked at the offensive line, which struggled at various times and some spread the blame around. The team clearly pointed the finger at the receivers. What did your analyses show?

KC Joyner: Looking at Dak Prescott, he averaged 9.8 vertical yards per attempt in 2017. That’s not a good number for vertical passes. That ranked 25th last year. Those only accounted for 27% of his total passes. That’s also a very low number. That’s 30th. He just didn’t air it out very often. That’s a lower percentage of deep attempts than guys like Alex Smith, or Kirk Cousins. That’s even fewer than Blake Bortles.

Part of it is that Dez Bryant had abysmal metrics last year. He had atrocious metrics, so much so that I think he alone crippled the vertical passing game. He ranked next to last out of 86 qualifying wide receivers in vertical yards per attempt, this is passes more than eleven yards downfield. Only Zay Jones, who had one of the worst seasons I’ve ever seen a starting receiver with heavy targets have since I’ve been doing this was worse, and Dez Bryant was only a half step ahead of him.

It’s because he wasn’t getting open.

I think this may be a reason he’s still looking for a job. If he’s not getting open deep, that’s his value. And if you’re not getting open deep and you’re dropping the intermediate passes? Put that combination together and he was one of the worst receivers in the league last year.

Here’s something you may not realize about the Cowboys’ receiving corps - Kristi Scales, SportsDay
If you’re feeling a little nervous about the Cowboys new receiving group, Kristi Scales has a couple tidbits of information you might want to check out.

QB and Safety get a lot of attention around their lack of depth. But how concerned should the Cowboys be about their WR depth?

Depth is not the issue at wide receiver; the team made a conscience decision this offseason to go with a ‘strength in numbers’ approach rather than the former method of featuring a #1 receiver. Obviously the past couple of years, Dez Bryant’s production did not meet that of other #1 receivers in the NFL.


Overall, I think the Cowboys’ WR corps is “deeper” than it’s been in some time. That’s because, as Jason Garrett pointed out during Wednesday’s press conference, the six WR on the 53-man roster are versatile. Tavon Austin and Deonte Thompson bring the speed element, and Michael Gallup shows the potential to be a real playmaker (that’s playmaker with a lower-case “p” because there’s only one Playmaker with a capital “P” -- Michael Irvin).

But wait, there’s more...

And here’s a surprising tidbit: Dallas is the only NFL team entering the 2018 season to boast three WRs that have averaged at least 5.0 yards-after-the-catch (YAC) since the start of the 2014 season. Those three are: Tavon Austin (5.7); Cole Beasley (5.2); and Allen Hurns (5.0).

Each of those three are coming off seasons that were below-standard, and each is determined to rebound in 2018.

Dak Prescott’s yards-per-pass-attempt fell markedly from his rookie year to last year (8.0 in 2016, 6.8 in 2017). Having receivers that can make yards-after-catch will help. The key is to get the ball to them accurately and in-stride where they can add YAC.

Key Players to watch against Dallas Cowboys - Brandon Croce, Old North Banter
How well the Panthers offense performs could come down to how well the offensive line holds up.

Taylor Moton / Daryl Williams (or Corey Robinson)

The pressure will be specifically on the team’s offensive tackles to slow down one of the better pass rushers in the NFL.

DeMarcus Lawrence made the Pro Bowl last year thanks to his 14.5 sacks for the Cowboys. He will be tough to handle for Daryl Williams if he is able to go or Corey Robinson, who will be the likely replacement.

On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys are expected to have Randy Gregory back, who is an excellent pass rusher in his own right, however he has missed time due to suspensions. This could be a big first test for Taylor Moton, who will be making his first NFL start at left tackle.

Five Things to Watch: Dallas Cowboys vs. Carolina Panthers - Calvin Watkins, The Athletic
The Panthers offensive line might be ailing, but the Cowboys defense must capitalize on every opportunity they get. Stopping no. 1 is priority no. 1.

Stop Cam Newton

Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli calls the pocket the cup. It’s where he wants the quarterback to remain until his pass rushers can break him down. Newton has the ability to move from that cup when defenders converge, so the linebackers, mainly Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith, could have their hands full.

“Control our lanes,” defensive lineman Tyrone Crawford said. That means force Newton to stay in the pocket, and if he decides to move, make him hesitate.”

It’s difficult to bring Newton down because of his size. At 6-5, 245, he can shake off defenders, and his long legs give him the ability to glide downfield while escaping pressure.

“The guy is a crazy athlete,” Crawford continued. “I’m not trying to give him too much praise because we’re going to get after him. He’s a good athlete for sure.”

NFL previews for every matchup during Week 1 - Staff, Pro Football Focus
Not only will stopping Cam be important, but the Panthers have another offensive weapon they must worry about as well.

