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Here are a few things I took away from the Dallas Cowboys’ dress rehearsal game against the Cincinnati Bengals:
1) Romo has a great quick release.
For years, it has frustrated me to watch how long it took for pass plays to develop. And with the bad OL, Tony Romo seemed to always run out of time and have to scramble for his life.That was not the case Saturday night. I immediately took note that most of the pass plays in the first half were quick hits; hooks and slot slants that didn’t need five or more seconds to come to fruition. Tony Romo was getting the ball out quickly, and he completed his first 9 passes and threw for two touchdowns because of it. He had great pocket presence and looked calm during his time on the field.
2) Injured, thrown together O line or not – this line is better than last year.
I’m not all that big a fan of Doug Free, but he sure scored positive points with me last night. Free played guard for the first time in his career last night and did a decent job of it. I have spent the entire off season and preseason worried about the offensive line. That worry has only been compounded with all of the training camp injuries. But last night, I watched Romo play as a pocket quarterback and I watched three running backs gain good yardage. Keep it up O line – it can only get better once we get through some of these injuries.
3) Dez, Dez, Dez!
Dez Bryant is a monster when going up against man-to-man defensive schemes. His timing with Romo is as amazing to watch as is his physicality. But what really impressed me Saturday night was his sideline interview with Mickey Spagnola. When Mickey asked him about Romo giving Miles Austin a turn at some catches, Dez politely pointed out that it was really all about the defensive presented instead. When he came to the line and saw the zone defense, he immediately knew that Miles would be the hot read. Bryant is showing maturity as a team leader and receiver, but also in his overall knowledge of the game by going beyond his position responsibilities to evaluate the overall defensive and Romo’s natural adjustments to it. I think we have someone truly worthy of wearing #88 in Dez Bryant.
4) We are taking the subject of turnovers seriously.
I know that creating turnovers has been of huge importance during training camp, but I am really surprised to see how well the players are responding to the challenge. On almost every defensive play, and I mean all the way through to the third team defense, I noticed that the second player to be in on a tackle was trying to strip the ball. That made a huge difference in last night’s game, as it has all preseason long for the defense.
As for the offense, I love the fact that Jason Garrett is so serious about turnovers that he benched DeMarco Murray for the rest of the first half after his fumble on an early Cowboys’ drive (and arguably also for the missed blocking assignment that led to Romo getting sacked on the first play). The message was crystal clear: Garrett won’t stand for it. Murray obviously received the message loud and clear because he had a tremendous performance in a second half drive that weighed heavily on his running and receiving game. He made up for his early mistake by going all out and just physically beating five Cincinnati defenders over the last seven yards to get a Cowboys touchdown. Good on you, Murray.
5) Special Teams suck really, really bad.
So far this preseason, we have watched missed field goals, had a field goal attempt blocked, had guys running the ball out from 9 yards deep in the end zone, fumbled punt returns, and now the punt team has allowed a run back for a touchdown. I can only hope this is all being done by scrubs that won’t make the cut to 53.
We are bad at special teams. I mean like “Bad News Bears” or “Major League” bad. But I think as long we can avoid ever having to kick or punt the football and avoid ever having to catch a kick or punt, we should be fine.
6) Overall, the Cowboys have a new mentality and it’s working.
There is a crispness and mental focus that I have not seen since maybe the Jimmy Johnson era. That alone makes me love this year’s Cowboys. The sense of entitlement seems to be gone and it seems to have been replaced by a “let’s cut our heads in and go to work” mentality. Football is a blue collar sport and for far too long the Cowboys have had a white collar mindset about it. I just really like the direction in which this team is headed.