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Cowboys 24, Dolphins 20: Three Things We Learned, Three Things We Knew

The Cowboys look to be off to a good start for the 2013 season after yesterday's preseason win over the Dolphins, but not everything that glitters is gold. We take a look at three things we learned, three things we already knew and three things we still need to figure out.

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Things we learned

1. The pass defense still has a very long way to go.

The Cowboys gave up 310 yards through the air last night. Just as a reference, the 2012 Cowboys allowed more than 310 passing yards only six times last season. They lost five of those games and only eked out one OT win against Pittsburgh. The Cowboys' defense last night was frequently out of position, and if not for the many drops by the Dolphins receivers, this could have been even uglier. What's further concerning is that the pass rush did a fairly good job applying pressure, yet the secondary wasn't able to capitalize on that. Don't be fooled by the interception, this pass defense still has a long, uphill struggle ahead of it.

You can call it bend-but-don't-break all you want, but the Cowboys gave up a defensive passer rating of 86.3 and had an offensive passer rating of only 64.8. You simply do not win a lot of games with a negative passer rating differential of more than -20.

2. The interior offensive line looks good.

Whether it was Leary - Frederick - Arkin or Leary - Costa - Frederick, the interior O-line looked stout all evening. Granted the first iteration of that lineup looked better against better opponents, but still: When Livings, Bernadeau and Kowalski come back from their injuries, we can expect very strong competition for the starting spots inside, and this looks like it's a big change from previous years. This year, the starting jobs will not go to the guys who suck the least but to the guys who play the best.

3. The ground game had a good night.

We have to keep some perspective here: We don't know whether Leary, Arkin or Costa will end up being part of the starting lineup when the season starts, but we do know that the Cowboys interior O-line last night was clearly superior to the Dolphins D-line it faced. That made running a lot easier.

But still, the backs ran with authority, found the holes most of the time and broke a few tackles along the way. So that's encouraging.

Things we already knew

1. Travis Frederick looks like an excellent draft pick.

Cris Collinsworth couldn't hide his manlove for the Fredbeard last night, and the national pundits are slowly coming around to the idea that - contrary to popular perception - the Cowboys may actually have an idea of what they are doing.

2. The hustle and aggressiveness we've seen from the defense in camp was evident in the game.

There was a lot not to like about the defense, but a lot of that can be cleaned up in the next couple of weeks. What stood out though was the dynamic, aggressive nature of the defense, which is what the coaches have been preaching from day one.

3. No depth at offensive tackle.

The tackle situation behind Smith and Free has to be a big cause for concern in pass protection. Granted, the Cowboys tackles didn't look as bad as Dallas Thomas, but the Cowboys had better hope Jermey Parnell is ready for the big stage.

Things we still need to figure out

1. What's up with the offense?

The first touchdown was the result of a Dolphins fumble and and ensuing 9-yard "drive" for which the Cowboys needed a staggering five plays, the most significant of which was a PI call in favor of Cole Beasley. What's he doing in the endzone anyway? The second touchdown resulted from a tipped pass by a Dolphins scrub called Chad Bumphis, which DeVonte Holloman was able to snag.

Sure, turnovers are important, but the offense only managed one TD-scoring drive all game, and that was in the final minutes of the game.

2. The playcalling changes appear to be off to a good start.

It looked like the offense got the plays off a lot faster than they did at times last season, I don't remember many instances where the playclock dropped below 5 seconds. Kiffin and Callahan were both calling plays from the booth, and that seemed to work without too many glitches, and Garrett appeared to be pleased with the 'mechanics' of playcalling:

"I thought the mechanics were good," Garrett said. "We did have a few errors in the game for a variety of reasons but I thought for the most part we handled it well. We've still got to clean some stuff up. For me it was little different because I wasn't directly involved but just like a lot of stuff this off season it allowed me to step back and coach the whole team. I've always tried to do that but when you are calling plays you are occupied doing that as well. The conversations were good on the offensive side of the ball, the defensive side of the ball and on special teams."

3. Matt Johnson

Johnson started out strong last night and looked like a natural fit for this scheme. He even looked better than J.J. Wilcox, but only for a little over a quarter, as he rolled his ankle on a tackle early in the second quarter. The X-rays were negative last night, and the Cowboys are hopeful he'll be ready for the Oakland game. But those injuries are frustrating, and you've got to wonder how the player is dealing with these constant setbacks. Johnson's seeming fragility may force the Cowboys to ultimately keep a fifth safety on the roster, just in case.

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