Two pre-season games in the books and the perennial “even steven” Dallas Cowboys are 1-1. Cause for concern? Not exactly… but what better time than to share some observations, both positive and negative, from the first two games of 2013. I have studied both games and have found a few things that have been issues in the past that need to be cleaned up if this team is to take the next step forward. The good news is that there are also things to make even the most despondent Cowboys fan feel optimistic that this year will not finish in the same 8-8 pattern we have been stuck in recently. Without further ado, here are some observations on the season up to now.
* There is no third quarterback on this roster. Jason Garrett can feel comfortable cutting both Nick Stephens and Alex Tanney and choosing one for the practice squad if that is his preference. Neither one of these guys deserve to be considered for a roster spot. I would be shocked if both are still around when Dallas has to get down to 75 players in just over two weeks with the likely one gone first being Stephens. Missing Cole Beasley wide open in the end zone against Miami and having way too many “WTF” throws against Oakland is a good way to start your normal civilian career Nick.
* That being said, Romo looked sharp in his first game action of the new season. His signature Romo-esque play of pump-faking the free rushing lineman then moving just slightly to deliver a perfect ball to Dez Bryant showed mid-season form. Had the offensive line not sputtered after getting excellent field position, I have no doubt Tony would have got the ball in the house for six.
* Speaking of the offensive line, Travis Frederick looks like the real deal at center but lost at guard. He has played the majority of both games seeing time at each position and looks like the franchise center for the next ten plus years. However at guard, he is missing assignments and does not look comfortable. I keep hearing that the coaching staff wants the best five out there and he’s clearly one, but the cohesiveness of this unit is also important. Frederick is the center, period.
* Doug Free, Ronald Leary and Tyron Smith along with Frederick make up four of the five best lineman on this team but who is the fifth? David Arkin is probably playing the best right now as he was solid against Miami and had a decent follow-up versus Oakland but is he truly the best option? I am not sold that the fifth starter is on the roster right now either, unless it is Nate Livings who probably won’t be available until week two or three. Mackenzy Bernadeau has a lot of ground to make up and has some potential but he needs to string together a few consistent weeks or else he may be just a swing option.
* There are probably four running backs on this roster which make other positions sweat. I just don’t see how you can not have all four of these guys on the team. Obviously Murray is the starter and Randle is a fifth round rookie but Dunbar and Tanner belong as well. Dunbar has done exactly what you would have hoped for, making a huge leap from last season to now. He just looks like a different player. Tanner brings an infectious attitude to the squad. Dude runs hard and plays special teams with the same passion.
* If there is one person who should have Dallas fans goose bumped and giddy, it’s Dez Bryant. He has been a terror in practices and dominated in his brief time on the field against Oakland. You can just tell he is ready for the next level. Very few receivers will have the type of year Dez looks like he is ready to have. He has definitely closed the distance between he and Calvin Johnson in a hurry.
* Another huge reason for optimism is the defense. Despite the fact that Jay Ratliff, Anthony Spencer, Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr have not seen one snap in a game (or in practice in the cases of Rat and Spence), they have looked impressive. Except for a brief issue with handling Oakland’s read option, there are few negatives to be found. Dallas allowed three points at half to Miami and six to Oakland. That’s going to win a lot of games if that trend continues into the real season.
* This team’s desire and ability to create turnovers has already been something that past teams have never had. Through two games, the Cowboys have two fumble recoveries and two interceptions that have led to two touchdowns and two field goals. If this trend continues, this defense should be able to allow the offense to play under less pressure which can only be a good thing.
* As if the linebacking corps wasn’t already strong, the play of DeVonte Holloman and Brandon Magee so far has been very good. Even though Dallas has switched to a 4-3, having capable, young depth is never a bad thing. One of those two may even push Justin Durant for the third starter spot.
* If there is one area of concern for this defense, it is clearly the depth in the secondary. Claiborne, Carr and Scandrick will be fine at corner, but only Sterling Moore has looked like a serviceable option otherwise. As for safety, can Matt Johnson stay healthy? Did J.J. Wilcox’s bounce back game show that he learned from his abysmal first game or will he regress again next week? The play at safety, much like the offensive line, has the biggest opportunity to make or break this team’s aspirations in 2013.