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Never get hysterical about preseason games.
Surely, never get worked up about the very first preseason game because we’re all starved for football and the media leaps to wild conclusions.
With that being said, my main take away from last night’s game is – the Cowboys are going to win the Super Bowl. This Hall of Fame game convinced me of it.
I’m going to save that for the end…to give you time to think about it, to wonder what I might have seen to lead me to this conclusion. You’ll likely never guess. Write your answer down now and see in a bit. I already picked the Cowboys to win the Super Bowl in May 2017…but, now, I’m just totally convinced of it after last night. At least, for this week… Next week, all teams play and anything can happen.
Before I give you my ‘Ah, ha…‘ moment from this game — let’s look at the rest of my game notes (random order):
— Firstly, I start out the 2017 handicapping season 0-1 — betting on the preseason…+1.0 with Arizona, and they lost by 2. Arizona led this game 15-0 early…and ended up losing 20-18. Who cares? I do. To me, this is a microcosm for where these two teams are headed/where they are already at for 2017+.
Arizona jumped out to a quick lead and had all the emotion…and they couldn’t maintain it. Everything the Cardinals are about is temporary emotion…and lack of attention to details/quality – and that starts with the coaches and management. Arizona has worse talent, up and down the chain, on the 2nd-3rd-4th+ team than Dallas (and 1st team). Dallas’s roster is loaded with savvy talent in a way we’ve all liked the Patriots – a lot of guys that are not household names and don’t show up in league promos, nor get votes in the ‘top 100’ by the players — but are better players at their position than most players in the league. Dallas’s 2nd team, aside from QB, is probably a playoff team in the NFL. *Note – if Dak goes down, Tony Romo is coming back…so actually their 2nd-team QB is the best in the league.
Arizona rolls out all their character reformation project players like Robert Nkemdiche and Tyrann Mathieu, and it just doesn’t work, sustainably. Dallas rolls out guys like Anthony Brown and Byron Jones…and they are better football players, better/smarter workers. Over time, talent + character will win. Dallas tried the Randy Gregory route…and it burned them, and they are strong enough to absorb it/take the hit. If Dallas lost highly-questionable-of-character Ezekiel Elliott for the season…they’d still win the title. It’s a very deep, very polished group of talent. You don’t win 11 games in a row last season with a rookie QB because you’re lucky. Dallas got down 15-0 here, and just slowly paddled their way back into the game and won it because they are the superior organization…on display even in a meaningless contest.
The capper being Arizona had opportunities to win/take the lead in the 4th quarter in this game…and blew it. The worst of it being with 0:50 seconds left and about 80 yards to go and no timeouts, the Cards’ rookie QB quarterback Trevor Knight (5-14 for 68 yards, 0 TD/0 INT) came back onto the field and needed to take chances, given the dire situation. I leaned to the person I was watching the game with and said (as I was trying to engineer a miracle FG at the end to win my bet, so I still cared…), “Knight is going to have to take a shot downfield and it has got be down the sidelines right away on this drive, but I bet he ends up running the ball like an idiot and eating up valuable time because he is more fearful of throwing an INT and getting yelled at than he is concerned about trying to make a play/win a game.”
First snap, 0:50 seconds left, down by two with 80 yards to go…Trevor Knight drops back and instantly takes off up the middle running for 10-15 yards and eats up :20+ seconds of the clock. The situation called for an ‘all-in’ gamble throw — and Knight chose to play it safe…knowingly dumb. Instead of trying to be a miracle worker to maybe get noticed in this league, he chose the ‘NFL mindset’ path…the path where a turnover is so abhorred that a player would rather, basically, lose the game and sacrifice his chance at a moment than take a risk on looking bad. I see it all too often in the preseason. If he took a risk and threw a pick…game over…and Bruce Arians is dropping F-bombs about how important ball security is – and the media is harping out turnover ratios as well. Trevor Knight should be released for being so dumb, as he was on that final drive – but I don’t think it’s all his fault. It’s the culture of old-school coaches yelling expletive-laced cliches about ‘focus’ and ‘no turnovers’. It’s why old-school, potty mouth coaches love the run game…less chance of a turnover.
I’ll say it a million times again this year – the NFL, it’s crazy fan base and never-satisfied/always on the prowl for trouble media, has backed coaches into playing not to lose/not to make mistakes instead playing to win and daring to fall short if they try something anti-establishment.
With a chance to win this nothing of a game…Arizona’s QB was ill-prepared or ‘scared’. Arizona was supposed to win the Super Bowl last year, according to many…and they didn’t even have a winning record. Dallas was supposed to be done when Tony Romo got hurt last season…instead they were the best team in the NFL’s regular season. This simple preseason win by Dallas…just a reminder that Arizona is still Arizona and they aren’t in Dallas’s league.
