By Matthew Postins
First and 10 is RattleandHumSports.com’s breakdown of the 10 most important things to come out of each game for 2014. Today we’re focused on the third preseason game of the season against the Miami Dolphins.
Tony Romo took a legitimate hit Saturday night. In fact, he took a few. Romo was sacked three times as the offensive line had, undoubtedly, its worst game of the preseason. In fact, the whole offense seemed to take a step back in the first half, which is not what you want to see from the “dress rehearsal” game. The play calling was out of whack, as the Cowboys threw 18 times and ran it 11 times. The line committed a couple of penalties and Romo, at times, had no one to throw to, thanks to tight coverage. Of Dallas’ three preseason opponents, Miami seemed to have the best first-team defense and it showed. Now does this mean the Cowboys offense is in trouble? Not necessarily. But for the starters, this is the taste in their mouths they’re going to take into the season opener against San Francisco, and if I’m in their shoes I don’t like that at all.
Last week I wrote the Cowboys are in trouble in the return game if they lost Dwayne Harris. You probably recall the pit in your stomach when you saw Harris get bent back on a punt return in the second quarter. He was down for a few minutes but ended up walking off and was actually joking around on the sideline later. But he didn’t play the rest of the game, and for good reason. The return game takes a huge step back without him.
Remember Tyler Patmon come final cut day. He made quite the impression Saturday night, forcing a fumble in the first quarter, picking off a Ryan Tannehill pass in the third quarter and picking off a Matt Moore pass in the fourth quarter and returning it for a touchdown. The cornerback group is in real flux right now and with Orlando Scandrick set to miss the first four games, there is an open spot. More than anything, they need corners that can make things happen. Patmon showed he has that potential.
Last week I wrote about the great screen pass in the first quarter of the Ravens game. Well, the Cowboys drew up another great one in the second quarter for Lance Dunbar. Had he been a bit more connected to his blockers, he might have gained more yards than DeMarco Murray did last week. We haven’t seen the screen much in the preseason, but I think that’s play caller Scott Linehan playing his cards close to the vest. You’re going to see it more often this season, especially if it picks up yardage like it has the past two weeks.
Should we be concerned about Henry Melton? The expectation was that we would see him at some point in the preseason. But here we are three games in and Melton hasn’t taken the field. Sure, Davon Coleman has gotten some great reps at his under tackle position. But now Melton is nursing a groin injury and he puts the finishing touches on ACL rehab. The Cowboys really can’t afford to be wrong about Melton.
Will the Cowboys keep three running backs or four? Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams are making the decision tough. Randle is shiftier and more likely to help on special teams. But Williams is more powerful and the last two weeks he’s shown the ability to run over people. Tough call. You almost want to the Cowboys to keep all four, but with the myriad of defensive issues that may not be possible.
The Cowboys’ linebacker situation is still pretty fluid, and that’s not good. Rolando McClain pretty much disappeared Saturday night. Anthony Hitchens started in the middle and, at times, looked overmatched, which is to be expected from a rookie. Bruce Carter actually had a solid night, though part of that was on special teams. It seems the Cowboys want to do everything possible to keep Justin Durant out of the middle, but given Durant’s great play – and the lack of substantial play from everyone else – Durant should be in the middle in the season opener. If the Cowboys know what’s good for them.
I think Zack Minter makes this team. Minter had some time against better talent this week and didn’t look overmatched. He did a nice job slide-stepping with a blocker until he could get in position to bring down a ball carrier. He didn’t have the impact of last week, but young players aren’t going to do that from week to week unless they’re big time already. But Minter could develop into something.
Did you see that hit safety Ahmad Dixon laid on that Dolphins receiver in the fourth quarter? That’s exactly the kind of stuff that ticked off TCU head coach Gary Patterson last season. Dixon was called for unnecessary roughness. He caught the receiver in the helmet so hard that Dixon’s helmet came off. It wasn’t a legal hit and Dixon won’t last long if he doesn’t correct it, which is a shame because he started the preseason off so well against San Diego.
I can’t envision a scenario in which Dez Bryant doesn’t have 100 catches and more than 1,300 yards receiving (assuming Romo is healthy). The question is the touchdowns. He has the most in the NFL the last two seasons, tied with Saints tight end Jimmy Graham. He’s just looked like a beast this preseason.