Well it’s here. It’s what we’ve all been waiting for. I know, I know … it’s just the second preseason game, what does it really matter?
Well the first preseason game mattered for a blowout loss, a few sharp comments from coach Phillips about a lack of effort all around, a few players being cut from the roster, and plenty of fodder for a week as we awaited the game tonight.
But more than that, it is the follow up to something that we all basically agreed was a crap-shoot. This team is on the rebound – from last season, from the last regular season game, from the last preseason game, even from the last stadium. It’s an important game because we get to see how, and if, the team has adjusted to overcome the many things that kept them from winning last week.
So yeah, maybe a preseason game is just a preseason game, but we play these games for a reason, and tonight we’ve got a bucket full of reasons to watch. Let’s start with the offense this week.
Tonight the Cowboys will square off against the Titans. The hype will be around the grand opening of Cowboys Stadium. The offense can expect to see it’s first team play about half the game, and what a game it should be!
What to expect?
Expect … more and more of this dynamic first team offense. Last week they showed us that they can deliver with ease. The Titans defense is pretty solid, but with a combination of Felix Jones, Jason Witten, Martellus Bennett, Roy Williams, Patrick Crayton, Sam Hurd, and Miles Austin, they are looking at a serious challenge to stop these ‘Boys.
We should be able to truly grasp what the offense is offering to us now, as we get them in more of rhythm. This is where Jason Garrett will be able to see the way the triple headed running game will react in game time situations, from third and inches and goal line sets to long distance and receiving play choices. This offense is fully equipped to go the distance on any play – Romo will continue to build a report with Williams, and Witten and Romo will continue to dominate.
What to Look for?
First Team Offense – Durability, you want to make sure that this team is conditioned enough to get through games. If players are exhausted their skill set quickly diminishes.
Execution, The NFL playbook is complex, it isn’t just a bunch of dumb jocks running around clueless. You really need to pay attention to the receivers route running, catching, and explosion. Same thing goes for the running backs and Offensive Line. If plays are breaking down and Romo is eating grass you can almost surely blame it on the execution of the rest of the team.
Second and Third Team offense – Chemistry, these units were less than impressive last week at Oakland. If they don’t start producing and playing as a team, the lack of depth will become that much more of an issue. With turnovers the result of poor plays, you can expect that if they continue the way they have that the second team will be a turnover machine.
The first team offense will hush critics, conquering a top 10 defense. Romo will deliver sharp passes and the running backs will contribute effectively. Expect Roy Williams to have his preseason breakout and Witten to catch on in the end zone….again.
For the second team, same ole same ole – expect inconsistent play from most positions except at receiver where position battles have never been more competitive. Turnovers and ineffective scoring drives are the end of this story though.
Offensive analysis provided by Bryan Martin
Okay, last week against the Raiders we talked about the three main areas of concern for the Cowboys heading into the season.
- Interior Run Defense
- Ability to Force Turnovers
After the performance last week I think it would be safe to say that those concerns are still there! Granted we didn’t get an extended look at the starters, but what we saw from the 2nd and 3rd string guys definitely gave credence to those concerns.
The Cowboys faced the Raiders with only one first string caliber cornerback (Orlando Scandrick), and while he played well we still do not know how much or how little depth we have at the position.
Before we make a hard line stance on the secondary situation I really think we need to give the young guys a chance over the next couple of preseason games.
The interior run defense against the Raiders was, well let’s see how I can put this… not the most impressive performance I have ever witnessed. After giving up 176 rushing yards to the Raiders we need to see some improvement here this week and from now on or we could be in deep trouble.
Last but not least on our list from last week was the turnover battle, which the Cowboys lost two to zero! This defense MUST begin forcing turnovers!
Okay now that we have kind of glanced over what happened last week let’s preview what we can expect in preseason game 2 against the Tennessee Titans!
Here is this week’s list of things to keep a watchful eye on!
- The Cowboys will get a heavy dose of Chris Johnson and LenDale White (This will be the best opportunity that we have before the season starts to get an accurate feel for the Cowboys run defense).
- Can the Cowboys 3-4 scheme create enough pressure on a solid offensive line to force mistakes from Kerry Collins (Collins has looked very old to me in the Titans preseason games, but he is the epitome of a ball control, mistake free QB, no matter how old he is. The Cowboys should also get the opportunity to chase Vince Young around which could help prepare them for NFC East foe Philly)?
- Does Wade Phillips begin to open the playbook up this week or is he holding back until the real games begin?
Look for the Cowboys starters to get a little more playing time this week, lord knows they need it! Wade Phillips instituted a no tackling policy in camp to help prevent preseason injuries, and boy does it show!
