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NFL preseason Week 2 Bengals vs. Cowboys: Behind enemy lines

This week, we spoke with David Halprin of Blogging the Boys to get an inside look at the Bengals’ second preseason opponent, the Dallas Cowboys

Cincinnati Bengals v Dallas Cowboys Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

As the Bengals head to Dallas to face the Cowboys in their second preseason game, David Halprin of Blogging the Boys offered us some insights into the Bengals upcoming opponent.

We asked about the Paul Alexander / Frank Pollack swap, and the state of the Cowboys offense without Jason Witten and Dez Bryant, and a couple other questions.

SS: The Bengals and Cowboys essentially swapped offensive line coaches, with Frank Pollack going to Cincinnati, and Paul Alexander going to Dallas. That move was arguably the one that got Bengals fans the most excited in this past offseason. But from the Cowboys perspective, why did they let Pollack go, and what are the initial thoughts on Alexander?

DH: The Cowboys, of course, didn’t go into any detail about why they let Pollack go. So, we don’t have a concrete answer.

There is no doubt the offensive line took a step back in 2017. They were dealing with some injuries and shifting personnel, but there was a general consensus they just didn’t play up to the standards we had seen in previous years. Integrating some new talent, and coaching up some of the depth players, didn’t go well, so one could surmise the Cowboys put some of that blame on Pollack.

He also probably got caught up in the general assistant coach purge that happened in Dallas this offseason. The Cowboys cleaned most of their house except for a couple of guys, and the top tier of Jason Garrett/Scott Linehan/Rod Marinelli.

The Cowboys were unhappy with how their offense performed, especially over the last half of the season and decided to shake things up. It’s not a very satisfying answer on Pollack because no one knows for sure except those inside the organization, but there was a general sense the offensive line was backsliding a bit last season.

As for Paul Alexander, it’s just way too early to tell. In the first preseason game the offensive line did pretty well, the starters looked very good, and the backups were up and down as you might expect. But it’s impossible to know how his impact will be felt until we get into the season.

I’m curious about Dak Prescott’s progress as an NFL quarterback. Over the past two seasons, he has averaged less than 3,500 yards passing, despite playing behind one of the top lines in the NFL. Is the answer as simple as the offense focusing on featuring Ezekiel Elliot, or is there more to the story?

The fact that the Cowboys are a run-first team has a lot to do with Dak Prescott’s volume passing yard statistics. Dallas runs the ball a lot, they are among the league-leaders, and they should be with their offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott. So, it’s doubtful Prescott will ever be among the leaders in passing yards.

Of course, the Cowboys are more interested in his efficiency when passing and keeping turnovers to a minimum. There are other factors involved. As mentioned above, in the second half of last season he was under a lot more pass rush than usual as the Cowboys offensive line stumbled some, and the offense bogged down.

Dallas also didn’t have much speed at receiver, so teams weren’t scared to play up and compress the Cowboys passing game. Additionally, Prescott can sometimes be too careful with the football and could stand to take a few more chances deep down the field.

The Cowboys will never be league-leaders in passing categories, that’s just not their game, but Prescott is progressing well and is really not a worry in Dallas.

For the first time since 2009, the Cowboys will be without Dez Bryant and Jason Witten lined up together on the offensive side of the ball. What are the offensive expectations with both Witten and Bryant gone?

Jason Witten is one of the best to ever play the game, and Dez Bryant in his prime was a dangerous receiver. But both players had been in decline for the last couple of years.

Witten was just reaching that age where he was making plays on veteran savvy, he really didn’t have any burst left to his game. Bryant, through age, injury, and a change in quarterback, had been suffering declining production for the past few years.

Given their status on the team, though, they still got a lot of the attention on offense from Prescott, and that really didn’t work as well in 2017. The hope is that Prescott will go back to what he did in 2016 which was spread the ball around more.

The Cowboys are looking for receivers that are great route-runners who will create their own separation and be where Prescott expects them to be. That plays to Prescott’s strengths, but that really wasn’t Bryant’s game.

If it all works well, the Cowboys should have a wide spread of receiving targets instead of being concentrated on just a few receivers.

The Cowboys had a great season in 2016, going 13-3, and barely missing the NFC Championship game. I’m guessing around this time last year, most Cowboys fans expected another great season. After last year’s 9-7 campaign, what kind of expectations do the fans have for the 2018 season?

The expectations are high. Last season was kind of a strange one because at one point the Cowboys were 5-3 and playing very good football. Dak Prescott was having a great season and the team was ascending. Then the Ezekiel Elliott suspension happened.

At the same time, Tyron Smith got hurt and eventually Sean Lee did too. The Cowboys went to Atlanta and Smith’s replacement, Chaz Green, got destroyed by Adrian Clayborn (six sacks in one game!) and Prescott got a little jumpy and unsure of himself.

Not having Elliott didn’t help, and the defense without Sean Lee was stumbling. The team went into a tailspin, lost three games in a row, and tried to fight their way out of but it was too late.

So, the hope is with Zeke back for all 16 games and a healthy Tyron Smith should make a big difference. And the Cowboys have really worked hard to address some of the issues from last season.

They are taking a different approach on offense, and they brought in Kris Richard from Seattle who helped create the Legion of Boom. The team did a good job of recognizing their shortcoming from last year and are trying to rectify them.

Can you give us one Cowboys player who may be flying under the radar nationally, that Bengals fans should watch and take note of this Saturday?

I find these to be the most difficult questions because I never know who other fanbases know about on a team and who they don’t! So, I’ll just shoot some names out there that have been impressive.

Third-round draft pick Michael Gallup has been an impressive addition at wide receiver so far. He might not play a lot in the game, but he’s a guy to watch. Defensive end Dorance Armstrong is a fourth-round pick who has been tough to block so far.

Antwaun Woods was a low-level free agent signing who has climbed the roster into competing for a spot as a defensive tackle. Lance Lenoir has been among the best receivers at Cowboys camp and scored a TD in their preseason game. He’s a hot story in Dallas and just might force his way onto the roster.

Thanks to David Halprin for his time. You can check out his work at Blogging the Boys.