Monday, August 30, 2010

The Starters Need More Preseason Work

I've seen the debates running rampant over the last few days. The big question is whether playing the Dallas starters in the last preseason game is worth the risk. In most seasons I would say no. But after the awful showing by both the Cowboys' starting offense and defense Saturday night I think this season should be different.

You can say that it would be dumb to get someone hurt in the last preseason game before the season starts. And you would have a point. But can you honestly tell me that you believe the Cowboys are ready for a regular season game after watching the Houston game? Are you willing to sacrifice the first game of the season to protect against the small chance of an injury to a starter?

I just can't find a way to justify letting the starters sit after watching them trip all over themselves literally and figuratively last week. It is clear that the Cowboys have not found their rhythm on offense or defense yet. And it may only take a series or two to find it. The players can say they practice at the same speed as a game but until they show me the can translate their strong practice play into live game action then I don't really care how good practice is going.

Confidence plays a huge role in how a team performs. Right now the confidence of the Dallas Cowboys can not be good no matter what they are saying to the cameras. How can you be confident that you can score points when you can't protect the quarterback consistently and a ridiculous number of running plays are going for negative yards. How can the defense feel good about letting Houston go up and down the field against them even if Wade Phillips blames himself for not adjusting the defense at all during the game?

I say get all of the starters out there for at least a few series. If I were in charge I would tell the offense that they are going to play until they put the ball in the end zone. With the Dolphins likely to sit many of their starters the Cowboys will have a big advantage. And sure, even if the offense scores right away you can say it came against the Dolphins' backup players. That doesn't matter to me.

Success is a habit just like failure can become a habit. The Cowboys need to taste a little success on both sides of the ball before they head into the season opening game. Otherwise the Cowboys risk seeing another pitiful display of football in the season opener. I would hate to see the Cowboys lose the first game to the Redskins because they were too scared to play their guys for a few series in a preseason game. This is the NFL after all. You can't expect your team to improve if you only worry about playing it safe with injuries.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Observations from the Texans Game

The first team offense is really hurting along the offensive line. I expected more out of Holland and Barron than I saw in the game. I'm officially concerned about the offensive line depth.

The defense needs Marcus Spears. After all the news that was made this offseason about the contracts that were offered to Spears, Stephen Bowen, and Jason Hatcher it has become apparent that the run defense misses him. Spears should be back for the season opener so hopefully it will help improve the run defense. I think Spears has gained a lot of value by missing a few games and exposing what the defense is without him.

I know the score in preseason games doesn't mean anything but it is amazing to me that the Cowboys couldn't flip the switch when things were going bad in the game. I kept thinking the defense would get fired up and make a play but they never really did. I kept thinking the starting offense would find a new gear and put the ball in the endzone but it never happened.

The only thing I can find as a positive about the game was the play of Roy Williams. He looked really good for the first time in a long time.

The first team offense did move the ball up and down the field after their slow start. But they were still plagued by false starts, fumbles, interceptions...just think of a team mailing it in and that is what it looked like for the most part. They were just so sloppy it is hard to picture them turning it all around in the next two weeks.

Mercifully, Jon Kitna was able to hit Kevin Ogletree on a long touchdown pass to help the Cowboys avoid the goose egg on the scoreboard. Ogletree looked a lot better out there tonight.

Buehler didn't get any attempts for the second straight game. There was an opportunity late in the game for the Cowboys to give him a shot at a 47 yarder but the coaches chose to go for it on 4th down instead. I hope Buehler gets some more field goal attempts next week because he needs more work.

I'm keeping my comments short because I see no use in piling on about the poor play of the Cowboys. There will be plenty of that coming from the media. I hope the team finds a way to flip the switch over the next two weeks.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

What to Watch for Against Houston

The last preseason game was not good for the starters on either side of the ball. We have all heard about it for the last few days. I've chalked it up to players who were completely worn out from a seemingly endless training camp.

This week the Cowboys have had a lot of time to get their minds and bodies right. Wade Phillips has allowed the players to recover by running multiple "walkthrough" practices so the players aren't exerting themselves physically nearly as much as they had been for the last month. I expect to see a team with a new spring in its step on Saturday night. Here is what I will be watching for:

1. The offense finding a rhythm. We have all been waiting for it for a long time now. This is the last preseason game for the most of the starters on offense. I really hope we finally see the offense that set records and was the #2 offense in the NFL last season. I know Colombo and Kosier are still out but that shouldn't stop the offense from moving the ball up and down the field.

