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Cowboys vs. Vikings Preseason Game: The Grades Are In

With the third preseason game completed, each player's performance has been examined. It's time to take a look at how the players performed.

Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

With the game against Minnesota in the books, here are the individual performance grades of each player. These grades are determined by a combination of game tape review and detailed statistics from Pro Football Focus. Only the Cowboys starters and key depth players were evaluated.

Quarterbacks
Grade Player Po. Snaps Notes
A Tony Romo QB 21 5/8 for 88 yards, 2 TDs
C- Jameill Showers QB 7 2/4 for yards
F Dustin Vaughan QB 25 5/13 for 38 yards, but 4 drops

Tony Romo played well in his first real preseason action this year. As a whole, the offense was a little sluggish at first, but Tony stayed calm and made some good throws, including his patented whirligig dance move.

Running Backs
Grade Player Po. Snaps Notes
A Darren McFadden RB 7 4 carries, 37 yards, made 2 defenders miss
C Lance Dunbar RB 2 1 carry for 1 yard
C Joseph Randle RB 11 6 carries, 15 yards
C Gus Johnson RB 13 5 carries for 12 yards
D Tyler Clutts FB 16 3 pass block snaps, no pressures allowed, 2 dropped passes

Darren McFadden didn’t run so well with a partial offensive line last week, but he sure looked impressive with more of them out there. McFadden did a great job hitting the holes quickly. He only had four carries, but two of them were 13 and 15 yards. Joseph Randle didn’t find a lot of room to run and couldn’t squirm his way out of trouble. While there is still some uncertainly as to how the running back workload distribution is going to go in Dallas, it’s starting to look like the team might have a couple of good options.

Wide Receivers
Grade Player Po. Snaps Notes
A Terrance Williams WR 20 60 yard catch and run TD
B+ Lucky Whitehead WR 26 TD catch, and good block on McFadden run
B Cole Beasley WR 17 1 reception for 6 yards
C- A.J. Jenkins WR 26 1 target, not catchable

The Cowboys were without their big play making wide receiver, Dez Bryant, but that didn’t stop them from making a big play. Terrance Williams ran a great route, Romo put it in perfectly, and then TWilly was off to the races. Lucky Whitehead played well with two straight good plays. He had a nice seal off block for McFadden and then followed it up with a catch in the end zone.

Tight Ends
Grade Player Po. Snaps Notes
C Geoff Swaim TE 20 1 reception
C- Gavin Escobar TE 25 1 reception, 1 drop
D+ Jason Witten TE 21 Struggled both in pass and run blocking

The surprise here is the poor performance of Jason Witten. You won’t find many games like this for the team’s most consistent performer.

Offensive Line
Grade Player Po. Snaps Notes
B+ Travis Frederick C 34 strong run block
C+ Doug Free RT 34 1 pressure allowed
C Tyron Smith LT 34 1 sack allowed
C La'el Collins LG 19 no pressure allowed
C John Wetzel RG 12 no pressure allowed
C R.J. Dill LT 7 no pressure allowed
C- Mackenzy Bernadeau RG 43 strong with pass protection, but struggled with run blocking
C- Darrion Weems LT 12 struggled with run blocking
D Laurence Gibson RT 19 2 pressures allowed, including 1 sack
D Ron Leary LG 34 struggled with pass protection, 3 pressures allowed

The offensive line didn’t score well, but they had their moments where they looked like a well-oiled machine. Many of the reserve lineman did a lot better than last week as they got to go against guys at their depth chart level. However, after a strong game last week, rookie tackle Laurence Gibson struggled protecting the quarterback.

Defensive Ends
Grade Player Po. Snaps Notes
A- Greg Hardy DE 24 1 pressure, 2 stops, strong in run defense
A- Jeremy Mincey DE 18 2 pressures, 1 stop, strong in run defense
B+ Randy Gregory DE 28 1 sack, 3 pressures, strongest pass rushing score
B- Lavar Edwards DE 25 1 pressure
C Ben Gardner DE 22 1 pressure
C DeMarcus Lawrence DE 22 1 pressure
D+ Ryan Russell DE 20 no pressure

Let me first begin by saying it is so refreshing to see so many guys perform well on the defensive line. Greg Hardy played extremely well from the inside. With the defense getting so much contribution from other edge rushers, Hardy could find himself playing a lot of DT this year. He hasn’t made any big splay plays that grab the fan’s attention, but watching the tape shows that he’s in on many of the Cowboys big defensive stops. With all the hype of the Cowboys new pass rushers, Jeremy Mincey reminded everyone that he’s still very much in the mix. Like Hardy, he played well against both the pass and the run.

