The 2013 NFL season is still like a newborn babe but already we are seeing some Cowboys’ trends that are worth noting. For simplicity, I’ve put these into green, yellow, and red buckets – like a traffic light. Green is good, yellow is caution, and red is danger. Lots more good than bad for once!
- The Cowboys got through game one of the preseason without any serious injuries; basically none of the starters played (except along the offensive line) so they were never in jeopardy, but depth is critical in the modern NFL and we could not afford to lose any 2s or 3s either. Matt Johnson dinged an ankle and Ben Bass tweaked a knee but it does not sound like either of those are too serious.
- I’m a huge fan after one preseason game of the new play calling system implemented by Bill Callahan. It has clearly sped up the offensive pace. I think the days of Tony Romo barking out line calls and getting players into their right positions only to snap the ball with one second left on the play clock are gone. Defensive linemen don’t always watch the play clock but when you do it as often as the Cowboys have over the last few seasons, they start to get that timing down pat.
- It’s far too early to state that our running game woes are cured, but fans have to be encouraged with what they saw Sunday night from Dunbar, Tanner, Randle (after a slow start), and even Lawrence. All except Lawrence averaged well over 5 yards per carry. And, we had 2 rushing touchdowns in the game. The Cowboys managed only 8 rushing TDs all last season, so that is definitely a good sign.
- More importantly, I saw something in the offensive line I haven’t seen in far too long: an actual push at the line of scrimmage. I’ve watched far too many games where our offensive line is getting manhandled and pushed backwards. It seems like we were always in retreat instead of being aggressive. It was a rebuilding Dolphins team, but it was good to see some pop and at times, the defense back on their heels. Let’s hope we continue to see that!
- Travis Frederick is the real deal. I’m still not convinced the Cowboys made the right move by trading down and taking him in the first round when they probably could have gotten him in the 2nd, but he’s clearly going to be a solid anchor to the offensive line if he stays healthy. More surprisingly, I like what I saw from Ron Leary, the always solid Tyron Smith, and dare I say, Doug Free didn’t stink up the joint either. It wasn’t as noticeable to me, but many are saying that Arkin played well too.
- Sixteen total turnovers. That’s what this team had last season. We had two takeaways in this game both resulting in touchdowns and did not turn the ball over once. Much has been written about Rod Marinelli and his emphasis on creating turnovers. It was great to see it actually work in a real game, preseason or not! That is a winning formula if we can make a habit of it.
- Kudos once again to the Dallas Scouting Department! How about the play of George Selvie! John Abraham who? Selvie looks like he could be the steal of the season if he can continue to play at a high level against first-team offensive lineman. But, he was a beast Sunday night. It was fun to watch. And, Jeris Pendleton – another scouting find – also had some nice plays in the Miami game and looked solid. I’m less convinced being already 29 years old that he makes the final 53, but he had a good game and has an opportunity to build on that.
- Dan Bailey is money. Nothing new there. But, it was also good to see Chris Jones come back and have a solid outing at punter killing 2 of his 3 kicks inside the 20 including a 55-yard punt.
- I’ve been as hard as anyone on him but I’m encouraged by what I’m seeing out of Jason Garrett on the sideline. He just seems like more of a head coach now that he isn’t calling plays and his head seems to be more in the entire game. I think that is going to prove a genius move as the season goes on despite the fact that those duties had to be literally pried out of his hands. We’re even hearing more stories of Garrett getting after people in practice. I like this new head coach!
- Preseason is really hard to judge because every scheme is intentionally watered down and is as vanilla as possible. But, I was concerned to see this new defense give up chunks of yards the way they did. Dallas came out on the right end of a 24-20 meaningless game, but it gives me some reason for pause when I see that Miami gained over 420 yards of offense. Granted, Justin Durant was the only real starter to make a brief appearance and the defense seemed to stiffen in the red zone when it counted, but I need to see that change dramatically when the starters are in. I think it will, but concerning nonetheless.
- I was less impressed than I expected with the special teams. Rich Bisaccia is a fine coach I’m sure but I still think we have a long way to go here. I was disappointed as well with some of the efforts from guys that will need to carve out a niche on special teams if they have any hope of making this final roster. That should improve as the preseason progresses, but it’s an area I’ll be watching and looking for improvement.
- Cole Beasley was tasked with most of the kick and punt return duties in this game. That’s not his strong suit and I hope that experiment is over. I was also not impressed with B.W. Webb’s effort. Dwayne Harris has proven he’s our guy there and I’m assuming it is still his job to lose. He’ll be filling that role when the starters are playing. But, let’s hope he stays healthy as we don’t appear to have another guy that can do it very well. (Except Dez, but his days of returning punts are likely over).
- Penalties! Still way too many penalties which are mental mistakes. I was particularly disappointed to see the number of offsides penalties from the defensive line. I know they are trying to gain an advantage by anticipating the snap count, but how hard is it to watch the football? We had 9 penalties in the game and over half of those were defensive offsides. This game is hard enough without giving opponents free yards or erasing our own good plays.
- Tackling. I thought there were way too many missed tackles caused typically by trying to deliver the big hit instead of wrapping up the ball carrier. That has to get fixed. We’ve seen too many seasons already of this. It’s maddening to see a guy in good position to stop a guy and then see him bounce off like, literally, a tackling dummy.
I’ll close with these final words of caution: One good outing does not a whole season make. I’m as excited as any Cowboys fan to see the team get off to a good start. But, they have a long way to go to get through 4 more practice games and to a final 53-man roster. Then comes a long 16-game schedule to battle through. Lots to be encouraged about, but let’s not get crazy – YET! Go Cowboys!