Warning: Cannot modify header information - headers already sent by (output started at /home/content/85/8979285/html/wp-includes/post-thumbnail-template.php:1) in /home/content/85/8979285/html/wp-content/plugins/wp-super-cache/wp-cache-phase2.php on line 62
cowboys texans preview | The DC Times

The DC Times

A New Way to Look at the Cowboys, NFL, and Fantasy Football


Cowboys at Texans Week Three Game Plan: How Dallas Can Beat Houston

Jonathan Bales

You guys know the backbone of DC Times is film study and stat analysis.  Consequently, I will be posting these weekly “Game Plan” segments which will include tidbits about how I believe the Cowboys can use the same film study and stat analysis which drives this site to win football games.

These will come later in the week after I’ve published the “Game Day Manifesto”–a combination of “What to Watch” and “DOs and DON’Ts” for the Cowboys.  Although still film-driven and stat heavy, I will try to refrain from too much game-planning in the Manifesto to prevent unnecessary overlap.  You can read this week’s Cowboys/Texans Manifesto here.

Let’s get to the game. . .

1. Continue to line up in double-tight end sets in passing situations.

I’ve said it a few times:

In obvious passing downs, though, it might actually be a good idea to go to a more run-oriented formation–double tights.  The reason is that backup tight end Martellus Bennett will be able to help block (insert Pro Bowl pass-rusher here).  No matter what you think about Bennett, he’s a tremendous blocker.

Why not use Jason Witten in pass protection?  Well, I’ve showed in the past that the 22.9 percent rate at which Witten stayed in to block on pass plays last season was already too much.  Dallas is a better team with him in a route (excluding perhaps 3rd and very long).

Plus, stats show the Cowboys should pass out of double-tight formations more in general.  Actually, the formation from which they had the most passing success last year was ‘Ace.’

Lining up in two-tight end sets will also allow the Cowboys to more effectively throw the ball downfield.  Tony Romo has attempted just 10 passes of 20+ yards all season.  With weapons like Miles Austin and Dez Bryant outside, why not take some shots down the field?

2.  Put Miles Austin in the slot a lot more.

The Redskins exposed a weakness in the Cowboys’ offensive line–an inability to effectively block “disguised” blitzes.  When the Cowboys are uncertain from where a blitz may come (including when teams stunt and twist), they have trouble providing ample protection for Romo.

You can bet the Texans are going to duplicate the game plans of Washington and Chicago.  Expect a lot of blitzes, and even a lot of feigned blitzes (showing blitz and backing out, or coming from another angle).

The best way for the ‘Boys to beat this is by “throwing hot”–immediately hitting the uncovered receiver.  Austin spent plenty of time in the slot during the preseason, but we haven’t seen it as much in the regular season.  That needs to return, because Austin is clearly the wide receiver with whom Romo has the most chemistry.  The Cowboys could hit on some big-time plays if they can effectively beat the Texans’ blitzes.

3.  Send overload blitzes to the left side of the Texans’ offensive line.

The Texans will be starting Rashad Butler (who?) at left tackle in place of the suspended Duane Brown.  This is by far their largest weakness on offense and the Cowboys need to exploit it.  I’d really love to see them disguise their blitzes/coverages better, particularly in an effort to take advantage of Butler.  The most effective way the Cowboys can limit the play of Andre Johnson probably starts with Butler–if they can take advantage of him and get to Matt Schaub, AJ can be (slightly) contained.  Remember, no matter how talented the wide receiver, he is still completely dependent on his offensive line and quarterback.

I still don’t think the Cowboys should blitz very often, but being creative with their blitzes when they do send them will be imperative.

4.  Don’t stuff the box unless it is absolutely critical.

Texans running back Arian Foster has been sensational thus far this season (I would know–he’s on most of my fantasy teams), but he’s probably not going to gash the Dallas defense for a huge run.  I’d much rather see the Cowboys keep their safeties deep in an effort to minimize the big-play options Houston possesses on the outside, simultaneously forcing Foster and the Houston offensive line to continually beat the them to move the ball.

5.  Use the playaction pass often, including bootlegs off of it. . .but be less predictable.

Last week, I thought the Cowboys should have all but abandoned the playaction pass.  Instead, they ran it 12 times for an unimpressive 80 yards.

This week, I’d love to see it quite often.  I think the Cowboys can take advantage of a Texans defense that can sometimes to over-aggressive.  Further, if they run playaction passes from run-oriented, double-tight end formations (see No. 1), the line should be able to provide enough time for the Cowboys receivers to beat a very underwhelming Houston secondary.