Defensive Tackles
Grade Player Po. Snaps Notes
A Davon Coleman DT 25 2 pressures, 3 stops
B+ Tyrone Crawford DT 20 good push, forced a holding penalty
B Nick Hayden DT 17 no pressure, 2 stops, strong in run defense
B- Ken Bishop DT 21 1 pressure
C- Jack Crawford DT 24 1 pressure, ineffective against the run
D Terrell McClain DT 26 1 pressure, struggled against the run

I could use this time to talk about how great Davon Coleman is, but it might seem like I was talking up a pet cat. I don’t want to be that guy. There is no doubt that he has played well all preseason. Tyrone Crawford and Nick Hayden did a good job clogging the middle. The poor performance of Terrell McClain was a little surprising. It could be just the rust as he recovers from a bone bruise and strained hamstring. He’s going to have to get it together quickly as nobody is safe with all the depth the Cowboys have on the defensive line.

Linebackers
Grade Player Po. Snaps Notes
A Jasper Brinkley LB 23 3 stops, excellent in run defense
B+ Andrew Gachkar LB 27 1 stop, 4 tackles
C Sean Lee LB 18 1 stop, 2 receptions allowed for 16 yards
C Damien Wilson LB 38 2 tackles, 4 receptions allowed for 27 yards
C Keith Smith LB 9 2 receptions allowed for 6 yards
C- Kyle Wilber LB 25 1 tackle assist

The Cowboys linebackers were attacked a lot in this game with short passes. This allowed the Vikings to get some nice gains, but when the linebackers got there – they wrapped up well. Sean Lee looked good in his debut playing the weak side LB. But even more impressive was Andrew Gachkar playing in the middle. The Cowboys have been toying with an assortment of lineups to find the best fit, but the combination of Lee-Gachkar-Hitchens might be the winning ticket while Rolando McClain serves his suspension. Jasper Brinkley played as if his job depended on it, which very well could have been the case. This definitely helps his chances.

Cornerbacks
Grade Player Po. Snaps Notes
B+ Brandon Carr CB 32 4 receptions allowed, 1 pick, QB rating 67.4
B- Tyler Patmon CB 23 1 reception allowed, QB rating 79.2
B- Corey White CB 38 2 tackles, no receptions allowed
C Morris Claiborne CB 32 no receptions, 1 penalty
D+ Robert Steeples CB 22 never targeted, 1 penalty

It may have seemed like the same ol’ Brandon Carr was out there roaming around while the receivers he was covering were making plays, but it didn’t quite go down like that. Often times Carr had good position and he made a nice interception, giving Dallas their first takeaway of the preseason. Reserves Tyler Patmon and Corey White continue to play well. And it was nice to see Morris Claiborne turn in some good snaps. The Vikings were able to move the ball at times, but the Cowboys defense did a good job of limiting the big plays.

Safeties
Grade Player Po. Snaps Notes
A Barry Church SS 30 4 stops
C+ Byron Jones FS 46 2 stops, 1 reception allowed
C Tim Scott FS 44 1 assist tackle
C J.J. Wilcox FS 29 1 reception allowed

Barry Church played extremely well, but the big story here was watching the rookie, Byron Jones, log some playing time at safety. He mis-timed his jump on the Vikings two point conversion, but played solid overall.

Special Teams
Grade Player Po. Snaps Notes
A Cole Beasley PR 2 Nice 40 yard return
B Chris Jones P 5 Averaged 46.2 yards, 2 fair catches, 2 inside the 20
C Lucky Whitehead PR 2 2 returns, 13 yards
C Dan Bailey K 5 3 kickoffs, only 1 touchback, made both PATs
F Geoff Swaim ST missed tackle
F Damien Wilson ST missed tackle
F Keith Smith ST missed tackle

Cole Beasley looked good returning punts, but everything else about the special teams was heinous. This week’s grade highlights the missed tackles from the players that could end up on the roster.

Honor Roll:

Tony Romo - a passer rating performance of 139.6 is just enough to get the blood flowing.

Greg Hardy - his powerful play isn't making any highlight reels, but his impact is being felt.

Terrance Williams - picking up where he left off last postseason.

Darren McFadden - it wasn't much, but it might help a few fans back away from the ledge a bit.

Barry Church - the upgrade to the defensive line may get him some clean looks at ball carriers.

Jeremy Mincey - played strong and showed he is still factored into the pass rushing equation.

Cole Beasley - he's making a case for the punt returning job.

Jasper Brinkley - he may be fighting for a spot, but at least he's fighting.

Davon Coleman - it's going to be hard to cut this guy, so don't bother.

After School Detention:

Dustin Vaughan - I think Ricky Vaughn has better chance of making this team.

Terrell McClain - could he be a surprise cut?

Ron Leary - struggled early, but started to put together a couple good plays.

Tyler Clutts - he won't be asked to do a lot of pass catching.

Laurence Gibson - took a step back in the fight for one of the last roster spots.

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