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15 Things to Watch in Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers Week 2 Preseason Game

Jonathan Bales

The Cowboys took down the Broncos in a thriller during Week One of the preseason.  Here is what we learned during that game.  This weekend, the ‘Boys will host the San Diego Chargers.  Here are a few things I will be watching. .

Mike Jenkins vs. Vincent Jackson: In his first game of the preseason, how will Jenkins fair when matched up with physical wide receiver Vincent Jackson?  He will be asked to do more press coverage with Rob Ryan in town, and that could be a problem against players like Jackson.  Expect to see more of a press and bail technique from Jenkins rather than a true jam.  The preseason will be a great opportunity for Jenkins to regain some of the confidence which seemed to be missing in 2010.

Dwayne Harris: After busting out for 127 yards and two touchdowns last week, let’s see how Harris responds.  He has a legitimate shot to beat out Kevin Ogletree for slot receiver duties, and I personally hope he wins.  He seems to be a harder worker, more intelligent, and superior after the catch.  Jason Garrett will not be afraid to play the rookie ahead of an under-achieving Ogletree.

Screen Passes: Garrett called a few more screens than usual last week, and I think that is a trend which will continue into the regular season.  With more athletic offensive linemen and Felix Jones/DeMarco Murray in the backfield, why not?  Here are the 2010 screen stats.  Expect at least 100 screens this season.

Tyron Smith vs. Shaun Phillips: I thought the rookie offensive tackle had a solid outing in Week One.  He looks powerful in the running game and agile out in space.  He’ll face an incredibly difficult match-up this week against Shaun Phillips.  If he excels here, I think the ‘Boys found a keeper.

Dan Bailey: David Buehler is out with a hip injury, so Bailey will get plenty of work.  He struggled with field goals this week in practice, but I’m more concerned with his kickoffs.  Consistent touchbacks will put Buehler’s roster spot in jeopardy.

Victor Butler vs. Marcus McNeill: In my breakdown of the Victor Butler-Anthony Spencer position battle, I argued that Butler should be the starter:

At the very least, Rob Ryan should increase Butler’s snaps until the production and efficiency of both players (combined) is maximized.  At that point, the Nash equilibrium of outside linebacker production will be reached.

Think of it like this: as Butler’s snaps increase, his production will, at some point, decline (due to fatigue, increased attention from the offense and so on).  Once his efficiency declines to the point of Spencer’s, the Nash equilibrium will be reached.  Although neither player’s individual production will be maximized, the overall efficiency of the outside linebacker position will be at its peak.

When you have an All-World player like DeMarcus Ware, the Nash equilibrium is shifted to Ware playing as many snaps as possible, i.e. a tired Ware is better than anyone else.  Spencer isn’t Ware.  When he is tired, he needs to come out of the game.  Ryan should shift the snap count of Spencer and Butler until the ‘Boys reach their Nash equilibrium of outside linebacker production.  I have a strong feeling that equilibrium would result in Butler receiving the majority of snaps.

And why do I think Butler should receive significantly more playing time?  You can see to the left that Butler recorded the highest pressure rate of any player on the team in 2010.  Detractors argue that this is because Butler played less snaps against the run than Spencer or Ware, but that’s flat wrong.  Butler actually played the run on 39.5% of snaps–highest of any outside linebacker.  Oh yeah, he also didn’t miss a tackle all season (Spencer missed six).

Bryan McCann: McCann looked awful in Week One, and that’s a bad sign for Cowboys fans.  As of now, he is this team’s nickel cornerback.  With Terence Newman’s health always in question, McCann needs to be ready to go this season.  He’ll get some time against San Diego’s first team, so let’s see how he responds to adversity.

Shaun Chapas’ Lead Blocking: The rookie fullback was brought in because the Cowboys need a better lead-blocking fullback.  Chris Gronkowski is an okay player, but he’s not the sort of bruiser a team can rely on in short-yardage situations.  Is Chapas?  Look for some dives from Double Tight Strong with Chapas in the game, as Garrett will want to test the youngster.