— Rico Gathers (3-59-1/4) scored the first TD of the game for Dallas. Kellen Moore lofted a ball to him in the end zone and the tiny Arizona DB looked like a mosquito compared to Gathers – Rico just reached up and grabbed it like someone tossed him a Tic-Tac. The whittle, itty-bitty, cutesy DB tried to knock it out of big, bad Rico’s hands after the catch but he was simply too ‘wee’ to do anything to disrupt Gathers.
Gathers is going to matter in 2017. A nice tight end to have in reserve – a big physical presence that can be used situationally in 2017. He’s being groomed to take over for Jason Witten in another year or two. Rico has the Antonio Gates vibe – massive size, basketball background so he knows how to box out defenders.
For more on Rico Gathers: Link: Very Deep Sleeper 2017: Rico Gathers (Fantasy Pros)
…and I swear, the first football media member that calls him ‘Rico Suave’…I’m looking at you, Trey Wingo.
— The MVP of this game was an Arizona Cardinal after all.
I predicted T.J. Logan (4-24-0) would be the MVP, pre-game. He would have…if Arizona deemed to use him. The lack of Logan was because Arizona needed more Elijhaa Penny (8-14-0)…and his 1.8 yards per carry ways. Elijhaa Penny shouldn’t even be a camp body. It’s a waste of time, but because old-school coaches love plodders…lots of Penny before T.J. Logan came in and was electric…and then hurt his wrist…and then pushed Penny back into the game and further ruined Arizona’s chances.
If Arians was planning on playing Logan, and he did, T.J. should have been in the game way ahead of Penny. There’s a future in Logan. Arians went with Penny and it killed him in this meaningless game. More poor choices by the organization as a whole. Penny is not making this or any NFL roster.
T.J. Logan is an interesting prospect…he’s in deep trouble for fantasy relevance buried behind David Johnson…and the illustriousChris Johnson…and, apparently, also behind Elijhaa The Penny…his value running the ball and his last name.
The REAL MVP? Arizona CB Brandon Williams (3 tackles, 2 PDs, 1 INT). What haunted Arizona last year was no pass game coverage aside from the shutdown Patrick Peterson. Teams just abused the Arizona pass D everywhere else Peterson wasn’t…because their rotating second CB was awful and Tyrann Mathieu may be the most overrated player in the NFL. He’s a mess.
Arizona has not been able to solve the second CB position now for over a year. That’s on the organization. In a 2017 NFL Draft known for its depth of CB talent, the Cardinals drafted = zero cornerbacks.
Brandon Williams was getting abused by random Dallas second and third-team WRs + their backup level QBs all game. It was embarrassing. Williams looked so promising as a rookie and it seems like he has literally gotten worse every week he’s been in Arizona since last preseason. He’s not gotten any better – so, who’s to blame? The open flood gate that is Brandon Williams was the top reason why Dallas won this game. This does not bode well for the Arizona pass defense in 2017.
In general, the Cards’ pass coverage was horrible all game.
— The opposite of that coverage nightmare…Dallas rolled out Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Jeff Heath and Anthony Brownin their secondary for this game. That is one talented group. When Arizona moved the ball early it was mostly shots over the middle against the backup linebackers who started for Dallas.
Awuzie was out of position a few times, but his movements looked nice – he’s already better than the Cards high pick from last year, game MVP, Brandon Williams. Anthony Brown is a future Pro Bowl corner…and the future may be this year. Jeff Heathwas solid…I was hoping for more. Byron Jones should be up for Defensive Player of the Year, but won’t win it because only sacks and tackles matter in this crazy football world.
As the season wears on, Dallas will have a better secondary this year than last…even with all the change in personnel – the changes will be what analysts will harp on early to dismiss Dallas.
— Darren McFadden (3 carries for -6 yards) started for Dallas, surprisingly…and he looked dreadful. Dallas’s best non-Elliott RB by FAR, in this game, was Alfred Morris (7-42-0). I want to tell you to sit on Alf for Weeks 1-2 for fantasy during the looming EE suspension…but that’s using logic. Jerry Jones loves him some DMC…not the Jam Master Jay kind either. McFadden gets the non-EE available starts.
— I do have some Arizona things to praise…
Chad Williams (1-19-0/2) doesn’t look out of shape at all. He looked like an NFL starter in size and movement. His problems are hands and effort. He’s another ‘Arians understands troubled players‘ reach of a draft pick that won’t pan out quite as much as people thought.
