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akwasi owusu ansah injury | The DC Times

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Preseason Week Three, Cowboys at Chargers: 12 Things to Watch

Jonathan Bales

1.  How much will the starters play?

This would typically be the Cowboys’ second preseason game.  Combining that with the fact that Coach Phillips has said the overall playing time for starters will remain steady despite an extra game and I’d estimate the starters will play a full quarter (or perhaps a bit longer).  The goal was 15 plays last week, so this week you might see the No. 1’s in there for 25 or so plays.

2.  How will the offense execute against a 3-4 defense?

After a stint with just a few 3-4 teams in the entire league, more and more squads are transitioning to the 3-4 defense.  This is good for the Dallas offense, as they face one of the best 3-4 defenses (their own) in practice every day.

San Diego will be an excellent test for the ‘Boys after they struggled against Cincinnati and Oakland.  A quick back like Felix Jones can often flourish against a 3-4 defense which typically implements bigger (and often slow) linebackers.

3.  Will Robert Brewster, starting in place of the injured Marc Colombo, step up after a lackluster start to the 2010 preseason?  Can he contain Shawne Merriman and Shaun Phillips?

Brewster is the primary player I will have my eyes on during this contest.  He has been running with the first team during Colombo’s absence, despite struggling mightily in the first two preseason games.

He will have his hands full on Saturday with the Chargers’ dynamic Shawne and Shaun outside linebacker duo.  Perhaps blocking players who are in a stand-up position will make Brewster more comfortable.  He should already be a bit more at ease on the right side of the line.

4.  With his roster spot possibly on the line, how will receiver Kevin Ogletree respond after two poor games?

Ogletree had two drops last week and has exhibited poor field awareness (and sometimes seemingly poor effort) in both games.  His roster spot is certainly not guaranteed, particularly with a better special teams player in Jesse Holley breathing down his neck.  Ogletree is a more naturally gifted pass-catcher, but that doesn’t really mean anything without production.

5.  Will the offense continue to use so much Shotgun?

Last week, the Cowboys lined up in two formations–“Gun Spread” and “Gun Tight End Spread”–on 28 plays.  That probably had a lot to do with the lack of tight end depth, but Dallas may continue to implement more Shotgun formations once rookie Dez Bryant returns.

6.  Will Dallas be more effective on their draw plays?

They’ve averaged just 3.13 yards-per-carry on draws this preseason.  In my Ultimate Guide to Dallas Cowboys Draws, I explained why running less draws would allow the Cowboys to become more efficient when they do run them.

7.  Will we see the debuts of rookies Sean Lee and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah?  If so, how will Lee perform in coverage and will AOA show something special on returns?

I’m ecstatic to be able to watch these guys suit up and play.  Sean Lee is in a battle with Jason Williams for the nickel linebacker job.  He outperformed him in the offseason, but we have yet to see how he plays in full pads at game-speed.  Here was my initial reaction to the Lee selection.

‘Kwasi was one of about five guys I desperately wanted the Cowboys to draft.  I even had him on my list of 10 “sleeper” draft picks for Dallas.  He has the potential to be an All-Pro return man.

In my opinion, AOA will eventually become the starting free safety in Dallas as well.  He is very cerebral and has outstanding size and athleticism, but there are still some questions about how he will hold up against the big boys after coming out of Indiana of Pennsylvania.

8.  How will the linebackers and safeties perform against one of the league’s premiere tight ends?

The Dallas defense is notorious for struggling against athletic tight ends.  They improved some last season with the additions of Keith Brooking (who is surprisingly effective in coverageI gave him a “B” in my 2009 Inside Linebacker Grades) and Gerald Sensabaugh.

The Chargers’ Antonio Gates is obviously a top-tier pass-catching tight end, so the Cowboys will have an excellent opportunity to prove their linebackers and safeties won’t be a weak spot in coverage.

9.  Will nose tackles Junior Siavii and Josh Brent continue to play well enough to force the coaches to contemplate keeping both players?

I predicted that both players will make the team in my last 53-man roster projection.  Siavii performed well against the run last season (6.52 percent tackle rate) and looks good again so far in 2010.  He could help himself by getting to the passer this weekend.

