The Dallas Cowboys and Cincinnati Bengals wil meet in Dallas this Saturday for their second-to-last preseason dress rehearsals. With only one two more exhibitions remaining before the regular season gets underway, both teams will be concentrating on position battles and determining which players will make the final 53-man roster.
The Cowboys are 0-2 in preseason play. They lost to the Oakland Raiders, 19-17, in their first game, then fell, 12-7, to the Arizona Cardinals in their second. Cincinnati is unbeaten, having defeated the Atlanta Falcons, 34-10, and the Tennessee Titans, 27-19.
Meet the Cowboys
The Cowboys have finished at .500 and missed the playoffs in both of head coach Jason Garrett's two full years at the helm, and pressure is mounting for him to return the Boys to the postseason. Whether or not that happens will rely heavily on the play of Tony Romo, who received a shiny new contract and a larger role in the team's offensive planning this offseason. He'll certainly have the weapons to succeed -- DeMarco Murray is a solid option out of the backfield and, despite his off-field issues, Dez Bryant is developing into one of the league's best receivers.
To reach the playoffs, Dallas will have to improve on the defensive side of the ball, where it ranked in the bottom half of total defense, passing defense and rushing defense in 2012. The team boasts a talented front seven -- one anchored by end DeMarcus Ware and linebacker Sean Lee, who recently signed a contract extension -- but has questions in the secondary that must be addressed.
Meet the Bengals
The Bengals are a team on the up-swing, having steadily increased their winning percentages over the past three seasons. They finished 10-6 in 2012 and reached the playoffs for a second consecutive year. The team has a host of weapons on offense, beginning with dangerous wideout A.J. Green, who looks ready to go after a three-week bout with a knee injury. The coaching staff is hoping the connection between Green and third-year quarterback Andy Dalton, who threw for 27 touchdowns last season, continues to blossom. Second-round pick Giovani Bernard joins BenJarvus Green-Ellis in a solid backfield.
Cincinnati returns a host of key starters on a defense that ranked sixth in yards allowed last season, and the offseason addition of James Harrison will only make it better. The 35-year-old linebacker may be getting up there in age, but he continues to produce, racking up nine sacks last season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Local Takes: Cowboys
Injuries along the offensive line have been a concern for the Cowboys, who have seen two lineman go down in camp with injuries and have been forced to reshuffle accordingly. Dave Halprin at Blogging the Boys is particularly concerned with the guard position.
Let's start with Mackenzy Bernadeau, maybe I have some kind of bias but I can't figure out why the Cowboys view him as a starting guard. He never made his mark in Carolina where he was mainly a backup, he's been injured each offseason here, and played very poorly through the first part of last year. Yes, he got better in the second half of the season, but so far in preseason games he's been suspect. Don't believe what anybody else tells you, just go watch the games he's played in. He's slow getting across the defensive lineman's face in zone blocking and he's not a solid rock against pass rushes.
Local Takes: Bengals
Running back Dan Herron is battling for a roster spot with the Bengals, and while his contributions were largely limited to special teams play in 2012, Josh Kirkendall of Cincy Jungle writes that his recent performance on offense is bolstering his chances to make the cut.
Now he's producing as one of the team's workhorse running backs in the second half of games, while currently tied for the league lead with 111 yards rushing. Herron generated a career-high 81 yards last Saturday and surpassed the four yard/rush average milestone for the first time in his career against the Titans. But he knows one preseason performance doesn't mean much if you're not improving.
Follow the Fun
Add these fine follows to your Twitter timeline:
Cowboys ink Lee thru 2019.. I like deal. Pay him for obvious potential, leave yourself an out (low glee, playing time bonuses each year)— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) August 21, 2013
In the past year, the Bengals signed Maybin (No. 11 in '09 draft), Harvey (No. 8 in '08 draft) and Anderson (No. 8 in '07 draft). All gone.— Josh Kirkendall (@CincyJungle) August 18, 2013
@robphillips3 - Cowboys beat writer
Love Sean Lee (who doesn't?) but I would've waited into this season before extending him. Like it or not, health has been an issue.— Rob Phillips (@robphillips3) August 21, 2013
@joereedy - Bengals beat writer
LB Brandon Joiner carted off and into the stadium— Joe Reedy (@joereedy) August 22, 2013
The line has Dallas favored by three points, though some books have the spread as low as 1½, according to Oddshark.
Next Thursday, both teams get their final dress rehearsal before the curtains open on the regular season, with the Cowboys in a Lone Star State showdown against the the Houston Texans and the Bengals taking on the Indianapolis Colts.