The headline of this article contains a demonstrable falsehood, but it also contains an undeniable truth. Going purely by the rules, the Dallas Cowboys technically lost when they went into Levi's Stadium and laid an egg during a 23-6 rout by the San Francisco 49ers. They looked very bad losing that game, it wasn't pretty. But then, on the scale that really matters (just another way of saying my scale), the Cowboys won because they once again got through a preseason game with very few injuries and no major ones. We'll have to see what Jason Garrett does next week in the "dress rehearsal" but his methodology to date has been clear - he doesn't need to see the first-string offense, and he is not risking any of his starters for extended periods of play. Thank goodness for that.
The high-profile injury in preseason games has been the reported ACL tear for Jordy Nelson, but many other preseason game injuries have happened. The Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey will likely need ankle surgery, the Giants (who the Cowboys play in the first game) have gone through an inordinate amount of injuries to their safeties. Frankly, it's just not worth it. Maybe if all teams start taking Garret's approach, the NFL will limit the preseason to a couple of games.
What did we see on Sunday night? What we saw is that a team that is not interested in trying to do much, and plays a patchwork of players for most of the game, will likely get their tails handed to them. That's exactly what happened on Sunday night. The Cowboys ran one of the most vanilla offenses you'll ever see. If you watched the game online through the San Francisco broadcast, you heard the San Francisco announcers keep saying things like "that's a new wrinkle from the 49ers offense we haven't seen before." I guarantee you no one said that about the Cowboys offense.
What about the running game? Well, it was atrocious. But before you let anybody send you into a DeMarco Murray induced downward spiral, remember a few things. With barely any Tony Romo, no Dez Bryant, no Jason Witten, no Tyron Smith, no Zack Martin, no Ron Leary and just a little Doug Free, what did you expect? There was no real passing threat to balance the run, and there wasn't the line out there that you'll see in the regular season. In essence, this was a second-string offense. So expecting Joseph Randle or Darren McFadden to put on a show would have been delusional. There can be no true evaluation of the running game until all five Cowboys starters on the line are ready to go, and the defense also has to fear Bryant and Witten with Romo under center.
On defense, the Cowboys were without Rolando McClain, Sean Lee and Anthony Hitchens. That's their three best linebackers. That made the middle of the defense soft. While watching the early part of the game, it's easy to imagine things would have been different had those three been available.
All of that is a long-winded way of saying something that we all know, but people sometimes forget in their anticipation of football, any kind of football. Conventional statistics used to evaluate player performance is mostly folly in the preseason. The final score, the rushing yards, the passing yards, all of that is mostly useless. Instead, you really have to look at film and grade players individually, and in context of who they were lined up against. If you're a starter and you beat a second-stringer on a play, that doesn't count for much. But if you're a bottom-of-the-roster guy, and you make a play against a starter, then you have to take a look. You also have to look at the consistency, how did the player play throughout the game? Did they keep giving maximum effort? Did they know their assignments? These are the things that will be evaluated over the next day by grading the films.
So, did the Cowboys want to come out and play that bad? No, they didn't. They certainly hoped that the reserves would have shown some more, and that overall they looked more fluid as team. Are they concerned about it? I doubt it. I'm certainly not, and I don't think anybody else should be, either. Because in reality, they won. Two more games to go.