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Cowboys thoroughly disappoint in inept 17-7 loss to the Broncos

We (sort of) have football! But by no means good football for Dallas.

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Denver Broncos
Sorry it had to be this mess.
Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Let me begin this unhappy recap of the preseason game between the Dallas Cowboys and the Denver Broncos with an observation about Dallas I made before kickoff.

Sometimes you hate to be right, but I think you have to admit I nailed it as the dysfunctional Cowboys fell to the Broncos 17-7 where the most glaring stat line for Dallas was 17 penalties for 129 yards, with several other infractions declined.

It is hard to figure out where to start with the struggles in the first half, but let’s go to a sadly very familiar problem. Penalties just kept coming for the Cowboys. They had a dismal nine penalties for 65 yards accepted, with several others declined. They ran the gamut, from offsides to false starts, but a standout in a bad way was rookie Tyler Smith, who was twice flagged for holding. This is particularly troubling. The team is relying on him to be the starting left guard, but he came into the league with a reputation for getting flagged a lot. That was clearly in evidence. Mike McCarthy claimed that cutting down on the infractions was an emphasis this year. That was mission failed in the first half.

Another big disappointment was Cooper Rush. He had an opportunity to try and separate himself from Will Grier in the battle to be QB2 behind Dak Prescott, but it was squandered. Rush was off target most of the time before half, only going 9/17 for 70 yards, with a pick on a fourth-down attempt. It was just disappointing, and Grier likely gained ground by standing on the sidelines as he recovers from a groin issue.

He was not helped much by his offensive line. There was a good bit of pressure even with the expected lack of blitzes in the first preseason game. Even though Tyron Smith and Zack Martin were held out, this was extremely concerning. Depth on the offensive line is still a major concern.

However, the running game showed some surprising life, amassing 71 yards. Rico Dowdle had 36, most coming as the run game seemed to get on track. And UDFA Aaron Shampklin looked very good, getting 20 on just three carries.

Meanwhile, the Dallas run defense was strong, only allowing eight yards on the ground. One player who helped his case was Quinton Bohanna, who helped stop one run dead in its tracks. Somewhat surprisingly, Neville Gallimore played early, and had a four yard TFL on the first defensive series.

But the pass defense began to collapse in the second quarter. There were no sacks, and Nahshon Wright got beat pretty badly on several plays, including a long touchdown. Wright really hurt his case in this game. Kelvin Joseph also gave up a TD, but his coverage was generally better. The one bright spot was rookie Daron Bland. He was solid in both pass coverage and run support. He may be solidifying a spot on the 53-man roster already.

Sam Williams was rather quiet in the first half, but Trysten Hill continued to look good after having a very good camp with a batted pass. All in all, the first half was a major disappointment. We saw absolutely no clarification at kicker, as there were no kickoffs, field goal attempts, and obviously no extra point attempts as the Cowboys slumped to a 17-0 halftime deficit. And KaVontae Turpin didn’t get much chance as a returner, fair catching his punts and only getting a couple of kick returns in the first half, neither of which got out to the 25. But late in the game, he started to show some value as an offensive player. He may turn out to be a nice little find for Dallas, although he had a bad drop late in the game.

And things just continued in the second half, as penalties killed the team on its first possession after the intermission. A false start made a fourth-and-one a fourth-and-six, then one of Rush’s better throws to Peyton Hendershot was brought back by yet another holding call, this one on Aviante Collins. Then a beautiful punt was eliminated by a deep pass, and Sam Williams got into the penalty fest with a roughing the passer flag. With Brett Rypien in at QB, the Broncos drove down to three-yard line, but the defense rose to the occasion this time and stopped two consecutive passes from the three-yard line to turn the ball over to the offense.

Ben DiNucci came in to replace Rush, and his first play was the best pass of the night for the Cowboys, a 40-yard strike to Brandon Smith. He almost was victimized by a holding call, but Denver returned the favor with an illegal contact penalty. DiNucci seemed to give the team a spark, and they mounted easily their best looking drive to that point, although flags continued to fly with yet another holding penalty. At this point, they had a staggering 14 penalties for 114 yards, and it was not quite to the fourth quarter. It would just continue with the first play of the fourth quarter seeing Alec Lindstrom false start. At least DiNucci got the Cowboys in position to attempt a score. Almost inevitably, Lirim Harjullahu would miss wide right from 56 yards as rain seemed to affect the hold by Bryan Anger. But really looked like the better quarterback for Dallas, which no one should have expected. With a few penalties by the Broncos scrubs aiding things, he finally got the team on the board with a very nice looking twelve-yard touchdown pass to Simi Fehoko, capping a 95-yard drive. Rush may be in trouble. And in a very limited sample size, Brett Maher took the lead in the kicker competition by putting the extra point between the uprights.

This was a game between backups for both teams. It just reinforced the concerns about depth for Dallas, as they were inept, particularly with the unending string of flags. I have to keep coming back to that because it was the most glaring problem, and one the team should be able to control. They just didn’t. The bright spots were few and far between. The lack of discipline was very discouraging. The Cowboys coaching staff has a lot to do. It was just the first preseason game, but this was just flat bad. They are now not going to see a real practice until their joint practice against the Los Angeles Chargers before the two meet in the second preseason game. We’ll see how that one goes.

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