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By Jonathan Bales

Dallas Cowboys 2011 Preseason Schedule: Previewing Denver, San Diego, Minnesota and Miami

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Jonathan Bales

With all of the hoopla that surrounded the end of the lockout and the start of free agency, it is a bit hard to believe the Cowboys’ preseason opener is just two days away.  While a team’s play during the preseason is a poor predictor of their regular season record, there are still plenty of things which we can learn from each game.  Among other things, it is always nice to watch the play of rookies and newly-acquired free agents.  The preseason is also our first opportunity to get a glimpse of defensive coordinator’s 3-4 scheme in Big D.  Here are a few notes and things I will be watching this preseason. . .

Denver Broncos – Thurs, Aug 11

  • The majority of the starters will play just a series or two on Thursday.  Of course the primary starter to watch is rookie right tackle Tyron Smith.  He will get a few snaps against Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil, which will be a nice challenge for the youngster.
  • Watch for Kyle Kosier’s play at his new right guard position.  The ‘Boys plan to play him there to help rookie Tyron Smith with line calls.  The learning curve should not be dramatic for the veteran.
  • The sample size will not be too large, but let’s see who Tony Romo targets in the passing game.  Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are kind of 1A, 1B and 1C in the passing game, in no particular order.
  • With the new kickoff rules, let’s see how far David Buehler booms the ball through the end zone.  More importantly, watch rookie Dan Bailey’s kickoffs.  If he can consistently garner touchbacks, Buehler’s roster spot is in trouble.
  • Victor Butler should see a good amount of playing time in all of the preseason games.  I think he has a chance to receive a lot of snaps in 2011, and perhaps even overtake Anthony Spencer for a starting outside linebacker spot at some point.

  • In addition to Tyron Smith, be sure to watch the play of Dwayne Harris, David Arkin, Shaun Chapas and the other rooks.  DeMarco Murray and Bruce Carter will be out with injuries.
  • Safety Abram Elam was one of the Cowboys’ only free agent signings.  He is familiar with Rob Ryan’s scheme from his time in Cleveland, and Thursday night will be our first chance to see him in action in Dallas.
  • Is Sean Lee ready to start?  I think so, but we’ll see this preseason.
  • Lonyae Miller has been tearing it up in camp.  With Tashard Choice and Murray injured, Miller has a shot to win No. 2 running back duties.  On the other hand, if he does not make the roster, here is how I expect the Cowboys to split up carries.
  • This is basically Akwasi Owusu-Ansah’s “second” rookie season.  I think he has starting safety potential, but he needs to have a big preseason.
  • The Cowboys have been notoriously poor at stopping mobile quarterbacks in the past, and with Michael Vick in the division, that’s a big no-no.  Tim Tebow is a different kind of runner, but the task of halting his ground game will be a nice test for the defense.
  • Denver WR Brandon Lloyd will represent a great challenge for CBs Orlando Scandrick and Bryan McCann.  Both Newman and Jenkins are out.

San Diego Chargers – Sun, Aug 21

  • The starters should see about a quarter of play in this contest.  The Chargers were one of the most “unlucky” teams in 2010, missing the playoffs despite finishing first in both offense and defense.  They are a really good football team.
  • DeMarco Murray may be healthy by this point.  He won’t get a ton of work even if he is ready to go, but it will be nice to see the rookie in action.
  • The Chargers’ passing attack, led by Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson, will be a big-time challenge for a Dallas pass defense that was one of the worst in the league last season.  Keep your eye on the Jenkins-Jackson and Lee-Gates matchups.
  • The ‘Boys have had some trouble on offense when facing 3-4 defenses.  San Diego has one of the best in the NFL.  Look for Dallas to try to get Felix Jones and perhaps Murray isolated against San Diego’s big outside linebackers.
  • How will Tyron Smith fare against Shaun Phillips?  Another awesome test for the rookie against a 3-4 defensive scheme he rarely saw in college.
  • With a full quarter to play, this will be our first legitimate chance to see if Rob Ryan can get the first-team defense to generate pressure.  Victor Butler/Anthony Spencer vs. Marcus McNeill will be a great matchup to watch.

