ARLINGTON, Texas – The Cowboys aren't as concerned with the 28-14 final outcome against the Vikings Saturday night, as they are with how the starters performed in the dress rehearsal.
This spot is usually saved for the five plays that changed the game. But in the preseason, when the goal is more to evaluate individuals and keep everyone healthy, let's focus on five other aspects of the game.
So the preseason version will include players, stats and sometimes plays that get overlooked.
Special Teams Issues? – Last week, it was pointed out here that the Cowboys were simply mixing and matching players in the preseason on special teams, trying to get through the games where backups play more on offense and defense. But in this game, what you saw on special teams might be pretty close to the real thing on Sept. 13. And if so, it's a bit alarming, considering that Minnesota's Cordarrelle Patterson torched them for a 107-yard touchdown return in the second quarter. Now, Patterson is one of the NFL's most dangerous specialists, but if you're using the excuse that "it's only preseason," the second-quarter runback might be reason to have some concern.
Sack Attack – In three games, Randy Gregory has recorded one sack in each of them, proving once again that he could be a second-round steal for the Cowboys. Don't forget he had another sack that was taken away on a very late penalty, Dallas getting flagged for defensive holding. Gregory has worked mostly against second-teamers on the offensive line, but he's making the most of his pass rushes. He leads the team with three sacks, and it should've been four.
Third-Down Woes – Here's an interesting stat: The Cowboys went 0-10 on third-down conversions Saturday, and get this, they weren't the worst of the two teams. The Vikings actually one-upped them with a 0-11 conversion rate on third downs. What's even more interesting is that Minnesota held the ball for 37:34 of the clock and never picked up a third down, other than by penalty. So credit the Cowboys' defense for getting off the field, but this offense obviously needs to improve that stat in order to keep the ball moving.
Vikings Held Back, Too – While it's still preseason and the Cowboys don't seem too alarmed with the final score, don't forget Minnesota sat out a pretty good player on their side of the ball. Running back Adrian Peterson didn't play for the Vikings, while the Cowboys were holding out both Dez Bryant and Zack Martin. That's a few Pro Bowls on the sideline. Yes, the Cowboys might have picked up a few more first downs with those two on the field, but it's likely the Vikings would've moved the chains some with Peterson in the lineup, too.
Flag Day – If this was a dress rehearsal for both teams, let's hope it's not that way for the officials. Both teams were flagged 11 times for a total for 176 yards in penalties. The Cowboys had 96 penalty yards. In the first two preseason games combined, the Cowboys had 11 penalties for 91 yards.