When your punter not shanking kicks to the sidelines is the silver lining of your first half; you know it was a tough contest to watch. Fortunately for Dallas, Rob Ryan's defense strung together a collection of nice plays that complemented the Raiders ineptness as the Dallas Cowboys pitched a preseason shutout, 3-0.
The Raiders offense opened the preseason, gaining yardage by the chunk on the work of Darren McFadden and a Cowboys defensive line effort that looked a bit effortless.
Fortunately, the Raiders pirate ship is captained by Carson Palmer. He decided to make a deep attempt to Jacoby Ford but slightly overthrew and was picked clean by Gerald Sensabaugh's well-placed safety help.
The Cowboys first-team offense took the field and Tony Romo and Dez Bryant gave us a glimpse of what we hope to see many times over the season. The two connected on a nice back shoulder throw to the right sideline for 24 yards made-to-look-easy. Unfortunately for the aesthetics of the game, not much else worked for the offense.
The wind was vacuumed out of most fans' sails on the offense's second drive. On first down, Doug Free and Jason Witten whiffed on blocking Lamar Houston, forcing Tony Romo to work his midseason Houdini magic to avoid the sack. On the next play, David Arkin whiffed on a chip block during a screen attempt and Felix Jones seemingly decided not to be a last line of defense. Romo was swallowed up. A play later and new punter Chris Jones was booting another nice kick that didn't resemble the majority of his efforts in Oxnard. All of Jones' kicks planted the Raiders inside their 20 yard line on the evening.
With a vanilla gameplan on first-team defense and a mountain to overcome with a patchwork offensive line, not too much could be gleaned from what is probably the least foretelling game of anything you'll see before September. Dan "Split'Em" Bailey made his lone field goal attempt while the Raiders missed both of theirs, leading to the scintilating (not really) defensive game-clinching stand against Terrelle Pryor. And that was pretty much it for 3-0.
There were, however, opportunities to witness individual efforts. Make the jump to scour the notes for opportunities to overreact.
- Between Gerald Sensabaugh's interception and several Barry Church sticks, we don't have to abandon hope that the safety position won't be the weak spot this season. Not saying you can draw any conclusions, but they acquitted themselves very well in their first rehearsal.
- Bruce Carter was in the game before Dan Connor, but the Cowboys ran several "first-team" snaps with Ware and Butler on the line and Sean Lee, Carter and Connor on the field together. I doubt Rob Ryan was wasting first-team snaps on formations he'll rarely use so keep an eye out.
- Rookie LB Kyle Wilber broke his left thumb. No word on how long he'll be out but this appears to be the only major injury suffered. After watching what happened to Cincinnati on Saturday (four starters went down), this should be the highlight of the game.
- Tyron Smith is still young, and still very good.
- I'm the biggest "wait til they can get the line they want on the field" advocate... what Dallas trotted out there today was pretty scary. No run game push at all. Ron Leary had a very rough first outing that included an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty and several times beaten. David Arkin didn't have any snap issues, however. Keep repeating, not until it's Smith-Livings-Costa-Bernie-Free...
- Cole Beasley was targeted on a deep pass where he wasn't able to get separation on Michael Huff. I don't remember seeing him targeted again. He didn't have any problems fielding punts and had a nice 16 yard return, however.
- Morris Claiborne didn't suit up, but Dallas' next top rookie showed a lot. Tyrone Crawford lined up all over the defensive line and showed good burst.
- Didn't notice much press coverage by the Cowboys cornerbacks tonight.
- Felix Jones dropped a screen, ran into the line and looked like he was going half speed, in my humble opinion.
- Jamize Olawale runs just like a player that used to be a wide receiver. He has to get low or my dark horse stands no chance of making the roster. Really raw but I can't help but think there is something there. His running into the kicker penalty didn't help, either.
- The Cowboys defense had two clear second half stars; Adrian Hamilton and Ben Bass. They were all over the backfield in the second half and continuously made life difficult for Pryor. Bass ended up with four tackles and a sack. Both players might have earned an opportunity to play against more than the oppositions third-teamers.
- Throughout the second and third quarters, the Cowboys backup inside linebackers made several plays; specifically Alex Albright. He finished with nine tackles, including two TFLs. Orie Lemon showed up and even Caleb McSurdy flashed for a play.
- Special teams were a mixed bag. Great coverage by both kicking units, ridiculous penalties extended drives when the Raiders were punting. Joe DeCamillis, this is your responsibility.
- The Cowboys two biggest receiving stars after Bryant were James Hanna and Andre Holmes. Holmes was able to gain separation on a couple of routes and Hanna got open several times. If you're looking for a one-game leader for the third-receiver slot, pencil in Holmes for the time being. Pay attention to this theme; these are the two best "specimens"- so include that in your evaluations.
There were several other players that flashed for a play or two, but I would be hard-pressed to hand gobs of credit to the defense as a whole. That's especially without having a chance to rewind the game and watch with more critical eye and less "we finally get back football! Wait, this isn't a good game," fandom.
Share your observations in the comment section; and as I tweeted during the first half:
I have jokes, disappointments and frustration- but let's not sign off on the season due to the first preseason game, folks.— Blogging The Boys (@BloggingTheBoys) August 14, 2012
Oh, and my six-month old son watched parts of his first Cowboys game today. :)