With one game in the books, we’ll take a look at one good, one bad and one ugly thing from the Dallas Cowboys preseason victory over the Arizona Cardinals.
Congratulations everyone, we’ve officially made it through the dark times between February and July. A football game took place Thursday night! To make it even better, your Dallas Cowboys were a part of the festivities.
That paragraph above is as exciting as it gets concerning a preseason game. We all know the rules when it comes to these contests. Pray that no one gets hurt. Wish to see something positive out of some young guys. Hope to see nothing egregiously negative.
Did the Cowboys check all the boxes in their first game?
Let’s get right in to the good, the bad and the ugly of their first official victory of the 2017 season.
Depth at the running back position.
I wrote about this two days prior to the game. Game day did nothing but further solidify my thoughts. The coaching staff’s most difficult job on cut down day will come from deciding who to keep from this group.
Obviously Dallas has one of the top three running backs in the entire NFL with Ezekiel Elliott. They have options behind him as well. Darren McFadden had a bad night, statistically, but he also received just three carries. Since Elliott sat out this game, McFadden assumed starter duties and as such, played only two series before resting for the night.
The real story of this game is what will also likely continue to be an intense battle all camp long from Alfred Morris and Rod Smith. Despite both playing behind non-starters on the offensive line, both were impressive. Morris averaged over six yards per carry while Smith put in the grinder work. Carrying the ball 18 times and gaining 64 yards, Smith showed nice finish on his runs, especially after contact.
Zeke and D-Mac are locks to make the final fifty-three. Depending on how heavy the Cowboys decide to go on defense, they could theoretically keep just three RBs. Morris’ low salary takes that out of the equation so it could very easily come down to has a better camp. Both guys are off to great starts.
Other things to like…
Brice Butler dominating equal competition, solidifying he’s the third outside receiver on this team. Rico Gathers producing while learning on the fly. There were no injuries to any level of severity that will put anyone on the sideline for any substantial period of time.
The “starting” defense
Let’s get a few caveats out of the way.
Yes, eleven guys started this game on defense. Of those eleven, four have a legitimate shot to actually start on opening day. Yes, the best player at each line of defense (defensive line, linebacker and secondary) did not play at all.
With that being said, the “starting” defense made a quarterback with a career passer rating of 71.5 look like he belonged in the Hall of Fame instead on the field for the game.
Blaine Gabbert went 11 for 14 or 185 yards, leading two touchdown drives. His main target has a grand total of five games and two receptions in his career. Needless to say, it was not the finest hour for the Dallas Cowboys defense.
With Anthony Brown, Byron Jones and Jeff Heath all getting playing time, it was a little alarming to see completion after completion being successful. Jones and Heath are the most likely week one starters and Brown will either start or play significantly during the actual season.
Now, it is difficult to cover anyone in pass defense when (A) there is no pass rush to speak of and (B) your linebackers are not dropping back in coverage to appropriate depths.
Still, the trio mentioned above have to be better or 2017 is going to be a long, painful year defensively. If you think Gabbert looking like an upper echelon quarterback is bad, what do you think Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Phillip Rivers and Derek Carr are going to do?
More concerning than the secondary has to be the lack of pass rush generated by first round selection Taco Charlton. Facing a Cardinals offensive line that has allowed 65 sacks in two years, Charlton could not sniff the opposing quarterback. Not only were there no sacks, there wasn’t even a pressure or tackle credited to him.
Charlton did play well against the run but he was not drafted in the first round to be a run stopper. Given that the Cowboys are dealing with multiple suspensions across the defensive line, Charlton’s progress needs to hit hyper speed.
It’s one thing to look human in practice when facing Tyron Smith and La’el Collins on the daily. It’s another to lay an egg against average opposing offensive tackles. There is still plenty of time in camp for Charlton to improve but this was not first impression this team was hoping to see.