The Cowboys Are Back! What to Watch For During the Game


Jul 21, 2013; Oxnard, CA, USA; General view of the line of scrimmage as Dallas Cowboys center Phil Costa (67) snaps the ball at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

Cowboy fans rejoice, football has finally returned! This evening the Dallas Cowboys kickoff the 2013 NFL Preseason against the Miami Dolphins in the annual Hall of Fame Game. While this game is merely preseason and the final score is pointless, it doesn’t mean what actually happens in the game is unimportant.

The preseason can teach many things. The preseason can show us how the team is executing basic concepts new Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin is teaching. The preseason is important to Safeties Will Allen, Matt Johnson, and JJ Wilcox who are fighting for starting roles alongside Barry Church. It holds significant value to bubble players who are fighting for roster spots on the team and maybe even fighting for their very careers.

As a fan, you need a plan of action as you watch the Cowboys play in preseason. You need to know the battles, know the storylines, know the players, and know the concerns. Allow me to assist you in building your plan of action…

Dec 23, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees (9) fights off a sack by Dallas Cowboys defensive tackle Jason hatcher (97) at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Is Jason Hatcher Really This Good or is the Dallas O-Line Just that Bad?

This was a question I asked on the Thursday Morning Column. In a nutshell, Hatcher has been an absolute beast in training camp. Does his suddenly discovered Beast-Mode say that the 31 year old finally entered his prime?

Or is Hatchers success just a product of the pitiful competition he’s facing in training camp on the Dallas O-line. Well, we can hopefully answer this question on Sunday. If Hatch plays lights out and the Dallas O-line effectively blocks Miami then we have good news. If Hatch can’t get it done and the O-line can’t block anyone then…well…that’s bad news.

Note: If Hatcher doesn’t play we will have to answer this question by just watching the execution of the O-line.

What Are the Safeties Doing?

When you watch the game – pay attention to those safeties. They will tell you a lot about the coverage Dallas is running and how well players are learning this new defense. See who is playing aggressively and who is playing passively. This will be a great battle to watch as well as a way to gauge the progress Monte Kiffin is making on installing his coverage.

One of the keys to beating the Read-Option Offense (aka Pistol) that Washington and San Fran run, is the use of the Single High Safety. The Single High Safety keeps one Safety back in centerfield and cheats another in the box to play the Scrape role (I’ll break this all down in a later column). The sooner the Cowboys install the Single High the better. It’s very difficult to execute and will need ample practice before it can be trusted. I’m looking for this during the game for sure.

Extra Credit: Look for the Tampa 2, Cover 2, and try to identify zone or man coverage. Read about Coverage here

Jul 22,2013; Oxnard, CA, USA; Dallas Cowboys center Phil Costa (67), center Kevin Kowalski (60), center Travis Frederick (70), tackle Darrion Weems (75) and guard David Arkin (62) at training camp at the River Ridge Fields. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Is the Offensive Line Opening Running Lanes in Their New Blocking Scheme?

I’m not paying much attention to the halfbacks but rather I’m going to pay attention to the blocking of the O-line. Bill Callahan has installed more zone blocking schemes (ZBS) to assist the run game. Read here for a breakdown of Bill Callahan’s ZBS.

If the Cowboys want success in 2013 they will need a run game. DeMarco Murray was hit in the backfield far too often in 2012 to sustain any success. That has to change. I’m going to pay special attention to Travis Frederick who has college experience in a ZBS and should help direct traffic pre-snap. I’m watching Phil Costa and Ron Leary who each have chances to push for starting jobs this season.

Commitment to the Two TE Offense

I’m very excited about the TE’s on the roster and love the idea of running a 2 and 3 TE offense in 2013. Call me Doubting Thomas but I’ll believe it when I see it. I’ve heard this plan before and we always give up on the 2 TE’s. With all the talent the Cowboys have at TE I really hope to see something special.

Those are the main items I’m looking for in this first preseason game of 2013. Sure I’m interested in seeing how Mo Claiborne is progressing, how Carter and Lee thrive in the new LB roles, the battle for the SAM LB, the WR battle, etc… All of those are interesting storylines. They just aren’t on my agenda today.

What’s on your agenda today?

Do you have questions or comments regarding Dallas area sports? Email Reid at You may be included in the next weekly mailbag. Follow Reid on twitter @ReidDHanson