Here are five things to watch as the Dallas Cowboys visit the Miami Dolphins on Saturday night:
If Charles Clay and Knowshon Moreno, both recovering from knee issues, are cleared to play, the Dolphins will have their full arsenal of offensive weapons for quarterback Ryan Tannehill. It would be ideal for the first-team offense to put together a good performance against a Dallas defense that was historically bad last season. While the Cowboys have made improvements, that unit is still in the bottom tier of the league's defenses. That's why Tannehill, who is competing 75 percent of his passes in the exhibition season, should continue to smoothly orchestrate this new spread offense. The starters should play up to the first series of the third quarter because this is the dress rehearsal for the regular season.
The Dolphins have the NFL's worst rushing attack in the preseason, gaining 98 rushing yards on 47 carries. That's 2.1 yards per attempt, which is extremely troubling considering that's the aspect of the game head coach Joe Philbin began the preseason intent on improving. Shelley Smith has replaced Dallas Thomas as the starting right guard, and Smith is known as a more forceful run blocker. So maybe that switch helps establish more running lanes. But if it doesn't this team might be in trouble until Mike Pouncey's hip heals. It would also be beneficial to give Knowshon Moreno a test drive with the starting unit. But that would require Moreno to receive medical clearance from the team's trainers.
The Dolphins have put Marcus Thigpen on ice because of the thigh injury he suffered in last Saturday's win over the Buccaneers. That means this Cowboys game is Miami's opportunity to discover if they can move on without the team's return specialist the past two seasons. Rookie receiver Jarvis Landry, who produced a 48-yard punt return in the preseason opener and Damian Williams will handle the return duties this weekend. Thigpen has value as an offensive player, but his biggest impact is as the Dolphins' return specialist. It would be easier to cut him if a replacement is identified.
The Cowboys don't have a single difference-maker on any level of their defense, which means this is a great opportunity for second-teamers to showcase themselves with Matt Moore pulling the trigger. Tailback Damien Williams is still battling Daniel Thomas and Mike Gillislee for a spot on the 53-man roster, and if Thomas and Gillislee don't play because of their hamstring injuries, the rookie could use Saturday's game to lock down the spot. Armon Binns is on the outside looking in at receiver, but this would be a great opportunity for him to showcase himself to the rest of the NFL. And it would be nice to see the backup tight ends — Dion Sims, Arthur Lynch, Gator Hoskins or Brett Brackett — make some impact plays.
The Cowboys have one of the best skill player units in the NFL in Tony Romo, Jason Witten, DeMarco Murray, Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams, so this will be the best preseason test for Miami's first-team defense. Can the defensive front apply pressure to Romo without blitzing? Can Miami's lackluster linebackers contain Witten, and keep Murray from churning out first downs? Will Brent Grimes and Will Davis be able to cover Dez Bryant, who has emerged as one of the NFL's best receivers? The first half of Saturday's game will help us learn whether the Dolphins have a top 10 defense, or an average unit.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun