I just finished re-watching the Dallas Cowboys beat the Miami Dolphins 24–20 in the Hall Of Fame Game. With this game, like every preseason game, the results do not matter. It is great that Dallas won, but had Miami recovered the onside kick late in the game, scored a touchdown, and won, it would not have changed my outlook on the game much.
Don’t believe me on the importance of winning and losing in the preseason? Remember the 0–16 Detriot Lions team in 2008? Do you remember their preseason record that season? 4–0. The overall result of the game does not matter, but performances by certain units and certain players and staying healthy is most important. We are going to look at a couple good areas from the HOF game that we hope continue in the game against the Oakland Raiders at 9:00 PM EST and a few areas that will hopefully improve against OAK.
NEEDS TO CONTINUE:
The single most encouraging area for the Cowboys was the run game. It wasn’t just the yards gained on the ground that made me excited, it was the persistence to run. Now it is a lot easier to pound the ball down the defenses throat when you take an early 17–0 lead, but Dallas called 32 run plays against 22 pass plays. The line opened up holes and the runners ran hard. The one back that really impressed was Phillip Tanner. After a strong preseason last year followed by a disappointing season, this has to be a confidence boast for him. He lost some weight in the offseason to try to become more explosive, but he was still tough to bring down. Lets hope the focus and success of the run game can continue tonight against the Raiders. Maybe one of the worst running teams in the league last year and one of the worst in franchise history can turn it around in 2013.
Another area I felt the Cowboys showed strong was tackling. Outside of one catch and run late in the first half, by the elusive undrafted free agent WR Chad Bumphis from Mississippi State, Dallas tackled well. There were not many big hits, but it was an even more encouraging gang style tackling. Re-watching the game, I noticed how the Cowboy defenders swarmed the ball. If there was a broken tackle, the yards after contact were kept to a minimum. This becomes even more impressive when you think about the lack of hitting and tackling done in training camp.
As far as individual performances, both interior offensive lineman Ronald Leary and Travis Frederick showed up well to help pave the way for the strong running performance. Frederick was inserted into the starting line–up the moment he was drafted and showed versatility while playing both center and guard. On the other hand, Leary has been given every opportunity to win a starting guard job due to injuries to both Mackenzy Bernadeau and Nate Livings. If he can continue his play throughout the preseason, he will show why Owner/General Manager Jerry Jones was so adamant about signing him as an UDFA last year.
I really wanted to highlight just one player in previous paragraph as well as this one, but I feel that both players in the previous paragraph and this one need the recognition that comes with their performance. The other set of individuals who stood out to me were both defensive ends. You have probably read about the performance of journeyman DE George Selvie and deservingly so, because he was outstanding at getting to the Quarterback. But his performance made it easy to overlook what Kyle Wilber was able to accomplish. Though he did not record a sack, we should not just judge his performance by the stats we find on ESPN. While I was rewatching the game, I kept rewinding it to see who was getting QB pressures and QB hits (two valuable stats for Defensive Lineman) and that player was constantly Wilber, beating the Dolphins projected starter at RT Jonathan Martin. With Pro Bowl DEs Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware, neither will start unless there is an injury, but both provide well needed depth at a position that lost DE Tyrone Crawford for the season due to an Achilles injury.
The first area I would like to see some improvement may come as a surprise: forcing turnovers. Yes, I know the Cowboys had both a fumble recovery and a interception returned for a TD. In my eyes, there are three kinds of turnovers, an offensive mistake, a lucky bounce, and a true forced turnover created by nothing more than an outstanding play by a defender. After a 2012 season that saw Dallas create just 16 TOs (good for exactly one per game), they cannot rely on poor play and lucky bounces, someone has to step up and make a play. We saw an offensive mistake (dropped handoff) and a lucky bounce (poor throw that bounced off the receivers hand), but we did not have what a consider a true forced turnover. With all the one possession games the cowboys have been in the past couple years, having more scoring opportunities by forcing turnovers will help end the three year playoff draught.
Something else that jumped out at me was how many times the Cowboys jumped offsides. Penalties have plagued the Cowboys for years and good QBs not only can draw players offsides, but also take advantage of the free play that an offsides penalty provides. I love the aggressiveness, but just like a sack can be a drive ender, an offside penalty could keep a drive alive.
One player I was disappointed in was rookie Tight End Gavin Escobar. He is more of a pass catching TE but failed to hall one in during the game. That can be forgiven because he wasn’t targeted but the knock he had in draft evaluation was on full display. Simply put, he can’t block. We have been spoiled by the play of future Hall of Fame TE Jason Witten and his ability to do it all as a TE so maybe it’s unfair to except a great showing for the rookie. With the Cowboys opting to go without a true Fullback this year, blocking will be a key factor in how often a TE sees the field. If Escobar wants to get on the field more than just in passing situations, he needs to learn how to hold his blocks.
The last player we will highlight (or lowlight) actually played well against the Dolphins, but the reason he is under the needs improvement list is because of his inability to stay on the field. Second year Safety Matt Johnson was plagued last year with injuries and has been on an NFL field twice, which was the opening preseason game this year and last. Both games he has failed to stay on the field and has left with an injury. Last year it resulted in a lost season, this year it will at least cost him tonight’s game
Yet again, the preseason’s focus is not on whether a team wins or loses. It is more of an evaluation of the bottom of the roster and players jockeying for a starting job/larger role. Keep an eye on these areas and players tonight against the Raiders and hopefully we will see some more positives and no injuries.