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Cowboys news: Aldon Smith may just be getting started

Plus a couple of rookies had great debuts, but those injuries . . .

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Dallas Cowboys v Los Angeles Rams
He was just impressive.
Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Your news for Friday morning:

Breaking down Aldon Smith’s Cowboys debut: ‘This guy might end up with 15 sacks’ – Jon Machota, The Athletic
If you were one of the ones wondering just how new Cowboys defensive lineman Aldon Smith would be used, the verdict is in. He's standing up for most of his plays. And that worked very well in game 1.

He played the majority of the time, rushing off the edge in a two-point stance. He played with his hand on the ground on only five snaps Sunday night. He dropped into coverage twice.

Smith is an interesting piece in new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s hybrid scheme. He can be either a 4-3 defensive end or a 3-4 outside linebacker.

“I would say at times he actually could dominate the point of attack,” Nolan said while assessing Smith’s first game back. “He’s a big, strong man. I would say that would be it, just his ability to dominate at the point of attack sometimes. That’s rare. That’s not common. Everybody’s a professional athlete in the NFL and everybody’s a good player, but some guys are uniquely strong, and I think he is.”

There is also this:

Looking for other noticeable changes in how the defense lined up compared to previous years in Rod Marinelli’s 4-3 scheme? On early downs, Smith and Lawrence were on the outside with three defensive tackles in the middle of the line instead of the usual two.

3 Things the Dallas Cowboys Must Do Better in Week 2 - John Williams, Inside the Star
Changes for the Cowboys to make are basically about fundamental aspects of the game, like proper, decisive tackling.

This week, as the Dallas Cowboys face the explosive Atlanta Falcons, they’ll need to be better at tackling in key situations. When they get an opportunity to bring Julio Jones, Calvin Ridley, or Todd Gurley to the ground, they must do it. That team is too good offensively to give them second chances.

His numbers may be dwindling for complex reasons, but Cowboys simply need more from DeMarcus Lawrence - Calvin Watkins, Dallas Morning News
There is discussion about the lack of production from DeMarcus Lawrence in the Rams game. But coaches can see things differently.

The Rams game saw Lawrence participate in 46 defensive snaps and record just one tackle, no sacks, no quarterback pressures and one pass knockdown. That’s what you received from a player with an average salary of $21 million.

When the Cowboys' coaches reviewed the game tape, Lawrence was given four quarterback pressures, three total tackles and, of course, the one pass he knocked down.

“I always think I can play better, especially coming out of the game with a loss, I always try to critique myself on how I can get better,” Lawrence said Wednesday. “And how I can help my team get better. But overall playing a new defense, new schematics and all those things just looking back on the game I think I played decent, but like I said I always think I could get better.”

2020 NFL Week 1 stats and nuggets you might have missed - Barnwell on the Patriots, Vikings, Cowboys and more - Bill Barnwell, ESPN
Here's a case of where the injury to Blake Jarwin contributed to the Rams loss in a major way. (h/t to RJ Ochoa for spotting this first)

If you're wondering why CeeDee Lamb's route was short of the sticks on fourth-and-3, well, here's why. The Cowboys ran what's known as mesh, an Air Raid concept built around two crossing routes and a wheel route coming out of the backfield. The goal in running the two crossing routes is to get the receivers close enough to pick off man-to-man defenders; coaches literally teach their receivers to get close enough that they can high-five as they pass by each other.

The job of the deeper crossing route on mesh is to set the depth of the shorter route working underneath it. In a fourth-and-short situation like this, they wanted both crossing routes to be past the sticks so that their receivers could each run their routes and catch the ball at or past the first-down marker. Schultz, running the deeper crossing route, needed to run his route one yard past the sticks to leave Lamb enough space to run his crossing route at the sticks. Instead, as you can see from the NFL Next Gen Stats play animation below, Schultz ran his crossing route three yards deep, forcing Lamb to run his route two yards downfield, one yard short of the sticks.

Michael Gallup on CeeDee Lamb: "He wants to win, so we all love that” - Cole Patterson, A to Z Sports
While the loss has us bummed, there were certainly some positive developments - like first-round draft pick, CeeDee Lamb.

