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Wednesday, September 1, 2010
Will vanilla offense turn into rocky road?

By Matt Mosley
ESPN.com

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys coach Wade Phillips came to his senses Tuesday in announcing that most of his starters would not see the field against the Miami Dolphins on Thursday.

In the aftermath of Saturday's lousy dress rehearsal in Houston, Phillips had entertained the idea of playing his starters in an attempt to find some rhythm on offense.

His theory is that the risk of losing a key player to injury isn't worth the potential reward of resembling an NFL offense for a series or two. I may be in the minority, but I'm actually more worried about the defense than the offense right now. The defense is nearly always ahead of the offense this time of year, but the Cowboys have been physically whipped at the line of scrimmage by the San Diego Chargers and Houston Texans. And can you believe that Texans coach Gary Kubiak had the audacity to -- gasp! -- game plan for the Cowboys. How dare this former Aggie send Mario Williams on a stunt against the Cowboys' vanilla preseason offense?

On Tuesday, I arrived at Valley Ranch hoping to ask some offensive linemen how the offense could only produce 13 rushing yards in a preseason game. I tried to soften up Alex Barron by initially asking him "How is this locker room different than the Rams'?"

"This one is shaped a lot differently," said Barron, as serious as he could be.

Between sending text messages to his loved ones, Barron reminded me that the preseason doesn't have much of an impact on the regular season, which is actually supported by numbers that I'm not at liberty to disclose at this time.

Realizing that Barron was wincing after each question, I thanked him for his time and moved on to the next lineman, Pro Bowl right guard Leonard Davis. (Side note: Davis confirmed to me that he's likely the fastest offensive lineman on the team).

Davis, who began his NFL career in Arizona, said the Cardinals were known for their preseason prowess when he was with the club.

"I don't buy into the theory that preseason can predict how a team's going to do in the regular season," Davis said. "We used to get on a roll in the preseason and then we'd get pounded in the real games. It can go either way. But people who think preseason is a determining factor are stretching things."

When I asked left guard Montrae Holland if he's concerned that the running game has been nonexistent, he seemed genuinely hurt by the question. He believes the Cowboys' vanilla-based preseason offense is the only thing slowing down the running game, and he fervently believes that holes will appear against the Redskins on Sept. 12.

If there's any carryover effect once the regular season starts, rest assured that owner Jerry Jones will be criticized for holding one of the longest training camps in league history.

"I understand our fans' concern," Jones said Tuesday. "It's as understandable as it can be, but I look back at the experience we've had in preseason and it hasn't impacted how successful we've been in the regular season. I think our best seasons have been when we traveled the most, and those kinds of things."

When Phillips indicated last week that his players were worn out physically and mentally, Jones said that wasn't the case. After all, he'd just watched Phillips lead his players through a handful of helmetless practices.

Of course, none of this will matter if the Cowboys take care of the Redskins on Sept. 12. And for the record, I think they will.

Then we'll have to find something else to panic about. I think Cliff Lee's a good place to start, by the way.

Matt Mosley covers the NFC East for ESPN.com and the Dallas-Fort Worth sports scene for ESPNDallas.com.