But stop running playaction passes in such predictable situations!  Jason Garrett loves to run playaction with exactly 10 yards-to-go (either on 1st and 10 or after an incomplete pass on first down).  On Sunday, 10 of the Cowboys’ 12 playaction passes were from this distance.  The trend dates back to last year.  Take a look at these numbers.

Finally, use some rollouts.  Two designed rollouts on the season (and zero last week) isn’t optimal.  Not only do bootlegs and other rollouts allow Romo to improvise a bit (which is when I believe he is at his best), but they can also be an effective tool against the blitz and a struggling offensive line.  If Romo simply drops back to the same spot on the field every pass, Mario Williams will be able to pin his ears back and just rush to that spot.

6.  Be flexible!

I think this is the sort of game in which the Cowboys need to be willing to deviate from their game plane to accommodate game-specific situations.  You could probably say Dallas needs to do a better job of that in every game, but this week it is especially true.

The reason has to do with match-ups.  It is obvious the ‘Boys need to run the ball more effectively, but Houston has been tremendous in run defense this year.  Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Amobi Okoye, Bernard Pollard and so on are all really good run defenders.  The Texans are susceptible to the pass, however, yielding over 400 yards-per-game thus far in 2010.

So what strategy is Dallas to employ?  Should they try to establish the run and set up the passing game off of that, or immediately take advantage of the Texans’ weakness in the secondary?  In my opinion, they should simply find out what is working and stick with it.  If they can run the ball early, then pound it and don’t look back.  If the passing game is on fire, then disregard any pre-game commitment to the run and just air it out.

Recognize the flow of the game, adjust accordingly, and bring home a win!

Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.


Week 3 Preview: Dallas Cowboys at Houston Texans Game Day Manifesto

Jonathan Bales

During the preseason, I formulated two separate articles called “What to Watch” and “DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas” as game previews for the upcoming contests.  During the regular season, I will combine these two features into a single, more all-inclusive article known (solely to me) as a “Game Day Manifesto.”  You’ll be able to find the“Manifesto” category under the “GameDay” tab above.

Also check back later in the week for a new feature called “Game Plan.”  While the weekly “Manifesto” will contain some Xs and Os, the “Game Plan” will feature in-depth game strategy detailing how Dallas can win that week’s game and how they should go about doing it.  There, you’ll find a lot of analysis of formations, personnel, play-calling, and so on.

Now on to this week’s Manifesto. . .

What to Watch for Dallas vs. Houston

How will the Cowboys attack Matt Schaub?  Will they blitz a lot in an attempt to get sacks and force short throws, or will they sit back in coverage as to not allow you-know-who to beat them deep?

This is going to be a really tough match-up for the Cowboys’ defense.  In the first two weeks, Dallas faced teams that, in theory, could have been forced to become one-dimensional.  That’s not the case with Houston.  They’ve shown an ability to effectively run the ball, and we all know how dominating their passing attack can be.

The question for the Cowboys is if they want to attack Schaub and hope for the best, or sit back in safe coverages to make sure they don’t give up easy scores.  As always, the key will be the amount of pressure they can force on Schaub without blitzing.

Will Dallas commit to the run?  Will they attack the middle of the Texans’ defense or try to run outside?

Everyone is clamoring for the Cowboys to commit to the running game, but Houston is only allowing 31 yards rushing per game this season.  On the flip side, they’re yielding 411 yards passing per contest.

So what are the Cowboys to do?  They certainly need to establish the running game, but that brings us back to the chicken-or-egg dilemma: does the running game set up the pass, or is it the other way around?  It’s probably a combination of both, meaning the ‘Boys should simply find what is working and stick with it.  It sure would be a huge boost to the offense if they can dominate the line of scrimmage in the run game.

Another problem for Dallas arises regarding the location of runs: do you pound it up the middle (right at DeMeco Ryans, one of the league’s premiere linebackers), or run outside (perhaps at Mario Williams, a player I labeled as the NFL’s second-best defensive end in my list of the top 105 players).  The ‘Boys may want to think about running away from both players–right at left defensive end Antonio Smith (who will usually be lined up over right tackle Marc Colombo).  Unfortunately, Smith is no slouch against the run either.

How will the ‘Boys exploit the absence of the Texans’ starting left tackle Duane Brown?

Brown was just suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.  He wasn’t a premiere left tackle anyway, so the Texans have a serious hole at left tackle with Rashad Butler starting.  Dallas needs to exploit it.

