Jul 31, 2014; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys quarterback Brandon Weeden (3) takes the snap at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Looking ahead: Dallas Cowboys vs. San Diego Chargers

After an awful two months, football operations are back in some capacity again, which means two things: the Cowboys are playing football and I’m starting this column back up. Of course, no one cares about preseason games, but any football is worth watching at this point.

The Cowboys start their year by playing San Diego, who they have faced in every season, preseason or regular, since 2007. Maybe that’s fitting because the Chargers are probably the closest to the Cowboys’ equivalent: both teams were good from about 2007 through 2009 and neither has been good since. But Thursday’s game, rather than the crushed hopes of both fan bases, is what matters right now. And that front, unfortunately, isn’t all that interesting. Preseason games never are.

The most interesting factors surrounding must be the absurd hype surrounding the forthcoming season and the injury report. (Watching the second team might be sort of enjoyable too, if Brandon Weeden/Lance Dunbar tandems are your thing.)

First, the hype. Jerry Jones said, and I quote:

“I was pretty excited in ’07 – I was pretty excited about that group,” Jones said. “I think you guys, a couple of you chastised me for even referring back to the middle 90’s and early 90’s with that group, but I was pretty excited about it and they did well.”

To put that in perspective, he drew line, albeit faint, between the teams led by three Hall of Famers, and today’s team, which is two tackles away from actually being led by a Weeden/ Dunbar tandem. The offense is objectively better than last year’s—this team has Zack Martin and (this is part of why Jones is so excited) Scott Linehan—but this team isn’t quite as good as 2007’s. Statistically, mid-2000’s team and last year’s team (again, mostly the same as this year’s) were fairly close, both in passing and rushing.

But there were a few key differences: first, the 2007 Cowboys had two viable starting running backs, a really good one in Marion Barber and also Julius Jones. While the whole team (including Tony Romo when he scrambled and Tyson Thompson) combined for only 242 yards more than last year’s team, they did it with two main guys, while last year’s (and this year’s) team only has DeMarco Murray.

Murray is far better than Julius Jones and is maybe better than Marion Barber, but he is also less durable. Neither Jones nor Barber missed a game that season, but if one of them had, the other could have stepped in their place and done well enough that the offense didn’t become pass happy. Is that really a realistic scenario this season?

One thing I will say is that 2007’s team was ridiculously lucky with injuries. Ignoring Oliver Hoyte, who, according to his Wikipedia page, converted to fullback midseason, the team missed a combined total of five games, two because of Andre Gurode and three because of Patrick Crayton. This year’s team won’t have that luck, so they, even if everything else is equal, will be a notch behind.

And that’s assuming that the starters are comparable. Both teams have, assuming perfect health, probably comparable receiving corps and of course Romo. But, I can’t argue that this year’s offense line is as good as 2007’s. Don’t get me wrong, this year’s line is great. Actually, “terrific” or “the league’s best” might be more accurate. I’m not saying that this year’s line isn’t awesome– I just think 2007’s is better.

Tyron Smith is awesome, and Travis Frederick is really good too, and Zack Martin could be excellent, though no one knows for sure yet. Mackenzy Bernadeau is not, and Doug Free, now 30, isn’t a guarantee to be effective either. 2007’s team didn’t have that weak link. Flozell Adams, Kyle Kosier, Andre Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo were all at least decent, often better.

In fact, that team had three All-Pro’s. Smith is better than any of the five, but Bernadeau and to a lesser extent Free act as an anchor on the unit’s effectiveness. So the unit, as a whole and in my estimation, isn’t quite as good as 2007’s.

 

Still, this year’s offense should be better than last year’s, so all hope is not lost on that end.

Some of the hype around the team is still deserved. Unfortunately, the hype around a few players has to wait a bit.

There isn’t an official injury report yet, so I don’t have a definitive list of who will and won’t play to post. I haven’t been able to find a comprehensive list, so I don’t want to speculate too much. However, a few names are confirmed to be out. Morris Claiborne is injured and will miss Thursday’s game, and Romo will as well.

The Chargers are likely to miss Brandon Flowers, among others, but again, these injuries are all relative. They are “out” for three drives.

Tags: Dallas Cowboys

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