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.