Granted, it's a limited sample size of data thus far, but there are some intriguing statistics already on display as the Dallas Cowboys grind through the preseason. This year's training camp in Oxnard, Calif., set to break Friday afternoon following a morning walk-through, has offered a limited amount of data to examine—more is coming Saturday afternoon in Phoenix as the Cowboys take on the Arizona Cardinals.
It's tough to make too much of any statistics being shown thus far. The reasons are probably more numerous than I'll point out here, but here's a couple of big ones.
There have only been two games played this summer in which starting players even hit the field and there's still a ways to go in the preseason.
Two of almost anything isn't exactly enough to determine a trend—you need at least three for that.
Nevertheless, with more than half of Dallas' preseason games yet to be played prior to the regular season opener against the New York Giants in Arlington, Texas, there are a few things that the franchise would like to see continue in 2013.
I would suggest this much: If Dallas remains a ''frequent flyer'' in any four of the following areas, the Cowboys will definitely make the playoffs for the first time since 2009.
While these goodies aren't high in number, they are certainly worth watching moving ahead.
Each of the following applies only to the Cowboys 2013 preseason games.
All recorded stats courtesy of ESPN
Tony Romo (#9)
In very limited work last week against the Raiders in Oakland, starting quarterback Tony Romo saw his first football action since last season's finale against the Redskins in Washington. The defeat launched owner and general manager Jerry Jones' guarantee of an ''uncomfortable'' offseason.
Ever since a monstrous contract extension late last March, Romo has been under the microscope more than ever before—this is saying a lot.
Romo had a pretty successful debut against the Raiders as he broke his first sweat in a preseason contest. He completed six of eight pass attempts for 88 yards and an 11.0 yard average completion rate. Perhaps the most significant number for some is zero, the number of interceptions thrown by the 11-year veteran.
Now, Romo certainly had a primary accomplice attached to his production—more on that in a minute.
What it means: Romo's career rating heading into 2013 is precisely 95.6. His best single-season rating was 102.7 posted in 2011. That's the only year in which he has opened the season as the Cowboys starting quarterback and failed to reach the postseason with a rating of 97.4 (2007) or better.
Heading into Phoenix, Romo's rating is 110.4.
Fourth-year veteran wide receiver Dez Bryant had a torrid stretch to close the 2012 regular season. His closing numbers include 1,382 yards receiving on 92 catches for 12 touchdowns—very Michael Irvin-like, if you think back to that Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver's career.
What can't be overlooked is the fact that the vast majority of those figures came during the second half of the regular season. Beyond a delayed start in strong production, Bryant would fade down the stretch with injuries to a finger and severe back spasms.
It makes you imagine what kind of season Bryant would have had had he both stayed healthy and simply picked things up a little quicker.
If you have daydreamed to that idea over the last several months, it's time to wake up.
Bryant, in very limited action, roasted the Oakland secondary for 55 yards on just three catches, his longest going for 26 yards off a well-designed pump fake by Romo.
It's limited, but Bryant's average of 18.3 yards per reception had him on a pace to easily shatter the 200 yard barrier in the Raiders game, just like he did against New Orleans last December—he completely embarrassed the Saints' secondary with nine catches for 224 yards and two touchdowns.
What it means: Bryant has the look of a receiver who can have the kind of day he had last year against New Orleans on 10 different occasions in 2013—that alone would eclipse the 2,000 yard barrier that he seems to think he can break.
If Bryant crosses the 1,800 yard mark, Dallas' chances for postseason play go up a whole lot. The Cowboys went 8-8 last season as Bryant barely missed 1,400 yards.
Running back Lance Dunbar
Jerry Jones may claim that head coach Jason Garrett is not coaching for his future with America's Team—he stated as much just before training camp opened last month.
If this was the truth, I do believe that Garrett would still be calling plays as opposed to becoming that ''walk-around'' head coach Jones doesn't seem to like.
Either way, the Dallas offense under offensive coordinator Bill Callahan has at least posted a healthier average on the ground that what this unit posted last season. A total rushing output of 240 yards in two games isn't exactly dominant, but it's also a pretty good mark.
If you compare that total after just two games to last season's completely lame average of 79.1 yards per game, you easily see that the current mark of 120 rushing yards per game is a noticeable improvement.
The catch here is going to be consistency from an offensive line that just about has more questions than answers lingering on the depth chart. An impressive 170 rushing yards against Miami in the first exhibition game was followed by just 70 against Oakland on many fewer carries.
Still, Dallas had two running backs that averaged 4.0 yards or better against the Raiders and also pounded rookie Joseph Randle into the end zone for Dallas' third rushing touchdown of the preseason.
What it means: The Cowboys have to run the ball better in pretty much all categories. I'm talking about attempts, yards and especially touchdowns.
If the Dallas passing game is as good as it can be, the Cowboys may very well gash their way on the ground to 2,000 yards in 2013—they need to be as close as possible to that mark. It's simply the only way that the offensive line will be able to keep Romo healthy and also keep a potent passing attack functioning.
The current average would land Dallas with 1,920 yards on the ground.
Sean Lee sacks Raiders quarterback Matt Flynn
The Dallas pass rush was rather ineffective last season despite a respectable 34.0 sacks last season—not horrible but several pressures away from dominating anything on a weekly basis.
Training camp has already claimed a season-ending injury to defensive end Tyrone Crawford. It's impressive that Dallas has picked up a visible total of five sacks in their first two contests—this without the frequent services of Pro Bowl pass-rushers DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer or Jay Ratliff. The latter two of those three players haven't played at all due to injuries.
If healthier this season than last, the Cowboys should be a much different team for opponents to match up with than the units that stocked the now-scrapped 3-4 alignment. This should mean more plays in the backfield, especially if a solid rotation is available.
What it means: There's likely another factor in this sack total that I'll discuss next, but the Cowboys are on a solid pace for 40.0 sacks in '13, and if it holds true, there's almost no way that Dallas misses the playoffs.
Health will have almost everything to do with how the Dallas defense performs this season.
J.J. Wilcox following his first professional interception in Oakland against the Raiders
Perhaps more impressive than the four turnovers forced so far by the Dallas defense is perhaps the timing of a couple.
Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin's unit forced a turnover against Miami on the very first defensive play of the preseason, which gave the Cowboys the ball inside the Dolphins 10 yard line.
Last week, the defense needed just four plays to recover another fumble after middle linebacker Sean Lee forced a fumble via sack. That big play set the Dallas offense up at the 16 yard line of the Raiders.
The strong effort from recently signed defensive end George Selvie in the Pro Football Hall of Fame Game gave Dallas some additional hope for their prospects in '13. Selvie's 2 sacks in the opener against the Dolphins leads the team heading into Arizona, but he'll need to create some more noise against the Cardinals than he did Oakland.
What it means: Remember that Dallas expects DeMarcus Ware, Anthony Spencer and Jay Ratliff to be major factors when it comes to pressuring a thick schedule of really good quarterbacks this season. It would be a huge plus for another player or two to approach double-digits in sacks this season.
The Cowboys will play five games against four quarterbacks who have totaled five Super Bowl championships since 2006—and this doesn't include passers like Robert Griffin III in Washington, Michael Vick in Philadelphia, Jay Cutler in Chicago and Matthew Stafford in Detroit.
Making plays in the backfield stops the best of offenses and the Cowboys might be poised to do that this season.