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Backups flop, Cowboys drop third preseason game to Cardinals 27-3

It was expected Dallas would not do well. But they did worse than we thought they should.

NFL: Arizona Cardinals at Dallas Cowboys
Randy Gregory was one of the few bright spots for Dallas.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

Welp, that was a bit of a mess. The Dallas Cowboys (or at least the remnant that was on the field) were trounced by the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 27-3. Only a field goal in the closing seconds kept it from being a shutout. But, given that the Cowboys did not put their starting QB, RB, and three of the expected opening game offensive linemen on the field, it may not be all that surprising.

The offense struggled a lot in the first half, committing three turnovers. Cooper Rush threw a pick six to Patrick Peterson in the first half, then got picked by Budda Baker in the end zone to crush what had been a nice two minute drill to end the first half. Rush was simply not accurate, and while he saw a good bit of pressure behind the makeshift offensive line, his performance was just inept through most of the first half. Rod Smith added a fumble trying to hurdle Peterson. Oh, and the special teams was no help, with Lance Lenoir muffing two punts. One was caused by a collision with Byron Jones, but the other one was all on Lenoir, resulting in a touchdown when the ball wound up in the end zone. By the end of the game, the Cowboys would have handed the ball to the Cardinals eight times, which is just terrible however you look at it.

But there was one positive in the first half, and that was the Dallas defense. Randy Gregory had a sack, and the rest of the D added four tackles for a loss. They only gave up three points as the offense and special teams kept handing the Cardinals excellent field position. Chidobe Awuzie was also a terror, breaking up passes and making sure tackles, including one of the TFLs. And it was a positive performance for Jourdan Lewis as well, who had five tackles by halftime. The Cowboys have something going on defense this year, with a fierce pass rush and, on this night, some good coverage.

Depth may still be an issue, however, as the Cardinals got a 59 yard rushing touchdown from T.J. Logan to cap the opening drive of the second half. Marqueston Huff had a chance to stop him, but whiffed badly on it.

With the general ineptitude displayed by Rush in the first half, Mike White had a chance to make a statement in the second - but of course, was also playing without a lot of talent around him. Still, he did look better, making some connections with his receivers. On his first series, he was let down by Blake Jarwin, who fumbled the ball, but he came back on the second drive. He started out his night going eleven for eleven passing before finally missing a connection, but wound up having the seventh turnover of the game for Dallas when he held the ball too long and had it slapped out of his hand. That sometimes poor pocket awareness is a concern, but his play was far ahead of Rush’s. It was a pretty clear win for White on the night, at least until he threw an interception in the fourth quarter.

Rico Gathers did not have a spectacular play, but actually looked a bit more like a football player, making some receptions, including one that kept a drive alive when he did a flip over the defender and hung onto the ball. He still has a challenge to make the roster, and still had some assignment issues when he was asked to do something that did not involve catching the ball.

While there were a lot of disappointing plays in this game, it also was one that you don’t want to try and find too much to take away. With the rash of injuries on the offensive line, the Cowboys basically decided to not worry about winning. The start of the game was clearly a mismatch between the Cowboys’ offense and the Cardinals’ defense. But when the situation was reversed and the talent level was more equitable, Dallas had a clear advantage.

The most disturbing thing may have been the problems on special teams. Lenoir came into this game with many thinking he had played his way onto the roster, but those two muffs plus another punt he nearly lost, and a lack of much else to show may have hurt his situation.

In the competition to back up Elliott and Rod Smith, Darius Jackson looked better than Bo Scarbrough. Jackson did not do much running the ball, but he was active as a receiver, catching four balls for 28 yards. In particular, he was used for some screen passes, and looked good. The fight for RB3 is still close, and it could come down to the final game against the Houston Texans.

About all you can really say after this is that the defense looks very good for Dallas, while the second team offense has some issues, and special teams were pretty much a hot mess. It was driven by the injury problems the Cowboys faced, and the subsequent protection of certain key starters. Still, anytime a team looks this bad, you get a bad taste in your mouth. But having Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Sean Lee healthy to start the regular season is more important than anything we saw tonight.

One more game to go, and then they will count.

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