The Dallas Cowboys closed out the preseason with a 30-13 win at home against the Miami Dolphins in a game where most of the starters sported a ball cap instead of a helmet on the sidelines and let the young guns fight for the right to be on the final 53-man roster.
Dallas got off to a slow start, allowing Miami to navigate up and down the field thanks to untimely penalties and a solid running game led by Daniel Thomas, but the Cowboys held the Dolphins to only a pair of field goals in the first half to accomplish an impressive feat: no preseason opponent crossed the end zone against Rob Ryan’s defense in the first 30 minutes of play in all four games. Despite the backups playing, that is still an impressive statistic and the defense should definitely gain some momentum from that heading into the regular season.
Fourth-year quarterback Stephen McGee may have played his last game as a Cowboy, going 9-18 for 124 with no touchdowns or picks, but struggling to find a rhythm and consistently move the offense. He made some good throws under duress –and wasn’t exactly helped by a few drops by wide receivers– but McGee didn’t show anything that would indicate the Cowboys HAVE to keep three qb’s on the roster. (More on McGee Below)
Linebacker Orie Lemon had the play of the first half for Dallas, reading Miami quarterback Matt Moore’s eyes attempting to throw to the other end of the field and intercepting him in stride. Lemon scampered 26 yards for the pick six and gave Dallas a 10-6 lead that would never be relinquished.
If there had to be a player of the game, however, it would definitely be rookie running back Lance Dunbar out of the University of North Texas. Dunbar came into this game looking to provide coaches with more than just a glimpse of his talent –he only had limited action the previous three games– and delivered at a high level. He finished the game with 15 carries for 105 yards, the highlight being a 58-yard touchdown run in the third quarter in which Dunbar busted through the hole after a broken tackle, and was off to the races. It was a breakout performance for the undrafted rookie and may have caused the coaches to seriously consider his value as a “Darren Sproles” type of player who could provide some energy on punt returns and short pass/run plays.
Here are some other observations from the game
*Wide receiver Kevin Ogletree had an early drop on a comeback route when the ball popped out of his hands after a perfect throw by McGee, but came back later and beat his man on a go route and drew a 43-yard pass interference penalty. Ogletree looks ready to contribute and has always been a good route runner, but can’t afford to drop easy first downs come season time. He finished the preseason with 10 catches for 147 yards.
* Cornerback Teddy Williams may have sealed his fate with a fumble on a kickoff return. He was in the process of a solid return and wasn’t hit very hard, but the ball came loose and was recovered by Dolphins kicker, Dan Carpenter–yes, a kicker maintained possession in the “scrum”. Williams is fast, but that seems to be his only real asset and it would be a surprise if he made this team.
* Linebacker Victor Butler continued his stellar preseason, collecting a sack on Moore after he blew by his man with ease. Butler should contribute to the pass rush this year and could supplant Anthony Spencer if he fails to make an impact on defense.
*Dallas finished the game with 238 yards rushing and two touchdowns on the ground. The Cowboys running backs only hit pay dirt five times all of last season.
*Running back Phillip Tanner looks to have secured the third running back spot. Tanner showed good burst and explosiveness in his playing time, gaining 48 yards on 9 carries and a 1-yard score. Fans definitely hope he can be a complimentary back who can spell DeMarco Murray and Felix Jones from time to time. Dunbar performed very well, but Tanner’s size should give him the edge.
*Penalties were a negative in first half for Dallas. These replacement refs have been whistle-happy at times, but even that fact can’t mask the eight penalties called against the Cowboys in the first half.
*Staying on the subject of those replacement refs, they missed a clear pass interference call on Dolphins cornerback Richard Marshall. Marshall grabbed Ogletree around the waist as he turned to catch the ball and that is a penalty every time. Consider myself amongst those most worried about the impact on the game these refs are going to have–a negative one.
* Cornerback Lionel Smith took a blow from Dolphins fullback Jorvorskie Lane on a tackle attempt and sustained a concussion. Lane lowered his shoulder and layed the lumber on Smith.
*Should Felix Jones be worried? Both Tanner and Dunbar both looked good and could make it a tough decision for coaches. Each of them have their talents and could contribute significantly if given playing time this year.
*Dan Bailey is the man. The kicker nailed another trio of field goals and added to his perfect preseason, nailing his eighth in a row. Bailey could cement himself as an elite kicker this upcoming season, he hit 32 of 37 last year.
*Safety Mana Silva looks to have solidified himself a spot on the roster. He proved throughout the preseason that he’s a guy who can hit and always knows where the ball is.
**The Curious Case of Stephen McGee. Might as well start making the film now. McGee is such an enigma at times, he can show no pocket presence on one play and miss a wide open receiver in the middle of the field, but on the next play, can stay in there and deliver a strike down the sideline. It’s this inconsistency that frustrates coaches and makes it a real toss-up if he is going to make the team or not.
*Cornerback Lionel Smith sustained a concussion on that hit by Lane and did not return.
* Guard Derrick Loper left the game with a hamstring strain.
*Wide receiver Andre Holmes tweaked his knee but should be ok.
All in all, a good win for the Cowboys, but it’s now a seven-day countdown to the start of the regular season against the defending champ New York Giants.
Time to get to work, men.
These next 16 count.