SANTA CLARA, Calif. – The Cowboys dropped their second straight preseason game Sunday night – falling to the 49ers 23-6 at Levi's Stadium. But in these games, there's always more to the story than the final score.
This spot is usually saved for the five plays that changed the game. But in the preseason, when the goal is more to evaluate individuals and keep everyone healthy, let's focus on five other aspects of the game.
So the preseason version will include players, stats and sometimes plays that get overlooked.
Special Teams reminder– Cowboys owner Jerry Jones admitted he was concerned with the play of special teams, which allowed too many big returns from the punt team, and then had a punt blocked for a touchdown. But let's not forget how preseason games work, especially the first two and then of course, the last one. The Cowboys will play the majority of their backups on offense and defense. So the regular special teams players will be used sparingly throughout the game. Patching together the special teams units has to be one of the toughest tasks for special teams coordinator Rich Bisaccia and his staff. Players such as Andrew Gachkar, Tyler Patmon, Danny McCray and Jeff Heath will be the core players on special teams. But in games such as this one, they play most of the snaps at their respective position. If the issues continue next Saturday in the first half of the "dress rehearsal" vs. Minnesota, then maybe it'll be time to worry.
Randle's block – The Cowboys have a good idea what Randle can do as a runner. While he was a backup last year to DeMarco Murray, he still produced at a rather high level with limited chances. But pass protection is a big part of a running back's duties and Randle was flagged for holding in the first quarter when he entered the game. The penalty wiped out what would've been the Cowboys' initial first down of the game. Instead, it led to a punt. Randle has certainly showed toughness in his two years with the club, especially running down on kickoffs. But pass protection is also about technique, something Randle has to make sure he refines as the season approaches.
Bailey's miss – While he remains the most accurate kicker in NFL history, Bailey's record is for regular-season games. Coming off a postseason that included two misses, Bailey now missed his first attempt of the preseason – a 43-yard attempt in the second quarter that kept the Cowboys off the scoreboard. While footing was supposed to be a problem Sunday at Levi's Stadium, it wasn't near the issue as expected. And Bailey would be the last player in the Cowboys' locker room to give an excuse for the miss. It's a little early to hit the panic button, but considering the way last year ended for Bailey and how it's started, it might something to monitor.
Smith making a push– The Cowboys seemingly have most of the linebacker spots locked up, but with Rolando McClain's four-game suspension to start the season, it's possible the Cowboys will keep another linebacker when the season begins. Keith Smith is making a strong case to be that guy. He led the team five tackles on Sunday, including two behind the line of scrimmage. Don't forget about another tackle on special teams, which is where Smith will be used the most if he makes the team. Last year, Smith was on and off the roster and practice squad and didn't figure into the plans this year as the Cowboys chose not to bring him back. But after several linebacker injuries early in camp, Smith re-signed and has played well in the first two weeks of the preseason.
Rollercoaster WRs– The Cowboys have Dez, Williams, Beasley, Street and then … who knows? One might assume Lucky Whitehead is leading the pack, especially with a strong performance in the return game Sunday night. But at receiver, different players seem to move up and down the depth chart. At one point, it seemed as if veteran A.J. Jenkins, a former first-round pick of the 49ers, was actually behind some of these undrafted rookies. But Jenkins had a solid game Sunday night against his former team, catching two passes for 40 yards, including a 21-yarder, the Cowboys' longest reception of the night. Rookie Nick Harwell helped his cause with a touchdown catch in the back of the end zone and newly-signed rookie David Porter led all receivers with three catches for 30 yards. Sunday marked the first game for Antwan Goodley, Phil Bates and Edmond Gates. All three played but neither had a catch. Whitehead has the advantage for the fifth spot but it remains wide open.