Another preseason game is in the books for the Dallas Cowboys. That means another set of stats to ponder and mine for information.
One thing became clear in the come-from-ahead loss to the Cincinnati Bengals: There was a sharp difference between the starters and the backups for the Cowboys, particularly with the offensive line and the secondary. But there are still useful things to learn.
Turnovers still going the Cowboys’ way
There have now been five turnovers in the preseason games for the Cowboys - and everyone was committed by Dallas’ opponents. They added a fumble recovery and a pass interception against the Bengals. That is a very good trend.
What is not so encouraging is that the Cowboys still managed to lose both games. This does seem like something that can be chalked up to how things tend to go late in such affairs - the Dallas starters left the field with a lead in both games, and the second team was still up against the San Francisco 49ers. It also is worth noting that the Cowboys got lucky a few times. They put the ball on the ground but got it back, and a few passes could have been picked off.
Still, if you could pick one trend to continue from preseason into the real games, this would probably be it. If you are on the plus side of the turnover margin in games, you are usually winning a lot more than you lose.
Spreading the ball around
The absence of Cole Beasley and Tavon Austin may have something to do with things, but once again, the Cowboys had a lot of receivers get the ball in their hands - twelve in all. And it wasn’t just the preseason trend of getting a lot of people on the field. Dak Prescott had pass completions to six different receivers in his three series.
But the evidence points to a real shift in how the offense will run - and that does not involve forcing the ball to anyone. It helps that there have not been many cases of bad hands so far in the preseason (we are giving a pass to Terrance Williams for body catching the touchdown - it was thrown into his lower body).
Oh, and it is worth noting that tight ends caught 10 of the 24 Dallas receptions in the game. While they haven’t shown a lot of ability to go deep, as is in vogue in the NFL, they are starting to display some reliability in being possession receivers.
But everything is not all good in the passing department.
Yards per pass attempt was pretty sad
3.8, to be exact. The number was brought down by the 50% completion rate Mike White put up (more about him later), but it also reflected the paucity of downfield attempts. The offense was in short-gain, grind it out mode. That is a great ability to have, but it is hardly a survivable mode to use all the time. The team has to stretch the field at times, and they just did not do it, even with Prescott throwing the ball. We have seen those shots downfield in practices, and had a tantalizing taste in the opening series against the 49ers. But this is going to have to develop more for the regular season, or we will see a lot of series end in punts.
Penalties were down
The Cowboys only got flagged six times, and didn’t draw their first penalty until the second half, when the talent on the field was, shall we say, a bit less impressive. That is always something that needs to be controlled, and after getting dinged a disappointing 13 times in the opener, this shows good progress. Now it needs to carry over.
Stats tell us a lot about the team as a whole, but they also can be important in trying to figure out who is going to make the roster. These last four stat items deal with that.
Cooper Rush and Mike White
Neither had a good game, but the game continued the trend of Rush not really being challenged for the QB2 job. He had a better passer rating, and a much better completion percentage, 67% to 50%.
Both were affected by the poor performance of the backup offensive linemen, each getting sacked twice and having to deal with a lot of pressure. Neither was able to move the team consistently. But Rush’s spot on the 53-man roster looks very solid, while this game really struck a blow at White’s chances. He has done nothing to make him at all attractive to other teams should he be waived, which means the Cowboys would have a good shot at getting him on the practice squad. With the value of each place on the 53, that is looking more and more like a workable plan.
The rise of Taco
Taco Charlton has been getting good reviews since the start of camp, and he continued the good work he started in the 49ers game. A sack, three tackles including a TFL, a forced fumble, and a QB hit. He did see a lot of action, on the field for 49% of the defensive plays. But he made a lot out of his opportunities. Pass rushers have a history of making a big jump in their second year in the league, and that is exactly what Charlton is exhibiting. That defensive line just looks better and better, especially the ends.
Darius may get his chance
It is the second time around for Darius Jackson in Dallas. He has been in a battle with Bo Scarbrough for the RB3 job. Scarbrough was thought to have a leg up as a draftee, even as a seventh-rounder, but he was hurt in the game and once he left, Jackson played the rest of the way as the only running back to touch the ball. He made a lot of it, getting 42 yards on only seven carries (6.0 per, for the mathematically challenged). Most of it came in one series in the fourth quarter, when he had runs of 18 and 13, yards, plus a 10-yarder called back by penalty. And he was doing it largely on his own with the offensive line he had to work behind. He also caught a couple of passes from White, showing he is a plus asset in that part of the game as well.
If Scarbrough misses much time, this could put him in line for the PS as well, and clear the path for Jackson to make it to the 53. And he has some interesting change-of-pace characteristics as well. He is a good one to watch the rest of the way.
Don’t overlook Tyree Robinson
Snap counts matter, and for players at the bottom of the roster, special teams work is really big, as our OCC explained. Robinson led all defenders in plays, in on 76%. And he was in on 50% of the ST plays. That sure looks like the team is trying to get him onto the roster. Given the depth issue in the secondary, he certainly has an opportunity. Most importantly, it looks like the coaching staff sees something with him.
There are my takeaways from the game stats this week. Did you see any I missed. Let us know. (Politely, of course.)