While blitzing too often could backfire in a big way with such dangerous weapons outside for Houston (i.e. Andre Johnson), the Cowboys definitely want to find ways to get pressure on Schaub.  One method is to overload the right side of the defense in an effort to take advantage of the Texans’ weakness on the left side of the line.  Throwing stunts and overload blitzes at Butler will help Dallas.  Further, it could force the Texans to keep tight end Owen Daniels in to block.  Even though he’s banged up, that would be a plus for the ‘Boys.

Last week, the Cowboys lined Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware up on the same side of the line.  They may want to try that again this week.

Will the Cowboys be able to effectively halt the Texans’ rushing attack, allowing them to force Houston to become one-dimensional?

While the Texans’ passing attack is their bread-and-butter, the key for Dallas will actually be their ability to stop the run.  If they can do that without bringing extra defenders into the box, they will have a much, much better chance to contain the Texans’ pass-catchers.

Will Jason Garrett dial up more draws?

The Cowboys have run just six draws all season (after averaging nearly eight per game last year) for a total of 13 yards.  The efficiency of those plays will undoubtedly increase as the season progresses, and draw plays could be an effective tool against Houston this week.  Let’s see if Garrett goes back to an old staple of the offense.

Will Martellus Bennett continue to see a lot of playing time in an effort to effectively block Mario Williams?

Bennett was on the field for 24 of the Cowboys’ first 34 passes last week (all of which came with Jason Witten still in the game).  It worked well.  I gave Bennett an ‘A’ grade for the game.

The situation is complicated because Bennett’s presence usually means Dez Bryant is standing on the sideline, but Bryant’s skills are useless without proper protection.  If the Cowboys protect Romo this week, they can surely take advantage of a weak Houston secondary.

How will the teams’ preseason match-up affect this contest?

The Texans dominated the Cowboys in the preseason, although I think that could be a positive for Dallas.  Hopefully it motivates them.  They can also take solace in knowing the Texans basically threw their entire playbook at the Cowboys in that game (Houston blitzed an absurd 66.7 percent of plays with Romo in the game).

Meanwhile, the Cowboys were incredibly basic in their play-calling (even more so than in other preseason games).  They actually called the play below five times.

DOs and DON’Ts for Dallas

DO run more counters and misdirection plays in an effort to get the running game back on track.

The Cowboys ran just one counter last week.  That isn’t going to get the job done.  Felix Jones averaged 10.0 yards-per-carry alone on counters last season.

Further, misdirection plays are the best way to take advantage of an over-aggressive defense.  Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans and safety Bernard Pollard in particular are super-aggressive players who could possibly over-pursue on certain Cowboys’ runs.  Dallas may want to run a few counters away from Mario Williams to exploit their tendencies.

DON’T continue to have David Buehler perform directional kickoffs.

It was obvious that special teams coach Joe DeCamillis told David Buehler to kick to the corners on Sunday.  I don’t know if Buehler was having trouble with his power in pre-game warm-ups, but directional kicking seems to make no sense for a kicker with Buehler’s power.  Does it really matter if a kickoff is down the center of the field if it is nine yards deep in the end zone?  The ball should carry well this weekend in Houston, so boom it baby.

DO take advantage of the willingness of the Texans’ safeties to sell out against the run.

As I just mentioned, counters are one way to do this.  Another is playaction passes, but those will only be effective if the Cowboys can establish some semblance of a running game.  Now, should they set up the pass with the run, or vice versa?

DON’T allow Mr. Johnson to beat you.

It is imperative that the ‘Boys not allow any easy scores.  AJ is obviously the Texans’ best bet at getting deep, so the Cowboys need to do everything in their power to limit his impact.  He’s certainly going to make some plays, but the impact of those can be minimized if a safety is kept over top of him at all times.  Force Houston to continually beat you underneath with Arian Foster and the intermediate passing game before you single-cover Johnson.

DO disguise blitzes more effectively.

I truly believe Romo’s struggles thus far this season are due primarily to the nature of the opposition’s pre-snap alignment.  It is clear on film that he is having trouble diagnosing the defense’s rushers before the snap because they are doing such an effective job in feigning blitzes on one side, then coming from another (or not at all).

Dallas needs to do the same.  They have two of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, but it is much easier for an offensive line to block defenders if they know from where they will be coming.  The 3-4 defense naturally makes it more difficult for the offense to call out protections, but it isn’t enough.  If I can usually tell who will be rushing the passer before the snap, you can bet the opposition knows as well.

