Ok, Cowboys fans, I want you to breathe for me.
Breathe in… Breathe out.
Nobody liked what they saw when the Cowboys took the field for the first time for the 2012 pre-season, but we need to remember the operative word in that sentence. Pre-season.
Were there too many penalties? Absolutely. Was the Special Teams play truly atrocious and bone headed? You betcha. Is Tony Romo going to survive this season if they let pressure get to him like that? Probably not.
We had many questions going into this game, and unfortunately very few of them got answered.
Can this offensive line be good enough to keep Romo clean and open lanes for the running game?
Who knows? As I posited in my previous column, Tony Romo is an elite quarterback, and if we can keep him on his feet, he has the ability to take the Cowboys all the way to the promise land. If we were going off the few series that Romo played in, the logical gut reaction would be “no”, but there are a few factors we need to keep in mind.
Our offensive line has been a huge question mark that still hasn’t been answered. The reality is that there is no veteran free agent savior out there, so the coaching staff is going to have to find the talent within. We’ve had a lot of injuries and still have a few weeks to figure out. There have been a few rumblings about Andre Gurode potentially returning, which would hopefully serve as an upgrade, and definitely give us more depth at center. I do not believe that this is the magical solution to our line problems and is the one area that I’m most worried about.
In the game against the Chargers tomorrow, we really need to see the 1st unit move the ball down the field effectively and give Romo the time to make plays. It is not make or break just yet, but we need to see continuing progress and the offensive line starting to gel. I think that our tackles will ultimately be very good, but the interior line is making me extremely nervous.
Who is going to be the 3rd wide receiver?
Who knows? The offense was such a disaster last week that no one really had a chance to stand out. We have some talented young guys on the squad, so hopefully someone seizes the opportunity and separates themselves from the pack. I would really love that receiver to be Andre Holmes, who had a couple of decent catches, so that we have another big bodied receiver in the mix that would allow Miles Austin to play out of the slot more. If not, there are a couple less than savory, though potential intriguing veteran free agent options out there.
Against the Chargers, we need to see our young receivers making plays with the first unit, which is going to largely be dependent on the success of the offensive line and their ability to give Romo time. Until we see them in situations that simulate regular season play, we’re not going to be able to realistically assess their success.
Is Rob Ryan’s defense going to finally take the next step?
Who knows? This was one of the more relieving elements of the game, but I’m trying to temper my expectations with the reality that the Raiders’ offense isn’t exactly top tier. They started out the game by giving Darren McFadden an expanse as wide as the Great Plains to run through, but then Gerald Sensabaugh made a nice play in center field, picking off a Carson Palmer pass. Again, we have a lot yet to see, but I think there are some positive signs here.
This weekend we are going to see a serious step up in offensive talent, and we need to see more of the same from our first unit defense. If our off-season moves have improved the secondary as much as I think they have, we’re also going to see an improvement in the play of our pass rushers. That means that Demarcus Ware is going to have additional time to get to opposing quarterbacks. That should scare opposing offensive coordinators right out of their skin. I’d also like to see Victor Butler to step up and make plays in the backfield. We really need another strong pass rusher coming off the other edge to make opposing offenses pay for keying in on Ware alone.
I think having a full off season is going to help Rob Ryan implement his defensive scheme, so I have high hopes for the potential of this defensive unit. I think we still have some questions that are yet to be answered, but I feel confident there will be a quantifiable improvement in this squad.
Is our Special Teams unit going to improve?
Who knows? The signs sure were not good. In a regular season game, it is absolutely inexcusable to give an NFL offense two extra possessions because of completely idiotic penalties on 4th down. That is the kind of performance that gets a coordinator fired tout suite. Thankfully, this was only preseason. I think our kicking game will be fine, but it is absolutely imperative that we’re able to win the field position battles, and that starts with not making mistakes in crucial down and distance situations.
In this next game, we need to see strong, mistake free football from this unit. I’m not trying to be too alarmist with the poor play against the Raiders, but I think this team needs to prove to everyone that what we saw in the first quarter was the exception, not the rule.
Can this Cowboys team win anything or are we in for the same old same?
Who knows? This is the question, my friends. It is a question that will only be answered with time and the season unfolding before us. It is too early to be overly alarmed by sloppy and uninspired play, but it certainly does not lend to confidence or the quieting of the ever-grumbling Cowboys fan. This season is still very much in the making. Are the Dallas Cowboys a contender or a pretender? Only time will tell, and though I try desperately to separate the heart and the head, I know that any such attempt is nothing but an exercise in futility. I love this team, and for better or for worse, I will keep debating and cheering and riding the rollercoaster between exaltation and heartbreak.
Take heart, Cowboys fans, it could be worse. You could be a fan of the Miami Dolphins.