The elevator pitch on this upcoming season for every Cowboys fan was pretty clear: The offense should be great if the players are healthy and the defense just needs to be good enough for the team to reach playoff contention. As the team approaches their third preseason game against the Houston Texans on Saturday, it looks like fans will get a better preview of how the defense is looking and will have to continue to assume the offense will perform come September based on talent.
Before Friday's practice, Mike McCarthy said that the amount the starters will play on Saturday is different for the two sides of the ball.
"I think our defense will reflect more where you like to be in this third game," McCarthy stated. "You'll see more of those guys go the whole first half."
Unfortunately, the AT&T Stadium crowd will see less of the Cowboys' offense. "Because of the injuries and the combination of players on offense, you'll probably see the younger players on offense sooner."
In that limited playing time for offensive starters, McCarthy did however state he hopes to get Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and La'el Collins in the game for at least a short stretch. Ezekiel Elliott will not play, he said, and Dak Prescott is unlikely to play as he works his way back from a shoulder strain.
It will by no means be a conclusive test of what the defense will look like in the regular season, but it will be the best glimpse yet of a unit that McCarthy has been raving about for the past few weeks.
"I think the defense has done a great job in grasping the new concepts," McCarthy stated on Friday. "Anytime you have so much new from the coaching staff to the veteran players to the rookie class, the way this group has come together has been very impressive. They're clearly in sync."
Last season's defense frustrated Cowboys' fans, and there were insinuations that the players did not fully understand or fully buy into the coaching staff's defensive schemes and concepts.
Under new defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the defense has made apparent progress in camp. McCarthy gave the staff and players on that side of the ball high praise in comparison to other teams that he has coached over the years.
"From a historical standpoint, it's clearly one of the best years I've seen in the install phase of training camp," McCarthy said. "The missed assignments and the mental errors are as low as I can ever recall."