IRVING, Texas – The end of the preseason is in sight, as the Cowboys have just one more exhibition game before preparations can begin for the regular season.
Before the focus moves to the final roster cuts, though, I spent my Sunday with the game tape of the Cowboys' 28-14 loss to Minnesota on Saturday night. Here are my follow-up impressions from the game, highlighted by some of my strongest impressions from the Cowboys' defensive performance.
1.If you were looking for a sign offensively early in this game, the 60-yard catch and run by Terrance Williams was exactly what you needed. The throw by Tony Romo, off play action against a two-deep look, couldn't have been any better. The two things that made the play were Williams continuing to run hard across the field on the "In" cut and Tyron Smith holding Everson Griffen in place which allowed Romo to slide up and over in the pocket to make the throw.
2.With the suspension of Rolando McClain, I was wondering how this Cowboys defense was going to account for his loss on run defense. The route I believe they will take -- and we saw this more toward the end of last season -- was to play Barry Church near the line of scrimmage and use him like an extra defender in the box. There were several snaps in this game where Church was positioned right where he needed to be to help these linebackers finish run plays before they had a chance to develop.
3.Where Darren McFadden can help this offense is in his ability to work in and out of potential tackles. McFadden can accelerate through a hole, stop, then restart again going a totally different direction as he needs to find space. He is different from Joseph Randle in this regard -- as well as how quickly he is able to get the ball around the corner to capture the edge. Blockers do not have to hold their position as long when he has the ball in his hands.
4.It's a shame that this defense is going to lose Greg Hardy for those first four games of the season. Hardy is starting to show signs of that dominating player he was in Carolina. He is starting to regain that explosiveness -- which was his trademark -- and you are starting to see him in position to finish more plays both in the running game and rushing the quarterback. He has the ability to make those around him better with his play and they are going to miss that.
5. Other than his pass interference call in the game -- which was the right call - I thought Morris Claiborne played well. He looked comfortable in handling these receivers and his route-positioning was right where it needed to be. I was also impressed with his ability to hold the edge when the ball spilled to his side. There was one play in particular where he was reduced down into the box and he had to fight the block of offensive tackle Matt Kalil. Claiborne was able to play off the block and help make the tackle on the play.
6.Starting to see this Cowboys defense play more zone coverage with better results. What has allowed this to happen is better pressure from the front four. There were situations in the past where playing zone meant giving up big plays, but so far in these preseason games, that trend is going the other way.
7.Davon Coleman continues to impress me with his ability to make plays inside at the defensive tackle spot. Coleman got the opportunity to play both as the nose and under-tackle in this game, and he was outstanding. He was quick off the ball and attacking. There were very few snaps where the Vikings guards were actually able to handle him. He penetrated on the run and pressured the pocket on the pass. He has a knack for working down the line and making plays on the edge. If you gave me a choice of him or Terrell McClain as that rotational tackle, I am leaning toward Coleman.
8.My initial thought from watching the game from the broadcast booth was that Brandon Carr had a solid night, but the tape showed it could have been better if he had just made a couple more plays. I thought the defensive holding on him was a bad call, and there was nothing more he could have done on the long pass to Mike Wallace. His interception of Shaun Hill was outstanding positioning, but later in the game I thought he should have had another one. Carr read the slant-and-go from Stefon Diggs well and once again was in perfect position -- but instead of going up with two hands and high pointing the ball, he went up with just one and knocked it away. I am sure if he had to do it over he would have found a way to get his other hand in position.
9. I understand that the Vikings were not game planning, but I didn't see any issues for Tyler Patmon playing out of the slot with the first defense. In the times that he was asked to cover, he was able to stay with his man and complete his assignment. When they asked him to play zone, he was where he needed to be as well. There are going to be games where he is pressured much more than this, but early indications were that he was prepared.
10.I am not one bit worried about the physical side of Byron Jones playing as a safety. Where I will say things will be different for him is in the way that he must now play with angles. In college he faced opponents that didn't have the speed and agility that he is now facing in the NFL -- so that is going to be different for him. In the third quarter the Vikings scored on a running play where, if he would have stayed to the outside and kept leverage, he might have been able to make the tackle near the line. Instead, he went inside and that took him out of the play.
11. It's easy to say that the Vikings' kickoff return for a touchdown resulted in players being out of their lanes, but where we should focus is in the way that the Vikings executed the return. Cordarrelle Patterson did a really nice job of selling the middle return, which brought Damien Wilson and Lance Dunbar inside to the ball. Both went in there with the intent of making the tackle, but when the ball breaks, they are trapped. Tyler Patmon and Andrew Gachkar were the next inside, but both got blocked and the gap stretched from the hash to the numbers with only J.J. Wilcox there to defend. Once Wilcox was blocked -- as good as Dan Bailey is at making tackles on kickoffs, there was no way he was going to bring Patterson down.
12. If you base it solely on trust, I believe that Cole Beasley will be the punt returner this season. There is a certain comfort level that coaches have with players, and I am getting that feeling from watching how Rich Bisaccia is using Beasley in these practices and preseason games.