There is plenty to talk about after the Dallas Cowboys 17-7 loss to the San Diego Chargers. However, for most, preseason football is less about the score and more about individual performances. After last night's game, some guys are headed in opposite directions. Whose star is pointing up? Whose star is pointing down? A few observations of a slow affair.
1. Backup Quarterbacks Looked Sharp
Yes, even Brandon Weeden. Before that unfortunately perfect snap that Weeden lost, he was actually putting together a nice drive with 4-5 passing and 42 yards. Since it stalled though, he will have to take the blame because honestly Travis Frederick put it on the money. With that said, this is less about Weeden and more about third-string youngsters' Dustin Vaughan and Jameill Showers. Dustin Vaughan was particularly impressive with his 12 of 18 for 106 yards stat-line. Vaughan also led the Cowboys down on their only scoring drive and the running game punched it in. Vaughan looked as he was playing with much more confidence than he had been showing in practice. He made some really nice reads and showed some poise in the pocket while even answering a few questions about his mobility. Jameill Showers' stats weren't as impressive in limited time but he showed some really good things. He certainly has a great arm but his ability to take-off with the ball was really nice to see. Most fans are certainly looking forward to seeing both of these guys in the next exhibition game, lots of good things to build on from here.
2. La'el Collins Showed Up And Showed Out
Collins was beastly at times, showing that nastiness and grit as he tossed defenders to the ground. It was his double block on two defenders that allowed the Cowboys to put seven on the board. Collins showed why he was considered a first-round talent and really looked solid and superior to the other backups around him. He's certainly earned himself some more playing time with last night's performance and did so on a night where Ronald Leary got beat once. Not saying that means much but Collins has really started to come into his own. He's a great talent and could be challenging for the starting job sooner than some think. The more comfortable he gets out there, the better he's going to look. His strength has seen an upgrade and his intelligence for the scheme is seemingly better, too. Overall, a really nice night for the young Cowboy.
3. What a Rush?
The Cowboys spent a lot of resources in efforts to upgrade their 28th ranked pass rush and they should feel good about the fruits of their labor. The starting unit did a nice job while they were in there but were behind due to the aforementioned bad handling by Brandon Weeden. Greg Hardy and DeMarcus Lawrence both showed burst and strength to make themselves hard to deal with out there. Tyrone Crawford was penetrating the line with force and rendered first-round Charger Melvin Gordon ineffective. However, the story of the night goes to the backup guys. Randy Gregory got his first sack and was jubilant; sometimes it only takes that first one to get going. Gregory though showed those 'heavy hands' Rod Marinelli talked about. He was a handful for Brad Sorensen throughout the third and fourth quarters. Lavar Edwards recorded a sack for himself and Ben Gardner added a tackle-for-loss that surely ignited the hallows of Cowboys' Twittersphere. Jack Crawford and Davon Coleman both showed that they can hold their own in the tackle position. As far as Jack is concerned, the Englishman is on his way to earning the backup spot to Tyrone Crawford with his play. Just a really solid day for the future pass rush of this team.
4. Special Teams Struggles
Lucky Whitehead followed up a terrible fumble with a nice run but the coaches will remember that fumble and he surely will too. It wasn't all Whitehead's fault though. You cannot have such terrible punting that the opposition's returner gets a head start running before the ball makes it to him. The entire unit looked out of place and really had a poor showing. They couldn't make tackles either. Every ball that was fielded by the Chargers seemed to get close to mid-field. Rich Bisaccia was visibly not pleased and there is a lot of clean-up needed here. The special teams unit is a lot better than what they showed last night.
5. Devin Street And Gavin Escobar Lead Receiving Corps
Devin Street had been disappointing in the better part of camp thus far but it was nice to see him rebound well in the game. He made some really nice catches and showed some strength as a receiver and blocker. Coach Dooley has always been on the Devin Street bandwagon and it finally showed to be true last night. His route running was sharp and his ability to get open was fantastic. Gavin Escobar also had a big night and was obviously Vaughan's safety valve. There were a few missed opportunities but you can see this coaching staff is trying to get Escobar involved. He's such a big target that if they can figure him out, he could have a better role in this offense. Both guys had big splash plays of 20+ yard receptions and the hope is that they continue to impress in the rest of these preseason tilts. None of the younger receivers really looked that impressive, Nick Harwell had a few moments but it was too late. Deontay Greenberry was all over the place and dropped two crucial passes. The rookies vying for the last spot are not off to the ideal start. Hopefully, that will all change as many expected Lucky Whitehead to be a bigger part of yesterday's action.
6. Byron Jones Can Handle It All
Though I saw a reporter complain that Jones was beat a few times, it's expected of a rookie defensive back. Jones was actually pretty good after a few early miscues. He led the team with five tackles and was really instinctive. He was especially good in recognizing and making plays in run support. Jones saw all of his action at corner yesterday but maybe he'll get work at safety when the numbers start coming back. He's got great vision and recognition for the game and his athleticism was certainly on display. This game takes some time getting used to but the Cowboys got themselves a good one in Byron Jones. So intelligent and willing to do anything which is a huge plus for Rod Marinelli.
7. Tough Game For Backup O-Line
Darrion Weems was unimpressive at times and it's a true shame because he's been pretty good in camp. He has issues with getting sloppy and hopefully that can get cleaned up. He had a bad holding call that just killed the momentum of the drive. Weems is really pushing hard to earn that swing tackle spot but some confidence was lost in yesterday's performance. RJ Dill was even worse though and almost caused a safety. Dill even did his best job to get Vaughan killed on a play, too. He didn't even look good enough for the practice squad because if you get driven back on every play, your NFL career won't last long. Shane McDermott had a terrible snap that caused a fumble though Vaughan jumped on that one. McDermott recovered better but Jameill Showers and Vaughan were being harassed with ease. It's time to go back to the tape and learn some technique for this group.
8. Running Backs Leave Much To Be Desired
Gus Johnson certainly looked good in a lot of his opportunities but he didn't set the world on fire. He also separated his AC joint and it's unclear how long he'll be out. Lache Seastrunk showed burst but was lacking in the vision department. In fact, it was like Seastrunk wasn't following his blocks because he just kept running outside with no true direction. Some of that is on the offensive line but he needs to see the hole and go. What was obvious is that this team really needs to see Joseph Randle, Darren McFadden, and Lance Dunbar. Until that time, the running game will continue to be a huge question mark.