Each Friday, I will preview the upcoming week’s game, by reviewing the previous week’s game; hence a “preview by review”. Publishing every Friday will allow knee-jerk reactions/emotions to simmer and allow me to re-watch the game knowing the result, thus not having to deal with the heart-pounding excitement of the game or watching it through my fan goggles.
There will be two different categories: must continue and must improve. In each category, we will highlight (or lowlight) two areas, one positional group, and one individual player. I will not write on who played the best every week or who played worse.
Since this is preseason, we will not stress about the final results much. This week was very difficult to choose the topics/plyaers of discussion because a lot went right, and a lot went wrong.
I never thought I would write about how good the pass protection was for the Cowboys with the woes of the Offensive Line, but they deserve it. There were two instances when QB Tony Romo was in the game when he sat in the pocket for seemingly forever; plus there was not a defender within 5 yards of him. I do not remember a time in recent memory where he had that much time in the pocket. One play he did climb the pocket and almost lost his head, but that is on Romo and not the line. The Arizona Cardinals have a better Defensive Line than the Oakland Raiders so hopefully this trend continue.
Last week, I placed forcing turnovers in the must improve category. This week, they had the same amount of turnovers, but are in the must continue category. Why? Because against the Miami Dolphins, in the Hall of Fame game, the two turnovers were not truly forced. One was a gift on a botched hand-off and the other was a lucky tip drill intercept.
As you can see in my previous article, I wanted to see some true forced turnovers, created by the scheme or a player making a play. Defensive Tackle Jason Hatcher’s forced fumble (Hatcher knocked the ball out of Raider’s QB Matt Flynn’s hand before LB Sean Lee’s hit) was created by the scheme on a blitz. The interception by rookie Safety JJ Wilcox was an outstanding play by him to stay home and read the QB’s eyes. Creating extra possessions for this offense is a great thing. Let’s see if they can continue to create turnovers against Arizona.
This unit is deep and they really shined last Friday. In the handful of plays Dez Bryant and Romo were on the field together, they looked in sync and unstoppable. WR Miles Austin looked good while coming down with 2 catches for 22 yards. We saw the most impressive showing by Slot WR Cole Beasley who had 3 catches for 49 yards and a Touchdown, though he did injure his foot later in the game. Even WRs Anthony Amos and Jared Green got into the mix and made plays when given the opportunity.
The one disappointment in the group was WR Dwayne Harris. He did not have a bad game necessarily, but through two weeks he has yet to register a catch. As I wrote a few weeks ago, I really expected him to shine when the games started. This group was missing rookie 3rd round rookie WR Terrance Williams, who is expected to play this week against Arizona, so look for him and the rest of the receivers to continue the strong play in the unit that should be the biggest strength on the Cowboy’s roster.
-JJ Wilcox, Safety
It was difficult to keep Beasley’s performance out of the section, but his injury and a good performance by the rookie safety were enough to sway me. Wilcox’s performance was highlighted by the INT in the end zone, but that entire series was a highlight reel for him. He had 5 tackles in that series alone.
You do not want your safety making 5 tackles in a series, because that means the offense is getting to the third level, but it was encouraging to see him make the plays when the opportunity arose. Wilcox will not play in the upcoming game, because of the death of his mother, but if he can continue playing well throughout the preseason, he could see significant time at the safety position.
-Defending the Run
The first area I will address that must improve is the most worrisome: defending the read option. No offense to Raider’s back up QB Terrell Pryor, but he is not as talented as NFC East rival QBs who run the read option in Robert Griffin III or Michael Vick. Every time I saw Oakland gash us with the read option I had flashbacks to Week Seventeen last season. Grant it, this was against the Cowboy’s back ups, but I am afraid the read option is a problem for this scheme and coaching staff.
The Philadelphia Eagles new Head Coach Chip Kelly is bringing his Spread Offense from Oregon. The same offense that Cowboy’s Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin struggled with while at USC. The Cardinals do not have the personnel to run a read option, but defending the run has been difficult for the Cowboys over the past few years so they need a strong showing against a team that does not possess a strong run game.
Penalties killed Dallas against Oakland. The field position after the fumble recovery was what a offense dreams of. Then on the first play, a good gain on the ground by RB Demarco Murray, is negated by a hold. This is familiar to fans of the Cowboys because we have seen our fair share of drives die in the red zone over the past two seasons due to penalties. Dallas ranked 30th out of 32 in penalties per game last year. False starts and holding penalties can completely kill a drive and with how often Dallas games are decided by 7 or less points, every possession is crucial. Though 5 penalties for 40 yards is not terrible, when the penalties happen is more important than the final stat line. They need to clean it up a bit and the Arizona game will be a perfect time to see if they have.
-Special Teams Unit
This one was pretty obvious. A blocked field goal, a 51 yard kick-off return, a muffed punt, and a fair catch interference penalty all combine for one bad night for the Special Teamers. Games are often decided by field position and the key contributor to field position is the Special Teams Unit. It is only the preseason, but losing a game by 2 points when you had a blocked FG and fumbled away a punt that led to the game-winning FG will leave a really bad taste in your mouth when the games really count. They need a stronger showing this week.
-David Arkin, Guard
David Arkin is entering his 3rd year and is a former 4th Round Draft pick. His performance was not that bad (B.W. Webb had the worst game), but he was responsible for the blocked FG that was previously mentioned. The reason he makes this list is because as a 4th Round pick, you expect him to start competing for a starting job. This is especially true when you consider the quality of play by the other Guards on this team and the injuries.
Guards Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau were terrible as the starting Guards last season and both have missed a lot of time this camp due to injuries. Now the projected starter at LG Ronald Leary is expected to be sidelined for a few weeks after a recent knee surgery. Arkin will have every opportunity to show his worth over the next couple of weeks and if he fails to do so, the potential signing of Guard Brian Waters could spell the end to Arkin’s stint in Dallas.
Arizona is an overall better team than Oakland and the Cowboy’s starters should play more than they did against Oakland. With only a few more weeks until the regular season starts, a short time remains to iron out any imperfections. Every preseason game is a huge learning experience for coaches and players.
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