Saturday night’s preseason game is what is referred to as the “dress rehearsal” game for the Dallas Cowboys because it represents the preseason game where the starters should see the most action.
Dallas will finally play at home and against a good Bengals team that has made the AFC playoffs back to back seasons. This represents a good opportunity to see if any progress has really been made compared to last season.
Here are four things that I will be looking for in the dress rehearsal game.
1. Commit to the Run:
Last season Dallas had one of its weakest run attacks in the history of the franchise finishing ranked 31st in the NFL with a shameful 79 yards per game. For them to win in 2013, it must improve.
In preseason play, they got off to a good start in the HOF game with 170 yards rushing against the Dolphins but it has gone back to primarily throwing the ball since then. Dallas only had 70 yards rushing against the Raiders and then it fell to a measly 44 yards against the Cardinals. In fact in the Dolphins game, they had more rushing yards than passing yards which is the only time it has happened this preseason and interestingly, it is the only preseason game they won.
In the Cardinals game with their starters playing, Dallas faced a very manageable 2nd and 1. They ran the ball but came up short then on 3rd and 1 by default, Romo went to the obligatory shotgun formation and threw an incomplete pass. Too often that happened last season where they just abandoned the run, and put it on Romo.
I would prefer to see Dallas run the ball two times in a row in that situation to pick up that 1 yard. Let’s face it, if a team can’t pick up 1 yard running the ball in two attempts, then they aren’t going to win championships anyway.
When the starters are in the game, I am looking for a commitment to run the ball and not abandon it quickly the first time it doesn’t seem to work. Romo would benefit greatly from having a legit run attack in 2013.
2. Offensive Line:
It’s well documented that the offensive line was a weak area last season and while Jerry Jones once again failed to improve the guards, they did add a center in rookie Travis Frederick. In the Cardinals game, I noticed that tackle Tyron Smith struggled to protect Romo’s blind side and he was consequently pressured some. While the starters are in the game Saturday, I’m looking for this offensive line to play together as a cohesive unit in forming a reliable pocket for Romo to pass.
3. Win turnover battle:
Last season Dallas gave the ball away much more often than they took it away. In fact, they ended the 2012 season with a -13 deficit in turnovers. That would be why Rob Ryan was bounced as defensive coordinator and replaced by Tampa 2 guru, Monte Kiffin who is implementing their new 4-3 defense. It’s designed to create more turnovers.
However in the Cardinals game, Dallas had a ridiculous 6 turnovers while only managing to take the ball away one time. That deficit in take aways was all too common in games last year, and it must improve this season.
While the starters are in the game, I’m looking for Dallas to take the ball away more times than they give it away.
4. Secondary Struggles:
The too generous Cowboy secondary is a familiar issue. So far in preseason games, Dallas has allowed an average of 259 passing yards per game. That is the 3rd most of all NFL teams. If that isn’t a concern yet, it soon may be. Second year CB Morris Claiborne has been out the entire preseason so his “minor knee injury” is beginning to make me wonder just how minor it actually is? Yes, there have been a lot of reserve players flying around in the secondary contributing to their weak performance but in the dress rehearsal game, I’m looking for some consistency back there.
In particular, the Safetys need to step up and make plays for this Cowboys defense to get it done in 2013.
It’s the preseason game that may tell us the most about the 2013 Dallas Cowboys. From the offense, I’m looking for a commitment to the run game and improved pass protection. From the defense, I’m looking for improved secondary play and to win the important battle of turnovers.
How they perform in these areas may tell us if our expectations should increase for this year or if we are looking at another dismal 8-8 disappointment. Or perhaps even worse…..