When the Dallas played the Saints and Seahawks earlier this season, many people called them “statement games” for the Cowboys.
Sunday’s game against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London is the opposite.
Jacksonville is battling the Oakland Raiders for the roster most devoid of talent. Head coach Gus Bradley has the team headed in the right direction, but he doesn’t have the personnel to be competitive yet.
The Cowboys beating themselves is the main thing to watch for, but there are a few promising Jaguars players for fans to keep an eye on Sunday.
DT Sen’Derrick Marks
Marks is having the kind of year the Titans thought he would have when they drafted him in the second round of the 2009 draft out of Auburn. Unfortunately for them, he’s reaching his potential in his second year in Jacksonville after signing as a free agent last year.
Bradley, formerly Pete Carroll’s defensive coordinator in Seattle, installed a base one-gapping 4-3 under front that better fits the strengths of a lighter penetrating defensive tackle like Marks. Marks responded by leading an underrated Jaguars defensive line that ranks third in the NFL in sacks with 27.
Marks' 9 tackles for loss rank 10th in the NFL — second at his position — and only four defensive tackles have more sacks than his 4. Expect to see Marks in the Cowboys’ backfield more than anyone not named Romo or Murray.
“Athlete” Denard Robinson
College football fans might remember “Shoelace” bursting into the spotlight as Michigan’s quarterback in 2010. Considered too small and raw to be an NFL quarterback, Jacksonville drafted Robinson with the intent to use him as a running back, receiver and even quarterback at times.
Robinson has always been a dynamic runner, but he’s shown surprising strength running between the tackles this season. Jacksonville’s run game was abysmal until they started giving Robinson the bulk of the carries a few weeks ago. Since then he’s run for 329 yards on 57 carries for an average of 5.8 yards per rush, better than any other running back in the NFL with at least 50 carries.
He seems to have successfully transitioned to a legitimate every-down running back, but his play-making ability extends all over the field.
Rookie QB Blake Bortles
Bortles showed the Jaguars coaches enough in the pre-season and practice for them to give him the nod over Chad Henne a few weeks ago. He’s been a mild upgrade over Henne so far, but it should only be a matter of time before he becomes a top young quarterback in the league.
The knock on Bortles leading up to the draft was inconsistent mechanics, specifically footwork and arm slot, which decreased his accuracy and velocity. It was clear in the pre-season that he cleaned them up, repeatedly delivering on-target strikes.
Bortles has the size, athleticism, intelligence and arm talent to easily justify his draft position — third overall — and experience is the only thing holding him back. When he’s comfortable and seeing the field well, he’s capable of moving the ball against good defenses.
Jacksonville has some young talent and a pretty good coaching staff, but there’s a reason they’ve been outscored by more points than any team in the NFL this season. Sunday’s game should be the most relaxing one of the season for Cowboys fans.