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Preseason Week 1, Cowboys vs. Bengals Preview: 19 Things to Watch

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Jonathan Bales

Note: This is a two-page entry.

The Cowboys’ first game is finally here!  I’ve listed 19 (yeah, 19, wanna fight about it?) things for you to watch this Sunday night when the Cowboys take on the Bengals.

1. How much will the starters play?

Coach Wade Phillips has said most of the starters will be out of the game quickly.  Tony Romo & Co. will probably receive one series on offense, whether they score a touchdown or go three-and-out.  The lone exceptions on offense could be left tackle Doug Free, who the coaches surely want to monitor closely, and fullback Deon Anderson due to the nature of his position.

On defense, free safety Alan Ball may stay in the ballgame a bit longer than the other starters, although he has at least racked up significant game film at his position (as opposed to Free, whose left tackle game tape is minimal).

2. Will the first-string offense score on their first drive?

I recently recapped the Cowboys’ 2009 woes on initial drives.  It will be interesting to see how the offense starts (particularly if they are aggressive) against a much improved Bengals defense.

3. How will new Bengal Terrell Owens be treated by his former Dallas teammates?

T.O. left Dallas on somewhat bitter terms, but don’t think for a second that he doesn’t still have a lot of friends in this locker room. Owens figures to be greeted warmly by most of the roster, particularly because it is just a preseason game.  Let’s see how Owens and Romo interact if they cross paths after the game.

4. How will Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins perform against “Batman” (T.O.) and “Robin” (Chad Ochocinco)?

I guess Ochocinco isn’t a good enough nickname, so Chad needed a new moniker.  In any event, this will be a good test (albeit a short one) for a cornerback duo I rated as the third-best in the NFL.

5. Who will step up in the tight race for the fourth cornerback job?

The battle for the fourth cornerback spot is one of my favorite of the preseason.  It is particularly intriguing because, in my estimation, the versatility of safeties Ball and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah will allow Dallas to keep just four corners.

Each guy has advantages over the others.  Cletis Gordon’s experience has him in the lead as of now.  Bryan McCann is the most athletic of the group.  Coach Phillips has even labeled him the best in coverage “when he is on,” but he is also quite frail and may not be physical enough in live action.  Rookie Jamar Wall has struggled a bit, particularly in coverage, but the ‘Boys invested a sixth-round draft pick in him.

Right now, I’d give a slight advantage to Gordon with McCann’s upside putting him right in the mix.  Wall will need to show he can make some plays to stick around.

6. How will Alan Ball tackle?

Ball missed 22.2 percent of tackles last season, forcing me to provide him with a “D” in run support.  His athleticism and speed should allow him to make some plays in the passing game, but he really needs to show he can hold up against the run.  He could get a few series worth of work on Sunday night to prove he can do so.

7. Will Anthony Spencer, who has a bruised Achilles tendon, receive any reps?

Spencer hurt his Achilles before Tuesday’s practice and is now questionable for Sunday night.  I’d presume the Cowboys will hold him out for precautionary reasons, not risking putting the potential Pro Bowl player in for even a series.

8. If Spencer doesn’t start, who will replace him:  Victor Butler or Brandon Williams?

Butler is currently listed as Spencer’s primary backup at strong side OLB on the initial Cowboys depth chart, but Williams has been a beast so far in camp.  It will be interesting to see if Williams’ superior run defense skills and tremendous training camp play are reasons enough for the Cowboys to place him on the strong side as the starter opposite DeMarcus Ware.

9. Will either Robert Brewster or Sam Young, both of whom have played well at offensive tackle during training camp, step up in their first game action?

Brewster tore his pectoral muscle before even getting started last season.  Both he and Young have played pretty well so far in San Antonio.  With Doug Free, Alex Barron, and Marc Colombo all locks to make the final roster, Brewster and Young could be fighting one another for a job.

10. Will left tackle Alex Barron limit his false starts and outperform starter Doug Free?

Barron should see a ton of reps this preseason in his effort to take over the starting left tackle job.  I’ve already explained why false starts aren’t all that costly to an offense, but Barron will definitely need to limit them as to not infuriate the coaches.  I personally think Barron has a tremendous opportunity to unseat Free, and it starts this weekend.

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8 Responses to Preseason Week 1, Cowboys vs. Bengals Preview: 19 Things to Watch

  1. john coleman says:

    Let’s just say we are in agreement on our things to watch. I don’t see Spencer playing at all. I hear Butler has been pretty good in camp too. I think Brewster and Young have a shot with one or both getting a look at OG later in the year. Maybe even the next preseason game. I don’t expect Kosier to get any snaps at center but we will see. The reserve DBs, both CB and safety, will be really interesting. Titus Ryan has his big shot so we will see. Iwould also love to see Buehler get 3-4 chances. Finally, the offseason is over.

  2. john coleman says:

    One other thing. I hear Phillips has been a beast both blocking and catching. So he will be one to watch.

  3. Good points. Like you, I could see the Cowboys possibly retaining both Brewster and Young if one slides to guard. That wouldn’t be good news for Travis Bright. Both Brewster and Young have played much better than I anticipated.

    Phillips looks great. Marty B won’t play, so he should see a bunch of reps.

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