OXNARD, Calif. – Having studied the tape, I came up a few observations from the first joint practice against the Raiders. The Cowboys' standouts include their receivers and their cornerbacks. Meanwhile, the pass rush struggled to make much headway against the Oakland offense.
- I really liked the work Dez Bryant got against Oakland cornerback Taiwan Jones. Jones was very physical in the one-on-one drill, which made Bryant have to not only match that style of play to get off the line -- but it forced him to have to play with technique in doing so. Bryant went at Jones in a couple of different ways route-wise and Jones was right there with him. There was a time or two where Bryant wasn't rewarded from the throw for the route he ran.
- I was interested to see how the Cowboys defense was going to match the physical size and power that the Raiders have up front. The Raiders like to lean on you with their mass, and with this defense shorthanded at some spots, I thought they did a much better job of playing with technique and using their hands to get off blocks from what we saw in San Diego. The linebackers especially were better with where they needed to be scheme-wise and there weren't huge gaps in the defense – a problem area in San Diego. This Raiders running game was a good test and for the Cowboys there were better results.
- Scott Linehan did a nice job of mixing his route combinations during the 7-on-7 period. He spread the Raiders out and made them defend the entire field. He was able to match Jason Witten and Gavin Escobar up on linebackers because of the way he positioned his receivers formation-wise. The ball was going down the field, but when the Raiders decided to play man coverage, there were plenty of routes that crossed the formation and were open for some simple throws. The Raiders were never able to really adjust, and these Cowboys quarterbacks took full advantage of the situation in the way they spread the ball around.
- Just from the eyeball test and later studying the tape, the Raiders have a real player in linebacker Khalil Mack. His reps against Tyron Smith reminded me of the previous training camps when Smith would match up against DeMarcus Ware and be a handful for him to have to handle. Smith has had an easy go when it comes to dealing with these Cowboys rushers, but Mack was an entirely different story. Mack puts pressure on the blocker right now. He is quick off the ball and if you miss with your hands, he is going to be around the corner. Smith was not prepared for that quickness right off the jump and it caught him by surprise. The second time through, he did a much better job of playing with his hands. Where Mack was able to make it difficult on Smith was with a stop-start move that got him off balance from his blocking position. It was good for Smith to get this time of work against a rusher that has this type of ability.
- It's becoming very clear to me that the loss of DeMarcus Lawrence for the first half of the season is going to be a huge loss for this defense. Martez Wilson is having trouble generating any type of a pass rush on the right side. There have been more snaps where he has been blocked than ones where he gets around the edge and creating problems. It very well might come down to Jeremy Mincey, who has been steady starting on the early downs and Kyle Wilber dropping down from linebacker to fill the void, because the pressure is just not there. [embedded_ad]
- It was good to see how competitive Morris Claiborne was during the practice in his first extensive work back on the field. But the corner that jumped out on the tape was Terrance Mitchell. He did get called for defensive holding one time, which is a start in the right direction from when he appeared to hold on almost every down. I thought his footwork and positioning was some of the best work he has had. He was able to drive on balls and knock them away. He has never lacked confidence, which helps him, but he appeared to play with more calmness to his game. He wasn't all over the place and the results were better.
- The most consistent rusher in the one-on-one pass rush drills was Caesar Rayford. In that setting, he is outstanding. He is difficult to block due to the fact that he is using good technique as he is going up the field. Where Rayford needs to improve is carrying that use of technique over to the team period, where he tends to revert back to some bad habits. There is no question that he has the skill and motor to be an effective pass, rusher because I have seen him do it before. But when he loses his focus and plays without technique, he is of no use to this defense.