Football is back folks, and we are now able to digest the team’s first preseason action against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Cowboys ended up losing 28-24, but that is not an indictment on how this team played. In fact, they were up 24-7 on the Rams at halftime, only to not score a single point in the second half. Most will look at the scoreboard and say it was not pretty at all, but I think more good came out of this game than bad despite the loss. With that being said, here are my takeaways from Saturday’s game after breaking down the film.
– First and foremost, Lucky Whitehead was spectacular. His 101 yard kickoff return touchdown opened the game with a spark and showed how dynamic he can be with the ball in his hands, but I also want to focus on some lesser-known players who made this play possible. Keith Smith (41) and Geoff Swaim (87) were the first two players who made nice blocks on this return as they cleared a pathway for Whitehead at about the 13 yard line. Next up, Rodney Coe (67) and newly signed linebacker James Morris (40) did an excellent job pushing up the middle as they paved even more runway for Whitehead. The last player I want to mention is Rod Smith (45), as he created the last cutback lane for Whitehead. These players may not see meaningful snaps on offense or defense in the regular season, but it is plays like this on special teams that will earn them a roster spot.
– The story of the game was the debut from rookie quarterback Dak Prescott. Not only did he rise to the occasion with the first-team offense, but he exceeded expectations. With four of the five starting offensive linemen playing, Prescott was given a chance to make a clean throw each and every snap, and he delivered on every single one of them excluding Geoff Swaim’s two drops. He completed 10 of 12 passes for 139 yards and 2 touchdowns. I’m sure there will be people saying that with an offensive line that Prescott was playing with, he should’ve had a good night, but there were multiple throws that some veteran quarterbacks couldn’t even make. Whether it was the two back-shoulder fades to Dez Bryant on the left side of the field, the two difficult screen passes on his first drive, or the 22 yard play-action pass to Brice Butler, he was on the money. The throw that caught my attention the most was his 32 yard touchdown throw to Terrance Williams. Only a handful of quarterbacks can make the throw Prescott made here, as he put the ball right where it needed to be after an excellent “sluggo” route by Williams. Yes, I understand it was only one game, but his performance Saturday night not only gave the Cowboys front office confidence in their backup QB, but also a possible glimpse into the future.
– Defensively, a couple of guys that stood out in a positive way were linebacker Mark Nzeocha, cornerback Deji Olatoye, and the entire defensive tackle group in general. Both Nzeocha and Olatoye racked up an interception Saturday night, while defensive tackles Cedric Thornton, Shaneil Jenkins, Zach Wood, and Rodney Coe also shined bright. Thornton in particular showed an explosive first step, consistently disrupting the backfield early on. Shaneil Jenkins, a newly signed defensive end turned three technique really showed why this team brought him in. His quickness proved to be too much for the Rams’ guards, as well as getting a drive-killing sack on Jared Goff with a twist stunt. Many thought his home would be at defensive end when he signed here, but he fits the ideal mold of what Rod Marinelli wants in a one-gap penetrating three technique with his quickness and ability to rush the passer.
– On the other hand, there were a couple defensive players that stood out for the wrong reasons. The first one that came to mind was JJ Wilcox. He proved last night that he is already in midseason form with his poor tackling and miscalculated pursuit angles. If he wants to make this roster, he has to be able to provide something to this team, and without his ability to play on special teams, his time may be numbered in Dallas. Next is defensive end Ryan Russell, who has had a solid camp, but failed significantly against the Rams. He was unable to rush the passer with the success he has shown in camp as well as being a liability for the most part in the run game. On the Benny Cunningham touchdown, he was the first Cowboy who could have brought him down, but missed horribly as he went on 14 more yards into the end zone instead of being brought down at the line of scrimmage. He needs a bounce back week if this coaching staff is to have faith in putting him in a starting position for the future. Lastly, I was fairly disappointed by Kyle Wilber’s performance. He missed multiple tackles as well as drawing a holding penalty on a punt return. I was expecting to see a veteran-like performance out of a player with as much experience as Wilber has under his belt, but he looked like a lost rookie on Saturday night.
– There cannot be enough said about how hard Darius Jackson ran on Saturday despite the lack of running room he was given. He was not given the luxury of the starting offensive line, but still found a way to get yards. He showed nice vision and lateral quickness on runs that looked like they were going nowhere, lowering his shoulder as he finished. Overall, a very solid performance out of a running back that I hope gets a chance behind the first offensive line. With that being said, I thought both Jake Brendel and Bryan Witzmann did not play up to par when they were given a chance with the second group.
– Speaking of offensive linemen who did not play well, the biggest disappointment of the night in my opinion came from offensive tackle Chaz Green. Drafted in the third round of the 2015 NFL draft, Green was expected to replace Jermey Parnell as the swing tackle for this team, but missed the entire season with a hip injury. He was given a pass, and people expected him to make the leap this year, but if Saturday’s game was any indication, the swing tackle spot may be one of the biggest question marks on the Cowboys roster. He drew three penalties, two holding calls and one for clipping, and was taken to the woodshed by the Rams pass rushers. If not for Jameill Showers and his houdini-like escapability, his night would have been even worse. Chaz Green must improve on his performance against the Rams, and if he fails to do so, this team will be better off finding a swing tackle off of the street.
– Although Jameill Showers and his group did not score a single point in the second half, I thought his individual performance was something to build on. He showed natural poise in the pocket, accuracy on his throws, and mobility to extend plays. We all saw the play where he somehow kept his balance on a spin from Chaz Green’s missed block and completed a 47 yard throw down the sideline to Vince Mayle. This is what a mobile quarterback can do for a team as Showers is able to extend plays with his feet that are otherwise dead in the water. One of the biggest question marks of the roster going into Saturday night was the quarterback depth behind Tony Romo and if they needed to sign a veteran to back him up, but with Prescott and Showers showing up the way they did, those concerns have been alleviated for the time being.
– Lastly, there were a couple of young players that did not live up to the hype that they received in training camp. The first was wide receiver Andy Jones. Throughout camp, many pundits, including myself, thought that he had the best chance to stick on this roster as the sixth receiver because of his sure hands. However, as a player that relies on his hands to make an impact, he dropped a couple of key passes in the game that could have extended the drive. Add that to his missed tackle on a Pharoh Cooper punt return that ended up going for 25 yards when his tackle could have stopped him right as he caught it. For a team that is probably going to carry five wide receivers, a receiver like Andy Jones has to stand out on both offense and special teams to make this roster as the sixth guy, yet Saturday night’s game was a disaster for him. Another player that has shown promise in camp, but failed to show substance against the Rams was tight end Geoff Swaim. He was responsible for dropping two of Dak Prescott’s only incompletions of the night, both of which were routine passes in the flat that can be replicated by positional coaches throwing them in drills. He did however make an incredible catch between two defenders later in the game, but he must become more consistent in his play to show these coaches that he deserves a spot on this roster.