Let's sum up the good points, and there were many in a seemingly drab 21 point preseason loss to Oakland:
- The game does not count. Dallas plays Oakland for keeps on Thanksgiving Day.
- There were no significant injuries, if there were any injuries at all.
- Felix Jones looked great on Dallas' first quarter TD drive.
- The starting offensive line pass protected very well, giving Tony Romo a full five seconds to run through his progressions before finding Jason WItten on the left edge of the end zone.
- The starting run defense looked good in its limited time.
- ILB Keith Brooking looks like a good buy in place of Zach Thomas.
- The Cowboys safeties, Ken Hamlin, Gerald Sensabaugh, Alan Ball and Michael Hamlin, made plays.
The Cowboys starters made a respectable performance. The first teamers left the game leading 7-3 after ten minutes of play. Wade Phillips gave his starting platoons two series each.
The offense stumbled to a three and out after a penalty on the opening kickoff backed the Cowboys up to their own seven. Jason Garrett called a very conservative trio of plays, keeping Dallas in an off-set I and running twice before an incompletion forced a Mat McBriar end zone punt. He laced a low, hard kick which hit at the Dallas 40 and bounced pass Johnny Lee Higgins to the Oakland 32.
The Raiders gained a quick first down on a hook in front of Alan Ball, who started at left corner. Two plays later, Ken Hamlin guaged a Jamarcus Russell bomb but let a pick bounce off his hands. Russell made Dallas pay when he raced right outside the pocket one play later and lobbed another desperation bomb upfield. Gerald Sensabaugh faceguarded the Raiders receiver, giving them a first down. The defense pushed the Raiders back five yards and forced a field goal.
On the following drive Dallas' offense showed its ability to gain yardage in large chunks. Romo began the series with an eight-yard bootleg completion to Martellus Bennett. A Marion Barber counter behind a pulling Leonard Davis gained another six. Romo zipped a comeback up the left sideline to Roy Williams for a dozen more.
Felix Jones entered the game and stuttered behind his blockers on a stretch play left before accelerating upfield for fourteen yards. A deep in to Williams then fell incomplete but the covering corner was flagged for illegal contact. Romo then faked an isolation play to Jones and handed to Patrick Crayton who carried a reverse left to another dozen yards. A Jones screen gained nine and half more, putting Dallas just outside the Raiders five. A Marion Barber dive pushed the ball to the one foot line.
Here, a touchdown was wiped out by a holding call against Kyle Kosier, who hooked a Raiders tackle. Two plays later, Romo dropped to pass from his own nine, looked right, pumped, looked middle, pumped again and then spotted Jason Witten in the front left side of the end zone. Witten caught a Romo dart to put Dallas ahead. The play, which took a full five seconds (I timed Romo's protection multiple times) ended the offense's night.
The defense went for a quick three and out on the following drive. Phillips had called conservative schemes on Dallas' opening drive, rushing four and playing cover two. On the first play of Dallas' second series Phillips called a combo inside blitz, where Bradie James and Keith Brooking twisted behind nose tackle Jay Ratliff. Brooking broke free and dropped Russell for a twelve-yard loss.
The Raiders converted the first down by completing a 3rd down, 16 yard out on Courtney Brown, who struggled all night at left and at right corner. Russell scrambled for another first down on the following play, before a breakup on a Russell bomb and a near pick by Jay Ratliff short-circuited the Raiders drive just past mid-field.
Dallas inserted the second teamers at that point and got a decidedly mixed set of results:
-- Backup Jon Kitna led Dallas second and last scoring drive in the 2nd quarter, when he found Sam Hurd on a series of hooks, deep flags and crossing routes. Hurd got behind the Raiders secondary and in front of them. He stepped forward after Miles Austin dropped a Kitna slant that would have produced a 20 yard gain. Hurd showed sure hands and Kitna went back to him again and again.
Dallas is still looking for a 5th wideout. Isaiah Stanback drew an interference penalty on a Raiders corner, but didn't catch that big pass he needs to gain an edge. Kevin Ogletree dropped a pass that would have put him on that stat sheet. I stil give Stanback a slight edge, but this competiton is wide open until somebody seizes it.
-- welcome to the NFL Jason Williams. Oakland put in backup QB Bruce Gradkowski on their next drive, but left the rest of its first offense in. Those players gave the Cowboys 2nd team a rude intro. RB Darren McFadden ran off left tackle for 45 yards on the Raiders' first 3rd series play. Williams was locked up by a Raiders guard and could not disengage until McFadden was far past him. Williams had a lot of trouble shedding blocks, as did Williams fellow rookie LBs Victor Butler and Brandon Williams.
All three did look good covering punts, which gives them something positive to build upon heading towards the Tennessee game. Neither rookie OLB stood out as a pass rusher last night.
-- Alan Ball looked very good in coverage as a free safety. He has a strong drive to the ball and is fearless throwing his body at receivers. He does need better tackling technique. He also needs to work on shedding blocks on running plays.
-- Courtney Brown stuggled in coverage, as did rookie Mike Mickens. Fellow rookie D'Angelo Smith played at CB and FS and his versatility may give him an edge in the race for the last secondary roster spot.
-- Rookie K David Buehler knocked one of his three kickoffs for a touchback. He also made a field goal and worked as a gunner on a couple of punts. ST coach Joe DeCamillis ran a rotation on all his units and it appears he's still a week or two away from working towards a regular group or groups of special teams. Buehler does appear to be part of several of those units if the Cowboys plan on activating him on game days.
-The backup Cowboys OTs protected well, but Oakland's ends are not known as top rushers. I'll give them an incomplete until they play Tennessee.
-- Finally, Felix Jones showed why he's had so many people talking at camp. He didn't run any special plays last night (though Jason Garrett has plenty of them for Felix) but he showed that when the ball is in his possession, any play in the Cowboys playbook, even the most elemental runs, can be special.