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What Will The "Dress Rehearsal" Tell Us About The Cowboys?

Dallas looks to be trying to get as much of its team on the field for the third preseason game against Minnesota. It may be the best chance to get an idea of what the team really has this season.

Jason Witten and Tony Romo are two starters who should see more action in the "dress rehearsal".
Jason Witten and Tony Romo are two starters who should see more action in the "dress rehearsal".
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The 2015 NFL preseason has not gone very well for the Dallas Cowboys. Although the team clearly places absolutely no emphasis on winning these contests, there have been a lot of bad individual and collective performances that have obviously raised some concerns. Jason Garrett and his coaching staff have shown some ire at what they consider the substandard work. This has been greatly affected by the extreme caution shown in bringing players along because of injury issues. Up until the disheartening loss of Orlando Scandrick, that was paying off. Still, the worries continue. And some observers are starting to crank up the doom and gloom again about the prospects this year.

Of course, Schein also said that the Cowboys were the worst team in the NFL last season, based solely on their 0-4 preseason record, and we all know how that turned out. But it does seem that after the lackluster performance (putting it kindly) against the San Francisco 49ers, the team appears to be focusing on getting as many of their starters as possible on the field for the traditional "dress rehearsal" third game against the Minnesota Vikings. What can we expect to see? (Perhaps "hope" is the better word here.)

We still shouldn't worry too much about the final score.

There will certainly still be some hard limits on how many series the starters are on the field. It is still quite likely that there will be times when the Cowboys will be lining up their 2's against the Vikings' 1's, and 3's against 2's. A loss is still not important. What does matter will be how the starters do when they are on the field. This will probably be the first time we will see an intact offensive line, or at least one with only one starter held out, Zack Martin being the possible exception. But it looked like all five starters were doing the walkthrough to get ready for this game. If the team is successful in moving the ball when mostly starters are on the field, it will be a great relief.

We should see something much closer to how the offense will work.

Although the play calling is almost certain to continue in a very vanilla vein, having the offensive line up to speed should give the running backs some legitimate lanes to work with. That is something the top three of Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar have not had. And Tony Romo will finally have his top receivers out there. Dez Bryant in particular has been chomping at the bit to show he is still one of the best in the business. The Vikings will load up the box to stop the run at their peril.

Can the defense continue to look like it is improved?

The one real positive so far has been a greatly improved pass defense, especially getting more pressure on the quarterback. Teddy Bridgewater should provide a decent test for them. If the rush and coverage can continue to work together the way they have so far, it will be encouraging. Adrian Peterson may not play, so the run defense will not have as much of a challenge. Given the way the Cowboys have been gashed so far in preseason, they still need to step things up in this department. Sean Lee should be making his preseason debut, and that could make a real difference.

This is also the first game without Orlando Scandrick. The top five remaining cornerbacks will be heavily scrutinized and are likely to be challenged. All eyes are going to be on them to see how well Dallas is able to get beyond Scandrick's loss.

Will the special teams find some measure of competence?

Kick and punt coverage have been simply abysmal. This is going to still be a challenge since there is far less certainty about who will be the main contributors here. But whoever is lined up for Dallas, the play needs to get better. There were too many missed tackles and bad angles in the first two games. Some players are going to be fighting for a roster spot here. They need to start showing what they can bring to the table if they don't want to get that visit from the Turk in the next couple of weeks.

Who among the bubble players will make a move as the game wears on?

Once the starters are withdrawn to the safety of the sidelines, there is still a lot of work to be done. Brandon Weeden is coming back from a concussion, and he may not be available for this game. Dustin Vaughan may have the most to lose in this game with the ragged performance he had against San Francisco. He and Jameill Showers will get extra opportunities if Weeden is a scratch. Only one of them is likely to be with the team in any capacity when the regular season starts, and they only have the last two preseason games to make their cases.

Another very interesting thing to watch is how the down-roster wide receivers do. Reports from the Wednesday practice were that Lucky Whitehead was not returning punts. If the team has lost faith in his ability to handle that job, the battle for the fifth wide receiver spot may be wide open again. A player to watch is A.J. Jenkins, who has been coming on very strongly of late. And Devin Street may be out with an ankle injury, which might be an opportunity for another of the receivers to make a serious move.

The swing tackle situation is also worth keeping an eye on. The reviews of Darrion Weems are somewhat mixed, with some calling him very bad while others saw him as having a fairly good showing against the 49ers. Rookie tackle Laurence Gibson is being called the most improved rookie over the course of training camp and may have a chance to supplant Weems.

As stated at the top, this is not about having the most points on the scoreboard at the end of the game. It is all about how the pieces work with a more complete roster to start things off, and how the backups do when they get their chance. There is a lot to evaluate. Hopefully we will see things that will give us a little better feeling about how the Cowboys will roll into the regular season.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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