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Cowboys reveal much about coming roster in 17-15 loss to Buccaneers

And have a surprisingly exciting finish thanks to a real unknown.

NFL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Dallas Cowboys
The game wasn’t so good, but there were still interesting things going on.
Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Cowboys ended the preseason with a 17-15 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Of course, if the score doesn’t matter in preseason games, it really, really doesn’t matter in the fourth game. The starters sat while backups, many of whom have no real chance of making the Cowboys’ or any roster, tried to find a way to impress. The staff meanwhile is doing the last bit of evaluation before the cut to 53, which has to be done by 3 p.m. Dallas time on Saturday. For many of the players who were on the field, this was the last time they will wear an NFL uniform. A few solidified a roster spot, and several younger players made an argument one way or another for a shot at the practice squad.

Before the game even started, Todd Archer of ESPN put out some very useful information.

Based on the players working out before the game, the following will not play tonight vs. Tampa Bay: Dak Prescott, Cooper Rush, Tony Pollard, Alfred Morris, Jamize Olawale, Jason Witten, Michael Gallup, Tavon Austin, Randall Cobb, La’el Collins, Travis Frederick, Connor Williams, Byron Jones, Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis, Anthony Brown, Jeff Heath, Xavier Woods, Antwaun Woods, Taco Charlton, Daniel Ross, Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith and Chris Covington. This does not include injured players, like Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, Connor McGovern, Amari Cooper, Sean Lee, George Iloka, Darian Thompson, Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz.

There are some real tells about who is going to be on the 53 man roster. Some things we pretty much already knew, but there is also a surprise or two.

  • Clearly, Rush has won the QB2 job over Mike White. Somebody has to play quarterback, of course, so being the guy carrying the load in this game doesn’t mean White is definitely off the 53. His play, however, might have done that.
  • Likewise, you can’t read too much into Morris being out. His future with the team is linked directly to Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout.
  • Lewis being on the list confirms that he is the fourth cornerback.
  • Things get interesting with two defensive linemen, Charlton and Ross. I think this means both are gong to make the team, but it could mean something else.
  • Chris Covington is the final name of interest, since many thought his job might be in jeopardy.

Of course, the Cowboys couldn’t sit all of the players projected to be on the 53 man roster. They still had to play this game, and that means some players that are pretty safe had to go out and be on the field. Further, some of the players not included in the injured in Archer’s post, like Charlton, are also nursing some bumps and bruises, so they might just be out as a precaution. The post game snap counts may be telling. In any case, within less than 48 hours we will know who is in and who isn’t.

For the players who did take the field, this was their last chance to make an impression, whether they were on a roster bubble, hoping to get a shot at the practice squad, or trying to catch the eye of another team.

If there is any significance to who started in this game, it is interesting to note that Jordan Chunn got the first handoff from White, and Jon’Vea Johnson caught the initial pass, a nice 17 yard gain. The offense was not able to do much else, and White threw a pass that cold have been picked if the defensive back had been facing the play.

The defense got things started with a bang, as Donovan Olumba intercepted an underthrown pass from Ryan Griffin at the Buccaneers 26 and scooted in for a touchdown. There were two other things to note from that four play series: Jordan Phillips had three consecutive tackles, and Kasey Redfern missed the extra point. Given some of the kicker woes other teams are experiencing, maybe we should not be feeling too bad about Brett Maher.

White would turn the ball over deep in Dallas territory on a strip/sack, which led to a touchdown and a 7-6 lead for Tampa Bay. The pocket collapsed fairly quickly, as both defenses looked more capable than the offenses, but the QB probably held the ball a bit too long. However, the poor play of the Cowboys’ offensive line appeared to be hampering things a great deal in the early going. That was unfortunate for the skill players. It is hard to do much when the opponents defensive line is playing in your backfield on so many downs. During the game, Nate Newton talked with the booth crew about the struggles Jake Campos was having, giving up far too much pressure on White. On the next play, it wasn’t Campos, but a breakdown by the interior that got White absolutely leveled.

The Cowboys’ secondary was doing all it could to help the offense in the first half, as Tyvis Powell and Donovan Wilson joined Olumba in picking off passes. The Cowboys mounted a decent drive after Wilson’s interception, going 38 yards to set up a 32 yard Redfern field goal, giving Dallas a 9-3 lead.

One roster battle coming into this game was for the sixth linebacker spot, assuming Chris Covington is joining the starters and Joe Thomas on the roster. Justin Phillips and Nate Hall both had a very strong game, tying as the two leading tacklers with 11 each, with Phillips adding a pass breakup in coverage. Justin March just did not look as good. The latter took a bad angle on a pass play that allowed the Bucs to get a first down. He also was penalized for hands to the face just before Tampa Bay scored their second touchdown. But he did put some positive plays up, including a sack and an additional tackle for a loss.

TE Marcus Lucas continued to make himself an interesting question for the staff with another good performance, including a key catch of a difficult ball to convert a third down late in the game. Daniel Wise was doing the same on defense, notching two sacks early in the game.

A couple of injuries that could be very bad for a couple of hopefuls took Jon’Vea Johnson and Jordan Chunn off the field. Johnson was probably fighting for a practice squad opportunity, but Chunn has gotten some real buzz as a real contender for the RB3 job. It would be sad if he misses out on the chance due to being hurt this close to the cutdown.

Even more troubling was a report in the third quarter that Donovan Wilson was getting X-rays on his ankle. There is no doubt he has made the 53 man roster, so it was good to see him back on the sidelines later, still in full uniform.

Cedrick Wilson did not have a great game catching the ball, partly because of some off target throws from White. But he was very active on special teams, including two tackles as well as returning both kickoffs and punts. That is a very good sign for him making the team.

There was bad news of another sort for White as Taryn Christion came in late in the third and marched the team down the field. It would end on a called run when he had the ball knocked loose to be recovered by the Buccaneers in the end zone, but before that he 4 for 4 passing and had a quarterback sneak on fourth and one to extend the drive. Even with the mistake, it was a surprisingly efficient performance by a player who has seen extremely little work at the QB position since joining the team. And on the next series, Christion shook off the fumble and got the team moving again, including a great scramble for a first down. Then he would lead the Cowboys’ offense to its only touchdown, although the real credit goes to Jalen Guyton, who broke a tackle at the point of the catch and streaked 69 yards down the sideline for his first real “wow” moment of the preseason. The defense gave Christion one last shot, but with under a minute left and no timeouts, it was too much to ask of him. It was always very doubtful that White would make the 53 man roster, but now he may have lost his shot at a practice squad job to the new kid. Just from this look, Christion may just be a better fit for what Kellen Moore is trying to do.

We’ll find out about all the roster moves shortly. Now, it’s on to the regular season.