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How the Cowboys can have a successful first preseason game without beating the 49ers

Some say that preseason games don’t matter. Oh, they matter alright, but just not in the way you think.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys-Training Camp Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys will play a football game tonight. There will be some running, some tackling, and hopefully a few highlight worthy plays that give us plenty of things to talk about for the next week. Whether or not the Cowboys win the game isn’t important to us and it means absolutely nothing in the standings. There will be no game-planning against San Francisco, but the team will have objectives as they continue to get this group ready for the new season. Since winning isn’t important, what needs to go on for this to be considered a successful preseason game?

Stay as healthy as possible

The 2018 NFL season will be a battle. And like any battle, there will be casualties along the way. Good health could make all the difference when it comes to whether a team is playing football in January. The Cowboys have certainly experienced their fair share of injuries over the years and the effects have been noticeable. Being as healthy as possible is the goal, but football is a brutal game and sometimes natural selection has it’s way of intervening.

The coaching staff is very methodical in how the go about keeping their players on the field. Dallas is careful, easing players in slowly and limiting snaps for certain guys. But when an hour of football smashing and crashing is a foregone conclusions, players will be at risk. Hopefully, the Cowboys can dodge as many bullets as they can when it comes to the injury bug.

Depth along the offensive line presents itself

When the Cowboys signed free agent Cameron Fleming and drafted Connor Williams, this provided a huge sense of relief for Cowboys Nation. Fears of last year’s offensive struggles stemming largely from spotty backup play slowly started dissipating.

But are we jumping the gun here? Come to think of it, I wasn’t all that worried last year heading into preseason action. With additions like Byron Bell and returning players like Chaz Green and Emmett Cleary, it felt like the team was in okay shape along the line.

But they weren’t. And when preseason football got here, it started showing. The signs were there that this unit could have problems should someone get hurt. And that’s exactly what happened.

The Cowboys recently released their depth chart and their second-string offensive line looks like this:

LT - Cameron Fleming, LG - Kadeem Edwards, C - Joe Looney, RG - Marcus Martin, and RT - Chaz Green.

On the surface, that’s a lot of different guys who have a shot to emerge as a viable reserve, but it still has to happen on the field. There is no guarantee that Fleming will automatically be the swing tackle savior. And anytime no. 79 trots on the field is a time where us fans will have anxiety as that means Dak Prescott could be tossed to the ground at any moment.

There are reasons to be excited about players stepping up, but really it’s going to be a grit your teeth type of experiment. If a couple of these guys can perform well, only then will it provide some sense of relief.

Defensive line pressure

While it should be very limited, the 49ers new franchise quarterback, Jimmy Garoppolo, is expected to see some action tonight. That means his first unit offensive line should accompany him. This will be a great test for some of the Cowboys defensive linemen to gauge how they’ll look against real NFL competition. How will Antwaun Woods look against someone other than Travis Frederick? Can Jihad Ward be disruptive in the trenches? What can Taco Charlton do against a tackle not named La’el Collins?

The Cowboys have a lot of questions at defensive line when it comes to the pecking order of their rotation. Some guys are battling for starting spots and some guys are battling for roles. The team has some really strong depth this season so this group should look better as the game wears on. When we see Dorance Armstrong abusing a third-string tackle, we have to remember to temper our excitement.

There will be so many players on the defensive line to watch and it should be interesting to see who performs in game situations.

Which UDFA defensive back will show out?

One of the great things about having a deep pass rushing unit will be all the opportunities created for the backup secondary to capitalize on a quarterback under pressure. There are a lot of names out there who could land one of those final roster spots, but at this point - it’s anyone’s guess who it might be. Undrafted free agents like - Charvarius Ward, Donovan Olumba, Kam Kelly, and Tyree Robinson all have generated some buzz around camp at one point, but none of them have played consistent enough to stand out. So, what will happen when the lights come on?

For those of us who have a little pool going with our pet cats, there adds another level of excitement to it if your guy makes a play. For me, a Tyree Robinson pick-six gives me a Yahtzee. Honestly though, I don’t really care if it’s my pet cat or not - I just want someone to emerge as a legit front-runner.

A little quarterback security

Did you know that Cooper Rush was the best quarterback in the NFL preseason last year? He completed 75% of his passes, had a 135.9 passer rating, and threw six touchdown passes. And it could have been more had the Cowboys last preseason game against the Houston Texans not been cancelled. He did all that great stuff and at the same time didn’t throw a single interception.

For Rush, the fairy tale ended when the regular season began as he just took a seat on the bench behind Dak Prescott as the team’s new backup QB. But over the next four games, Rush now has an opportunity to provide us fans with an encore performance. It should be interesting to see what he does this year. Will he come down to earth or can he keep this hot streak going?

All eyes will be on both Rush and rookie Mike White this preseason as they battle it out for the backup spots on the roster. As Cowboys fans know all too well, having a reliable backup is crucial and it will be nice to see a backup have success.