In a preseason tilt where they were missing several pieces key to regular season success, the Cowboys execution was outclassed tonight by that of the San Diego Chargers, 20-7. The teams entered the contest as a perfect matchup to gauge each side's progress to this point of the preseason. Air Coryell offense? Check. 3-4 Defense with a first year coordinator? Check. Disappointing 2010 campaign that saw a perceived Super Bowl contender miss the playoffs? Check. The teams even shared a practice and a scrimmage late last week. If there was a circumstance for Dallas to see progress in the preseason, this would be it. However, the Cowboys offense was only able to muster one scoring drive, and the defense relinquished four of them to the Chargers. Miscues cropped up on both sides of the ball, masking stretches that resembled a competitive squad.
As is always the case with preseason results, take the score with a grain of salt. There were a few things to like in the game, but just as many things that elicit concern, and maybe even memories of last year's shortcomings. Some of those come with a caveat of preseason personnel, but they should still be considered areas of interest. The true assessment of the team's performance will be vetted out over the week as we dive into deeper analysis here on BTB.
For now, follow the jump for a first reaction to some things we saw on the field tonight.
-- Turnovers, penalties, ugh. Two fumbles lost, an interception and seven penalties for 68 yards. A couple of the penalties negated big plays. Jason Garrrett is probably going to make them run. Alot.
-- The Cowboys were downright awesome on third down offense, 8 for 12. They were 50% on defense, getting 6 stops on 12 tries (includes a fourth down offensive success).
-- While the Cowboys were missing WR1 Miles Austin, RB2 DeMarco Murray, and RB3 Tashard Choice, the Chargers offense was missing TE1 Antonio Gates and LT1 Marcus McNeil. On defense the Cowboys were without Terrence Newman, Mike Jenkins, Jason Hatcher, and Keith Brooking; the Chargers matched by missing Shaun Phillips, Jacques Cesaire and more. Regardless, NFL team success hinges on being able to plug holes without a major dropoff. Last Thursday against Denver, the bottom of the Cowboys roster were able to beat out the Broncos backups. Denver isn't on the same level as San Diego, and the Cowboys proved just that tonight.
-- Things started off relatively well on defense. The Rob Ryan scheme was on display early, sending secondary pressure on the second and third snaps of the game. After a three and out, the team gave up a big bomb to star receiver Vincent Jackson. San Diego moved all the way down to goal to go, then got a coverage sack and a forced fumble on consecutive plays. A great pass deflection in the end zone by Barry Church forced the field goal. Very solid effort by the first stringers.
-- Someone get Rob Ryan's starting cornerbacks on the field so we can see if this defense is going to work, please. By the way, how much of a stinger does Mike Jenkins have? Doesn't it become something else at this point?
-- Of the players that did play, Felix Jones probably made the biggest impression on offense. He stuttered, juked and broke through tackles on seven carries, gaining 56 yards. Fans should definitely be excited about Felix this season as he clearly looks ready to be a first string back. He even made a great chip block on a 3-4 DE.
-- To go along with Felix's accolades, the first team offensive line was great in run blocking. Even with Lonyae Miller's hesitation (6 carries, 9 yards) the team averaged 5.5 yards a carry. I remember one great pull block by Kosier after a Witten seal.
-- Pass protection, hit or miss. One of my notes had a asterik, as Doug Free got abused by a rook and forced Romo to step into the NT to be slammed on an incompletion.
-- Tony Romo made a just horrible throw into double (triple?) coverage to end the second drive. He had all the time in the world and didn't seem to locate Eric Weddle playing center field, who made the easy pick.
-- Dan Bailey made an awful opening kick, no hang time it seemed, and only to the one. The coverage unit was not able to find the correct lanes and the returner brought it out to the 37. It was a little too reminiscent of 2010 special teams play.
-- There were three skill position players that showed extreme fight, legs always grinding away. Dez Bryant, Felix Jones and Phillip Tanner. Tanner had a Jason Witten moment, continuing the play after having his helmet ripped off of him. With the Chargers still in pursuit, he reached the end zone. Unfortunately, an illegal shift brought the play back. It wouldn't have counted because of some dumb rule, but he earned a lot of cool points with his teammates on the sideline. Tanner also made a special teams play and is serving notice he wants to make the team.
-- Dwayne Harris was only targeted one time this game, with no catches. I have to check the tape to see how he did, but that definitely puts a cap on the 3rd receiver competition talk for a couple days. He was caught on tape needing a reminder of what to do by Romo, and that may have taken him out of favor. Of course, Garrett could have seen what he needed to out of Harris and wanted to use game two to evaluate everyone else. A third devil's advocate view: JG thinks he's raw due to practice performance and wants to sneak him on the PS, but couldn't risk another big catch. Not likely, but possible.
-- The backup inside linebackers made some good plays. Kenwin Cummings was credited with 6 tackles, but Orie Lemon really brought attention to himself with his 5 stops. Lemon was flagged for a horse collar, but I'm more forgiving of penalties made out of aggression (as opposed to mental penalties like shifts, and line of scrimmage infractions. He's making it hard for the Cowboys to allow Bruce Carter on the field if he isn't 100% ready to go.
-- Note to Garrett. I love all the screens, keep them coming. However, don't hand the rock to Chris Gronkowski any more. K? Thanks.
-- The second string defensive line of Igor Olshansky, Josh Brent and Sean Lissemore entered on the third defensive series. The team had kept the linebackers and secondary on first team status. Olshansky was seen at linebacker depth after the snap on more than one occasion, Josh Brent gave up a first down on with an encroachment penalty. Jason Hatcher's return pushes Coleman back down to this unit, but it wasn't a great day for those wishing to see a lot of Ratliff off the nose.
-- When that drive made it to 1st and goal from the 10, the Cowboys put Spears and Ratliff back in the game. They made a run stop, then on second down Spears bolted through the line from RDE and forced Rivers to make a quick through. Unfortunately Alan Ball didn't pass of his man, leaving the right side of the end zone wide open for a touchdown to the tight end.
-- Tough luck on that Sensi should've been interception. Two wrong rules were brought to light by the Cowboys tonight. Toe heel? Please. What if you toe-tap and hop out of bounds, and the heel doesn't touch initially? The play is whistled dead when a helmet gets ripped off? Whatever. Play football, apply common sense.
-- Snap judgement on Smith and Arkin. Smith good, Arkin, growing pains. Much more to come later in the week on their performances. I need to also watch the tape to see what Nagy and Costa did.
-- Romo to Witten still works, really well. On the Cowboys lone touchdown, Romo scrambled to buy time, caught Witten's eye and gave him a quick thumb to the left. A second later, touchdown.
There really is so much more to get into, and it will all be covered starting tomorrow here on BTB, For now, use the comment section to discuss what you took away from this game.