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Things To Watch: Brandon Weeden Running The Offense

Pre-season NFL games are not about winning or losing. They are about finding out what the team has.

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys see the first game action of the 2014 pre-season against the San Diego Chargers at 10 pm EDT on Thursday. Most of us are getting very excited to see the first sort-of real football of the year.

But pre-season football is not about the final score. It is truly about evaluating the players on the field, and the effectiveness of the coaches in managing the game. Pre-season is a great time to focus on one or two facets of the team to see how things look. One of the things I hope to learn about in the first game is just how good the new backup quarterback is.

As has been discussed ad nauseam, Tony Romo will not be playing as the team manages his recovery from back surgery as if he were made of glass. The caution the team has shown with him has led to multiple doomsday scenarios, from him not being able to play well at all because the damage was not fully repaired, to him folding up with the first hit he takes and never seeing the field again. And everyone knows that there is really no point in continuing if something does happen to Romo, because all will be well and truly lost.

However, there is no option to just forfeit games because you think you aren't competitive. Should Romo not be able to continue at some point in the season, or just need to miss a couple of games, Brandon Weeden will have to take the reins. With Romo sitting out the first pre-season game, that will allow for an extended look at Weeden. He will also take all the snaps with the first team. There may not be a great deal of those, since Dallas is already trying to fight the injury bug, but however many there are will go to him.

Weeden's reputation is that he is not very mobile, but has a strong arm and is willing to stand in to deliver the pass. Two or three years ago, he might not have been a very good option as the Cowboys were suffering through some pretty dismal performances by the offensive line. But now, with the rebuilt (almost overbuilt) line, Weeden may have the time he needs to play his kind of game. Once the backups start coming on the field, it will be harder to tell how he will do in a regular season situation, but there should be a good sample with the starters to evaluate.

One concern I came across is that Weeden's accuracy is not good on the deep balls. He can throw them way down the field, but not necessarily on target. It is not certain this will be on display, but if Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan do let him take some shots downfield, that is something that should be judged very critically.

Otherwise, this is the first real chance most of us have to examine his entire game. All the elements should be on display:

  • How quickly and accurately does he make his reads?
  • Does he get the ball out, or hang on to it too long?
  • What kind of chemistry does he seem to have with the receivers? Do they seem to be on the same page? They should, given the number of snaps Weeden has taken while Romo has been eased along.
  • How does he execute the running game? Romo is pretty good at handling the football, both on handoffs and fakes.
  • Does he have the team following his leadership when he is on the field? Are the plays called crisply, or will there be a lot of preseason floundering?

We won't get to see a full look at things, since the play-calling is almost certainly going to be the plainest of vanilla, but there are a lot of nuances that can still be studied while Weeden is out there. And while I would hope he never sees the field in a game that matters, the prevailing thought seems to be that he will be needed at some point. This is the first chance we have to find out just how much he may be able to do if that should happen.

This is one area to look at, but there are multiple ways to approach the preseason game. Weeden is a new element and one that I am curious about, but that is just one choice. What are you going to be looking for when the Cowboys are taking on the Chargers?

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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