The 27-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers was ugly from a defensive side of things, although we have to remember that many of the regulars on defense didn't even play. Some of the guys who did play were signed as recently as a few days ago. On offense, the skill position guys got a rest, but the starting offensive line got in a series and they looked as good as advertised.
Tip of the hat to Bill Callahan and Frank Pollack for having their offensive line ready to play. Without much preparation, they were able to block the Chargers’ 3-4 front. The first offensive line with Tyron Smith, Mackenzy Bernadeau, Travis Frederick, Zack Martin and Doug Free were text book in their technique while executing blocks in the running game. There were plenty of snaps where the guards were shoulder-to-shoulder with the tackles, securing the down man, then breaking off to pick up a second level-defender. Whether it was a reach or cut block, this first unit gave Joseph Randle and Ryan Williams options in which to carry the ball -- front side or bending it back, there was space. It’s technique that these coaches grind on day-after-day in practice in order to make this running game work, and these linemen were outstanding in the manner in which they executed.
The Cowboys stuck to the run quite a bit, especially when Joseph Randle was in the game. With a line that can block like this one, and a quality back like DeMarco Murray, the calls for running the ball will get louder and louder.
Those days are behind us, though, at least in terms of not being able to run the ball with success. Whether or not the Cowboys will fully commit to the run from Week 1 right on through the end of the season, however, remains to be seen. And honestly, let’s be blunt, if they don’t, there will be no one to blame for another mediocre, disappointing season than those calling the plays. Run, run and run some more. After that, run again.
Not only because they can run, but because it helps the defense, and it helps to protect Tony Romo.
How bad was the defense on Thursday night?
The Chargers averaged 6.8 yards per play, completing 14 of 16 pass attempts for 243 yards and one touchdown. Pro Bowl quarterback Philip Rivers and his two backups posted a combined passer rating of 139.6, a figure that jumped off the stat sheet as much as the zero that accompanied the sack total the Cowboys netted.
"We just gave up too much," said linebacker Justin Durant. "It's not what we wanted to see. They throw the ball. They did whatever they wanted to do. It's exactly not the identity that we want to put out there." ... Durant looked dejected and maybe even a bit fearful that not much has changed for a defense that sunk to historic depths in 2013.
Let's hope that isn't the case. I'm not ready to pass any kind of judgment until I see the regulars play for a game or two. But it sure would have been nice if someone besides Ahmad Dixon would have done something in the game. Speaking of Dixon:
"I thought for a guy who is young and hasn’t played that much, [Dixon] seemed to show up," head coach Jason Garrett said. "Now, we’ll have to go back and evaluate how he covered and how he did some other things defending the run. But for the most part when you make some of those tackles that he did, TFLs and also his open field plays, that shows up pretty well in his first game."
Another youngster who piqued the coaches, media and fanbase's interest? Dustin Vaughan.
Vaughan, who played the fourth quarter of the Dallas Cowboys' 27-7 preseason loss to the San Diego Chargers on Thursday, completed 7 of 14 passes for 80 yards against San Diego. The 6-foot-5, 233-pound Vaughan moved well in the pocket and led the third string on a nice fourth-quarter drive that ended when he was sacked on fourth down at the San Diego 15.
"I should've thrown the ball up and given one of my guys a chance to catch it," he said. "I talked to Tony (Romo) and coach (Scott) Linehan about it after I came out of the game.
"You're trying to go through your progression, but you don't have a lot of time. You think you know what's going to be there and when it's not, you try to create more time. It's something I'll learn with experience."
The Cowboys look to have some capable backup running backs, and Ryan Williams is trying to battle Joseph Randle for the third spot. Give the edge to Randle, who was solid in blitz pickup while Williams whiffed on one of his efforts.
"[Randle] did a good job of cutting his foot in the ground and getting up the field," coach Jason Garrett said. "It looked like he saw the field well, saw the holes, saw the soft spots and got north and south. I thought he had a real good night."
More important than his running, Randle did well on his blitz pickups and made a tackle on special teams.
"I'm trying to take step forwards every day," Randle said. "This is the time of year you grind and try to move up the depth chart. I'm supposed to be pushing my way toward more playing time and finding a role on this team."
Special teams is also another way to make the team.