@Minnesota Vikings – Sat, Aug 27

  • The third game of the preseason is always the most exciting.  It will come close to resembling a regular season game, as the starters will likely play about three quarters.
  • Again, we will receive a glimpse of where Romo looks to go with the football when he is in trouble.  I think a lot of people will be surprised at how many targets Dez Bryant receives this season.
  • How will the line handle Jared Allen?  We know Doug Free is perhaps best-suited for speed rushers, but Allen has a bit of everything.  Tyron Smith will have his hands full as well in our first chance to see him play significant snaps.  Also be sure to watch the pass protection and blitz pickup ability of Felix Jones, Murray (who should definitely be back by then) and even Lonyae Miller.
  • Adrian Peterson is perhaps the most dynamic running back in the NFL.  He has game-breaking speed, incredible power, and he may even be a legitimate receiving threat this season.  It will be interesting to see how Ryan plans to limit Peterson, including if the defense can contain him without placing eight men in the box.
  • Percy Harvin is the prototypical “Cowboy-killer.”  He’s fast, shifty, and will often be matched up against linebackers and safeties.  The major problem he poses is forcing a shift in personnel. . .if you bring in the nickel to allow Scandrick or McCann to cover him, you are just asking Peterson to gash you.  The Vikings should be able to run the ball really well out of three-receiver sets this season.

@Miami Dolphins – Thurs, Sep 1

  • The Cowboys play the Dolphins in the regular season, so don’t expect to see anything but the most basic of play-calls.  With the starters sitting, this game will be considered a boring one by many.  However, it might be the most useful to the coaches, as they get to assess the play of rookies and fringe players.  David Buehler, Dan Bailey, Shaun Chapas, Chris Gronkowski, Barry Church, Jesse Holley, Teddy Williams and so on. . .you all better come to play.  Gronkowski in particular needs a stellar preseason.  His 2010 rookie season was a far cry from the year Deon Anderson had in 2009.
  • If the Dolphins run any Wildcat, we’ll see how Ryan chooses to defend it.  He will see some of it in at least two games this season against Philly.
  • In both the preseason and regular season, track Jason Garrett’s red zone play-calling.  It improved a lot in 2010.
  • Lastly, let’s see what kind of emotion the Cowboys play with in the preseason.  These games “don’t matter”…but the manner in which the team prepares for a “meaningless” game could determine their ability to effectively prepare for the ones that do count.
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9 Responses to Dallas Cowboys 2011 Preseason Schedule: Previewing Denver, San Diego, Minnesota and Miami

  1. Vince_Grey says:

    Here’s what I’m looking at this preseason:

    - Will Ray Radaway make the team and become our version of Mike Wallace? Not that Austin or Dez are slow by any means, but they’re not 4.32 fast and you can’t coach speed. It would be nice to have RR for a 1-3 deep strikes a game.

    - Can Ogletree take control of the slot?

    - Is John Phillips all the way back?

    - Will the O-line jell into a solid, disciplined unit? If nothing else, I’m looking for a lot fewer stupid penalties from the line this year, and the offense as a whole.

    - I want to see Jones take command of the RB spot like Emmitt used to, by playing so well they can’t take him out of the game.

    - Despite our great talent at WR and TE, I think Garrett wants to pass early, get a lead, and run the hell out of the ball after that a’la Norv Turner back in the day. We’ll see.

    - I think Witten’s catches go down this year. Not because he can’t make them, but because of so much talent on the outside. I think if he has 90+ catches again, this offense isn’t performing at max potential. OTOH, Jason could have more TD’s than ever. I see him catching 60-70 balls and having 10 plus TD’s.

    - If Romo stays healthy, this offense could be special if the O-line plays well. I mean 30-plus ppg special.

    - Will the D-line play well? I’m not worried about the LB’s much. IMO, this defense will go as far as the D-line can carry it, both in run D and getting some kind of pass rush. The 2ndary will be much better than last season. Couldn’t be much worse, right?

    - Will Spencer step up and be a top player?

    - Can Newman stay healthy?

    - Will Jenkins make some plays and actually tackle people?

    - I’m mainly looking for crazy effort out of the players this preseason. Like back when Jimmy was here. Guys flying around everywhere, hitting anything that moves. I think anyone not giving that kind of effort will likely not make the team.

    - Agree that Buehler’s in trouble if Bailey continues to rock. Jimmy went into `92 with a rookie kicker, so I don’t think Jason will be afraid to do so. That said, I believe Buehler can kick in the NFL.

    - Just a hunch, but look for Garrett to cut some guy that will shock/surprise everyone this preseason. Jimmy would cut guys like that, and brother, did it get everyone’s attention that JJ was serious about hard play all the time.

  2. john coleman says:

    I really want to see the young guys period. Will Lee be instinctive? Do we have adequate backup at the CB spot in McCann and Thomas? Is there a UDFA CB who will show up?

    I’m really anxious to see Orie Lemon and Alex Albright. We desperately need another guy inside and I have been screaming for a big guy for a few years. Albright seems to be that 6-5, 257 and he will get bigger. He would definitely be a steal, as well. When I first read his name I was hopeful, but thought he was just a camp body.

