Tim Cowlishaw: Why the Cowboys are a complete mystery heading into this season

You can say the Cowboys’ protection had two jobs to perform Saturday night time towards the Oakland Raiders and failed them each. That is what makes the quick-approaching 2017 season – regardless of an offseason virtually solely devoted to upgrading the protection – an entire thriller.

Whereas enjoying a 5-recreation exhibition schedule, one which’s too lengthy by at the very least three video games in most sound minds, the Cowboys got only one alternative to face a prime-flight quarterback or something near it. Actually, the one starter they performed (or will play) aside from in Saturday’s recreation was the Rams’ Jared Goff, who has been the antithesis of elite regardless of being chosen 134 picks forward of Dak Prescott a yr in the past.

The truth that the Raiders would play the league’s highest-salaried quarterback, Derek Carr, for a full half within the “gown rehearsal” recreation provided a chance to gauge how the membership has rebuilt the protection after dropping Brandon Carr, Mo Claiborne, Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, Terrell McClain and Jack Crawford in free company.

However with too many minor accidents to the younger secondary replacements, the Cowboys’ patchwork protection permitted Carr to compile a one hundred forty.three passer score whereas going thirteen for 17 for one hundred forty four yards and two touchdowns in two quarters. The second landing was notably alarming as a easy pretend by Carr allowed Amari Cooper to separate the protection of Anthony Brown and Byron Jones – these aren’t replacements, these are opening day starters – for a forty eight-yard rating.

And the protection continued a streak that it’ll gladly finish a method or one other Thursday when the preseason reaches its conclusion. Opponents have thrown 133 passes with out the Cowboys accumulating an interception. If this can be a group that is going to enhance on takeaways, it is saving them up for September.

In fact, second-spherical decide Chidobe Awuzie has barely performed within the preseason and third-spherical decide Jourdan Lewis has barely been seen in any respect, collaborating in a single apply. So any plans to switch Carr and Claiborne by way of the draft have been stashed on maintain.

On prime of that, the Cowboys have been trying to get their starters via this expanded preseason with no main damage. They’ve sufficient hamstring tweaks already. However when the excellent news is that linebacker Anthony Hitchens will miss simply eight weeks moderately than the complete season as feared – he suffered a fracture within the knee quite than a torn ACL – that is not precisely information that one celebrates.

Whereas Sean Lee and Jaylon Smith are the beloved figures at linebacker, based mostly on one’s play and the opposite’s comeback and potential, Hitchens is a vital, strong participant for this workforce. He began each recreation a yr in the past, and a few thought he was nearly as good as any defender in Oxnard. With the power to play all three positions, Hitchens did precisely that as a rookie, beginning quite a lot of video games instead of Rolando McClain, Justin Durant and Bruce Carter.

Now Hitchens is the one who’s out, and the Cowboys want Durant, a late signing, to rise up to hurry to hitch Lee, Smith and Damien Wilson within the linebacking combine towards the Giants Sept. 10.

Toss into the combination the truth that the season will start with out David Irving and Damontre Moore up entrance, and this figures to be a restricted and considerably inexperienced protection that takes the sector towards the group seen as its chief competitors within the NFC East.

Now some would argue that there’s nothing new right here, that the offense carried the Cowboys to a thirteen-three report in 2016 and that each one arms are on deck, with the notable exception of operating again Ezekiel Elliott. His destiny stays undetermined though the attraction definitely will not get rid of his suspension altogether and the probabilities of an injunction getting him onto the sector to face the Giants appear distant.

Regardless, the Cowboys’ offense might be explosive with or with out Elliott, and might want to step it up a notch or three upon his return. However the concept the protection performed little or no position a yr in the past is flawed. This was a troublesome staff to attain towards (fifth within the NFL), and if Carr and Claiborne fell in need of Professional Bowl high quality, they have been definitely competent.

So for those who assume the standing of a barely hobbled Odell Beckham Jr. is a minor thriller for Sept. 10, contemplate the protection he’ll face to be an entire unknown.

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