I’ve personally gone out on a limb and guaranteed that Brent makes the squad.  His motor and athleticism are Ratliff-esque.

10.  It is a make-or-break game for rookie cornerback Jamar Wall.  Will he show something?

Personally, I don’t see Wall as anything more than a cover-two cornerback.  He gives up too much of a cushion due to a lack of straight-line speed and has demonstrated poor footwork and hips, particularly on out-breaking routes.

He’s been heavily outplayed by Cletis Gordon, Bryan McCann, and even Teddy Williams.  He needs to come up big in the next few games to even have a shot at cracking the 53-man roster.

11.  Will Leon Williams continue to show he deserves a roster spot?

Although he’s shown to be a little over-matched in pass coverage, Williams is a strong, physical player who can dominate in tight areas.  He’s competing with guys like Curtis Johnson for a roster spot.  His play on special teams will be critical.

12.  Can David Buehler continue the success he had against the Raiders?

Buehler looked sensational on his field goals against Oakland after struggling somewhat in the Hall of Fame game.  He has kicked the ball quite well in practice since the last game, and right now he’s got to be considered the favorite to win all kicking duties in Dallas.  If Buehler can do that, it will give the ‘Boys a lot of flexibility in their roster decisions, but he must first show consistency.  That starts Saturday in San Diego.


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Preseason Week Two, Cowboys vs. Raiders: 13 Things to Watch

Before reading the Cowboys vs. Raiders preview below, take a look at our initial game notes from the Hall of Fame game, what we learned about the Cowboys, and our final player grades from Sunday night.

1. How much will the starters play and will they erupt against Oakland’s second-team defense?

The playing time for the starters will really be a situation to monitor in every preseason game.  Coach Wade Phillips said the starters’ overall playing time will remain steady despite an additional preseason game.  When you combine that with the fact the Cowboys will be coming off of just three days rest, you probably won’t see the starters too long.  A full quarter is standard for the second preseason game, although it wouldn’t surprise us to see the No.1 guys leave a little earlier than that.

Don’t forget that this is Oakland’s first preseason game, meaning their starters will be out of the game before you know it.  It is very possible the Cowboys’ first team offense (and defense) will still be in the game against Oakland’s second-team defense (and offense).  Expect domination.

2. Will the first-team offense score a red zone touchdown?

They didn’t on Sunday night despite four plays inside the five-yard line.  Roy Williams was targeted on two of the team’s three pass attempts in that area.  Tight end Jason Witten didn’t get a look, although Dallas is sure to use very bland plays in preseason.  In fact, look at some of the trends we noticed from the Bengals game.

3. What will the Cowboys do at tight end?  Will they run more three-receiver sets and offbalance lines?

Sicko probably won’t suit up (concussion), but he hasn’t been ruled out just yet.  If he plays, he will probably get a lot of work. Whether it is this week or next, it will be interesting to see how Sicko performs knowing his chances of making the squad just skyrocketed with John Phillips out for the season.

With John Phillips out for the season, Scott Sicko will need to prove he is a capable blocker to make the 53-man roster.

Backup tight end Martellus Bennett is expected to miss his second straight game with an ankle injury.  Bennett could theoretically more value to the team now than ever, but not so if he is on the bench.

The Cowboys recently signed tight end DajLeon Farr to fill a vacancy at the position.  Farr and Jason Witten are the only tight ends on the roster available to play Thursday.

The big questions is, with Farr having just been signed, how much will Witten play?  It is unlikely the Cowboys will force Witten to play due to a simple lack of depth, so Farr is going to have to learn the offense quickly.  Fullback Chris Gronkowski could also see some time at tight end.

No matter who plays tight end (and how much), expect the Cowboys to run a lot of three-receiver sets and offbalance lines to combat the tight end depth issue.

4. Will Doug Free come out on fire as he did in Week One?  Can Alex Barron rebound after a disappointing start to his Cowboys career?

