The Dallas Cowboys took the field for the first pre-season matchup where most of the starting 11 on either side were inactive. So if you were hoping to gauge Dak’s chemistry with CeeDee Lamb, wanted to see hints of Micah Parsons growth in year two, or witness Trevon Diggs snag another INT to continue to prove his case to the naysayers, you’ll have to wait a bit longer.
In addition these players were also held out:
- Tyron Smith
- Zack Martin
- Tony Pollard
- Zeke Elliott
- Osa Odighizuwa
- Dorance Armstrong
- Demarcus Lawrence
- Leighton Vander Esch
- Jayron Kearse
- Jabril Cox
- Jourdan Lewis
- Anthony Brown
- Donovan Wilson
The Dallas Cowboys depth and fringe roster players, however, provided plenty of thoughts and notes for fans and media throughout Cowboy Nation.
With the first roster cutdowns on the horizon just about everyone sporting the Star on their helmet during Saturday’s glorified scrimmage against the Broncos was fighting to move up the depth chart and avoid being one of the five releases on Tuesday, August 16th when each NFL team will cut down from 90 players to 85.
Before we look at what stood out in pre season game No. 1, here is what many were focused on observing going into the game:
Offensive Line Depth has been one of the most discussed Cowboys pre season topics and not in a good way.
Kicker isn’t to far behind in the category of concerns.
Wide Receiver has gradually looked better throughout camp with lots of intrigue on young pass catchers. It seems everyone has their camp favorite flavor (Dennis Houston, Simi Fehoko, KeVontae Turpin, TJ Vasher, etc.)
Does the Defensive Line really have depth or just a bunch of bodies and can they stop the run?
Special Teams provides opportunity for down the roster players. Who’s the ace?
Here we look at which of those questions were answered and ponder on new questions birthed from the Dallas Cowboys 17-7 loss against the Broncos.
- A big boy flashed early and, for the most part, played well in his reps. Opening drive the Cowboys stall, but 1st round rookie Left Guard, Tyler Smith, showed good athleticism and power on 2nd and 3rd down. Getting to the second level and then holding up in pass protection for Cooper Rush. It was a promising sign in the early goings. Smith was hit with a couple of holding penalties in the second quarter which is something he’ll have to work on. Otherwise, he was impactful in the run game and held up in pass pro. An overall good night for the Dallas Cowboys new Left Guard.
- The Defensive Line may have been the best unit on the field for the Dallas Cowboys. First defensive possession was impressive. Neville Gallimore was disruptive getting into the backfield for a big TFL on the first defensive play of the game. Gallimore played well, putting pressure on the Broncos quarterback on a number of occasions, which you would expect from one of the few starters on the field for either team.
- There were others from the DL who made plays as well. Dante Fowler showed flashes of brilliance in his pursuit to the backfield, splitting blockers and getting a hit on Denver QB Josh Johnson to force an incompletion on 4th down. Sam Williams was called for a roughing the passer penalty, but the play he made itself is one a coach would want a player to make every time. Sometimes a legal hit on a QB is just vicious enough to draw a flag. He also showed great strength in his bull rush and even lined up as a 3 technique Defensive Tackle on a third down.
- The Dallas Cowboys running game was solid and featured three players fighting for a roster spot. Many have Rico Dowdle penciled in as RB3 behind Zeke and Pollard, but Aaron Shampklin and Malik Davis had something to say about that, especially Davis. Shampklin showed patience running inside and burst to the outside. Davis displayed great balance and acceleration between the tackles. There was little wasted motion as both got north and south. Davis just seemed to bring a little extra to the field.
- Broncos QB Josh Johnson took a shot downfield in the first quarter, testing Kelvin Joseph who was in the WRs hip pocket for an incompletion. Next play the WR drops a pass on 3rd and 8, but even if caught Joseph was there for the stop. Nice series for a player who needs to prove himself. Unfortunately the rest of the night was a rough one for the second year corner. He cost his team points by being lined up wrong on a missed FG attempt, resulting in a 5 yard penalty and a second try for Denver, which they made. He also gave up big plays. At times he was in good position, but the awareness just wasn’t there.
