Jason Garrett and the staff have had a plan in place on how they were going to get this team ready for the upcoming NFL season.
Garrett didn’t have an idea of the number of plays that his players were to get but he had a plan to how long he wanted them to play. Garrett took his offensive starters into the third period against the Vikings last Saturday night and with more success in this game than in the previous games against the Broncos and Chargers.
In the practices on Thursday, you could see how he and the staff did more game planning for the Vikings, which led to some better results.
Offensively it was an even bigger test for this rebuilt offensive line because since-released starting center Andre Gurode was held out of the game not for business reasons. That meant that free agent rookie Kevin Kowalski started at center for Phil Costa, who suffered a knee injury in practice last week.
Kowalski did not play with the first team like he was overwhelmed or tentative in the position. In fact, the communication between Kowalski and right guard Kyle Kosier was outstanding.
Unlike most teams, where the center is responsible for the calls along the offensive line, the Cowboys do it differently in that Kosier will relay the calls and adjustments down the line to the other linemen. Kowalski was in step with Kosier and what needed to be done in the running game as well as the protections.
Kowalski worked last week at guard against the Chargers, but center appears to be his best position. Kowalski is not the strongest or the most powerful of blockers, but he plays on his feet. He can tie defenders up and keep position on them while he is on the move.
Kowalski will most likely be in line to play the entire game at center against the Dolphins this Thursday night, giving him a chance to claim a roster spot.
Staying along the offensive line, there was one other player that I wanted to mention for outstanding play: left tackle Doug Free. One of the most difficult jobs in the NFL is when you have to deal with the opponent’s best player and usually this is the rusher at right defensive end. For the Vikings, Jared Allen is that guy.
Allen has been one of the league’s most outstanding sack specialists for the last five years. He is a relentless rusher that is especially tough at the Metrodome. Free didn’t give Allen a sniff this game. Free was able to mirror Allen’s every move. It didn’t matter, outside speed rush or dip shoulder and inside rip, Free was more than up to the task.
In the running game, Free was able to attack Allen’s outside shoulder, reach him and pin him to the inside, allowing the ball to get to the edge. One of the main reasons that the Cowboys backs have had success running the football is the work of Free. Last season, he quietly went about his job and so far this preseason he is playing like a guy that is working to that next level.
Defensively for the Cowboys, there still are questions about how this team will get a pass rush when not blitzing and what needs to be done to make more plays against the run.
All along I have believed that the scheme would be better, but when you play this two-gap scheme, you play with your hands and leverage then you get rid of blockers. The Cowboys have struggled the most in that last area -- getting rid of blockers. Wade Phillips used a one-gap scheme where you just attacked the gap and went up the field.
Marcus Spears, the Cowboys’ best run defender, did not suit up for the game, but Jason Hatcher did after missing the Chargers game with a toe problem. Hatcher by far was the most active defensive end -- as he was in the Denver game -- taking on blockers and working his way to the ball. Hatcher showed a good swim move and hand use.
The defensive end that struggled the most was Kenyon Coleman. There were some snaps where Coleman was upright and tall when he came off the ball, allowing blockers to get to his body, then getting turned allowing the ball to get by him. Coleman cannot allow this to happen to him because Rob Ryan is counting on him to be that stout point-of-attack player.
In the secondary, safety Abram Elam looked the worst that he has all camp. Elam was one of those players that during practice always seemed to be in the right place and was the same way even in the Denver and San Diego games. Not against the Vikings.
It’s easy to see the misplayed ball that went for a touchdown to Bernard Berrian, but something else that bothered me was when the defense was struggling to slow down the Vikings rushing attack and Ryan brought Elam down in the box as the extra man, blitzed him and he was unable to make the tackle for a loss.
This defense cannot afford to miss tackles, especially when Ryan puts them in position to make plays.
On the good side, cornerback Mario Butler has outplayed Josh Thomas and has a good shot at making the 53. At one time, I thought that Bryan McCann was in this battle too, but I believe that he has made the 53 with his work this summer.
Butler is an interesting player in that he is such a smooth moving athlete that knows how to carry his man down the field. Vikings tried to run a double move on him and he didn’t bite at all. Have rarely seen him out of position, where Thomas has struggled more.
Thomas has struggled more this preseason finding the football, not only in the games but practice as well. Thomas is a physical player and has nice upper body strength but really needs more technique work.
If he makes the roster, it’s to protect a draft pick. Butler has outplayed him.