Did the Cowboys find a Defensive Lineman in the Ravens Game?



Observations from the Cowboys 37-30 loss to the Ravens in a preseason game Saturday.

It’s difficult to evaluate the Cowboys defense when playing such a variety of players. It was a combination of starters, backups, and guys who likely won’t even make the roster, all out there at the same time.

No surprise that the results were a mixed bag but I do think the Cowboys may have found a much needed defensive lineman and I think one guy stepped up on defense that they are expecting to help them. More on that later but first, a look at the return of their QB.

In a earlier blog, “5 Things to look for in the Ravens game” I said I wanted to see how Romo performs in a game. I came away feeling encouraged that he is ready to go but not completely convinced that he is 100%. Romo moved nicely to buy some time and complete a pass for a first down on their first drive which was nice to see.

Later he threw a couple underthrown passes to Dez Bryant which Dez actually turned one into a touchdown with a nice adjustment. Did Romo intend to throw the ball short to let Dez make a play? Or is his back preventing him from putting a zip on deeper passes? Should we be concerned a bit?

I’m actually not sure which is the case but Dez is such a beast it may not matter anyway as long as Romo throws it his way. It is not a bad strategy at this point, to just throw the ball up toward Dez and let him do his thing. Even in double coverage, I like the chances Dez comes down with the ball.

Found a Baller on the Defensive Line?:
The Dallas defense finally recorded a sack Saturday which came from Martez Wilson. But late in the game recently signed Zach “The Sack” Minter entered and took over the game recording two sacks, four tackles a forced fumble. He brought some much needed energy to the defensive line and proved to be unblockable as he led a come back for Dallas that came up a bit short.

Have they found some much needed help on the defensive line in Minter? Perhaps so, but I would like to see him play in the game earlier against better competition next time. The Ravens backups couldn’t handle him but that’s all we really know for now. Minter was previously on the Bears roster.

Rolando McClain Stepping Up:
A big need for Dallas is a player to step up and take control of the middle LB spot and that is why they went out and signed a retired McClain. During the game, he displayed his athletic ability which made him a first round pick by the Raiders. Rolando led the defense with a total of 6 tackles and a forced fumble.

It has been a while since a LB instead of a safety, led the team in tackles. It could be a good sign that Dallas may have their MLB. Durant who has been playing the middle only finished with one tackle in the game.

Where was Ahmad “The Bomb” Dixon?”:
I refer to Dixon as the “The Bomb” because of his aggressive tackling style that unmercifully blows up ball carriers. Earlier I read that Dixon was cleared to play on Thursday with concussion like symptoms, however I didn’t see him in the game Saturday.

It turns out he was suspended for the game by Jason for showing up late for practice on Friday. No word yet on why he was late but after the draft, I noted that Dixon does comes with character red flags. Hopefully the physical safety returns to action next week.

Deep at Wide Receiver:
Wide receiver is one position that Dallas is deep at and eventually they will likely cut a pretty darn good receiver. We know the five they are likely to keep, Dez, Williams, Beasley, Harris and the rookie Street. But Jamar Newsome and LaRon Byrd and making plays that must make Dallas consider keeping a 6th WR. Newsome had 2 catches for 29 yards and a nice TD grab. The 6-4 Byrd caught a 13 yard pass.

If there is an NFL team out there in need of a WR, keep an eye on the Cowboys’ final roster cuts. Could pick up a good receiver.

Commit to the Run:
Before the season, Jason, Jerry, Stephen, and play caller Linehan all talked about how they intended to run the ball this year. We have heard all that before so being a little cynical is justified. So how did it go in the Ravens game? Like last season, it is a tale of two half’s.

In the first half Dallas ran the ball 16 times and passed it 19 times. That’s not a bad ratio and I would consider that committing to the run. But in the 2nd half they passed 16 times and only rushed 8 times. Being down a couple scores will dictate a change in plans.

There are 3 things that can interrupt their commitment to the run game.
1. Penalties. Creates greater distances for a first down.
2. Being behind by a couple scores. Forces passing to lengthen the game.
3. QB audible. Changing the play from a called run to a pass based on defense alignment.

Early in the game, they appeared committed to run Murray but penalties made them turn to the pass. Also I thought the timing with Murray in the game was a off a bit. It was his first action this season and there clearly was rust in the play timing and execution. The fumble on the Romo-Murray exchange was proof of that. It all needs to be tightened up.

Not so special “special teams”:
The kick off coverage was so weak It isn’t worth talking about much. Let’s just all agree it must improve quickly. The kick returns appeared very training camp like and not ready for prime time. Lot of work to do here!

Final Take:
Romo looks good enough to move the ball but I’m not so sure he is totally back yet. When in doubt, throw it up for Dez the beast!

The defense still has a LONG way to go to respectability but they may have found a MLB in McClain and a defensive lineman in Minter to get after the QB.

They should be able to run the ball this season but penalties and getting behind early, threaten to make them a very predictable passing team.