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Cowboys mailbag: Issues at linebacker? Players to target before the trade deadline?

People have questions about the Cowboys, and we strive to provide the answers.

New England Patriots v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Richard Rodriguez/Getty Images

Every week, we take questions on Twitter and Facebook about Dallas Cowboys players and other questions surrounding the team. So let’s get right into it.

“How do the Cowboys stop Christian McCaffrey?”

(Elizabeth Richardson via Facebook)

Brandon: No team has been able to stop Christian McCaffrey in 2023. The last time McCaffrey was held under 60 yards of offense was against the Cowboys in the playoffs. Dan Quinn’s defense held him to 35 yards rushing and 22 receiving yards.

The Cowboys were much better against the run in the playoffs because of Johnathan Hankins and getting relentless pursuit from the rest of their defense. Luckily for Dallas, Hankins returned on a one-year deal, and they drafted Mazi Smith in the first round.

It might be chaotic initially, but I want to see what Juanyeh Thomas does in run defense. He’s been a pleasant surprise and continues to show instincts to track down the ball carrier. If the Cowboys can rally to the football, they’ve demonstrated the ability to stop McCaffrey.

Mike: To take a quote from Mike Tyson, “everyone has a plan till you get punched in the mouth”. This is the best way to plan for McCaffrey. He’s going to get wins on some rush attempts, he’s insanely talented and athletic so stopping him completely isn’t going to happen. But if you can rattle his cage early in the game and get him feeling apprehensive when he gets the ball, then those defensive victories will start to pile up. He averages 5.5 yards per carry when rushing in either a-gap and 8.5 yards per carry in the left b-gap. So getting both Mazi Smith and Johnathan Hankins on the line together to block up those holes is super important. Those guys can really deliver a punch to the mouth to McCaffrey and make the 49ers one-dimensional.

“Halfway to the trade deadline. Which 2024 free-agent prospect would immediately bolster the roster in a trade?

(Craig Cameron via Facebook)

Brandon: It all depends on the price, right? The Patriots just traded for cornerback J.C. Jackson, and the Los Angeles Chargers will pay $12 million of his guaranteed salary, with nothing guaranteed after 2023.

So it’s all about finding the right player and contract to work in Dallas. Last year, they tried to go after Brandin Cooks but could not get a deal done with the Texans because Houston wouldn’t take on much of his remaining contract.

The Cowboys have around $12 million in current cap space, so what player fits that? If Dallas wants to add an A+ talent at linebacker, Devin White of the Buccaneers could be an intriguing option. White could be a name to watch if the Bucs have a losing record before the trade deadline, as he requested to be traded in the offseason and is owed $7 million this year.

It would be an immediate upgrade for what’s already in place at linebacker, and he would be a free agent in 2024.

Mike: Let’s start with a no to Randy Gregory. This team has been better without him here and he proved to be a progress-stopper due the fact the coaches kept trying to get him involved and slowed the development of other players. I agree with Brandon that linebacker is a position of need, maybe take a look at what guys are available on practice squads.

Another place that could be helpful as the season goes on is a good run-stopping defensive linemen. Most of the players that would be available are available because of injuries or age. So at the moment, maybe a run-stopper like Michael Brockers who played for the Detroit Lions last year. But he was released due to a regression in production and he’s also nearly 33 years old. For now, I say keep the cap space to use when a roster emergency rises.

“Do we have a problem with freelancing at linebacker?”

(Stephen Nicol via Facebook)

Brandon: I think it’s more inexperience than anything. Leighton Vander Esch had one bad game against the Arizona Cardinals, but he’s been solid otherwise. Damone Clark is the one who’s guessed wrong on a few occasions when defending the run.

Don’t forget, he has only played 14 games in his NFL career and went through his first offseason with no limitations due to injury. He’s improved each week and did great things, stopping the run against the Patriots.

A lot has been thrown at the second-year player, but he’s shown to handle it well.

Mike: I get the question. Freelancing at the linebacker position is fine if you get it right. Get it wrong and the whole defense can have huge gaps to it. In order to freelance as a linebacker, you need to be an elite athlete to make up ground, or be super smart to know when and where to roam.

Unfortunately for the Cowboys linebackers, as fine as they are in their role, do not fall into either category. They need to play more toward a scouting term of, “go slow before you know”. That’s sticking to what the assignment is, watching the flow of the ball, staying square to the line and shuffling along before committing. Going rouge or freelancing isn’t a strong suit for Clark which has led him to being out of position a few times.

Poll Of The Week: Finally, we asked you a hypothetical on the poll this week and what highlight you would like to see play out in this weeks game against the 49ers. Here are the results and our take on the poll.

Mike: What better way to get redemption from the Divisional playoff game last year than to watch Dak Prescott throw the game-winning ball this weekend. The 49ers are great at stopping the run, but rank 16th in passing yards allowed, so this is very likely.

Brandon: The top choice had to be a game-winning touchdown pass for Dak Prescott. The narrative around Dallas’ franchise quarterback would change very quickly if he walked out of Levi Stadium with a win against another top-ranked defense, on the road, and in prime time.

However, how cool would it be for KaVontae Turpin to have a return for a touchdown? There was a moment in the playoff loss last year where Turpin almost broke a return for a score if he took the return toward the outside instead of back into the kicker.

If he made that play, the Cowboys could have won the game. Turpin usually performs well in the state of California, so why not this week?

Be sure to check Blogging The Boys as well as @kenfigkowboy and @brandoniswrite on X and also Facebook for the weekly post, asking for your questions to include in the weekly mailbag. Also, check for the Poll of The Week on X. Many thanks to everyone who sends in your questions and votes.

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