OXNARD, Calif. – One practice down, and one more to go against the visiting St. Louis Rams.
On Monday evening, I came away with the impression that the Cowboys weren't satisfied by their first session against the Rams. I'm not here to say it was all good, but there were plenty of positives to be gleaned from that first practice.
1.It was the first practice action of the season for Darren McFadden, and he appeared to come through it well. McFadden wasn't as noticeable carrying the ball, but he was during the blitz period of practice in an across the pocket pickup that allowed Tony Romo to hit Lucky Whitehead on an "In" cut for a nice gain. McFadden saw what was happening in front of him and was able to adjust in a very tight situation inside.
2.It was good to see that Zack Martin had two quality reps in his work during the one-on-one pass rush drill. It was no easy match when Martin had to face Nick Fairley, then later Aaron Donald. Martin is one of the best when it comes to playing with straight power at the line or adjusting on the move to maintain position. Against Fairley he overset on him initially, but he was able to adjust back to secure. On Donald, he went straight power and jumped him before he had a chance to get going. It was a perfect pass set with the proper knee bend.
3.Tremendous effort and finish by Morris Claiborne during blitz period to register a sack off a slot blitz. On the play, Rod Marinelli went with the fire-zone by bringing Claiborne off the edge and replacing him in coverage with Randy Gregory -- who dropped on the play. Claiborne timed his rush perfectly, which caught the Rams by surprise. Claiborne not only beat Greg Robinson, but Tre' Mason as well. It was a perfect call for the situation and executed well by both Gregory and Claiborne.
4.Corey White continues to be in the right place when it comes to making plays. During the blitz period, White was put in coverage on Steadman Bailey. The Rams' way of attacking pressure was trying to work the ball inside. Bailey attempted to carry his route that way and White's positioning was outstanding. He was slightly upfield, but in a position that if he needed to drive, he was ready to go. When the ball came out high to Bailey, all White had to do was snatch it out of the air and turn the turnover into six points.
5.There were three straight plays during the 7-on-7 drill where a Cowboys defender either knocked a ball away or created a turnover. Jasper Brinkley batted a pass away from Tre' Mason up the sideline. J.J. Wilcox ripped the ball loose from Jared Cook after a completion and Keith Smith punched the ball out of Benny Cunningham's hands after he caught a check down.
6.Tony Romo couldn't have thrown a prettier ball to start the one-on-ones then the one he did to Terrance Williams. To Williams' credit, he took the Rams best defensive back -- Janonis Jenkins -- and left him in his wake. Where Williams was able to win the battle was right off the line and once he was able to gain that separation the play was over.
7.I continue to see progress in this Cowboys defense's ability to bring pressure by using games to get rushers free. Jasper Brinkley and Keith Smith ran an effective twist stunt inside -- which the Rams interior did not handle well -- which allowed Randy Gregory to come from the backside and record a sack. Smith destroyed the center and Brinkley was able to fold around to attack the middle of the pocket. Gregory was able to beat fellow rookie Isaiah Battle and was right there to help finish up.
8.The Cowboys, offensively, have had issues setting up their screen game to the backs. There have been snaps where the line and backs have struggled to coordinate the positioning of the play and other times when they do, they get a drop like they did in the San Diego game. During the team blitz period, the offense attempted to set up a screen, but the result was a Romo interception. There was too much pressure from the inside and from linebacker Alec Ogletree. La'el Collins was late to adjust and Romo floated a ball that he had no business throwing.
9.Normally you wouldn't think of Cole Beasley as a red zone threat because of his lack of height. When the field becomes small, it's more difficult to find space, and this is where size takes over and more balls are thrown in the direction of guys like Dez Bryant -- who can be physical in the air. Where Beasley has shown up in the red zone is in his ability to work up the field as well as underneath. There was a snap where Beasley was working against Lamarcus Joyner and he was able to win off the line, making a beautiful adjusting catch in the corner of the end zone. When I saw the initial flight of the ball, I thought he had no chance, but he was able to come down with it -- much like we had seen from Bryant before.
10.In the one-on-one pass rush drills, I thought that the Cowboys' defensive line was better across the board than what the Rams were able to do as blockers. I never got the feeling that the Rams were even close to stopping the Cowboys rushers. You can see what I saw by going to DallasCowboys.com and checking out the period on Training Camp Live.
11.There is no question that Rams receiver Tavon Austin can run, and Tyler Patmon found that out first-hand. Patmon was never able to get his hands on Austin well enough to slow his momentum down to put himself in position to cover the route. You also have to give credit to the design of the play, which held J.J. Wilcox in place in the middle of the field with the crosser underneath. Once Austin cleared Patmon, there was no one in the middle of the field to cover him and it became a simple throw for Nick Foles.
12. There is a noticeable difference in the Cowboys' running game when Tyron Smith and Ronald Leary are not on that left side. As good as Zack Martin and Travis Frederick were at times, it's just not the same -- whether the ball is run to that left side, or away from Smith with Leary cutting off that back side. On tape this line usually jumps off the screen in these situations, but against the Rams on Monday that just wasn't the case