Saturday night, the Dallas Cowboys will square off against the Cincinnati Bengals, in what will be the first time we will see the starters get extended playing time this preseason. In the Cowboy’s first three preseason games, we had a chance to see the quality of depth that they are going to have this season.
During tonight’s game, the Cowboys’ starting players are likely going to play into the third quarter. We should get a pretty decent gauge as to what we should expect from the starters going into the season opener. Since tonight will be the last time that we will see the starters (except for maybe a series) before Sept. 8, they need to get some quality plays in and build some confidence heading forward.
During the game, I am expecting the Cowboys first-team offense to get the ball into the end zone. Surprisingly, Dallas’ first-team offense has yet to score a touchdown. When offensive coordinator Bill Callahan took over the play-calling duties, all we heard about was how the Cowboys were going to improve their red-zone efficiency. Through the first three preseason games, all we have seen from the first-team offense, in the red zone, has been field goals. I am anxious to see what the starters will do tonight with some extended playing time.
Keep an eye on Doug Free tonight, as well. He is going to have his hands full with Geno Atkins. Free had a rough start to the 2012 season. While he started to come around toward the end of the season, he didn’t live up to the expectations of the Cowboys coaching staff. If Free can hold his own tonight against Atkins, his confidence will be soaring going into the season. For Tony Romo’s sake, I hope Free can take care of business tonight.
As for the running game, when Demarco Murray was injured last season, the Cowboys ability to pick up yards on the ground was practically nonexistent. This season, Lance Dunbar has looked very impressive when he’s had his opportunities. Dunbar suffered a sprained left foot two weeks ago, which is going to force him to miss tonight’s game. Keep an eye on how rookie Joseph Randle and third-year veteran Phillip Tanner handle themselves when given the opportunity against Cincinnati’s starting defense.
The Bengals have a very good starting defense, so we should get a pretty good idea as to how the Cowboys offense is going to look entering the season.