5 Things to Watch for Dallas Cowboys in Hall of Fame Game vs Miami Dolphins
5 Things to Watch for Dallas Cowboys in Hall of Fame Game vs. Miami Dolphins
The Pro Football Hall of Fame induction ceremony is this Saturday from Canton, OH, which means two NFL teams will play in the annual Hall of Fame Game Sunday from Fawcett Stadium.
Both teams have faced each other in each of the last two preseasons, with the Cowboys losing in 2011 but winning last year. They also played in one of the annual Thanksgiving Day games two seasons ago, with the Cowboys prevailing 20-19 on a last second field goal.
This season though, while the Cowboys bring back (for the most part) the same starters, the Dolphins look quite a bit different. Gone is all-pro Brandon Marshall, who had a great Thanksgiving Day game against former Cowboy Terence Newman, and in is Mike Wallace, the former Pittsburgh Steeler, to be the number-one target for second-year QB Ryan Tannehill in what gives the Dolphins a true deep threat. Reggie Bush left for Detroit this spring, so second-year man Lamar Miller figures to be the feature back for Miami's offense. The Dolphins also have a much improved defensive front, led by sackmaster Cameron Wake, that figures to be solid in 2013.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys bring back a lot of the same players, but look a lot different on the coaching side. Head coach Jason Garrett is no longer the principle play caller, with offensive line coach Bill Callahan taking over there. And Rob Ryan was fired as defensive coordinator, paving the way for 73-year-old Monte Kiffin to take the reins on the Cowboy defense, implementing his famous Tampa 2 scheme.
Both teams expect improvement this upcoming season, and the game should be competitive, especially with the first team offenses and defenses.
Here are five keys to look out for, from the Dallas side of things, this Sunday night.
5. Bruce Carter as Will Linebacker
Like Lee, Carter undergoes a position switch in the new scheme. He now shifts from his inside position to the weakside spot, another instance where the position probably suits his ability better.
Monte Kiffin wants to mold Carter in the same way that he did future Hall of Famer Derrick Brooks, at a position that will allow Carter to display his athleticism and coverage ability.
Again, an interesting thing to look for on Sunday.
4. Sean Lee in New Position
The 27-year-old Lee gets to have true command of the defense in the new Tampa 2 scheme. As an athletic linebacker with good feet, speed and instincts, being the true middle linebacker of a defense for the first time in his career should suit him well. It will be interesting to see how he looks in his new spot, how he takes charge, and how he utilizes his talents.
3. Dez Bryant vs. Miami Cornerbacks
Cowboy receiver Dez Bryant turned his play up a notch a last season — especially toward the end — solidifying himself as a bona fide wide out in the league.
After tallying 1,489 receiving yards in his first two seasons, Bryant exploded last year for 1,382 yards on 92 catches, scoring 12 touchdowns.
His career season saw him go for five 100-yard games, including 224 yards on nine catches in a week 16 loss to New Orleans. Maligned early in his career for a perceived bad attitude, Bryant turned into an unstoppable force last season and this offseason has talked of his renewed focus.
On Sunday, we get a glimpse of what Bryant will look like in 2013.
The Dolphins have two quality corners in Richard Marshall and Brent Grimes. Knowing Bryant's competitiveness, we know he'll be ready to go, preseason or not.
2. DeMarcus Ware Playing Defensive End
Sunday will mark the first time in his career that the Cowboys' pass rusher-extraordinaire lines up at defensive end. And though the games don't start to truly count until September, it will be interesting to see the dynamic that happens with this change and how much better Ware gets.
He is, in my opinion, the premier pass rusher in all of football, and has been for quite a while. He registered 20 sacks in 2008, He is the second fastest player in league history to record 100 sacks — the other being Reggie White — and was on pace two years ago for 21, which would have broken the single season record. He also has the most sacks of any player since 2005.
Left tackle Jake Long is no longer in Miami, so Jonathan Martin gets the unenviable task of blocking Ware sunday .
The 31-year-old Ware has also always been a stout run defender, so he gets the chance to display that more with his hand in the dirt. It will be interesting to see the transition come Sunday.
1. The Offensive Line
Over the last few seasons, the offensive line has been unquestionably the weakest part of the Dallas Cowboys' offense and, along with the safety position, the weakest part of the entire team.
Jerry Jones and the front addressed one of the problems — the center position — in the draft with Travis Frederick, but beyond that, the team felt comfortable enough with the rest of the line not to make any big changes. However, there are rumors that the team is interested in former pro bowler Brian Waters. Waters, at 36, could provide the team with a stable and skilled presence at guard.
The first test for this line as presently constituted though is the Dolphin front on Sunday. The team has a pro bowl outside linebacker in Cameron Wake, 10-year vet Randy Starks at defensive tackle and Jared Odrick at defensive end. They also have some good young talent that they brought in this offseason — Oregon's Dion Jordan via the draft, and another solid talent in 26-year-old Vaughn Martin, a Canadian who played his first four seasons with the San Diego Chargers, registering a sack in each of the last three years in 38 total games.
The Dolphins also ranked seventh in the league last year in sacks with 42. So it's no secret they can get after the passer, and the additions of Jordan and Martin should only help in that area.
Their front no doubt provides a stern first test to a Cowboy line that is under a lot of pressure this season.