Wandering Thoughts: The Hall of Fame Game and the Impact of John Phillips’ Injury


Football is back.

Not really.

Preseason football is like the whiff we all get when we smell dinner being cooked. It’s coming. But, it isn’t ready yet.

Although the Hall of Fame game did not offer much in the way of quality football, it still gave the players an opportunity to display their skills in a real game – no matter how underwhelming or diminished they may have been in some instances.

–          Doug Free had a great game. In the short time he was on the field, he handled Antwan Odom and looked very nimble – which is still a pleasant surprise, given Free’s predecessor was anything but nimble.

–          Jamar Wall has a long way to go. He seemed to become overwhelmed by the task at hand – basic Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 3 assignments. And when he eventually plucked up the courage to try and make a play, he took a bad angle and didn’t drive hard to the football. End result: big gain, Bengals.

–          The offensive line is a concern. Not the starting five – they will have their ups and downs, but for the most part, will be fine. Depth is my biggest concern. Porous is the word that came to mind as I watched Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee get lit up for the better part of the game. There is youth with potential: Sam Young, Robert Brewster, Travis Bright, Phil Costa. All of which had their highs and lows on Sunday. And then there is Pat McQuistan. This offseason the Cowboys moved the four-year veteran from offensive tackle to guard, hoping that his lack of athleticism would be less of a liability inside. Instead, all the Cowboys have discovered is that McQuistan’s power and strength is just as much of a liability. McQuistan was overwhelmed all game long. Rookie Geno Atkins made him look like a revolving door, the number of times he bull rushed straight through him.

–          The play of the second string outside linebackers continues to impress. Victor Butler did a sensational job at holding the point of attack against the run on Sunday night, as well as providing a healthy serving of pressure off the edge. Brandon Williams had a quiet night, but should come on more as the preseason progresses, and he gets more comfortable playing on his surgically repaired knee in real games.

–          The red-zone woes continued for the Cowboys’ first-team unit Sunday night, as they failed to get six points after starting with first-and-goal from the Bengals’ four yard line. This isn’t about play-calling. It is about execution. Had Felix Jones not fumbled on first-down, the Cowboys would have scored. Roy Williams was open on both first- and second-down. Romo couldn’t deliver the ball. People will harp on about Jason Garrett, but he isn’t out there on the field. Once he calls the play it’s out of his hands. The 11 offensive players have to make it happen. And, at the moment, in the red-zone, they can’t.

After a strong showing in the first quarter of the Hall of Fame game, tight end John Phillips went down with an apparent right knee injury, which was, unfortunately, discovered the next day, after an MRI, to be a torn ACL. What does this mean for the Cowboys? Right now, not much. Although Phillips was having a tremendous camp, he was still, and would have remained, the third tight end. And with all the weapons the Cowboys have – Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, Jason Witten, Felix Jones – wouldn’t have had his number called all that often.

What will it mean if Jason Witten or Martellus Bennett goes down with an injury? A lot. Phillips was mainly used as a blocker last season in the three tight end sets, but had proved through training camp that he could be an able receiver, as well as considerably improving his ability to hold and finish blocks. His versatility would have allowed him to adequately fill any void left by an injured Witten or Bennett. Without Phillips, the Cowboys lose that versatile backup. The player in line to replace Phillips’, Scott Sicko, is a very capable receiver, but has yet to prove that he can be a capable blocker. So while the injury to Phillips doesn’t adversely affect the Cowboys. . . right now, it could do sometime down the road.

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Martin Long