- Standout Wide Receivers from camp had nice moments. Dennis Houston hauled in a reception on 3rd and 12 to move the chains. Simi Fehoko reeled in a touchdown, coming back to help his scrambling quarterback, Ben DiNucci. Undoubtedly, this was DiNucci’s best showing as an NFL quarterback as he battles for a roster spot with Rush and Will Grier, who did not play due to a groin injury. DiNucci showed more poise than he ever has and displayed some escapability. Mentioning Fehoko doing a good job of coming back to help his QB, but it was DiNucci extending the play to give Simi a chance.
- Nahshon Wright gave up scores. Both in good position but, same as Joseph, had a lack of awareness. He reads the WR, turns to look for the ball and can’t seem to find it. Then turns back to the WR to play through his hands but it’s too late. Granted, he looks bigger, stronger and made a couple of physical plays early on, but his body of work in the game wasn’t great.
- Josh Ball was not nearly good enough at Left Tackle. Not with his strength, nor did his athleticism ever show up. Where as Tyler Smith played well enough that his penalties didn’t overshadow his performance, the same can’t be said for Ball. Not only did he draw flags, but he was also beat repeatedly. You could say the same for a guy like Aviante Collins, but the difference is the Cowboys aren’t currently looking at Collins to be the primary backup to Tyron Smith or Terence Steele. The depth at OT is so thin the team reverted Isaac Alacron back to tackle after having previously spent all of his time with the Dallas Cowboys at guard.
- Penalties were outrageous. Granted, it is the first pre-season game. The only problem with that thinking is it’s the first pre-season game for just about everyone and no one else had the penalty issue to the extent of the Dallas Cowboys. What’s more troubling is in a game without starters, a large bulk of the infractions were called against guys this team expects to contribute. Kelvin Joseph, Tyler Smith, Nahshon Wright, Sam Williams, Josh Ball are key players who could see quality playing time whether as a starter, rotational player, or the backup to an often injured starter. Penalties in a pre-season game wouldn’t be a big deal if it’s a fringe roster guy who may be getting released soon, but these are guys the team is counting on and some of them were more hurt than help.
- Kicking game carried over from camp, unfortunately.
- On the plus side, Bryan Anger pinned one.
- Nearly every rookie showed something in their first NFL action. We’ve mentioned Smith and Williams, but Jalen Tolbert and Jake Ferguson had multiple receptions. Fifth round CB, DaRon Bland, proved to be physical and tackled well. Fifth round DT, John Ridgeway, got a good push up front on a number of occasions while sixth round LB Devin Harper had a PBU and flashed on special teams and against the run.
- A guy not mentioned much in camp this season, but had a tremendous game was CB Kyron Brown. With Denver knocking at the door, Brown came up with three massive plays. Once breaking up a pass in the end zone. Followed by excellent one on one coverage in space forcing the Denver QB to come of his initial read and throw into traffic where Harper had his pass break up. Finally Brown undercut a route and nearly had an INT that could’ve gone the entirety of the field for a Dallas Cowboys TD. Despite the dropped pick, Brown was instrumental in holding the Broncos to a FG. He came up with another PBU in the 4th quarter, but was hurt on the play.
Overall, yes it’s the first pre-season game with few starters playing so it’s expected to be sloppy. The issue for the Cowboys is, once again, those are the same circumstances for teams across the league and the Cowboys had the biggest issue with penalties after leading the league in flags a year ago. Mike McCarthy promised it would be a point of emphasis this off-season, but that focus on being more discipline didn’t show up at all. There were positives like the D Line, Linebackers, Running Backs, Run Blocking and the punt unit. If you’re looking for silver linings to the Cowboys 17-7 loss to the Broncos, those are good places to start.