Year two for Christian McCaffrey

2017 was an exciting season for Panthers fans as rookie sensation Christian McCaffrey displayed his excellent pass-catching ability. McCaffrey finished third among all running backs with 80 receptions, and he showed his elusiveness by forcing 19 missed tackles on receptions, which was the fifth most in the NFL. Now entering his second season, McCaffrey will look to improve his performance in the run game. While the former Stanford Cardinal finished 15th among running backs with an overall grade of 73.9, his rushing grade was 35th among running backs at 65.5.

And for the Cowboys, it could just be a matter of keeping their best defender in the game.

Can Lee stay on the field?

The Cowboys will look to prevent McCaffrey from improving in the run game by relying on linebacker Sean Lee to slow McCaffrey down. Lee when healthy is one of the best linebackers in football. Despite missing five games in 2017, Lee posted the third highest run defense grade among linebackers with an elite 90.2 grade. Opposing offenses struggled to keep Lee from disrupting their running game as Lee posted 27 defensive stops against the run, which resulted in a stop percentage at a rate of 13.0 percent, the fifth-best mark among players at his position. This game will feature one of the best linebacker-running back matchups to watch for in Week 1.

2018 NFL Preview: Under-the-radar rookies to watch - Thomas Lott, Sporting News
There were eight wide receivers taken before the Cowboys grabbed Michael Gallup in the third round, but that doesn’t mean he can’t have an immediate impact.

Michael Gallup, wide receiver, Cowboys

Gallup is another player you may have overlooked because he took a less traditional path to the NFL going the junior college route to Butler Community College and then the way of the Mountain West at Colorado State. This doesn’t make him less of a player though as he is a good route-runner with a big body, good hands and deceptive speed. Also, offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is already raving about the connection between Gallup and quarterback Dak Prescott. A 55-catch, 800-yard season isn’t out of the question.

3 Bold predictions for Week 1 vs. Panthers - Stephen Forsha, NFL Spin Zone
Gallup isn’t the only new WR some are predicting to have a big debut with Dallas.

Looking at this game, Hurns has a lot to prove and a brand-new start to his career with this being his first game with the Cowboys. Hurns is coming off a season where he played in 10 regular-season games, missing Weeks 11-17, but he did return for the playoffs where he averaged 13.1 yards per reception.

This weekend against the Panthers, Hurns most likely won’t draw the top coverage from the Carolina defense. With this being his new beginning to his career, and even more importantly he’s finally healthy, this should be the game where he breaks away from the negative from the past two seasons and he becomes a top target for Dak Prescott.

The bold prediction for Hurns in this game is six receptions for 130 yards and two touchdowns.

Fantasy Football Week 1 Sleepers at Every Position - Gary Davenport, Bleacher Report
If you’re looking for a sleeper WR to play in fantasy this week, Michael Gallup could be your guy. You better snag him before his stock rises and everyone puts a claim in for him.

In the preseason at least, Prescott looked to Gallup (seven catches for 75 yards) more than veteran Allen Hurns (three catches for 26 yards). The presumption that Hurns would be the de facto No. 1 receiver for the Cowboys this year may not have been accurate.

The Cowboys kick off the season with a trip east to face the Carolina Panthers, who had their issues with pass defense in 2017. Carolina allowed 229.1 passing yards per game last year (18th in the NFL), 25 passing touchdowns (22nd in the league) and the second-most fantasy points in the NFC to wide receivers.

If Gallup really is Dak’s go-to through the air, his first NFL game could be a big one.

The Primer: Week 1 Edition (2018 Fantasy Football) - Mike Tagliere, FantasyPros
If you need some last second fantasy advice, I’d strongly recommend bookmarking FantasyPros website and perusing their weekly break down for every NFL game. And if you’re looking for a Cowboys WR to play this week, don’t forget about this guy in PPR leagues.

Cole Beasley: I’m not proud of this, but Beasley might be a sneaky-play in PPR formats this week. He’s not a sexy option by any means, but if you go back to the time in 2016 when Dez Bryant was out, Beasley totaled 14 targets in those three games, putting up 13 receptions for 177 yards and three touchdowns. The Panthers have 30-year-old Captain Munnerlyn in the slot, who allowed a 79 percent catch-rate in his coverage last year. It wasn’t just last year, either, as he’s now allowed a 108.5 QB Rating in his coverage over the last two years combined. With Jason Witten and Bryant gone, the familiarity between Beasley and Prescott could equal fantasy points. I’m not going to say he’s a top-36 play or anything, but you can definitely do worse if you’re in a pinch for a flex-play in Week 1.

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