Let's get one thing out of the way right up front: The defense sucked.
That does not mean that the Dallas Cowboys did not accomplish anything during the somewhat pitiful 27-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers. For one thing, you can be sure Jason Garrett, Rod Marinelli, and the rest of the defensive coaches will all have lots of material to work with after they finish the autopsy of the defensive game video. And on a much more positive note, things are a lot more clear concerning the quarterback situation.
The good news is that nobody at all should miss that guy with the neckbeard. Brandon Weeden came into the game needing to establish that he was a competent backup for Tony Romo, and he did just that. Facing the San Diego ones and twos for the most part (while Philip Rivers and Kellen Clemens were beating up Dallas' twos, threes, and a couple of guys who sorta wandered in off the street and put on uniforms), Weeden looked pretty good, going 13 of 17 for 107 yards and a touchdown. Although he did not try the deep ball, he was good in the short and intermediate game. Clearly he plays better behind a decent offensive line than he did during his days with the Cleveland Browns. And, in a bit of a pleasant surprise, he belied the reputation he had for being largely immobile, picking up ten yards on a scramble and rolling out successfully a couple of times, including his touchdown throw to James Hanna.
It does not show up in the stats, but all indications are that he was also comfortable in the role of being the leader in the huddle. After Joseph Randle (who mostly had a very good outing filling in for DeMarco Murray) got away from his strengths on one play, Weeden took him to task.
On the last play of the first quarter, Dallas was in a second-and-3 situation when Weeden handed to last year's fifth-round pick. Instead of going straight ahead, Randle danced and lost three yards. Having played with Randle in college, Weeden knew it was time to share some advice.
"I said, ‘Get up in there. Run north, south and get a first down,'" Weeden recalled. "I've been around Joe for a while now. We're on the same page. We communicate well."
Although we all hope that Weeden spends the season on the sideline (unless he gets to play in a meaningless game after the Cowboys clinch), it is good to know that the move has paid off, and the backup situation is settled. But after Weeden took a seat, some new questions may have come up in the second half.
So far in training camp the impression has been that Caleb Hanie was a step up as far as third-string quarterbacks usually go for the Cowboys, and rookie Dustin Vaughan was not doing very much. The second half of the Chargers game rather inverted that. Hanie was not very effective, although he also suffered from one serious breakdown in pass protection when Hanna couldn't keep Thomas Keiser off him, leading to a strip sack. Throughout the third quarter, Hanie did not look very comfortable or poised.
Vaughan looked more in control of himself despite being a small-school rookie. When he did move around, he kept his eyes downfield, trying to find a receiver. He has always been intriguing for his size (6-5, 233 lbs) and those gaudy numbers he put up at West Texas A&M (5,401 yds, 53 TDs, 10 INTs his senior year). Now he has given an indication that he might indeed be worth keeping around.
That, however, is a problem in itself. Dallas has not carried a third quarterback since 2011. Given Weeden's performance in the opening pre-season game, they are likely to approach this season the same way they did the two years that Kyle Orton was interested in playing football for them. The disarray on defense will be an additional argument to save that roster spot to try and have one more option on that side of the line.
Logically, the team would be looking to cut Vaughan prior to the regular season and then stash him on the practice squad. That was the plan with Alex Tanney.
Yeah. Remember how that worked out? He was poached by the Cleveland Browns. They must have liked the job he did in the pre-season, getting 423 yards while completing 40 of 73 passes. Dallas lost a player they had hoped to develop for a year, and Tanney was consigned to the quarterback purgatory that Weeden came from.
That is the risk in playing a young quarterback with potential during the pre-season. Unlike in practice, you are putting what he does on display for the whole world. In a post listing some quick impressions from the San Diego game, Bryan Boraddus of DallasCowboys.com raised an interesting idea.
If I worked in this front office, I would lobby to not play Dustin Vaughan in any more snaps. I think this kid showed great poise hanging in the pocket and I am not interested in letting anyone study his film and take him from me.
That makes some sense if the long range plan is to develop him on the practice squad and reevaluate what the team has next year. He will not be hindered much by missing chances to play in the rest of the pre-season, and the coaches would be able to work with him and use him as a scout team quarterback in practice - away from prying eyes.
Is he this year's Alex Tanney? More importantly, how much does he have in common with another undrafted small school quarterback, name of Antonio Ramiro Romo? What do you think?