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Eatman: Defense Showed Life; Step Back For O-Line

Posted Aug 24, 2014


MIAMI – With pretty much a full group of starters playing a full half, our expectations were basically met here Saturday night against the Dolphins.

One of the units looked pretty good and made some plays. The other one left plays on the field and didn’t execute at times.

That’s what we thought. We just thought it’d be the other way around.

No matter about the second half when the Tyler Patmon show broke out, the rookie nearly carrying the Cowboys to their first preseason win. In this dress rehearsal game, the story is always about what happens in the first two quarters when the starters get a full half of football. The offense had some issues during the 32 snaps Tony Romo played and a lot of it stemmed from the offensive line. Like many tackles in this league, Doug Free struggled with Cameron Wake off the edge. From missed assignments, missed blocks and penalties, the line didn’t find a good rhythm in the first half and therefore, the offense struggled to get points.

On defense, it wasn’t always pretty, but the guys rallied to the ball and made enough stops to get off the field. It started out a little rough in the early going when the defensive line kept getting gashed up front. But near the goal line, they did tighten up and force a field goal – the only Miami points of the first half.

My sense is this defense will be scrappy and hang with offenses like this one. An offense that has a pretty good quarterback and pretty good skill players is an offense this defense can stick with from game to game. That only makes sense because they’ve got a handful of “pretty good” defenders, too.

But when it’s a team that has a Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers or maybe even an Eli Manning when he gets hot, it could be a long night for this defense because those guys can pick you apart for 10-12 plays in a drive. But quarterbacks like Ryan Tannehill usually make a mistake if you give them the “bend-but-don’t-break” approach.

So in some regards it was a good night for the defense – a group that is still without inside tackles Henry Melton and Terrell McClain – although the signs are there that some rough games could lie ahead against quarterbacks who know how to exploit weaknesses.

Now, let’s get to a few specific observations that I noticed throughout the game.

  • Do you ever really want to see the quarterback take a hit? Sometimes you kinda do and when Romo took a shot in the back, while you might have cringed, it’s actually a good thing to see him get up. Of course, do you want him to take that many hits in one half? No, not exactly, but for a guy that needs to take a few hits to get himself ready to play, I thought it was a good start. Now, let’s see if he feels the same about that, especially Sunday morning when he wakes up.
  • Do you think the offensive line is close to being solidified? I think the left guard spot has been finalized after watching this game. I certainly didn’t grade any film, but it seems like the offense functioned better when Ronald Leary was in there. Mackenzy Bernadeau had some noticeable issues, including giving up a sack and a hands-to-the-face penalty on the same play. Penalties happen – like another holding call for Tyron Smith – but just the functionality of the offense seems to be better when Leary is in there. And, that’s the second week that has been the case.
  • If that was the dress rehearsal for Jason Witten and Terrance Williams, this season won’t be exactly like we thought on offense. Yes, it’s only one half of football and nothing was scripted, but you’d like to see more out of Witten and Williams in two quarters. Witten did draw a defensive holding penalty and Williams caught a ball that was taken away because of a penalty. Maybe some of that is on the Dolphins, too. They didn’t exactly double Dez Bryant much, and if that changes in the regular season, look for more openings for those two.
  • Speaking of Dez, he’s good.
  • Sticking with the offense, I don’t really know what to think about this running back position. On the one hand, you want to have a stable of backs and use a by-committee approach. But it’s hard to take DeMarco Murray off the field sometimes because no one does what he does. Lance Dunbar just isn’t as good, especially as a blocker. Sure you want Dunbar on the field for passing downs, but he has to block the blitz and that’s not his strength.
  • Everyone loves to see Ryan Williams in the second half and he runs hard. But Joseph Randle is probably a more valuable player for the roster, especially with another big hit on kickoff coverage. Maybe it’s just me, but when you’re evaluating the best three backs on the team, I’m not convinced Williams and Randle aren’t in the discussion. Maybe one of those three backs, Dunbar included, has some trade value.
  • I think we all wanted to see Rolando McClain, but as the first few series took place, something hit me: Maybe the middle linebacker project isn’t about McClain as much as it is Anthony Hitchens. Maybe the Cowboys think he could play middle and Durant moves to the outside. If they didn’t feel that way, then why start things off with Hitchens like they did? He’s probably good at times, but then at other moments, he’s a rookie.
  • I said on Twitter that Tyler Patmon can probably start looking for an apartment. Maybe not a house, but I think it’s safe to assume he can make this team. They gave him a chance to do that in this game, playing him over Terrance Mitchell, and he was really good. Yes, he gave up a long bomb in the third quarter, but he also had a forced fumble and two interceptions, including a touchdown. Yeah, maybe go ahead and get a house, young fella.
  • If this punter Tom Hornsey can hold for field goals and extra points, we might have a battle here. He had a pair of punts that went more than 60 yards. But doing anything to break up the rhythm of kicker Dan Bailey might not be worth it. So Hornsey needs to be better than Chris Jones as a holder more than anything else.
  • Staying with special teams, Dwayne Harris is always going to take big licks, but he definitely is a weapon when he’s got the ball in his hands in the open field.
  • Overall, I know anything can happen in practice, but to think that most of the starters won’t play next Thursday, this team got through the preseason without a lot of major injuries to the starters.
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