2. The defense returning to its form. For the first two preseason games the starting defense was downright dominant. Then, last week, San Diego moved the ball up and down the field for the entire first half. I hope last week's performance was an aberration and not a sign of things to come.

3. Alan ball making a play for the pass defense. I've seen Ball make some tackles now and he looks like he can get the job done in that regard. But I'd still like to see him make a play on a pass and break it up or intercept it. I think Ball's confidence would soar if he were able to make a few plays before heading into the regular season opener.

4. David Buehler continuing to show improvement. We didn't see much of Buehler last week since the Cowboys never attempted a field goal. I hope he gets a few more attempts this week so he can get more game experience.

5. A re-emergence for Kevin Ogletree. I'm not sure what the problem has been, but Ogletree seems to have regressed from last season. I hope to see him break out of his funk before the season starts. We might need him at some point this year.

6. Alex Barron getting the job done at right tackle. We saw Robert Brewster do a decent job last week playing both right and left tackle. I hope we see Barron handle the pass rushers and dominate the line of scrimmage in the running game. I like Brewster a lot but I'm not ready to count on him if Colombo or Free go down during the season.

7. Mike Hamlin and Barry Church fill in at strong safety for Sensabaugh. Hamlin has a huge opportunity to play with the starting defense and show that he can be a starter in the future. His rookie season was non-existent due to injuries so this is the first time we'll really see him in any sort of meaningful situation. Barry Church has looked impressive in camp and the preseason games so far. He might get a few snaps with the starters and I'm excited to see what he can do.

8. Stephen McGee finally show us something. I'm starting to think that McGee is a lost cause. He doesn't seem to do a good job of keeping his eyes down the field as the play develops. And he seems to check down to the safety valve on nearly every pass he actually does throw. I'm sure part of his problem is poor offensive line play but, at some point, he has to show us something or the Cowboys will have to find another young quarterback to develop.

9. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah in the return game. AOA broke off a big punt return last week that was called back for a penalty. But he looked quicker than I expected and he had good vision on his returns. I hope he corrects his issues with protecting the ball during his returns because he could be a great asset on kick returns this season if he does.

10. Sean Lee making plays all over the field. Lee seemed to be in on every other tackle last week. When I watched him he looked good on some plays and a little late or unsure of himself on other plays. It was his first game so I expect to see improvement this week. I think Lee is going to be a fixture in the Cowboys defense for the next 10 years.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Wade Finally Backs Off on Intensity

It sounds funny to say it after all of the uninformed media accounts of "camp cupcake" surfaced a few years ago. But it appears that Wade Phillips may have gone a little overboard with his training camp schedule this year.

The San Diego preseason game was ugly. The first team offense was out of sync and sloppy. The first team defense got beaten up and down the field. If it weren't for two turnovers by the defense the score could have been one-sided at the end of the first half. Fortunately the Cowboys were able to hang in the game and give the backups and shot to take over down the stretch.

After the game I found myself wondering what the problem was. I know that this team is stacked at nearly every offensive skill position. They are stacked at linebacker and the secondary looks pretty good with Barry Church and Danny McCray emerging as standouts among the rookies. I know they have talent. I realize the roster has some weaknesses but I'll take the Cowboys roster over just about any NFL roster.

Sunday morning I woke up with what I thought was a reasonable excuse for the poor play the team displayed. Overtraining. Sure, it sounds convenient to make excuses and you might tell me I'm fooling myself. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that this team is loaded with talent.

On Monday I was listening to Talkin' Cowboys on and Nate Newton came on the show. Mickey Spagnola and Rob Phillips asked him what he thought was going on. His answer was the same as my thought...overtrained and tired players. Hearing that from a long time NFL player convinced me that my suspicions were correct.

All you have to do is look at what happened with the first team offense. Miles Austin dropped a pass. Roy Williams fell on what would have been an easy completion. Jason Witten dropped a perfect pass. Tony Romo just looked uncomfortable and inaccurate. Each one of those problems individually would just be a bad day for a player. But all of those things happening not just in one game but in one half of one game tells me that something else was going on.

