The Dallas Cowboys had an outstanding first quarter, a good first half, and hung on to a win against the St. Louis Rams in their first game since returning home from training camp. Of course, the final score is much less important than the really good outing by the starters and key backups.
In the pre-season, the real importance of the games is sorting out who you are taking into the regular season. The Cowboys picked up some players in the 2012 offseason who are expected to play major parts in this year's campaign. Here is a look at how those new players (that were on the field) acquitted themselves in the 20-19 win.
I am looking at them together. This was Livings' first game to play, and it saw 80% of the projected starting offensive line on the field together for the first time. There was some rust in Livings' game, and Bernadeau is still getting himself up to speed as well, but looking at the line play as a whole (which I have to for a quick post-game review), things were very good. Yes, there were mistakes, but most of the time Tony Romo had good protection and the time to find his receivers - and when your starting quarterback puts up 198 yards, two TDs and a guady 151.4 passer rating in one quarter of play, that says the line in front of him is getting it done. Things got a little ragged when Kyle Orton came in, until the rather impressive two (plus :42) minute drill that went from the Cowboys' own five yard line to the Rams' 13, from which Dan Bailey is about as automatic as you will see.
Running the ball went well also. DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones both averaged over five yards a carry (looks like the reports of Felix's demise were a bit exaggerated, thankfully), although as might be expected with the way Romo and Orton were slinging the ball, the passing attack was what shone.
To get my view of the rest of the new guys, take the jump.
I already mentioned the drive from the shadow of his own goalpost to set up Bailey. It was very well done and had the added benefit of giving the team an excellent opportunity to practice this situation in a game. The two sacks (including a fumble) he endured may have been partly because of the blocking, but also show that he does not have the Houdini-like skills that Romo possesses.
But if you need someone to come in and close out a game because Tony gets nicked, I don't know too many options I would rather have right now than Orton. I hope I never see that situation - but I will not lose hope if it comes around.
He was invisible on the stat sheet. Which would indicate that Sam Bradford, or Jeff Fisher, mostly did not want to challenge him. I call that a win.
The effectiveness of the running game early is an indication that he is going to be a valuable part of the team, even though not all that visible. But he showed up on special teams, getting in on causing a fumble on punt coverage. And if you did not see the Cowboys Network coverage, you missed an excellent sideline interview with him. The more I see of this guy, the more I think this was one of the wisest signings the team made this year.
He was the starter in the game, and it is clear that he is not as good in pass coverage as we could hope. He had two passes completed to his man that I recall. In the long run, I think Bruce Carter will become the starter. Connor was not totally incompetent, however, and has a valuable role on the team. He is still an upgrade over Keith Brooking and Bradie James, at least in my eyes. Just not as good as that Sean Lee fellow - which may also apply to all but two or three inside linebackers in the league.
He was beaten on some passes, not all of which Bradford completed, but there were some open receivers he was covering. However, there may have been a preview of coming attractions on the fourth down pass play when the Rams elected to go for it from the five rather than kick the field goal (which might have won the game for them, not that it matters much). Claiborne looked to have excellent coverage and got a hand in to bat the ball away. He is still growing into his job. I think we are going to be very proud of what he grows to be.
It was a quiet night for him, although the defensive line as a whole was keeping constant pressure on Bradford throughout the first half. He did not seem to hurt himself in any case.
Word is that he had a problem with his other hamstring in the game. The team may have to consider IR for Johnson. Fortunately for the team, Mana Silva is coming up big and looks ready to serve as a fill-in. Good for Silva, absolutely sucks for Johnson.
However, there is a possibility this may have been very minor and the team was just being cautious. Johnson said he did not hurt the hammy, just felt tightness. The big problem is whether the team is going to see enough to really make a good evaluation on him. (In related news, Danny McCray said he just had a stinger, should be back for practice Monday.)
Finally saw the field. Targeted twice, caught one for eight yards, and gained nine on an end around. But he may be too far behind to catch up. At this point, keeping him or not is going to be a bit of a risky call. I don't see him making it to the practice squad, but giving him a roster spot would be speculative to a degree.
I am so sorry, Danny. I will never have a football player as a pet cat again.
If there has been a real surprise from the draft this year, it has to be Hanna. He caught both targets that came his way for 37 yards. It looks like the tight end situation is in good hands this year, which is very different from what I thought early on. He is looking more and more like a real steal in the sixth round. Given the situation with Jason Witten and his now-famous spleen, this could not happen at a better time.
I cannot see how he does not make the team. Three targets, three catches, 40 yards. Based on watching the game live, it looked like he was not the first read very often, but he really knows how to catch. More importantly, he knows what to do with the ball in his hands. His YAC looks like it is going to be off the charts. I could see him as the primary slot player for three receiver sets, with Kevin Ogletree and Dwayne Harris the backups for Dez Bryant and Miles Austin. (And I think those are most likely the three, four and five wide receivers, in whatever order you like.) He just looks so good out there. The Cole Train is running full speed.
Three tackles, a sack, and a quarterback hit. I don't have a feel for how many snaps he took, but he keeps making plays when he is in. I don't know how many linebackers the team can keep, but he is right in the middle of that conversation.
No other UDFAs made significant impressions on me. That doesn't mean that the coaches did not see things they like, just that I did not notice much.
While we still have a ways to go before we find out whether these evaluations are accurate or not, it does look like the Cowboys have some real talent that they added this offseason. Even the ones that are not looking so good, like Johnson and Coale, are more injury related and not lacking in talent.
In ten days, we will find out for sure.