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Cowboys @ Vikings Review: Some Extra Points

With the blockbuster development regarding Andre Gurode, the analysis of the performance on both sides of the ball by the Cowboys first teamers, and the heated discussions about whether going with such an inexperienced offensive line is aggressively brilliant or a tacit admission the team is going nowhere this year, there has been no shortage of things to discuss about the preseason game between the Cowboys and the Vikings.  But there was actually a lot of other stuff going on.  

Some of these things will have varying degrees of impact on the season.  Others are just stuff I noticed during the game that struck me as interesting.  But while the game is still fresh in our minds, I thought I'd bring them up.

I hope you find some interest in these things as well.

What happened to all the touchbacks?

Before the season, everyone seemed to be convinced that the kickoff return was pretty much a relic with the new rules. The kicks would all be boomed through the end zone from the 35, and just about all the drives would start from the 20.

On Saturday, there were nine kickoffs between the teams.  And not one of them resulted in a touchback.

It is hard to figure out if this means anything, since it was still preseason, and this might have been the coaches just experimenting with it.  But there are also two other possibilities, at least for Dallas.  One is that neither Dan Bailey or Shayne Graham has enough leg to get the ball through the end zone.  That one might mean that David Buehler will make the team, either as the lone kicker (not necessarily the best option) or as a kickoff specialist (which would waste a roster spot that seems better used otherwise).  Neither one of those excite me.

The other possibility is that the team likes kicking short and trying to stop the return inside the 20.  But that doesn't always work so well, as we saw.

But maybe it was just an experiment.  Or Dave Rayner will be the answer.  Be interesting to see what happens in the real games.

Why is there so much Holley hate?

Jesse Holley was the second best receiver on the field during the game.  He was targeted three times and caught all three of them, looking very good in the process.  Kevin Ogletree did not make nearly as much of the opportunity he had with Miles Austin out, only catching two of the six balls thrown his way, including a potential touchdown where his bad position squandered a beautiful throw from Tony Romo.  There seemed to be a bit of rhythm between Tony and Jesse that certainly didn't show with the Tree.  His only mistake was the facemask penalty on kick coverage, and I don't think that negates his performance receiving.  He did not look like "just a special teams ace".  Barring a major regression in the Dolphins game, I would be very surprised to see Holley not on the final 53.

Will the rest of the receiver picture ever clear up?

Manuel Johnson looked pretty sharp.  Raymond Radway had a catch.  And Dwayne Harris was not a factor, with no targets at all.  I have no idea which way this will go.  The Dwayne Harris situation is especially perplexing.  Did he show enough in that brilliant first game performance that his spot is already set?  I need to go back and reread rabble's post on special teams and what it may mean for the final roster.  But the backup wide receiver situation is just muddy.

Penalties still look favorable.

The first teams played the whole first half, and only had two penalties.  I think that the team also had two penalties in the first half of the other two games as well.  When you consider that the offensive line is so loaded with young, inexperienced players, that becomes an even more impressive trend.  If this team continues keeping the yellow flags off the field, then I believe at least one close game this season will be a win instead of a loss.  And the implications of the discipline that is manifesting itself on this team are very pleasant to contemplate.

Jerry may be letting Jason make the personnel decisions, but he still loves to talk about them.

I live close enough to Dallas that one of the local stations carry the Dallas coverage of all the preseason games.  So I got to see the extended interview with Jerry Jones before the game.  And the even more extended interview with him while he sat in the booth with the announcers for the whole third quarter.  (I wonder how uncomfortable it is to be an announcer or commentator trying to interview the man who signs your paycheck?)

One thing is certain, Jerry has some rather definite views on who should be on the team.  During the game, he made it clear that he believes that Jon Kitna will be the backup to Tony, and likely will have to play at some point during the season.  He also seems to be quite pleased with the progress of Stephen McGee, so it seems that all the discussion about going with two quarterbacks this season look pretty pointless.

But it does bring to mind an earlier discussion, when Jerry all but guaranteed that Keith Brooking was going to be a part of the team this year.  I am going to keep an eye on that.  If Keith should get cut to save money while opening up a slot for a younger player, then any remaining shreds of doubt about who is making the personnel calls on this team are pretty much eliminated.

Scoring defense is the one bright spot for Rob Ryan's scheme.

No one has exactly run up the score on the Cowboys.  The defense gave up a lot of yards and got gashed pretty badly (by the best running back in the NFL), but they only surrendered 17 points, and Abram Elam just flat mistimed a jump that was very close to an exciting interception instead of a touchdown.  I don't want to put too much of a positive spin on this, but it is a glimmer of hope that there might be more bend than break in this bunch.

The team seized the opportunity. 

When Gerald Sensabaugh blasted through and blocked the field goal, the team got a huge lift.  Then Sensi scooped the tipped pass to end Minnesota's next drive, and Tony led a nice 77 yard touchdown drive to capitalize on it.  That is the kind of opportunism that the team will need to succeed this season.

The Cowboys finish the preseason with some momentum.

I wrote earlier about building momentum for the regular season, and the 2-1 record combined with winning the "dress rehearsal" game is just what I was talking about.  With all the young players on this team, I like that they got a taste of what it takes to come out on top.

Those were some details about the game I thought were buried a little under all the bigger stories.  I believe in the idea that details matter and small things can be used to build towards the big ones.  There are still a lot of unknowns going into the Jets game, but there are also some very positive trends for the Cowboys.  I am certain the decisions being made will lead to good things in the future.

Here is hoping that the future is now.

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