Some early returns on the Cowboys 2005 draft are in and they look good for Dallas. The team got solid to exceptional play from nearly all of its rookies Monday night in an 18-10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks. Here, in reverse order, is a rundown of the rookies and some other key "on the bubble" players, as they appeared to my highly distracted eyes.
Whatever was said to Petitti worked, because he was much more assured in his play afterwards. He still makes you nervous, but it is clear that he's got talent.
However, he made an unbelievable unforced error, fumbing the ball while trying to switch hands and bounce outside. The Cowboys were lucky an illegal block in the back was called because the fumble was run back for a touchdown that would have cut the lead to 18-17. Barber got an earful from Bill Parcells and was much better at protecting the ball on the Cowboys final drive. He'll stick because he's got too much talent, but he won't last too long if the silly mistakes continue.
Ware blew up the Seahawks first series with a prototype 3-4 WOLB rush. It's been so long since I've watched a good 3-4 work I forgot that the guy responsible for trying to take on the OLB in most blocking packages is the guard and not the tackle. Since most guards are good at pulling and running but not as adept as OTs at pass blocking in space, we can start drooling over Ware's sack potential right now. On the third play of Seattle's first series, RE Greg Ellis took a hard inside drive pulling OT Walter Jones with him. Ware blitzed in the vacated lane at QB Matt Hasselbeck. LG Steve Hutchingson took a run outside to cut off Ware, but Demarcus simply cut inside him and attacked Hasselbeck from the blind side. He swatted the ball from the QB's hand and recovered the fumble, setting up a Dallas field goal.
Two series later Hasselbeck ran a bootleg to his right. The TE on the right side was covered so the QB looked for his second TE, running a drag across the field from his position outside the LT. Ware followed the TE, put on a burst of speed, cut under his man and intercepted Hasselbeck's pass, killing a second Seahawk drive.
Later in the half, Ware ran down a scrambling Seneca Wallace and forced a second fumble. Ware got some playing time in the fourth quarter but it took only about 20 minutes of game for him to prove his point. He's sure to get better, but he's really good -- already.
Other players of note:
Game Impressions: Dallas showed some effective 3-4 blitzes, getting pressure on the Seattle QBs throughout the game.
On the other hand, the coverage on Seattle's early TD drive was soft. Both corners were victimized for big gains. The real vulnerability appeared to be at the ILB positions. Seattle tight ends and receivers were running free in the middle of the field early. The coverage tightened as the game progressed but I'd like to see more third down stops from the first team back seven against a starting NFL unit before I start feeling comfortable with the defense. Overall, however the emergence of a pass rush is a giant step forward from last week.
Offensively, I think the Cowboys are still far from tipping their hand. All week long Drew Bledsoe looked for, and found, Jason Witten and Terry Glenn. Today, he worked the left side, where Keyshawn, Polite and Crayton were lined up. Parcells mentioned after the Arizona game that they still "haven't shown what Bledsoe does best." I don't think we saw that tonight either. Bledsoe had a slow start, but improved rapidly and was solid Dallas' long TD drive.
The one concern I have is his tendency to lock in on receivers. It almost resulted in an INT early in the game. Dallas lined Witten up wide left, with Keyshawn in the slot and called a deep out and up to the TE. Johnson was supposed to draw the free safety to the deep middle by running a post. The safety turned to follow Keyshawn but quickly pulled off him and ran to cover Witten. He almost intercepted the pass. My guess is that he didn't fall for Keyshawn's pattern because Bledsoe locked on to Witten and the safety was able to follow Bledsoe's eyes to the ball.