It was another preseason loss for the Dallas Cowboys as they dropped the (thankfully) last of these games to the Houston Texans by a score of 14-6. It left Dallas winless in preseason, but that was not what the games are about. This one, in particular, was for down-roster players to make a case for a job with the Cowboys or another team, including practice squads. Some helped themselves, some hurt their situation, and some just left us wondering.
During halftime, Nick Eatman observed that Deonte Thompson and Antwaun Woods were not playing - and that might mean that both are going to make the 53 man roster. Woods had made a great case for himself in the first three preseason games, but Thompson getting protected was a bit of a surprise. It meant that Lance Lenoir saw a lot of action, catching nine passes and taking all the punts, despite being shaken up in the second quarter. But that looks a lot more like he was getting to showcase himself for other teams rather than fight for the roster spot so many expected him to have. He did lead the team in catches and had no problems on punt returns, with one nice return. But he also had a rather stupid penalty with just seconds left, too. We will see if he does have a shot when the cuts are done, but the indications are not favorable at the moment. (This is all subject to interpretation, of course, and I may be completely wrong.)
Prior to the game, the team announced that Cooper Rush and Mike White were each getting a half to work. Rush started the game, and he did not do a lot with the opportunity. He had two interceptions and a fumble that was nullified by a penalty. One interception was almost a pick six, but Jah Reid stepped out of bounds. The turnover still resulted in a touchdown, Houston’s only score of the half. But all Rush could put on the board was a field goal on the opening series, aided by a pass interference call that got the Cowboys in range for the 57 yarder. As a matter of fact, penalties generally worked in Rush’s favor, saving him on the fumble as noted, and keeping other drives alive. He wound up his night with a dismal stat line of 14/25 for 83 yards plus the two interceptions (although the second one was on the Hail Mary pass to end the half) and a passer rating of only 29.3. As they say, woof. He was simply a bit off, and it may give the coaches something to think about as they make the final decisions on the roster.
Mike White got off to a much better start, again stringing completions together. He started his first series in the second half going four for four, although like Rush, he was not completing anything down the field. And one thing that should be noted is that he had a running game to help him, where Rush never had anything really going on in that department. But there was little doubt White looked more accurate, and he did try to throw deep late in the third quarter, but the pass was broken up on a good defensive play. This game was not likely the determining factor in anything - still, White looked much more accurate with his throws, and his decision making seemed better. But he did double hitch on at least one play that could have been a big gainer, so he is still a work in progress. The question is whether that is on the 53 man roster, or if the team will risk trying to get him to the practice squad. If this game was a look into where the two backups really are, then Rush might be the one to risk waiving.
The running back battle between Bo Scarbrough and Darius Jackson didn’t clear up much in this game. Scarbrough had four rushes for 17 yards, but dropped one pass. And Jackson found absolutely no holes, only mustering one yard on five carries, and like Scarbrough, only had one catch on two targets. They were both outperformed to an extent by Jordan Chunn and maybe Trey Williams as well, both of whom are at best practice squad candidates.
The offensive line didn’t really help either quarterback, as they had little success throughout the game. The right side, Chaz Green and Damien Mama, were particularly ineffective. It is not really a surprise that the Cowboys were reported to be in the process of trading cornerback Chavarius Ward to the Kansas City Chiefs in exchange for offensive lineman Parker Ehinger, as they really need better depth there.
Like with the running backs, things didn’t get much clearer at tight end. Dalton Schultz was just not impressive, and while Rico Gathers had some nice catches, he was generally ineffective as a blocker, and caused one nice gain to be called back with a holding call.
On defense, one standout was Jeron Johnson. The safety, who has not been talked about much, was all over the field, with at least ten tackles, including a solid stop on third and one. He may be in a contest with Tyree Robinson for the fourth safety spot, and he certainly gave the coaches something to think about.
A familiar story unfortunately emerged for Charles Tapper, as he left the field in the third quarter, possibly to go through the concussion protocol. But Dorance Armstrong, who is going to make the 53 man roster, had a very good night, with a sack, a couple of tackles for a loss, and a batted pass. And Daniel Ross, who is not a lock, got a sack, while Jihad Ward, another player who is fighting to make the roster, put together very nice back-to-back plays, getting a quarterback hit to cause an incompletion, then following up with a sack. But Kony Ealy was basically a non-factor, and it seems all but certain he is not going to make the cut.
One player who has no hope of making the Cowboys’ 53 man roster, but who really improved his chances of making a team at some point in the season, is kicker/punter Brett Maher. He nailed that 57 yard field goal, added a 41 yarder late in the game, and averaged over 43 yards on his punts. He is going to be on a lot of teams’ radar now, and deservedly so.
Despite the score, the defense looked better in this game than the offense, and that probably reflects the relative depth of the respective units. It was a desultory ending to a rather disappointing preseason. But Dallas has never cared about the score in these affairs, being much more interested in protecting their starters. That mission, for the most part, seems to have been accomplished. And in ten days, the games are for real. We will see then what this team has.