The return of Tony Romo from off-season surgery to remove a cyst from his back brought more questions than it did answers about the Cowboys coaching staff on Friday Night. The Cowboys have played two Preseason games in the first week, one last Saturday against Miami and last night against Oakland. The most glaring difference in both games was the disparity in the running game. In the Cowboys first game against the Dolphins the Cowboys rushed 34 times for a total of 170 yards. On Friday night in game two against the Raiders they rushed the ball only 20 times for a total of 70 yards. The differing play calling styles was the one glaring take away from the first week of the Preseason.
On Saturday Night the Cowboys opened the football Preseason with the Hall of Fame Game against the Miami Dolphins. The
Cowboys chose to give their 100 million dollar man Tony Romo an extra week to heal from back surgery to remove a cyst. Without Romo in the line up the Cowboys focused more on the ground attack, and they gashed the Dolphins for 170 yards and two touchdowns. The Cowboys also sat starting running back DeMarco Murray in this game and chose to give rookie Joseph Randle the starting gig. Randle carried the ball 13 times for a total of 70 yards and back up Phillip Tanner rushed the ball 10 times for a total of 59 yards. The other running back to play in this game that could be in the mix when the Regular Season begins, Lance Dunbar, also carried the ball four times for 22 yards.
On Friday night the Cowboys traveled to Oakland for their second game of the Preseason. The Cowboys decided to play their star quarterback for the first two series of the game. DeMarco Murray also suited up for the Oakland game but he was only given two carries for eight yards. Randle who shouldered most of the load against the Dolphins carried the ball eight times for 16 yards, but did find the end zone. Phillip Tanner lead the Cowboys with seven carries for a total of 25 yards and Lance Dunbar ran the ball three times for a total of 21 yards.
Analysis of the Cowboys after the Hall of Fame Game against the Dolphins was wildly optimistic about the Cowboys use of the running game, and it proved a positive result. Entering the second game commentators and even the announcers of the game were talking about how new play caller and offensive coordinator Bill Callahan shows more of an emphasis on the run. Game two seemed to show a return to the ways of old, where the Cowboys gave up on the running game when the going got tough, and it bit them in the rear end.
In the Preseason, results of the game mean very little to nothing at all. Wins and losses mean nothing, but the more important thing to watch is the progression of the team from week to week. In the case of the Cowboys they seemed to regress to the mentality of the last two seasons where they failed to have a running back carry the ball for double digits. Bill Callahan was brought in and given the play calling rights to provide balance to the Cowboys offense. In the first game the Cowboys ran the ball 34 times while passing it only 21 times. On Friday night the run to pass ratio went in the other direction with 32 passes to just 20 runs.
The only difference in the Cowboys roster from game one to game two was the insertion of their starting quarterback Tony Romo. Romo did perform admirably, going 6/8 for 88 yards, so the Cowboys can feel good about that. But their first possession they recovered a fumble inside the 20 yard line and tried a run on the first play and were called for holding on a stretch run by Murray. Following the holding penalty the Cowboys had a screen pass batted down, an incomplete pass and a sack of Romo caused the Cowboys to settle for a long field goal.
On a positive note for the Cowboys, in game one the Cowboys committed 9 penalties, while on Friday night they were only flagged 4 times. Penalties have always been an issue for the Cowboys, and even though the Cowboys committed less penalties on Friday night the timing of the penalties was the most discouraging factor. The Cowboys committed penalties in the red zone on both of their first team offensive drives and the penalties caused the Cowboys to settle for field goals rather than put the ball into the end zone for seven points.
The good news for Cowboys fans is that Tony Romo returned to the line up and looked sharp. He was able to get the ball to his star receiver Dez Bryant (3 catches for 55 yards) on the second drive. The bad news is that the push for balance on offense was non-existent in game two. As the Cowboys progress through the Preseason and head towards this important season, hopefully the coaching staff will review the film and the stats from both of these initial contests and get back to the plan of balance on offense and give the stable of running backs more of a role in the offensive scheme.