In the third test of the pre-season, the Dallas Cowboys failed their exam and lost to the Arizona Cardinals in a game that wasn't exactly the most executed affair. In the 12-7 loss, Dallas didn't look sharp and was sloppy with the football. This played a determining factor in the failure to win the game.
After a loss, it's hard for me to hand out my usual game balls, but let's take a look at what went right and wrong in the desert.
Defense: Despite missing 10 players on defense, the Cowboys only surrendered 12 points and held the Cardinals offense out of the end zone. The first team also started off the game holding Carson Palmer to a short three-and-out series, but Dwayne Harris' fumble on the ensuing punt gave Arizona the ball back. Again the defense held strong inside the 10 and held the Cards to a field goal.
There were some individuals who stood out. For starters, DeVonte Holloman had four tackles, a quarterback hit (which was seriously close to a fumble and sack) and also recorded his second interception of the pre-season. Why a productive SEC linebacker with good coverage ability fell to the sixth round is beyond me, but Dallas looks like they have themselves a steal in the former Gamecock.
He is a natural ballhawk who is always around the football. Maybe that is luck or being in the right place at the right time, regardless Holloman looks like much more than a special teams player. With the way Dallas evaluates linebackers (Sean Lee, NaVorro Bowman, Bruce Carter and Bobby Wagner) you have to be excited about #57.
Also notable performances came from defensive end George Selvie, defensive lineman Ben Bass, and defensive tackles Landon Cohen and Nick Hayden.
Monte Kiffin clearly has brought a bend and don't break defense to Dallas. There are times where holes in the zone will be exploited, but the emphasis on turnovers could be changes that excite in 2013.
Dez Bryant: Patrick Peterson was one of my favorite college players of all time, that was until he became a Cardinal and famously said that Bryant only had "two routes" when they met a few years ago. Dez was raw at the time, but he still put on a solid performance that afternoon. Now with a refined route tree, we are seeing just how dangerous Bryant can be. Against Peterson and the other Arizona cornerbacks, #88 had a clinic with four receptions for 74 yards in another brief appearance.
Alex Tanney: The Cowboys may have found their developmental quarterback for the future. The former trick shot celeb came into the game and started off hot connecting on all of his first 11 attempts. Tanney gave us a Gavin Escobar sighting and delivered the first points of the game for Dallas on a 5-yard touchdown pass.
The rookie quarterback has some grit and he can spin it. Dallas' front office has been looking for a young pocket passer with the arm strength and accuracy to develop. They cannot afford to get cute here and allow him to stay on the practice squad. Going back just a few years ago, Matt Moore had a strong pre-season and is a prime example of how trying to stash a player on the practice squad can go wrong.
Bryant's fumble: We have to touch on it because it happened. The fumble that occurred after the 27-yard reception wasn't awful, but it was bad because it was a turnover that killed a momentum gaining drive.
In my opinion, Dez wasn't doing anything terrible. He had two hands on the rock, the cornerback just made a great play and forced the ball loose. Bryant has extremely strong hands and if you can rip the football away from him, then you earned that turnover.
Lance Dunbar's fumble: He has gamebreaking speed, it's just amazing to watch him accelerate and fly by people. It's reminiscent of another #25, Jamaal Charles. Now clearly Dunbar isn't in the same category as Charles, but they have a similar size and speed combination.
Dunbar's 43-yard scamper was a thing of beauty, until the end of the play where a hit forced him to land awkwardly. His smaller frame was on display here, as the ball became to come loose before he hit he ground violently.
Either Dunbar is going to explode onto the NFL scene this year or he will not be able to take the beating on that level and regress back into a reserve role. I see him as a boom or bust player and his performance against Arizona sold me on that idea.
Kyle Orton: This was a very poor performance from Romo's backup. Even though it's only the pre-season, what he did against the Cardinals defense wasn't what a veteran should be doing that late into his career.
Orton's two interceptions are unacceptable because of the type of throws they were. Quarterbacks are allowed to make mistakes, but when you stare down a receiver and force a throw into a place where multiple defenders are that is a very poor decision for a veteran quarterback. On the other turnover, if Orton places air under that pass it's very possible that Dwayne Harris takes it for six.