Dallas vs. Miami: Cowboys Preseason Week 3 Game Preview
The Dallas Cowboys will be pitted against the Miami Dolphins in what is yearly the most important preseason game for NFL teams. While the outcomes of preseason matchups hold no significance whatsoever, the play of the starters in the first half may be an important indicator towards how the regular season will unfold.
The third preseason game is often the first time teams will utilize more-advanced schemes. Teams will experiment and tinker with these schemes based on the success rate from the first-teamers this weekend.
Bleacher Report's Matt Bowen stated, "This is an important part of the regular-season prep for teams to establish their core calls while also experimenting with new schemes."
At the moment, it is unclear how much playing time the Dallas starters will get against the Dolphins; however, the third preseason game is usually where they will see the most time.
For the Cowboys starters, it is important for them to carry over the momentum they gained last week against the Baltimore Ravens.
The Cowboys first-team offense looked great, save for a mishandled exchange between Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray that resulted in a touchdown for the Ravens, and the defense did a great job against the Ravens starters.
As always, the goals of this preseason game are to improve and get out of the game injury free.
Read on for some news and notes, injury information and players to watch Saturday night.
Dallas Cowboys Preseason Week 2 Recap
Even though the Cowboys came up on the wrong side of the 37-30 loss to Baltimore, they came away with a great deal of positives to work off of for the coming week.
Quarterback Tony Romo looked great, going 4-of-5 for 80 yards and a touchdown and Dez Bryant showed once again that he will be one of the top two or three best receivers in the NFL come regular season.
Linebacker Rolando McClain took a step in the right direction by knocking off some of the rust that has accrued from not playing in a live-action game since November 2012. He led the Cowboys in tackles and showed some glimpses of the dynamic, award-winning linebacker he was at Alabama.
The biggest story emerging from the second preseason game came from a surprising place. Zach Minter, who was signed just two days prior to the game, made a huge impression on coaches and fans alike. He had four tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble while playing at the 1- and 3-technique defense tackle positions.
The biggest negative coming from this game is that linebacker DeVonte Holloman suffered a career-ending injury to his neck per ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer. It is awful to see a player have to leave the league not because he couldn't play but because of an injury.
The loss left the Cowboys at 0-2 in the preseason, but the record doesn't matter. What matters is that the Cowboys saw significant improvement from the first preseason game.
The game against the Dolphins will likely be the last opportunity for most of the starters to get meaningful playing time during the preseason. They will get one last chance to create some momentum heading into the regular season.
News and Notes
DeVonte Holloman's Career-Ending Injury
DeVonte Holloman was a player who had a great deal of potential. He came on strong the last two games last season, which made him a prime breakout player candidate for 2014.
During the Ravens game, Holloman suffered a neck injury on a benign-looking play. ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer and Calvin Watkins reported:
Holloman missed seven games as a rookie with a bruised spinal cord but was able to return and start the final two games, posting a career-high 11 tackles and two sacks in the season finale against the Philadelphia Eagles.
In the offseason, Holloman took part in several offseason workouts and noted he almost had to learn how to tackle again.
Coach Jason Garrett said the neck had been bothering Holloman the last few weeks, and he was unable to finish last week's preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens.
After Holloman received a second opinion, he was told that it would be in his best interest to retire.
Now that Holloman is out, it is up to rookie Anthony Hitchens to pick up the slack as the backup "Mike" linebacker.
Maybe the biggest thing the Cowboys will miss with Holloman is his stellar special teams play. His size and speed combination made Holloman a fantastic special teams player.
The Cowboys will certainly miss Holloman, and it is so disheartening that somebody is pushed out of the game they love because of such an injury.
Minter Getting Time with the Starters
Zach Minter made a huge impact against the Ravens. While he started off poorly, Minter came on strong when he was switched from the 1-technique to 3-technique defensive tackle.
Minter was playing so well that head coach Jason Garrett had players begging him to keep Minter in the game. ESPN Dallas' Tim MacMahon reported, "Players were coming up to me and literally hit me, ‘Don’t take 79 out,'" Garrett said. "They didn’t even know who the hell he was."
Garrett and his coaching staff were so impressed that they gave Minter some work with the starters in practice this week, per The Dallas Morning News' David Moore.
While Minter doesn't have his roster spot sewn up, another impactful and productive would go a long way toward changing that.
He is likely battle Davon Coleman and Caesar Rayford for the last two 3-technique spots on the roster. It will be interesting to see which of those aforementioned players plays the best.
Who Will Be the Cowboys 3 Starting Linebackers?
The Cowboys need to figure out who there starting three linebackers are going to be. There have been reports that Justin Durant is going to take over Bruce Carter's job as the starting "Will" linebacker because of the emergence of Rolando McClain at the "Mike" linebacker.
Now it looks like the Cowboys are trying Carter at the "Sam" linebacker position, per Archer. He received some snaps there during the Ravens game but didn't perform well. Carter's biggest weakness is getting off blocks, and the "Sam" linebacker must take on blocks nearly every play. Therefore, it doesn't look like putting Carter at the "Sam" is the best decision.
The best linebacker lineup would likely be Durant ("Will"), McClain ("Mike") and Kyle Wilber ("Sam").
Durant is technically better than Carter and possesses similar athletic ability; therefore he could be a solid player on the weak side.
McClain is the most talented linebacker on the roster, and if he can get in shape, he could be a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
Wilber has improved significantly at the point of attack, and he may have the best ability to take on blockers among Dallas linebackers.
