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Friday, August 8, 2014
Three thoughts on Day 16 of Cowboys camp

By Jean-Jacques Taylor

OXNARD, Calif. -- Three thoughts on Day 16 of Dallas Cowboys' training camp:

1. You can’t get fooled by anything you see in a preseason football game, especially the first one.

Randle
Several starters, including Tony Romo, didn’t play against San Diego, and the Cowboys did little game-planning for this game. Still, you should be pleased with play-caller Scott Linehan’s first game calling plays for the Cowboys.

San Diego stopped Joseph Randle for no gain on the game’s first carry. Normally, the Cowboys would throw the ball on second down. Instead, Randle carried again. This time he gained 10 yards and a first down. He gained six yards on his third straight carry.

Then Brandon Weeden faked a handoff and thew a deep post to Dwayne Harris, who dropped a pass that was a tad high. Harris had created so much separation that he might have scored had he caught the ball. The Cowboys finished the first half with 17 passes and 15 runs, and that’s with Weeden throwing seven straight times to end the half.

No one expects the Cowboys to have a 50-50 run pass ratio, but anything over 62 percent passes is not a winning number for the majority of NFL teams. Only New Orleans made the playoffs throwing the ball that much -- and they have to be considered an outlier because their team is built to play that way.

2. A defense playing the Tampa 2 scheme isn’t supposed to give up big plays.

The entire defense is predicated on making the offense drive the ball methodically down the field until it makes a mistake or the defense makes a play. The Cowboys gave up a league-high 252 plays of 10+ yards last season, and the preseason game didn’t reveal much improvement.

Few starters played Thursday, but conceptually it’s still a tad surprising to see the defense allow so many big plays. Dallas allowed 14 plays of 10 yards or more, including five of more than 20 yards. Those 14 plays accounted for 297 yards; the Chargers gained just 98 yards on their other 44 plays.

The defense will obviously improve as the starters begin to play next week, but the big plays will continue to be concerning until they stop happening so frequently.

3. The starting offensive line did a nice job creating running lanes, and the pass protection was nearly flawless.

The one time Brandon Weeden did get pressured, he stepped up into the pocket and scrambled for positive yards. The strength of this team will be the offensive line, and they showed quite a few positives in one series.

Key number: 27

The Cowboys had 27 players who didn’t play against San Diego, including 13 starters or key contributors. Most weren’t hurt, and the Cowboys didn’t want to take a chance anyone would get hurt. Even a key role player such as Lance Dunbar spent the game on the sideline.

Player to Watch: Uche Nwaneri

Nwaneri has started 91 of 95 games the past six seasons for Jacksonville. He will be fortunate to make the roster, an indication the one thing head coach Jason Garrett has done right is re-build the offensive line.

Mackenzey Bernadeau, who plays center and guard, is the sixth offensive lineman and Jermey Parnell will probably be the third tackle and seventh lineman, though he needs to play better.

If the Cowboys keep an eighth offensive lineman, Nwaneri is probably competing against a player such as John Wetzel, a 23-year-old with a year of experience, who can play guard and tackle. Nwaneri is the better player now, but will he be at the end of the season? And do the Cowboys want to pay him $855,000 instead of the $495,000 Wetzel would earn?

Nwaneri is a solid veteran and the Cowboys wouldn’t have any issue using him in a game, but he must be considerably better than a youngster to earn a roster spot. Especially because the Cowboys usually only dress seven lineman on game day, and he would be inactive most weeks because Bernadeau can play two positions.