I was pleased to have Mr. Dave Halprin over at Blogging the Boys, our SB Nation affiliate, provide us with a scouting report for the Dallas Cowboys this week. The two of us will be exchanging five questions shortly, so stay tuned for that feature as well.
Tony Romo returns as the QB and has looked sharp in limited preseason action. His main focus this offseason was staying still in the pocket, not sliding forward when looking for receivers and to release the ball quickly, with limited movement. So far, he looks pretty good doing it.
Marion Barber takes over as the Cowboys feature running back and is simply a beast to tackle. Playing the role of change-of-pace back is rookie Felix Jones and he is dangerous; in the preseason he took short passes or runs and turned them into long gains. Keep an eye out for him in the passing game, too. The Cowboys have a few injured WR's right now so they could use Felix in the slot on occasion.
The passing game revolves around the 1-2 punch of WR Terrell Owens and TE Jason Witten. Owens is one of the few elite WR's in the game today. Witten over the middle is a staple of the Cowboys offense. He can also play out wide and might see more time there in this game because the Cowboys are dangerously thin at WR. Patrick Crayton is a competent #2 WR, but our #3 WR (Sam Hurd) and #4 WR (Miles Austin) won't be playing in this game. That means our #5 WR, the very inexperienced Isaiah Stanback, will be asked to play the #3 role this week. He's been out for a couple of weeks with a shoulder injury and it's still unsure how effective he'll be.
The offensive line is built on size and strength. The line is simply huge but surprisingly mobile. Starting left guard Kyle Kosier is injured and will be replaced by backup Cory Procter. This could present an opportunity for the Browns defense. Procter is very unproven and usually plays center. The rest of the group, LT Flozell Adams, C Andre Gurode, RG Leonard Davis and RT Marc Colombo are solid in both pass protection and run blocking. The Cowboys line is one of their strengths.
Dallas had a very potent offense last year and much of the same is expected this year. All the main players return and they've added a new weapon in Felix Jones. The problems they have for this game is the lack of depth at WR because of injury and starting Procter over Kosier at guard because of injury.
The starting defensive line for the Cowboys is good against the run and is trying to become more disruptive in the passing game. DE Marcus Spears has had a phenomenal preseason, DE Chris Canty played well last year and NT Jay Ratliff is an energetic worker who can get to the QB. Wade Phillips uses a one-gap 3-4 scheme, so expect to see them slanting into the gaps and attacking the backfield. They also have a very good rotation of backup guys, including Tank Johnson who could be a starter on a lot of teams.
The real pressure on the QB for the defense comes from the tandem of DeMarcus Ware and Greg Ellis at outside linebacker. Both had double-figure sacks last year. Ware has the chops to be a Defensive Player of the Year, it's probably just a matter of time. He's extremely quick and agile, but he's not all speed rush, he can use his strength to get it done, too. The aged-veteran Ellis came back from an Achilles injury last year and played his best season ever, going to the Pro Bowl and winning Comeback player of the Year. The one problem is that last year's first-round pick, Anthony Spencer, will be out for the game meaning Ware and Ellis will rarely get a break. Behind them without Spencer, there is zero depth.
Bradie James is the team leader on defense and is good against the run from the middle linebacker position. Next to him is veteran Zach Thomas, over from the Dolphins. Zach has looked great in preseason and has the ability to diagnose a play instantly and get to the ball. He's a playmaker, and currently he's healthy so he should be an upgrade to our defense. Kevin Burnett is the primary backup and the third down cover guy, but he's coming off a knee scope. They expect him to play, but no one is sure what kind of shape he'll be in.
The Cowboys did a major upgrade to their corners over the offseason where the lack of depth really hurt them last year. Terence Newman and former-Brown Anthony Henry will start and Adam "Don't call me Pacman unless you know me" Jones will be the nickel CB. Jones is shaking off the rust pretty well and has looked very good in his last couple of preseason games. We also drafted Mike Jenkins in the first round this year; he's a press corner who likes to get up close to the receiver. And fifth-round draft pick Orlando Scandrick already looks like a steal, he has speed to burn and has been a playmaker in preseason.
At free safety Ken Hamlin played excellent ball last year and is the guy who makes sure everybody else knows what they're doing in coverage. Strong safety Roy Williams' struggles are well-chronicled recently; he does a good job in run support but is a liability in pass coverage. In passing situations, the Cowboys will remove him from the field. They'll play two safeties - neither being Roy Williams - and three corners, then roll Anthony Henry up as a hybrid LB/S to cover the TE.
The Cowboys defense was good against the run last year but struggled in the secondary with its depth. That should improve this year with the added personnel at cornerback and they hope to get a more consistent pass rush from their interior players and blitzes.
Cowboys Special Teams:
Kicker Nick Folk is automatic on FG's and punter Mat McBriar is one of the top punters in the league. Adam Jones will return the punts and he's dangerous, he might also return kicks or it could be Felix Jones in this game. Both players are proven return guys. Where the Cowboys struggle is punt and kick coverage. They will be thanking their lucky stars if they don't see Josh Cribbs. But even the Browns backup might be able to exploit this weakness. The Cowboys just re-signed S Keith Davis this week; he was a special teams ace for Dallas over the past few seasons.
Note: You can find my similar preview here on Blogging the Boys.