Just think about how your work performance slips when you feel overworked and tired. You lose focus. You make silly mistakes. You overlook things that you would normally spot easily. But if you give yourself a day or two of recuperation typically you can bounce right back and get on track quickly. Overtraining affects you mentally and physically.

I don't know if Wade Phillips is thinking the same thing or not, but he finally gave the players some rest. The players were given Sunday off. No meetings and no practice. Monday was an easy walkthrough practice. And Tuesday morning was another walkthrough practice followed by a regular practice Tuesday afternoon.

We won't really know if the recuperation time will make a difference until we see the Cowboys get back on the field against Houston on Saturday. But I have to believe the time off will help the players feel refreshed and refocused. And maybe the injuries that keep popping up will stop since the player's bodies have a chance to heal.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Observations from the San Diego Game

Jason Hatcher got the start at defensive end. I wonder if that means anything. I don't think Bowen or Hatcher have done anything that would force the coaches to make a change in the starting lineup when Spears gets back.

Alan Ball made a good open field tackle on Darren Sproles on a screen pass. I would have been more impressed if the tackle didn't come after a 20 yard gain.

The first team defense didn't look great on the opening drive. The Chargers were able to run and pass all the way down the field. But Terence Newman made a great play to undercut and intercept an out route in the red zone. Hopefully the turnover is a sign of things to come from the defense this year.

The first series from the offense ended in an interception. Romo forced a bad pass with a free rusher in his face. Romo and Roy Williams missed another easy connection on the drive as well. Brewster and Holland both seemed to do a decent job on the opening drive.

Gerald Sensabaugh appeared to injure his left shoulder on the defense's second series. Barry Church stepped in for him. Keith Brooking did a good job (illegal contact?) covering Antonio Gates on a third down play. Barry Church made a nice goal line tackle on the drive. Philip Rivers finished the drive with a touchdown on a quarterback sneak and then ran his mouth as usual after the play.

The first team offense was very sloppy on their second drive. They look like a unit with a bunch of backup players trying to keep the offense afloat. Romo was heavily pressured on every pass.

Sean Lee got extended playing time because Keith Brooking banged up his shoulder and was taken out of the game as a precaution. Lee made two tackles in three plays on a three and out forced by the defense. Lee had a pretty good game for his first preseason appearance. He is going to be a starter for a long time if his knees hold up.

Doug Free made a great lead block on a toss left to Marion Barber. Unfortunately the drive ended on a dropped pass by Miles Austin. Once again, the first team offense just didn't look good.

Barry Church, filling in for the injured Sensabaugh, picked up a fumble and nearly scored. Tony Romo connected with Miles Austin a few plays later to end the offense's preseason touchdown drought.

Brewster earned a lot of respect tonight. He did a decent job with the starters at right tackle and then shifted to left tackle in the second half. He might be developing into a real NFL player right before our eyes. When I first saw Brewster play I thought he fit better at guard but he looked a lot more comfortable against San Diego.

Martellus Bennett reminded everyone why he had some much excitement surrounding him last year in the preseason. He made several nice plays including a great catch for a touchdown. And, more importantly, I didn't see any plays all night where he had to be told where to line up.

Owusu-Ansah had a 45 yard punt return called back for a block in the back, but his burst and vision was impressive on the return. He had a fumble on a kick return earlier in the game so ball security is an issue. But I'm excited about his potential.

Friday, August 20, 2010

What to Watch for Against the Chargers

It feels like a long time ago that the Cowboys played the Raiders. There hasn't been much news out of training camp recently outside of the injuries to Marc Colombo and Kyle Kosier. Now that we are getting to the meat of the preseason schedule we have reached the point that the starters get a lot of playing time. This is what I will be watching for:

1. Can the offensive line hold up with two starters out? Like I have said before, in some ways it is a good thing to have some starters out for the preseason. The coaches are forced to get Montrae Holland and probably Robert Brewster some meaningful playing time with the first unit. I'm pretty confident that Holland can get the job done but Brewster is a big question mark.

2. Assuming Romo gets some protection, can the offense finally find a good rhythm and score a touchdown? It sounds like the offense really found their groove in practice this week but until they score points in a game there are going to be questions.

3. Is David Buehler going to keep it up? He has been solid so far in the preseason games, but he needs to keep improving heading into the season.

4. Is Stephen Bowen good enough to start when Spears finally gets healthy. Bowen has looked pretty good so far but he still needs to prove he can stuff the run like Spears can do.