Free looked sensational in pass protection and strong in run blocking against a worthy adversary in the Bengals’ Antwan Odom. Meanwhile, Barron gave up a sack and struggled on a bunch of other plays.  If Barron plays (he tweaked an ankle on Sunday night), how will he do after losing a ton of ground on Free?

5.  How will the starting receivers do against Raiders cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha?

We think Asomugha is the best cornerback in the game.  We even listed him as the fourth-best player in the NFL in our list of the league’s top 105 players.

Asomugha generally mans one side of the field, so Miles Austin, Roy Williams, and Patrick Crayton could all get cracks at him.  Austin played fairly well against Asomugha on Thanksgiving last season.

6. Will the second-string offensive line perform better on Thursday?

Other than Barron, the rest of the second-string linemen were below average as well.  Robert Brewster struggled at both left and right tackle and Pat McQuistan was awful at guard.  Quarterbacks Jon Kitna and Stephen McGee were running for their lives, meaning an injury to any of the starting linemen could spell disaster for Dallas.

In our first “Grading the ‘Boys” segment of the season, we gave Barron, Brewster, Travis Bright, Pat McQuistan, and Mike Tepper grades of D, D, C-, D-, and D, respectively.  Wow.

7.  Will Robert Brewster get flagged for illegal formation?

We noted in our post-film study observations that right tackle Robert Brewster was very close to lining up in the backfield on a few occasions.  Let’s see if the coaches noticed it and correct his alignment by Thursday.

8. Can Stephen Bowen continue the success he had in Sunday’s game?  How about Victor Butler and Brandon Williams?

Bowen was a monster against the Bengals.  He displayed incredible burst and really gave the Cowboys a lot of confidence about their defensive end situation.

The same can be said for outside linebackers Victor Butler and Brandon Williams.  The Cowboys didn’t address the position in this year’s draft because of their confidence in these two players, and it appears to be paying off.  We were particularly impressed with Butler, whose run defense looks much improved.  He made multiple tackles after running across the backfield from the weak side of the formation.  He really had a tremendous night.

Consistency will be key for all three of these players, so let’s hope they carry their success into Thursday night’s match-up.

9. Jamar Wall has struggled all preseason.  How will he play against a less-intimidating Raiders receiver corps?

We would now label Wall a longshot to make the roster.  He hasn’t played particularly well during any phase of the offseason or preseason.  He made poor decisions in coverage, looked less-than-stellar on punt returns, and badly missed a tackle on Jordan Shipley’s long punt return.

He needs to pick up his play immediately to have a chance at cracking the 53-man roster (and perhaps even the practice squad at this point).

10.  How will rookies Sean Lee and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah perform in their first live game action?

Both players will probably suit up after returning to practice.  Pay close to attention to Sean Lee’s coverage, as his primary role this season figures to be as a nickel linebacker.

Meanwhile, ‘Kwasi could return kicks and should see some time at free safety.  Let’s see if the small-school product has NFL-caliber game.

And just because we can’t get enough AOA. . .

11. Will the starting defense contain Raiders running back Michael Bush?

This is important because a few of the starting running backs the Cowboys will face this season are somewhat similar to Bush.  Brandon Jacobs and Larry Johnson are both big, bruising backs who still have decent speed.  The Cowboys’ big 3-4 defense usually comes out on top against those types of backs.

It is small, shifty backs that typically trouble the Dallas defense.  Raiders running back Darren McFadden is out due to a hamstring injury, though, so the ‘Boys might see a bit more of Michael Bush.

12. How will David Buehler respond after a shaky start to his NFL field goal kicking career?

We have predicted Buehler will win all kicking duties and discussed why we think this would be the right move, but Buehler didn’t do much to help his case in Week One.  His kickoffs were again sensational, but his accuracy on field goals (and even his extra point) left much to be desired.  He will get another shot to prove himself Thursday night, but a similar performance would probably force the Cowboys to add a veteran.

13. Can the Cowboys fix the problems that plagued their punt coverage unit against Cincy?

Jordan Shipley’s punt return to the Cowboys’ two-yard line was the result of poor punt coverage and a few missed tackles.  The play of the special teams was a major reason for Dallas’ 2009 success, so that problem has to get fixed this week.