Are you all ready for the big fight tonight? I’m talking about the dogfight at AT&T in what could be a preview of a potential Super Bowl LII match-up between the Dallas Cowboys and the Oakland Raiders. What fight were you all thinking of?
The dress rehearsal game is finally here. This is the closest us fans will get to a regular football game until the Cowboys open up the season against the New York Giants in two weeks. This is the game where we will get a good look at the starting units. Most of your favorites will be in action. So what should we be watching closely tonight? Here are 10 things I will be keeping my eye on.
1. Feed Zeke
If you think the Cowboys starters looked sharp last week, then you’ll be in for a treat this week. Ezekiel Elliott is like bacon - it makes everything better. The running game looked dominant against the Indianapolis Colts last week as Darren McFadden, Alfred Morris, and even Rod Smith all made some impressive runs. Now, add in last season’s rushing champion and it’s like adding NOS to your race car.
Elliott should play a couple series so he can get somewhere around 10 reps under his belt. This could very well be the first and last real football action he see’s over the next two months. What type of player will we see? Can Zeke put our minds at ease with flashes of the star running back we all remember? Or will he look sluggish and show any indication that all the craziness is wearing on him. My money would be on the former.
Prediction: The Cowboys want to get him more involved in the passing game this year so look for Elliott to catch a pass for a 20+ gain.
2. Jaylon and Sean, together at last
Last week we all got to witness the debut of Jaylon Smith and boy was that exciting. He’ll be out there again this week for an encore performance, but this time he’ll have his All Pro teammate out there with him. Sean Lee should see a couple defensive series against the Raiders as he gets his first taste of football action this preseason.
With both Lee and Smith getting rest days in training camp, there were many days where we all saw was one or the other. It’s going to be nice to see them out there on the field together tracking down ball carriers like Marshawn Lynch. Just think, if Lynch gets tackled in the backfield by Jaylon and we see the “swipe,” the crowd is going to go nuts.
3. La’el vs. Khalil
So much attention has been placed on the left guard situation that many of us haven’t thought much about La’el Collins. After all, no news is good news. The third-year offensive lineman has done a good job with his transition to right tackle. Last week against the Colts, he kept every pass rusher that came at him in check.
Well, this week might be a different story. He will now go against one of the best pass rushers in the game in Khalil Mack. The two-time All Pro outside linebacker has finished with double-digit sacks in each of the last two seasons. This will be a big test for the Cowboys new RT.
4. Containing Cooper and Crabtree won’t be easy
The Cowboys secondary has a weird thing going on. Their starters are healthy, but their rookie reserves are all injured. This will give us a good look at how the new-look corners can hold up against a strong passing attack. The Raiders have a great duo of wide receivers in Amari Cooper and Michael Crabtree, who both had over 1,000 yards receiving last year. This won’t be an easy task for the Dallas defense.
Orlando Scandrick played outstanding last week and Nolan Carroll was... well, Nolan Carroll. The team should get Anthony Brown back after suffering a hamstring injury three weeks ago in the Hall of Fame game against the Arizona Cardinals. With the middle of their depth chart missing from the CB group, it’s going to be important for the starters to show they can hold things down.
5. Can Chaz hold up?
Last week, Jonathan Cooper allowed us fans to breathe a sigh of relief as he fit in well with his fellow trench-men. Cooper played extremely well indicating that the Cowboys at least have a solid player available if it comes to that. The team still likes Chaz Green and he could get a shot to run with the first team this week. He was inconsistent last week as he bounced from left tackle to guard.
Can the Cowboys offensive line play even better against the Raiders? It would be great to see Green have a better game, but even if he gives us a reason to be optimistic, there will always be that lingering question - when will he get hurt next?
6. When will we see Cooper Rush?
When the starters are finished doing all their great stuff, the reserves will get their shot. And all eyes will be on the quarterback that trots on the field with the second team. Will it be Kellen Moore or fan favorite Cooper Rush? If number seven trots out there, it could be a sign of the changing of the guards at the backup QB position. But then the question begs - can he take advantage of this opportunity?
The undrafted free agent quarterback got some reps with the second team this week so fans are anxious to see if this translates to the game against the Raiders. How will the rookie handle the upgrade in defenders? He’s been up to every challenge so far this preseason, but can he keep it up?
7. Does McGregor have a chance against Mayweather?
Whether you are a fan of boxing or ultimate fighting, the novelty of these two champions coming together to battle it out is pretty entertaining. It reminds of when Rocky Balboa faced off against Thunderlips (Hulk Hogan). At first it didn’t look so good for Rocky, but when he took off his gloves and leveled the playing field, it was all over for Thunderlips.
It’s hard to imagine that a mixed martial arts guy is going to have a chance against a professional boxer who’s been practicing boxing all his life. It should be fun to watch though.
Prediction: When it finally dawns on McGregor that he isn’t going to win, he will “accidentally” give Mayweather a knee shot that will get him disqualified. I mean, we got to set up a rematch, right?
8. Must Pressure Carr
The Cowboys have been so-so at getting pressure to the quarterback this preseason, but they have yet to face a quarterback that can hurt them if they don’t. Derek Carr is one of those guys. Carr has a strong arm and can rifle it deep if he has a clean pocket. The defensive line needs to come through with some pressure.
We’ve heard some great things about Maliek Collins in camp, but can he show up in a preseason game? Will David Irving continue to bully people around? What can we expect from Taco Charlton? The Cowboys defense is going to be under fire at times this season, especially when opposing offenses have to try to keep up. Can the defense hold up?
9. Redemption for Byron Jones against Jared Cook
It’s a sore spot for Cowboys fans, but they’ll face a familiar foe on Saturday. Last year, Jared Cook made a game-changing catch for the Green Bay Packers in the Cowboys divisional loss. I’m sure it still haunts you in your sleep. Cook now is a tight end for the Raiders. Byron Jones is having a great camp and will be chomping at the bit to shut down Cook.
10. Can Morris jump McFadden?
If Elliott misses time due to suspension, the Cowboys will be relying heavily on their backups to keep the running game strong. Right now, the lead dog for that job is Darren McFadden, but three-time 1,000 yard rusher Alfred Morris isn’t going down without a fight. Every rep counts so if someone shows up big it could sway the pendulum in their favor.
What things will you be looking for in tonight’s game against the Raiders?