ARLINGTON, Texas – With any preseason game, it's all about perspective.
I've covered about 85 of these in my life, and none of the exhibition games have ever been without a little bit of good and bad. And in this case, some ugly as well.
This one, despite how bad it looked on the scoreboard, is really no exception. I've got some good news and some bad news that came out of this one.
I don't know about you, but I like to start with the bad and try to build it back up to the middle. Let's start with a few negative things that I saw from my seat.
· Turnovers are bad, no matter who is losing the ball. Doesn't matter if that's your backup quarterback, third-string punt returner or second-team tight end, the ball matters, as Jason Garrett would say. Losing the ball eight, yes EIGHT times and never getting a turnover in return is a bad sign, especially in a game that is supposed to be a "dress rehearsal" for the season. Yeah, they might not have had the best personnel out there, but that's absolutely no excuse to keep coughing up the ball over and over, and over, and over. And I still have a few overs to go. That was embarrassing, especially considering two turnovers led directly to touchdowns.
· Let's talk a little more about the backup quarterback. Cooper Rush has managed to look pretty good in preseason games the last two years, despite not playing behind a quality offensive line. On this night, he had two starters in there, along with some other quality veteran backups. But Rush was also facing a first-team defense in the Cardinals, who exposed a couple of times. Say what you want about it being preseason and not having the most talented players around him, but those were throws you still expect a quarterback to make. Rush didn't anticipate the All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson making a break on the ball like that. The second-team corners he usually sees out there can't make that play. And his red-zone pick was another example of him being late and short with the ball. Not an excuse for him at all. In fact, it was pretty alarming to see what is exactly behind Prescott on the depth chart.
· What else? How about wide receiver Lance Lenoir, who has seemingly done everything in his power to make this roster. He's been working out and catching passes in the offseason just about every day. He's had a great camp and good preseason games so far. But Sunday night, he struggled again at punt returner, fumbling away two balls, including one that was recovered in the end zone for an Arizona touchdown. If he made the team, it's unlikely Lenoir would even be the second-team returner behind Tavon Austin and Cole Beasley, but that's not the point. Lenoir still has to prove that he can handle any opportunity the Cowboys throw at him and that wasn't the case here. I don't think it completely erases his chances of making the team. But he's going to need a big turnaround Thursday night in Houston for a shot.
· Want one more, negative thing? How about the already-thinned out safety position getting hit yet again. Kavon Frazier will get an MRI on Monday to see about his shoulder injury. The Cowboys didn't seem overly concerned about it, but that doesn't mean he won't miss some time. This team can't afford another safety to miss any time with Xavier Woods already expected to be iffy for the season opener. Anyone who has listened or read my stance on the safety position knows exactly what I would do. There's been too many signs pointing to one thing. Don't know how it can be ignored anymore.
Ok, there were some positives. Let's get right to them.
· For starters, you have to mention that this was only preseason. I know this an obvious one, but while the Cardinals might have called their game a "dress rehearsal," there's no way the Cowboys did, especially on offense. This is, by no means, what the Cowboys will look like when things open up against the Panthers on Sept. 9. It all starts with Ezekiel Elliott – he makes things better. And with that offensive line a little more intact, plus Dak Prescott under center, it'll be a different look all the way around. And if you consider that the offense has looked good in the limited preseason work it has received, it's at least something to feel good about.
· Let's look at this first-team defense. They're pretty good. Or at least they have been good so far. From what I can see, this might be the fastest defense the Cowboys have put together in years. Guys like Jaylon Smith, Joe Thomas, Chido Awuzie and Jeff Heath just know how to get to the football. Up front, if they get anything at all from the Randy Gregory we're seeing now, it's going to be a game-changer.
· Rico Gathers … he's still as raw as it gets. But until any of these other tight ends completely separates themselves from him, I think the Cowboys would be crazy to let him go. Yeah, he'll have a missed assignment. But he still finds a way to make a play or two each game. I think his arrow is still pointing upward.
· Ok that's about it from the good stuff. Awuzie looks like the best cover corner we've seen on this team in a few years. Yeah, he'll give up some plays – all of them do. But I like the lock-down stuff we're seeing out of him. And if D-Law and Gregory continue to rush off the edge like that, Awuzie won't have to cover for too long anyway.
All in all, this shouldn't have been a huge surprise. The Cardinals and Cowboys had different agendas Sunday night and it showed. At times, it looked like the Varsity playing the JV in practice.
But there were a few alarming things that can't be ignored. Again, the best part of it all is that we only really have to go through this one more time until it really counts.