5. Who is going to win the #4 cornerback job? There are a lot of young guys vying for the job. Whoever makes the most plays will win the battle but right now it is too close to call.

6. What can Akwasi Owusu-Ansah do at the NFL level? He missed the first two preseason games but he'll be playing on Saturday. I'm excited to see what he can do in the return game.

7. Does Martellus Bennett have his head screwed on straight? He has been lighting it up in practice but I still need to see him prove he knows the play book. I'd like to see him get lined up every play without help from Romo or anyone else on the field.

8. Will Kevin Ogletree snap out of his slump? He looked so good in his limited action last year I think everyone expected him to challenge for more playing time this season. So far his play has been flat and uninspired in the first two preseason games.

9. Will the linebackers impress again? Last week it looked like the Cowboys were stacked across the board at the four linebacker spots. Having too many good linebackers is a good problem to have. I hope they look good again this week.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Keeping A Positive Outlook

The training camp injuries just continue to mount. Kyle Kosier was the second starting offensive lineman to go down today. Preliminary reports are estimating he will be out 4-6 weeks with a sprained MCL which puts his availability for the season opener in question. MCL's are tricky, but I will actually be surprised if they don't get Kosier out there for the opener wearing a knee brace. Time will tell, but again, at least it wasn't a season ending injury.

It is easy to feel like the Cowboys are snake bitten this preseason, but I'm trying to look at the other side of the coin. Offensive line depth has been a major concern all offseason. Now the backups will get extended playing time in the remaining preseason games. It will help guys like Robert Brewster, Travis Bright, and Sam Young to get more live game action.

To prove my point about getting the young guys more time on the field all we have to do is look back to last season. When Marc Colombo went down with his injury it appeared the Cowboys were in deep trouble at right tackle. But Doug Free stepped in a played so well that the offense didn't miss a beat. And he was so impressive that it gave the Cowboys enough confidence in him that they cut Flozell Adams in the offseason and handed Free the starting left tackle job.

Coaches have a tendency to go with the guys they know. It is tough to break into the league when you aren't a big name college player. But now the young offensive linemen on the roster get a real shot to show what they can do against tougher competition. In the end it makes the backups that much better because they will have more experience and confidence.

Of course we do have to hope that one of the players filling in doesn't mess up so badly that they get someone hurt. But I'm sure guys like Romo and Felix Jones will have such limited playing time that we won't have to worry for too long on Saturday against San Diego. Next week and maybe even this week Alex Barron should be back to play right tackle so that should help the offense while Colombo recovers. And Montrae Holland has done a decent job in his limited playing time with the starters a couple of seasons ago.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Another Injury Scare

The Cowboys dodged a major bullet yesterday with the Marc Colombo injury. He is out 2-4 weeks and will have to undergo arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. But it could have been much worse. Colombo got his knee rolled up on during team drills in practice and had to be carted off the field. For a short time it appeared he might be out long term. I don't think there is anyone on the roster behind Colombo that we want to count on long term at right tackle.

And in the same practice there was a scare with Jason Witten. He also had his legs rolled into during team drills and stayed down for a few seconds. Luckily he was ok, but it just shows how quickly things can go wrong during the preseason.

I find myself watching the preseason games and just hoping no one gets hurt. When Romo decides to run the preseason I shout "Get Down!" or "Slide!" every time he runs. My worst fear is that he will be injured before the season even really gets started. I feel like a worrywart during the games but we all know what would happen to the season if Romo went down with a serious injury.

Sure, it is fun to watch when the offense is clicking and the defense is shutting down the opposition. But in the end we all know the final score doesn't mean anything in the preseason anyway. I'm just relieved when the starters get off the field without a major injury.

Practice injuries are going to happen but we have to hope that the severity of the injuries continues to be minor. Dez Bryant was hurt pretty badly but if he is back for the season opener then I think the Cowboys will feel pretty lucky about his injury.

