The Cowboys opened the pre-season with a physical 16-7 win over the Bengals. Dallas' defense resumed where it ended the 2009 regular season. The first two defensive units kept the first two Cincinnati offenses from crossing mid-field.
Brandon Williams, Victor Butler and Jason Williams, the 2nd year trio of linebackers who saw so much of their collective '09 wiped out by injury, led the charge. Brandon Williams troubled Bengals left tackles as a rusher and intercepted a pass, setting up Dallas' third field goal of the night. Butler showed a strong overall game, blanketing backs and looping inside to sack a Cincinnati quarterback in the 2nd half.
The third stringers made their share of plays. Linebacker Brandon Sharpe closed Dallas' scoring by intercepting a Jordan Palmer pass and returning it for a touchdown. The Cowboys came within a minute of a shutout, but Jordan Shipley's long punt return set the Bengals in a goal-to-go situation which they converted.
The game confirmed much of what we and others have reported during the first two weeks of camp. The Cowboys possess a deep, talented defense and have strong skill position offensive players, but face a shortage of offensive line depth.
The Cowboys first offense got just one series and marched from its own 28 to the Cincinnati five in thirteen plays. The unit mixed plays from the base 21 set and the 11 package and saw Miles Austin get an early first down with a deep out on Bengals standout Leon Hall.
The offense then overcame a 1st-and-20, produced by an Andre Gurode hold, with Roy Williams converting 3rd and 12 with a 21 yard deep in. Romo was given time by F-back Jason Witten, who lined up in the backfield and knocked out a blitzing Bengals inside linebacker.
A superbly timed stop-fade to Patrick Crayton over Pacman Jones put Dallas in first-and-goal at the five. Here the team got a break when an offsides penalty negated a Felix Jones fumble into the end zone, which the Bengals recovered. Safety Roy Williams put his helmet on the ball, knocking in from Jones one yard from a score. Dallas then misfired on three straight passes, leading to a short David Buehler field goal. This was it for the starting offense.
The first-team defense also got one series and forced a Bengals punt after five plays. Cincinnati gained a quick first down on a seven yard out to Terrell Owens, but Stephen Bowen pressured Carson Palmer into an incompletion on the following 3rd and 6.
The Dallas second team offense then got a series against the Bengals starters and Jon Kitna moved his guys from the Dallas six into Cincy territory. Two long completions to backup F-back John Phillips produced two first downs. Kitna hit Phillips up the left seam for 24 yards and then converted a 3rd-and-8 with a 16 yard pass outside the right hash.
While the second team skill position guys made plays, the second team line showed by depth remains a big concern. The right side looked shaky and became even moreso when Robert Brewster moved to left tackle to spell Alex Barron, who left with an ankle sprain. Pat McQuistan and Sam Young struggled to protect Stephen McGee, who took over from Kitna after the number two completed two series.
At this point, the backup parade finished out the game.
-- Phillips out? An early report says John Phillips may have suffered a torn ACL in his right knee. The MRI will come on Monday.
-- Gesek Watch: unless something dramatic happens with Mike Tepper's game, I think the team brass may order its scouts to look hard for a backup interior offensive lineman to acquire. Tepper looks okay for an undrafted rookie, but he's not starter ready and yet, he's the only guard who inspires even a modicum of confidence. Montrae Holland has a hamstring injury and could be out a while. Pat McQuistan is all or nothing. When he whiffs, he whiffs completely. He can move guys backwards when he's blocking straight ahead, but McQuistan cannot consistently block quick tackles or ends coming at him on stunts. Travis Bright had the same difficulties when he played some guard in the second half.
-- Early candidate for assistant of the year: Reggie Herring. He's improved the coverage half of Victor Butler's game tremendously. He's done the same for Brandon Williams, who rushes about 80% of the time. Williams picked a pass tonight and made it look easy. Jason Williams didn't make any howlers tonight and we have yet to see Sean Lee, who didn't dress. He may be the best of this bunch.
-- Why Tashard doesn't start: All the Choice partisans should look to a play in the 2nd quarter where Choice missed his man coming off the edge. The OLB hit the QB and forced an errant pass. Better consistency on passing downs will get Tashard more overall reps.
-- One position at a time. Robert Brewster looks rough, but less so on the right side. He played a lot at left tackle tonight and made some assignment errors. He completely missed his man on one play, as Choice did, and got Stephen McGee slammed.
-- Some 1st team reps? McGee showed a strong arm, and a more decisive head. He never got into a rhythm, however, because he was running for his life half the time. The right side of his line simply could not contain pressure.
-- Rookie curves: Jamar Wall looked better in the first half, facing the better Bengals receivers. Jordan Palmer picked on the 4th round pick in the second half, completing three passes to Matt Jones, whose odd stride had Wall off-balance.
We'll do this again on Thursday night, folks.