5 Things to Watch for Cowboys vs. Dolphins
The third preseason game of the year—for the Cowboys in 2014, a matchup with the Miami Dolphins—is always our best chance to grade teams. The starters on both sides tend to play the majority of the game, so we should be able to get a sense of how the Dallas offense and defense are progressing.
Even though the play-calling will probably be pretty bland, it’s always interesting to see how new offensive and defensive coordinators are running things. We’ve already seen more play-action passes from Dallas with Scott Linehan in town, for example.
Let’s take a look at five other important things to watch for from the Cowboys on Saturday against the Dolphins.
5. Will RB Joseph Randle Keep It Up?
I’m not a Joseph Randle fan, but he’s looked like a much different player from his rookie year. First of all, he appears heavier, which is good. The fact that he’s bouncing off of tackles that probably would have sent him to the ground last year suggests he spent a lot of time in the weight room.
Second, he looks more explosive. One of the reasons I didn’t like Randle coming out of college was his lackluster straight-line speed; although, it’s worth noting he turned in a respectable broad jump at 10’3”, according to NFL.com.
The old Randle wasn’t likely to succeed in the NFL, but does the new Randle have a shot? Well, it’s good if he gained some strength and mass, but I think we need to watch more of him to argue that he really has become more explosive—something that doesn’t seem to improve all that much during the course of a typical career.
4. Will QB Tony Romo Again Look 100 Percent?
Romo looked awesome in his first game action this year, and by that, I mean he didn’t appear to be hampered by his back. The Cowboys are taking it slow with their big-money quarterback, as they should. I actually wouldn’t play Romo more than a few drives again on Saturday; what’s the point, really?
Romo played two drives against the Ravens, and he figures to get a lot more playing time against Miami. Let’s see how he looks in what will be his final preseason action of the year. If he starts the game hot, hopefully the coaches get him out of there and start to prepare for Week 1 against the Niners.
3. How Much of the Offense Will Revolve Around WR Dez Bryant?
In addition to Romo’s health, I’ll be watching to see where he goes with the football. The Cowboys have misused wide receiver Dez Bryant in the past, but I think Linehan is going to make a change to turn Bryant into the true focal point of this offense just like Calvin Johnson in Detroit.
In my opinion, every play should start with the question: “How can we get the ball into Bryant’s hands?” Only when the situation strongly dictates going elsewhere should the Cowboys not have Bryant as the first option.
2. How Many Snaps Will TE Gavin Escobar Play with the First Team?
The number of snaps tight end Gavin Escobar plays with the first-team offense will help us understand what sort of packages the Cowboys plan to use this season. There’s going to be a negative correlation between Escobar’s snaps and those of wide receiver Cole Beasley—meaning as Escobar’s go up, Beasley’s will go down.
To me, Escobar is a much more effective weapon because of his size, especially in the red zone. And even though Escobar is considered a poor blocker, it’s not like he’s worse than Beasley. The Cowboys have more options when Escobar is on the field; they can line up tight and run playaction, use Escobar as a receiver, and so on.
1. Can the Under-the-Radar Defensive Linemen Continue to Progress?
I think it’s safe to say that the Cowboys are going to be in trouble in terms of generating pressure on the quarterback unless they get production from an unexpected source.
My top two candidates for “unexpected” production are Martez Wilson and Zach Minter. Minter is a big, athletic defensive tackle who broke out for four tackles, two tackles for loss and two sacks against the Ravens in his first game with the Cowboys. Wilson is a long, explosive player who is still learning the nuances of playing defensive end, but he was very productive in college.
Watch those two, in particular, as there are some signs they could be better than the general public believes.