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3 & Out: Solid D; Dak's Response; WR Plan?


FRISCO, Texas – This is my 12th year covering your Dallas Cowboys, and I've never started a season with so much still left to learn about a football team.

There's the coaching turnover (eight new assistants on Jason Garrett's staff).

There's the roster youth (average age 25.5 years).

There's the veteran change-over (former captains Jason Witten and Dan Bailey and an emotional leader, Dez Bryant, no longer here).

I can't remember circumstances like these since I got here full-time in 2004, when Bill Parcells was already a year into his Dallas reclamation project.

We're still gathering answers about the 2018 Cowboys. One game – no matter how good, or in this case, how ugly it got in Carolina – doesn't yield enough evidence.

With that in mind, here's something I know, _think _and still question about the Cowboys as Week 2 approaches.

I Know…

Cowboys brass isn't panicking about Dak Prescott and the offense. It's just too early. There are too many new pieces. Ten new players, including five new starters, played against the Panthers. They know penalties and sacks basically wrecked their first four drives in the first half. They really didn't give themselves a chance to have success.

However, there are trouble signs that date back to last November with largely a different cast of skill players around Prescott and Ezekiel Elliott. With and without Elliott in the lineup, they've failed to score double-digit points in five of their last nine games.

Prescott missed some throws Sunday. Elliott couldn't find any running room in the first half. The Panthers' front seven was a challenge for the Cowboys up front.

The second half was a step in the right direction based on some scheme adjustments and better execution. But the offense absolutely must get back to second-and-6, third-and-2, those types of down and distances, so Prescott can find a comfort level. It doesn't get any easier against the Giants' defensive personnel.

And with some of the opposing quarterbacks on this year's schedule . . . eight points plain won't win you games.

I Think…

the defense is headed for a nice step forward this season if Sean Lee's missed tackles are the primary gripe about the group's opening performance.

Linebacker is the deepest position on defense – possibly on the entire team – and Lee takes Witten's old mantle of team's biggest perfectionist. He had a forgettable game last year at Denver and was much more sound the following week against Arizona. If anyone can clean things up quick, it's him.

The most encouraging part last Sunday was how the young secondary closed windows on Cam Newton. Kavon Frazier did a nice job starting for Xavier Woods at safety and might have to do the same again this week. The front seven got pressure and held Carolina to 40 yards rushing in the second half.

Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli will probably preach 'missed ops' this week. Dallas got one takeaway but had a chance at two more (fumble recovery, interception). Overall, a solid start.

I Have No Idea…

what the Cowboys' wide receiver rotation will look like a month from now. Do they keep playing all six? Do they pare it down?

Here's the final snap count against Carolina (of a possible 64 plays):

Cole Beasley – 43
Allen Hurns – 38
Deonte Thompson – 30
Michael Gallup – 29
Terrance Williams – 19
Tavon Austin – 10

The biggest surprise was Austin's 10 snaps. Thought he might be in line for at least double that in several different spots, though he did get one jet sweep in the game.

Perhaps the coaching staff is still evaluating the best situations for using each guy. I asked Garrett this Monday and his response was, "We think each of those guys has some strengths and they have some different things that they can bring to our offense and give them opportunities to do it. Line up in different spots and do different things to help attack the defense. We didn't play well enough offensively (Sunday).

"But we do think as we go forward that mixing those guys in and giving them all an opportunity to contribute will be a good thing for our team."