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Eight takeaways from the Cowboys 17-9 loss to the 49ers

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Preseason games are all about learning things about the team. In this case, eight things to note about the Cowboys.

NFL: Preseason-Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

What did we learn from the Cowboys first preseason game against the 49ers? Let’s examine:

1. The cornerback group is good

The Cowboys cornerback group has a chance to be really special. Chidobie Awuzie, Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis all impressed last night, both in coverage and with their tackling. They were tested repeatedly with quick hitters designed to allow receivers to run after the catch and the group simply wouldn’t allow it. The Cowboys’ bold decision to jettison virtually the entire secondary after the 2016 season and invest in young talent has proved a wise decision; what was once a weakness on the team has now become a strength.

2. Donovan Wilson making a case for safety depth

The depth at safety looks improved upon last season as well. We know Jeff Heath and Xavier Woods are the starters. Beyond those two, however, the team had limited depth, mainly Kavon Frazier. We can add sixth-round pick Donovan Wilson as another player making a bid for a roster spot. Wilson took advantage of C. J. Beathard to grab a third-quarter interception. Wilson also stood out during last week’s blue/white scrimmage and has been making plays throughout training camp. Safety depth has been a concern the last couple years but it’s looking better in 2019.

3. Offensive line depth looked (mostly) good

Speaking of depth, the offensive line seems to have it - mostly. Joe Looney and Xavier Su’a-Filo were relatively obscure names that became familiar to Cowboys’ fans last season. Well, both of them, along with Andy Redmond, played pretty much all of the last three quarters of the game and held up well. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of Mitch Hyatt, who had a dreadful night. Hyatt, you’ll recall, surprisingly wasn’t drafted after an illustrious four-year career at Clemson. What we saw last night proves the scouts were correct as Hyatt was cleanly beaten multiple times and struggled on seemingly every play.

4. Cedric Wilson jumps ahead of competition at receiver

The back end of the wide receiver group might be sorting itself out. We know Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and Randall Cobb will make the team and most seem to think Tavon Austin is a lock as well. Among those fighting for the fifth (and potentially sixth) spot, Cedric Wilson had the best night. The youngster was able to beat his man to make himself available on quick slants. Cooper Rush hit Wilson three times on the play for 36 yards. Unfortunately, human drive-stopper Mike White wildly overthrew Wilson, forcing him to expose himself for a nasty hit that knocked Wilson out of the game.

Still, Wilson had a much better night than his two primary competitors, Jon’Vea Johnson and Jalen Guyton. JVJ did make a nice toe-tap sideline catch on a late fist half two-minute drive and had a few other catches. But he also dropped a couple of passes, including a ball that hit him right in the chest on what would have been a third-down conversion. Guyton, meanwhile, was invisible. At this point Wilson is clearly ahead of Johnson and Guyton at the WR spot.

5. Kicker is officially a concern

It would be shocking if the Cowboys don’t bring in additional competition for Brett Maher at the kicker position. Maher simply can’t be trusted to make short kicks. He missed from 35 yards Saturday night. This is nothing new. Maher has been unreliable on short and medium kicks throughout training camp as well as late in the year last season. Remember, Maher bounced around the CFL for five full seasons before becoming a Cowboy. His track record isn’t well-established and it’s, frankly, an uninspiring record. Expect to see another kicker, perhaps one with NFL experience, be brought into camp.

6. The backup QB spot is also a concern

The Cowboys might not bring in further competition at the backup QB spot but they should. Cooper Rush had another middling night (16 of 26 for 142 yards and no big plays - either positive or negative). Those numbers add up to a 76 passer rating. This makes four consecutive games Rush has failed to throw a touchdown or top a passer rating of 76. In fact, Rush has compiled an ugly passer rating of 50 over those four games and looks nothing like the dynamic playmaking gunslinger who electrified fans in the 2017 pre-season. Rush’s numbers by game:

Rush at least looked competent, if not exciting. The same can’t be said for 2018 fifth-round pick Mike White. Yet again, White looked completely overwhelmed by the moment, never showing any resemblance to an NFL quarterback. He was shaky in the pocket, easily taken down with pressure; when given time his throws were often erratic and off-target. Worse, he twice dropped the ball (though one was negated by a highly questionable penalty). Last season White seemed to panic the second the ball was in his hands and last night he showed no improvement in that area.

Now, to be fair, White was again under duress during most of his time in the game, with Mitch Hyatt offering Chaz Green-like “protection” on the outside. In fact, I’m not sure White has ever played in a game where he wasn’t under instant pressure seemingly every other play. Nevertheless, he’s shown no reason coaches, teammates or fans should have faith in him. His career numbers in five pre-season games and 100 dropbacks:

  • 0 touchdowns
  • 1 interception
  • 10 sacks
  • 5.6 yards per attempt
  • 69

White’s airball to an open Cedric Wilson forced the receiver to stretch for a ball, exposing himself to a big hit that knocked Wilson out of the game. That’s one more teammate forced to the sidelines than touchdowns thrown in White’s career.

6. Defensive line depth was okay

Without Demarcus Lawrence or Robert Quinn, the defensive line was still able to generate some pressure. Taco Charlton, facing mostly 2s and 3s, again showed he can be disruptive against backups; the question is can he bring that type of play against NFL regulars? Dorrance Armstrong continued a strong camp as he’s making a serious bid to be a regular in the DL rotation. Still, both of those players look much better as complementary players, not regulars.

7. Nothing exciting from the play-calling

Those hoping for some revelations in the play-calling from new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore had to be disappointed. The ever conservative Cowboys offense looked pretty much like what we’ve seen over the years. Now we don’t know if the Cowboys and Moore are just holding their cards close to their vest, not wanting to give future opponents film to work with.

But anyone who watched the Chiefs against the Bengals Saturday saw an offense presenting challenges to the defense through motion and alignment throughout the game. The Chiefs, who happened to have the highest-scoring offense in the league last year, seem to think that giving future opponents lots of things to think about is better than giving them nothing to think about.

8. No major injuries

Finally, let’s count our blessings that (apparently) no one suffered any major injuries. Luke Gifford suffered a sprained ankle (that looked like it might have been a fracture, initially). And as noted, Cedric Wilson went out with apparent concussions symptoms. Beyond that, however, just the usual minor ailments after a game. The primary objective entering any preseason game is to emerge without losing any regulars and the Cowboys met that objective.