Four years ago, I watched a week of Camp Parcells at Oxnard and stumbled across a startling fact while writing my summary: the Cowboys, in year one of their switch to a 3-4 front, did not practice any blitzes. Not once in any of their second-week workouts did they bring five or more rushers at their QBs. Dallas blitzed plenty that year, but the ever-paranoid Bill Parcells waited until his guys were in the privacy of Valley Ranch before they were installed.
Wade Phillips and his coaches took a different approach with their season preparations. The team worked out a long list of tactics, offense, defensive and special teams, on a daily basis. Once the fake games began, however, the Cowboys threw a cape over them and made these specials disappear. It's a big reason why the scores of the exhibitions remain meaningless.
Here's some of what you haven't yet seen, but will, starting next Sunday in Tampa.
Offense -- The "Felix Package" has yet to be unwrapped. Dallas has a variety of runs, passes and variations of base packages concocted just for him. The base sets are the same ones used for Marion Barber and Tashard Choice, but the end results are very different. Jason Garrett understands Jones' value in space. Trust me on this. Defense ends are going to hate number 28.
The much-discussed two-tight end package was also rolled out of the garage, but Garrett never switched on the ignition. Think to the San Francisco game, the last time the starters played. Several times in the first half the Cowboys deployed Jason Witten and Martellus Bennett together -- and ran almost every single time.
Once, Dallas used a set which had two receivers in a slot formation on the left and the two tight ends lined up together outside right tackle Marc Colombo. Dallas worked this set extensively in San Antonio and it has many delicious passing possibilities. Here, however, Witten flexed into the backfield, giving the Cowboys a far more vanilla slot-left, power right, offset-I formation, the kind you'll see from every team in the NFL down to high school. The play run was a simple counter. I doubt Garrett will be remotely this conservative when the games count.
How many deep throws did you see? How many combination routes? The receivers worked hard on several individual routes that they threw only a handful of times in recent weeks.
That won't happen again.
Pick your blitz. Did you see Dallas run a corner blitz? How many safety blitzes did Wade call? He threw the proverbial kitchen sink at his offense, starting at the May mini-camps. He never let up in the Alamodome. When the fake games came, he would tease with a blitz here and there. He used an effective inside linebacker twist once in the first quarter of the Oakland game, but went conservative after that.
Dallas loves to rush five guys and more. Wade will throw four at you, if you're in 3rd and long, and he's gonna go zone, but he's a blitzer by nature. Dallas rushed five in August, but not as much as they normally do, and not with the variety you'll see.
Joe DeCamillis ran a special teams laboratory in camp. He experimented with several return formations, to experiment with the NFL's new two-man-wedge rules. He showed one in the exhibitions. He's got a bag full of returns, coverages and tricks.
They'll come, but he's spent his time sorting through a few dozen prospects, trying to settle on his best units. Now that he knows who he'll use, he'll work that much more on refining their games.
Put August out of your mind. You've seen the Cowboys in uniform, but really, you ain't seen nothin' yet.