This game will be a huge indicator as to who will make up the first-team linebacker group come Sept. 7.
As with last week, it is hard to accurately predict the injury report because teams don't disclose them until the regular season. So this week, I will once again relay the players that have missed practice this week, making them likely candidates to miss the game.
|Johnny Thomas (undisclosed)||S|
|Morris Claiborne (shoulder)||CB|
|B.W. Webb (hip flexor)||CB|
|Sterling Moore (groin)||CB|
|Henry Melton (groin)||DT|
|DeVonte Holloman (neck)||LB|
|Ben Gardner (shoulder)||DE|
|Matt Johnson (hamstring)||S|
|Demarcus Lawrence (ankle)||DE|
|Anthony Spencer (knee)||DE|
|Amobi Okoye (illness)||DT|
|Terrell McClain (ankle)||DT|
All injury status from ESPN Dallas' Todd Archer.
The only notable new name on the list is B.W. Webb, who is battling Terrance Mitchell and Tyler Patmon for the last two CB spots. Webb will likely miss the game, which gives mainly Patmon an opportunity to make his case for a spot on the 53-man roster.
Patmon played very well against the Ravens and another solid game against the Dolphins first team would do wonders for his chances of making the regular season roster.
Amobi Okoye has made a miraculous comeback from a potentially fatal disease. Archer stated:
Okoye spent roughly three months in a coma as a result of anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a potentially fatal brain disease. He had to learn how to communicate all over again. A high school graduate at 16, who his agent, Ian Greengross, said could have gone to Harvard, Okoye had trouble with the simplest tasks.
Now he is close to returning to full football duties with the Cowboys, having signed a two-year deal in the spring. He was cleared medically last week, but the Cowboys have kept him on the non-football illness list so he can work on his conditioning before getting in pads.
The fact that he could possibly return from such a thing is amazing. Also, Okoye could be a great rotational defensive tackle when he does finally get back in pads.
Besides those injuries, it is paramount that Terrell McClain and Henry Melton get back healthy before the season starts. McClain and Melton should be the starting defensive tackles come week 1 and if the defense wants to perform at a high level it needs them back.
X-Factors and Players to Watch
Brandon Carr vs. Mike Wallace
Brandon Carr will likely get his first action of the preseason against the Dolphins Saturday night.
The last time these two players faced off, Mike Wallace was on the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2012. Carr had a heck of a game; he made the game-changing interception of Ben Roethlisberger to set up Dan Bailey's game-winning field goal.
This time around it will be interesting to see how well Carr deals with the incredible speed Wallace brings to the table. Carr is not a very fast cornerback; instead he relies on physicality and smarts to cover wide receivers. The key for Carr will be to get a good jam at the line of scrimmage to knock Wallace off his route and disrupt his timing with Ryan Tannehill.
The X-factor of this matchup will be the referees. Throughout the preseason the referees have been very strict on contact between defensive backs and wide receivers. It will be important for Carr to be mindful of the type of contact he uses when trying to jam or reroute Wallace.
Doug Free vs. Cameron Wake
Cameron Wake has proven to be one the best pass-rushers in the NFL the last couple years. Last year, Pro Football Focus (subscription required) gave him a grade of plus-24.9, which was good for third among defensive ends.
Doug Free is coming off a solid year where he received a grade of plus-13 from PFF, which was good for 20th among offensive tackles.
Wake is a dynamic and disruptive defensive end who will give any tackle fits, including Doug Free. This will be a great test for Free and could be a great indicator as to how well he will do throughout the regular season. If he can do a solid job against Wake then he can do well with any defensive end in the league.
The key for Free will be to remain balanced when he sets up to pass block. If a lineman gets even a little off balance, then Wake will beat them almost every time.
This matchup will be a great dress rehearsal for Free and show how much the Cowboys can expect of him this year.
Cowboys X-Factor of the Week: Bruce Carter
There will be some major ramification from Bruce Carter's play against the Dolphins. Carter is likely playing for the right to keep his starting job.
If Carter does not clean up the technical deficiencies, then it is likely he will find himself on the sideline when the first-team defense faces off against the San Francisco 49ers in the first week of the regular season.
Carter needs to show some ability to get through blocks and do a better job staying disciplined when pursuing the ball-carrier. If he can do that, Carter will likely keep his starting job and go on to have a productive year.
The veteran linebacker is going to have his hands full tackling and covering the likes of Miami RBs Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas. He will have to be technically sound if he hopes to have a decent game.
This game will be about seeing improvement and progression from Carter, if not, you will likely see Justin Durant replace him in the starting defense.
As always, it is near impossible to predict a preseason game because of numerous unknown factors. It's hard to predict how backup players are going to play against other backups.
Also, it is impossible to know how long each starting unit will play, so there is a possibility that a first-team unit finds itself playing against a second team, which drastically favors the former.
Assuming that the starters of both squads get somewhere in the vicinity of a half against each other, it is likely that both offenses put up good numbers.
The Cowboys have one of the most well-rounded offenses in the NFL, and the Dolphins are going against an injury-pledged defense that, when healthy, is average at best.
After that it is a crapshoot, if the first two preseason games are any indication the Cowboys second-team offense and defense will go through a ton of ups and downs.
If the Cowboys starters can carry the momentum over from the Ravens game, then they should have a great chance at winning it.
The final score is meaningless in the grand scope of things, but here goes nothing.
Prediction: Cowboys 35, Dolphins 27