    Also excited about this Arkin kid. He seems to have the MEAN streak we need and moving him beside Free will help the curve. I’m not to concerned with Smith, other than him learning the scheme.

    Returning players like Ogletree and Miller seem to be making a jump. Young and cheap is a good combination if they can play.

    I’m also in the minority in thinking that we will see better play from the DE’s because of scheme. I’m really hoping for Spears to surprise and Hatcher to finally live up to potential. It will be good to get a look at Lissemore as well.

    I think the small amount of changeover could really help us, because of the shortened offseason.

    What a shame these guys didn’t get to work with the new strength and conditioning coach.

    I,m honestly happier with the team we have now than I was going into last year.

    I’m also tempering my expectations for the defense in the 1st game. So I will not be too high or low regardless of the outcome. Two weeks is a short time for a new D to be seamless. I do think bringing in Coleman and Elam was pure genius as they will be able to be coaches on the field.

  3. Mark Watkins says:

    I’m excited and intrigued about many of the same players you all mentioned. I do hope that someone steps up at CB or they can acquire another one soon since they really seem more vulnerable there than anywhere.

    I also wish that I had more faith in Ogletree, but my expectations are not high for one reason- I was really excited about his potential going into last year and he didn’t produce much, even before the injury. Maybe another year will make a big difference.

    It sure would be nice to see some flashes from Radway, although I realize that it’s highly doubtful that he could contribute this year.

    I also can’t wait to see Bruce Carter, and DeMarco Murray, although that could be a ways off, particularly in the case of Carter. Dwayne Harris is also interesting.

    The kicker they signed from UCLA (Forbath?) is intriguing as well.

    Hopefully AOA comes through and shows some progress this year too. Should be an exciting preseason!

  4. Vince_Grey says:

    If Radway does anything this year, he’ll be running “nine” routes and maybe a post a few times a game. Doesn’t take much to learn just that.

    I see Oogletree doing well simply because of who’s around him. With two great receivers on the outside and an All Pro TE in there as well, Oogletree’s sure not going to get much coverage. He’ll probably be wide open a lot of the time.

    Put aside scheme for a moment, on fire and effort alone, the defense should definitely be a lot better. I liked Wade, but his passive approach to D and laid back ways just didn’t mesh with this group.

  5. Vince_Grey says:

    BTW, commenting on Prince Amukamara getting hurt and being out “indefinitely”, who’s glad we didn’t take him now? I was against taking him with our pick.

    Also, I was fighting seemingly a lone battle against a LOT of Cowboy fans back a year ago who wanted us to take Taylor Mays number 1. I said the guy was a workout warrior who was stiff and didn’t produce on the field, and wouldn’t consider him before the 5th round. 49er’s now want him OUT of there.

    So, everyone who screamed for Prince and/or Mays raise their hands and be counted. (And perhaps mocked… Ha!)

  6. Awesome comments from everyone. Vince, I particularly like your prediction that JG will cut someone unexpected. Prior to camp, I thought that guy might be Ogletree. That is looking less likely, but I think you are onto something.

  7. Mark Watkins says:

    Good points about Ogletree and Radway Vince. I sure hope you’re right. I was also going to comment that I remember Jimmy making those ‘statement’ cuts that really seemed to resonate with the players. Sure kept them from taking things for granted. I wouldn’t mind seeing that at all. Some of the prime candidates for that might have already been cut, like maybe Leonard Davis or Roy Williams (?) I’m trying to think of another guy who perhaps isn’t giving 100% effort who could be expendable….hmm….tough to say other than maybe Choice

  8. Vince_Grey says:

    I just remembered that Jimmy did his “Holy Sh*t!” cuts during the regular season, not the preseason.

    More of a risk, but far greater effect.

  9. Shady says:

    Cowboys offense is loaded with talent especially at the WR position. Rad is going to turn heads. Along with Harris and the rest of the gang, Cowboys could really put some points up. HOWEVER, the “D” is still in transition and will struggle, hopefully the “D” will just. Bend and not break. I hope we can make the playoffs, but it is going to be difficult w/o a good secondary, which we do not have RR, will have his hands full, teaching this compacted “D”. With that said, I believe we finish in tje neighborhood of 7-9 8-8 or 9-7. However next season should show a drastic turn around to 10-6 11-5 – 12-4 and make a serious run at the SB.

    i hope we can do it this year, I bleed blue & silver and I am lime the rest of you, and want to win. Coach Landry is getting a little restless ands nigt just make an appearance if things don’t turnaround, I do believe Garrett is tje right man for the job. He believes in discipline.

    Hopefully we improve over last year, time will tell

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