There are so many individual battles to consider. Rather than listing each, let’s focus on the big picture.
1. Special Teams: At the beginning of every season there are at least 2 games that are determined by special teams. The explanation given by commentators is that there isn’t enough time spent on special teams in practice and you have more defensive starters assuming roles they did not have to perform when the rosters were larger. Personally, I believe the game speed increases and some players are unprepared.
In what could be a close game against Washington, a punt return, kick return, or blocked kick could shift momentum and consequently the outcome of the game.
Post game analysis: Special teams for both teams were weak. The Redskins holder dropped a gimmie field goal and the Cowboys kick off squad allowed big returns by the Redskins. Buehler made both tackles, but missed a field goal. It is an absolute priority that Joe DeCamillis return the squad to the level of play of 2009.
2. Pass v. Run Ratio: The Cowboys will suit up three different starting offensive lineman versus 2009 (Free, Barron, and Holland). Their pre-season performance was lackluster and you cannot attribute false starts and sloppy play to a vanilla offensive gameplan.
If the Cowboys are able to run effectively, 4 to 5 yards per carry, will Jason Garrett lean on the run? Garrett has been known to fall in love with the pass and ignore his running game regardless of how ineffective the passing game is.
Post game analysis: The Cowboys ran the ball well in the first half… and of course in the second half Garrett forgot about the run. He did call some outside runs that were highly ineffective, but he all but abandoned running up the gut.
3. Albert Haynesworth: It isn’t uncommon for a new head coach to impose his will. It is uncommon for the head coach to be perceived as childish in the process. Incredulity doesn’t begin to describe the fact that Haynesworth played in the entire 4th pre-season game or played on the scout team during the pre-season. The Cowboys would love for this contest of wills to last for one more week. I wouldn’t mind watching Gurode dominate Haynesworth once again, though Gurode needs to super glue his chinstrap to his helmet to prevent a re-creation of one of the most gutless actions I have ever seen on the playing field.
Post game analysis: Haynesworth was a side note in the game. Give credit to Gurode and Shanahan for neutralizing him.
4. Dez Bryant: Set the over/under for catches at 3.5. If he is over, I guarantee you will hear the words, “Don’t get the bronze bust ready yet, but…”
Post game analysis: Dez played well. He caught 8 balls for 56 yards. Some of his catches resulted in a no-gain, but at least he caught the ball. He played well towards the end of the game catching balls in traffic. Then he missed a hot read on a blitzing linebacker which could have lead to a game ending turnover. Did anyone notice Dez was out of the game for the final play of the game. The rookie is going to have a good season, especially if the Cowboys keep force feeding him 2 yard gain receptions.
5. The back shoulder throw: Romo has used the throw on occasion during the pre-season and practices. I believe this is what he was working on during the off-season, so expect to see it a minimum of three times against the Redskins with one of those being in the endzone for a touchdown.
Post game analysis: Romo didn’t attempt one of these passes. Nor did the Cowboys run a pump and go with Bryant. After forcing the ball often to Bryant early in the game, I would have bet that the Cowboys would have Romo fake pump to the outside and when the corner broke for the ball, have Bryant run a go route. Nope. The entire passing game seemed to be out of sorts.
6. Williams v. Ware: Trent Williams will be a good player, but DeMarcus Ware has an opportunity to take an early lead in the defensive MVP battle. With McNabb not being as mobile due to his ankle injury, Ware has a chance to dominate the game and the rookie tackle.
Post game analysis: Revision. Williams has a chance to be a great player. Ware and Co. consistently put pressure on McNabb who scrambled well and often. McNabb was as mobile as ever and the reports of his ankle affecting his play were greatly exaggerated. Ware did get one sack on McNabb, but Williams will not face a better pass rusher this season.
7. The Redskins’s new high definition screens: According to Dan Snyder, they are the best high definition displays available on the market. Will the announcers gush over the screens the way they do over Dallas’s horizontal monolith?
Post game analysis: Note to Dan Snyder, no one cares. And… it’s about time. For the longest time, Fedex field was a vacuum for all things NFL. Trying to find a scoring update was all but impossible.
8. Roy Williams v. Roy Williams: Williams must play error free football. Every drop and fumble only exacerbate the loathing Cowboys fans have for Williams. If he catches 4 balls and limits his penalties to zero, he can begin the rehab that his image so sorely needs. The first step is getting out of his own head and not pushing to hard.
Post game analysis: Roy had one drop on a deep pass. Otherwise he played error free football. If Roy can get out of his own head, he will be the #2 WR that the Cowboys need and want.
9. Shanahan v. Phillips - Garrett v. Haslett: While Phillips was on the hot seat, Shanahan was the favorite of many fans to replace Phillips as head coach. Shanahan has a distinct advantage of having zero tape on how he intends to use his offensive weapons. Phillips has the advantage of knowing the Redskins personnel better than Shanahan did 7 months ago. If Phillips can adjust on the fly, expect the Cowboys defense to dominate. If the correct adjustments are not quickly implemented, expect a surprising surge early in the game by the Redskins offense. Similarly, Garrett has a film record a mile long. Garrett had to review film from 1997 when Haslett was the defensive coordinator for the Steelers and Ernie Zampese was running the Cowboys offense.
Post game analysis: The Redskins drove the ball very effectively early in the game. Phillips made the necessary adjustment and the Cowboys stifled the Redskins offense for a majority of the game. On the other sides of the ball, the Cowboys offense could not find an answer to the Redskins defense. The answer may have been obvious to all who watched, but Garrett was unable to see it (run the ball often and move the pocket for Romo). Garrett was considered a genius after his first season in Dallas. I’m not sure he would even make the honor roll at the high school level based upon his recent performance.
10. Injuries: The Cowboys cannot afford to lose an offensive lineman, tight end, or cornerback. Certainly there are contingency plans, but does anyone have a great deal of faith in those plans?
Post game analysis: The Cowboys escape the game with DeMarcus Ware only suffering a sprained neck. Next week, both Kosier and Colombo are expected to play. All in all, the game was awful, but the Cowboys have a chance to get better in a short period of time.
Topics: Albert Haynesworth, Alex Barron, Andre Gurode, Dan Snyder, DeMarcus Ware, Dez Bryant, Donovan McNabb, Doug Free, Ernie Zampese, Jason Garett, Jason Garrett, Jim Haslett, Mike Shanahan, Montrae Holland, Pittsburgh Steelers, Roy Williams, Tony Romo, Trent Williams, Wade Phillips, Washington Redskins