FRISCO, Texas – This is the time of year that guys like me live for.
The vast majority of viewers probably tuned out of last night's game against the Dolphins at halftime. But these preseason games can give us so much valuable information about how the Cowboys will comprise their roster – and even their practice squad. It's riveting stuff if you know where to look.
If you're reading this, I'm pretty confident you agree with me that these are some of the most intriguing weeks of the season. So let's dive into another batch of notes from my re-watch of the Cowboys' 41-14 win against the Dolphins.
- Dez Bryant continues to do things with his route-running that is allowing himself to make big plays. His touchdown from Dak Prescott came off a "Stutter-Go," which was the exact same route he executed against Brandon Carr in the Blue-White Scrimmage a short time ago. On the play, Prescott never took his eyes off Bryant as the route developed. Prescott knew where he was going with the ball the whole way and was able to deliver the ball in the perfect spot. Just like last week, Prescott got a big assist from Alfred Morris, who stepped up and eliminated Kiko Alonso on the blitz to keep the front of the pocket clean.
- Despite missing Tyron Smith in this game, I thought the first offensive line was outstanding --especially running the ball. Alfred Morris' 15-yard touchdown run was as well-blocked a play as you will see. The line was able to combo block inside on the two tackles, securing them in place. Once secured, Travis Frederick and Zack Martin then released to the second level to capture the linebackers. Morris sticks his nose to the right, but then with vision, he sees that Chaz Green has worked Andre Branch up the field. Morris makes a hard cut to his right as Branch tries to retrace but can't get there. Morris gets the final block from Dez Bryant on Byron Maxwell, which allows him to walk into the end zone.
- Nobody on this defensive front works harder than Tyrone Crawford to attempt to create pressure. Crawford's efforts paid off when he was able to defeat Jermon Bushrod one-on-one for a sack. Crawford was able to break Bushrod down right off the snap, which put the guard in an awful blocking position. Once Crawford felt Bushrod's weight shift to his right foot, Crawford broke hard to the inside and directly at Ryan Tannehill. Seeing the pressure from Tyrone Crawford and feeling that same pressure from Jack Crawford to his right, Tannehill tried to climb the front of the pocket, but he could not escape the strength of Tyrone Crawford -- who had him around the waist and Jack Crawford around the quarterback's upper body.
- The big play of the night for the Dolphins offense was a 55-yard pass from Ryan Tannehill to Kenny Stills. The formation was a "Bunch" look, with the tight end flexed in the bunch. At the snap, they went full-flow to the left, which caused the defense to have to react to the run. Tannehill wheeled to his right and got a key block by Jordan Cameron on Jack Crawford to get him to the outside. Dallas was in a Cover 2 look with the corners funneling everything to the middle of the field. The route by Stills was run to J.J. Wilcox's side of the field, rather than Byron Jones'. Stills, in full sprint, was on top of Wilcox in a hurry. Wilcox hopped instead of turning and running to carry Stills -- who got past him easily. If the ball had been thrown to the inside, it would've been a touchdown, but it ended up on the outside and carried Stills out of bounds. It actually turned out to be a huge break, because seven plays later the Cowboys were able to hold on downs.
- This was the second game where the Dallas defense was able to create a turnover by putting pressure on the opponent's quarterback with their rush. Right before the half, Damien Wilson and James Morris lined up in the "A" gaps like they were coming on a blitz. I believe it was this alignment that caused Anthony Steen to snap the ball too high for Brandon Doughty -- thus throwing off the timing of the play. By the time Doughty was able to grab the ball, Cedric Thornton and Sheneil Jenkins were already working a twist stunt up front. Thornton took three blockers with him, which allowed Jenkins to get further up the field. Doughty showed terrible pocket awareness and moved right back into Jenkins, who -- along with Kyle Wilber -- was able to knock the ball out of his hand for the fumble. The offense was later able to take that turnover and make it a 13-point lead going into half.
- Kavon Frazier continues to find ways to make plays in order to make a case for a roster spot. The rookie safety was matched in one-on-one coverage on the outside and was able to come up with a nice play on 4th-and-2 to get the defense off the field. What made the play special for him is that the Dolphins tried to use a rub route with their slot receiver and he had the awareness to not get picked. Frazier was able to fight through the traffic, stay inside and prevent Dominique Jones from getting his hands on the ball.
- Sometimes you have to be a little lucky when you are playing quarterback. Not to take anything away from Dak Prescott and the way he has played, but if not for a roughing the passer penalty by Andre Branch – he would have had an interception. It appeared that Prescott was throwing to a spot instead of really making sure that Brice Butler was open. Butler took a peek and he saw safety Isa Abdul-Quddos in position to drive. Butler hesitated just a bit, but the way Prescott threw the pass, he really had no chance to make the catch with how wide the ball was. Prescott caught a huge break, because to be honest, the contact by Branch didn't look helmet-to-helmet but more to the shoulder pad area.
- I thought Andy Jones had a touchdown on that pass from Dak Prescott on the goal line. I was so confident, I even said so on the radio call. What I didn't realize about the play initially was that Prescott had to reach high and to his left to grab the snap. By just that split second, he wasn't able to get to the outside quick enough to put the ball on Jones going up the field. Jones was running along the goal line and was in position to make the catch. Instead, he had to come back up the field to secure the ball. To his credit, Prescott did the best he could to put the ball in a position where Jones could at least attempt to get it across the goal line -- but he just wasn't close enough to make that happen.
- Jameill Showers really hasn't had much go right for him in these games. He has been the victim of poor execution of those around him -- but in talking to him, he is not using that as an excuse. Showers continues to try to find ways to make plays, which he was able to do on a 3rd-and-10 in the fourth quarter. Showers was able to get the ball to Darius Jackson on the outside with a nice touch pass on the screen. The play was well set up with Showers not rushing the throw, but instead showing the patience to allow it to develop. He held the ball long enough to allow Jackson to slip out to the flat just behind Jake Brendel and Boston Stiverson. Those two were able to take care of first support to allow Jackson the space to get a head of steam and finish the catch for a 15-yard gain and a first down.
- I am curious about what this front office and coaching staff decide to do with Austin Traylor? If there is a tight end on the roster that has the ability to do what James Hanna does at the point of attack as a blocker – it is him. There were several snaps where he was clearly winning on the edge and it didn't matter if he was blocking linebackers or defensive ends -- the job was getting done. What I really like about Austin Traylor is that he understands how to play with power and leverage to get the job done. He has this knack for capturing the edge and staying on his feet. There is just something with him that is catching my eye.
- Really nice job by Dax Swanson getting on tape and showing folks his ability as a punt returner. The ball was hammered by Matt Darr and Swanson was able to track it back before he started up the field. The return honestly wasn't blocked well at all and the majority of the credit should go to Swanson -- not only for his courage to take the ball back into the teeth of the coverage but for his vision to see that's where he needed to go. Swanson was able to make four unblocked tacklers miss him initially, then run through two more before he was finally brought to the ground. It was a tremendous effort on Swanson's part when it appeared that there was really nothing there.
- I would have never believed that I would have observed an NFL game where two players were on the field at the same time from Shepherd College. Located in the town of Shepherdstown, West Virginia with a student body of just over 4,200 students, they should be proud that Shaneil Jenkins of the Dallas Cowboys and Dominique Jones of the Miami Dolphins are representing the school well in the league.