Dallas Cowboys 2011 Preseason Schedule: Full Preview

Jonathan BalesAnalyst IAugust 10, 2011

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - DECEMBER 06:  Quarterback Tony Romo #9 of the Dallas Cowboys calls out isgnals at the line of scrimmage against the New York Giants at Giants Stadium on December 6, 2009 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

With all of the hoopla that surrounded the end of the lockout and the start of free agency, it is a bit hard to believe the Cowboys’ preseason opener is just two days away.  While a team’s play during the preseason is a poor predictor of their regular season record, there are still plenty of things which we can learn from each game.  Among other things, it is always nice to watch the play of rookies and newly-acquired free agents.  The preseason is also our first opportunity to get a glimpse of defensive coordinator’s 3-4 scheme in Big D.  Here are a few notes and things I will be watching this preseason. . .

Denver Broncos – Thurs, Aug 11

  • The majority of the starters will play just a series or two on Thursday.  Of course the primary starter to watch is rookie right tackle Tyron Smith.  He will get a few snaps against Broncos DE Elvis Dumervil, which will be a nice challenge for the youngster.
  • Watch for Kyle Kosier’s play at his new right guard position.  The ‘Boys plan to play him there to help rookie Tyron Smith with line calls.  The learning curve should not be dramatic for the veteran.
  • The sample size will not be too large, but let’s see who Tony Romo targets in the passing game.  Jason Witten, Miles Austin and Dez Bryant are kind of 1A, 1B and 1C in the passing game, in no particular order.
  • With the new kickoff rules, let’s see how far David Buehler booms the ball through the end zone.  More importantly, watch rookie Dan Bailey’s kickoffs.  If he can consistently garner touchbacks, Buehler’s roster spot is in trouble.
  • Victor Butler should see a good amount of playing time in all of the preseason games.  I think he has a chance to receive a lot of snaps in 2011, and perhaps even overtake Anthony Spencer for a starting outside linebacker spot at some point.
  • In addition to Tyron Smith, be sure to watch the play of Dwayne Harris, David Arkin, Shaun Chapas and the other rooks.  DeMarco Murray and Bruce Carter will be out with injuries.
  • Safety Abram Elam was one of the Cowboys’ only free agent signings.  He is familiar with Rob Ryan’s scheme from his time in Cleveland, and Thursday night will be our first chance to see him in action in Dallas.
  • How will Orlando Scandrick and Bryan McCann perform?  With Terence Newman out and often injured, their play will be huge in 2011.
  • Is Sean Lee ready to start?  I think so, but we’ll see this preseason.
  • Lonyae Miller has been tearing it up in camp.  With Tashard Choice and Murray injured, Miller has a shot to win No. 2 running back duties.  On the other hand, if he does not make the roster, here is how I expect the Cowboys to split up carries.
  • This is basically Akwasi Owusu-Ansah’s “second” rookie season.  I think he has starting safety potential, but he needs to have a big preseason.
  • The Cowboys have been notoriously poor at stopping mobile quarterbacks in the past, and with Michael Vick in the division, that’s a big no-no.  Tim Tebow is a different kind of runner, but the task of halting his ground game will be a nice test for the defense.
  • Denver WR Brandon Lloyd will represent a great challenge for CB Michael Jenkins in his effort to rebound from an atrocious 2010 season.

San Diego Chargers – Sun, Aug 21

  • The starters should see about a quarter of play in this contest.  The Chargers were one of the most “unlucky” teams in 2010, missing the playoffs despite finishing first in both offense and defense.  They are a really good football team.
  • DeMarco Murray may be healthy by this point.  He won’t get a ton of work even if he is ready to go, but it will be nice to see the rookie in action.
  • The Chargers’ passing attack, led by Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson, will be a big-time challenge for a Dallas pass defense that was one of the worst in the league last season.  Keep your eye on the Jenkins-Jackson and Lee-Gates matchups.
  • The ‘Boys have had some trouble on offense when facing 3-4 defenses.  San Diego has one of the best in the NFL.  Look for Dallas to try to get Felix Jones and perhaps Murray isolated against San Diego’s big outside linebackers.
  • How will Tyron Smith fare against Shaun Phillips?  Another awesome test for the rookie against a 3-4 defensive scheme he rarely saw in college.
  • With a full quarter to play, this will be our first legitimate chance to see if Rob Ryan can get the first-team defense to generate pressure.  Victor Butler/Anthony Spencer vs. Marcus McNeill will be a great matchup to watch.

@Minnesota Vikings – Sat, Aug 27

  • The third game of the preseason is always the most exciting.  It will come close to resembling a regular season game, as the starters will likely play about three quarters.
  • Again, we will receive a glimpse of where Romo looks to go with the football when he is in trouble.  I think a lot of people will be surprised at how many targets Dez Bryant receives this season.
  • How will the line handle Jared Allen?  We know Doug Free is perhaps best-suited for speed rushers, but Allen has a bit of everything.  Tyron Smith will have his hands full as well in our first chance to see him play significant snaps.  Also be sure to watch the pass protection and blitz pickup ability of Felix Jones, Murray (who should definitely be back by then) and even Lonyae Miller.
  • Adrian Peterson is perhaps the most dynamic running back in the NFL.  He has game-breaking speed, incredible power, and he may even be a legitimate receiving threat this season.  It will be interesting to see how Ryan plans to limit Peterson, including if the defense can contain him without placing eight men in the box.
  • Percy Harvin is the prototypical “Cowboy-killer.”  He’s fast, shifty, and will often be matched up against linebackers and safeties.  The major problem he poses is forcing a shift in personnel. . .if you bring in the nickel to allow Scandrick or McCann to cover him, you are just asking Peterson to gash you.  The Vikings should be able to run the ball really well out of three-receiver sets this season.

@Miami Dolphins – Thurs, Sep 1

  • The Cowboys play the Dolphins in the regular season, so don’t expect to see anything but the most basic of play-calls.  With the starters sitting, this game will be considered a boring one by many.  However, it might be the most useful to the coaches, as they get to assess the play of rookies and fringe players.  David Buehler, Dan Bailey, Shaun Chapas, Chris Gronkowski, Barry Church, Jesse Holley, Teddy Williams and so on. . .you all better come to play.  Gronkowski in particular needs a stellar preseason.  His 2010 rookie season was a far cry from the year Deon Anderson had in 2009.
  • If the Dolphins run any Wildcat, we’ll see how Ryan chooses to defend it.  He will see some of it in at least two games this season against Philly.
  • In both the preseason and regular season, track Jason Garrett’s red zone play-calling.  It improved a lot in 2010.
  • Lastly, let’s see what kind of emotion the Cowboys play with in the preseason.  These games “don’t matter”…but the manner in which the team prepares for a “meaningless” game could determine their ability to effectively prepare for the ones that do count.