Preseason is a fun time, but it can be deceptive. Some much needs to go right during the course of a successful football play, that if one light goes out – it can short the whole thing. And that’s going to happen quite a bit Saturday evening when the Cowboys take on the Los Angeles Rams in the first preseason game of the new season.
It’s going to be sloppy at times. There’s going to be a fair share of fails from both teams. But amid all the rubble will be some good football. While the box score provides a summary of some statistical evidence, there are some things it just can’t depict.
Here are five things to keep an eye out for that won’t show up in the box score.
QB performance on deeper throws
Gentlemen, start your engines, because the race for the backup quarterback is about to begin. Will it be the Cowboys rookie, fourth-round draft pick, Dak Prescott? Or will it be the undrafted free agent, Jameill Showers who everyone forgot about, but suddenly remembered and now sort of likes because let’s face it – what other choice do we have?
Well, it’s definitely going to be one of those.
It’s great to see a stat line of 8 for 12 in passing, but not if it’s only for 60 yards. A quarterback that can make smart decisions is a good thing to have, but if you are constantly checking it down, it doesn’t really tell you much. This is preseason; I want to see these quarterbacks let it loose. That’s not to say I want see a bunch of gun slinging, but rather a good balance and spreading it out all over the field. These are young quarterbacks that need to demonstrate they can handle the tougher throws. Anyone can throw short – just ask Brandon Weeden. But as we saw last year, that won’t win you football games. Quarterbacks need to be able to stretch the field. How these quarterbacks perform on intermediate to deep throws will be of particular interest.
The Cowboys have drafted a linebacker in each of the last eight years so every season there’s a new guy to watch in training camp. This season’s pick, Jaylon Smith, is recovering from a serious knee injury and is a long way from seeing any action, but that doesn’t mean the Cowboys don’t have a new linebacker to garner our attention. Technically, Mark Nzeocha isn’t new as he was drafted last year, however, he spent the earlier part of the season recovering from his own knee injury. He played sparingly in two games.
He’s healthy now and is ready to go. Anthony Hitchens is currently slotted as the inside linebacker, but Nzeocha is the next man up. He’s a very athletic player and he’ll get a chance to strut his stuff. He’s been a missile in camp and shows great explosion toward the ball carrier, so the only question is whether or not he can lock in on his target. If he can show some good discipline and not be overzealous, look for number 53 to lead the team in tackles. But look even closer to see how many tackles he whiffs on. It’s fun to cheer when he gets a tackle for a loss, but it won’t be fun if he lets too many ball carriers get past him.
Surely, you can’t be Darius
I am Darius. And don’t call me Shirley.
We get it. Many of us love Darius Jackson. And when he has a big game in his debut, many more will start loving him. He should be fun to watch. But despite his impressive stat line that, don’t let it overshadow the effectiveness of Alfred Morris. The rookie is going to have the volume to tally up some nice yardage totals, but a close look at how he gets the yardage needs to be taken into account. For starters, he won’t be playing against the starters. Morris will get that. So that also means Morris gets the Cowboys powerful line. Next, look at the holes. Both these running backs are very good grinders who hit the hole and push the piles. They can get a couple yards as they are falling down.
But which one of these running backs makes the defender miss? Which one makes the best use of their open lanes? A close look at the tape can answer that. Jackson should have a great game, but Morris might not be too shabby either.
The next big cat
After tomorrow’s game, fans will get to re-stack their edge rushing depth chart. This is something that will occur every week for several weeks, but with some live football action finally taking place, we’ll all have some evidence to help us rationalize our claims. For me, my pet cat is David Irving. When you look at the final stat sheet, another edge rusher might have the numbers to stand out, but keep in mind who all these players are going up against. Irving should get the nod starting on the edge, so he’ll go up against the first team offensive line.
Ryan Russell will have a more impressive stat line, but (channeling my inner Jason Garrett) if you look past the results and watch the tape – Irving will have the most impressive game.
Jason Witten shouldn’t be playing and James Hanna is still ailing, so this will give more snaps to both Gavin Escobar and Geoff Swaim. While Escobar has been getting a lot of praise for how good he looks after coming back from his Achilles injury, that other tight end is having himself a nice camp as well. And since he’ll have two young developing quarterbacks throwing the ball, expect them to rely heavily on their tight end. Swaim has been the security blanket thus far in camp. So, when he leads the team in catches, let’s make a promise right now to not overreact and start talking about him challenging Escobar for snaps. Deal? Good. I’m glad we got that out of the way.
What things do you expect to see? And is there anything that you could see being misleading to fans?