Ah, the joys of unexpected overtime. I get to hang out at work, likely with nothing to do until 3 am, all for time and a half. Fortunately, I have the Cowboys' game to reflect on.
I got to about halfway watch the game on the internet while doing my job, plus went through the first quarter recap Spaceball thoughtfully put in the thread. Missed the very end, dang it, but I do know one thing:
It is so good to see some football again.
So here are some first impressions, and my suggestion for one very telling statistic.
There was so much we didn't get to see. Dez and Miles never got a real chance to catch anything, there were all the injured players out, and the Cowboys had mostly third stringers and camp hopefuls on the field by early in the second quarter. Still, there are a few observations to make.
The secondary is still very unsettling to watch. WIth Rat out, Orton and Tebow exploited them early on. After the team went to the bubble players, there was still a lot of up and down. Josh Thomas showed a couple of flashes and I don't think he hurt his chances. But Ryan and Campo have a lot of work to do.
The Miller vs. Tanner issue is going to be very interesting. Miller just didn't do much while Tanner seemed to really take advantage of his opportunity. Not what I was expecting at all.
Stephen McGee continues to divide the community. Started slow, but absolutely clutch down the stretch. I keep hearing comments from the coaching staff that sound like they are pleased with his progress, and in the last game of 2010 and this preseason game, he does show some ability. 14 for 24, 208 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT is a pretty good line for three quarters of work, and he definitely got stronger as the game went on. This leads to a bit of speculation about the future. Right now early reads on the 2012 quarterback crop in the draft don't project it to be too deep, but if it gets to looking a little better, then the Cowboys might have to think about picking a QB in the first round, parting ways with Kitna and going with McGee as the number two next year. Then they have two players to work with to try and have a replacement ready for the sad day Tony Romo is no longer a Cowboy. But that is a topic to consider months from now.
The wide receiver corps may have some depth. Harris certainly had a great game. If tonight was an honest indication of what he brings to the team, the first four WR slots seem to be Austin, Bryant, Ogletree and Harris. That fifth spot now has Holley, Radway, Poots, Johnson and Williams all scrapping for it. The new kickoff rule rather complicates the decision, since a kick returner looks to be a lot less important. This looks like a real head scratcher.
Smith and Arkin were not terrible. I am very interested to see what the hardcore analysts here come up with, but I think our O line is going to be all right this year despite a strong infusion of youth. Or maybe because of it.
Getting the win makes this a feel good game. I didn't get the strange unease from this performance that I felt last year after the first preseason game. I know that a lot can change, but right now, I still feel more optimism than pessimism about the coming season.
Here is my stat of the night: 6 penalties for 59 yards. In the first preseason game. That is a statistic I think the team could live with in a regular season game. In the first preseason game, I am impressed. Of the ten teams that played tonight, only New England did better, going 4 for 25 yards. Even with the Patriots rather impressive numbers included, the other teams averaged 8.5 penalties for 67.7 yards. The Broncos managed to commit half our team total on one play.
Look back at the last five regular season penalty stats for the Cowboys:
Our first preseason game, playing a bunch of people who will never make it in the NFL, with the starters just getting a slight whiff of game time, we had fewer penalties and about the same number of penalty yards as the team has averaged over the last 80 regular season games.
I seem to remember many games where I wanted to hurl my remote through the screen over another idiotic penalty that killed one of our drives, or gave the opponents a gift first down. I remember some very angry posts on this site about the stupidity of it all, and I have only been here for the past two seasons. People kept asking over and over why the team was so lacking in discipline that it kept making these mistakes.
Perhaps it was just that, a lack of discipline. And when I see only six penalties called in what should be one of the sloppiest performances of the year, I have to believe that discipline has arrived in Dallas. That means focused players, even the ones with little or no hope of making the team. It is the payoff of having referees in practice from day one. It is a harbinger of good things to come. And in my opinion it is for a very simple reason.
Jason Garrett has brought back the Cowboy Way.