Tonight the Cowboys take on the Cincinnati Bengals in their 4th Preseason game. Most times Preseason is useless because the starters play for a series or two, but typically the third week of the Preseason is when the starters get to play for all of the first half and is the true test for the start of the Regular season. Entering tonight’s game the Cowboys have some major questions that need to be answered.
August 17, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray (29) runs the ball against Arizona Cardinals during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The Cowboys opened the preseason by unleashing a rushing attack on the Miami Dolphins in the Hall of Fame Game. Since that performance the Cowboys have lacked any sense of a consistent running game. The last game against Arizona they ran the ball a total of 16 times with two of those runs including scrambles from the quarterback. The Cowboys promoted Bill Callahan to offensive coordinator this past offseason and sold it to us fans as a move to revitalize the Cowboys ground attack. Ever since the Hall of Fame Game the Cowboys have not had a running back carry the ball for double digit carries. Tonight we need to see if the offensive line can produce a competent running game for starting quarterback Tony Romo and the rest of the offense.
The safety position is down to a three person race between veterans Barry Church, Will Allen and rookie J.J. Wilcox. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has raved about Wilcox throughout training camp and the Preseason. Tonight we will have to see which of these three gets the bulk of the playing time and which two perform best in the new “Tampa 2” scheme. The safety needs to be a great spy in the coverage game in this style of defense and must be able to handle being the last line of defense as a great tackler. We need to see the sfaeties take control of this role and set the roster for Regular season game one.
Third Wide Receiver
Dez Bryant and Miles Austin are the top receiver targets for the Dallas Cowboys. In their offense they like to use a three wide receiver approach. Right now the depth chart has four guys vying for that third spot. Dwayne Harris leads the candidates with his explosive plays when the ball is in his hands, but his route running and separation issues has been a hindering in his ability to secure the third receiver spot. Rookie Terrance Williams is more of an outside target which would not be terrible because it would move Austin into the slot where he is more comfortable and more productive over his career. Cole Beasley has shown good but not great appearances in his short career, and Danny Coale rounds out the options for that third receiver spot. Someone has to separate themselves tonight to prove they can be the answer for the Cowboys in the Regular season.
Back Up Tight End
The back up to the Cowboys All-World tight end Jason Witten is a two man race. Rookie Gavin Escobar has looked good in training camp and the first three preseason games and second year player James Hanna has continued to show his progression as a tight end at the NFL level. Both players will be viable options in the offensive attack. The NFL has seen what the New England Patriots were able to do with a multiple tight end offensive attack, so either of these players can be an excellent addition to the offense if they can prove they can handle the load both blocking and receiving.
August 17, 2013; Phoenix, AZ, USA; Dallas Cowboys center Travis Frederick (70) scans the defense before snapping the ball to quarterback Tony Romo (9) against Arizona Cardinals during the first half at University of Phoenix Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports
The offensive line is one of the biggest question marks and most important needs for the Cowboys in the 2013 season. The biggest position battle is at right tackle where traditional disappointment Doug Free and Jeremy Parnell are battling for the starting gig. Both players platooned last season due to Free’s ineptitude last year. One of these two will have to assert themselves tonight to show they can protect the Cowboys 100 million dollar QB. The moves on the interior of the line consist of all three positions of guards and center. Rookie Travis Frederick was picked late in the first round with much criticism by many, but he has shown a great ability to control the offense, he will have to continue that development and show tonight that he can handle the calls at the line to grab the starting spot. Frederick does not just have to be the center, he can also fill one of the guard spots if the Cowboys feel he needs more seasoning before controlling the entire line from the center spot. The Cowboys have competent back ups at the center spot in Phil Costa and Ryan Cook, so where they decide to put Frederick will affect where these two are slated as well. As far as the starting guards are concerned, Nate Livingston and Mackenzy Bernadeau are the leading candidates and the Cowboys will need to figure out how their line rotation will play out when they enter the first game of the season.
People love to hate on the Preseason as meaningless games, but that notion is thrown out the window in Week 3 of the Preseason. This is the most important game for coaches to make major decisions that will affect the roster for the start of the Regular season. As we watch the game tonight against the Cincinnati Bengals, we need to keep all of these issues raised in mind to properly assess the Cowboys for the 2013 NFL season.