I gave you 12 things to watch in tonight’s Cowboys-Dolphins game. The Cowboys still have a lot of important decisions looming regarding the 53-man roster, so there are some things which they should and should not be doing tonight to ensure they make the right decisions and are still adequately prepared for the regular season. Here they are:
DO- Give Michael Hamlin and Danny McCray Reps at Nickel Linebacker.
There have been reports that McCray will see some action in the nickel package, but I’d like to see Hamlin as well. We basically know what the Cowboys have in current nickel linebacker Jason Williams, so let’s see the two safeties battle it out. They could actually be playing for the same roster spot.
DON’T- Be As Predictable and “Vanilla” with the Play-Calling.
Just how basic has the Cowboys’ offense been this preseason? Check out the chart above.
You can see that the rate of motions, shifts, draws, counters, screens, play-action passes, and passes with Jason Witten in a route are all significantly down from the 2009 regular season.
Garrett should by no means throw the kitchen sink at Miami, but perhaps being slightly less basic will allow the offense to execute more efficiently. Even though the starters won’t be playing, Dallas could probably benefit from heading into the regular season with some confidence.
Plus, Stephen McGee will be starting and perhaps auditioning for a roster spot. Let’s see what he’s got.
DO- Max Protect for Stephen McGee so He Can Take Some Chances Down the Field.
It doesn’t mean McGee will actually throw down field, but providing him with adequate protection will be the best way to determine if he’s been checking down due to pressure or if he’s simply afraid to let it loose.
DON’T- Leave Tashard Choice in the Game Too Long.
I know Choice is the third running back and third running backs generally play significantly in the final preseason game, but Choice isn’t your typical backup player. He’s a starting quality running back in a true three-back system.
I’ve been campaigning for Choice to get more touches this season. His presence is imperative for Dallas, particularly with the health concerns surrounding Marion Barber and Felix Jones.
DO- Give Cletis Gordon an Opportunity to Cover Brandon Marshall (assuming Marshall plays).
Gordon has been sensational this preseason, playing well enough to claim the fourth cornerback job without much controversy. He’s played so well that some are wondering if he can steal a few reps at nickel cornerback from Orlando Scandrick.
Gordon figures to start, and Miami said many of their starters will play. If Marshall is on the field, put Gordon on him.
DON’T- Give Martellus Bennett Too Much Playing Time.
Even though the ‘Boys figure to ramp up the percentage of three-receiver sets this season (likely at the cost of two-tight end sets), Bennett is still incredibly valuable to Dallas. He’s a top-notch blocker and is a big part of the reason the Cowboys ran so effectively last season with two or more tight ends on the field.
Furthermore, there is a very good chance that Dallas keeps just two tight ends on the 53-man roster. They cut Scott Sicko a few days ago, meaning either DajLeon Farr and Martin Rucker would be the third tight end. Yikes.
DO- Give Chris Gronkowski Many Reps, Particularly on Power Rushing Plays.
With Sicko’s release, the odds of Gronkowski making the roster skyrocketed. I haven’t been impressed with his preseason play, but he has improved each game. He’s a versatile player who could be used more as an F-Back or even H-Back as opposed to a traditional fullback.
This would allow him to slide into a John Phillips-type role which offensive coordinator Jason Garrett covets but which Deon Anderson, Jason Witten, and Martellus Bennett cannot play.
We know Gronkowski can catch the ball, but I want to see him lead block more effectively. He’s shown me he’s a tremendous downgrade from Anderson thus far in the preseason, but he has a big opportunity ahead to at least partially alter my opinion tonight (and I’m sure that means a lot to him).
DON’T- Put Patrick Crayton Back Deep on Punt Returns.
I actually think Crayton could start the season as the Cowboys’ punt returner.
The other realistic options are Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, Dez Bryant, and Bryan McCann. I personally prefer AOA, but the Cowboys may want someone they trust more handling returns, particularly since ‘Kwasi fumbled already this preseason.
Bryant hasn’t gotten any reps there, and McCann may not even make the team.
Still, the Cowboys know what they have in Crayton. He will be fine whether he returns punts tonight or not. I’d love to see AOA get the chance to be the return man for the entire night. I have full confidence he’ll prove (again) that he’s worthy of manning both return spots for Dallas.
DO- Kick a Long Field Goal. . .No Matter What.
I don’t care if the Cowboys need to send out the field goal team on third down in the middle of the first quarter, I want to see Buehler kick some long field goals. He hasn’t even had an attempt (long or short) the last two games. Bonus points if they can put him in position to kick a high-pressure field goal.