Seattle Game Important for Many Reasons

The Cowboys' initial foray into the exhibition season last weekend against the Arizona Cardinals was a little like you found your birthday present before the big day: you're so eager to see what's inside each present that you almost don't care that it's another … damn … sweater … from … your … grandmother.

Once you see the sweater, you can reassess what you really wanted, and figure out a plan to go about getting what's really on your wish list.

That's sort of the situation in which the Cowboys find themselves. Like every team, the Cowboys were sick and tired of seeing each other across the line of scrimmage in practice every day, and players spewed the same rhetoric in interviews about how eager they were to finally hit someone who doesn't know every play they're calling. But once the game began, it was evident that the Cowboys' wish list remained lengthy.

So as the Cowboys gear up for Monday's game at Seattle, here are a few things to watch.

Stay healthy
Just like last week, "staying healthy" is priority No. 1. Think there's no risk involved when teams get together for a meaningless game in August? Just ask Jacob Rogers. Or better yet, go ask Rex Grossman. The preseason is one week old, and already the medical bills around the NFL are beginning to mount.

The Cowboys must remain healthy, especially at key positions, including running back, cornerback, and the offensive line.

Spotlight

WR Patrick Crayton
Spotlight: Patrick Crayton
When the Cowboys drafted Crayton in the seventh round last year out of Northwestern Oklahoma State University, the near-unanimous response was … "um … who?" The former small-college quarterback was seen as an extraordinary athlete with a chance to contribute as a rookie -- on special teams. But Crayton quickly developed into a viable option in the passing game, officially announcing his arrival when he caught the winning touchdown in a last-minute win over the Washington Redskins.

The 6-foot, 210-pound Crayton no longer is just "one of the receivers not named Terry Glenn or Keyshawn Johnson." He has become an important part of the Dallas offense, even leapfrogging over Quincy Morgan as the most likely candidate to be the team's third receiver this year (although Parcells insisted this week that no such pecking order has been finalized).

Crayton is is faster than any Dallas wide receiver other than Glenn, and has become much more polished running routes. Parcells said this week that one thing he likes about his second-year wideout is that the game never seems "too big for him," referring to Crayton's poise and composure that belies his youth. As he continues to improve his grasp of the offense, he should get even better.
Quarterback play
Last week, the play of backup quarterbacks Drew Henson and Tony Romo was listed as one of the key areas of focus for the Dallas coaches. After the impotent attack shown last week against the Cardinals, all Dallas passers can be included on the list of those who need to show more. Judging Drew Bledsoe's performance was tough — he wasn't in very long, and he had a re-vamped offensive line in front of him. However, when he was in the game, he wasn't overly effective. He got hit by an Arizona defense that, admittedly, was scheming to get players to Bledsoe while facing a relatively inexperienced Dallas offensive line. Romo and Henson each have shown signs of improvement from last year, but one of head coach Bill Parcells' favorite elements in quarterback play is consistency, and neither is consistent. Parcells has, at times, used the phrase "driving the bus" to describe the quarterback's role in his offense. Translation: the quarterback doesn't have to win every game himself, but he does have to limit mistakes, thereby helping his teammates get in position to make the plays that win games. Parcells has been relatively positive about the training camp performances by Henson and particularly Romo, but they need to show improvement to let their coach breathe easily if anything should happen to Bledsoe.

Right tackle
From the Department of Redundancy Department … this position was identified as an area of focus last week, and the Cowboys' array of candidates did nothing to alleviate Parcells' concerns. The Dallas coach shied away from ripping the right tackles in press conferences this week, but anyone who saw the Arizona game saw a series of performances that did nothing to ease concerns. Rogers -- who was the odds-on favorite at the beginning of training camp to take over the position -- left the game with a knee injury, rookie Rob Pettiti showed some promise but at times looked overmatched, and Torrin Tucker continued his habit of penalties and mental mistakes. Parcells might have to abandon his preference of leaving Kurt Vollers as the swingman reserve, able to fill in at either tackle spot, or the team might snatch up a veteran tackle who gets cut by another team.

Will the 3-4 add up?
Arizona quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Josh McCown barely broke a sweat Saturday night, and probably turned in their uniforms free of grass stains after the game. The Cowboys' new 3-4 defense -- touted as a scheme that would allow for increased pressure on opposing quarterbacks -- generated none. To be fair, it was the first game for Dallas running the new scheme, and it was run in its simplest, basic form, with few, if any, stunts implemented to create mismatches with Arizona blockers. And new NT Jason Ferguson -- seen as a vital cog in the new scheme -- and rookie DE Marcus Spears didn't play. But rookie DeMarcus Ware was the only Cowboy defender to get anywhere near the Cardinal QBs, and he didn't get close quickly enough to record a sack. Rookie DE Chris Canty might yet prove to be the steal of the draft, but he just recently returned to the field after watching mini-camps from a stationary bike or while attached by an exercise cord to assistant trainer Britt Brown. The additions of Anthony Henry and Aaron Glenn mean the cornerbacks will be vastly improved, but if the front seven doesn't generate any pressure, the secondary will more closely resemble the group that struggled last year.


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