For the most part the Cowboys have been pretty fortunate with injuries. There have been a lot of players injured but nearly all of them are short term injuries. If the worst injury that happens this preseason is John Phillips I'll consider the Cowboys lucky. But there are several weeks to go before we can breathe easy heading into the season with the starting players on both sides of the ball healthy. I'll continue to cross my fingers, knock on wood and perform any other superstitious ritual I can think of until the start of the regular season arrives.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Training Camp Thoughts - 8/14/10

I just saw that Martellus Bennett still isn't practicing in Oxnard today. I know it is better to be cautious with injuries in the preseason but this injury to Marty B. is really dragging on. Now that there are really only two legitimate tight ends on the roster it is going to be imperative that Martellus is on top of his game all year. He needs the practice reps so I hope he is back soon. But at the same time I also understand that aggravating the injury could be devastating since there is no depth left at tight end. It seems like the severity of Bennett's ankle injury was downplayed too much heading into camp.

Dez Bryant is out of his walking boot and has started rehabbing off to the side during practice. That is great news. My feelings towards his injury are a little different than Marty B.'s. The Cowboys have plenty of depth at wide receiver and Dez is just the icing on the cake for an already potent offense. I'd like to see the Cowboys bring him along slowly and safely so he doesn't risk re-injuring his ankle.

The starting defense has looked really good so far in the two preseason games. My worries for the defense are free safety and defensive tackle depth. I know Alan Ball has done a decent job so far but he hasn't been forced to do much yet. I want to see him hit someone and be forced to make a play down the field in the passing game before I'll feel comfortable. Junior Siavii is probably going to be the backup defensive tackle again but he sometimes gets manhandled against the run.

Roy Williams should be working against press coverage during camp. He couldn't get off the ball on Thursday and that scares me. He really has a hard time getting separation from his defender.

I feel pretty good about Doug Free at this point. Working against Demarcus Ware in practice has to help. There was some criticism of the offensive line after the Raider game on Thursday, but they did a decent job. The pass protection problems seemed to be more of a result of problems with the receivers and quarterback than the offensive line. But I still don't understand how they don't seem to dominate the line of scrimmage in the running game like you would expect a line so massive to do.

David Buehler still has a long way to go to prove himself but he looked a lot better on Thursday. I think he should be working on longer field goals during practice because that seems to be where he hasn't quite figured it out yet. The 42 yarder against the Raiders was perfect but I think the team needs to be able to depend on him from 45-50 yards as well. With his leg power there is no reason he shouldn't be able to make long field goals consistently. I like that they make him kick in live drills in practice but I think they need to increase the distances.

The offense still should be working on their red zone production. Tony Romo mentioned that they aren't really calling their red zone plays during the preseason games, but I'm not sure they shouldn't. It would be nice if the starting offense could get in the habit of scoring touchdowns heading into the regular season. More than the lack of execution in the red zone what worries me are the stupid penalties down there. That seems to be the biggest red zone battle the offense faces.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Observations from the Raider Game

The starting defense looks ready for the regular season. Terence Newman nearly intercepted a pass on the first play of the game. Bradie James and Keith Brooking were both flying around the field.

I really tried to focus on Alan Ball but he is usually lined up so far off the ball that he isn't on the screen during the play. I want to really see what he can do but I feel like I might need to be at the game in order to see what he is doing down the field.

The first team offense still needs work. Once again they drove right down the field only to fall apart in the red zone. They got Jason Witten, Miles Austin, Felix Jones, and Marion Barber all involved on the first drive but Romo was sacked two out of three plays after they reached the Raider 16 yard line. Roy Williams was really struggling with the tight bump and run coverage the Raiders gave him. The second drive by the starters ended in a punt with a slant to Austin being the only highlight. The starting offense definitely has not found their regular season form yet.

I loved the creativity of Jason Garrett to use an extra tackle on offense instead of throwing out a random street free agent tight end with the starting offense. Pat McQuistan was basically the #2 tight end with Marty B. still rehabbing his ankle.

David Buehler took advantage of the bad red zone offense by nailing a 42 yard field goal right down the middle. His first field goal looked better than any of his kicks last week. His second field goal was from 27 yards and was no problem. He made another from 28 yards right down the middle in the 4th quarter.

Bryan McCann made a great play on a deep ball at cornerback. He is going to make the team if he can keep it up for a few more weeks. McCann also returned a couple of punts. One of the returns went about 25 yards. The Cowboys might have found something in McCann.

Junior Siavii made a great play on a bull rush to get a sack. He'll probably be the backup defensive tackle again this season. There really isn't anyone else on the roster with a any shot of taking his spot.

Doug Free gave up a sack but it was more due to Kitna holding the ball too long than anything else. Free played pretty well overall again.

