ARLINGTON, Texas – The first defensive play of the game for the Cowboys symbolized the improved day for a first-team defense that shouldn't be judged on the final score.
Baltimore led, 14-7, before the Cowboys' defense ever touched the field at the 3:25 mark of the first quarter, but Davon Coleman got the defense off to a good start with a pressure on Joe Flacco to force an incompletion.
On the night, Baltimore's offense only scored two touchdowns against a Dallas defense that surrendered 331 yards of total offense, which was 64 yards fewer than it allowed a week prior to the Chargers. Head coach Jason Garrett said the defense absolutely made strides.
The Baltimore Ravens meet the Dallas Cowboys at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, TX.
"The defense's ability to get off on third downs, they did that a couple of times, and obviously that's the key to playing good defense," Garrett said. "Be good on first and second down, and somehow, someway get off the field on third down and they did that against a pretty good offense."
The Ravens scored 27 points in the first half, but seven points came on a fumble returned for a touchdown, another seven came on a kick return touchdown and only three occurred against the full first-team defense.
The Cowboys' defense forced two punts on the Ravens' first three possessions once they were able to step on the field. Bruce Carter broke up a pass to force a punt on the Ravens' first drive.
George Selvie said despite the public perception of the heavily criticized defense, the group and the coaches hold themselves to a high standard. Barry Church said he hears snippets of how people refer to the Cowboys' defense, but he doesn't let it get to him.
"We just have to push that in the back of our minds and believe that what we can do is special here," Church said. "I feel like we can do that."
The most punishing run of the Cowboys' preseason came courtesy of Ryan Williams on Saturday.
Williams went for 27 yards up the left sideline in the fourth quarter, bulldozing a Baltimore defensive back and getting inside the 5-yard line, capping that drive with a 3-yard touchdown run. Williams said he just ran hard, and after sitting the majority of the game, he had to make his presence felt when he got the chance.
"It was one on one with the safety," Williams said. "Because I'm very shifty, a lot of people were like, 'Man, I thought you were going to juke him.' But man, look, I was waiting on the sideline for three quarters. Somebody was going to feel that."
Williams said that was a play he really needed as he fights to make the roster. He said his coaches had been talking all week about "carpe diem."
"Seize these opportunities," Williams said. "Given I didn't play until the fourth quarter, sitting cold on the sideline, I had to make something happen.
"I love the lights, man, and I love getting the crowd into it, I love getting the team into it. It was great. Words can't describe how I feel right now. I really needed that play."
That said, he knows he needs to make his mark on special teams to secure a roster spot. He said he only had three kickoff returns as the off returner and thought he did well with those chances, but he hopes he can make his presence felt in that regard the next couple games and show how willing he is to contribute in any way possible.
"I need to make an impact on special teams," he said. "Let's be real. DeMarco Murray's a Pro Bowl running back. He's an emerging running back. So I've got to show them that I can make an impact on the special teams so they can keep all four of us, and, you know, just have a nice rotation throughout the season. So that's my goal. I've never played special teams before, so I've been busting my tail these past couple weeks making sure I can be fundamentally sound on these special teams."
Roommate To Roommate
Quarterback Dustin Vaughan's seemed to develop some chemistry with wide receiver Jamar Newsome. That makes sense, considering they were roommates at training camp.
Vaughan found Newsome for a 24-yard gain up the left sideline and went back to him the next play for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
"We developed a good relationship throughout training camp," Vaughan said. "But I don't think the receiver necessarily dictates where you throw the ball – the coverage does. They were giving us a coverage, and they were isolating him one-on-one. He's a great receiver, especially in those situations where you have him one-on-one, so you've got to take advantage of that as a quarterback."
Vaughan played a year ago at AT&T Stadium in September. Only that time, there were only about 3,000 fans in the stands.
The former West Texas A&M quarterback overcame a 21-0 deficit to come back and defeat Chadron State 34-31. He once again got close to a comeback victory, leading two fourth quarter touchdown drives against the Ravens on Saturday before falling just short.
"It was different for sure," Vaughan said. "A lot more people, but it was still kind of the same. You go out there, start playing football, and you kind of lose track of the audience. You lose track of the crowd and the noise, and you start focusing on football and doing what you're supposed to do."
Tough Teams [embedded_ad]
The Cowboys' struggles covering kicks on Saturday night was especially odd for anyone who watched this team last year.
Baltimore wide receiver Deonte Thompson returned a kickoff 108 yards for a touchdown, which marked the first time the Cowboys had surrendered one in almost a year. In fact, the Ravens' kick return average of 46 yards was nearly double what Dallas allowed on kicks last year – a mere 20.8 yards.
"Sometimes guys get aggressive and want to go make a play on the ball, but you have to have lane integrity and we'll get a closer look when we watch the tape," Garrett said. "But that was the initial analysis."
It might not be time to panic just yet, however.
The last time the Cowboys allowed a kick return touchdown before Saturday was just last preseason, when Bengals receiver Brandon Tate housed a 75-yarder in the fourth preseason game.
If anyone can appreciate the game Zach Minter had, it's George Selvie.
Selvie was a training camp addition last year who had to immediately make his presence felt. Minter, who's trying to make the roster like Selvie did, managed to notch two sacks in a forced fumble despite only being with the team since Thursday.
"He came out and made a big splash," Selvie said. "I'm happy for him coming out there and doing that. He helped us get back in that game, so that's big. We need playmakers like that."
Selvie was also making his preseason debut with the Cowboys after nursing a groin injury. He probable had more to focus on than looking at the newcomer defensive tackle, but he know who Minter was coming in.
"I did the same thing last year, so I got excited for him," Selvie said. "I love to see a guy get out there and make some plays."
- Speaking of déjà vu, the kickoff return touchdown the Cowboys allowed went for 108 yards. They allowed the same yardage on a kick return touchdown by Jacoby Jones when the teams met in the regular season in 2012 in Baltimore.
- All four Cowboys quarterbacks played in Saturday's game. Brandon Weeden threw for the most yards, but he also had 12 more attempts than any other quarterback and was the only one to finish without a touchdown pass.
- DeVonte Holloman (neck) and Gavin Escobar (shoulder) both left the game. Escobar's injury doesn't appear to be as serious as Holloman's, who's missed time in the past with a neck injury. Escobar finished the game with three catches for 58 yards.