Learning The Hard Way

you understand why Phillips said, and just a tad tongue in cheek, that if Ellis makes it back for the walk-through practice the day before the Sept. 9 season opener against the Giants he would start the 10th-year veteran. The Cowboys need Ellis' ability to play the run. 

The good thing, though, is these defenders were not just writing this one off as one of those things, or saying, hey, no biggy, it's just preseason. 

"It's a concern because it's a game," defensive end Marcus Spears said. 

Good for him. 

Then there was the offense. OK, the Cowboys only scored 16 points, but they weren't totally lousy. The Cowboys did pile up 291 yards with the first-team offense playing nearly three full quarters. Quarterback Tony Romo was good, although did have two more bobbled snaps. 

But the Cowboys, for the first time in preseason, could not seem to run the ball, gaining just 57 yards on 21 carries, with no run longer than Julius Jones' 12-yarder. And to think they had gone for 323 in the other two games. 

Now this is just a hunch, but there just seemed to be so many Texans on or around the line of scrimmage, as if they were playing with 13 and the Cowboys with nine. Now maybe the offensive line just had one of those nights. 

But it just seemed the Texas had no fear of crowding the line of scrimmage. It just seemed the Texans were quite willing to take on the Cowboys receivers in man coverage. It just seemed the Texans were playing unusually brash up front, even blitzing, if you can imagine a team having the audacity to blitz in preseason. 

To me, then that means the Texans had little fear of anyone running past their defenders, knowing that's not Patrick Crayton's game, which would allow them to concentrate on Terrell Owens, who really only managed to get loose on that crossing route for the 35-yard touchdown. 

Wonder if they would play so aggressively with Terry Glenn on the field? Wonder if they would trust their off corner, the one not on Owens, to take on Glenn in man coverage? 

My guess, probably not. 

But without Glenn, the Cowboys can't seem to challenge a defense deep. Crayton does what he does well, but that's not him. Sam Hurd continues to solidify himself as the fourth receiver (four catches, 68 yards), but that's not him. Miles Austin still is a work in progress, and as Isaiah Stanback said last week, his touchdown grab notwithstanding, he's still trying to perfect his stance. 

"They kinda hit us in the mouth before we hit them in the mouth," said Romo, who also realized the offense was forced to punt three consecutive times to start the game, something the Cowboys had not done with the starters in the first two preseason games. 

"We put ourselves in situations where not everything is honky-dory." 

Now the good thing, besides this being preseason, is this: The Cowboys thoroughly expect Newman to be ready for the season opener, and now you know why they did not take a chance with him playing Saturday night and will not play him Thursday in the final preseason game. He's that important. 

The Cowboys thoroughly expect Terry Glenn to be ready for the season opener, and because they realize how important Glenn is to what they do, they will not even ask him to play any of the four preseason games following his knee surgery one week into training camp. 

Ellis would seem to be a thoroughly different story since he has not even practiced since the first 30 minutes of the first training camp practice back on July 25 while trying to return from last year's surgery to repair a torn Achilles. But Phillips and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones seem to think Ellis playing in the opener is not far-fetched. 

Maybe it's wishful thinking, but when a team decides to attack your defensive weaknesses, as it appeared the Texans did here Saturday night, now you know why they are so hopeful. 

So write off this third preseason game as a learning experience, for them, for me and for you. Thank goodness. 

Because if not, what a waste this night would have been.         

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