Kenyon Coleman: Coleman will receive his first start as a Cowboy, replacing Igor Olshansky.  In my breakdown of the defensive end battle, I argued that neither Coleman nor Olshansky should be starting.  Despite being perhaps the team’s best pass-rushing defensive end, I think Jason Hatcher should start football games opposite Marcus Spears.  I’m not overly familiar with Coleman’s game, though, and he has a chance to impress tonight.

Clifton Geathers: No matter who starts at defensive end, a heavy rotation will be used.  That’s in part due to fatigue, but also because none of the players are all that great.  Geathers had a sack last week and showed some things against the run, so I’m looking forward to studying him more to see what sort of potential impact he might be able to make down the road.

Patrick Crayton: He’s back in town and doesn’t seem to have many nice things to say about the Cowboys.  This isn’t a particularly big story to me, particularly in the preseason, but I know others are interested.

Lonyae Miller: Miller looked terrible against the Broncos.  With Tashard Choice and DeMarco Murray still sidelined, this is his opportunity to grab a roster spot.  Unless something changes quickly, that won’t happen.

Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: Owusu-Ansah has been riddled with injuries during his short NFL career, but he is healthy now.  I still think he has great potential, but now is the time to show it.  If he doesn’t make a play at safety or in the return game, he might not make this team.

Gerald Sensabaugh: Sensabaugh looked lost in Rob Ryan’s defense last week.  I’m glad the ‘Boys re-signed him, and I expect his play to improve as he becomes more comfortable with the system.  Most of his mistakes appeared to be mental.

Sam Young: If Doug Free or Tyron Smith gets injured, what exactly are the Cowboys going to do?  The other offensive tackles on the roster are Young and Jermey Parnell.  Young is probably the immediate backup at right tackle (with Smith moving to left tackle in the event of an injury to Free), but is anyone really comfortable with that?  Watch the play of both Young and Parnell this week.

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“Grading the ‘Boys”: Preseason Week Four, Cowboys vs. Chargers

Jonathan Bales

I’ve already posted initial post-game notes, “DOs and DON’Ts analysis,” film study observations, and what we learned from the Cowboys/Texans game.

Today, I will grade the players.  In my first three “Grading the ‘Boys” segments, I explained that it would be impossible for me to study every player as closely as I deem necessary for grading.  Instead, I watch a select group of players in great detail and report back to you on their performance.

Alan Ball: D

Didn’t look good in any aspect of the game; poor hips and awareness in coverage; got beat deep in Cover 1; missed a plethora of tackles

Alex Barron: C+

Looked over-matched in the run game; did decent in pass protection; better fit at left tackle

Robert Brewster: B-

The “bizarro” Alex Barron; did a solid job at left tackle but skill set better suited for right side

Travis Bright: B-

By far best game of preseason; still getting overpowered, but has shown improvement

Phil Costa: B

Eight Shotgun snaps with no errors; played much better than Gurode

Chris Gronkowski: C+

Gaining momentum from media, but I don’t see what they like; poor lead blocker whose pass-catching ability will make people think he’s better than he is


Andre Gurode: F

Worst game as a pro; two bad snaps; terrible stunt/twist recognition; unbalanced at times and beat with speed

Michael Hamlin: C-

Not making enough plays; looks tentative and afraid to make mistake

Bradie James: C

Good in pass coverage, but over-pursued on a number of occasions and got caught inside on others

Sean Lee: D

Blown backwards on most plays; long way to go as a run defender; not showing instincts

Akwasi Owusu-Ansah: B+

Really promising on returns; great decisiveness and explosion

Tony Romo: C-

Missed a few throws he normally makes; failed to score in three quarters

Orlando Scandrick: C-

Got beat by every receiver he covered; really improved in run support and tackling receivers after catch

Roy Williams: B-

Misread one Romo back-shoulder throw, but otherwise looked solid; appears to finally be playing with confidence

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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.

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Cowboys Announce 2010 Preseason Schedule

The Cowboys have just released their preseason schedule:

Week 1: Hall of Fame Game (Canton, OH) vs. Cincinnati Bengals

Week 2: Oakland

Week 3: @San Diego

Week 4: @ Houston

Week 5: Miami

Don’t forget the Cowboys will have five preseason games this season due to the Hall of Fame game. This should give the coaching staff ample time to evaluate the rookies and second-year players who lost last season due to injury.

The full regular season schedule will be announced at a later date (most likely in mid-April).