Some thoughts from the radio booth at AT&T Stadium:
I am looking forward to getting back to Valley Ranch on Sunday and taking a look at this game film from Saturday night for a couple of different reasons. I am interested to see if Doug Free was better at guard in the game or did he struggle to the point that this experiment proved that he just needs to stay at right tackle.
I do know from my seat that Mackenzy Bernadeau and Tyron Smith were outstanding on the left side. There were plenty of plays where Smith, Bernadeau and rookie Travis Frederick did a great job of getting the down linemen for the Bengals turned at the point, which created lanes or cut them off so that the ball could work backside. Where this offensive line had success was in its ability to get hats on hats controlling the front. It was an impressive showing for the left side of the line, despite having just started working together on Monday. With this kind of play, it might be something these coaches would like to consider going forward, moving Ronald Leary to the right side.
As a whole, the offense was able to out-tough a defense that prides itself on being a physical one. Whether it was point-of-attack blocking by the line or the wide receivers on the edge, I really thought that they took the fight to the Bengals. These backs drove the ball hard front-side but when they saw the opportunity to cut it back, they made decisive cuts and finished the runs.
As the game wore on, in the broadcast booth, Brad Sham, Marc Colombo and I were wondering why DeMarco Murray was in the game in the second half after seeing action in the first. But what we learned from head coach Jason Garrett after the game was that Murray put the ball on the ground in the first quarter and he wanted to remind Murray how important it was for him to protect their ball. When Murray returned to the lineup, it was clear that Garrett's message did not fall on deaf ears.
This Cowboys defense continues to create turnovers, whether it was Barry Church ripping out the ball or B.W. Webb playing in perfect position defending the "In" cut. For years we have endured the lip service of how this club defensively was going to create turnovers, but finally this group of coaches and players is doing something about it. I thought it was crazy seeing Sean Lee or Jason Hatcher sprinting an extra 20 yards downfield after every practice rep during the team period at training camp ripping at the ball in DeMarco Murray's hands.
What this defense has done is play sound, simple football. There are not all these bells and whistles. Technique-wise, they at times allow plays to be made. But when they need a stop, one of its members usually rises to the challenge. There are playmakers on this defense and it should even improve more when Jay Ratliff and Anthony Spencer return to the lineup. With guys like Lee and Bruce Carter running to the ball and Will Allen showing range on the backend, it has a chance to be really good.
These injuries have allowed the Cowboys to play guys like Nick Hayden, Orlando Scandrick and George Selvie. Playing time lets you develop reliable depth and that was not the case at all last season. Tonight, we once again saw DeVonte Holloman continue to make plays, but you also saw J.J. Wilcox and Jeff Heath make their presence known with a couple of key hits to break up a play or two.
Garrett and this staff have run a tough camp. They have had physical practices and tonight their work paid off against a Bengals club that is not use to being knocked around the way they were.