On Saturday the Cowboys return to Dallas to take on the Ravens in their second preseason game. How will they look after a rough performance in the first game against the Chargers? I identify five things that I’m looking for in the contest and as you might guess, most of them have to do with the struggling defense including one important thing for the offense.
1. Romo’s Back:
This will be the first live action Romo has seen since he was struggling to finish the Redskins game in week 16 last season. After back surgery in the off season, reports say his throwing has been improved recently at training camp. Against the Ravens Saturday he will not be wearing the protective red shirt so he can be tackled, hit, and pushed etc. Romo needs to build some confidence in his back before the 49ers game and this is an opportunity to do it.
Specifically, I’m looking to see how the Cowboy QB performs on the deep throws, his mobility when pressured, and how he handles a little contact.
2. Pass Rush M.I.A.:
Last week the Cowboys defensive line provided
very little make that no pressure on the QB and ended the game with 0.0 sacks. Someone, some how, some way, needs to step up and get a pass rush going. I think D.C. Marinelli is keeping his cards close to the vest by not running many stunts on the defensive line in preseason but I’m still looking for someone to just beat their man for a sack. This defense needs something positive to happen so they can rally behind it, and a sack or two could be the answer.
At camp, recently acquired DE Kenneth Boatright from the Seahawks has displayed some pass rush skills as well as Jeremy Mincey and occasionally Caesar Rayford. Will one of these be the first to sack a QB Saturday?
3. Tackling Fundamentals:
Last week against the Chargers, there were far too many missed tackles by the defense. Marinelli noticed it.
“We got to tackle better; I know that,” Marinelli said. “We have to tackle better.”
I get it, some defensive starters were missing but tackling is about as fundamental as football gets and with the exception of rookie safety Ahmad Dixon, who was a tackling machine, what I saw did not look like professional football.
This Dallas defense is not going to get good over night but the first step in the process to respectability, will be good tackling and I’m looking for it to be improved Saturday.
3. Linebacker Leader Wanted:
Middle linebacker Sean Lee is out with a knee injury leaving huge shoes to fill. Since then Dallas has played a plethora of different LB personnel combinations. At this point, it is still quite ambiguous as to who will start at each spot. Last week’s LB play offered a mixed bag with blown assignments and guys tied up with blocks. If Dallas is going to improve on defense, a leader needs to emerge from the LB crew. The second preseason game is not too soon for someone to step up and take leadership of this defense.
It may be Durant, Carter, McClain or perhaps even the rookie Hitchens but I’m looking for not just a vocal leader, but someone to “cowboy up” and make a play when the defense needs it.
4. Cornerbacks are Back:
Some Dallas fans pointed out last week that Dallas played without any of their top three corners (Scandrick, Carrr, or Claiborne). So what did you expect, they reasoned? Claiborne returned from injury and Carr returned to camp this week after a death in his family.
Marinelli intends to have Carr and Claiborne play more press man defense this year than they did last season under Kiffin. It should fit their skill set more and lead to better play.
But will better play by these starting corners be enough to provide the defensive line more time to get to the QB? We have to hope so because if it isn’t enough, then the Cowboys defense could be really bad this season like in a historical sense. Keep in mind Dallas found out this week they will be without Scandrick for the first four games due to a suspension.
5. Bounce Back Factor:
After a poor performance, good teams tend to play much better and with more intensity in their next game. It will be a bad sign if these guys aren’t playing together as a team and don’t respond to their coaches this week. The kind of things that could lead to an early season collapse.
It is just a preseason game but still I’m looking for a team to play like they have something to prove and play together.