After a long, long offseason, the Dallas Cowboys finally have a football game under their collective belts. Not only that, they get to jump on the plane back to Oxnard feeling pretty good about themselves, after defeating the Miami Dolphins 24-20.
Thanks to the timely induction of Larry Allen and Bill Parcells, Dallas was selected to take place in the Hall of Fame game against the Dolphins. If you were looking for Hall of Fame performances in the game, however, you came to the wrong place.
Not that there weren't good, even great performances; to the contrary. It's just that any player with a current HOF trajectory didn't get onto the field today. No Demarcus Ware, no Jason Witten, no Tony Romo. No Dez, Miles, or Rush Hour members Sean Lee and Bruce Carter. No Carr, no Claiborne... and those were the healthy scratches.
There were numerous starters that were held out of the contest for both the Cowboys offense and defense. With the ball, Dallas only fielded LT Tyron Smith, RT Doug Free and C Travis Frederick from their initial depth chart that was released right before the game. Without the ball, Sam LB Justin Durant was the lone starter to be in the lineup.
For those in the know, though, this game isn't about stars and starters. It's about the players trying to break into the starting lineups, become the primary backups, or just have a shot at making the team. These games are all important to them, and tonight's game proved to be everything that some could have hoped for, and a jump-off point for others.
Several players made big impressions. First and foremost among those, street free agent George Selvie. Selvie is a fourth year guy out of South Florida who was picked up when Dallas needed rotational help along the line. He showed up off the plane making plays in his first practice and turned it into a great performance tonight, notching two sacks and having several other disruptive plays. "Unknown" guys, Nick Hayden and Jeris Pendleton also made nice plays in the middle of the defensive line.
On first impression, we saw what we wanted to see out of Monte Kiffin's defense. There was regular pressure in the backfield, as the team collected three sacks with several pressures. Whether you want to connect it to the fact that there were backups manning all of the positions, we also saw the downside of everyone being "rushmen". There were several times at the start of the game when running lanes were huge and unencumbered. There were also several catches that occurred with nary a Cowboys defender in close proximity. For the most part, though, the first three defenses tackled and played well, with Sterling Moore and Micah Pellerin having some rough patches.
The fourth stringers would allow a two-minute drill last minute touchdown to the Dolphins when the game was already decided. Preseason is all about situational football and I'm sure Kiffin and Marinelli will have some things to "coach up" the fourth stringers on.
The defense came through in clutch situations, stopping the Dolphins twice on fourth downs and stiffening on a first and goal from the five. A stuff and then a 14 yard sack by Selvie forced them into a field goal after Dallas had raced to a 17-0 lead.
On offense, the Cowboys rolled out their two, three and four TE packages for all to see. There was an early play where Donte Rosario was the second TE in 12 personnel and put on the move from left to right in an H-back position. He sneaked right up the seam and was hit by starter Kyle Orton for a nice gain. The Cowboys rolled with four tight ends when they scored from the 1-yard line after a first-play fumble by Dolphins rookie Lamar Miller.
All eyes were of course on rookie first round pick Travis Frederick. I'll have a much more in-depth breakdown of Frederick's game tomorrow, but the results should probably be considered favorable for a first professional game. There were a couple plays where Frederick was on the ground, but there were others where he cleared a path, and others where he got to the second level and engaged linebackers. Frederick spent the majority of the third quarter playing right guard, keeping the possibility of a Leary-Costa-Frederick starting interior in play.
We heard tales throughout the game about the intelligence that Frederick displayed in practice in making all the calls for the Cowboys offense.
Dallas entered the game with only eight offensive linemen available, so the fact that all four of their available running backs showed well has to be taken as a first shot of confidence for the return of the run game. With DeMarco Murray sitting out, Dunbar got the start and showed quickness in getting to the outside. Phillip Tanner spelled him and showed a Dez Bryant-like refusal to go down after first contact. Tanner had several broken tackles and scored on a goal-line play where Frederick and Leary cleared a big hole up the middle that let Tanner cross the goal line before a Dolphins linebacker filled it.
Fifth round pick Joseph Randle took over in the second half and showed both nice burst and wiggle. He ran 13 times for 70 yards, a 5.4 average. Even UDFA Kendial Lawrence got in the action with two seven-yard runs, including a game-clinching TD late in the fourth quarter that gave Dallas it's final points. The Cowboys runners ran for a 5.2 yard per carry average.
None of those performers can lay claim, however, to the play of the day. That was turned in by sixth-round pick, backup linebacker DeVonte Holloman. Midway through the second quarter, Holloman reached behind him to snag a pass that went off a Dolphins TE hands, plucked and spinned, and then raced his way 75 yards for a touchdown.
It was the Cowboys second turnover of the first half, and planted the seed of "we can do" in a defense that only forced 16 turnovers all of last season under Rob Ryan.
JJ Wilcox, a safety with minimal collegiate experience, was around the ball on several plays. He notched six tackles in the first half, although two of them were on plays where he blew the coverage. He has a knack for being around the football, seemed like a sure tackler at every opportunity and even made a nice special teams play.
The young quarterbacks had their bumps and bruises, as well as their positive plays. Nick Stephens stood out with a clutch third-down throw that he fit between two defenders to get a first down on a pass to Anthony Armstrong. He had a chance for a great play, when he escaped a free rusher, but his throw on the run fell short of a wide-open Cole Beasley who had worked free behind blown coverage. It's the type of throw an NFL QB has to make, when a gift is presented like that.
Alex Tanney took over in the second half and was welcomed to the fray with a big hit and forced fumble when he tried to step up in the pocket. His best play came right before the two minute warning. Out of S11 personnel, Tanney launched a pass from the Dolphins 39 to Jared Green and hit him in stride down the right sideline for a 32 yard reception. Lawrence would run through a hole created by Leary and Darrion Weems on the next play.
The passing game in general was non-existant though, after Kyle Orton left following the opening drive. The three QBs totaled 107 yards through the air and no scores.
The one sour note was that oft-injured safety Matt Johnson left the game after chasing down a Dolphins receiver. He went in for an X-ray on his ankle; we haven't heard word yet. Phillip Tanner left the game for a while with an arm injury, but returned to his version of beast-mode without a problem. Ben Bass also left the game with a knee injury, but after the game Jerry Jones indicated that it doesn't seem serious.
All in all, there is plenty for Dallas to be pleased with but still plenty of work left to be done as the Cowboys prepare for the 2013 regular season. They'll return to practice this Monday in Oxnard as they prepare for dress rehearsal number two, against the Oakland Raiders this coming Friday.
More from Blogging The Boys:
- Larry Allen, Bill Parcells NFL Hall Of Fame Speeches 2013 [VIDEO]
- The Top Five Pitfalls Of Preseason 53-Man Roster Projections
- NFL Hall Of Fame 2013: Dallas Cowboys Larry Allen Being Inducted Today
- NFL Hall Of Fame 2013: Former Cowboys Head Coach Bill Parcells Being Inducted Today
- Cowboys WR Dez Bryant Entering Rarified Air In 2013