So far, we have seen a really mixed bag in the first two preseason games for the Dallas Cowboys. Now they face the Houston Texans in what is being used as the so-called “dress rehearsal” for the regular season. That means we are going to get our only heavy dose of starters on the field. It won’t be for long, either. Still, it means this is the best chance we have to get a feel for what this team will be when the regular season starts.
Roy White (@RDubThree) and I take anther shot at what we want to see from the Cowboys, both when the locks for the roster are on the field, and later when the ones still vying to make the team gets some work on the latest episode of Ryled Up here on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network (Apple devices right here and Spotify users right here) so you don’t miss any of our episodes!
Can we please have some crispness on offense?
At this point, we still don’t know for sure if Dak Prescott is going to get any reps in the game. Although that idea hasn’t been shut down totally, it is beginning to look like the staff may elect to hold him out and wait until the regular season. It can certainly be argued that he does not need live action to get his timing down with his receivers. Practice should suffice for that. All that he really faces in a preseason game that he doesn’t in practice is getting hit. Put me in the group that would just as soon avoid that until the games count.
Even if Garrett Gilbert rolls out with the first team, we really need to see the offense execute well. The team did finally get a touchdown last week, but it was with the threes and fours on the field. Ben DiNucci side-arming a TD throw to Brandon Smith is not much preparation for the regular season. Some good work from Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup, Ezekiel Elliott, Tony Pollard, Blake Jarwin, and Dalton Schultz would be much more reassuring. And maybe we’ll also have the starting offensive line of Tyron Smith, Connor Williams, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, and La’el Collins all in the positions that nature intended them to be. If they can’t operate efficiently, move the ball, and score, we should worry. Not all of those players may take the field, of course. Elliott in particular has sat out the entire preseason before. But we need to see the majority out there and clicking.
We’re still waiting for a pick
Just like on offense, this should produce a defensive lineup that closely resembles what will take the field against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to start the season. The Cowboys have shown an ability to take the ball away, but so far it has only been a handful of fumbles. The pass rush looks encouraging even with backups on the field. Now let’s see how the projected starters get after the quarterback. That in turn should give whoever is lining up with the ones a better shot at an interception.
You’ll notice that this section does not name names, because it is far less clear who are the starters than on offense. Which segues nicely into the next point.
Give us a look at the depth chart on defense
We expect to see DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory line up as starters, at least on passing downs in the regular season. But Lawrence may be limited if he plays at all, and Tarell Basham was injured in the joint practice with the Los Angeles Rams. It looks like Dorance Armstrong is staking a claim to be the next man in the rotation, and we will hopefully get some clarity there.
The inside is really interesting. Neville Gallimore is out, and we could see a couple of rookies getting plenty of time in Osa Odighizuwa and Quinton Bohanna. Carlos Watkins and/or Brent Urban will likely be out there with the ones. Also expect Justin Hamilton to show up a lot during the early parts of this game, as he seems to be emerging as the likely fifth DT to start the season.
Linebacker will be very interesting, and there are really two starting groups. If they are in a package early to stop the run with three LBs on the field, who will it be? The same question applies to when they go to the nickel, the de facto base in the modern pass-centric NFL. It really centers around whether Jaylon Smith still has a claim on a starting job, or if they believe the best three are Micah Parsons, Keanu Neal, and Leighton Vander Esch. Mike McCarthy has already stated that Parsons and Neal are the nickel backers. This will be a chance to get some confirmation.
Cornerback is also fascinating. Trevon Diggs is a given to start, but will Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis line up with him, or will Kelvin Joseph, Nahshon Wright or Maurice Canady get into the mix? There is some legitimate depth here, and this will be a chance to see how the coaches have them stacked.
Safety is probably easy to predict with Donovan Wilson and Demontae Kazee expected to start. But again, this is a chance to confirm that.
If they don’t look a lot better than the Texans, we will have big questions
In case you aren’t aware, Houston is a hot mess. Deshaun Watson will not be playing. The roster is not good overall. They have a rookie head coach. On paper, this should be an easy matchup for the Cowboys.
We’ve seen that turn out really badly before. The talent advantage Dallas brings to the game seems clear, so if they still struggle, the coaching staff is the obvious place to lay the blame. So far, they have not given us reason to feel confident. The team just did not seem well prepared in the first two preseason games. If this is a flat performance, especially in the first half when we should be seeing almost exclusively players that are going to make the roster, then Mike McCarthy’s entire staff should feel the heat. And not having Prescott would not be an excuse. Yes, Tyrod Taylor has starting experience, but there is a reason he didn’t keep that status. The Cowboys should look much better out there. If they don’t, the internet is going to be aflame.
Things to look for in the second half
The first half is about getting a better idea of how the team will look in the regular season, but the starters are not likely to see that much action unless things go badly on the first couple of series on each side. And by the second half, the game will revert to looking at the marginal players to see who will fill the last few spots on the roster.
Some interesting names to watch include Bradlee Anae and Azur Kamara at DE. Kamara was heavily featured on the last episode of HBO’s Hard Knocks. That in itself is not any indication of his chances to make the squad. What was notable is he had a very good game against the Arizona Cardinals. Anae is his direct competition, and how both perform could be telling.
There are plenty of other players to watch once the starters are off the field. Jabril Cox will make the team but has been very good in preseason, Will he keep that up? Israel Mukuamu is still a bit raw at safety, but has certainly flashed. He is likely fighting Jayron Kearse and Darian Thompson to make the roster, although his chances look good. With Sewo Olinilua now on IR for the year, Nick Ralston has a real shot to make the team at fullback if McCarthy is set on carrying one. Watch to see how much action he gets on special teams. That is probably even more important for him than how he does with the offense. And the backups on the offensive line are a real puzzle right now, especially with Ty Nsekhe banged up and the apparent failure of the Connor Williams at center experiment. The fourth preseason game against the Jacksonville Jaguars is going to be almost exclusively for the players who are near the bottom of the roster, so the Texans game is when we should get the best idea of how things will line up for the regular season.
This is the most telling preseason game. It should be quite interesting.