Earlier today, I posted my optimistic, I'm-so-happy-football-is-almost-back projection of things that looked like positives for Dallas in the preseason. If you read that you probably thought we were going 16-0! So just to prove I'm not a total homer, here are five things that have me worried.
1. Offensive Guards - As much as I like the improvement to our line shown by a revived Doug Free and rookie center Travis Frederick, the guard position has me equally as worried. Let's start with Mackenzy Bernadeau, maybe I have some kind of bias but I can't figure out why the Cowboys view him as a starting guard. He never made his mark in Carolina where he was mainly a backup, he's been injured each offseason here, and played very poorly through the first part of last year. Yes, he got better in the second half of the season, but so far in preseason games he's been suspect. Don't believe what anybody else tells you, just go watch the games he's played in. He's slow getting across the defensive lineman's face in zone blocking and he's not a solid rock against pass rushes. I'm not sure why Dallas pushed Ron Leary as the left guard replacing Nate Livings instead of right guard replacing Bernadeau (pre-Livings-injury). Most of the time what I see and think isn't that far removed from what the Cowboys coaching staff sees, but I just can't get my head around this reliance on Bernadeau.
On the other side, I was no huge fan of Livings although I thought he had a better year in 2012 than is commonly perceived. Still, the chance to see Ron Leary play was highly-anticipated and he didn't disappoint. I thought he was heading to a starting spot for sure, now he's sidelined with a knee injury along with Livings, so we're just not sure who will be ready on Sept. 8th. Heck, the Cowboys tried out a Smith-Bernadeau-Frederick-Free-Parnell line up today at practice. Guard play is high on the worry-meter.
2. Running game - This one seems odd considering Dallas has a stable of four running backs who look capable. But after being fooled by a big output in the first preseason game, the Cowboys started to look like the old Cowboys in game two and three. The talent is there in the backfield, so it's really a matter of poor run-blocking, combined with maybe a little bit of vanilla play-calling. I've beat this drum before - the Cowboys shouldn't be a run-oriented team, but if they could run the ball with some effectiveness, it would help with a lot of other issues like keeping Romo safe and holding leads.
3. Safety - I'm getting more comfortable with the play of Will Allen and Barry Church as the starting safeties, but there is still room for doubt. Allen has been a role player for many years, not a starter. Church isn't that experienced and is coming off injury. Nothing so far suggests they can't handle it but the nagging suspicion lingers until they prove it. In addition, the Cowboys have no depth to speak of. Matt Johnson has no experience and is continually hurt. J.J. Wilcox has flashed, but he also has no experience and has shown some problems with angles and technique in the first preseason game. Danny McCray is best left to special teams. None of the other guys are locks for anything. One injury to a starter could cause big issues.
4. Nagging injuries - Thankfully, the Cowboys have so far only suffered one important season-ending injury (Tyrone Crawford). But they have a slew of a nagging injuries, sometimes bunched up in one spot. We already discussed the issue at offensive guard, but the defensive line is suffering, too. Jay Ratliff is a question mark based on recent medical history, and Anthony Spencer should be good, but knee injuries are always bothersome. Don't forget Morris Claiborne is out, too. Most teams are banged up with nagging injuries in training camp because in many cases teams are playing it safe. But the Cowboys need to get healthy at some key positions, they don't have a ton of room for error.
5. Special teams - I'm talking about anything to do with special teams not named Dan Bailey. Fumble on a punt return, blocked FG, big kickoff returns allowed, nothing on Dallas' own kickoff or punt returns. This unit is kind of in a shambles right now. Rich Bisaccia is supposed to know what he's doing, so we'll have to trust that by the regular season he'll have special teams humming along. Right now, Dallas is failing in this area and they just can't afford that in the regular season.
So BTB, what are your worrisome areas for the Cowboys? Have at it in the comments.