I think it’s safe to say that most of us were encouraged by what we saw in the first pre-season game against the Miami Dolphins. The Cowboys really had the running game going and won the game handily, despite a late comeback by the Dolphins, primarily due to their decision to have their second string quarterback re-enter the game in a concerted effort to pull out a win.
Now let’s fast forward to the second pre-season game against the Oakland Raiders. If you tuned in to the game, it might have appeared at first that the Raiders offense put in an extra week in camp and had a previous game under their belt, not the Cowboys. But keep in mind despite the extra week of work that this was the first pre-season game for many of the Cowboys starters. As a result, the starters on offense appeared to be a bit rusty.
And let’s hope that’s all it was, because this team has (way too many times) been guilty of false start and holding penalties in the past. You see, the issue over the last several years has not just been a simple case of being able to get the ball to an open receiver or blocking well enough to drive the ball into the end zone with a running play. It’s been the offense imploding with needless penalties once they get close to the goal line allowing them to be pushed further from the goal as these penalties are enforced, as we saw last Friday night.
For the Cowboys to be ready for the 2013 season, this must be fixed. If it’s not, it is likely to be an issue all season, as it has been in past seasons, and it will cost them some wins. As far as running plays and yardage are concerned from one game to the next, it appears the Cowboys were working on their running game with multiple tight end sets against the Dolphins and running with multiple wide receiver sets against the Raiders. I am sure the plan was to get more work for the wide-outs, as well as to see how they could run in that set.
Based on the results, it appears the running game is going to be a somewhat better in sets with more tight ends, and less receivers. As we see this offense develop during the next several pre-season games, it’s good to keep in mind that the Cowboys are getting used to a new play caller. They are also continuing to implement more of a zone blocking scheme, which will take some time to master.
That being said, the Cowboys did have a pretty good average yards per carry when they ran and the passing game with both Tony Romo and Kyle Orton at quarterback appeared to be on track. We will see more scoring in the pre-season when we see Romo and Orton play more. And hopefully we will not see more of the stupid penalties we saw against the Raiders.
On defense, even without three key starters Morris Claiborne, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff, the rest of the starters on defense were able to make some noise, especially with the pass rush. We can expect that to be much better, once the starters return. For those looking for this to be a shutdown defense, there is that potential as a result of takeaways, as we have already received an indication of. However, for the most part, this appears to be more of a bend but not break defense.
The opposing offense will have chances to move the ball up and down the field and will be successful in doing so to a point, that point being when the Cowboys force a mistake that will result in punts or field goals, instead of touchdowns, or a turnover. With an anemic pass rush and lack of takeaways that has been a constant with this team the last several years, it is certainly good to see such an aggressive pass rush and a ball hawking defensive backfield for a change.
There is definitely some work to be done on special teams to get them operating smoothly. However, many of the players we have seen on special teams, so far, won’t even be on the 53 man roster when the season begins, so don’t worry too much about that aspect of the game just yet.
With three more pre-season games on tap, the Cowboys certainly have the opportunity to fix what ails them. I’m betting the team you see when the regular season begins looks a lot more efficient than the one we saw last Friday night. After all, scoring touchdowns, instead of settling for field goals, will be the difference between a win and a loss in many games.