ARLINGTON, Texas – As far as dress rehearsals go, this one checked all the boxes.
The Cowboys completed the meaningful part of their preseason on Saturday night. Yes, there’s still one more exhibition remaining, but the team’s starters and veterans have likely seen their final game action until Week 1.
And if that’s the case, what a note to finish on. The Cowboys dominated the Houston Texans, 34-0, earning them their first preseason shutout since 2012 – and their first preseason shutout at home since 1977.
The score is obviously not what matters in a preseason game, though. Rather, it was the way the Cowboys got there.
Take your pick between any of the three phases of the game. On its first possession of the night, the Dallas defense forced a takeaway when Taco Charlton sacked Deshaun Watson, stripped him and recovered the fumble.
From there, it turned over to Dak Prescott, who escaped pressure from Whitney Mercilus and found Michael Gallup for a 12-yard touchdown to open the scoring.
Not to be forgotten, the Cowboys’ special teams even got in on the act when Joe Thomas broke around the left end to block a Houston punt and recover it in the end zone for a touchdown.
It says plenty that after just eight minutes of game time, the Cowboys held a 14-0 lead and did not look back.
In a fitting change of pace, it wasn’t just the Cowboys’ starters who put their best foot forward at AT&T Stadium. In the previous two outings, there was a notable drop off once the known names exited the playing field.
It wasn’t the case on Saturday. Cooper Rush had his best night of the preseason, completing 16 of 26 passes for 185 yards and guiding the offense on two scoring drives. He did that largely with the help of Devin Smith and Cedrick Wilson, who continued their bids for roster spots by combining for nine catches and 116 yards.
And again, there was the defense. It might be fair to pin some blame on a woeful Houston offensive line, but the Cowboys’ pass rushers weren’t trying to hear it. Charlton finished his night with two sacks, two forced fumbles and a pass breakup.
The backups kept up the pace. Kerry Hyder terrified the Texans’ pass protectors to the tune of two sacks and a tackle for loss, while Joe Jackson and Dorance Armstrong combined for a sack in the first half.
When the front end wasn’t making plays, the back end was mopping them up. The Cowboys picked off Houston backup quarterback Joe Webb twice on the night, with Kavon Frazier and Donovan Wilson each coming away with an interception.
Even the Cowboys’ beleaguered faces enjoyed a solid night. On the two occasions the offense stalled, Brett Maher was there to pick up the slack. Maher connected on field goals of 36 yards and 23 yards, helping to ease some of the concern about his struggles from short range.
Mike White even got some shine, as he enjoyed easily his best outing of the preseason. White took over after halftime and led the Cowboys on a 13-play, 73-yard drive that saw him complete 5-of-5 passes for 44 yards, capped off by a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Chunn.
It all set the stage for an uneventful fourth quarter. Fourth quarterback Taryn Christion got his first action with the Cowboys’ offense, as the back end of the depth chart wound down a scoreless quarter. Their workload will likely increase on Thursday night, when the Cowboys’ youngsters conclude the preseason against Tampa Bay.
For the veterans, though, it’s time to hit the sideline. With just 15 days until the New York Giants come to AT&T Stadium to open the regular season, it was about as strong a finish as one could expect.