IRVING, Texas - Some thoughts from Valley Ranch before the Cincinnati Game:
- This will be a huge challenge for this Cowboys offensive line to have to deal with the front seven of the Cincinnati Bengals for three quarters. Mike Zimmer has an outstanding group of defenders to work with. In going back and studying their preseason game with Atlanta, they physically man-handled the Falcons front.
Geno Atkins plays at the under tackle and can really be a handful when he attacks the outside shoulder of the guard. Domata Peko at nose will test Travis Frederick when he has to make that reach or cut off block. These linebackers are active and now with long time Steeler, James Harrison in the mix, it's a nasty group. Through three preseason games, this first unit of offensive linemen protection wise, has been up to the challenge of keeping Romo and Orton upright where the improvement needs to come is having more opportunities to run the ball in this zone scheme.
- When these two teams met last season at Paul Brown Stadium, it was the worst games that I had ever seen A.J. Green play in his career, pro or college. Green is one of the league's most dynamic receivers and when he gets its rolling on the outside, he can be a nightmare to deal with. Last week, Brandon Carr and Orlando Scandrick got a taste of Larry Fitzgerald, this week, it's Green.
Where Green will test these corners is with his vertical speed which is something that you do not have to deal with that much when you mark Fitzgerald. But like Fitzgerald, the way he goes about catching the ball is similar. I have observed games where Green has contorted his body in all positions to make a catch. He is fearless across the middle, physical on the slant and nimble along the sideline.
What makes this matchup interesting is that both Carr and Scandrick have done a nice job of battling Dez Bryant all camp, so working against Green will continue to get them those elite snaps. Green has been a little banged up this preseason but even in that condition, it's a nice matchup.
- In the opening game of this preseason against the Dolphins, Bill Callahan was committed to running the football and doing his best in the manner in which he saw fit to make that happen. The offensive line, tight ends and backs did an outstanding job of working together and making that happen.
In that game, DeMarco Murray sat on the sideline and watched as his teammates controlled the Dolphins with a physical, downhill style that many had not seen from this club in a while. I have mentioned earlier that running the ball against the Bengals front will not be easy but if Callahan does decide to test his troops again, it's going to be up to Murray to carry the mail early.
From what I have seen from Murray this training camp is a player that has a bit of a chip on his shoulder in trying to prove his critiques wrong that he cannot last an entire season as this team's starting running back. Murray's preseason numbers are not anything that stand out but this game sets up as an outstanding opportunity for him to show that he has in fact done everything in his power to have the type of season that this squad needs him to have.
It's going to take a strong, physical effort by Murray to run the ball against this front seven but that's what you want to see from him going into this opening game against the Giants.
- When you are watching this game on Saturday night, pay close attention to whom these coaches are using off the bench early in this game. Study the rotation patterns of the wide receivers and the defensive line. Is Phillip Tanner playing before Joseph Randle.
Make sure you take a close look at these special teams. Not so much who might be playing on the kick off team but who is lining up on the punt and punt return teams. Those are usually clues what the coaches feel about the young players and where they might fit in on the 53. See how they are using Jeff Heath, Caleb McSurdy, Cameron Lawrence and Anthony Armstrong,because these are your bubble players.
As much as we all want to believe that the last game of the preseason can change the minds of the front office and coaches, it's really not the case at all. From my experience in this league working in player personnel, you generally had your team cut by the time you get to that last game. This game on Saturday night could change the NFL lives of the players on this squad, good or bad.