Dallas vs. Baltimore: Cowboys Preseason Week 2 Preview

John Owning@@johnowningCorrespondent IAugust 15, 2014

Dallas vs. Baltimore: Cowboys Preseason Week 2 Preview

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    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Preseason football is less about the final score and more about the evaluation of individual players. While the Dallas Cowboys lost their first preseason game against the San Diego Chargers, they were able to evaluate their players in myriad situations. 

    This week the Cowboys will have the opportunity to evaluate their players against the Baltimore Ravens. The most important aspects the Cowboys will hope to take away are health and improvement.

    As with any practice or game in which the outcome does not count, you want your players to come out healthy. Furthermore, you want your players to improve from the last time they were out on the field. 

    If the Cowboys come out of the Ravens game with a clean bill of health and a bit of improvement from their players, then it is a win for them, regardless of what the final score reads. 

    While Saturday's game is largely irrelevant, useful information can be discovered. To find that information, here's what to watch for.

Dallas Cowboys Preseason Week 1 Recap

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    Denis Poroy/Associated Press

    The first preseason game is probably the most irrelevant out of the four, so it is hard to glean anything important from it. 

    However, the prevailing storyline had to be how porous the Cowboys defense was the entire game. The defense gave up 395 total yards in the 27-7 loss to the Chargers. 

    Even though the defense as a whole was horrid, there were a few standouts. The first player who stood out was defensive end Dartwan Bush. He was one of the few players who held up well against the run, which led to him recording three stops, per Pro Football Focus (subscription required).

    Another player who shined was late arrival Kenneth Boatright, who was signed just six days before the game. He was the one player on defense to excel against the run and pass, which led to a grade of plus-1.4 from PFF

    On offense, Brandon Weeden showed that he has the ability to play at a relatively high level when needed. Even though he needs to learn not to lock onto one receiver with his eyes, Weeden showed the ability to stand in the pocket and make quality throws. 

    One of the biggest training camp battles has been for the third running back position. Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams were very productive in the limited opportunities they received against the Chargers. Randle was shifty and showed great awareness, while Williams demonstrated a great burst when he was asked to carry the ball.

    The unit that played the best throughout the game was easily the offensive line. As a whole, the offensive line did a great job of creating holes for the running game and giving the quarterbacks a great deal of time to throw. 

    Overall, the defense was terrible with few bright spots, while the offense showed reason for hope. 

    At this point, everyone knows that the defense is not very good, but the Cowboys still have the chance to show that they can at least field an average defense. If the Cowboys offense is as good as advertised, an average defense should be enough for the Cowboys to make the playoffs. 

News and Notes

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Tony Romo's Back Recovery

    The biggest storyline entering training camp was how Tony Romo was going to bounce back from his second back surgery in a calendar year. 

    he though it's impossible to know how healthy Romo's back is until he gets hit, it appears as though Romo has been throwing the ball better as of late. ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer reported in a recent article:

    Garrett said Romo has started to look more like himself in recent practices. Romo has been cleared for all activities since the opening of camp, but the quarterback and team wanted to build up his work through camp as he learned to trust his body more.

    'If you go through an offseason surgery, you've got to reteach yourself small things,' Romo said. 'The big things are always there. You've done them for years. It's just a couple things tightened up as far as what you want, and it's been nice to see that.'

    Archer also stated in that article that Romo will get his first game action of the preseason against the Ravens. 

    This will be the biggest situation for Romo's rehab thus far. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to pressure. Will he get happy feet and make unwarranted mistakes, or will he stand strong and make the necessary play? Who knows, but those questions will be answered Saturday. 

    Bruce Carter Losing His Starting Spot?

    One of the few players on defense who was thought to have their starting position locked down was Bruce Carter. However, his starting role may not be as much of a certainty as it once was. Archer has reported that the emergence of Rolando McClain may cause Justin Durant to slide over to the "Will" linebacker position. 

    This is an interesting development because Carter has not played badly during the first preseason game or training camp. One would believe that if Durant were going to move anywhere, he would move back to the "Sam" linebacker position he played at last season; however, that does not appear to be the case.

    This potential move may point to the Cowboys not trusting Carter to make the necessary plays at the Will. 

    In any case, Carter needs to prove against the Ravens that he is in fact one of the best players on the defense and deserves his starting position. 

    Orlando Scandrick Suspended First Four Games of Regular Season

    Orlando Scandrick is arguably the Cowboys' best healthy defensive player; however, he will not be with the team for the first four weeks of the regular season because of a PED violation, per DallasCowboys.com's David Helman

    This is a crushing blow to a defense that is already dealing with numerous injuries to key players like Demarcus Lawrence and Sean Lee. 

    For the Cowboys, the last three preseason games will be about finding Scandrick's replacement at the slot cornerback position. Presently, B.W. Webb and Sterling Moore are the front-runners to replace him, but could newly acquired cornerback Justin Green surpass them?

    Unfortunately, Scandrick's suspension puts the Cowboys in a really bad spot. 

Injury Report

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    Ringo H.W. Chiu/Associated Press

    During the preseason, teams are not required to publish an injury report. Therefore, it is nearly impossible to be 100 percent accurate on who will sit out each preseason game. In lieu of an actual injury report, here are the players who have missed practice time lately and may not suit up against the Ravens. 

