After six months without football, the Dallas Cowboys and their fans got a first look at the 2017 version of the squad, during the Hall of Fame Game.
I know it’s only preseason, but after six months without pro football, the Hall of Fame Game was a welcome sight. After multiple PR headaches throughout the offseason, it was great to finally see the Dallas Cowboys play a “real” game.
The first preseason game is usually sloppy, and this one was no different. With young players and backups taking the majority of the snaps, there were plenty of penalties and mistakes. However, some players stood out and certainly made a great first impression, going into the 2017 season.
Without the majority of the starting defense not playing, you knew things could get ugly. Boy did they ever, for the first two drives. Arizona’s second unit was able to carve through the Dallas defense like a hot knife through butter.
There were a few players who made a good play here or there, but weren’t consistent throughout the game. Cornerback, Chidobe Awuzie almost had an interception late in the second quarter, but got beat on a couple of throws. Linebacker Damien Wilson had a sack on an inside blitz on a third and medium, during the first quarter.
However, he had trouble taking on blocks and missed a few tackles. Finally, cornerback Anthony Brown had a sack and made a good open field tackle early in the game, but fell down in coverage and gave up a big play.
Fortunately, Dallas did have one player impress on the defensive side of the ball. Safety Byron Jones showcased his ability to play the run. On the second defensive drive, Jones made a great open field tackle to bring down the running back for a minimal gain.
The next drive, he was able to shed his blocker and push the quarterback out of bounds for no gain. While Jones didn’t get much work in coverage, he displayed his ability to tackle in the open field and was the best player on the Dallas defense.
Where the defense struggled early, the offense did not. The quarterbacks both had moments where they shined, but Kellen Moore threw an interception during the two-minute drill and Cooper Rush threw high to a couple of his receivers.
Butler was able to fly by his defender on two separate plays, during the first half. On the first, Moore hit him on a go route down the right sideline for a big gain.
On the second, Dallas was facing third and long, when Butler adjusted to a ball thrown behind him, to make a great catch and get the first down. He was able to display his ability to burn cornerbacks in man coverage, which he’ll face as defenses worry about the Cowboys’ other weapons.
Throughout the offseason, linebacker Jaylon Smith has received infinitely more attention than his older brother Rod. However, last night was all about the elder sibling. Rod Smith was able to display his talent as both a rusher and receiver.
Smith was able to make defenders miss, with some sharp cuts, and show his explosion, as he powered through linebackers and defensive lineman on short yardage situations. With the running back room full, Smith needed to show he can contribute on more than special teams. Last night, he did.
Performance of the Night
The most impressive performance of the night belonged to Rico Gathers, who showed why scouts thought he could transition from basketball to tight end. On the offense’s second drive, he displayed why he was such a great rebounder in college, boxing out the defender on a crossing route, for the touchdown.
He made a couple more good catches for first downs in the second half, featuring an absolute gem right after halftime. On a play action pass, Rush threw low to Gathers, who reached down to make the catch and fell down. He then had the presence of mind to get up and pick up the first down.
For Gathers to be on the active roster, he needs to show the coaches he’s ready to contribute on offense. Last night was a good first step in accomplishing this. He needs to keep up this level of play and continue to get better as a blocker, but Gathers certainly has a bright future.