More than ever, NFL preseason games have become more about evaluating the bottom half of the roster to figure out who makes the team as backups to the known starters. That is why the score of the Dallas Cowboys’ loss to the Denver Broncos is somewhat meaningless. It also may be part of Mike McCarthy’s lack of concern about all those penalties, although he seems to be handling that particular topic rather poorly. While there are no absolute conclusions to draw from just the first preseason game, there are certainly some hints. Here are some questions about the roster worth addressing.
Did we get the ranking of the depth cornerbacks all wrong?
Going into the game, we knew the three starters at corner were Anthony Brown, Trevon Diggs, and Jourdan Lewis. (That may be the real order of their worth as well, but that’s another topic.) Most felt that the order of the next three players in the CB room was CB4 Kelvin Joseph, CB5 Nahshon Wright, and probably CB6 DaRon Bland. Joseph was seen as a lock to make the roster because he represents the investment of a second-round pick just a year ago. Some were thinking Wright might actually be pulling a bit ahead of him due to his showing at Oxnard.
During the Broncos game, however, it sure looked like the order was Bland, Joseph, and Wright, with a gap between Bland and the others. It is worth noting that all three seemed to be playing well during the first quarter when the pass rush was getting good pressure on Josh Johnson, but Joseph and particularly Wright looked shaky or worse when Johnson and later Brett Rypien had more time to throw. But Bland was good throughout the game no matter what else was happening, and in both phases. He was solid against the run and arguably got the defense off the field in the first quarter with a stop on third down. There were no embarrassing deep balls completed against him.
Couple this with his own impressive work in California, and there is already some data pilling up to support the contention that he is the true CB4. And if you put weight on practice performance, which the coaches certainly do, Wright may not have slipped as far as Joseph has. As was mentioned on Monday’s Cowboys Break at DallasCowboys.com, the bubble battle for the fifth CB job may be between Joseph and Wright. If the staff does not let the draft status play a part in deciding it, Joseph really should be in jeopardy. The ownership may put some pressure on this. It shouldn’t, but we know that things just work that way in Dallas.
Is swing tackle seeing something similar?
Josh Ball came in as the presumptive leader on the roster for the backup offensive tackle job. He had a rough day, allowing pressure and getting flagged twice for holding. Those flags usually happen because the tackle knows he is being beaten. Aviante Collins didn’t do much better and was called for holding himself.
While he saw far fewer snaps, Isaac Alarcón had a much better day at the office.
In other news, Isaac Alarcon allowed zero pressures across 18 pass-blocking snaps for a team-high pass-blocking grade on first review. #Cowboys— John Owning (@JohnOwning) August 14, 2022
Add no penalties to that. Admittedly he was going against third and fourth stringers while Ball and Collins faced mostly twos, but it still is noteworthy that he did so well.
It’s likely that the swing tackle is not yet on the Dallas roster, but it may be time to give Alarcón those early snaps in the second preseason game against the Los Angeles Chargers. The team may have something with him, even if they wind up sending him to the practice squad again this year. His development has been observable in his time with the team since joining in 2020. Ball seems to be suffering from having missed last year with an injury. If the team is foolishly determined to find their swing tackle from the current roster, they need to make it the best one they can. It is time to give Alarcón a chance to prove himself.
Does who wins the kicker battle really matter?
This is based on an assumption that neither Lirim Hajrullahu nor Brett Maher really separates himself in the coming weeks. If their performance in practices and the remaining preseason games is reasonably good, just flip a coin. As long as they have a kicker who is reliable from inside 40 yards, including of course extra points, it should be alright. It puts some pressure on Kellen Moore and the offense to convert more third downs. That is not a bad thing.
How damaging was the game for Cooper Rush?
Nobody expects Ben DiNucci to make the roster. So when he came in and gave the team a lift by driving them for a touchdown, it really made the dismal performance by Rush look bad. Rush has to be in damage control mode. Will Grier was having a better camp before he had his groin injury. If Grier gets back on the field and outplays Rush in the final two preseason games, he could lock up the QB2 job and leave Rush hoping he gets a pactice squad offer from the team.
As with tackle, there is still a question if Dak Prescott’s backup is on the roster, especially if Grier also stumbles in preseason. There are going to be a bunch of QBs hitting the open market during cutdowns, and some of them are going to have much more extensive résumés to consider. But the team is probably more likely to try and roll with Grier, since the season is pretty much over if the backup has to start several games. You have to protect QB1, and that is why they are more likely to sign an outside OT than a QB.
Will we get to see enough of the WRs?
One problem with having the QB struggle in preseason games is that it makes it harder to evaluate the depth wide receivers. That is what happened against Denver. Jalen Tolbert was the only WR to get more than two targets, and he only caught two of the balls that were sent his way. One was a clear drop, but others were just off-target. Although Rush denies it, he seemed to be looking for Tolbert first on most passing plays. In any case, Tolbert’s spot on the roster is secure. It is not for the others, and they need more opportunities. Simi Fehoko caught both balls thrown to him, including that lone score. All these young, untested wide receivers need more chances to be evaluated. That is why the team has to have better QB play the next couple of weeks.