Much later in the 2017 draft, Dallas took mentally stable WR prospect Noah Brown (0-0-0/1) – a guy with less speed but better hands and is a hell of a blocker. Brown was lined up kinda like an H-back for Dallas in the red zone on a few plays and had a nice couple of blocks. Blocking isn’t as sexy as a 4.3+ 40-time, but the blocking skill is a skill…and a mindset…one Dallas overall has (the details) and Arizona doesn’t. If Larry Fitzgerald retires today, the Cardinals are left with the worst wide receiver group in the NFL.
I guess that wasn’t much of a praise.
OK, try this – rookie Budda Baker (6 tackles, 1 PD) looked pretty good. His speed and aggression were as advertised. A betterTyrann Mathieu…I could see that. But I also think the Honeybadger is the worst, so it may not be much of a compliment.
Sorry, Cards fans. I did the best I could.
— Injury to insult…I didn’t think rookie IDP Haason Reddick (3 tackles) looked all that great either. A lot of standing around, half-speed work like he was over-processing everything…not a lot of natural instinct. At least, that was my reaction isolating on him. Could have been that he’s more ‘controlled’ as a defender. I need to see more. It’s understandable, if he’s a bit lost, for a guy who has never played ILB until this summer, essentially…but then it’s Arizona spending a lot of draft capital on ‘hope this works’.
Too early to declare anything, but my first impression from this game…not as wild on Reddick yet.
— So why is Dallas my lock for the Super Bowl?
Dallas has a great O-Line…we all know that.
Dallas has a great QB…some people think that. The mainstream analysts love Carson Wentz more, but let’s argue Dak is Super Bowl capable.
Dallas has decent enough running backs (see: O-Line note).
Dallas has capable WRs and TEs…and some depth.
Dallas has a top kicker.
Dallas has solid linebackers and the great Sean Lee…who MUST stay healthy.
Dallas has a rising secondary, we already spoke of…and it’s developing depth as well.
You know what else Dallas has – a sneaky good defensive line group of talent — and is developing depth…once everyone is no longer suspended.
The player that jumped off the screen for me last night – it’s 2016 4th-round pick, Charles Tapper. A back injury cost him all of 2016…so he’s WAY under the radar. Tapper was a handful last night…no recorded sacks or even QB hits, but if you just watch the tape only watching him – it was impressive. He’s a 4.59 runner at 6’3″/271. Myles Garrett, the greatest/fastest DE to ever live…6’4″/272 and ran a 4.64 40-time.
Tapper has long-ass arms (sorry for the technical scouting jargon) and high-end athleticism. He was impressive on every snap and he always keeps playing after the rush – whereas Myles Garrett is all rush and then watches the rest of the play if he didn’t make penetration. Tapper will not start for Dallas…but he’ll be in the rotation. Having a guy like this as a ‘backup’ – Dallas is going to win the Super Bowl.
I was also very impressed with rookie Taco Charlton (no stats), and I was already a fan. He has a great first step and so many moves…and long ass arms as well. Plus, like Tapper, he’s always playing…he doesn’t give up – he’s not a head-down and blindly, madly rush the backfield and thus be taken out of 99% of the plays but makes one cool sack per game. Guys like Charlton and Tapper are the defensive end equivalents of multi-dimensional running backs who have wide receiver catching skills – they give you more options to work with. They’re more valuable.
Damonte Moore (2 tackles) was a nice pick up in basic free agency (but is suspended first two games). Demarcus Lawrence is suspended for the first four games. Charlton and Tapper are needed Weeks 1-4. From Week 5 on, Dallas may have 4 starter-level DEs to rotate.
Also note, rookie DT Joey Ivie (1 tackle) had a decent debut as well. I liked what I saw there.
In another world, Arizona used a first round pick on awful Robert Nkemdiche (1 tackle)
Dallas is accumulating tremendous, undervalued talent and the mainstream football world is mostly blind to it. The Patriots are kings of stealing your existing pro players. Dallas has become the kings of drafting and developing young talent. Those two worlds will collide for the title in a few months.
You want to know how athletic Charles Tapper is? I pray you watch the following 10-second clip…but follow my instructions.
Watch the whole thing after, if you want, but first move the dial up to 0:49 seconds. And pause it. Identify #91 (Tapper)…he’s the guy rushing the Alabama backfield up the middle as a DT. You see him?
OK, now play it…but PAUSE when the Alabama QB throws it to the receiver. Can you see where #91 is? You likely cannot see #91 because he was making a push over the center…and the pass went to the sideline. Go ahead and play it now…you’ll be reacquainted with #91 in a few seconds.
Consider that was a 270+ pound DL chasing down an Alabama-level talent of a receiver in the open field.
FYI, that’s Dallas’s second-string defensive end. What’s your team rocking on the second-string D-Line?