On Saturday, the Dallas Cowboys will be halfway through their brief preseason schedule as they go to play the Seattle Seahawks. The first game against the Jacksonville Jaguars was an up and down affair, not atypical of these contests. Some things went well, while others require more work. Here are trends to keep an eye on.
This is the most nerve-wracking part of preseason. Last Saturday, they got off lightly, with Malik Jefferson the only player who left the game. He is expected to be back soon. We certainly hope things continue in that vein.
This is why we saw almost no projected starters take the field against Jacksonville. With the reduction of preseason games, the previous use of one of them, usually the third, as a dress rehearsal is no longer seen as necessary by all teams. We haven’t been told how Dallas is approaching this. If they do use that approach, this is the logical time. The final game should be all about the last few roster decisions.
My vote would be to skip it entirely. The Cowboys’ starters don’t need a meaningless game with full contact. Keep them healthy and trust their preparation and professionalism. If things are a bit rusty in the season opener against the New York Giants, that’s probably a decent tradeoff.
Now, some things that need to go better this game.
We discussed this overall idea on the latest episode of Ryled Up on the Blogging The Boys podcast network. Make sure to subscribe to our network so you do not miss any of our shows! Apple devices can subscribe here and Spotify users can subscribe here.
We need to start seeing some clarity about the offensive line
The backups had a rough outing. Pass and run blocking were very uneven last week, most crucially in the first half when we should have been seeing the players with the best chance of making the roster. This is always a hard task in preseason as offensive line play depends a great deal on coordination and consistency. The staff appeared to be doing some shuffling to try and figure out what they have. While the new Texas Coast offense was helpful in overcoming some of the issues, we really need to see things start to gel this game.
More pass rush, please
This is supposed to be the strength of the defense. It is arguably the best part of the entire team. But that didn’t show up as the Cowboys failed to record a single sack and got little pressure on the quarterbacks all game. While they sat their top three EDGE rushers, it was still a bit disappointing. They need to get off the schneid this week.
One player did flash, UDFA Isaiah Land. He might be earning himself a practice squad job.
There were breakdowns, and they seemed a bit too numerous. Countering that were six passes defended. But they did have to face starter Trevor Lawrence. Still, rookie Nathan Rourke had a very solid game and caught the defensive backs out of position too often.
Now for a few position groups that had a very good first outing.
Jake Ferguson was the only projected starter to see the field, playing 10 snaps, and he looked completely ready to be TE1. Luke Schoonmaker also saw limited action and just had one catch, while Peyton Hendershot never had a target.
But the performance of John Stephens carried the day for this group; he was the team’s leading receiver. After a strong start to camp, it looked like the staff wanted to feed him the ball to see if it carried over to live action. He did not disappoint, catching five of his seven targets, including one touchdown. He is the early leader for UDFA breakthrough this year.
Here, it was also a case of one player carrying things. That was of course the smol back himself, Deuce Vaughn. The leading rusher for the Cowboys, he amassed 50 yards and a touchdown while only being on the field 28% of the time. It was an exciting debut and had the stadium buzzing. The rest of the backs need to do more as neither Malik Davis nor Rico Dowdle got much traction behind that makeshift line. But Hunter Luepke flashed on one play, and could be a sleeper in this room.
What a difference a year makes. In 2022, the team had CeeDee Lamb, a still recovering Michael Gallup, and not much else. Now, with Gallup healthy and speed merchant Brandin Cooks in the fold, they have a top tier starting trio.
But the most exciting thing is the depth, which was on display last week. Jalen Tolbert is going to erase the memory of his disappointing rookie season if he keeps playing like this. And on Tuesday, he just kept on trucking in practice, including this scintillating catch in the back of the end zone.
He wasn’t the only WR to have a good game. Simi Fehoko was seen as having slipped down the depth chart in practices, but he brought in all four the passes directed his way. Additionally, last year’s UDFA darling, Dennis Houston, caught three passes for 33 yards. We hope to see KaVontae Turpin get a chance to be part of the offense as well since he is expected to make the team as the return specialist. He didn’t see much action, but did catch one pass.
The player who hurt their case was rookie Jalen Brooks. He only caught one of five chances. He had been a real standout in practices, which may bear more weight when the roster is cut down. But he needs to do better this time around.
This may have been the best unit on the team against the Jaguars. Devin Harper, Damone Clark, and rookie DeMarvion Overshown were all flying around, making tackles, and Harper added both a pass breakup and a fumble recovery. Jabril Cox was quieter, but he did notch two tackles. This is shaping up to be a very solid group.
There were also a couple of places that can only be called mixed bags.
It appears that there is no real competition to be QB2 after Cooper Rush completed 10 of 12 passes, looking very comfortable in the West Coast offense. The staff apparently didn’t need to see any more, sitting Rush after the first quarter. But Will Grier had a rougher outing. While no one wants to see him take the field for meaningful snaps at any point in the season, he still needs to put a better showing on the field this week.
Will the Cowboys really roll with Brandon Aubrey, or bring in a veteran before the regular season? Aubrey missed an extra point on Saturday. He bounced back in Tuesday’s practice, only missing one kick from 40 yards.
But he is not even attempting 50-yarders. This might be a sign that McCarthy is not going to rely on long kicks to win games. Still, this could come back to haunt them if they don’t go a different direction.
Finally, the new offense
This seemed to go well for the most part, with execution the real problem when it didn’t. We are just getting a taste of how the team will play in the regular season with Dak Prescott and company running things, but overall, the first game was a cause for optimism, and we definitely need to see that continue.