Perhaps a zone blitz or two is in order. . .

Zone blitzes, such as the one shown above, lower the risk of giving up a big play and can confuse a quarterback, often taking away his ability to "throw hot" against the blitz.

DON’T punt so often in opponent’s territory.

From my Cowboys-Bears initial post-game notes:

Although tough calls, I thought the Cowboys twice should have gone for it on fourth down in Chicago territory–once on 4th and 8 at the Bears’ 37-yard line, and once on 4th and 5 at their 27-yard line.  Not only does the math say go for it in both situations, but David Buehler was struggling.  To me, that makes the calls no-brainers.  The Cowboys ended up punting it into the endzone (gaining 17 net yards) on one and missing a field goal on the other.

DO get Tashard Choice on the field more.

Right now, Barber and Jones are both running tentatively.  They’re dancing behind the line of scrimmage and forcing the offensive linemen to hold their blocks too long.

Detractors of Choice claim there’s “nothing special” about him, but in my opinion, his combination of pass protection, vision, and balance make him very special.  Remember, there wasn’t anything particularly “special” about Emmitt Smith either.

While I’d like to see more Wildcat in short-yardage situations, there are other times Choice can be on the field.  Actually, there aren’t really many situations in which Choice couldn’t be on the field.  At the very least, I think the ferocity with which he hits the hole means he should become the Cowboys’ primary short-yardage back in all situations, effective immediately.

DON’T worry about external points of view–play for each other!

There are eight teams in the NFL who are 0-2.  Ask any football fan to name one of them, and most of the time it will be the Dallas Cowboys.  The increased attention that comes with playing for America’s Team can be a blessing and a curse, and right now it’s the latter.  If you listen to most media outlets, the Cowboys’ locker room is in turmoil and the season is over.

I’m a big believer in winning being a cure-all, though.  Winning football games creates strong team chemistry, not the other way around.  No one was claiming there was locker room turmoil two weeks ago.

For the players, ignoring anyone and everyone outside of the locker room would be prudent.  Teams that draw motivation from such external influences are teams that won’t find much success.  Play for each other, and the rest will take care of itself.

Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.


DOs and DON’Ts for Cowboys vs. Houston Texans

Jonathan Bales

Even though Saturday’s game “doesn’t count,” there are still a lot of things both coaches and fans would like to see from the players.   A variety of training camp battles have yet to reach a conclusion and a handful of injuries will force would-be backups into the starting lineup.

Here is what Dallas should and should not do Saturday versus Houston:

DO give Alex Barron plenty of reps at right tackle.

This appears as though it will be the case, since Barron is probably going to start.  He would have started at right tackle last week had he been healthy.  Robert Brewster, who started at right tackle against the Chargers and did a fine job, will become the swing tackle.

It will be important for Dallas to see how Barron plays on the right side.  Like Doug Free, he is a bit of a “finesse” offensive tackle, meaning his game is probably better suited for the left side.  If he plays well at right tackle, it will give the Cowboys a lot more confidence in their situation at the position.  He better hope Mario Williams doesn’t line up on his side too often.

DON’T take Marion Barber out of the game too early.

Barber, who lost some weight in the offseason, is supposedly quicker and more explosive this year.  I haven’t seen it.  He still looks a bit sluggish and that “barbarian” mentality we saw a few years ago still hasn’t returned.  I’d love to see Barber get a bunch of touches to prove that he’s truly back.

DO implement “max protection” so the quarterbacks can throw the ball downfield.

The Cowboys threw just six passes over 10 yards against the Chargers, and only two traveled 15+ yards.  An incredible 18 of the passes were five yards or less.

A lot of that was due to the losses of Kyle Kosier and Marc Colombo, but there are still ways to get the ball downfield without having total confidence in your line.  One is max protection (eight or even nine blockers), and I would expect the Cowboys to use it a few times against Houston so their quarterbacks can have an opportunity to practice throwing the deep ball.

DON’T throw the ball to tight end Martellus Bennett in the red zone.

This might seem like a strange request, but the last thing the Cowboys want is for Bennett to acquire a sense of entitlement.  With John Phillips out for the year, he knows he’s the surefire No. 2 tight end.  I’m not saying scoring more touchdowns would go to his head, but. . .who knows sometimes with this guy?  Bennett’s primary responsibility is as a blocker, and he needs to remember that.

DO run a lot of Shotgun with Phil Costa at center.

