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.