You can’t always get what you want.
But if you try sometimes well you just might find
You get what you need.
- Noted philosophers and life coaches The Rolling Stones
The always present “yeah, but” comments about the Dallas Cowboys 24-19 preseason win over the Indianapolis Colts are centering around the lack of talent the latter team brought to the contest. They were without Andrew Luck, and clearly they had much less talent throughout their roster than the Cowboys. But when a good team faces inferior competition, they are supposed to dominate. And that is just what Dallas did, except for the Darren McFadden fumble and anytime Kellen Moore was in at quarterback.
In one of the most significant developments of the game, the three primary candidates to take on the load of running the ball in Ezekiel Elliott’s absence all had very good outings. McFadden had 59 yards rushing, Alfred Morris chipped in 49, and Rod Smith had 53 on only seven carries. They all were over five yards per carry. With Elliott likely out for up to six games, that is highly reassuring.
And it says a lot about the offensive line. Only McFadden benefited from running behind the likely starting five, and that was just on the first series. After that, Chaz Green stepped in to protect Tyron Smith and his back while also gaining much needed experience as the possible swing tackle. Green had a mixed bag, with some penalties, but still the offense chugged along impressively - when Dak Prescott and Cooper Rush were on the field. The biggest development of the night for the offensvie line was that Jonathan Cooper saw extended work at left guard and backup center, logging 57 snaps, the most of anyone on the team. And he had his best performance of the preseason by far. It looks like the major questions on the offensive line have been answered with him stepping up at guard and La’el Collins apparently having right tackle locked down.
Speaking of Prescott, he was basically perfect. At least his passer rating was, and the way the offense sliced through the Colts’ defense when he was in certainly quieted the “sophomore slump” talk. Crucially, he demonstrated the ability to attack further downfield and was crisp and decisive on all his reads and throws. Even with the backup running backs showing well, the Cowboys will need him to maintain his excellence throwing the ball as the quality of the opponents is expected to be markedly better once the regular season starts. That looks very likely after his performance.
Dez Bryant looks poised to return to the top tier of NFL receivers. Cole Beasley still always gets open. And Jason Witten somehow finds a way to be there when the quarterback needs him to keep the sticks moving. Even Geoff Swaim had a good catch and some effective blocks, ensuring some tight end depth.
The defense was equally effective against an admittedly anemic Indianapolis offense, only surrendering two field goals before a garbage time touchdown that had no effect on the outcome. They still failed to get any turnovers, but repeatedly got off the field with some good tackling. The most noteworthy one belonged to Jaylon Smith, seeing his first action in a live football game in over a year and a half. But the tackle by Byron Jones against a much larger Jack Doyle to stop him just inches from the first down marker was perhaps the most impressive play on defense of the game.
The pass rush was not spectacular, but Damontre Moore got a sack. Taco Charlton had his second solid performance in a row. The Colts had almost no running game until the Cowboys were deep into their defensive line and linebacker rotations.
With Sean Lee out of the game, the on field leader of the defense appeared to be Orlando Scandrick. He had a batted pass and a tackle for a loss, and the Colts did not want to throw in his direction much at all. But he was also the lone injury scare, leaving the field and being evaluated for a concussion, which fortunately came up negative.
And that raises an interesting question. After the very strong showing by the starters, is there really any reason to risk any of them in the final two preseason games? It is hard to see just what else the team needs to see from any of them. Outside of perhaps the defensive line, the projected starters are all pretty much known quantities at this point. Maybe it is time to get out the bubble wrap and use the remaining preseason work to let the downroster players make their various cases for continuing in the NFL.
Declare last night the "dress rehearsal" and give Kellen and Cooper a game apiece.— Tom Ryle (@TomRyleBTB) August 20, 2017
Extend that to all the starters. Keep them on the sidelines and healthy. Of course, Jason Garrett may have a very different approach to things, but this seems like a very good time to depart from the traditional approach of using the third week of preseason to give the starters extended work. By sitting the top 22 to 25 players the rest of the way, the team can really examine the depth and prospective practice squad players. They have a group of rookies that need work, especially Chidobe Awuzie and Jourdan Lewis, who have been limited due to minor injuries. The backup offensive linemen can benefit from working more and as more cohesive groups. Rod Smith is another player who is likely to benefit greatly from more carries, especially behind the second team line as opposed to the third string he has mostly worked with.
And although it will not likely change the thinking of the staff, it would certainly be very interesting to us as fans to have a complete game for each of Moore and Rush. It is not likely to change our perception of either, but it does seem like a more definitive way to evaluate them.
All of this is possible because the Cowboy saw several questions apparently answered against the Colts. With the offensive line probably settled, the offensive skill players clicking like it was midseason, and the defense getting stops, Dallas already looks prepared to go into the regular season. This game was just what the team needed, and earlier than almost anyone expected.