CANTON, Ohio – Regardless of the final outcome, and regardless who actually played in the game, the fact football season is back and playing in front of full stadiums again, is one of the biggest storylines of the night.
While the Steelers came out with the 16-3 win, let's look past the final score.
This spot is usually saved for the five plays that changed the game. But in the preseason, let's focus on five other players and/or aspects of the game.
So this preseason version will include players, stats and sometimes plays that get overlooked.
Return of Collins – Somewhat lost in the news of the players who didn't make the trip or get on the field, let's not forget about the return of La'el Collins, who started at right tackle and got two series of action. Collins missed all of 2020 after undergoing hip surgery. He's returned this year much leaner - about 15 pounds from last year - and looks ready to return to form. Once Collins gets right guard Zack Martin next to him once again, the Cowboys could have one of the best right sides of any O-line in the league.
Noah fends off coverage – One of the reasons Noah Brown is on this team is his versatility to play several positions, including special teams. But as a receiver, he's got a big frame that should be able to move the chains as a possession receiver. On the first series, Brown did just that, holding off a defender on his back to make a 7-yard catch on third-and-4. The Cowboys eventually got a field goal on the drive. But those are the types of plays Brown will be asked to make in the regular season, even when the big three of receivers return to action.
Red-zone issues again – Say what you want about the personnel in the game or the fact it's a meaningless preseason contest, the Cowboys still have red-zone problems. They had them last year and we saw it again Thursday night, on the first two drives. Despite the Cowboys getting a field goal early in the game, they had chances to get it in the end zone. A promising first drive stalled because they couldn't run the ball on first down, gave up a sack on second down and nearly threw a pick on third down. On the second drive, again the Cowboys were inside the 10 but couldn't score, only this time the field goal was blocked. The Cowboys will have a great offense this year, but if they settle for field goals, it won't matter too much.
Can't overlook Rico's catch – What is it about the Steelers that brings out the best in Rico Dowdle? He had a big kickoff return last year in a game with Pittsburgh and Thursday night, he led the team with 43 yards on eight carries. But his play to me was a catch over the middle for 12 yards. He was lined out right and caught a pass over the middle. That makes me think Kellen Moore is planning on using either Zeke and/or Tony Pollard on more plays like that. And yes, while Dowdle did a good job there, it can get even better with those first two backs.
McKeon strikes again - While it's unsure what role the Cowboys have for Sean McKeon, the second-year tight end continues to show up. He has done it in Oxnard during the last two weeks and did it again Thursday against the Steelers. McKeon had two catches for 26 yards, moving the chains on a couple of receptions. The Cowboys obviously know Blake Jarwin and Dalton Schultz will be in the mix, but McKeon is emerging as the third tight end. His main competition is expected to be Jeremy Sprinkle, who did not record a catch and had a false start penalty.