Eatman: Forget Final Score, Avoiding Big Injury Was Crucial

OAKLAND – No, it didn't. And we should've expected it to.

If you came away from Monday's game, especially the first half, and said to yourself, "Man, that didn't look good" … Well, you'd be accurate.

The first game out of the blocks was not very sharp – on either side of the ball – but especially with the first-team offense. But you should've known that heading into this game.

And no, I'm not going to harp on the fact that starters Miles Austin, Phil Costa and Nate Livings were out on offense … because obviously they were. I'm sure the Raiders had a few defensive guys out of action as well.

It's called the preseason opener.

Say what you want about the 3-0 final score … but this game was a victory to Jason Garrett as soon as head athletic trainer Jim Maurer came up to him on the sidelines and said "none of the starters are banged up" or something to that effect.

Now the Cowboys did suffer one injury setback with rookie linebacker Kyle Wilber suffering a broken thumb, which will likely require surgery and keep him out 3-4 weeks. Not to downplay his injury at all, but the Cowboys overall have to be pleased that it wasn't much worse and they get out with only one injury and not one that should linger long into the regular season.

Because in a game like this, that's the only score that really matters, especially if you've already left 15 players back in Oxnard, Calif. and then rested another in rookie cornerback Morris Claiborne.

But there is another factor that needs to be figured into this mix, and something that in my opinion isn't getting enough attention.

This football team just began a preseason stretch of four games in 16 days. If that's not enough,  it's five games in 23 days and that fifth one happens to be the Giants opener on Sept. 5.

Think about that. In a normal regular season, you play three games in 21 days, maybe 22 if the last one is a Monday night game.

Yet, the Cowboys are going to play five games in 23 days.

Sure they've got 90 on the roster, but not all the time. They only had 74 for this one and imagine how the injuries might stack up when these games start coming fast and furious. Because when the Cowboys ended this game Monday night, they were back in Oxnard by midnight, with a day off to follow on Tuesday. It's two days on the practice field Wednesday and Thursday before a long train ride Friday to San Diego.

See, that's how it's going to be for the next few weeks.

So, you're asking, what does this all have to do with the first-team offense getting just 23 yards in three offensive drives?

Like I said way back at the top of this column: This wasn't a pretty effort. Like most things in life, it starts right up the middle and David Arkin, thrown into the center position just two weeks ago, was in over his head. Now, Arkin didn't play horribly and he got better as the game went on. Maybe that had something to do with the fact he continued to play all night and the competition likely got worse and worse.

Still, the fumbled snaps – something that was a daily occurrence in practice of late, was not a major issue. The shotgun snaps were seemingly good as well.

But where Arkin had problems was in the trenches. His size is a problem in the middle and when that pocket starts collapsing, it's hard for anything to function.

On a second-down play in the second quarter, it appeared Tony Romo was going down for a sack, but he scrambled away and found Jason Witten, who caught the ball, only to be popped for a 2-yard loss. It looked like Witten said, "That's it" and just walked straight to the sideline. He didn't play on third down but did re-enter the game on the next possession. But that third-down snap was another sack on Romo, suggesting once again the offensive line was getting overpowered.

DeMarco Murray really had nowhere to run in his limited action.

On the other side of the ball, the Cowboys gave up a few plays to Darren McFadden in the open field, but nothing to be too alarmed about. Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore had some issues stopping the run – they're not exactly Ratliff and Hatcher.

This team will get those guys back, along with Claiborne and Mike Jenkins as well.

Obviously this game was far from pretty. The guys out there had their moments struggling.

But don't forget, this is a race to the finish. It's not a sprint and it's certainly not a marathon. But the Cowboys have to be careful how they handle this 10K race.

So far, because of they escaped without major injury, they're definitely in good shape after the first few miles of this grueling stretch.

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