FRISCO, Texas – It might be the most overused cliché of every August – the concept of the third preseason game being the “dress rehearsal game.”
Obviously, it’s a cliché for a reason. NFL clubs tend to play their starters the most during the third preseason game, which means it’s the closest thing we’ll see to the regular season before the Cowboys kick off on Sept. 11.
If we’re following the trend, that means we can expect to see Tony Romo and Co. take the field for roughly a half of football on Thursday night at CenturyLink Field. They’ll get four or five series to work out the kinks against a top-notch Seattle defense before they sit down for the rest of the preseason and focus on the New York Giants.
It sounds great in theory. Give Ezekiel Elliott a chance to work with the first-team offensive line. Let the pass rush continue to work together and develop some chemistry. Test Dez Bryant’s effectiveness against one of the best secondaries in football.
All of that is well and good, but none of it should apply to Tony Romo.
I can picture Jason Garrett wincing all the way from here. I know, it bucks the Cowboys’ mantra of “one day at a time” to purposefully sit the starting quarterback for the most important preseason game of the year. Every player in the NFL can benefit from more reps, and Romo would certainly stand to improve by going against such a talented defense.
But you know what? If anyone can stand to take a night off, it’s a 14-year veteran and four-time Pro Bowler. Having successfully undergone surgery on his clavicle in March, Romo went through a complete offseason program for the first time since 2012. He’s looked sharp in camp, and he was solid in his limited outing against Miami last week.
You know who needs a true dress rehearsal more than Romo? Dak Prescott.
The rookie has dazzled, as I doubt I need to remind you. He is lighting the world on fire with a nearly-perfect preseason, and he is raising all kinds of questions about whether the Cowboys even need to bother signing another quarterback.
What better way to answer that question than by throwing him into the fire against the Legion of Boom?
Even for a preseason game, CenturyLink Field represents as tough an environment as you can expect to see in the NFL – at least for a half. The likes of Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas and Michael Bennett present easily the toughest challenge Prescott has seen to this point in his NFL career.
If he can pass that test, what else is there to worry about? Three-straight preseason successes, against that level of competition, would cement Prescott as the backup quarterback in my mind. Who could they possibly hope to acquire in the next two weeks to improve on that?
On the converse side – what does Romo hope to gain? Hope much does he genuinely hope to improve with a handful of series in one preseason game, especially given how much he has participated already?
[embeddedad0]This is the part where Cowboys fans will remind me how rusty Romo was in the 2014 season opener, when he went 23-of-37 for 281 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions against San Francisco.
The only problem with that argument is that Romo got a solid workload during the 2014 preseason. He played two series against Baltimore in Week 2 of the preseason, and he played an entire half against Miami in Week 3.
Romo’s struggles two years ago were far more about his lessened participation in the offseason – and the fact that the 49ers finished No. 5 in total defense.
He’s been the Cowboys’ starting quarterback for a decade. He’ll be ready to go in Week 1, regardless of whether he plays against the Seahawks. Why risk having him get hurt if Chaz Green – the likely starter at left tackle on Thursday – fails to protect his blindside?
It’s all about risk versus reward, and the risk of injuring Romo in a meaningless game is not worth the reward of letting him sharpen his skills for a 30 minutes.
But how rewarding would it be to watch Prescott shine as a starter in Seattle and settle this backup quarterback debate once and for all?