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Cowboys Drop Preseason Opener To Chargers By A Final Score Of 17-7

You remember that the score doesn't matter in these affairs, right?

It wasn't all great for Gus Johnson, but he did score his first touchdown.
It wasn't all great for Gus Johnson, but he did score his first touchdown.
Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys dropped their preseason opener to the San Diego Chargers by a 17-7 score. Two Dallas turnovers led to Charger touchdowns, and along with some really bad kick and punt coverage, largely determined the outcome. But it was fairly evident that the Cowboys placed no weight on winning the game.

For the Cowboys this was clearly all about evaluating their own players. While the Chargers came out with basically all their starters to open the game, Dallas was missing large numbers of their ones, especially on offense. It showed early as Brandon Weeden looked surprised by a snap from Travis Frederick, turning the ball over to San Diego. They went in for a quick score after recovering the ball deep in Dallas' end of the field - but with their starting quarterback and top running backs.

That was basically the theme of the night, where the Cowboys generally had players lower on the depth chart than the Chargers did, or at least no better than the same level. This is very good for seeing how the down-roster guys will handle game situations, but not a way to win games. That is not at all an objective for Dallas.

Brandon Weeden only played one series before his fumble, but he actually was moving the ball down the field until then. While he looked like he could use more practice himself, he came off the field for Dustin Vaughan. During a sideline interview, Weeden basically admitted he just mishandled the ball on the fumble.

I mentioned on Twitter before the game that Vaughan and Devin Street both needed to step up their games after having not done as well as expected so far in camp. On Vaughan's second series of the game, they started to click. And Gavin Escobar was also a big part of the offense. They drove inside the 20 in short order, and we got to see La'el Collins and Gus Johnson combine on a good run play. And Vaughan and Street combined again to overcome a sack given up by the second team O line for Dallas, converting a third and 17 to the five. That set up Gus Johnson to drive it in for the touchdown.

It was just one drive in the preseason, but it showed a lot of good things. In addition to the skill players, it showed that the second team line was pretty good at run blocking, with Collins showing up more than once. And it featured some dirty yards from Johnson, which may be important later in his career. But the big winners for the Cowboys were probably Vaughan and Street, who certainly looked a lot more like the players that were being talked up by the coaching staff during the offseason.

After giving up the quick touchdown to the Chargers, the Cowboys' defense stiffened against Kellen Clemens. They stopped that drive short, then had to deal with a short field after Lucky Whitehead fumbled a punt return. They nearly got a fumble, and wound up giving the ball back to the offense nearly at the same spot as they would have had it after the Chargers went for it on fourth and long, being stymied by Corey White. Damien Wilson had a massive hit on the running back on one play. Jack Crawford and Ryan Russell also looked good, and Byron Jones showed some good coverage skills. But the defense was also vulnerable to runs in the red zone, letting the Chargers get into the end zone rather easily twice in the first half.

Kick and punt coverage was not great, giving up some sizable gains. One notable development: Jameill Showers had his first tackle on a punt near the end of the first half. Outside  the fumble, Whitehead showed some real flash returning kicks and punts.

Gus Johnson ran into the back of his own players too many times, but also got some solid gains when he had a chance. The Gus Bus needs to slow down, since he looked a lot more like a practice squad prospect than a real challenge to move up to RB2. He scored a touchdown, but only averaged 2.9 yards a carry in the first half.

On a night where the starters were hardly seen, especially on offense, Terrance Williams was an exception. He was obviously one of the best players on the field, which is exactly what we should expect.

One strange dichotomy: The first half was rather sloppily played by the Cowboys, but they had zero penalties in the first half. And the Chargers only committed one infraction. A single penalty is just remarkable for the first 30 minutes of preseason football played by any teams.

Perhaps the most concise summary of the first half was this:

The second half saw something we should all be glad of: Quarterback sacks by the Dallas defensive line. Lavar Edwards and Randy Gregory both got to quarterback Brad Sorensen in the same series, sandwiched around a near-interception of a tipped pass. The Dallas defenders on the field in the second half clearly looked better than the offensive players they were lined up against. Fan favorite Ben Gardner also added a tackle for a loss. The second and third string rushmen started to show up, and that is very good news.

And Jameil Showers came on in the fourth quarter and started to show some nice accuracy as he got comfortable.

Are there any worries coming out of the game? Darrion Weems did not look very good at tackle, and the team needs him to step up there. Johnson and Lache Seastrunk are not the answer at running back, so the team needs to either have the top three backs, who all sat out the game, prove themselves or it will have to look for another back when teams start cutting their rosters down. Deontay Greenberry had a couple of drops that seriously hurt his chances. None of the contenders for the fifth wide receiver position helped their case much. Kick and punt coverage needs obvious work, but there is something of a history of that coming along slowly in preseason. The only real word of an injury was a report James Hanna was getting examined on the sidelines, possibly for a knee problem.

The score was a result of turnovers and field position. Those are things the Cowboys will have to work on, but there were probably more positive things than negative. It is early yet. And they lost to San Diego 27-7 last year.

Follow me @TomRyleBTB

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