The Cowboys were in it to win it last night against the Dolphins. Individually, some players may have won themselves roster spots. As a team, the backups worked together to show that they can hang in the game against another team's firsts.
The second-team defense held tight against the likes of Chad Henne, Jake Long, and Brandon Marshall. Even after a 42-yard run by Ricky Williams to end the first quarter, the unit refused to back down. In two of the next three plays, Victor Butler sacked Henne, forcing him to fumble--the last one being scooped up by Sean Lee.
On offense, the Stephen McGee-led squad netted 374 yards and 22 first downs. Whatever flavor the playbook was last night sure looked pretty good to me. Of course, it always helps when players execute plays.
A lot of key backups addressed many of the team's "what-ifs" last night. They at least gave the staff some more film to analyze to help determine who stays and who goes by 5PM on Saturday.
This was a fun game to watch. We didn't have to worry about any more starters getting injured because they looked on from the sidelines. And we got to see some of the what-ifs answered that we've been wondering about in regards to many of the young backups on this team.
Let's look at five what-ifs, starting out with one starter who affirmed his role on the team: David Buehler.
What if David Buehler is just a touchback specialist?
Thanks to the nature of the game and the offense's ability to get within scoring position, we saw much of Buehler's placekicking potential. He showed he can tie up a game before the half by knocking through a 51-yarder. He showed he can hit the midrange shots with a 45 and a 40-yarder in the third quarter. Lastly, he showed no signs of choking to hit that little 31-yarder to win the game. Consistency and production. Throw all that in with his booming kickoffs and the Cowboys should have quite the awesome kicking weapon.
What if Patrick Crayton gets his wish to be traded?
Well, he did--to the Chargers for a 7th-rounder in next year's draft, which could become a 6th. The Cowboys can now simply move one or two of their younger guys up. Sam Hurd showed some of his game with a beautiful 43-yard strike from McGee. Jesse Holley caught 4 for 40 and is very active on special teams units. Manny Johnson showed his speed burst on what I thought was very, very close to a touchdown catch and run. Kevin Ogletree caught 6 for 51 and can contribute on various special teams units.
When Dez Bryant hits the field, he can man the punt return department. Akwasi Owusu-Ansah doesn't look half bad as a backup return guy either.
I liked Crayton's chemistry with Tony Romo and all, but this team does have options without him. They could still go six deep here, but now they don't have to.
The second team defense seemed to have a ballhawking energy last night, led by the linebacking corps. I can't say enough about Victor Butler, as he was a menace to the Miami offensive line. Lee looks like he's always in a race to get to the ball carrier. Brandon Williams didn't have much on the stat sheet, but you know he has potential. And I thought it was peculiar that Leon Williams started over Jason Williams. Leon seems pretty consistent in run support, but I'd assume they want to continue developing Jason.
Whatever the case may be at any of the linebacking positions, the starters may be afforded an extra breather or two depending on the game situation. It's a long season, so that could come in handy.
What if Stephen McGee fails to develop?
Well, that didn't happen. I've been hearing all about this guy's strong arm, but have seen limited evidence of it...until last night. He throws with zip on those outs and comebacks. That touchdown to Hurd was simply spot on against very tight coverage. Very excited to see such deep passes. McGee also continued to show he is mobile enough to evade the rush and most importantly, careful with the ball. Perhaps he's been holding back because he is just cautious. Overall, good offensive management skills.
27 of 42 for 304 yards. No turnovers. Sacked just once. This was a good outing for McGee, which suggests that Dallas may have its backup QB spot settled for the future.
What if Kyle Kosier can't make it back in time for the regular season?
Okay, not every backup produced rays of sunshine to ease our worries. Montrae Holland looked too slow to get to his guy in the running game. And two false starts in one drive out of the shotgun? Are you kidding me? Ugh. Perhaps there could be a bright side to the backup guard spot--a Travis Bright-side that is. Holland's play last night has got to get this staff looking at options on the interior.
Good-bye preseason! After Saturday, it won't be these young backups that consume our concern. With the regular season opener in Washington staring us in the face, we begin the transition from who bottoms out the final 53 to how well those top 45 active guys work together.
It's back to the Romos, Wares, Austins, and Ratliffs. It's back to worrying about the offensive line and seeing how the Barber/Jones/Choice backfield is rotated. It's back to watching the defense become one of the league's best.
Bring on the Redskins!