Note: Be sure to tune into my live in-game blog tonight, starting at 8 p.m. Central.
Even though tonight’s game “doesn’t count,” there are still a lot of things both coaches and fans would like to see from the players. A variety of training camp battles have yet to reach a conclusion, two high-drafted rookies will be making their pro debuts, and a handful of injuries will force perennial backups into the starting lineup.
Here is what Dallas should and should not do tonight versus the Chargers:
DO keep tight ends in to help right tackle Robert Brewster in pass protection.
Since Romo will be playing, extra precautions need to be taken. Although my stat analysis has shown the Cowboys should generally send tight end Jason Witten into a route more often, tonight he should stay in to help Brewster in pass protection.
An interesting thing to watch tonight will be the percentage of formations that are “right-handed,” i.e. I-Right, Strong Right, Tight End Spread Right, etc. An abundance of these would show the Cowboys are intent on aiding Brewster on the outside.
DON’T play Tony Romo for more than a few series OR use him on playaction when he’s in the game.
I personally think Romo shouldn’t even play tonight. He is a veteran quarterback. In my opinion, the potential risk isn’t worth the minimal reward. If he is in, I’d love to see him out of the game by the third series.
That probably won’t happen, though, so it will be important for the Cowboys to give him maximum protection. In addition to leaving Witten in to block, the Cowboys shouldn’t use much (if any) playaction. On these plays, Romo’s back would be turned to the defense and he could potentially be in a position where he’s unable to defend himself.
DO attempt a long field goal instead of punting.
Let’s see Buehler attempt a 50+ yard field goal. Or how about 60+? It’s preseason. Give the guy a shot.
DON’T overdo it with rookies Sean Lee and Akwasi Owusu-Ansah.
No one is more excited to see Lee and ‘Kwasi play more than me. Having said that, the Cowboys need to scale back the reps of both players. Both are coming off of injuries and haven’t been involved in live game action in seven months . Even though they are backups and both fighting for roles on the team, I wouldn’t give either guy more than 20 plays with ‘Kwasi receiving a few opportunities to return.
DO give Alex Barron some time at both left and right tackle.
Barron may or may not play tonight, but if he does, I’d love to see him at right tackle. Owner Jerry Jones has said he will probably stay on the left side. Why? What if right tackle Marc Colombo has a setback? Do we really want Brewster as the starting right tackle for Dallas on opening day?
It’s possible the club would move Doug Free back to right tackle and let Barron protect Romo’s blind side. Still, there’s only one way to find out if Barron is capable of playing on the right side.
DON’T feel pressured to (necessarily) run the ball in the red zone.
Fans have been critical of Jason Garrett’s red zone playcalling, but I haven’t had much of an issue with it thus far this preseason (last year is a different story). He did pass the ball three straight times inside the five-yard line against Cincinnati. One of those was a designed run Romo checked out of.
Others have disapproved of his decision to call first down pass plays, particularly out of shotgun, against the Raiders. However, I’ve showed that passing is actually a superior first down strategy to running when anywhere on the field outside of the opponent’s 10-yard line. Whether that play comes out of shotgun, to me, is irrelevant.
DO give Phil Costa a lot of time at center.
With Kyle Kosier out until at least Week Three, Costa is now the Cowboys’ backup center. If anything happens to starter Andre Gurode, this guy needs to be prepared.
DON’T give center Andre Gurode a ton of playing time.
Let’s hope the Cowboys don’t need to rely on Costa at any point this season. The best way to do that? Make sure Gurode doesn’t get injured. Missing a few reps is worth the guarantee that he stays healthy.
Gurode is a veteran who will be ready for the season and, outside of Romo, perhaps the last guy Dallas can afford get injured. Do we really want to see an opening day starting offensive line containing Montrae Holland, Phil Costa, and Robert Brewster? The answer is no.
DON’T allow Mat McBriar to do much directional punting.
We all know McBriar is one of the best punters in the league. His power, accuracy, and consistency are insane. Instead of watching McBriar punt the ball near the sideline where it could go out of bounds, let him boom it 60 yards downfield so we can observe the Cowboys’ coverage units. They improved against the Raiders after a shaky performance in the Hall of Fame game, but with a bunch of new players figuring to get time on special teams, they need more practice.
DO give Jon Kitna more time with the first-team offense.
Suppose Romo goes down mid-season with a 4-6 week injury. To have any shot at making the playoffs, the Cowboys will need to be able to win at least a few of those games. I like Kitna as a backup, but he needs more reps than he’s getting. Some of those should come with the first team in an effort to build some sort of cohesiveness.
DO run some dive plays behind Montrae Holland.
Holland actually isn’t that much of a downgrade from Kosier. He figures to be the Cowboys’ starting left guard for at least the first two weeks of the season, so let’s see what he’s made of. I’d love to see the Cowboys run a bunch of dive plays in the “1 hole” (right up Holland’s butt). Hopefully he’ll give us a reason to only be worried about one starter on the offensive line.