Matt McBriar kicked a ball nearly 80 yards in the air out of the end zone. That was probably the longest punt in the air I have ever seen in my life. He kicked it from the back of the end zone to the 30 on the other side of the field. And it was in Cowboys Stadium with the roof closed so it wasn't like he had help from the wind.

The second team defense was really soft up the middle against the run. They were matched up against the Raiders starting offense but they were getting blown off the ball up the middle. They did stiffen up once the Raiders put in their #2 defense. Jason Williams really looks like an improved player in his second season.

Jon Kitna really does not have good pocket presence. He takes a lot of unnecessary hits because he doesn't seem to feel the pass rush around him. It appears he could step up or sidestep on most plays to avoid the rush.

Tashard Choice looked very good with the second team offense. He is good enough to get on the field more than he does. The Cowboys are stacked at running back which is kind of sad for Tashard because he deserves more playing time than the Cowboys can give him. It is nice to know that he can step up if Felix Jones or Marion Barber go down.

It seems like Kevin Ogletree plays to the level of the guys around him. He had two passes knocked out of his hands that he probably should have come down with. I have a feeling he would have made the catches if it was a real game.

I'm starting to think that Stephen McGee doesn't have what it takes at the NFL level. I wish they would give him a little time with the second team offense so we could really judge his ability. McGee seems to have a hard time pulling the trigger when the patterns are down the field. I think his favorite pass is the check down to the running back.

Robert Brewster needs to be moved to guard. He looks like a guard and he doesn't appear to be quick enough to handle the duties of tackle. Maybe he is still rusty from his off year but I'll be surprised if he isn't move inside in the next year or two.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What to Watch for Against the Raiders

With such a quick turnaround between Sunday's game against the Bengals and Thursday's game against the Raiders the Cowboys are going to struggle to overcome some injury issues on the roster. Of course I am primarily talking about tight end and cornerback, but I'm sure a lot of players will be dealing with minor bumps and bruises heading into the game. Fortunately the majority of the starters didn't see much action against the Bengals so they should be fresh for the game on Thursday. Here is what I will be watching for:

1. Can the first team offense score touchdowns in the red zone? Sunday was concerning because we saw the exact same problem that plagued the offense last year. They moved right down the field only to stall in the red zone. Wade Phillips mentioned that they wanted to work on some passing down there but I think it is important to establish the physicality of the running game. The offense needs to have the attitude that they will cram the ball down the opponent's throat in short yardage situations. I'd like to see Jason Garrett establish the running game down there this week.

2. Was Doug Free's performance a sign of things to come? He looked great against the Bengals but he needs to play like that every week. I'll be watching him closely until he dominates a big name player in the regular season.

3. Was David Buehler nervous or is he going to be squeaking them through all the time? Against the Bengals it seemed that the longer the field goal the more he pulled the kick to the left. I hope he can straighten it out or the Cowboys will need to find a kicker fast.

4. Will Sean Lee get on the field? I want to see what he can do. Jason Williams looked a lot more comfortable and confident last week than he ever did last year. But Lee is the guy that most people are expecting to win the nickel linebacker battle.

5. Will Martellus Bennett play? The coaches seem to be indicating that Marty B. won't be ready just yet, but with the lack of depth at tight end he might be forced into limited action. With John Phillips out we are back to counting on Martellus to step up his game. I'd like to see him on the field if he is healthy.

6. Will Alan Ball show us something? He was somewhat invisible in the game on Sunday but that isn't necessarily bad for a safety. But I'd like to see him come up and make a hit against the run and make some plays on the ball in the passing game. Maybe with more game action we'll see him make more plays.

7. Will the second team offensive line perform better? They weren't great last week which has to make you nervous. Alex Barron is probably out so we should see more of Brewster again this week. The backups need to step up their game because odds are the offense will need one of them at some point in the regular season.

8. Can one of the rookie safeties make the team? I really like how Barry Church plays. He is always around the ball and he likes to hit. Danny McCray played great in the game on Sunday so hopefully he can continue that type of play. One of these guys could push one of the veterans off the team if they keep it up.

9. Is Stephen Bowen ready to start? He sure looked good against the Bengals. But we didn't see him as much against the run as we did against the pass. The key to becoming the starter is going to be playing the run as good as or better than Marcus Spears.

