If this was a dress rehearsal, the Dallas Cowboys arrived fashionably late. When they walked through that door, however, they tantalized all guests present with their potential for pageantry. The Cowboys christened their new field turf and new stadium name with a resounding performance, a 24-18 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. The final score betrays the action that happened on the field when things mattered.
Dallas' starters, for the most part, played the entire first half. All the first-team defense did was force two turnovers, a fumble and an interception, en route to shutting out the Bengals' first-team offense. All the first-team offense did was march down the field on two efficient second quarter drives and score with relative ease. If that was any indication of what Dallas has in store for the regular season, this might just be a must-attend engagement for the in crowd.
Dallas retired its Ones at halftime, sufficiently satisfied. The first-team D escaped the preseason (assuming they don't play on Thursday) without surrendering a single touchdown. Tony Romo left the game 13 for 18 for 137 yards and two red-zone scores; one a back shoulder fade to Bryant and a second to Austin in the back of the end zone. On that play, Travis Frederick continued his fine preseason by picking up a twist and sending the defender flying.
Romo concludes his preseason with 10 drives, 26 completions on 36 attempts for 367 yards and two touchdowns. He connected with Bryant on his first 13 targets, finally throwing an incompletion his way on the final drive of the half. Bryant's stats for the preseason stand at 13 catches for 173 yards and a score.
Most eyes spent the first part of the game examining the Dallas Cowboys make-shift offensive line. The Dallas media was in a tizzy all week over Dallas planning to work right tackle Doug Free at right guard, as they try to work on contingency plans due to the myriad of injuries at the position. The team hopes that Ron Leary will be back in time for the regular season, but if not they have many questions to answer.
Although Free gave up a sack and was called for a false start penalty, he actually made several good blocks in both the run and the passing game on first glance. The problem was that for Free to play guard, Dallas played Jermey Parnell at right tackle and he did not acquit himself very well tonight. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who has played guard his entire career, had his share of problems moving over to the left side today. Both were beaten badly on multiple occasions.
The upshot could be that based on Free's adequacy, Dallas could look at either the tackle or guard waiver wire in their search for a solution.
The Cincinnati Bengals are a good football team, make no bones about it. They have a fierce pass rush that works from the inside out, and they have a quality secondary. This has to be taken into account when evaluating how Dallas' line performed. Geno Atkins is a serious problem for any and everybody and he was for Dallas' guards.
While the Bengals were able to crack the Cowboys make-shift line on several occasions, once Dallas escaped the shadows of their end zone they were able to hit a smooth, vanilla groove. Dez Byrant looked effortless in his domination of Dre Kirkpatrick and Leon Hall. Phillip Tanner began eating up chunks of yards.
The defense's bend-but-don't break philosophy was on full display. Cincinnati drove the length of the field on their first drive, but after converting a 3rd and 11 from the Cowboys 20 on bad coverage by Scandrick, he was bailed out by his secondary mates. Barry Church reached in and punched the ball out from Marvin Jones, allowing Brandon Carr to recover and keep the game scoreless. The defense would only allow one more first down until there were just five seconds remaining in the half.
The game was not without it's problems, however. Once again, the Special Teams looked nothing of the sort. On a first quarter re-kick after punter Chris Jones hit the Jerrytron, the coverage unit allowed Brandon Tate to race up the middle and to the sideline for a 75 yard return touchdown. The ST have been pretty putrid this preseason under new coach Rich Bisaccia. They've run into two players that called for a fair catch, had a field goal blocked, muffed a punt, fumbled a punt and given up a huge kickoff return. That was prior to the coup d'etat's punt return. It would be a shame if Dallas is forced to keep players on the roster strictly because of their special teams prowess, but that is looking likely.
Starting running back DeMarco Murray fumbled after breaking a tackle, and although the team recovered, it could have spelled disaster for the team in a meaningful circumstance. Head Coach Jason Garrett held him accountable, and Murray would not return until the second unit was in for the second half.
The second team defense made the same stand that the team has for the preseason; stopping Cincinnati once they got inside the red zone. They allowed a field goal (why Cincy didn't go for it in the preseason I have no clue) and then the second team offense with Murray took the field. Murray looked dynamic in his time on the field. Decisive cuts, stiff arms, and finished the drive with a spin move, a couple jukes, and a stretch for a receiving touchdown on a dump off from Kyle Orton.
That nine-minute drive effectively ended the game, putting Dallas up 21-10. On the Bengals' next offensive play, backup safety Jeff Heath cracked Coby Hamilton and forced Cincy's third turnover of the game when Micah Pellerin recovered. That put a bow on the Cowboys performance as both defenders are fighting for roster spots or practice squad invitations.
One player that isn't fighting for a spot is sixth-round pick Devonte Holloman. He continued his strong preseason with a sack to go along with his two interceptions. Holloman had a strip sack taken away from him last week and is earning a reputation as a playmaker. The next play, he made an open field tackle on third down that prevented the first.
Alex Tanney took over for Kyle Orton after his touchdown pass to Murray. Tanney struggled initially, but after Cincinnati brought the score to within three, proceeded to march Dallas downfield to ice the game with the help of Joseph Randle. Things started moving with a beautiful pass over-the-top to Andre Smith on 3rd and 10 from their 18. With just over two minutes remaining, Tanney found Tim Benford on a 3rd and 4 pass that took Dallas inside Cincinnati's 10. Randle would pound the rock on three straight plays before a chip shot for Bailey gave us the final margin 24-18.
Xavier Brewer would end the game on an interception of Josh Johnson after he was pressured by Thaddeus Gibson.
Now, Dallas will look to trim their roster down to 75 by Tuesday, most likely starting tomorrow. They will line up to fight for the Governor's Cup against the Houston Texans on Thursday night. and then it's time to prepare for the Giants.
Don't forget to check out Hard Knocks this week, featuring the Cincinnati Bengals and this game right here.
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