I’ve been extremely impressed with Costa’s play this preseason, but I’d like to see him snap a few more balls out of Shotgun.  The Cowboys figure to use a lot of it this season, and if anything happens to starter Andre Gurode, the ‘Boys should know if they can feel comfortable with Costa providing the snaps.

DON’T take safety Michael Hamlin out of the ballgame too quickly.

Starting strong safety Gerald Sensabaugh is playing on a one-year deal.  The Cowboys may or may not sign him to a long-term contract, but that definitely won’t be the case if they feel Hamlin is ready to become a starter.

Hamlin will start this week and, although the Cowboys will want to see more of rookies Barry Church and Danny McCray, they have the entire fifth preseason game for that.  Saturday night is about Hamlin and determining if he’s the future at safety.

DO give Dez Bryant plenty of reps.

Not.  Just seeing if you’re still reading!

DON’T put safety Barry Church solely “in the box.”

Church has shown to be an excellent tackler and I think he’ll make the Cowboys’ 53-man roster.  However, he needs to show he can become a complete player, and that starts with being rangy in coverage.

The Texans have an excellent backup tight end named James Casey who figures to test Church.  Let’s see how he holds up.

DO throw a back-shoulder fade or two to Roy Williams.

The back-shoulder throw has been an obvious point of emphasis for Tony Romo this offseason and he’s already utilized it on completions to Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton in the preseason.  On paper, Roy Williams is the perfect receiver for back-shoulder throws, as he is a big target with (like it or not) excellent body control and hands.

I can’t for the life of me figure out why Romo and Williams still seem disconnected, but it doesn’t appear to happen with Romo and the other receivers.  If they can somehow get it going, the back-shoulder fade can be a big, big weapon in Dallas’ offensive attack, particularly around the goal line.

DON’T keep Bradie James in for nickel plays.

Apart from the fact that James is a veteran and doesn’t need the added playing time, I’d love to see Sean Lee and Jason Williams on the field together.  Williams isn’t guaranteed a roster spot and needs every opportunity to prove he is of worth to the Cowboys.

I’ve been impressed with his run defense this preseason, but he’s made a few mistakes in coverage.  That can’t happen for a nickel linebacker.  Let’s see how the youngsters perform in nickel duties if they are on the field at the same time.  If they can give starters Bradie James and Keith Brooking a breather during the regular season, that could be a huge asset to Dallas.

Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.


Preseason Week Three, Cowboys vs. Texans: 12 Things to Watch

Jonathan Bales

As the fourth game on their five-game preseason schedule, Saturday night’s match-up against Houston will be the closest to a “real game” that Dallas will encounter until September 12 in Washington.  The starters will get significant playing time and will be able to go into the game with nearly the same mentality as that of a regular season game.  In addition to watching if the team comes out with that same regular season-type fire, here are 12 other things to watch. . .

1.  Can Tony Romo get back on track?  Will he be able to play better against the blitz?

By my count, Romo has been off-target on 10 of 28 passes this preseason.  That rate of 35.7 percent is nearly double that of last season, as you can see in my 2009 breakdown of Romo’s off-target passes.

He’s also just three-for-nine against the blitz, with only 36 yards passing and an interception.  That’s a passer rating of 6.9.

Romo is one of the top quarterbacks in the league when facing pressure, though, so these numbers are simply the result of a small sample size.  Romo will be fine, starting this weekend against the Texans.

2.  Will any of the Cowboys’ quarterbacks throw the ball downfield?

With Robert Brewster and Montrae Holland starting on the offensive line against San Diego, it seemed as though the Cowboys made it a priority for the quarterbacks to unleash the ball quickly.  They threw just six passes over 10 yards all game, and only two traveled 15+ yards.  An incredible 18 of the passes were five yards or less.

With added confidence in both Brewster and Holland, the Cowboys may feel more comfortable taking some shots down the field.  That’s especially true against a weak Houston secondary.

3.  Who will start at right tackle, Robert Brewster or Alex Barron?  How will each player perform?

Barron took some reps at right tackle in practice this week and reportedly looked pretty shaky.  Brewster played well against San Diego and will probably get the nod to start.  Still, expect Barron to get some reps at right tackle.  The Cowboys want to see if he will be their swing tackle (once Marc Colombo returns) or just a backup left tackle.

4.  Will left tackle Doug Free hold his own against Mario Williams?

Doug Free has exceeded expectations thus far this preseason.  He played tremendously against the Bengals and Chargers and, although he yielded a sack, decently against the Raiders.

