The Dallas Cowboys wound up losing their preseason game against the Los Angeles Rams by a score of 13-10. It was a much more sloppily played game than the Hall of Fame game, especially in the first half. But there were some bright spots, including a couple of players who continued their upward trajectory, and some who had badly needed good showings.
One of the things the Cowboys wanted to work on was a better start defensively, after letting themselves get carved up pretty badly the first two series of the HOF game. They certainly came out looking a lot better against the Rams, although the scoreboard results didn’t reflect it. They forced a quick three and out, but a muffed punt by Lance Lenoir gave the ball right back to the Rams, this time at the Dallas 33. LA would score after a fumble that just eluded the grasp of the Cowboys was recovered in the end zone by rookie WR Cooper Kupp. That was the first of a string of Rams miscues that Dallas just could not find the handle on. They would put the ball on the turf four times and keep control (although one was a snap over Jared Goff’s head that set up a third and thirty-five). It would take five fumbles before the Cowboys would get a takeaway late in the first half, recovering the ball on their own three yard line. The difficulty in getting the recoveries was the bad news, but the way the defenders were attacking the ball and getting it loose was the good.
There were some other bright spots for Dallas’ defense, and the brightest was Taco Charlton. He recorded his first sack, blowing through the line and dropping Sean Mannion just outside of his own end zone. And that was just one of his plays from the first half, as he had a total of three sacks and added a QB hit and a tackle for a loss to his sack. He was not alone in showing up. Mark Nzeocha and Xavier Woods led all defenders with four tackles apiece, and David Irving and Damontre Moore were also noticeable along the defensive line.
Offensively, it was a lot rougher half for the Cowboys. Kellen Moore had a solid performance in the Hall of Fame game, but he reverted back to the player we all know, throwing third down passes short of the sticks, looking markedly noodle-armed at times, and having one pass batted at the line. It appeared to be a regression for him. The running game was not very effective either. Notably, the Cowboys opened with Emmett Cleary at LT and Byron Bell at LG, and both had their struggles early in the game. There wasn’t much in the way of receiving with Moore’s lack of effectiveness, but Noah Brown caught a couple of passes, both for 11 yards, and showed some toughness getting to the first down sticks on one of them. And while Rico Gathers only had one catch that was short of the mark needed for a first, it was a catch made under duress. While Gathers continues to need to continue growing to become a complete tight end, there is absolutely nothing wrong with his ability to get to the ball and bring it in.
Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris both got work in the first half, but nether was exceptionally effective. McFadden did manage a 4.7 yard a carry average, including one run with a nice stiff arm for a first down.
But in addition to no Dak Prescott (at least partly because of Tyron Smith being held out with his back stiffness), it must be remembered that the Cowboys will play the Rams in the regular season, so they were hardly going to show a lot.
In general, the first half, which ended up 7-3 in favor of the Rams, left a feeling that the defense was making some real strides, while the offense was languishing a bit with Moore as QB.
Cooper Rush took over at QB in the second half, and immediately looked better than Moore, completing his first three passes to Blake Jarwin, Gathers, and EZ Nwachukwu. On defense, Woods continued to look good, making one very solid tackle to keep the receiver short of a first down. It was a positive night for the sixth round pick, with some sure tackling and solid hits. Like Charlton, this was something of a breakout game for him.
But the half began to turn into the Rico show, as Gathers would catch everything that got even near him in the third quarter. He was the leading receiver for Dallas with 47 yards on four catches, including a 25 yard touchdown late in the third quarter that tied the game up. Gathers is just making steady progress every practice and every game. He may still have flaws to work on, but there is no question just what a weapon he already is. He may be playing primarily against backups, but you have to wonder if the coaching staff is not going to want to find ways to get him on the field. The question of him making the 53 man roster is probably already moot.
It also was a far superior performance by Rush, who would go 8 for 8 before missing a pass. He would finish 9/11 for 104 yards and the Gathers TD, and a 136.4 rating, then would yield the field to Luke McCown in the fouth. It is probably pointless, given the strong support Kellen Moore has from the coaching staff, but the arguments about who should be the backup quarterback are just going to intensify after this game. While there is still plenty of time for Moore to improve his showing, he may just be what he is. And Rush may have bad days ahead of him, but if he doesn’t, then the Cowboys are once again going to be faced with trying to find a way to get him through waivers to the practice squad. And that has not always gone well in recent years.
Another player who the team may need to find a way to hang onto is Lenny Jones. The linebacker was making plays all over the field, included a sack, a QB hit, and an athletic move to bat down a pass.
For any McCown fans out there, he was much closer to Moore than Rush as far as his effectiveness. And he lost two fumbles, although the second was likely due to a mistake by the center in snapping the ball while he was trying to change the play. At this point, his tenure in Dallas looks very tenuous.
The Cowboys didn’t notch a win this week, but what they saw from several of their younger players was very good. It was a sloppy game and Dallas should have capitalized on more of the Los Angeles miscues, but on balance, there was more good than bad for the Star.