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.