He hasn’t faced a pass-rusher of the quality of Mario Williams, though.  Williams will test Free like nobody he’s faced (outside of DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer in practice).  Let’s see if Free is up to the challenge.

5.  As always, will the offense keep running strong side dives out of “Double Tight Strong”?

Seven times lining up in the formation against San Diego, and seven strong side dives.  That raises the rate of strong side dives from “Double Tight Strong” to 85.7 percent–even more than that which I found in my analysis of the Cowboys’ 2009 usage of the formation.

It is only preseason, of course, so let’s hope Jason Garrett is simply setting up teams for the regular season.

6.  Will the offense continue to run weak side out of “Double Tight I”?

Last season, the Cowboys ran a strong side dive out of both the “Strong” and “I” variations of the “Double Tight Left or Right formation.

This preseason, they are running weak side out of the latter variation (I-formation).   The reason is simple: the weak side lead block for the fullback is easier if he lines up behind the center as compared to lining up between the strong side guard and tackle.  On Saturday night, they lined up in Double Tight Right I Right twice, running weak side both times and losing four total yards.

7.  How about a toss to the two-tight end side of “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace?”

As I explained in my final film observations from the Chargers game, the Cowboys have lined up in a new formation this year called “Double Tight Left Twins Right Ace” (or vice versa).  The play-calling out of this formation is by no means as predictable as that from “Double Tight Strong,” but I’ve noticed that Dallas has frequently lined up in “Double Tight Right Ace” and motioned the receiver on the Double Tight side of the formation over into a twins set, running a toss to the two-tight end side.  The play, which I (and not the Cowboys) have titled “Double Tight Right Ace Liz 28 Toss” is shown to the left.

8.  Will newly-acquired tight end Martin Rucker get playing time, and can he make a case for a roster spot over the under-performing Chris Gronkowski and Scott Sicko?

Rucker is behind the curve mentally, so he will have to show he’s picked up the offense.  If he can do that, he’ll have a chance to make the 53-man roster, as his competition, Gronkowski and Sicko, haven’t been stellar.

Gronkowski is a fullback but, because I can’t see Dallas cutting starter Deon Anderson, he’ll probably have to take the spot of a tight end to make the roster.  I can’t see that happening, as he’s been absolutely awful as a blocker.

Sicko played well in the Hall of Fame game but, like Gronkowski, needs to improve his blocking.

9.  Will center/guard Phil Costa continue to outperform guard Travis Bright?

Costa holds a big-time advantage over Bright right now because, not only has he been superior on the football field, but he is also more versatile.  Costa will likely be Dallas’ backup center this season (even once Kyle Kosier returns), while Bright, unless he steps up in a hurry, will probably be relegated to the practice squad once again.

10.  Will rookie Sean Lee show why the Cowboys traded up to draft him in his first NFL start?

This may be the most interesting aspect of Saturday night’s game.  Lee had an up-and-down night last week, but showed that he is capable of learning (quickly) from his mistakes.  That’s an important characteristic for any football player.

With starter Keith Brooking nursing a sprained AC joint, Lee will have an opportunity to prove he’s the future for the Cowboys at inside linebacker.  Watch to see how Lee performs in coverage, in particular, as he will almost certainly be Dallas’ nickel linebacker this season.

11.  How will the Cowboys’ secondary match up against one of the league’s premiere passing attacks?

The starters will get significant playing time, so let’s see how Terence Newman and Mike Jenkins take on the challenge of the No. 1 WR on my 2010 All-Pro offense, Andre Johnson.  Jenkins got beat a few times last week, losing his leverage and failing to press receivers, while Newman played superbly.

As always, the success of the cornerbacks will be dependent on that of their teammates–a strong pass rush will allow the ‘Boys to provide safety help over the top, making Jenkins’ and Newman’s jobs much easier.

12.  Safeties Barry Church and Danny McCray may be fighting for the same roster spot.  Who will step up?

I’ve been really impressed with Church.  He’s been okay in coverage, but outstanding in run support.  I think he has the leg up on McCray and Pat Watkins for the final safety spot on the roster.

McCray’s saving grace has been his special teams play, but I don’t think it’s been enough so far.  He blew a coverage last week and hasn’t performed nearly as well on defense as Church to this point.

The battle is still up in the air, though, so a couple of strong performances from McCray in the final two preseason games could win him the job.

Dallas Cowboys Times is on Twitter.

Subscribe to our free e-mail updates.