1. The Cowboys have put a big emphasis on the running game and appear to be using action and not just words when doing it this summer. They ran the ball on six of their first eight plays in the preseason opener against the San Diego Chargers. They ran it on nine of 14 plays run by the first-team offense last week against the Baltimore Ravens. The Cowboys believe the strength of their team is the offensive line, highlighted by three first-round picks in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, and want to build a physical identity. But this will also be the last time the starters play before the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the San Francisco 49ers and there is a timing that needs to be built up between quarterback Tony Romo and his pass-catchers, like Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley. Balance is a big key for an offense, but the Cowboys might look unbalanced tonight.
2. The secondary will remain a work in progress into the regular season, but cornerback Brandon Carr will make his preseason debut. He missed the first two weeks of training camp to be with his family with the passing of his mother. He put pads on for the first time this summer on Tuesday after the coaches worked him in slowly. With the officials making illegal contact a point of emphasis this summer, Carr knows he will have to be on point with his technique early. Morris Claiborne is not expected to play because of a shoulder injury and Sterling Moore will be available after not playing the first two preseason games because of a groin injury. B.W. Webb, whose chances to make the roster improved with Orlando Scandrick's four-game suspension, will not play because of a hip flexor. That will give rookie Tyler Patmon more time in the slot and the chance to earn a job. Rookie safety Ahmad Dixon will return after he was benched by the coaches last week for showing up late to a walk-through. He had a team-high 12 tackles in the preseason opener at San Diego.
3. Like the secondary, the linebackers are a work in progress as well. Bruce Carter, Justin Durant and Kyle Wilber have started the first two preseason games, but rookie Anthony Hitchens took some first-team snaps at middle linebacker with Durant and Carter manning the outside spots. The Cowboys have twice tried to elevate Rolando McClain to the No. 1 defense in camp, but both times he was unable to finish practices because of injuries. The first was a case of knee tendinitis. This week he suffered severe cramping and missed Wednesday's practice. The Cowboys also lost DeVonte Holloman for the season with a neck injury. He was among the candidates to replace Sean Lee in the middle, but now those options are Durant, Hitchens and McClain. If McClain can show some sort of dependability over the next two weeks, then he could be their starter on opening day against San Francisco.