Meanwhile, Lamb — who was playing in his first ever professional game — totaled five catches for 59 yards, an average of more than 11 yards per reception. The Oklahoma Sooners product looked the part on the field and held his own against Los Angeles.

A telling sign was Prescott and the Cowboys going to Lamb on the fourth down in the fourth quarter that has stirred some controversy on social media. While Lamb did not run his route deep enough for the first down, the Cowboys trusted him enough to look his direction in that kind of situation.

Diggs Vs. Julio? Cowboys Rookie 'Has Earned Starting Job,' Says McCarthy - Mike Fisher, SI|Cowboy Maven
Head coach Mike McCarhy was pleased with second-rounder Trevon Diggs, as well. He will likely have his hands full covering Julio Jones this week, but that does not seem something that will shake him at all.

Diggs, the second-round rookie out of Alabama, played all 73 defensive snaps (and a bunch of the Cowboys’ special-teams snaps, too) as he inched his way to the top of the totem pole at cornerback.

He was ready.

“They say that you need those preseason games, but at the end of the day I feel like football is football,'' Diggs said before his NFL debut. “You go out there, line up, if you can do it, you can do it. If you can't, you can't. You just get thrown in the fire, and if you can handle it, you can handle it.''

Start and Sit: Week 2 | Football Outsiders - Scott Spratt, Football Outsiders
There are a lot of you who play fantasy football, so for those who have these Cowboys on your team, it might be a good week for you.

Russell Wilson doesn't need the help, but he demonstrated the boost a quarterback receives from a matchup against the Falcons in Week 1. He finished fourth for the week with 9.2 yards per attempt and tied for first with four passing touchdowns, and the Falcons generally increase their opponents' yards and touchdowns per pass attempt by 9% and 26%, sixth- and eighth-most in football. This week, Dak Prescott lucks into that draw and does so at home in the dome where he has averaged 2.3 more fantasy points per game than on the road since 2017. (Prescott is listed as having the best matchup of all QBs this week.)

The Cowboys receivers don't have to worry about their roles this week. The Falcons defense boosts completion percentage and yards and touchdowns per target by at least 10% to both No. 1 and No. 2 receivers. I highlighted CeeDee Lamb in the table because he may be the most surprisingly ranked of that threesome, but all three of he, Amari Cooper, and Michael Gallup are inside my top 20 this week. Stack away in DFS. (Lamb is the number two WR for this week.)

Writer’s Blocks: Sometimes, Overreacting Is OK - David Helman,
Despite the title, there is the making of some lemonade here.

You don't have to agree with the 4th-and-3, but I'll tell you why you should be encouraged by it.

It's 3rd and 6 on the L.A. 14-yard line. Kellen Moore said Monday that he called for a look that would give the Cowboys' offense a choice between a shotgun handoff to Ezekiel Elliott or a pass – likely a flare out to Cee Dee Lamb, breaking left into the flat.

The Rams came to the line with five in the box -- four down linemen and a linebacker. There was a sixth man nearby, but he shaded out toward the boundary to keep an eye on the Cowboys' receivers.

Against that look, the Cowboys opted to run. You might not love the call, but it clearly signifies this coaching staff was considering going for it on fourth down before the ball was even snapped on third down. It's a level of anticipation we never saw from the previous coaching staff.

Injuries Force Cowboys To Regroup At Linebacker - staff
Just a reminder of something we seem to forget every year: What the team has entering the season can be ruined quickly, even in the span of a game.

At full strength, linebacker is among the deepest positions on the Cowboys' roster.

They're far from full strength at the moment.

Eleven-year veteran Sean Lee began the season on injured reserve for at least three weeks and now is expected to be sidelined into October following recent sports hernia surgery. Starting middle linebacker Leighton Vander Esch joined Lee on IR this week after breaking his collarbone in the season opener against the Rams. He'll likely be out 6-8 weeks after surgery to repair the fracture.

A week into the season, the Cowboys have to regroup at the position.

Some troubling injury developments also cropped up in practice.

Or (we desperately hope), maybe not.

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