Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo took his first big shots of the preseason Saturday night, as the Miami Dolphins sacked him three times and registered three QB hits during a full half of work. When the dust had settled Romo went to the lockerrom at half with a 6-3 lead and an apparently healthy back. Miami would win 25-20, making the Cowboys 0-3 this preseason, but again the real story was the franchise quarterback looks like he’s ready to play football.
“It’s good and bad,” head coach Jason Garrett said during a half time interview. “You want (Romo) to stay clean; obviously you want the protection to be flawless throughout, but it is good for him to feel like he’s playing in a real ballgame.”
The Miami pass rush harassed Romo all night, and the Cowboys first-team offense was plagued with mistakes: Wide receiver Cole Beasley dropped a pass to kill the first drive. The second drive was stalled on a third-down sack, resulting in a 52-yard Dan Bailey field goal. The third drive was a three-and-out, and Romo was sacked for the second time. In the fourth drive running back Lance Dunbar replaced DeMarco Murray, but a 2nd-and-3 run was called back for holding by left tackle Tyron Smith and the offense ended up punting; pressure on Romo broke up a third-and-long pass.
In Romo’s final drive, he took over with just under four minutes in the half and, with No. 1 receiving threat Dez Bryant watching from the bench, drove the Cowboys down to the Miami 9-yard-line. Then a formation penalty pushed them back to the 24-yard-line. Two incompletions and a sack later, Bailey ended the half with a 50-yard field goal.
Romo was 10 of 18 for 87 yards. Murray ran 6 times for 18 yards. Bryant caught four passes for 32 yards on five targets. His lone miss was a diving effort on third down in which he caught the ball, but failed to get his feet down in bounds. The Cowboys would go for it on fourth down, and Bryant made that catch to extend the drive. The Cowboys first-team offense would run 33 plays, including sacks and penaltys – 11 runs and 22 pass attempts.
“There was some good stuff, but obviously some things we got to work on,” Garrett said. “It didn’t seem like we had great, great rhythm on offense. We did some good things, but kind of got ourselves going backwards a little bit, too. On the defense, we did a good job of getting stops in the red zone and taking the ball away.”
The game stayed close in part because of a bend-but-don’t-break defense that forced a turnover near the red zone in the second quarter. The Miami first team offense had four first-half drives, and three of them ended in Cowboys territory. Cornerback Brandon Carr had a nice stop on third down at the 8-yard line to force a field goal on Miami’s first drive. Undrafted rookie free agent cornerback Tyler Patmon forced a fumble at the Dallas 26 to stop the second drive. Weakside linebacker Bruce Carter capped a three-and-out on the third drive with excellent pass coverage on the tight end.
On Miami’s fourth drive, the defense appeared to force another three-and-out, assisted by a Brian Hartline drop on third down. On the punt, Carter blew threw the protection and blocked the punt clean, but the Cowboys were called for illegal formation resulting in a Miami first down. Tackle Tyrone Crawford had lined up over the center, and even though it didn’t impact Carter’s play, the penalty was enforced. Crawford would later pressure Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill into an incompletion on third down to force a punt from the Dallas 42-yard line.
Miami brought their first-team offense out to start the second half, and they moved the ball easily down the field against the Dallas backups. However, Patmon intercepted Tannehill at the five-yard line to kill that drive.
The Dallas special teams showed major improvement over last week’s game against Baltimore, and Garrett made a point to talk about that at half time.
“Special teams was the strength of our team last year,” Garrett said. “You know last week was not what we wanted; it’s never been what we’re all about. I think tonight is more indicative of what we’ve been. You know, the Bruce Carter blocked punt was a big play as well… but I think in the four phases of the kicking game those guys really showed up.”
- Patmon was easily the player of the game for the Cowboys. The Oklahoma State product, who was also coached at Kansas by former Cowboys head coach Dave Campo, forced three turnovers, including a spectacular pick-six in the fourth quarter to put Dallas up 20-11. Patmon read the receiver in motion and jumped his route on a wide receiver screen for an easy touchdown.
- Quarterback Brandon Weeden looked good, completing five of nine passes for a touchdown and a 121.1 quarterback rating. Weeden struggled last week against the Baltimore first-team defense, but he was constantly harassed in part because he was being protected by the Cowboys second-team offensive line. Weeden showed again Saturday that when he has time, he can make his throws.
- The battle for No. 3 running back stayed hot. Incumbent Joseph Randle acquitted himself nicely on special teams, blowing up the ball carrier on one punt coverage in the second quarter; upstart free agent Ryan Williams ran hard and effectively in the second half, and looked to improve in his third-down pass blocking. Four running backs is not out of the question for this 2014 roster, particularly considering the injury history of the top two backs.
- Defensive tackle Zach Minter got some action in the first half with the ones and twos, and logged three tackles and no sacks.
- Free agent receiver LaRon Byrd, who played with the Arizona Cardinals as a rookie in 2012 and sat out 2013, had a spectacular touchdown reception in the third quarter, reaching full extension in the end zone for the score.
- Return specialist Dwayne Harris appeared to get knocked out cold on a kickoff in the second quarter. He was hit low near the sideline, which held him upright, and another Dolphin exploded into him helmet to helmet. Harris appeared to go limp as his helmet flew off and lay face down on the turf.
- Left defensive end George Selvie left the game in the second half with an apparent shoulder injury.