Preseason Week 1 Preview: Cowboys at Rams
The return of NFL football kicks into full gear this week and Saturday’s action continues with a game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Los Angeles Rams. Preseason games are a time for teams to find out exactly who will be playing for them, whether it be specialists, rotational guys, or full time starters. Below, PFF’s team of analysts have all the most important position battles and players to watch during today’s game.
Coverage by: Ryan A. Smith
Position Battle: Chidobe Awuzie vs Leon McFadden, CB
This position battle has to do with more than just two cornerbacks. Orlando Scandrick may be starting, but that still leaves Nolan Carroll and Anthony Brown in the mix as well with much of the preseason still to be played. When in primary coverage, Carroll (100.0 – 77th among cornerbacks) and Brown (105.2 – 95th) allowed passer rating of over 100 last year.
Awuzie played 31 snaps (T-first) in the first game and should play a lot Saturday night as well. Awuzie was not used at all as a blitzer, but at Washington last season he collected eight sacks, six hits, and 17 hurries showcasing his versatility. McFadden figures to see a good amount of snaps as well (25 last week). He has 387 regular season snaps to his name so far in his four-year career.
Taco Charlton, EDGE
Charlton did not accumulate a pressure in seven pass-rush snaps during the Hall of Fame game. However, he did an excellent job of using his length to set the edge and control blockers (80.7 run-defense grade) even without recording a tackle. Charlton’s pass rush productivity (16.6) ranked fifth in the draft class as he accumulated 50 pressures including eight sacks during his final collegiate season at Michigan.
Kellen Moore, QB
Moore put on a show in the Hall of Fame Game with an adjusted completion percentage of 80 percent. He had three completions of 20+ yards in the air including a touchdown. When blitzed, Moore recognized where to go with the ball and completing four of five passes for 100 yards and a 118.8 passer rating. His lone interception came when pressured, but when he wasn’t pressured he was dynamite going nine of 12-of-146 yards and a TD (143.1 passer rating).
With a fresh extension this offseason, Collins was moved from backup LG to starting RT as Doug Free retired. Collins played tackle in college and the Cowboys will be hoping he gets back to his dominant level of performance. His 88.3 grade during his senior season ranked ninth among all FBS tackles.
Coverage by: Mike Cahill
Position Battle: Gerald Everett vs Tyler Higbee, TE
Though his 26 targets were the second most among rookie tight ends, Tyler Higbee finished with 11 receptions (fourth) and 3 drops (first). In his two seasons at Western Kentucky, Higbee finished with 53 receptions on 71 targets and only two drops. Higbee graded out with an overall PFF grade of 88.9 in his last season which ranked fourth in the nation. That same season, TE Gerald Everett finished with an overall PFF grade of 86.9, which ranked two spots behind Higbee at sixth. Both had identical yards per route run in 2015 with Higbee recording 2.30 yards per route run (third) on 244 snaps in route. Everett finished 2015 with 2.12 yards per route run (fourth) on 271 snaps in route. Everett improved in 2016 with 2.32 yards per route run (fourth) on 311 snaps in route. Both Everett and Higbee make plays after the catch, with both ranking in the top-5 in forced missed tackles in 2015; Higbee recording 10 and Everett recording 22, leading all tight ends by six. It was more of the same with Everett in 2016 with his forced missed tackles of 24 being nine more than any other tight end.
Justin Davis, HB
Davis went undrafted out of USC, but before injuring his ankle in Week 6 of the season he was the second most elusive running back in the nation with a mark of 173.7. His 26 missed tackles forced ranked 15th among halfbacks and he added 6 missed tackles forced on 11 receptions (13th). Across three seasons at USC, Davis had 406 rushing attempts and averaged 5.1 yards per carry with over half of his yards coming after contact (1,235). He combined to force 91 missed tackles as well with 78 of them coming on the run and 13 coming after the catch.
Tanzel Smart, DI
With interior defender Aaron Donald still holding out of training camp and Dominique Easley out for the season with an ACL, sixth-round pick Tanzel Smart will get a chance for a significant role in both the preseason and regular season. Smart ranked 3rd in the entire nation among defensive tackles in total quarterback pressures with 47 and tying with third-overall pick, Soloman Thomas. Smart’s overall PFF grade in 2016 was an 88.2 and ranked him seventh among interior defenders. To go along with his high overall grade, Smart also finished with a pass rush grade of 87.4 and a run defense grade of 86.7.
Ejuan Price, ED
The Rams used their last pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on an undersized edge defender, but his college production was anything but that. His 16 sacks were fifth most among all edge defenders in his final season at Pittsburgh. With the team transitioning to a 3-4 and Price is projecting to be an OLB, his 47.5 pass rush productivity in a 2-Point Stance ranked second in the draft class, so he could transition well. With fellow teammate Connor Barwin entering his ninth NFL season and Robert Quinn having played a maximum of 370 snaps over the last two seasons, expect to see a lot of Price rushing the passer.