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Cowboys drop second preseason game to Bengals 21-13, Jerry Jones update on Zack Martin

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The starters looked good, but there is a possible depth crisis developing.

NFL: Cincinnati Bengals at Dallas Cowboys
We did get to see this.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Jerry Jones with an update on Zack Martin:


Original article starts here.

For the second time in a row, the Dallas Cowboys took an early lead in a preseason game, only to see it be lost after the starters left the field. But the 21-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals feels more concerning than the earlier defeat at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers. This time, there were some troubling injuries. And more importantly, this wasn’t just a case of scrubs failing to do their job. There was clear evidence of a critical lack of depth at certain key positions.

There were several players who were held out of the game: Ezekiel Elliott, Noah Brown, Travis Frederick, Cole Beasley, Marqueston Huff, Leighton Vander Esch, and Tavon Austin. This was largely precautionary, with Elliott just being protected in the preseason, and the others dealing with injuries that might not have prevented them from playing in the regular season. With so many wide receivers out, opportunities were certainly available for the others.

For those who might be interested, the captains for the coin toss were Dak Prescott, Sean Lee, Tyrone Crawford, and Dan Bailey.

INJURY UPDATES

Some bad news. Zack Martin left the game and is scheduled to get an MRI on his knee, and Xavier Woods also went out with a hamstring issue. Obviously, those are both not good, although we don’t know the severity of either yet. But if Martin misses any time at all, it could spell real trouble for the Cowboys. Other players who were injured were Datone Jones, Bo Scarbrough, Jameill Showers, and Duke Thomas. After getting through the first game relatively unscathed, the dreaded injuries have started piling up.

Starters

The Cowboys played primarily starters for the first three series for each team. And they clearly had the best of things.

Dak Prescott would go 10 of 15 passing for 86 yards and a touchdown, with a passer rating of 103.8. He started a bit slow, and had some clear misses during the second possession, but really settled down on the third drive, which resulted in a touchdown. And that was all Prescott, as he evaded pressure and rolled to his left. The play was broken, but Prescott kept moving, feinting a run, and Terrance Williams, who was supposed to just be clearing out space on the play, started working from the back of the end zone toward his quarterback. Prescott floated the ball to Williams, who was in a battle with Carl Lawson to get open. The ball was perfectly placed, and although Williams did catch it with his body, it was a great ending to a solid, 82 yard drive.

Prescott has now led four drives this preseason, resulting in two touchdowns and a field goal. And the Cowboys defense had the best of the Bengals as well. Over those first three series, Dallas outgained Cincinnati 159 yards to 35, put up nine first downs while allowing only two, and established a 10-0 lead that extended through halftime.

Some other things that stood out while the starters were involved:

Geoff Swaim had two catches, and looked to be the most dependable of all the tight ends. It is probably veteran experience, but Prescott did seem to look for him.

It was “spread the ball around” passing again. The offense is clearly not flowing through one or two receivers. The passes were mostly short, but got the job done. Williams obviously had the biggest reception, but Michael Gallup, Allen Hurns, Swaim, Blake Jarwin, and Rod Smith also got in on the action with the starters.

We saw the widely anticipated first action from Randy Gregory, who was brought in on passing downs. He didn’t show up on the stat sheet, but was part of pressure that was forcing Andy Dalton to get rid of the ball to avoid pressure. It helped get the D off the field.

Chidobe Awuzie had the play of the game late in the first half, although it was after the second stringers had come in. He went high in the air to tip the ball up, then gathered it in for the interception. It was spectacular.

Like Chidobe Awuzie, Antwaun Woods started the game, and stayed on the field with when it was mostly second stringers. The extra work looks like a strong indication that he is being prepped for a role on the final 53, perhaps as the starting 1 tech DT.

Overall, the starting defense was as good as the offense. They got pressure and forced two three-and-outs. Sean Lee saw his first action as well.

Who is playing on special teams is also important to note, and Lance Lenoir was the punt returner throughout the first half. That may be significant. He has made an excellent case to be part of the receiving corps, and being a return specialist would just bolster his chances.

Other good performances

Taco Charlton had himself a very nice night. He forced a fumble and got the first sack by any Dallas player this preseason. He added a quarterback hit as well, and had a total of three tackles to his credit.

Rod Smith continues to demonstrate his value as Elliott’s backup, having the longest run and longest reception of the first half (16 and 19 yards respectively).

With Scarbrough hurt, Darius Jackson seized the opportunity. On the first Cowboys drive of the fourth quarter, he had runs of 18, 10, and 13 yards, plus caught a pass as well.

The negatives

Unlike the first game, there were a lot more negatives to note this time around.

A big one is that both Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis are not doing much to claim the nickel cornerback job. Both looked bad at times. And there is a larger problem with depth in the secondary overall. As happened last week, the defense suddenly became porous late in the game. The Bengals’ third stringers seemed to move the ball at will, with lots of missed tackles in that secondary. And now with both Showers and Thomas on the injury list, things are just getting worse.

And offensive line depth is just bad. Joe Looney had to play most, possibly the entire game at center due to the Frederick injury. And Connor Williams also saw work deep into things as the team tries to get him experience. But the rest of the backups just struggled, and both Cooper Rush and Mike White had terrible protection. That makes their battle to become Prescott’s backup hard to evaluate. Chaz Green in particular continued his string of bad performances. It is hard to envision any way he can salvage his spot with the team.

Speaking of the backup QB battle, Rush was not impressive, and White did not look good at all. While that may be partly attributed to those line struggles, there were also too many bad throws and decisions. White’s best pass completion was to Rico Gathers, who frankly just reached around and took the ball away from the defender just before the two minute warning in the fourth quarter.

And for the second time, the Cowboys did not turn the ball over, and took it away from the Bengals twice. Yet they still came out on the short end of the score. That is not supposed to happen.

Last week, the late collapse that led to being on the short end of a meaningless score didn’t seem indicative of a real problem. But this game was different. The way the Bengals came back and took over in the second half was all about the lack of depth mentioned above. While we know how good the starting offensive linemen are for the Cowboys, the injury to Martin emphasizes how you have to have quality backups - and that just isn’t the case. And right now, the Cowboys don’t even have a reliable situation with their nickel secondary. That was thought to be a strength of the team, but right now, it is the weakness of the defense. Kris Richard has a lot of work to do. And he better get it done soon.

This was a worrisome game, with multiple injuries and some frankly disappointing performances once the starters were off the field. Lack of depth has been the Achilles’ Heel for the Cowboys in the past, and it is threatening to be that again this year.