10. Can Brandon Williams play the run? He sure has a quick first step off the line against the pass. He could be a great backup option at outside linebacker if he can learn to play the run. The depth overall at outside linebacker looks much better this year with an experienced Victor Butler, Brandon Williams, and Curtis Johnson all battling for playing time.

11. Can the Cowboys avoid more major injuries? This is probably the most important question of all. John Phillips was lighting it up in camp and the first preseason game before he went down. We have to hope that the key players on the roster stay healthy for the rest of the preseason.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Observations from Preseason Game #1

The first team offense looked pretty good until they hit the red zone. They have been struggling in the same situations in practice so that shouldn't be a surprise. The offense definitely needs red zone work. Felix Jones had a fumble in the red zone wiped out by an offside penalty. Fumbles in the red zone are unacceptable.

Tony Romo looked ok, but didn't seem totally comfortable yet. A few of his throws were off target and his timing seemed a little off.

Buehler wasn't great kicking the ball. His field goal was short but he didn't have any trouble. His second field goal was a 34 yarder and it was good but it was heading left and didn't make it by much. The third attempt was missed from 49 yards but he shanked it badly to the left. Fourth attempt was a short one and he nailed it down the middle.

Doug Free did a great job run blocking and pass blocking. On a few plays he blocked more than one man during the play. I feel a lot more comfortable about him but I won't be totally sold until I see him against a premiere pass rusher.

I didn't notice Alan Ball when the first team defense was in the game. That is a good thing because that means he didn't make a mistake.

John Phillips caught a pass from Tony Romo with the first team offense. That doesn't mean he is ahead of Martellus Bennett on the depth chart yet, but Phillips always seems to get the job done whenever he gets a shot. Phillips made two more nice catches later on a seam route and a deep out thrown by Kitna. Phillips hurt his knee in the 2nd quarter but early reports didn't mention the severity of the injury. Did I mention that Phillips blocked well too? Marty B. is going to have a hard time sleeping tonight.

Stephen Bowen had a nice quarterback pressure. Overall, the starters looked pretty good against the Bengal's first team offense. Keith Brooking really knows how to time his blitzes and get penetration. I hope Sean Lee and Jason Williams are taking notes.

Kitna actually looked decent running the offense outside of a fumble. I know he is a proven player but I wasn't impressed when I saw him early in training camp. He is no Tony Romo, but he could at least fill in for a few games if needed.

The second team defense did a very good job against the Bengals #1 offense. Jamar Wall and Cletis Gordan blanketed T.O. and Chad Ochocinco.

Alex Barron looked pretty good but all his action was against the Bengals #2 defense so it is hard to judge. But at least he didn't false start and he blocked well.

Stephen McGee has improved a lot over the last year but he still has a long way to go if he is going to follow in Romo's footsteps. Most of his passes were thrown hard and accurate but his accuracy was horrible with rushers in his face. McGee just doesn't seem to have the field awareness needed to be a quality quarterback in the NFL.

I really like the way Barry Church plays. He is quick to the ball and he delivers a big hit when he gets there. He might sneak onto the final roster if he keeps it up.

Brandon Williams made a nice interception the third quarter. His knee looked great as he rumbled down the field on his return. If he can rush the passer like the coaches think he can then Ware will get a few plays off this year.

The last quarter and a half was hard to watch with so many guys on the field who won't make either team.

Overall it was a decent showing by the Cowboys. It is very early in the preseason so I expected an ugly game and that is what we got. Both sides of the ball and special teams need a lot of work. But a win is a win even if it is the preseason.

***Update - it looks like Martellus Bennett might not have to worry after all. John Phillips may have torn his ACL during the game last night.

What To Watch For in The Hall of Fame Game

With the start of the preseason schedule later tonight it is really starting to feel like the season is getting close. There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the Cowboys heading into the game. But a game against live competition should help to tell us what to expect from the Cowboys this season. Here is what I will be watching for:

1. No injuries. We all know this team is loaded with talent. The easiest way to lose the talent advantage is to have key players get hurt before the season even starts.

2. Alan Ball. Does he look like he is in command out there? Is he making the calls in the secondary without any confusion? Is he making plays on the ball in the passing game? How is his run support?

3. Orlando Scandrick. We keep hearing that he is ok and his injured finger won't be a problem. I want to see with my own eyes that he is making plays on the ball and jamming receivers without hesitation.

