Forget the bragging rights angle. That's for Texans fans who have nothing else to hang their fake hats on. There are some important objectives for tonight's game. Most are in the execution department. Surprisingly few are in the personnel area.
1. Stay healthy. The Cowboys have numbers at more positions than last year. Their general talent level is higher than last year. Take a look at running back, for example. At this time 12 months ago Eddie George was getting consideration as the number one. This year, he would be in a losing battle with Anthony Thomas for the fourth spot.
However, there are some areas where an injury would be devastating. Like right tackle. Or nose guard. Or starting QB. No matter what you think of Drew Bledsoe does anybody here want to open the season with Tony Romo at the controls?
2. Improve the execution The Seahawks game saw the emergence of a pass rush, something completely missing against Arizona. There was also a semblance of a running game, even if it started late. Other areas are lagging behind. The overall pass coverage was leaky against Seattle. The running game was sporadic, though the return of Marco Rivera tonight should help matters. Can the running game get untracked tonight? Can the backup QBs show any spark?
3. Settle the positional battles. There are some 2005 Cowboys who could well be playing tonight in another uniform. Going with what's on the roster, here's my look at what's left to fight over. The number of players I think Dallas will keep at a position is in bold.
QB -- (3) Unless somebody gets hurt, Bledsoe, Romo and Henson are the QBs;
RB -- (4) Julius Jones and Marion Barber are set. Barber makes mistakes but he's a rookie with talent. He's not going anywhere. Tyson Thompson likely has the team made and should get a lot of playing time, with Barber out. Anthony Thomas would be on the bubble if Barber and Thompson were not so green. He stays because they are.
FB (1) The team will keep one at the most. Darian Barnes was cut this week which mean Lousaka Polite has the lead. Lousaka makes enough mistakes to keep the competition open. This is a big evening for Erik Bickerstaff. Mr. Whirlpool has again found a way to miss playing time after straining a neck. He has to show something tonight or his star-crossed NFL career comes to an end -- in Dallas anyway.
TE (3) Jason Witten and Dan Campbell are sure bets. Brett Pierce has produced enough to stick, especially with Sean Ryan's health an uncertainty. Dallas may keep four here, but that would mean the FBs are out of work. If Bickerstaff or Polite impresses tonight Ryan may be headed for waivers.
WR (5) Terry Glenn, Keyshawn Johnson, Patrick Crayton and Quincy Morgan are set. Morgan's swears his complaints are due to a desire to help the team. Were his hands a bit more dependable, I would believe him. Cheapshot aside, he'll stick. The question is which of the Terrence Copper, Tom Crowder, Reggie Harrell, Jamaica Rector set will persevere? My money is on Crowder, who has made plays on special teams. Were his hands more consistent, this would be an easy pick.
OL (9) Flozell Adams, Larry Allen, Al Johnson, Marco Rivera and Rob Petitti are set. So are Kurt Vollers and Andre Gurode. Only two of the Stephen Peterman, Ben Noll, Tyson Walter and Torrin Tucker group will survive. I think Peterman has an edge over the other three, with Walter and Tucker running neck and neck for the final spot. Were the cut made today Walter would emerge. The HC seems to like Noll but he's regressed badly of late.
DL (8) Greg Ellis, LaRoi Glover and Kenyon Coleman are starting. Chris Canty, Jason Ferguson and Marcus Spears are also locks. Jay Ratliff, Leo Carson and Thomas Johnson are after the last two spots. Ratliff probably has one of the spots sewn up. Carson and Thomas will duel to see who is the third NT. With Jason Ferguson's ankle problem this is an important fight.
OLB (4) Demarcus Ware has the weakside spot. Kalen Thornton has been backing him up, but has some knee issues. Al Singleton is starting on the strong side with Kevin Burnett backing him up. Those four should make the squad, though Singleton is the shakiest starter on the team aside from Keith Davis. Eric Ogbogu has shown some rush skills though Parcells hinted he may be traded. If Thornton's leg problems are serious, Ogbogu may stick. The problem here is that Burnett seems to be the only member of the group with natural pass coverage skills, and he's a converted ILB. Ogbogu and Thornton look like decent rushers but are real liabilites against the pass.
ILB (4) Dat Nguyen is the weakside inside backer. Right now, Bradie James is the strong sider, though he comes out in the nickel in favor of Scott Shanle, whom the coaches claim is better in coverage. Ryan Fowler has made strides during camp and appears to have pulled ahead of Keith O'Neil for the last inside role.
CB (5) -- Anthony Henry and Terence Newman are the starters. Aaron Glenn fills out the nickel set. Jacques Reeves has emerged from the gaggle of second year players. The major question here is which of the Nathan Jones, Bruce Thornton, Lenny Williams group stays around. Special teams will have a lot to say here.
SS (2) Roy Williams is the man. Justin Beriualt should be the backup but has a knee that has needed to be drained this preseason. If it can't be kept under control, he may need surgery. There is nobody on the roster right now who inspires confidence as Williams' backup, though Rich Coady may get that role by default if Beriualt's knee flares up again.
FS (2) Nobody has stepped up to challenge Keith Davis. The job is his. Coady is the backup, though he may become the backup SS, depending on Beriualt's knee. If he does, Lynn Scott may have earned another NFL roster spot. Dallas will surely be watching the waiver wire intensely in the next few days. If a decent FS shakes out, they'll jump at him.
K (1) Jose Cortez has the job, since Seth Marler failed his physical today, negating the trade with Jacksonville. This may be another position where Dallas claims a late veteran cut next week.
P (1) -- Mat McBriar has looked like Ray Guy's son this preseason. He's got the job.
Snapper (1) Nobody has shown the skill to challenge Jeff Robinson.
So there you have it. Kicker, OLB and FS continue to bedevil the team. I still believe the team would consider trading a second day draft pick if a decent OLB became available. It would also be interesting to see what the staff would do if a decent QB shook free early next week.