Dallas Cowboys Third Preseason Game: The Good and The Ugly

It’s known as the “dress rehearsal” game for NFL teams where they go with their starters for a half to see just how ready they are for the season which begins soon. For the Cowboys, there were some things that looked good but there were some parts of this dress rehearsal that were just flat out ugly too.

First a look at the positives and then the areas that will need work.

POSITIVES:

Defense Created Turnovers:

Jason finds a defensive play maker in Patmon

Jason finds a defensive play maker in Patmon

This is not the “Dooms Day” defense and everyone seems aware of that except for the owner Jerry Jones perhaps. It is a defense that is not going to go out and shut down offenses by forcing a lot of three and outs. Not happening. Their only chance to help Dallas win is by creating turnovers and in the Dolphins game, they managed to come up with a few. They will need plenty more of this type of play when the season begins.

Last week in a blog, I pointed to undrafted CB Tyler Patmon as one to watch in this game and he stepped up in a big way as he was involved in every turnover of the game.
1. Patmon forced a fumble on a tackle and Barry Church recovered it.
2. Patmon had an interception when the Dolphins were driving close to the endzone. Really did a nice job of keeping his eyes on the QB and staying in front of the intended receiver.
3. Patmon with a pick 6 thrown by former Cowboys QB Matt Moore. This one was a thing of beauty as Patmon followed the receiver in motion from left to right and then stepped in front of the swing pass to take it in for a score. It was if Patmon had been in the Dolphins huddle before the play. Later he said he recognized the play from film. Patmon displayed outstanding quickness on the interception as well as instincts for the ball.

One thing the Dallas secondary needs is defenders that have ball hawking instincts and Patmon showed he has them. With Scandrick suspended the first four game, Dallas needs depth in the secondary and in Patmon I believe they found a guy who knows how to create turnovers.

“Bend but Don’t Break” Defense:
The Defense certainly allowed plenty of rushing and passing yards in the first half however they played well at the goal line and held the Dolphins to only a field goal in the important first half. To win games this season, the defense will need to make offenses settle for a few FGs. It could be another season of allowing huge numbers of yards based on the preseason, but games are won and lost by scoring not yards.

Kicking Game:
The kicking of Dan Bailey is solid and consistent as he was 2/2 including an impressive 52 yarder. No worries here. Also Dwayne Harris provided some nice kickoff returns as well including a 50 yarder. Punt and kick returns are in good hands with Harris who ended the night with an injury that doesn’t appear serious. He is expected to be ready to go week one.

THE UGLY:

Offensive Line:
I didn’t expect to call out the offensive line, considered the strength of the team, for playing poorly in this preseason game but as a group they had a tough night. QB Tony Romo was sacked three times in the first half with tackle Doug Free responsible for two of those. Free was beat outside and then he got beat inside. The third sack was on guard Ron Leary. While recovering from back surgery, Romo is probably not quite as mobile as we expect him to be so pass protection matters even more. On a positive note he seemed to survive the contact just fine.

Free has struggled some in the past and after this performance, we have to be a little concerned about the right tackle spot.

Also the offensive line never really got Murray going in the run game either as he finished with just 18 yards on 6 carries. Tyron Smith was flagged for a holding call as well as other linemen too. These flags prove to be drive killers for the offense more often than not.

PENALTIES:
I just called out the offensive line for penalties that kill drives and now a call out to the defense that had penalties late in the game which kept the Dolphins game winning drive alive. It included a late hit penalty on the rookie safety Ahmad “the bomb” Dixon on 3rd and 9. That penalty allowed the Dolphins to continue for a TD instead of a FG.

While we enjoy watching Dixon blow up players on the other team for sure, he can’t be called for penalties that keep the chains moving. The team finished the game with a total of 10 penalties for 68 yards. This is an area that needs to improve quickly because this team isn’t good enough to survive many penalties.

LB PLAY:
The Cowboys have desperately been searching for answers at linebacker but so far, they simply haven’t found it yet. And with the bad news of Holloman’s career ending neck injury this week, the Cowboys defense finds itself in an even tougher situation.

In the Dolphins game, LB play was weak and in particular in pass coverage. The two rookie LBs, Smith and Hitchens, are playing like typical rookies with inconsistent play and often appearing lost in pass coverage. Their hope is in Rolando McClain who missed practice this week after suffering muscle cramps. Durant and Carter have been OK for the most part but probably don’t offer long term solutions. As the season progresses, the Cowboys will continue to search for answers at linebacker.

Lack of Pass Rush:
Another area of concern is in applying pressure on opposing QBs. Against the Dolphins the Cowboys front four were just ineffective at pressuring the QB. DE Martez Wilson came away with their only sack of the night and he may be needed more with Selvie suffering a shoulder injury in the game. The defense has yet to include DT Henry Melton who is recovering from a knee injury last season. Last week against the Ravens, DT Zach Minter had a coming out party while playing with the back ups late in the game. But he was much quieter in this game against the Dolphin starters.

Going into the regular season, Dallas can’t feel great about the play of their defensive line so far. Answers needed here as well.

Final Wrap:
The dress rehearsal wasn’t a disaster by any means, but I don’t see how even the most optimistic Cowboy fan can feel great about taking on the 49ers in week one. I like the way the defense created turnovers in the game and made the Dolphins first offense settle for just a FG in the first half.

All the penalties must be a concern and need to get cleaned up. Once the only area of confidence, the offensive line, now causes some concern after that performance. Romo will need time to throw and may not be able to improvise as much as we have become accustomed to seeing from him. The defense will continue to search for answers at LB and defensive line during the season.

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