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Dallas Cowboys: Will The Vikings Game Prove Reality Or Expose Illusion?

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The dress rehearsal is here.  This is the last, best look at what the 2011 Dallas Cowboys will be putting on the field.  Watching the team as a fan, I am going to be watching to see if my hopes are based on substance, or if I have been taken in by smoke and mirrors.

In most preseasons, the third game is the most indicative of where a team is.  But I cannot remember a year when the Cowboys went into this game with as many open questions.  I think I speak for most Dallas fans when I say we are all very hopeful this year.  Now, we are starting to get to the point where we find out if the hope is justified or not.  There are just so many areas that we have to ask about. 

Of course, we will not get the full view.  I'm sure Jason Garrett will not show any more of his cards than he has to. Not exactly vanilla, but only a part of the full-season playbook will be on display.  The same thing will certainly be true of Rob Ryan's defense, although that is largely due to the fact that he still is getting everything installed.

But this will certainly be the best look we have.  Here's hoping we like what we see.

Some thoughts on what I'm looking for after the jump.

Do the Cowboys have the explosive offense they should have?

The image of the Cowboys is that they can move the ball and put up points in bunches.  That certainly applies to more than just our community here. Across the Internet, guys like Felix Jones and Dez Bryant are spoken of as breakout players in 2011.  Add in Tony Romo, Jason Witten, and Miles Austin, and things should be pretty rosy.

But is that the reality?  Miles will see no action this week as he nurses a bad hammy.  He was not quite as effective last year as we thought he would be, which is possibly because of all the other crappy things happening around him, but I would be a lot happier if he had been catching some balls this preseason.  You have to have a bit of a question mark next to his name.  And that leads to the rest of the WR picture.

Is there any depth at wide receiver?

ESPN gives a pretty good summary in their article about forthcoming roster cuts for the 'boys.

Wide receiver:The No. 3 receiver spot is Kevin Ogletree's after that Dwayne Harris, Raymond Radway, Manuel Johnson and Jesse Holley are seeking two more spots. Harris had two touchdowns in the preseason opener, but no catches in the second preseason game. Holley is growing as a receiver and could make the team again as a special teams ace     

Well, that is assuming Tysson Poots, Lyle Leong, Teddy Williams and Curtis Clay are all out of the mix.  Right now the fifth spot is certainly wide open, and the fourth spot is about as solid as Jello.  We hope a couple of the candidates are going to step up and give us some depth, but there is a risk that the backups we need are just not there.  And then there is the million dollar question we are all begging for a good answer to.

Can this very young revamped offensive line give Tony the protection he needs and open holes for Felix?

Phil Costa is out and Montrae Holland is spending a lot of time with Igor Olshanky, which is the space reserved for people most of wish would just go away.  Doug Free is solid, Andre Gurode and Kyle Kosier bring some veteran experience and stability, and Tyron Smith may be the best draft pick the Cowboys have invested in a lineman in a very long time.  But that means we are going to see a lot of rookies David Arkin and Bill Nagy, and possibly quite a bit of converted basketball player Jermey Parnell.  Hopefully, they will get Tony through his snaps intact, and let Felix ramble some, but the Vikings defensive front four is nothing to laugh at, especially since Jared Allen no longer sports a mullet.  The passing game will hinge on these guys, and so will the running game, which also begs a couple of questions.

Who lead blocks for the running backs?

We don't know.  Chris Gronkowski?  Shaun Chapas?  Converted LB Isaiah Greenhouse?  Will the team even carry a fullback, or just go with four tight ends, (one of the two offensive positions that seems pretty solid, along with quarterback) and use them for lead blocking?  And while we know someone needs to lead Felix into the hole, he needs some relief.

Who will be the 2 and 3 running backs?

Tashard Choice gets to work in the game.  The question is, does the coaching staff want to see him win a spot or just become a valuable trade option?  Is DeMarco Murray what we hope he is?  Has Phillip Tanner earned a roster slot, or can Lonyae Miller recover and claim a place on the team?

Those are a bunch of unresolved questions on the offense.  And with Jason Garrett having been with the team for years as offensive coordinator and half a season as head coach, you would have thought that there would be some continuity there.

On defense, the questions, although perhaps not as numerous, are certainly as big or bigger.

Will the Big Robowski be able to get his system up and running in time?

If - that incredibly huge two letter word - the offense can carry the load for a while, the defense will be able to grow over the season.  But it can't take forever to get the scheme working.  There are certainly flashes that have shown during the first two preseason games, but there have been moments of confusion and ineptitude as well.

Can the defensive line stop the run and put some pressure on the opponents' quarterbacks?

There is a problem with Igor.  I think most of us agree with that.  Marcus Spears seems solid, Jay Ratliff is talented, but the rest are not certain.  Sean Lissemore looks promising, as does Josh Brent, but they have not been totally consistent, and the line has seemed vulnerable to the run.  The rest of the linemen are still to be determined, and hopefully will not just be JAGs.

Will the linebackers be as good as advertised?

There have been reports that the front seven on the defense will be the strength of the unit, led of course by DeMarcus Ware.  Sean Lee looks ready to go, and Bradie James was solid last year, but he is aging.  And speaking of age, it looks like Keith Brooking will still be a big part of the unit while Bruce Carter heals.  Anthony Spencer has not lost his 'Almost' tag.  We have hope for Victor Butler.  Past that, the team is hoping that Orie Lemon and Alex Albright will show something and give some more options.

Can the defensive backfield hold up its end?

Orlando Scandrick got a contract extension, and so far in practice he seems to be determined to earn it.  Terence Newman is still out.  Hopefully Mike Jenkins will show some of his 2009 form and Alan Ball will prove that the problem last year was being out of position.  Gerald Sensabaugh and Abram Elam need to come through at safety, and the team needs to figure out the rest of the backups.  Still a very scary area.

Can somebody please kick field goals with consistency?

Sigh.  You know the story.  If not, I beg your forgiveness.  I just can't bring myself to go over it again.

I really don't know if one dress rehearsal is enough to answer all these questions.  And with the JG philosophy that all positions are open for competition, we may be seeing similar situations in the future, although I would certainly hope that a few things would be less uncertain after this season.  But right now, I am looking towards a game that will make my head spin trying to find answers to all this.

After the game, we should have a lot to talk about.  Hopefully, the good will far outweigh the bad.