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Offense Ugly, Yet Positives To Be Found In Preseason Opener
OAKLAND – It was about what one would expect a preseason opener to look like.
The Cowboys’ and Raiders’ offenses both showed lots of rust, the starters in large part responsible for a 0-0 halftime tie that was only barely broken when the bottom half of the Cowboys’ roster did just enough to propel them to a 3-0 win.
It was a tale of two phases for the team.
The starting defense was excellent, netting an interception to start the game, then forcing the Raiders to punt three times on the ensuing drive, which was extended by two special teams penalties. But as good as the defense played, the offense was just as bad. Other than a 22-yard Tony Romo-to-Dez Bryant pass, the first unit gained a total of only two yards despite getting three possessions of work.
“Not real good,” head coach and play-caller Jason Garrett said of his offense. “Overall, it was not a good enough performance, but it’s still early on in camp and we’ve got to learn from it.”
The offensive line, in particular, looked rugged. Missing two of the five presumed starters, the group allowed two Raiders’ pass-rushers to take a shot at Tony Romo, one ending in a sack, and opened no room for DeMarco Murray or Felix Jones, who combined for four yards on four carries.
“I think we need to eliminate some of the mistakes that put us in a hole tonight,” Romo said. “We have a lot of young guys playing right now and we are just going to be able to evaluate this tape and get better from it. Right now is a time for us to correct the mistakes that are on the tape. I think the effort was there tonight, we just need to have better execution, and we will.”
Their first game action since being eliminated from a playoff spot by the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants on New Year’s Day, Monday’s matchup was one of five contests the Cowboys will play in a 23-day span, culminating with the regular season opener at New York on Sept. 5.
Because of injuries and the heavy precaution befitting this stage of the season, the Cowboys were without seven starters – three on offense and four on defense – plus a handful of other players who are expected to have substantial roles. All told, 16 of the 90 players on the roster did not dress, most remaining back in Oxnard, Calif., where the team is set to wrap up camp with three final days of practice this week before heading to San Diego for the second game of the preseason, coming up on Saturday.
After the Raiders picked up a couple of first downs to start the game, Gerald Sensabaugh ranged over to intercept a deep Carson Palmer pass, returning it for 31 yards. The Cowboys then crossed into Raiders territory on a beautiful leaping grab by Bryant, who was a game-time decision with a hamstring injury.
The offense went backward from there and was forced to punt. New starting safety Barry Church finally ended Oakland’s second drive for good with a nice open-field tackle on third-and-11, the final play of a successful night for the Cowboys’ top defenders.
“I think it is always a good time to see where you stand and play against another opponent,” DeMarcus Ware said. “I felt like the first-team did pretty good. … There are always some things that we need to work on, but I think it was a good first half.”
The two teams simply traded punts for most of the night, with the Cowboys getting on the board first in the third quarter, new backup quarterback Kyle Orton engineering an 11-play, 67-yard drive to set up a 33-yard field goal by Dan Bailey.
Oakland missed two field goals in the contest, including one in the second quarter that was blocked by nose tackle Josh Brent, who filled in as a starter for the injured Jay Ratliff (foot). Sean Lissemore started at right end for Jason Hatcher (hamstring), while Victor Butler took the place of Anthony Spencer (hamstring) and Orlando Scandrick held down the right cornerback spot for first-round pick Morris Claiborne.
Offensively, the Cowboys were without Miles Austin (hamstring), Nate Livings (hamstring) and Phil Costa (back).
Even better than the victory may have been the fact that the team suffered only one real injury, a broken thumb for rookie linebacker Kyle Wilber. There is hope that the team is beginning to heal in time for most everyone to get some game work in before the matchups of consequence begin next month.
“We’ve had a lot of guys who have not been able to practice and play for us, and you just have to fight through that,” Garrett said. “Injuries provide opportunities. So, a lot of guys got a chance to play tonight, maybe earlier than they would have, and that’s a good thing for them. It’s a good thing for our team to be able to evaluate them in those situations.”
The Cowboys clinched the win with inside two minutes to play, shutting down Oakland’ last-ditch drive on a sack by linebacker Baraka Atkins, a near-interception by safety Eddie Whitley and a fourth-down pick by safety Mana Silva. While not household names, those are the kind players who benefit most from extensive playing time in the preseason opener. Still, Monday was a good opportunity for many of the starters to get their feet wet.
“They are what you make them,” free agent cornerback addition Brandon Carr said of the exhibition games. “I like the preseason, especially in the position that I’m in now. I get a chance to get a feel for my teammates in live game action, get a feel for the coaches, how they coach and how they call plays.
“For me, it’s an opportunity to go out there and brush up my skills and get ready for Sept. 5.”