Since this was the first game we got to see the starters in preseason, I was curious about how they looked. Tony Romo was coming back from back surgery, Sean Lee and Bruce Carter hadn't been on the field for a while, same with Barry Church. So I went back to the game tape and took a very close look at the first two series on offense and defense for Dallas. My review follows.
On the first defensive series for the Cowboys, they dominated. If not for one missed tackle, the series would have been a total dud for the Raiders. Note: Nick Hayden got plenty of time as the 1-tech with Jason Hatcher running at the 3-tech. On the first play, the Raiders attempt a run to their right. Even before the play DeMarcus Ware and Justin Durant recognize the formation and alert their teammates to a run to the Raiders' right. Both players knife through, track down the line of scrimmage and Ware makes the tackle. Beautiful execution. The second play was a short swing pass that should have been stopped for a short gain but Barry Church whiffed on the tackle. This set up third and short, which the Raiders converted on a run but the Cowboys did clog the line of scrimmage very well, they just didn't penetrate.
The next play was the highlight. Dallas blitzed the slot corner (Orlando Scandrick) and Sean Lee from the same side. Scandrick got picked up but the running back never saw Lee coming, he has a clear lane to the QB. Meanwhile, Jason Hatcher is working his man and actually arrives at the QB and touches the football milliseconds before Lee plants the QB for fumble. Hatcher turns and falls on the ball. Overall the defense was dynamic on this series, only Church's missed tackle marred perfection.
The Cowboys first offensive series was a thing not of beauty, but a thing of frustration. On first down they tried a run for DeMarco Murray to the right side. The blocking from the offensive line is perfect. Doug Free and Mackenzy Bernadeau have drive their men deep off the line. The side is wide open. Except for Jason Witten who struggles with his block and gets called for holding. A good 8-10 yard run is wiped out. The next play is a screen, again it's set up perfectly for Dallas. Bernadeau and Travis Frederick are out front, tons of open space, it looks like a huge play but the ball is tipped at the line. Two plays perfectly set up but fail for lack of execution. Don't blame the play calls.
Second down rolls around and it's a pass play, the offensive line gives Romo all day to throw the ball. The coverage must be outstanding because Romo holds the ball forever scanning the field and finally gives up a sack that was on him, not the offensive line. On third down, the Cowboys just try to get some yardage for a shorter FG attempt. Romo has a clean pocket and completes a pass, Cowboys eventually kick the FG.
On the second defensive series Dallas started substituting. Ware sat in place of Kyle Wilber and they brought in some other guys. This series was frustrating because Dallas couldn't get the Raiders off the field on the money down. This was long series so I'll just hit the highlights. Ernie Sims made a couple of nice plays stuffing the run. The Cowboys tried another slot corner/LB blitz on a third down, but this time they showed it too soon, the Raiders picked it up and B.W. Webb gave up an easy completion for a first down. On the same play, though, Bruce Carter was covering a TE down the seam one-on-one and had him smothered! The Cowboys were doing a good job of clogging the middle of the line and stuffing the run. Nick Hayden deserves some props in this regard. Church whiffed on an open-field tackle again in this series, but came back to stuff the run hard at the line of scrimmage on another play. Kyle Wilber didn't make plays that made the stat sheet, but twice he stood up the TE blocking him to turn a run play into traffic. And once he had good pressure on the QB and should have drawn a holding flag, somehow the refs didn't call it. He showed a little progress in this series. Finally, the series was stopped when Sean Lee closed on a receiver and knocked the ball away. Lee and Carter are beasts.
On the Cowboys second offensive series, they had some good plays but also suffered a few breakdowns. On the first play the faced a delayed blitz but Bernadeau and Murray combined to pick it up and keep the pocket clean for Romo who completed a pass. The Cowboys tried a run to the left next but Doug Free got beat on the backside of the play and Tyron Smith struggled with his block making it just a short gain. Romo then managed to connect with Austin but Bernadeau got bull-rushed back into Romo's space. Luckily Austin was open and Romo used his quick release to avoid a problem. After a broken-play slant to Bryant which seemed like more luck than design, the Cowboys ran a pass play using run-play blocking. In a pseudo play-action scheme, they pulled Bernadeau to the left and everybody else blocked down right. One problem, Bernadeau whiffed on his block against the defensive end forcing Murray to take the rusher and hang on for dear life. He managed to do enough for Romo to complete a pass to Dez. The Cowboys then tried a run to the left but both Smith and Leary got bottled up on their blocks so not much was happening. On their last play before the FG, Bernadeau and Travis Frederick were in a double-team block against one guy, but still got pushed back into Romo, Tony scrambled away and completed a pass to Murray but it was short of a first down.
Overall impressions: The defense looked good. They were able to hold the point of attack along the interior with Hatcher and Hayden, and Ware managed to make a play in his short time. The linebackers, especially Lee and Carter looked like this defensive scheme was made for them. Ernie Sims also continues to impress. Barry Church had a tough time early, he needs to shake off the rust.
The offense had a lot of good things that could have happened, but they failed to execute. Romo wasn't the sharpest on the first drive but started to find his groove on the second drive. Dez gave a glimpse of the greatness we expect from him this year. The line was okay, they didn't have any jailbreaks and could have had some big gains that were thwarted through no fault of their own. Bernadeau is still the weak link in my view, if they can replace him with an upgrade things could really take off. Doug Free looks so much better this training camp and preseason, if that continues it will be a big relief.