Well, that was a fairly uninspiring preseason. After letting another promising first half effort get out of hand in the second half, Cowboys fans can be excused for reaching for a drink. It's been a preseason full of bad news, worse injuries, and play that makes you go huh? But before you finish off that drink, take a gander at these quick takeaways from the last Cowboys preseason game of the year. It was an ugly thing, but amid the awful there were a few silver linings.
1. Brandon Weeden is regressing: After a strong first preseason game many fans were feeling rather good about signing Cleveland Browns castoff Brandon Weeden. Since then though, Weeden has struggled, culminating with last night's game, where Weeden completed just half of his passes, (6/12) for 75 yards and a 35.1 passer rating. Weeden showed off his strong arm (on one pass he casually flicked his wrist and overthrew an open Byrd about 50 yards down-field, and on another he threaded an absolute bullet to Jamar Newsome), but he also displayed the poor judgement that plagued him in Cleveland, throwing one interception, and nearly having another pass picked.
So what's going on with Weeden? What's caused him to regress so much in just 4 games? While part of it is just Weeden being Weeden (there's a reason he was let go by the Browns after all), some of it has to do with who he's playing with. Playing behind our starting line, with our starting receivers, Weeden looked like a pretty good QB. Playing with our second and third string, well not so much. And that brings up...
2. Backup offensive line is concerning: In my mind no unit has played as consistently poor as our backup offensive line. And that's a pretty low bar considering how bad our defense has looked so far this preseason. While our backup interior players have been okay, the tackles have been absolutely horrible, prompting our very own Rabble to compare them to the infamous Torrin Tucker...and I need that drink now.
To make matters worse, last night our guards decided to join the clown patrol. Uche Nwaneri looked like the worst player on the field for large segments of the game. It was really impossible to get a good feel of either Weeden or poor Dustin Vaughan, with the players in front of them deciding to impersonate matadors. Ole!
Now what that means for our regular season I'm not ready to say. It's obvious that, as a unit, our backups are pretty horrible. But could one or possibly two of them be plugged in with the starters and manage not to embarrass themselves? Based on previous preseason games where we've mixed and matched our line, I'm fairly confident that our starters can cover for our backups in limited doses. But if we suffer multiple injuries along the O-line, or a starter goes out for a prolonged period, the line could look pretty ugly.
3. The defense has gotten progressively better: This may not be a popular or common opinion, but I think our defense looked pretty good last night, especially in the first half. A couple of big plays were given up, especially in the middle of the field (I think that's going to be a problem area all year), and we gave up a couple of long runs on the edges. But there were a lot of really good things. Our defensive backs did a great job getting off blocks on bubble screens to stop receivers for short gains or in the backfield. Bishop showed some of the promise he flashed in the first game, and was generally stout versus the run while showing some rush skills. Kenneth Boatright and Davon Coleman both looked very good.
Perhaps the most impressive play of the night was Rolando McClain coming on a delayed blitz. It appeared to be an option blitz, where McClain would come if the running back committed to a different player. McClain read the running back perfectly and barreled into the backfield. While the Bronco's QB got the ball away, seeing McClain blitz like that was a pretty awesome sight, and it could be a potent defensive weapon.
The biggest negative of the night was probably the play of cornerback Terrance Mitchell. He gave up a pretty big play in the first half on a little hitch and go by a Bronco's receiver. The double move has been a problem for Mitchell all preseason and it's something he'll need to correct before he sees any significant playing time. It looks like he has some trouble getting out of his backpedal; it's not a smooth motion and he slows down when he makes his turn. This allows the receiver to get a step on him and seems to be the primary cause for him to be trailing his receiver so often. While that's a negative, the positive is he isn't out of position or getting beat on blown coverage; it's a technical issue that should be correctable with practice and coaching.
So there you have it. Preseason is over and we can now turn our attention to things that really matter. It wasn't the prettiest and at times it got downright ugly, but here's to hoping that the team can identify their problem areas and correct them before the regular season starts. I think I speak for all of us when by saying I'm ready to yell "HOW 'BOUT THEM COWBOYS!"