It wasn’t pretty, but preseason debuts rarely are. The Dallas Cowboys went up to Denver and put on a display that was, let’s say, less than flattering. It was riddled with mistakes that brought out so much laundry that the officials are going to have to do two separate loads. It’s not how you’d hope to see the team open the season, but that’s what they gave us. Here are five takeaways from this less-than-satisfying preseason opener.
1. They have a tackle problem
Our worst fear is starting to come true as the team’s reliance on young tackles to protect the edge is not going according to plan. Josh Ball did not play very well and if you aren’t sure which one is Ball, he’s number 75, a number you frequently heard when the refs were calling out the penalties. The second-year player out of Marshall was okay in some instances where he was able to engage with the defender without holding, but then there were other times when his footwork looked a bit stiff resulting in plays where the Broncos' reserve edge rushers blew right by him.
This sense of urgency was made worse by the fact that the team’s other healthy reserve tackle option, Aviante Collins, was terrible. He was getting beat regularly and got his own share of holding penalties called. The team needs more from a player who is likely going to have to fill in if one of their starters goes down. Hopefully, the Cowboys will address this concern and sign a veteran swing tackle to the roster sooner rather than later.
2. Who ordered the burnt toast?
The Cowboys have a solid group of starting cornerbacks. Trevon Diggs is coming off an All-Pro year and Anthony Brown is arguably one of the top performers in training camp. Even Jourdan Lewis is a competent slot corner, which puts the starting group in good shape. But things go south after that.
The hope is that between Kelvin Joseph, Nahshon Wright, and DaRon Bland a couple of these guys can show enough to be viable reserves. So far, there isn’t much to make us believe that’s a real possibility. Wright repeatedly gave up too much separation on Saturday as he was on the wrong end of two big receiving plays where he was just too far away to utilize his great length. Both of these plays resulted in the Broncos' only two touchdowns on the night either directly or by setting it up.
Joseph was a lot better at staying with his man, but his size did him no favors when he allowed a touchdown reception near the goal line. He also had a bonehead offsides penalty that gifted the Broncos three points when Denver converted a field goal after missing the first attempt.
The rookie Bland might have been the best of the group as he anticipated the plays a little better and hit with authority. It’s just one game, but the rookie looked better than both the second-year players. Still, the Broncos torched the Cowboys' secondary on multiple occasions as none of their corners could come up with a good play.
3. Rush was a little off
Entering the year, it felt like the Cowboys had themselves a solid backup with Cooper Rush with the wild card Will Grier serving as extra competition to see if they might be able to upgrade. Unfortunately, we didn’t see Grier in this one as he was held out with an injury, but we did see Rush and it wasn’t very good. Rush was off with his throws, often times telegraphing his passes and throwing into coverage. He had one pick where the ball went straight to the defender and he’s lucky a couple of others didn’t get jumped either. Rush also had a couple of passes knocked down at the line of scrimmage and just wasn’t able to do anything with the offense.
Oddly enough, Ben DiNucci made a couple of good plays and came away with the team’s only touchdown pass when he found Simi Fehoko open in the end zone. The Nooch isn’t in the mix as a possible no. 2, so hopefully we get a better showing next week whether it’s a bounce-back game from Rush or a nice debut from Grier.
We discussed all of our takeaways in a special edition episode of the BTB Roundtable on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you don’t miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
4. Defensive line was pretty good
The Cowboys have an abundance of depth along the defensive line and it’s going to be difficult for them to cut down the defensive end and tackle position groups. Neville Gallimore, Dante Fowler, and Tarell Basham all had clean shots in the backfield after throwing aside their blockers and second-year defensive tackle Quinton Bohanna was often seen moving bodies The Cowboys as a team only allowed 39 rushing yards on 22 carries, equating to just 1.8 yards per attempt. They were stuffing everything.
The Cowboys held all their main guys out of action, but the guys they did play looked a step better than the Broncos' reserves. This will be an ongoing process to seek out the best pieces from this group, and Saturday’s performance just re-iterated how many of these pieces they have to choose from.
5. We need a little Morer from Maher
For the first three quarters, we got nothing to look at when it came to the kickers because the Cowboys had a big old goose egg. No kicks, no scores, no nothing. But eventually, the chickens came home to roost as Liram Hijrullahu started things off with a field goal attempt that went wide right. To be fair, it was a long one.
Brett Maher did come in and nail a perfectly placed extra point (it’s amazing what you can start to be happy about) and followed it up with a booming kickoff out of the end zone. It’s hard to say what any of this means, so the Cowboys kicking search continues, but this could be the first indication that Maher could once again end up being the Cowboys kicker.