As for the 2nd and 3rd string guys we need to at least begin to see some consistency from these guys. Most of these guys are younger players and have had a lot thrown at them, but the time has come for them to prove that they belong!
Defensive analysis provided by Bags030404
Say what you like about the offensive and defensive collective performance at the Raiders, knee-jerk reaction or not, the Special Teams looked pretty good overall. In particular, my favorite rookie so far, David Buehler impressed me. Buehler was 1 for 3 on touchbacks, a statistic that sadly already surpasses Nick Folk’s stats from last year where he had 0 touchbacks. The other two were still, at least, beyond the 10 yard line. In addition, he also had two tackles on punt and kickoff coverage. That’s not a stat you see compiled amongst kickers very often. In fact, I’d go as far as to say already that he is the most intriguing kick off specialist in the history of football. Obviously, we haven’t seen enough of him to call him the most complete, but given the right amount of grooming, he really could grant the Cowboys quite a bit of flexibility when it comes to choosing their 53 man roster. He can do it all. But enough of the gratuitous bromancing; on to the Titans game.
Keeping this as short and sweet as possible, I will suffice to say I don’t really think with as dominant as the Titans can be in various aspects of the game, Special Teams should be a concern for any Dallas Cowboys unit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not underestimating them, but if there is any aspect of the game I am confident the Cowboys can win, it’s the field position battles. See for yourself:
The Titans actually have two punters currently competing for the job and both still rank in the bottom 20 as far as average distance of punts are concerned; Craig Hentrich averages 43 and A.J. Trapasso has averaged 39.4. To get an idea of how poor that is consider number 3 ranked Mat McBriar who, coming off a season ending injury, averaged 51.8 per punt over the course of 5 punts. For further perspective, keep in mind that DeCamillis has requested that Mat place more emphasis on flight time, not distance.
Rob Bironas ranks 9th in the league for average distance, with only 1 touchback out of 8 kick off attempts. Buehler is right behind him in 10th place, but with 1 touchback out of 3 tries.
Ryan Mouton, a 3rd round rookie out of Hawaii so far has handled half of the kick returns for the Titans. Interestingly enough, he is actually at the bottom of the stats sheet (ranked 50th) with average return yards of 19.3 per kick off. Whether or not that’s a result of poor blocking or poor decision making on Ryan’s part remains to be seen, but according to his draft analysis, he is supposed to be a phenomenal return man with 4.3 speed. Ideally, we could forgo finding out with Buehler kicking touchbacks throughout the game. But chances are we will see what has the Titans rubbing their hands together ala Charles Montgomery Burns. Jason McCourty, per the team’s website, has handled the other 3 kick offs but he has only average 16 yards per return and doesn’t even register on nfl.com’s stat sheet.
Meanwhile, back in Dallas we have two receivers fighting to make the final 53 man roster who have game changer ability. Granted, Stanback’s first showing was not stellar, but considering he was the first Cowboys player to touch a ball in a game situation this season, I’ll write off that first mishandling to riled up nerves. He ranks 40th when you consider the 16 yard return he had to open up the game against the Raiders, but jumps up to 20th without it. Kevin Ogletree, out of the 50 kick returners, actually ranked 8th in the league, averaging 28.7 yards per return.
According to the Titans stat sheet, punt returns have been shared between Chris Davis (3 returns averaging 5.7 per return), Ryan Mouton (3 returns averaging 7 yards per return), and Tuff Harris (1 return averaging 5.4). Punt returner might not be as a big of a question as who backs up Jay Ratliff, the OL, or who starts opposite Terence Newman, but it has been a question.
The funny thing is, so far the Cowboys have only had two opportunities to field punts, both taken by Willie Reid, one of which was bobbled and resulted in him having to fall on it. Still, you would expect him to average more than 1 yard per return and do better than 2 yards which was his longest return. I don’t know if the Cowboys intend to continue trying to use him in the preseason, but I doubt he makes the final 53. That said, the Cowboys have other options in this area, and given Reid’s performance against the Raiders, I’d imagine we will get to see them come Friday night.
What to look for:
- More touchbacks and special teams tackles from Buehler.
- Has Folk lost his edge? He missed his first and only field goal attempt. After that, Buehler took over and was 1 for 1. There is still very little chance the Cowboys decide to cut Folk, but it does make things more interesting that Folk made this a question to begin with.
- Coverage on both the punt and kickoff teams was much improved from last year; it shouldn’t be too difficult for the Cowboys to continue that trend against the Titans but, I’ll be watching for it just the same.
- Again, who is going to be the Special Teams leader? My vote is still Buehler, as crazy as it may sound.
Special Teams analysis provided by Jonathan
– Don’t forget about the chat either, it’ll be open all day Friday for anyone to chat.