    Tim Benford (hip) WR
    Jeff Heath (ankle)    S
    Jermey Parnell (knee)    OT  
    Morris Claiborne (shoulder)  CB
    Dartwan Bush (concussion)   DE
    Sterling Moore (groin) CB
    Henry Melton (groin)     DT
    Tyler Patmon (hip flexor)    CB
    Ben Gardner (shoulder)  DE
    Matt Johnson (hamstring)    S
    Jordan Najvar (ribs, oblique)     TE
    Demarcus Lawrence (ankle)      DE
    Anthony Spencer (knee) DE
    Amobi Okoye (illness) DT
    Terrell McClain (ankle) DT

    *All reported injuries are from DallasCowboys.com's Nick Eatman.

    As you can tell from the injury list, the Cowboys have had terrible luck with the defense. Out of the 15 players on this list, 12 are on defense. This has left the Cowboys significantly thin at a position like cornerback.

    With Brandon Carr likely out because of his need for time to get acclimated to football after missing the first two weeks of camp, the Cowboys will likely have B.W. Webb starting opposite of Orlando Scandrick on Saturday. 

    This also leaves the Cowboys with only four (five, if Tyler Patmon plays) cornerbacks against the Ravens. If the Cowboys get any more injuries in the secondary, they will be in a dire situation. 

    Elsewhere, the defensive line has been hit very hard by the injury bug throughout the offseason and training camp. It will be up to young players like Kenneth Boatright, Davon Coleman and Ken Bishop to pick up the slack of the injured players. This will also be a great opportunity for them to prove worthy of a spot on the 53-man roster. 

    The good news is that most of the injuries on this list are short term with the exception of Anthony Spencer, Demarcus Lawrence and Ben Gardner. Hopefully ,the others can get healthy in the coming weeks, so the coaches can have a glimpse of what the team looks like when almost fully healthy. 

X-Factor and Matchups to Watch

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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Tony Romo vs. Ravens' Pass Rush

    Probably the biggest thing you will be able to take away from this game is determining how much Romo's back injury has affected him. 

    One of his best attributes has been his ability to escape pressure to make incredible plays. If his escapability has been lessened in any significant way, then it will severely hinder the Cowboys offense. 

    Also, it will be fascinating to watch if Romo takes any significant steps to protect his back. It would be extremely difficult for the offense to be effective if Romo gets too frantic in the face of pressure. 

    Even though the Cowboys have revamped their offensive line the last few years in hopes to keep Romo on his feet as much as possible, it will be interesting to see how he reacts with pressure in his face. 

    Tyron Smith vs. Terrell Suggs

    Terrell Suggs has been one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL for the better part of a decade. He will make for a great test for Tyron Smith, whom Dallas recently gave a new extension

    In training camp, Smith has yet to be truly tested by an elite pass-rusher, and Suggs will give him that opportunity. 

    The Cowboys are counting on Smith to become one of the two or three best tackles in the entire league for the next 10 years. While all signs point to Smith having another great year, Suggs will give him his first true test of the year. 

    Cowboys Linebackers vs. Ravens Running Backs

    The most disappointing position unit during the first preseason game for the Cowboys was easily the linebackers. 

    Against the Chargers, the linebackers did a poor job o tackling and controlling their gaps. They also had a huge problem getting off blocks, which led to the Chargers gashing the Cowboys in the run game. 

    If the Cowboys hope for their defense to play better than it did against the Chargers, the linebackers must do a better job of getting off blocks and filling gaps. 

    The Ravens have two productive running backs in Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce. The Cowboys linebackers must do a good job of locating them in the pass game and attacking them in the run game. 

    Cowboys' X-Factor of the Week: DeVonte Holloman

    It is impossible to have an X-factor for a preseason game because of the high number of players who will get a significant amount of snaps. Therefore, we will discuss a player who must improve his performance from the first preseason game. 

    The player who needs to bounce back the most is linebacker DeVonte Holloman, whose performance was unacceptable, for the most part, against the Chargers. 

    Holloman must do a much better job of getting off his blocks against the Ravens. Oftentimes, he was glued to his blocker, which prevented him from stopping the run. 

    He was tabbed by many as a front-runner to win the starting spot at either the "Sam" or "Mike" linebacker positions. However, his play as of late shows that he does not deserve a starting spot. 

    However, there is still time for Holloman to prove he deserves to be on the first-team defense. He must start with a great game against the Ravens. 


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    Jae C. Hong/Associated Press

    Heading into their second preseason game, the Cowboys and Ravens couldn't have had more opposite experiences. The Ravens looked fantastic in their 23-3 win over the San Francisco 49ers, while the Cowboys looked porous for much of their 27-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers. 

    Early on, it is paramount that Dallas' first-team offense and defense have good outings. The Cowboys had a good excuse as to why their offense wasn't very explosive against the Chargers; star players like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten and DeMarco Murray all sat out. 

    This time they will not have that excuse because they should all be active and playing for at least some of the game against the Ravens. 

    The Cowboys offense must be highly productive for the team to even have a shot at the playoffs due to the anemic defense.

    The Ravens should be a good matchup for the Cowboys on both sides of the ball to help them determine exactly where they are as a team. The Ravens have an improving offense with a solid defense that will provide various challenges to the Cowboys. 

    While it is easy to expect the Cowboys' first-team offense to come out firing, the same cannot be said about the first-team defense. The unit will likely be without starters like Brandon Carr and Henry Melton, which will negatively affect the defense. 

    However, if the defense can show the ability to make some stops, it will be a positive sign for the Cowboys heading forward. 

    Predicting the final score of a preseason game is an impossible task that holds little meaning. However, it must be done. 

    Prediction: Cowboys 24, Ravens 20