OXNARD, Calif. – The Cowboys were off on Sunday following their preseason loss to the Rams.
I, on the other hand, spent most of my morning and some of my afternoon breaking this game down. As you might expect, there was plenty of good and plenty of bad, and plenty we'll need to see more of in these three remaining preseason games.
Here are my top takeaways from the game tape:
- How do you find ways to help your rookie quarterback in his first professional start? You put him in positions where he has a chance to have success. In the case of Dak Prescott, you put him in the shotgun and let him go to work. By my study, Prescott was 6-for-7 with his only incompletion coming on a drop by Geoff Swaim to start a drive in the middle of the second quarter. Prescott is most comfortable when he can see everything in front of him, because it doesn't require him to have to read defenses with his back turned. Another way that Scott Linehan was able to help him was with max protection. On both of Prescott's passes to Dez Bryant, a tight end stayed in to help with the blocking – and the same thing happened with the ball he threw to Brice Butler for 22 yards. My observation is no way meant to take anything from the way that Prescott played because he was outstanding. I just wanted to point out this is how coaches provide opportunities for their players to succeed.
- Having a chance to review the Mark Nzeocha interception, it was a "Fire Zone" call, where the blitz came from one side and a defensive end was used in coverage. In this particular situation Barry Church and Derek Akunne came on the blitz with Ryan Russell dropping. It's clear that Jared Goff wanted to throw the ball to Cory Harkey, but I don't think he would have had the completion anyway because Russell was in outstanding shape on the play. It would have been a tough throw and catch because of his coverage.
- If there is a gamer on this defensive line, it has to be Jack Crawford. Where Crawford is so good is that he is willing to do the little things for the good of the scheme. Whether it's shooting the gap on the move or disrupting blockers in the running game or taking on those same blockers in order to get a teammate home on a pass rush. Crawford was outstanding during his time on the field Saturday night. He just plays with that relentless effort no matter where they line him up. In this scheme he is just the ideal rotational player.
- I still don't know how Jameill Showers was able to keep his balance in order to pull off that completion to Vince Mayle on third down. Many young quarterbacks wouldn't have shown the poise and athletic ability to do what Showers did in order to avoid that pressure. Chaz Green was late off the snap and it put him in poor position to execute the block. Showers was going to get sacked, and for him to escape while keeping his eyes down the field to find Mayle says plenty about him and his ability to finish plays.
- Not a bad opening game for Darius Jackson and his attempt to fight his way on this roster. The numbers really don't tell the complete story of his night. The majority of his carries were made with him having to avoid a defender right in his face. Jason Garrett likes to call them "dirty runs," and there were more than his share. He appeared to have a nice feel of when and where he needed to cut the ball in order to have any chance for positive yards. His night on special teams was productive as well – though he did have a muff as a kick returner. I also liked what I saw from him covering kicks as the R2. He was relentless in the way he hammered Rams blockers.
- After the game on Saturday, I wrote a note about Shaneil Jenkins having some quality snaps at defensive tackle and how that appeared to be a good spot for him. What I noticed on the tape is that Jenkins initially started out as a defensive end and then later movement inside. At end, he didn't play as well as he did at tackle -- so this week let's see if the coaches decide to leave him there full-time instead of moving him around.
- I will never question J.J. Wilcox as a physical player, but I will question his ability to break down and make a tackle in space. Even when he attempts to square up on a ball carrier, it is difficult for him to put himself in position to finish. The Rams' first touchdown with Bennie Cunningham running the ball is a play he has to make -- he can't miss that tackle. Right before half, he missed a tackle on Tyler Higbee right before the sticks that should have been a five-yard gain, but it ended up as a 14-yard gain because he showed poor body control and balance.
- I'm a little surprised that Ronald Leary didn't play better than he did. There were a couple of snaps where the normally powerful Leary was put in some bad blocking positions due to being too high at the contact point. Leary is one of those blockers that plays with knee bend, all while working his hands inside on the blocker for control. I can't remember many days where his hands were so wide on his blocks -- which allowed the defender to escape from him.
- I mean this as a compliment, but Terrance Williams has some "dog" to him. I think you would be hard pressed to find a receiver on this squad -- and that includes Dez Bryant -- that is more willing to throw his body around to block for the ball carrier. Williams was the lead blocker for Alfred Morris on his 9-yard run during the opening series, coming down in motion and then exploding inside to block the safety. Later in the series, Morris caught a screen going right and Williams was on the outside with Travis Frederick and Zack Martin, clearing space for Morris to get up the field. With Williams it's not a sometime thing, which is impressive.
- In the initial battle to see who will be the starter at left defensive end with DeMarcus Lawrence out, the first round goes to David Irving. The idea is to find the player that can not only hold up in the running game when it comes to setting the edge but also gives the defense that pass rush off the edge. The film showed that Irving was better than Ryan Russell in both categories – though, in my opinion, Russell wasn't bad in the way he played. Where Irving is different is with his length, which helps him in the running game. But it is also his ability to use that same length and walk blockers back with it. He was more consistent with his pressure, which was more noticeable than what I saw from Russell.
- It appeared that Jason Garrett wanted to burn one of his timeouts before Deji Olatoye got trapped on the field while the Rams were punting on 4th-and-3. The bench knew that they had a problem and Garrett was working his way toward the official just as the ball was snapped. Olatoye wasn't close and the official had no choice but to the make the call for 12 Men on the Field. Luckily for Garrett, the play didn't come back to hurt him when Olatoye was able to intercept Sean Mannion two plays later to get the ball back for the offense.
- Speaking of special teams, if you want a dark horse to keep an eye on in these next three games, James Morris is your guy. The guy has a nose for the ball and can line up on all the teams plus play as a backup Mike linebacker if needed.