4. Stephen Bowen/Jason Hatcher. These two finally have shot to really show us something. With Spears out until the regular season either guy could dominate and take the starting position. It will be interesting to see if either guy can play the run consistently at the level Spears does.

5. Marion Barber. Is he back to running like The Barbarian? That should be easy to spot if he gets a chance to carry the ball.

6. Felix Jones. Is his extra weight gained in the offseason going to slow him down? If he still has his burst with added weight he could be more durable this season.

7. Fullback. Are the Cowboys committed to using a fullback? Will Deon Anderson stick around another year? Do any of the rookies have a chance to take his spot?

8. Anthony Spencer. Is he ready to dominate all season long? I'm hoping to see the late season/playoff version of Spencer on the field. The defense could be scary good if he dominates this season.

9. Tony Romo. We won't see much of him, but I'd like to see him operating efficiently in his short time on the field.

10. David Buehler. This is simple. Can he make his kicks?

11. Martellus Bennett/John Phillips. Either way this plays out the Cowboys are loaded at tight end. But the #2 spot might be a battle if John Phillips continues to shine. I'm hoping we finally see Marty B. focused and ready to play. If he knows his play book like he should then he'll probably be able to fend off Phillips for the #2 tight end spot.

12. Wide receivers. Does Miles Austin look focused? Is Roy Williams ready to step up and earn his enormous paycheck? Is Dez Bryant focused on the game on the sidelines? I know Dez is not playing but I hope he isn't just playing grab ass on the sidelines. He can learn a lot by watching.

13. Doug Free. Is he ready to protect Romo this season? Free is probably the key to the passing game. If he can give Romo time then the offense should be just as good if not better than last year.

14. Sean Lee/Jason Williams. Both players have a lot of talent and promising futures. But only one of them will get to be on the field a lot this season. I know Sean Lee is the total package and will start someday, but Williams' speed and athleticism is perfect for the nickel linebacker spot he is fighting to win.

15. Can T.O. be mature enough to shake hands and be friendly with his former team? I'm assuming that Jerry Jones, Wade Phillips, Tony Romo and the rest of the Cowboys will be professional. But you never know what you are going to get with T.O.

***I didn't get a chance to post anything on Emmitt Smith and the Hall of Fame yet. I was travelling and I didn't want to short change one of the greatest Dallas Cowboys of all time by rushing through a post about him. I'll have more on #22 later this week.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Training Camp Thoughts - 8/3/2010

Tony Romo is practicing with a little arm soreness and we get headlines over it. Is it really that much of a surprise that Romo gets sore every training camp? Isn't that what camp is for? I guess the media needs a story so they blow things out of proportion. I should be used to it by now.

If Brett Favre truly is retiring then things will get easier for the Cowboys on two fronts. First, the Vikings game will be a little easier but still no walkover victory. Second, the path to the NFC championship would be a lot easier without Favre running the show in Minnesota. I'll believe Favre is really retired when the season kicks off and he is still riding his lawnmower in Mississippi.

I read Peter King's article where he mentions that the injury to Dez Bryant might be a blessing in disguise. There is definitely some validity to his point. Our expectations for Dez were probably getting out of control with his early camp success. Now that he will be sitting for about another month it will allow the buzz to die down and anything he contributes early in the season will be a bonus. That is probably how we should have viewed him all along but it is hard to keep expectations realistic when a guy is flashing the skills that Dez possesses.

With the first preseason game coming up on Sunday it is looking like most of the highly drafted rookies won't be on the field. Sean Lee could still sneak onto the field but he'll have to get back to practicing very soon if that is going to happen. Dez is obviously out. And Akwasi Owusu-Ansah is very unlikely to play since he hasn't practiced yet at all. It is fortunate for the rookies that the Cowboys have an extra preseason game because they can afford to miss this week and they'll still get the same amount of preseason game reps as nearly every other NFL rookie.

I wonder how T.O. is going to behave on the field on Sunday. Will he talk with Romo and be friendly? Will he talk to Jerry Jones? How about Jason Garrett or Wade Phillips? I hope the Cowboys coaches and staff try to be the better men and reach out to T.O. The pregame chatter between the players might be one of the most interesting things to watch considering how long most of the guys who will be on the final 53-man roster will be playing in the game.